William McKinley

William McKinley

25th President, 1897-1901

Early Life and Pre-presidency

William McKinley Official Presidential portrait, ca. 1896-1910 Artist: August Benziger

William McKinley Official Presidential portrait, ca. 1896-1910
Artist: August Benziger

  • Born on January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio.
  • Parents: William McKinley and Nancy Allison. Siblings: David Alison, James Rose, Anna, Mary Jane, Helen Minerva, Sarah Elizabeth, and Abigail Celia.
  • The family moved to Poland, Ohio in 1852 where McKinley enrolled at a school run by a Methodist seminary.
  • Attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania in 1860. Due to illness and financial difficulties, he left after one year.
  • Joined the 23 Ohio Volunteer Infantry when the Civil War broke out. He left the army in 1865 after earning the rank of brevet major.
  • Returned to Poland, Ohio and studied law at a law office, then attended Albany Law School in 1866. He was admitted to the bar in 1867.
  • Opened his law practice in Canton, Ohio and was elected to the office of the prosecuting attorney in 1869. He lost his bid for re-election in 1871.
  • Married Ida Saxton (1847–1907) on January 25, 1871. Children: Katherine (1871–1875) and Ida (1873).
  • Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1876. He served from 1877 to 1891, except for the years 1883 to 1885 when he lost a bid for re-election.
  • During his stint in Congress, he authored the McKinley Tariiff of 1890 and worked to get it passed by Congress. The act increased tariff rates on imported goods as a way to protect American production.
  • Elected Governor of Ohio in 1891 and served until 1896.
  • During the Panic of 1893, McKinley nearly lost all his fortune when a friend lost money during the recession. McKinley had acted as the guarantor to his friend and was therefore asked to pay $100,000. He considered resigning to return to the law practice, which paid more, but wealthy supporters put up a trust fund and raised the necessary amount for him. He was never asked to repay it.
  • Nominated by the Republican Party as the Presidential candidiate in the 1896 election.
  • McKinley never left his home in Ohio to campaign for President. Instead he delivered 350 speeches from his front porch to some 750,000 delegates who came to visit. Party speakers were charged to speak on his behalf throughout the country.
  • Elected President by a landslide of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral vote.


McKinley at age 53

McKinley at age 53

  • Took his oath of office on March 4, 1897 in front of the original Senate Wing, U.S. Capitol.
  • Signed the Dingley Tariff Law in July 1897, which further raised custom duties on imported goods.
  • The U.S.–Spanish relationship began to worsen when the U.S. battleship Maine, which had visited Cuba to protect U.S. property, exploded in February 1898 with 266 Americans on board. The U.S. believed the cause external, whereas Spain believed the explosion was internal.
  • In mid-April 1898, as tensions in Cuba escalated between revolutionaries and Spain, McKinley requested Congress to grant him the authority to “use armed force in Cuba.” Congress responded by adopting a joint resolution that gave McKinley the authority to intervene in Cuba.
  • McKinley ordered that northern Cuban ports be blockaded while Congress passed the Volunteer Army Act, which authorized the creation of the First Volunteer Cavalry for Cuba. McKinley then called for 125,000 volunteers to fight in the war with Spain.
  • On April 23, 1898, Spain declared war with the United States. Two days later, the U.S. Congress declared war with Spain.
  • The American–Spanish War would be fought in Cuba and the Philippines. Puerto Rico and Guam fell to the U.S. without much resistance from Spanish troops.
  • McKinley signed the War Revenue Act in June 1898. The law levied taxes on beer, tobacco, amusements, and some business transactions raising $150 million dollars a year.
  • In July 1898, McKinley signed the joint resolution of Congress to annex Hawaii. In April 1900, Congress passed an act to establish the Territory of Hawaii.
  • Spanish troops in Santiago de Cuba surrendered in July 1898. The Spanish forces in the Philippines surrendered a month later.
  • McKinley sent a peace commission to negotiate with Spain regarding Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam in September 1898. On December 10, 1898, the U.S. and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris. In February 1899, the U.S. assumed control of Cuba and acquired Guam and Puerto Rico. It paid Spain $20 million to aquire some holdings in the Philippines. The payment was interpreted as an outright purchase of the country.
  • McKinley signed the Gold Standard Act in March 1900. The law established gold as the standard of value for all money issued by the United States. The law would stop silver from being exchanged for gold.
  • McKinley ran for re-election in 1900 and won with Theodore Roosevelt as his Vice President.
  • In the Summer of 1899, McKinley became the first president to drive an automobile. He drove a Stanley Steamer in Canton, Ohio.
  • On September 14, 1901, McKinley was standing, shaking hands at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York when Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, shot the President in the stomach two times. President McKinley died eight days later from complications of his injuries.


Illustration of McKinley's assassination Artist: T. Dart Walker, ca. 1905

Illustration of McKinley’s assassination
Artist: T. Dart Walker, ca. 1905

  • McKinley’s Vice President took his oath of office as President of the United States on September 14, 1901, the day McKinley died.
  • McKinley’s last words were believed to be “God’s will be done, not ours.”
  • McKinley’s assassin was tried nine days later and found guilty. He was executed by electric chair on October 29, 1901.
  • The casket carrying McKinley was brought to the White House, then to the U.S. Capitol rotunda to lay in state. His open casket was viewed by about 100,000 people. McKinley was then taken by train to his hometown in Canton, Ohio on September 18, 1901.
  • After a funeral service at a Methodist church, McKinley was temporarily interred in a vault at West Lawn Cemetery while a memorial to him was being planned.
  • Construction for the McKinley National Memorial in Canton, Ohio began on June 6, 1905. It was dedicated on September 30, 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
  • Although Ida Saxton McKinley died months before the completion of the memorial, she was entombed next to her husband inside it.
  • The William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in Canton, Ohio houses much of the President’s artifacts.
  • The National McKinley Birthplace Memorial Library and Museum in Niles, Ohio was dedicated on October 5, 1917 by former President William Howard Taft.