25 - William McKinley
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McKinley was the first President to ride in an automobile. He rode in an electric ambulance to the hospital after he was shot.
After being shot, he saw the shooter being beaten to the ground, he then cried, "Don't let them hurt him!"
McKinley was the first president to campaign by telephone.
McKinley always wore a red carnation in his lapel for good luck.
McKinley's commanding officer in the Civil War was Rutherford B. Hayes.
He moved to Poland, Ohio when he was young. He often joked that he was the only president from Poland.
This is a beautiful book. My copy is the 1901 International Memorial edition of the Regan Printing House, Chicago. It is a collection of all sorts of information about Mr. McKinley, his assassination and the times. It contains short bios of President’s Garfield, Lincoln and Roosevelt, excerpts from some of Mr. McKinley’s speeches and a history of Anarchy (Leon Czolgosz, the assassin, considered himself to be an anarchist). There are some fine illustrations.
The book was edited by Rev. Samuel Fallows. He apparently wrote the bio part of Mr. McKinley’s life as well. The two men knew each other very well and had done for quite a lot of their lives. A quote from Rev. Fallows’ preface reads: “The magnificent eulogies which have been pronounced on him, touching every phase of his many-sided, matchless life, were ‘but dull beside the truth’”. So, it is reasonable to assume that this book sees only the best in William McKinley.
Sadly, and somewhat like Mr. Pierce’s misfortunes, the McKinley’s two daughters died within three years of each other. Mrs. McKinley suffered from epilepsy and she was ill most of her life, including during the years of her husband’s administration. History and this book suggest that Mr. McKinley rose above his private adult deprivations and conducted a very satisfactory Presidency whereas Mr. Pierce appeared not to have been able to.
The thing for which his administration is most remembered is the declaration of War with Spain. The upshot of that war was independence for Cuba and US control of the Phillippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. Mr. McKinley’s belligerent populace thought that was pretty good and they returned him for a second term - against William Jennings Bryan.
Within a year he had been shot.
There’s a lot in this book. The quotes of American and world dignitaries included give a very good feel for the way the people who were in control thought at that time.
William McKinley is usually considered a middling US President - not in the top tier of presidents, but not at the bottom either. As one of the later Gilded Age administrations, McKinley and his cabinet are mostly remembered for events like the Spanish-American War in Cuba and the Philippines and for arguments over tariffs and the gold standard. He's considered by most historians to be fairly passive in leading by public opinion and to be the first president to use a modern approach to the press. And his assassination opened the door to Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives.
In this volume of the American Presidents series, Kevin Phillips makes the case that McKinley should be considered a much stronger leader who began many of the initiatives later completed by Roosevelt and later Progressive administrations, and should be included in the second tier of presidents, well above where he usually falls in rankings today. If true, there's a disconnect in understanding McKinley, and I'm not sure I buy Phillips' reasoning. McKinley left very little in the way of personal papers and items normally considered direct sources. Phillips instead relies on writings by others around McKinley and some rather speculative interpretation of McKinley's words and deeds. Part of what most bothered me about Phillips' discussion is his speculation on what McKinley "would have done" had he not been assassinated in 1901. I suppose it's ok to do that, but it's a stretch.
Is McKinley the passive placeholder that Phillips put forth as other historians' opinions? Probably not. He was very popular, and did indeed seem to do some things that show a Progressive bent. Would he have brought about the kind of change that Roosevelt did? Should we view Teddy as a continuation of work begun by McKinley? Probably not. Teddy put his own mark on things and did things his own way. But the real McKinley is somewhere in the middle there as a mix of all these aspects. And almost certainly deserving of more respect than he often gets.
-- If true, this is a very interesting bit of magnanimity. Esp. for a politician.
by H. Wayne Morgan
I found this 1963 biography of William McKinley to be somewhat tedious at the outset. Professor Morgan covered all of the major details of McKinley's early life, military service and political career, but I found it rather dull. It's not until the late 1880s that McKinley's story caught my interest. Perhaps it's because the issues of McKinley's congressional career--the tariff and the currency--are not issues I care much about. Or perhaps it's because Professor Morgan only had 530 pages and wanted to focus on the presidential years. If so, I can't blame him. The political scene of the 1890s, as presented in the book, reminded me of the 1840s as presented in the Buchanan biography I read. (That would be President James Buchanan by Phillip S. Klein) There was a generational change as the United States became an industrial and global power. McKinley seemed to handle the transition better than Buchanan did, but he certainly felt some growing pains while doing so.