William McKinley - Key Events
William McKinley is inaugurated as the twenty-fifth President of the United States. McKinley asserts: “The country is suffering from industrial disturbances from which speedy relief must be had. Our financial system needs some revision; our money is all good now, but its value must not further be threatened.”
President McKinley calls Congress into a special session for the purpose of revising the tariff laws.
John J. McDermott wins the first Boston Marathon. The 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Copley Square will become one of the world's most prestigious marathons.
Congress appropriates $50,000 for the relief of Americans in Cuba.
The first shipment of gold discovered in Alaska, totaling $750,000, arrives in San Francisco.
President McKinley signs the Dingley Tariff Law, which raises custom duties by an average of 57 percent. Although American industries no longer needed such heavy protection against foreign goods, the tariff was raised nonetheless; imported woolen products, for example, faced a 91 percent rate. Republicans associate the high tariff with national prosperity while Democrats and progressives will blame the tariff for causing subsequent price increases.
More than twenty workers are killed in Lattimer, Pennsylvania, after deputy sheriffs open fire on striking coal miners. In sympathy, coal miners in the Ohio, West Virginia, and the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania walk off their jobs. The strike is settled soon thereafter, with Pennsylvania workers being awarded an eight-hour day.
President McKinley's first annual message to Congress is read aloud. The President states that while the government of Spain should be given time to reform its behavior in Cuba, America would continue to devote significant diplomatic attention to the island. McKinley also reminds Americans to refrain from factionalism: “Questions of foreign policy, of revenue, the soundness of the currency, the inviolability of national obligations, the improvement of the public service, appeal to the individual conscience of every earnest citizen to whatever party he belongs or in whatever section of the country he may reside.”
In Havana, Cuba, pro-Spanish groups riot in opposition to Cuban autonomy.
The U.S. Battleship Maine arrives in Havana on a nominally “friendly visit.” Its true mission is to protect American life and property.
A letter containing insults directed at President McKinley, written by Spanish minister to the United States Señor Don Enrique Dupuy de Lôme, is published in William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal.
The battleship Maine explodes and sinks in Havana harbor, killing 266 Americans. Subsequent press coverage of the event points to Spanish sabotage as the cause of the disaster, despite dubious evidence. The sinking of the Maine fans popular opinion, already sympathetic to the cause of Cuban independence, in support of American intervention.
Battleship Maine Sinks
On the night of February 15, 1898, a fire in a coal bunker of the battleship Maine ignited a reserve gunpowder magazine, blowing the ship in half and killing 266 crew members. “Remember the Maine!” became a rallying cry for Americans who wanted to go to war against Spain over the island of Cuba. President William McKinley tried to find a diplomatic solution to resolve the conflict but ultimately Spain declared war against the United States, beginning the Spanish-American War.
Spain had long controlled the Caribbean island of Cuba but throughout the 19th century, the Cuban people had struggled to gain independence. In 1895, Cuban rebels led a revolt against Spanish rule. When Spain tried to quash the rebellion, the American press publicized conditions in Cuba and atrocities committed by the Spanish. Public opinion in the United States began to clamor for U.S. government involvement.
In January 1898, the United States dispatched the battleship Maine to Cuba both to protect American citizens and property and to demonstrate that the United States still valued Spain's friendship. The Maine arrived in the Havana harbor on January 25, 1898. Over the next few weeks, its officers enjoyed friendly relations with Spanish officials ashore.
After the explosion and destruction of the battleship, pro-interventionists, including Theodore Roosevelt and the “yellow press,” attributed the disaster to Spanish sabotage and beat the drums for war. President McKinley called for calm, urging Americans to wait for the results of a naval investigation of the explosion. Spain immediately sent its entire diplomatic delegation to express the nation's sympathy to McKinley and conducted its own investigation of the disaster. However, public furor over the incident grew.
On March 28, the naval court of inquiry presented its findings to Congress, concluding incorrectly that an external explosion, such as an underwater mine, had destroyed the Maine. (A later naval study concluded that an internal explosion had destroyed the Maine.) The court failed to name the responsible party in their erroneous verdict, but the American public instantly assumed Spanish culpability.
