William McKinley: Life and Death of the 25th President of the United States

| | February 28, 2024

William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, presided over a transformative period in American history, guiding the nation through a time of significant economic growth and an expanding global presence. Born into a modest family in Ohio, McKinley’s rise from a young Civil War hero to a key political figure epitomizes the American spirit of perseverance and dedication.

William McKinley’s Early Life and Career

William McKinley was born on January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio. Growing up in a modest Scots-Irish family, he was educated in a one-room schoolhouse and developed a strong work ethic.

At 18, McKinley enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War, rising to brevet major. After the war, he attended Albany Law School, became a lawyer in Canton, Ohio, and entered politics as a Stark County prosecutor in 1869.

McKinley served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1877 to 1891, advocating for protective tariffs, notably through the McKinley Tariff of 1890. Despite a defeat due to the tariff’s unpopularity, he rebounded as Ohio’s governor from 1892 to 1896, earning a reputation for moderate governance and setting the stage for his presidential campaign.

Becoming a President

William McKinley’s journey to the presidency was characterized by a steadfast adherence to his core principles, honed through his experiences as a soldier, lawyer, and politician. His adept political skills and visionary leadership propelled him to the national spotlight, culminating in his election as the 25th President of the United States. The 1896 presidential campaign showcased McKinley’s innovative approach, notably through his “front porch” strategy in Canton, Ohio, which enabled him to effectively disseminate his message while projecting an aura of stability and reliability.

Central to McKinley’s campaign was his fervent advocacy for protective tariffs, a policy he argued was vital to safeguard American jobs and industries from foreign competition. This stance resonated deeply with voters, particularly those anxious about the economic uncertainties of a rapidly industrializing era. McKinley’s ability to forge connections with working-class voters and immigrants, coupled with the strategic prowess of his campaign manager, Mark Hanna, significantly widened his electoral appeal.

The election of 1896, in which McKinley defeated William Jennings Bryan, marked a significant turning point in American politics, signaling a shift in the electorate and the political landscape. This victory not only underscored McKinley’s personal triumph but also highlighted the evolving dynamics within American society and the Republican Party’s adept response to these changes. Moreover, the presence of William McKinley Sr., who instilled in his son the values of hard work and integrity, played an unspoken role in shaping the character and policies of McKinley’s presidency. McKinley’s win underscored a broader political realignment, setting the stage for America’s future direction under his leadership.

Achievements of President William McKinley

William McKinley’s tenure as the 25th President of the United States (1897-1901) was marked by notable economic and international achievements, cementing his legacy during a transformative period in American history. His presidency achieved significant economic growth, partly due to his commitment to protective tariffs, as seen with the Dingley Act of 1897, which set record-high tariffs to protect domestic industries, fostering production and employment.

READ MORE: US History Timeline: The Dates of America’s Journey

Internationally, McKinley’s leadership during the Spanish-American War of 1898 shifted the U.S. into a global imperial power, acquiring territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, and freeing Cuba from Spanish rule. This expansion underscored the U.S.’s emerging role on the world stage.

McKinley also advanced American foreign policy with the Open Door Policy in China, advocating for equal trading rights among nations and China’s territorial integrity, steering the U.S. toward a more active role in global affairs. His presidency saw crucial military modernization, expanding and updating the Army and Navy, which enhanced American power projection and preparedness for future challenges.

Domestically, the Gold Standard Act of 1900 under McKinley stabilized the currency and solidified the U.S.’s commitment to sound monetary policy, contributing to economic stability and fostering an environment conducive to growth. McKinley’s administration thus left a lasting impact on the United States’ economic and international stature.

Events that Marked William McKinley’s Presidency

William McKinley’s presidency (1897-1901) was an important period that shaped the United States’ trajectory and global role, characterized by significant events under his leadership. The Spanish-American War of 1898 was a defining moment, transforming the U.S. into a global power through the acquisition of territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, and marking a shift toward American imperialism.

The Dingley Act of 1897, another cornerstone of McKinley’s administration, established high protective tariffs to shield American industries, playing a vital role in the nation’s economic stimulation. McKinley’s economic policies were further underscored by the Gold Standard Act of 1900, stabilizing the currency and promoting growth by reaffirming the U.S.’s commitment to the gold standard.

Internationally, the Open Door Policy of 1899 demonstrated McKinley’s influence in global diplomacy, aiming to preserve China’s territorial integrity and ensure equal trading rights, thereby preventing its partition by colonial powers and establishing the U.S. as a significant player in Far Eastern affairs.

McKinley’s second term began with optimism, focusing on prosperity through protectionism and expanding American influence. However, his presidency was tragically cut short by assassination in September 1901, ending a tenure that had steered the U.S. through a critical period of change and growth. His leadership during these transformative years left a lasting impact on the nation’s direction and its stance on the world stage.

