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Twenty-Fifth President 1897-1901
Birthplace: Niles, Ohio
William McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio, on Jan. 29, 1843. He taught school, then served in the Civil War, rising from the ranks to become a major. McKinley opened a law office in Canton, Ohio, and in 1871 married Ida Saxton. Elected to Congress in 1876, he served there until 1891, except for 1883–85. His faithful advocacy of business interests culminated in the passage of the highly protective McKinley Tariff of 1890. With the support of Mark Hanna, a shrewd Cleveland businessman interested in safeguarding tariff protection, McKinley became governor of Ohio in 1892 and Republican presidential candidate in 1896. The business community, alarmed by the progressivism of William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate, spent considerable money to assure McKinley's victory.
The chief event of McKinley's administration was the war with Spain, which resulted in the United States' acquisition of the Philippines and other islands.
Fast Fact: Under William McKinley the Nation gained its first overseas possessions.
Biography of William McKinley
25th President of the United States
William McKinley was the 25th president of the United States. He was born on January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio, a town of about 300 people at that time. He was the 7th child born to William and Nancy Alison McKinley (of Irish and Scotch descent). His father leased an iron foundry in Niles. William attended a one-room schoolhouse that stood on the site of this memorial. The family moved to Poland, Ohio when he was nine years old so that the children could attend a private school there called the Poland Academy. In school William enjoyed reading, debating, and public speaking. In fact, he was the president of the school’s first debate club.
When he was 16 he attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, for a short time before illness forced him to return home. When he regained his health he did not return to Meadville because of the family’s changed financial situation. Instead, he worked for awhile as a postal clerk. When the Civil War broke out on April 12, 1861 he was teaching at Kerr School near Poland, Ohio. He and a cousin, Will Osbourne (who later became mayor of Youngstown) enlisted as privates in the 23rd regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which was under the command of Rutherford B. Hayes, the future U.S. president. His first battle was at Carnifax Ferry, W. Virginia. He was later promoted to commissary sergeant and at the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), while his regiment was under intense enemy fire, and against the advice of his superiors, he took food to the troops. Because of this act of bravery, he was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. By the time the war was over he had attained the rank of brevet major.
William returned to Poland, Ohio where he studied law with Judge Charles Glidden. In 1866 he entered law school in Albany, New York, but he did not graduate. In 1867 he was admitted to the bar in Warren, Ohio. He moved to Canton, Ohio where two of his sisters were schoolteachers and he got a job working for Judge George Belden.
Belden was so over-burdened with cases that he offered one to McKinley. McKinley won the case and so impressed the judge that he was paid $25.00 for the case and was given a job. Later, McKinley opened his own law office and became active in the politics of the Republican Party. He was elected Prosecuting Attorney of Stark County in 1869.
While doing business at a local bank he met Ida Saxton, who was the daughter of a local banker and was also the "Belle" of Canton. They married in January, 1871 and their first daughter, Katherine, was born on Christmas day of that year. Their second child, Ida, was born in 1873 and died at the age of 4 ½ months. That same year, Mrs. McKinley’s mother also died. Two years later, their first daughter, Katie, died of typhoid fever. Mrs. McKinley became ill with depression, phlebitis, and epilepsy, which left her a semi-invalid who needed constant care. Mr. McKinley was always concerned about her and he was known for his devotion to her.
McKinley won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1876. His opponent, Levi Lamborn, had been wearing a scarlet carnation during a debate. Shortly after this debate, McKinley began wearing a scarlet carnation in his lapel. He was rarely seen, while serving as congressman and governor, without his trademark carnation. (In 1904, Ohio adopted the scarlet carnation as its official state flower.) McKinley served 7 terms in Congress from 1877-1891, except for a 9-month period in 1884-1885. The House ruled that his opponent, lawyer Jonathan Wallace, had actually received the most votes in the 1882 election, so Wallace took McKinley’s seat for the rest of the term. McKinley easily regained the office in the 1884 election. McKinley consistently won re-election even though the districts he represented were heavily Democratic and the boundaries of the districts were often changed so as to bring about Democratic victories. As a congressman, he focused his energies on the tariff problem and became known as a protectionist and as a persuasive speaker. He was generally associated with being on the side of big business. But he also worked hard for labor and later, as governor of Ohio, he encouraged employees to join labor unions and criticized employers who refused workers the right to organized. Also as congressman he supported gold over silver as the backbone of America’s money system. In 1889, Thomas Reed of Maine defeated him for the position of Speaker of the House. McKinley lost his next bid for Congress and returned to Canton in 1891. Reasons for his defeat were gerrymandering of the Democrats and unpopularity brought about by the McKinley Tariff, which had greatly increased consumer prices.
As governor, a position he held for two terms from 1891-1895, he proposed laws to protect railroad workers and address the issue of child labor, and a state board of arbitration was established to deal with labor and business problems. During this time as governor he became friends with millionaire industrialist Mark Hanna from Cleveland, Ohio. It’s said that McKinley defended mineworkers in suits they had against Mark Hanna, who was the mine owner. Mark Hanna was so impressed with McKinley that they became good friends. Popular opinion has it that Hanna led McKinley to political power and success. But, some think that McKinley used Hanna to meet his own political goals. In 1892 McKinley chaired the Republican National Convention and was almost nominated for the presidency. Mark Hanna had unofficially opened a McKinley-for-President headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota (site of the convention). In 1893, McKinley faced a personal crisis that almost sidetracked his political career. He had co-signed bank notes totaling more than $100,000.00 to help a friend start a business. The business failed and McKinley was expected to repay the bank loans. McKinley did not have the money. His friends, led by Mark Hanna, raised enough funds to repay the loans. The public was sympathetic for McKinley and he was re-elected as governor in 1893.
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