Death of President McKinley 

U.S. #588 is the least common of the 10-perf Series of 1923-26 stamps.
U.S. #588 is the least common of the 10-perf Series of 1923-26 stamps.

Eight days after being shot by an assassin at the Pan-American Expo, President McKinley died on September 14, 1901.

Born January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio, William McKinley was the seventh of eight children. At the age of 10, his family moved to Poland, Ohio.

From an early age, McKinley understood the importance of a good education, studying hard through childhood and as a student at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. However, he fell ill and left after just one term. Upon returning home and regaining his health, McKinley worked as a postal clerk and later a teacher.

Shortly after the Civil War broke out in 1861, McKinley joined the Poland Guards, which later became the 23rd Ohio Infantry. He enjoyed the soldier’s life and often wrote letters to his hometown newspaper praising the army and the Union cause. It was at this time that McKinley first met Rutherford B. Hayes. Impressed with how Hayes led his men, McKinley established a lifelong friendship with him.

U.S. #326 – McKinley was honored in the Louisiana Purchase issue because of his aggressive acquisition of new territories, which was only second to Jefferson.
U.S. #326 – McKinley was honored in the Louisiana Purchase issue because of his aggressive acquisition of new territories, which was only second to Jefferson.

McKinley participated in battles at Carnifex Ferry, Antietam, Kernstown, and Cedar Creek. When the war was over, McKinley’s superiors urged him to join the peacetime army, but he declined, seeking to start a career in law.

Upon returning home, McKinley began studying in a local lawyer’s office before attending Albany Law School. He was admitted to the bar in March 1867 and set up a small office in Canton, Ohio. McKinley’s legal work proved prosperous, as he was soon able to buy an entire block of buildings on Main Street, which provided him with consistent rental income for several decades. In the coming years, McKinley won some high-profile cases and entered politics. He served in Congress and on the House Ways and Means Committee, where he created the McKinley Tariff of 1890.

While still serving in Congress, many people encouraged McKinley to run for governor. In 1891, he won that election by 20,000 votes. As governor of an important swing state, he was a prominent figure in national politics. In this role, he established an arbitration board to settle work disputes and passed a law that instituted fines on employers who fired their workers for being in unions.

U.S. #829 – From the 1938 Prexies.
U.S. #829 – From the 1938 Prexies.

McKinley was among the potential Republican candidates for the 1892 presidential election, but he was forced into a public, neutral role, and encouraged delegates not to vote for him. When Grover Cleveland was elected President, McKinley became the likely candidate for the 1896 election.

While McKinley went about his business as governor, his team traveled the country, building support far ahead of any of his rivals. McKinley also took an unorthodox approach to his campaign. Rather than traveling the nation and delivering speeches, he stayed at home and the people came to him. When they arrived, he delivered speeches on his front porch. As one historian described, “it was, as it turned out, a brilliant strategy. McKinley’s ‘Front Porch Campaign’ became a legend in American political history.” Available to the public every day but Sunday, McKinley received delegations that arrived by railways that offered reduced rates for the trip. In the end, McKinley won 50% of the vote and a large majority in the Electoral College.

Sworn in on March 4, 1897, McKinley delivered a long inaugural address concerning tariff reform, currency issues, and an interest in staying out of foreign affairs. However, he would end up getting America involved in Cuba’s war for independence against Spain, eventually gaining the new territories of Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.

U.S. #2218f – 1986 McKinley First Day Cover.
U.S. #2218f – 1986 McKinley First Day Cover.

McKinley’s other efforts in foreign policy concerned Hawaii, which had been a republic since seizing power from its royal government in 1893. McKinley supported annexation (acquiring and incorporating as a territory) and pushed Congress to side with him, as he feared inaction would lead to a royalist counter-revolution or a Japanese takeover. The President argued, “We need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California. It is manifest destiny.” He was successful, signing the annexation legislation in July 1898.

The acquisition of these Pacific possessions increased America’s trade position with China. So McKinley encouraged Congress to establish a commission to look into trade opportunities there and create an “Open Door Policy” that allowed all nations to trade freely with China.

On the domestic front, McKinley faced the issues of tariff reform and free silver. McKinley supported a bill that increased tariffs on wool, sugar, and luxury goods. Though they successfully reached agreements on the issue with France, both India and Britain rejected the proposal. With that failing, McKinley decided to support the gold standard, which turned out well, as gold strikes had increased the monetary supply, causing no need for silver coinage.

Item #97831 – McKinley commemorative coin cover.
Item #97831 – McKinley commemorative coin cover.

With his popularity assuring the party to renominate him, McKinley sought a new running mate for the 1900 election, as his first Vice President had died the previous year. Theodore Roosevelt had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, fought with distinction in Cuba, and was rising through the Republican Party quickly. McKinley campaigned as he had done the last time, from his home, while Roosevelt toured and gave speeches. In November, McKinley won the largest victory of any Republican since 1872.

Following his March inauguration, McKinley and his wife began a national tour. But when Ida fell ill, they postponed the last stop, the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, until later in the year. On September 5, McKinley addressed some 50,000 people at the fairgrounds, with Leon Czolgosz among them. Czolgosz was an anarchist who wanted to become a hero. The following day, as the President greeted the public, Czolgosz approached and shot him twice in the chest. Upon being shot, McKinley’s first thoughts were of his wife, telling his aides to be careful how they broke the news to her. He then ordered that the mob of people surrounding Czolgosz leave him be, likely saving his life.

