William McKinley (1843-1901)

William McKinley (1843-1901), 25th president of the United States (1897-1901). McKinley led an administration that marked the beginning of vast changes in American attitudes and ways of living. During his administration the United States emerged from more than a century of isolation from world affairs to become one of the great powers of the world. His election in 1896 stifled demands for radical economic and social reforms, but his assassination at the beginning of his second term paved the way for the moderate reforms that followed.

Although he was extremely popular

Although he was extremely popular, McKinley was not a strong president. He was opposed to going to war with Spain to liberate Cuba but took no effective action to prevent it. He was in sympathy with the plight of farmers and laborers who were being victimized by the growing economic and political power of big business, but he believed that it was the result of natural forces with which the government had no right to interfere.

Early Life

McKinley was the seventh of nine children

McKinley was the seventh of nine children born to William and Nancy Allison McKinley, both of Scots-Irish descent. His grandfathers had both fought in the American Revolution (1775-1783), and in 1830 his paternal grandfather had settled in Niles, Ohio, and opened a small pig-iron foundry. William McKinley, Jr., was born in Niles on January 29, 1843. When he was nine he moved with his mother to nearby Poland, Ohio, where the educational opportunities were greater. His father stayed behind for a few years to manage the foundry.

McKinley enrolled at Poland Seminary

McKinley enrolled at Poland Seminary, a private school, and studied there for eight years. He was a serious, quiet boy who excelled in public speaking. He was very much attached to his mother, and her influence on him was great. He accepted without question her strict moral standards and her conviction that wealth was a reward for virtue and poverty was a punishment for sloth and vice. Extremely religious, she hoped that her son would enter the ministry of the Methodist Church, to which they belonged ( "see "Methodism).

Early Career

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Civil War Soldier

When the Civil War broke out in 1861

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, McKinley enlisted in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. His superior officer was Major Rutherford B. Hayes, a successful lawyer and future Republican president of the United States (1877-1881). The regiment was sent to western Virginia, where it spent a year fighting small Confederate units. McKinley`s bravery under fire impressed Hayes, and he was promoted to commissary sergeant. In September 1862 at the Battle of Antietam, McKinley drove a mule team loaded with meat and coffee through heavy enemy fire to supply troops at the front. For this heroic action he was promoted to second lieutenant and made an aide on Hayes`s staff. In 1865 he left the army with the rank of major.


Returning to Ohio

Returning to Ohio, Major McKinley, as he now preferred to be called, studied law in the office of county judge Charles E. Glidden of Youngstown. In 1866 he attended law school in Albany, New York, and the next year was admitted to the practice of law in Canton, Ohio. He had only moderate success as a lawyer, but he was active in civic affairs and soon became one of Canton`s most popular citizens.

In 1869 McKinley met Ida Saxton

In 1869 McKinley met Ida Saxton, daughter of a wealthy Canton businessman and banker. Two years later they were married, and they had two daughters. One child died after five months, and Mrs. McKinley suffered a mental breakdown. The shock of the second daughter`s death from typhoid fever in 1873 was more than she could bear. For the rest of her life she suffered epileptic seizures and bouts of mental depression.

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