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Monday, 25 April 2016

William McKinley


William McKinley, Jr. was born on January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio, the seventh child of William and Nancy (née Allison) McKinley.

William followed in the Methodist tradition, becoming active in the local Methodist church at the age of sixteen.

McKinley was the last president to have served in the American Civil War, beginning as a private in the Union Army. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on February 7, 1863 and ended the war as a brevet major.

After the war, McKinley settled in Canton, Ohio, where he practiced law and married Ida Saxton.

McKinley just after the war

William McKinley married Ida Saxton on January 25, 1871, at the First Presbyterian Church in Canton, Ohio  then still under construction. Following the wedding, performed by the Reverend E. Buckingham and the Reverend Dr. Endsley, the couple attended a reception at the home of the bride's parents and left on an eastern wedding trip.

They had two daughters who both died young. Katherine "Katie" McKinley, who passed away aged three on June 25, 1875 of typhoid fever. Ida McKinley who died August 22, 1873 aged four and a half months.

The portrait of Katie that hung on the wall of the McKinley house.

Mrs McKinley broke down under the loss of her two young daughters and for the rest of her life, Ida kept a picture of Katie on the wall of her bedroom. She developed epilepsy and became totally dependent on her husband. Although an invalid the rest of her life, Ida kept busy with her hobby, crocheting slippers, making gifts of literally thousands of pairs to friends, acquaintances and charities, which would auction pairs for large sums.

Ida McKinley

In 1876, McKinley was elected to Congress, where he became the Republican Party's expert on the protective tariff, which he promised would bring prosperity. He was elected Ohio's governor in 1891 and 1893, steering a moderate course between capital and labor interests. McKinley secured the Republican nomination for president in 1896.


William McKinley's campaign for US president was successful, defeating William Jennings Bryan, who was both the Democratic and Populist nominee, on November 3, 1896. McKinley stayed at home in Canton, Ohio, running a front porch campaign that reached millions through press coverage of his speeches, due to his wife's poor health, while Bryan toured the nation by rail. McKinley forged an electoral coalition of the well-to-do, urban dwellers, and prosperous farmers that kept the Republicans in power most of the time until 1932.

McKinley was sworn in as president on March 4, 1897, as his wife and mother looked on.

Chief Justice Melville Fuller swears in William McKinley as president; outgoing President Grover Cleveland at right.

William McKinley's inauguration was the first to be recorded by a motion picture camera.

President William McKinley had a pet parrot that he named "Washington Post."

During his presidency, McKinley supported higher tariffs (taxes on countries which trade with the US).

For decades, rebels in Cuba had waged an intermittent campaign for freedom from Spanish colonial rule. McKinley wanted Spain to grant independence to the island without conflict. However, Spanish reprisals against the rebels grew ever harsher. When American consul Fitzhugh Lee reported riots in Havana, McKinley agreed to send the battleship USS Maine there to protect American lives and property. On February 15, 1898 the Maine exploded and sank with 266 men killed blown up by an underwater mine. When the USS Maine was sunk, the public wanted war.

Wreckage of USS Maine, 1898

McKinley continued to negotiate for Cuban independence, but Spain refused McKinley's proposals, and on April 11, 1898, McKinley turned the matter over to Congress, who declared war on April 20th. The U.S. victory was quick and decisive. And the Spanish-American War started the era of imperialism for the United States.

As well as occupying Cuba, during his term, President McKinley also annexed Hawaii, the Philippines, and Wake Island.

President McKinley took great care to accommodate the First Lady's epilepsy. In a break with tradition, he insisted that Ida be seated next to him at state dinners rather than at the other end of the table. At receiving lines, she alone remained seated.

Guests noted that whenever Mrs. McKinley was about to undergo a seizure, the President would gently place a napkin or handkerchief over her face to conceal her contorted features. When it passed, he would remove it and resume whatever he was doing as if nothing had happened.

McKinley was elected to a second term as president in 1900. His second term did not last very long. He was shot by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz on September 6, 1901.


President William McKinley was shot at the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York during a public handshaking reception. Czolgosz said the President committed war crimes in the Philippines and was an enemy of the people.

Artist's conception of the shooting of McKinley

William McKinley was the first president to ride in a self-propelled vehicle. An electric ambulance transported him to the Exposition hospital after he was shot.

Though the hospital did have an operating theater, at the time of the shooting, no fully qualified doctor was at the hospital, only nurses and interns, The Exposition's medical director, Dr. Roswell Park, was in Niagara Falls, performing a delicate neck operation. When interrupted mid-surgery to be that he was needed urgently elsewhere, Park responded that he could not leave "even for the President of the United States". He was then told he needed to operate on William McKinley, the President of the United States.

As he lay dying McKinley whispered the words of his favourite hymn "Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee, e'en though it be a cross that raiseth me". The lifelong Methodist told the attending doctor "This has been my constant prayer."

William McKinley's wounds were not properly dressed and he died of gangrene on September 14, 1901. McKinley was the third American President to be assassinated.

Leon Czolgosz was the fourth child of Polish immigrants; he worked in a wire mill and attended socialist meetings. He shot President William McKinley three years after suffering a mental breakdown and was executed in the electric chair.

After the assassination of her husband, Ida McKinley lost much of her will to live. Her health eroded as she withdrew to the safety of her home, where she was cared for by her younger sister.

President McKinley was interred at the Werts Receiving Vault at West Lawn Cemetery until his memorial was built. Ida visited daily until her own death on May 26, 1907. 

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