Posted on January 29, 2017
William McKinley, born in Ohio in 1843, served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was the last president to have served in that war.
He became a lawyer, then a Congressman for the Republican Party. He was voted out of Congress in a landslide, so he ran for – and won – two terms as Ohio's governor. He was elected president in 1896.
Then, as now, everybody wanted America to be a prosperous country, but various people had various ideas of how to make that happen. McKinley thought that a protective tariff and keeping to the gold standard were the ways to build the nation's economic stability. A protective tariff is an extra tax on things that imported into the country, passed in the hope that costlier goods from other countries would make Americans want to buy goods made right here in America. The gold standard is basing the value of money on a fixed quantity of gold.
There was a lot of other stuff happening at the time. Imperialistic stuff. Imperialism is the attempt to extend a nation's power over other countries, generally over more, and more, and even more countries, generally through military force. And in the case of McKinley, we're talking about the Spanish-American War of 1898, in which America backed nearby Cuba against Spain's rule – but then, as a part of the peace settlement, the U.S. took over several of Spain's colonies. Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines all came under U.S. control. Cuba was promised independence, but the U.S. Army remained in control there for a while as well.
We're also talking about Hawaii. The U.S. annexed the independent Republic of Hawaii. In other words, the once-independent island group became a U.S. territory.
Most Americans were fine with imperialism, I guess. After all, America was the winner in the Spanish-American War, and it “won” Hawaii. McKinley won reelection...but six months into that second term, he was assassinated by a Polish-American anarchist.
Assassination tends to make a hero out of a president, and indeed loads of things were named after McKinley.
However, McKinley's vice-president, Theodore Roosevelt, ended up outshining McKinley.
By the way, note that Guam and Puerto Rico remain U.S. territories, and Hawaii of course has become a U.S. state. However, Cuba and the Philippines did become fully independent.
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