Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896/Chapter 8/McKinley

VIII. Political Giants of the Present Day—

William McKinley

William McKinleyEdit

The Favorite Champion of a Protective Tariff

By Edward S. Ellis, A. M.


William McKinley, Jr., was born in Niles, Trumbull county, Ohio, January 29, 1843. His father was a German by birth, and lived to his 85th year, his mother, of Scotch descent, being still alive at this writing. William was the third son. The eldest, David, is a resident of San Francisco, where, until 1894, he was the Hawaiian Consul-General to the United States. The second son, James, died a few years ago, and Abner, younger than William, is engaged in business in the city of New York.

“You'll Do”Edit

When five years old William attended the village school at Niles, continuing his studies at a more advanced school at Poland, whither his parents removed in order to obtain better educational advantages for their children. When not quite sixteen, William was sent to the Allegheny College at Meadville, Pa., but fell ill and had to return home. When he recovered, he began teaching school, receiving $25 a month and “boarding around.” He was thus engaged when the country was thrilled by the news that Fort Sumter had been fired upon. Instantly the pale-faced, gray-eyed student flung aside his books and enlisted as a private in the war for the Union. It was patriotism of the loftiest nature which inspired the young teacher. He was mustered in at Columbus in June, by General John C. Fremont, who thumped the young man's chest, looked into his clear eye, and surveying him from head to foot said: “You'll do!”

A Fire-tried Veteran at Twenty-twoEdit

Young McKinley was attached to the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and remained with it to the close of the war. During that period, he served on the staff of Brigadier-General Rutherford B. Hayes, afterwards President of the United States; on the staff of the famous Indian fighter, General Crook, and subsequently on that of Brigadier-General Hazen. He was in all the engagements in which his regiment took part, and was made a second lieutenant directly after the battle of Antietam, upon the urgent recommendation of General Hayes. He became first lieutenant February 7, 1863, captain July 25, 1864, and was breveted major by President Lincoln for gallant conduct on the fields of Opequan, Fisher's Hill and Cedar Creek, being mustered out with his regiment in July, 1865.

Thus, at the age of twenty-two, Major McKinley was a fire-tried veteran of the war for the Union, with a record to which he can always refer with patriotic pride.

But the war was over, the Union restored, and the modest young man, without pausing to boast of his deeds, entered upon the study of law. He was graduated from the Albany (N. Y.) Law School, and settling in the little town of Canton, Ohio, waited for his clients to come. They straggled thither, and fortunate were all who secured the services of the brilliant, conscientious, and learned lawyer. His ability attracted the attention of Judge Belden, who invited him to a partnership with him, and the connection lasted until the death of the judge in 1870. His townsmen showed their appreciation of the young man by electing him, in 1869, prosecuting attorney of Stark county, an office which he held for a number of years. He had already established his reputation as a powerful jury lawyer and one of the best speakers in the State.

The “McKinley Bill”Edit

At the age of thirty-three the people of his district elected him their Representative in Congress, his re-election following until 1890, when, through the gerrymandering of his district, he was defeated by a small majority. From January, 1892, to January, 1894, and again until January, 1896, he was Governor of Ohio, his election being among the most notable triumphs of his career.

While in Congress, McKinley was a member of the Committee on Revision of Laws, the Judiciary Committee, the Committee on Expenditures in the Post Office Department, and the Committee on Rules. Upon the nomination of General Garfield for the Presidency, McKinley took his place on the Committee on Ways and Means, serving with the committee for the rest of his time in Congress. It was while he was chairman that he framed the “McKinley Bill,” which still bears his name. This tariff act became law, October 1, 1890, and provided for a high rate of duty on an immense number of articles imported from foreign countries, but made sugar free. Its purpose was to reduce the national revenue and to increase protection.

The work involved in the preparation of this bill is almost inconceivable. It contained thousands of items and covered every interest in the country. For four weeks, while the House was in session, he was almost constantly upon his feet, answering numberless questions, meeting objections and giving information. With the exception of two minor amendments, it passed exactly as it came from the hands of the committee.

A correspondent of the New York Press thus describes the man: “Quiet, dignified, modest, considerate of others, ever mindful of the long service of the veterans of his party, true as steel to his friends, unhesitating at the call of duty, no matter what the personal sacrifice; unwavering in his integrity, full of tact in overcoming opposition, yet unyielding on vital party principles, with a heart full of sympathy for those who toil, a disposition unspoiled by success and a private life as spotless as self-sacrificing, he stands before the American people to-day as one of the finest types of courageous, persevering, vigorous, and developing manhood that the Republic has ever produced.”

Exalted Sense of HonorEdit

A peculiar proof of Major McKinley's exalted sense of honor was given at the deadlock in the presidential convention of 1888. A movement on the fourth ballot suddenly set in in his favor, which could have been readily turned into a stampede. But he was there as the pledged friend of Senator John Sherman, and nothing could swerve him from his allegiance. He checked the movement at its beginning, and those who would have tempted him turned back at sight of that earnest countenance and at the ringing tones of that eloquent voice. Almost precisely the same thing was repeated four years later at Minneapolis, when the nomination would have assuredly gone to him, had he not peremptorily checked it, and ordered the delegates from his own State to vote as they had been instructed. The history of recent years shows that not many, placed in the situation of Major McKinley, were able to come out of it unscathed and without the smell of fire upon their garments.

A man like Major McKinley could not fail to make an ideal husband, when blessed as he is with an ideal wife. Both of their children died in infancy, and the wife is an invalid; but though their silver wedding was celebrated in January, 1896, no lovers were ever more chivalrously devoted to each other than are they, now that they have reached the meridian of life. Mrs. McKinley is as staunch a protectionist as her husband, and is firmly persuaded that no man quite so good and great has ever been born. When he is expected at home, she is at the window watching for him. His last act is to kiss her on the threshold, followed by a turn and salute when about to pass out of sight. No sweeter picture can be imagined than this couple, whose whole life is the most emphatic contradiction of the sneer that “marriage is a failure.” The two are members of the Methodist Church, and should they ever be called to the highest station in the gift of the American people, it is certain that none will wear the honors more worthily than they.