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William McKinley Biography

Lesson Plans | Quotes | Facts

Among present-day historians, there seems to be passionate debate concerning exactly where William McKinley, Jr. (1843-1901), who served as America’s 25th president from 1896 to 1901, belongs in the rankings of the country’s leaders. Among the general public, if he’s remembered at all, it is for having been assassinated while in office.

For those more extensively learned, McKinley’s administration is responsible for at least three major legacies: it was under McKinley that a war was initiated with Spain, over that country’s refusal to part with its colony of Cuba, and subsequently won by the U.S in 1898. The peace treaty resulted in the United States acquiring Spain’s other colonies, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. This initiated the beginnings of an American imperialism more far-reaching than had ever been committed before.

Due to a severe economic depression that was afflicting the country when McKinley entered office, he fought for and signed into legislation the Gold Standard Act, which fixed gold as the only one on which the nation’s money supply should be based, as opposed to a gold or silver option that held before, and so simplified and united the American economy throughout its breadth. He also put into place a policy of exacting strict tariffs against imported goods.

These two acts not only aided the country into a period of unprecedented fiscal growth but led into a thirty-plus year of domination of the White House by Republican Party politicians that would end abruptly only with the devastating economic depression that began in 1929.

Certainly, at the time of his assassination by a self-styled anarchist named Leon Czolgosz, who purportedly believed the act would “advance the cause”, McKinley was regarded as one of the most beloved of American leaders up to that point in time. He was a man physically shorter than average but his celebrated intelligence, his noted facility for remembering names and faces, as well as a strong hand-shake that he shared with all persons, no matter what their social stature, won him wide admiration. The crime that struck him down was, after all, committed after his land-slide victory into a second term. His death has recently been the focus of extensive debate and published books on the quality of care he received. It is argued that if the medical staff who attended him had been more experienced and qualified, McKinley could have easily survived and with no permanent lingering damage to his body or brain.

It is now argued that because of McKinley’s successor, Vice-president Theodore Roosevelt, due to his own incredibly dynamic personality, as well as the economic reforms he set in motion (which were influenced by the strong Populist ideals then circulating throughout the country), that McKinley’s legacy is not held up to the same esteem granted other U.S. presidents in our current history books.


WIlliam McKinley biographies

William McKinley Facts
McKinley Library and Museum