U.S. #294-99 – Pan-American stamps issued for the Exposition where McKinley was shot.
U.S. #294-99 – Pan-American stamps issued for the Exposition where McKinley was shot.

Initially, doctors thought McKinley’s condition was improving. However, they could not tell that he had developed gangrene internally, which was slowly poisoning his blood. Ida sat by his side throughout it all, and when his condition worsened, she cried that she wanted to go with him. He responded, “We are all going… God’s will be done, not ours.” President McKinley died in the early morning hours of September 14, 1901. His assassin was found guilty and later sentenced to death.

According to one historian, “The nation experienced a wave of genuine grief at the news of McKinley’s passing.” At least 200,000 people passed by his casket as it sat in the Capitol Rotunda and a Canton, Ohio, courthouse. McKinley was later interred at a special memorial in his honor, which was already under construction.

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  1. Once again Mystic gives us a history lesson that was not touched in our public schools. Thanks Mystic for my morning US history lesson! I had no idea that McKinley was so active in the 19th century of this country’s history.

    1. So many people comment something like Judy has, that these things were “not touched in our pubic schools.” Nonsense, I was a public school history teacher for 38 years and they were taught, probably not in the depth that these Mystic Stamp articles cover them, but there are only so many minutes in the school day and so many days in the school year. Maybe you were absent that day Judy, or had some other matter on your mind.

  2. Those who happen to pass through Ohio would find a stop in Canton to be worthwhile where President McKinley is well honored.Next to McKinley’s impressive tomb is the McKinley museum. Various pieces of Spanish-American War memorabilia can be found in nearby parks, including part of the Battleship Maine’s superstructure. The Football hall of game is a stone’s throw from McKinley’s tomb and museum for those of a sports interest.


  4. Once again, learned much that I didn’t know about our past leaders – McKinley’s ongoing “Front Porch Campaign” being one of them. (Hillary take note…) Thanks Mystic!

  5. My Great uncle was a reporter for the AP Press at the time of McKinley’s speech at the Pan-Am expo in Buffalo. He later became the editor of the Buffalo-Currier Express. I have a picture of McKinley on the grandstand and my great uncle below him taking notes at a table. This picture was taken the day before McKinley was shot. I treasure it as much as I do my stamps.

  6. Once again, this history review passes so lightly over the “stolen” Hawaiian Islands.
    Annexation was very unpopular and defended against by major constitutional figures- including Tricnor Davis [ who defended in the Dred-Scott case- which actually was the true beginning of the civil war] The Monarchy was “overthrown” by a cabal of rich, second generation Missionaries’The Queen Liliokalani did not want bloodshed- her guards could have wiped out the rebels .Even Clinton recognized and apologised for the overthrow .

  7. The irony of TR becoming President due to McKinley’s death was that the conservative Republicans in NY, where he was governor, thought they had sentenced him to political oblivion by making him the VP. Among them was Marc Hanna, the Roger Ailes of his day, and McKinley’s political manager.

  8. Let me preface this message with a statement that everyday I learn something new about something that I already new both from Mystic and those who send their comments. At the top of the list of my favorite commentators is Conrad Gaunt who always adds something additional to the day’s topic. Today I must object to his assessment of Judy’s comment. I grew up in South Buffalo on a street that intersected McKinley Pkwy. I am quite familiar with the McKinley Monument, the location of his assassination and that Mt. McKinley (Denali) was , for whatever reason, named for him. As he was not a founding father, an occupant of Mt. Rushmore,( as his successor was) and is generally regarded as a middle of the pack president in the company of Hayes and Cleveland, details of his administration are often overlooked. Some say that accomplishments of his are actually no more than occurrences of the trends of the times. McKinley’s administration was deemed no more than “a mediocre prelude to the vigor and energy of Theodore Roosevelt.[ Lewis L Gould] With all due respect, we aren’t all liberal arts majors that went on to be educators. I encourage Judy to continue her comments of appreciation and once again thank you to Mystic for touching on info that was not detailed in school.

    1. Interestingly enough, Alaska was never visited by McKinley and he really had little interest in it. The name “Denali” is based on the Koyukon name of the mountain, Deenaalee (“the high one”). The Koyukon are a people of Alaskan Athabaskans settling in the area north of the mountain. Alaska in 1975 requested that the mountain be officially recognized as Denali, as it was still the common name used in the state.

  9. What is ironic is that a couple of blocks away there was a conference on the use of xray’s on humans. If they had xrayed The president he probably wouldn’t have died from the gunshot.

  10. Our last 19th century president and first 20th Century President.
    The US became an international power during his presidency but he was overshadowed historically by his more flamboyant successor Theodore Roosevelt.

  11. To motion that the mob that descended upon the assassin of President McKinley leave him be, is among the GREATEST acts of pardon and forgiveness. Very, very few humans would ask that the person who has just committed such an act …”leave him be”…, has very,very,very few equals. I believe that that the name of Mt. Mckinley be changed to Mt. Denali, is an example of the gradual removal of white influence and colonialism in America, as well as other countries that were ones under European Power, namely those that were under and ruled by Great Britain-British Empire.

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