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.
Both 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.
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.
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.
But 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.