Wary of starting a war, President McKinley urged the Spanish to agree to an armistice with Cuban rebels and demanded an end to civil rights abuses against the Cuban people. When the Spanish government wavered on an armistice behind the pressures of its own public opinion, McKinley asked Congress for the power to take military action against Spain in Cuba on April 11, 1898, thereby hoping to stabilize the region for American interests and quell the humanitarian disaster that war had brought to Cuba. Congress passed a series of four resolutions on April 19 recognizing Cuban independence and gave McKinley the power to eject Spain from the island. McKinley used these powers to declare a blockade of Cuba on April 21, leading the Spanish Empire to declare war on the United States on April 23, 1898. Two days later, the United States declared war against Spain. The Spanish-American War had begun.
At President McKinley's behest, Congress votes a $50 million appropriation for national defense.
The U.S. Navy reports that the Maine explosion was the result of external factors.
The Spanish Navy releases its own report on the Maine disaster, concluding that an internal explosion destroyed the battleship.
President McKinley asks Congress for authority to “use armed force” in Cuba to end the civil war. Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Sagasta makes a last-minute peace concession by offering the Cubans limited autonomy.
Congress adopts a joint resolution authorizing President McKinley to intervene in Cuba. The resolution also states that the United States has no plans to annex Cuba. Spain counters by severing diplomatic relations with the United States.
President McKinley orders a blockade of northern Cuban ports.
Congress passes the Volunteer Army Act, which authorizes the organization of the First Volunteer Cavalry, or Rough Riders, under the command of Colonel Leonard Wood and Lt. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. That same day, the U.S. captures its first spoils of war, the Spanish ship Buena Ventura.
Spain declares war on the United States.
President McKinley calls for 125,000 volunteers to fight the war with Spain.
The United States Congress declares war on Spain.
Commodore George Dewey, commanding an American squadron of six ships, soundly defeats a larger but outgunned Spanish fleet at Manila Bay. This action opens the door for American occupation of Manila in August.
President McKinley issues a new call for volunteers, asking for an additional 75,000. A U.S. troop expedition of 2,500 men also sets sail for Manila, Philippines, from San Francisco, California.
Congress passes the Erdman Arbitration Act, which authorizes government mediation between interstate carriers and their employees. The legislation prohibits interstate carriers from discriminating against or blacklisting union laborers. The Supreme Court would rule the Erdman Act unconstitutional in June 1908.
Congress passes the War Revenue Act, which generated about $150 million of tax revenue a year from taxes levied on beer, tobacco, amusements, and some business transactions. President McKinley signs the bill on June 13.
Roughly 600 U.S. Marines land at Guantanamo, Cuba.
Some 17,000 U.S. troops under the command of General William Shafter embark from Key West, Florida, headed for Cuba.
Guam, whose Spanish commander was oblivious to the outbreak of the war, surrenders to advancing western Pacific fleets. The ignorance of the Spanish garrison becomes apparent to the captain of the U.S.S. Charleston when, following his bombardment of Guam, the Spanish apologize for not having returned the salute.
The United States defeats Spanish troops at the Battle of Las Guasimas, the first major land battle of the Spanish-American War.
After heavy fighting, American forces in Cuba take the Spanish garrisons at El Caney and San Juan Hill.
American naval forces destroy the Spanish fleet off Santiago de Cuba.
President McKinley signs a joint congressional resolution providing for the annexation of Hawaii.
McKinley Signs Hawaii Annexation Bill
On July 7, 1898, President William McKinley signed a bill that annexed the Hawaiian Islands, making them part of the United States.
American military victories in the Pacific during the Spanish-American War helped bring to a close almost a decade of uncertainty about the status of the Hawaiian Islands. Prominent American colonists had supported the overthrow of Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani in early 1891, but Democratic and anti-imperialist Republican opposition to annexation blocked the island chain's incorporation into the United States. When William McKinley assumed the presidency in 1897, he reversed the policy of his predecessor, Democrat Grover Cleveland, and advocated Hawaiian annexation. McKinley, however, was unable to push a new annexation treaty through Congress that year.
