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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

President William McKinley Dies, September 14, 1901

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Today in 1901, President William McKinley died as a result of the gunshot wounds he received from an assassin's attack. McKinley led the United States into the 20th century and his first Presidential campaign in 1896 is considered to be the first political campaign to use modern tactics and methods, such as extensive use of media outlets. He lead the nation through both war and prosperity.

William McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio on January 29, 1843 as the seventh of nine children born to his Scots-Irish parents. At the age of 18, he joined the Union Army during the first months of the Civil War. As a private in the 23rd Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, his commanding officer was Rutherford B. Hayes, another man who was destined to become President. McKinley was promoted for bravery during the Battle of Antietam, an event that would occur several times during the war. By the time of his discharge at the end of the war in 1865, he was an acting Major of the same Regiment he had joined as a private four years before.

McKinley attended law school and practiced as a prosecuting attorney until 1871. In 1876, he campaigned for and won a seat in the House of Representatives as a Republican from Ohio. He served three terms and was elected to a fourth in 1882. A year after taking his seat in March, 1883, however, his election was contested by Jonathan Wallace, who eventually overturned the election and assumed the House seat in place of McKinley. Undaunted, he ran again in 1884 and served three more terms. In 1890, he put his name on a tariff bill called the McKinley Tariff. The bill was unpopular and caused McKinley to lose his seat in the 1890 elections.

The future President turned his attention to the Governorship of Ohio after leaving the House of Representatives. He was elected to the post in 1891 and served until 1896 after winning one re-election bid. This completed McKinley's so-called "training" for the Presidency---he had served in a Federal position and had the management experience that comes with running a state.

William Jennings Bryan was McKinley's opponent in the Presidential election of 1896. Bryan was already famous by then as the dominant figure in the Democratic Party. Although he is remembered today for his participation in the Scopes Trial of 1925, Bryan was a true Renessance man and was considered to be the greatest public speaker of his generation. Despite these attributes, McKinley won the election through smart use of newspaper ads, fundraisers and promises of industry promotion and guaranteed prosperity.

The Spanish-American war began in April, 1898, almost midway through McKinley's first term. The war saw the end of Spain's empirical ambitions and the United States become caretaker of Cuba (which gained independence in 1902), the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam in exchange for $20 million. Critics of the President's foreign policy claimed the US was enraptured with the idea of New Imperialism, or an empire for empire's sake.

McKinley won re-election in 1900 by a larger margin than in 1896. William Jennings Bryan was his opponent once again, as were the candidates of the Populist and Social Democratic Parties. The Vice-President, Garret Hobart, had died in 1899, leaving the country without a second-in-command until the 1900 election. The man chosen to share the ticket with McKinley was Theodore Roosevelt, who was previously the governor of New York. Their campaign slogan, matching the economic growth of the time, was "Four More Years of the Full Dinner Pail."

President McKinley, six months into his second term, traveled to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. It was there on September 6, 1901 that he was shot twice by Leon Czolgosz, a self-proclaimed anarchist. Despite the presence of a new invention, the X-ray machine, at the Exposition, it was not used to search for the bullets lodged in the President's body. Had it been used, it could very well have saved his life. As it was, McKinley was moved to a nearby home where it was believed he would recover. It was not to be. Several days after the shooting, McKinley went into shock and died of his wounds on September 14th, 1901. He lies today in Canton, Ohio.

Leon Czolgosz, now charged as a murderer, was found guilty and electrocuted.

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