Politics, Reform, and Expansion, 1890-1900

By Harold U. Faulkner | Go to book overview
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End of a Decade

Americans remembered the administration of William McKinley as a singularly propitious time. The Spanish-American War dazzled the country and flattered the national vanity. The return of prosperity dulled the sharp edge of class conflict. The President himself seemed to embody the genial mood. Handsome, engaging, modest, courteous, and sincere, McKinley was the ideal man to preside over a nation seeking to forget its troubles. McKinley was everybody's friend at a time when everybody needed a friend. He seemed to have no enemies, and the country was tired of Presidents who made too many enemies.

Of Scotch-Irish descent, McKinley was born at Niles, Ohio, in 1843, the son of a small steel and iron producer. Local schools and a short period at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania completed his early formal education. In 1861 he enlisted as a private in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, later commanded by Rutherford B. Hayes; fought in many battles; and was mustered out of the Army in 1865 as a brevet major. After two years of preparation in a law office and at the Albany Law School, he was admitted to the bar and began a successful practice which continued until his election to Congress in 1876. Except for a short time near the end of the Forty-eighth Congress, when his election (which he won by eight votes) was contested and he was unseated, he served continuously until 1890. A gerrymander of his district in that year, together with the unpopularity of the tariff which bore his name, defeated him. In 1891, however, he was elected governor of Ohio and served two terms until his election to the Presidency.1

Charles S. Olcott, The Life of William McKinley ( Boston, 1916), I, 82-85, gives maps showing the gerrymandering of McKinley's district.


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