Day Honouring One or Many Presidents
For the 14th year in a row, we here at HGP present our annual
choice for Presidents Day... or is it President's Day? Or is it Presidents' Day? One upbeat about nobody knowing
how to use a simple apostrophe is that it gives us something to write about each year: Presidents!
everybody knows about the first few presidents, those rich white slave owners who believed in freedom for all.
And almost everybody knows about the most recent presidents, because, well... they're recent. So
here at HGP we're concentrating on those presidents in-between, those presidents between Hoover and Jackson, with the exception
of Lincoln, because everybody knows about him, too. If we live long enough, we'll eventually get around
to all of them. This year, though, it's McKinley's turn!
25. William McKinley (1843-1901)
William McKinley is the only
president to have a mountain named after him: Mount Denali.
He was actually elected for president
twice (in 1897 and 1901), but truly only served one full term, having been assassinated six months into his second term, on
September 14, 1901. And, all things considered, he truly wasn't that bad of a president.
times McKinley won the presidency, he beat the Democrat William Jennings Bryan. For those of you who remember
your high school history class (as opposed to those of us who barely remember high school at all), the big argument during
both of those elections was what the United States should base its currency on.
A Brief Tutorial: Money has to be based on something. I mean, if you
have a silver coin, it's worth whatever the current value of silver is. But what if you have
the folding kind? If your $100 bill were based on the current value of paper, it wouldn't be worth
just a whole lot. As it is now, the value of money in the United States is supposedly based on the value
of everything in the United States: your home, your job, your bank account, the fillings in your
kids' teeth, and so forth.
All that gold in Fort Knox? Yeah. It's just for
show. It wasn't always that way, though. Until 1971 the value of money, be it a penny
or a $500 bill, was actually tied to all that gold. Now... it's tied to such things as supply and demand,
national debt, manufacturing, and so forth. To fully understand what determines the value of money, see:
If all of that is confusing... join the club. It's always been confusing.
From time to time, people realize that the value of everything they have is pretty much tied to wishful thinking, and
then they panic, and then banks fail, and then people jump out of tall buildings. And that was no different
way back when Bryan was arguing that our money ought to be tied to something tangible, such as silver. McKinley,
on the other other hand, argued that, yeah, we can do that, but it's only going to cause the price of things to rise... inflation.
And he probably was right. Not that inflation is necessarily a bad thing. However,
the voters thought it was, and Bryan ended up losing the election... in 1896, 1900, and 1908. You'd think
he'd get the idea after the first two times... but I digress.
McKinley was also a big fan of protective tariffs. Even
though the McKinley Tariff ended up getting him voted out of office (as a Congressman) in 1890, it didn't keep him from being
elected as Ohio's governor from 1891 to 1893. There he wasn't so bent on tariffs, but once he became president,
he brought them back with a vengeance. And they worked.
A Brief Tutorial: A tariff is a tax on foreign imports. Say you have a choice
between a television produced in Mexico and one produced in Missouri. Regardless of how many flags you
have flying in your front yard, all things equal you're going to buy the cheapest one. I mean... yeah...
I'd love to be patriotic, and I'd love to buy American... but I got bills to pay. We all do.
So what the tariff does is it makes the cheaper imports more expensive. So we buy the American-made
TV... or whatever. In the short run, that increases demand for American products. That
demand pumps money into the American economy, and it also creates a demand for more workers to make those TVs, so unemployment
goes down, too. But there's a downside... If production is not able to keep up
with that demand, then that causes inflation. Basically, the factories aren't able to make TVs fast enough
to keep up with all the TVs everybody wants, so those few TVs they can make go to whomever is willing to pay the most.
And then one day everybody realizes that they only needed one TV anyway. And, you know, really,
you don't need a TV at all. And suddenly nobody's buying TVs. So those factories lay
off all their workers, who had just bought new homes and washing machines... all on credit, and now the banks don't have money
coming in, and everything just goes all to hell. As it did in 1907, and then again in 1929, and then again
in 2008, and then again... well, you get the idea. It's a bit like going on vacation with a credit card.
You can have a great time while you're in Florida. But those bills are going to come due.
back to McKinley...
McKinley was the last president to have served in the Civil War (on the Union side...
you know, the side that won), and the only president to have started his military service as an enlisted private.
He started at the bottom and worked his way up. So there, those of you who don't believe the American
Dream is possible! He went on from there to become a politician, as people often do. And
in there somewhere he married Ida Saxton, who became known as Mrs. McKinley.
As president, McKinley defeated Spain
in the Spanish-American War (1898), which gave the United States the territories of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, and
Cuba. We never really wanted Cuba, and eventually we got rid of the Philippines, too, but we still possess
Guam and Puerto Rico. And, yes, even though they are not states, citizens of those two places are still
considered US citizens, contrary to what other elected US officials might believe. Under McKinley we also
picked up the independent territory of Hawaii, which eventually did become a state.
For the most part, McKinley
is credited by many with having finally united an America still fractured from the Civil War, as well as ushering in a time
of prosperity. There are others, though, who claim that McKinley just brought back old-time protectionism and imperialism.
These include people like William Jennings Bryan and Leon Czolgosc. Leon was an anarchist who decided the best way to
deal with McKinley was to shoot him. And he did. McKinley hung on for eight days, and then turned it all over
to Teddy Roosevelt, his VP, on September 14, 1901. Bully.