William McKinley, Jr., was born on January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio. He was the seventh of nine children of William McKinley, Sr., and Nancy Allison McKinley. In 1853, McKinley moved with his family to Poland, Ohio. As a youth, McKinley attended Poland Seminary. Thereafter, he briefly attended Allegheny College but did not graduate.
When the Civil War began, McKinley enlisted as a private in the 23rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry, serving under future United States President Rutherford B. Hayes. McKinley spent the first year of the war in western Virginia, fighting small Confederate units, earning him a promotion to the rank of sergeant. On September 24, 1862, Hayes promoted McKinley to second lieutenant for bravery during the Battle of Antietam. Later, army officials promoted McKinley to captain on July 25, 1864. During the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, McKinley served on General George Crook’s staff at the Battles of Opequon, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek. On March 14, 1865, McKinley received a brevet promotion to major for gallant and meritorious service. McKinley mustered out of the army on July 26, 1865.
After the Civil War, McKinley attended Albany Law School in Albany, New York. Afterward, he joined the Ohio bar in March 1867. McKinley practiced law in Canton, Ohio from 1869 to 1871. In 1869, voters elected him as Stark County’s prosecuting attorney.
That same year, McKinley met Ida Saxton, and the couple married in 1871.
While serving a Stark County prosecutor, McKinley became active in the Republican Party. He campaigned for fellow Ohioans Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James A. Garfield throughout their political careers.
McKinley represented Ohio’s 18th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1877 to 1882 and from 1885 to 1891. As a congressman, McKinley was the Republican Party’s leading spokesman for protectionism in foreign trade. His McKinley Tariff of 1890 established substantially higher tariff rates on imported goods to protect U.S. business and manufacturing.
In 1891, McKinley defeated Democrat James E. Campbell to become Ohio’s Governor. McKinley gained more national prominence when he served as president of the National Republican Convention in 1892. In 1893, McKinley defeated Democrat Lawrence T. Neal to earn a second term as Ohio’s Governor.
United States President
Soon after his reelection, McKinley became a leading contender for the Republican nomination for president in the 1896 election. In June of that year, delegates to the National Republican Convention in St. Louis, Missouri overwhelmingly nominated McKinley as their candidate on the first ballot. In November, McKinley defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the presidential election of 1896. Inaugurated on March 4, 1897, McKinley was the last Civil War veteran to serve as President of the United States.
Foreign affairs dominated McKinley’s first term as president. In April 1898, Congress declared war on Spain, despite McKinley’s misgivings. During that summer, McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution, completing the controversial annexation of Hawaii. When the Spanish-American War ended in July, the United States assumed control of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. The U.S. also installed a military government in Cuba until the island-nation established its independence in 1902. In 1899, McKinley found himself embroiled in an armed conflict with Filipino nationalists resisting American intervention and fighting for Philippine independence.
During McKinley’s presidency, his reluctance to use the Sherman Antitrust Act contributed to unprecedented consolidation and abuses by big business. As the nation prospered, the assault on the civil rights of black Americans intensified. Although McKinley supported equal rights for black Americans, he was unwilling to use the power of the federal government to halt the growing proliferation of Jim Crow laws in the South and the general expansion of segregationist policies nationwide.
On June 19, 1900, delegates to the National Republican Convention in Philadelphia unanimously nominated McKinley as their candidate for President of the United States. In November, he easily defeated William Jennings Bryan again.
McKinley’s second term lasted only a few months. At 4:07 p.m. on September 6, 1901, a self-professed anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot the president twice at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Although it initially appeared that McKinley’s wounds were not life-threatening, he developed gangrene and died eight days later, at 2:15 a.m., on September 14, 1901.
McKinley’s funeral was held at the Milburn Mansion in Buffalo, New York, and his body lay in state for public mourning at the Buffalo City Hall. Official returned the president’s body to the White House and then the U.S. Capitol before transporting to Canton, Ohio for burial. McKinley was interred at West Lawn Cemetery in Canton, Ohio. His remains were later moved to the McKinley National Memorial in Canton, Ohio, which was dedicated on September 30, 1907.