After American forces swung into action in the Pacific during the Spanish-American War, the island chain's strategic importance became apparent. Thereafter, McKinley played a more forceful role in advocating Hawaiian annexation. He pressured senators to approve annexation as the fulfillment of American manifest destiny, as a means to cement American presence in the Pacific, and as a vital support link for America's new claim on the Philippines. McKinley also worried that the growing Japanese community on the island would lead the islands into the hands of the increasingly active Japanese Empire.
An annexation resolution supported by the President made its way into the House of Representatives on May 4, 1898. The Senate passed the measure on July 6, and McKinley signed it one day later. The United States took formal possession of the islands on August 12, 1898. Hawaii's first territorial governor was posted in 1900.
The annexation of the Hawaiian Islands was one illustration of how the United States emerged on the world stage in new and unprecedented ways during the presidency of William McKinley. His aggressive policy on Hawaii, coupled with America's seizure of the Philippines, brought the United States squarely into the increasingly competitive realm of power politics in the Pacific.
Santiago de Cuba surrenders, along with 24,000 Spanish troops, to American General William Shafter.
American forces invade Puerto Rico, encountering little resistance.
Spain and the United States sign an armistice in which Spain agrees to grant Cuba its independence and cede Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States. The fate of the Philippines is left to be determined at a postwar conference between the United States and Spain.
Spanish forces in the Philippines surrender to the United States.
President McKinley appoints U.S. peace commissioners for negotiations with Spain; Secretary of State William R. Day will lead the delegation. McKinley asks Day to resign his office to assume the leadership of the peace commission. John Hay becomes secretary of state on September 30.
President McKinley appoints the Dodge Commission to investigate the conduct of the War Department.
A strikers' riot in Virden, Illinois, leads to thirteen deaths and twenty-five injuries.
American peace commissioners in Paris receive instructions to demand from Spain the cession of the Philippine Islands.
The Republicans gain Senate seats in mid-term elections, emerging with a 53-26-8 lead; they lose strength in the House, where their advantage narrows to 185-163-9.
President McKinley's second annual message is read to both Houses of Congress. He declares his intention to build an inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua and discusses the merits of fighting the Spanish-American war: “Military service under a common flag and for a righteous cause has strengthened the national spirit and served to cement more closely than ever the fraternal bonds between every section of the country.”
The United States and Spain sign the Treaty of Paris.
The United States takes official control of Cuba.
President McKinley appoints Jacob Gould Schurman chairman of the first Philippine Commission.
The Battle of Manila begins between US forces and Philippine forces, led by Emilio Aguinaldo. It is the largest battle of the Philippine-American war. The initial skirmishes, in which 57 American fighters are killed and 215 are wounded, last several days.
The Senate ratifies the peace treaty between the United States and Spain by a vote of 57 to 27. The United States acquires Puerto Rico and Guam, and assumes the temporary administration of Cuba. While the United States pays Spain $20 million for certain Filipino holdings, the sum is interpreted by some as payment for the outright purchase of the Philippines.
Congress authorizes voting machines for federal elections, subject to the request of individual states.
President McKinley issues an executive order exempting between 3,000 to 4,000 positions from competitive civil service examinations. McKinley's order marks a retreat from President Grover Cleveland's more aggressive practices of civil service reform.
Secretary of War Russell A. Alger resigns, effective August 1, after the Dodge Commission criticizes the War Department's handling of the war. Elihu Root replaces Alger.
Secretary of State John Hay issues the Open Door notes to Britain, France, Russia, and Japan. Hay calls for broad, multi-lateral access to Chinese markets across foreign spheres of influence as well as for the preservation of the territorial sovereignty of the Chinese Empire.
President McKinley becomes the first President to ride in an automobile when he motors in a Stanley Steamer in his hometown of Canton, Ohio.
