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William McKinley

January 29, 1843 – September 14, 1901

25th President of the United States

By the 1880s, the Ohioan was a nationally known Republican leader; his signature issue was high tariffs on imports as a formula for prosperity, as typified by his McKinley Tariff of 1890. As the Republican candidate in the 1896 presidential election he reshaped the issues of the day and inaugurated the Fourth Party System. He rallied the business and financial communities behind his successful effort to defend the Gold Standard against Free Silver. An indefatigable campaigner, he helped rebuild the Republican Party by rejecting divisive ethnic issues and promoting pluralism—whereby every group in the nation would prosper and none would be singled out for attack. Working with campaign manager Mark Hanna, McKinley introduced new advertising-style campaign techniques that revolutionized campaign practices and beat back the crusading of his arch-rival, William Jennings Bryan. The 1896 election was a realigning election that marked the beginning of the Progressive Era. McKinley presided over a return to prosperity after the Panic of 1893 and was reelected in 1900 after another intense campaign against Bryan again. As president, he fought the Spanish-American War in an attempt to expand United States colonial power. After victory in the "splendid little war," he annexed the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, as well as Hawaii. He was reelected by a landslide over Bryan again in 1900. He was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz and succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt.

Born in Niles, Ohio on Sunday January 29, 1843, William McKinley was the seventh of nine children. In 1869, he made Canton, Ohio his permanent residence and remained there until he died. Most of his siblings lived within Stark County. His parents, William and Nancy (Allison) McKinley, were of Scots-Irish ancestry. He graduated from Poland Academy and briefly attended Allegheny College, where he was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

In June 1861, at the start of the American Civil War, he enlisted in the Union Army, as a private in the Twenty-third Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The regiment was sent to western Virginia where it spent a year fighting small Confederate units. His superior officer, another future U.S. President, Rutherford B. Hayes, promoted McKinley to commissary sergeant for his bravery in battle. For driving a mule team delivering rations under enemy fire at Antietam, Hayes promoted him to Second Lieutenant. This pattern repeated several times during the war, and McKinley eventually mustered out as Captain and brevet Major of the same regiment in September 1865. In 1869, the year that he entered politics, McKinley met and began courting his future wife, Ida Saxton, marrying her two years later when she was 23 and he was 27.

Following the war, McKinley attended Albany Law School in Albany, New York and was admitted to the bar in 1867. He practiced law in Canton, Ohio, and became the prosecuting attorney of Stark County, Ohio, from 1869 to 1871.

McKinley was elected as a Republican to the United States House of Representatives and first served from 1877 to 1883. He was chairman of the Committee on Revision of the Laws from 1881 to 1883. He presented his credentials as a member-elect to the Forty-eighth Congress and served from March 4, 1883, until May 27, 1884, when he was succeeded by Jonathan H. Wallace, who successfully contested his election. McKinley was again elected to the House of Representatives and served from March 4, 1885 to March 4, 1891. He was chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means from 1889 to 1891. In 1890, he authored the McKinley Tariff, which hurt his party in the off-year elections of 1890, in which he lost his seat.

After leaving Congress McKinley sought and won the Republican nomination for governor of Ohio. He defeated Democrat James E. Campbell in October 1891 and was reelected two years later over Lawrence T. Neal. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1892 but campaigned for the eventual nominee, President Benjamin Harrison. As governor he imposed an excise tax on corporations, secured safety legislation for transportation workers and restricted antiunion practices of employers.

Governor McKinley left office in early 1896 and, at the instigation of his friend Mark Hanna began active campaigning for the Republican party's presidential nomination. After winning the nomination, he went home and conducted his famous "front porch campaign." He defeated William Jennings Bryan by a large margin, paving the way for over a decade of Republican hegemony.

William McKinley defeated William Jennings Bryan in the U.S. Presidential election of 1896, in what is considered the forerunner of modern political campaigning.[citation needed] Republican strategist Mark Hanna raised an unprecedented sum for the campaign and made extensive use of the media in managing the McKinley victory. McKinley promised that he would promote industry and banking and guarantee prosperity for every group in a pluralistic nation. A Democratic cartoon ridiculed the promise, saying it would rock the boat.

President McKinley presided over the U.S.A. in a time where Imperialism was surging. One such example is the Spanish-American war, which resulted in bringing several colonies under American control i.e. Guam, the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Hawaii and Wake Island were two places additionally annexed, Hawaii having been a rather difficult territory to obtain, due to the present Queen at the time.

McKinley was re-elected in 1900 once again, defeating his rival William Jennings Bryan a second, humiliating time.


McKinley was shot twice by Leon Czolgosz at 4:07 p.m. on September 6, 1901, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The first bullet deflected off a button, and did not seriously injure the President. The second, however, went through McKinley's stomach, colon, and kidney, and finally lodged in the muscles of his back. One bullet was easily found and extracted, but doctors were unable to locate the second bullet. It was feared that the search for the bullet, using 19th century techniques, might cause more harm than good. In addition, McKinley appeared to be recovering, so doctors decided to leave the bullet where it was.[1]

The newly-developed X-ray machine was displayed at the fair, but doctors were reluctant to use it on McKinley to search for the bullet because they did not know what side effects it may have had on him. Also, ironically, the operating room at the exposition's emergency hospital did not have any electric lighting, even though the exteriors of many of the buildings at the extravagant exposition were covered with thousands of light bulbs. Doctors used a pan to reflect sunlight onto the operating table as they treated McKinley's wounds.

McKinley's doctors believed he would recover, and the President convalesced for more than a week at the home of the exposition's director. But McKinley eventually went into shock. He died from gangrene, which surrounded his wounds, at 2:15 a.m. on September 14, 1901, in Buffalo. He was buried in Canton, Ohio. Czolgosz was later found guilty of murder and electrocuted.