President McKinley's Spanish policy was expressed in Woodford's mission to Madrid. The specifics were delineated in Woodford's instructions, which remained in effect until the 1898 war crisis. Although there was considerable overlap between McKinley's and Cleveland's policies, McKinley was more sympathetic to the Cuban cause, more responsive to Congress, and more willing to pressure Spain to end the Cuban war and the horrors of reconcentration. For the first time, Washington fixed a deadline; the president wanted Madrid to stop the war or at least initiate steps that promised an early peace before 1 November. If Spain failed to alter its course, McKinley was considering, as a first step, extending belligerent rights to the insurgents. As Woodford prepared to present this firmer policy to the Spanish government, the death of Cánovas altered Spanish politics and slowed the McKinley administration's movement toward confrontation.
Shortly after Calhoun returned from Cuba, McKinley chose Woodford to be the new minister to Spain. He had earlier tried to select more experienced and talented people for the post, but without success. A few days after taking office, the new president asked in turn John W. Foster, Henry White, and Elihu Root to go to Madrid, all of whom refused. Foster, a former secretary of state and minister to Spain, told McKinley that