President McKinley sends his third annual message to Congress. It focuses largely on foreign affairs, with McKinley calling for beefing up the U.S. Navy to benefit overseas commerce. With regard to the Philippines, McKinley affirms, “I shall use the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the statutes to uphold the sovereignty of the United States in those distant islands as in all other places where our flag rightfully floatsÖ.Aiming only at the public good, we cannot err. A right interpretation of the people's will and of duty cannot fail to insure wise measures for the welfare of the islands which have come under the authority of the United States, and inure to the common interest and lasting honor of our country.”
Britain and the United States sign the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty to provide for an isthmian canal in Central America.
President McKinley signs the Gold Standard Act, which fixes the standard of value for all money issued or coined by the United States. It marks a victory for the so-called “goldbugs” from the Northeast and urban Midwest who pushed for gold-backed currency to stabilize industrial investment. Likewise, it is a crushing defeat for the free silver forces from the South and West who advocated silver coinage as a way to flush the agricultural economy with more available currency.
The Carnegie Steel Company, organized in 1899, is incorporated in New Jersey and capitalized at $160 million.
President McKinley appoints a Second Philippine Commission, chaired by William Howard Taft.
Congress passes an act establishing the Territory of Hawaii.
The Republican National Convention re-nominates McKinley for the presidency. Spanish-American War Hero and New York governor Theodore Roosevelt is nominated for vice president.
Amnesty is given to Filipino insurgents in a decree issued by the military governor of the Philippines.
Secretary of State John Hay issues the second Open Door Note, a circular letter outlining American desires to keep China intact in the midst of Western intervention during the Boxer Rebellion.
The Democratic National Convention nominates William Jennings Bryan for the presidency and Adlai E. Stevenson for the vice presidency. During the subsequent campaign, Bryan charges McKinley with being an imperialist and runs once again on a “free silver” platform.
President McKinley formally accepts the Republican presidential nomination in a speech at Canton, Ohio. McKinley's campaign slogan reminded voters of previous prosperity and promised more of the same: “Four more years of the full dinner pail.”
William McKinley is re-elected President of the United States, with Theodore Roosevelt elected as vice president. McKinley wins with 292 electoral votes against 155 for William Jennings Bryan; Social Democratic candidate Eugene V. Debs secures 94,768 popular votes. Republicans strengthen their hold on both houses of Congress, securing a 55-31 majority in the Senate and a 197-151 majority in the House.
President McKinley submits his fourth annual message to Congress. He notes that in foreign affairs, “the dominant question has been the treatment of the Chinese problem. Apart from this our relations with the powers have been happy.”
The Senate ratifies a modified version of the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, in which the British government agrees to an American canal with the conditions that it be neutral and unfortified. This treaty abrogates the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850.
Negotiations conclude between the Dutch and the Americans regarding the Dutch West Indies (which become the U.S. Virgin Islands), allowing Congress simply to appropriate funds to carry out the transfer. This transfer did not occur until 1917.
The first great oil strike in Texas occurs near Beaumont.
Congress adopts the Platt Amendment, which governs future relations between the United States and Cuba, as part of the Army Appropriation Act of 1901. The amendment allows American intervention in Cuban domestic affairs to preserve the sovereignty of the island nation against threats from other foreign powers.
North Carolina's George H. White leaves Congress, the last black member to serve for more than twenty-five years.
William McKinley is inaugurated as President for a second term, with Theodore Roosevelt sworn in as vice president. McKinley calls for the Filipino rebellion to end “without further bloodshed,” wising that “there be ushered in the reign of peace to be made permanent by a government of liberty under law!”
The British government informs the United States that it will not accept the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty as amended by the Senate.
On March 23, 1901, the United States captured Emilio Aguinaldo, the leader of the independence movement in the Philippine Islands. Once in U.S. custody, Aguinaldo signed an oath of allegiance to the United States, which ended any lingering hope of the rebellion's success. President William McKinley tried to convince the Filipinos that U.S. rule would benefit the country, but the United States continued fighting rebel troops across the islands for another year until American forces secured full control of the country.
