William McKinley and His America

By H. Wayne Morgan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Governor of Ohio

THE GOVERNOR of Ohio in 1891 was a substantial Democrat named James E. Campbell. To the average man his office seemed a formidable responsibility: Ohio was a key state in national politics, a rich commonwealth, with a varied population and an economy that required careful supervision. But the casual observer was wrong if he thought the governor of Ohio was powerful. Unhappy experience with early governors who took themselves too seriously brought changes to the state constitution that made the executive all but impotent. He might recommend legislation but not veto it. His appointments in many areas of the state government were under controlling boards, which meant overlapping authority, conflicting aims, and delay.

But the office had its rewards. If not powerful as an administrator, the incumbent was potent as a politician, for few posts afforded a better steppingstone to greater things in national affairs. The cabinet, the Senate, the presidency itself were closer to the governor of Ohio than to many stronger state leaders. Ohio's governor was automatically a party leader, a national figure by virtue of his position.

The gubernatorial nomination seemed McKinley's for the asking. He was a bril'iant campaigner with a long record of party service in both state and nation. Yet nothing was ever sure in Ohio politics, and doubts crossed McKinley's mind. What if he failed to win the election? Would that not end his promising national career? He might better let the tariff issue cool and then seek reelection to the House, where he could resume his national leadership and work toward the White House. For however publicly silent he was on that subject, the White House was already much in his mind.

In the spring of 1891, shortly before Congress adjourned, a group of Ohio friends quietly visited McKinley in Washington and discussed the coming state convention. It would be foolish, they said, to turn aside a sure thing. His candidacy would unite the party, for only he could rally the dissident Forakerites to the regular standard. His election, and they were sure that he could win,

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