McKinley at War

During William McKinley’s presidency, the United States found itself at the center of a significant conflict that would redefine its position on the global stage—the Spanish-American War of 1898. This war emerged as a crucial chapter in McKinley’s tenure, underscoring his role as a wartime leader and marking a turning point in American foreign policy and military engagement.

The Spanish-American War was ignited by the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor, which led to widespread public outcry and calls for intervention against Spanish colonial rule in Cuba. McKinley, initially hesitant to engage in war, ultimately succumbed to public and political pressure, advocating for intervention on the grounds of ending Spanish atrocities in Cuba and promoting Cuban independence. The declaration of war against Spain was a decisive move that reflected McKinley’s eventual embrace of an assertive American role abroad.

Under McKinley’s leadership, the United States achieved a swift and decisive victory, showcasing the prowess of the newly modernized U.S. Navy and the effectiveness of its military strategies. The war concluded with the Treaty of Paris, through which Spain ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States, while Cuba gained its independence. This victory not only liberated Cuba from Spanish rule but also signified the emergence of the United States as an imperial power, with overseas territories that expanded its strategic and economic interests.

The acquisition of the Philippines, in particular, marked a controversial and transformative moment in McKinley’s presidency, leading to debates over American imperialism and the nation’s role as a colonial power. The subsequent Philippine-American War, a result of Filipino resistance to American rule, presented a complex and challenging conflict that extended beyond McKinley’s presidency but was rooted in the decisions made during his administration.

Moreover, McKinley’s wartime leadership was characterized by efforts to unify the nation and garner support for the war effort, demonstrating his ability to navigate the complexities of public sentiment and political dynamics. His administration’s handling of the war and its aftermath played a critical role in shaping the United States’ identity as a global power and laid the groundwork for future American foreign policy.

United States in the Spanish-American War

This conflict, which lasted from April to August 1898, was characterized by rapid and decisive military actions that expanded the United States’ territorial holdings and established it as a formidable imperial power on the global stage.

The war’s origins can be traced back to the Cuban struggle for independence from Spanish colonial rule, which had been ongoing for several years. The United States, driven by a mix of humanitarian concerns for the Cuban people and strategic interests in the region, found itself increasingly entangled in the conflict. The explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in February 1898 served as the immediate catalyst for war, galvanizing public opinion and prompting McKinley to call for military intervention against Spain.

The war highlighted the need for military and naval modernization, leading to significant reforms in the U.S. armed forces and setting the stage for America’s growing military engagement in the 20th century.

Post-War Life and Reelection in 1900

Following the Spanish-American War, President William McKinley’s popularity soared, bolstered by the United States’ emergence as a global power and the perception of economic prosperity at home. His administration’s success in the war and the subsequent territorial acquisitions underscored his leadership and strategic vision. McKinley’s policies, particularly his advocacy for protectionism and the gold standard, contributed to a period of economic growth, further enhancing his standing with the American public.

In the election of 1900, McKinley sought reelection, running on a platform that highlighted his administration’s achievements in foreign policy and economic management. His campaign emphasized the nation’s newfound status on the world stage, the prosperity it was experiencing, and the benefits of his economic policies. McKinley’s ability to appeal to a broad section of the American electorate, including immigrants and working-class voters, played a critical role in his reelection. His victory in the 1900 election affirmed the public’s approval of his leadership and set the stage for the continuation of his policies.

McKinley’s Assassination

President McKinley was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist who opposed McKinley’s policies and viewed him as a symbol of oppression. Czolgosz believed that by killing McKinley, he would strike a blow against what he perceived as a tyrannical government and inspire a revolution among the working class. The assassination reflected the broader social and political tensions of the era, including debates over imperialism, economic inequality, and the role of government in society.

President McKinley was 58 years old at the time of his death. He was assassinated on September 6, 1901, and succumbed to his wounds eight days later, on September 14, 1901.


President William McKinley is remembered for leading the United States during a critical period of expansion and transformation, guiding the nation into the role of a global power through the Spanish-American War. His presidency marked a significant shift in American foreign policy, from a focus on isolationism and continental expansion to a more active engagement in international affairs and imperialism.

McKinley’s economic policies, particularly his support for high tariffs and the gold standard, contributed to a period of prosperity that benefited many Americans. However, his administration also faced criticism for its handling of the Philippines and the ethical implications of American imperialism.

The assassination of McKinley was a tragic event that shocked the nation and underscored the volatile political climate of the era. It also led to the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, whose progressive policies would significantly shape the course of American history.

In the years since his death, historians have reevaluated McKinley’s presidency, recognizing his role in setting the stage for the American Century. While his tenure was marked by controversies and challenges, McKinley’s impact on American politics, economy, and foreign policy remains an important part of the nation’s history.

The McKinley Era: Expansion and Controversy

William McKinley’s presidency was important for ushering the U.S. onto the global stage and advocating economic growth policies, it ended abruptly with his assassination. His legacy, a blend of expansionism and prosperity, remains a significant, albeit debated, chapter in American history, shaping the nation’s trajectory into the 20th century.

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