The Philippine independence movement began in 1896 as Filipinos revolted against Spanish rule. Both sides agreed to a truce in December 1897, with Aguinaldo going into exile in Hong Kong. During the Spanish-American War, U.S. leadership brought Aguinaldo back to the islands to aid in mobilizing the local population against Spain. Aguinaldo declared Philippine independence on June 12, 1898, naming himself President of the Philippine Republic after Spanish forces surrendered to the Americans that August in Manila.
Although the United States acquired the Philippines from Spain through the Treaty of Paris, Aguinaldo continued his fight for independence. Widespread fighting erupted around Manila in February 1899 as President McKinley pushed his program of “benevolent assimilation” on the island. McKinley and his advisers believed incorrectly that only a minority of Filipinos supported the independence movement; the Americans set up the trappings of development, including schools, sanitation, and local government, to woo the majority of Filipinos to accept American rule. As fighting subsided during the islands' rainy season in the spring, McKinley offered the rebels a governance plan that included an elected Filipino advisory council to aid American administrators. Filipino nationalists rejected the American plan in May 1899.
General Elwell Otis led American troops into combat in the fall of 1899 and routed the Filipino army by November. Filipino forces regrouped using guerrilla tactics, and American forces aggressively pursued their destruction in the bitter fighting that followed. Throughout 1899, anti-imperialist Americans criticized McKinley's annexation of the islands and prosecution of the war as anathema to the democratic traditions of the United States. McKinley held firm, however, since putting down the rebellion went hand-in-hand with the establishment of a paternalist American presence on the archipelago. The United States secured its control over the Philippines by 1902.
During President McKinley's tenure, the United States fought and won a war with a European power and acquired overseas territories. Along with the Philippines, the United States obtained Guam and Puerto Rico and occupied Cuba. In short, the United States emerged on the world stage in new and unprecedented ways.
The rebellion in the Philippines ends by proclamation. Sporadic fighting continues for another year before American military forces fully secure the islands.
President McKinley announces he will not be a candidate for a third term.
Speaking in Buffalo, New York, President McKinley endorses the concept of tariff reciprocity. McKinley also notes, in what would be his last speech, “The period of exclusiveness is past. The expansion of our trade and commerce is the pressing problem.”
Leon Czolgosz shoots McKinley in the stomach while the President shakes hands at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Czolgosz, an anarchist, admitted to the shooting, and he expressed no remorse for his actions. He died in the electric chair on October 29, 1901.
President McKinley dies from his wounds as the result of complications due to gangrene, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt takes the oath of office to become the twenty-sixth President of the United States.
President McKinley Dies
On September 14, 1901, President William McKinley died, eight days after he was shot by an assassin. He had served only six months of his second presidential term before his death.
After vacationing in Canton, Ohio, in the summer of 1901, President McKinley and his staff set off for the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. On September 5, McKinley delivered a speech to a crowd of nearly 50,000 on his policy goals for his second term; his particular focus was on the promotion of American foreign trade.
The next afternoon, the President attended a public reception at the Exposition's Temple of Music, accompanied by three secret service bodyguards. Despite pleas from his secretary that security was inadequate for such a setting, McKinley entered the hall at four o'clock and began greeting festival patrons. Minutes later, Leon Czolgosz, a Polish-American anarchist, fired two shots at the President from close range as McKinley reached to shake the man's hand. One bullet lodged in McKinley's stomach while the other ricocheted off a button. As the crowd pounced on Czolgosz, McKinley pleaded that they not harm him. Czolgosz later confessed to shooting the President and was executed in October 1901.
President McKinley was taken away to a hospital in Buffalo where doctors failed to find the bullet in his abdomen. His wound became infected and developed gangrene, and his condition worsened over the course of the next week. McKinley died early in the morning of September 14, and that afternoon Vice President Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Buffalo to take the presidential oath of office.
The nation entered a month of mourning following McKinley's funeral in Canton on September 19. The former President was warmly remembered at the time of his death, with his hometown erecting a monument to him in 1907. McKinley was the first President since James Garfield to be assassinated and, like Garfield, his legacy faded from public memory-all the more quickly, in fact, since he was succeeded by the ebullient, reform-minded Theodore Roosevelt.