tv The Presidency William Mc Kinley CSPAN June 26, 2021 1:17pm-2:01pm EDT
my honor to introduce robert married to the program. robert mary's washington career spanning nearly 45 years has included since as a reporter a publishing executive commentator and author mary earned. his bachelor's degree in journalism from the university of washington and a master's degree from columbia university's graduate school of journalism. mary is the author of five books his latest book published in november of 2017 was president
mckinley architect of the american century. mary has served on the board of advisors of bloomberg government and was a director of acorn media a distributor of high-end british drama. he is twice served as a juror for the pulitzer prize mary the father of three children lives with his wife susan in splits his time between langley, washington and washington dc bob. welcome to history happy hour. thank you colleen. thank you so very much and thank you all of you for being here today. it's a pleasure for me to be with you. i'm not really with you. however, and i have to say it's a little bit weird for me not to be able to see you as i talk to you. it occurs to me that if i try to say something funny, i won't have any idea whether i succeeded or not because i can't hear whether there's any kind of a reaction. but i do want to say that i would love to have a drink with all of you, but i'm on the west coast, which means it's a little
too early for me to and buy well, but wait a minute. i i'm connected to the east coast via zoom. and so i guess maybe i can sort of think of myself as being on the east coast so i will have a drink with you. so cheers to everybody. thank you. i'd like to start by talking a little bit about the dynamic of writing about william mckinley by way of illustration. i'll compare that to writing about james k polk whom i wrote a biography of prior to the mckinley biography. there was a book in between but that wasn't a biography and the distinction is this when i undertook polk i discovered i didn't like the guy very much he kind of had a crimped personality. he was not really very friendly didn't like people particularly and i found that i he wasn't a
very sympathetic figure, but found him endlessly fascinating. because he was a maybe a smaller than life figure, but he had larger than life ambitions and he had an iron will and determination and he was an amazing maneuver and inside politician. so that was kind of fun. now with mckinley as i got into that project, i found that i liked them a great deal. he was really a fine fellow. i treated everybody extremely well hail fellow everyone liked him, but i wasn't sure i found him very interesting because he seemed to have a certain blandness. he didn't have much flamboyance. he didn't have the overt characteristics of leadership that you kind of anticipate with a president of the united states. and so i was struggling with the effort to sort of bring the guy to life. but then it occurred to me that there was a kind of a mysterious
aspect to mckinley and the mystery is this how did such a person who seemed ordinary? who seem not to have the those overt traits and attributes of strong leadership? how did he accomplish all that? he accomplished and that was the leader. that was the the mystery of william mckinley and as soon as i got into that concept, i found that i was intrigued by him more and more and that's how i came to the conclusion ultimately that he was in fact the of the americans century. so, what did he accomplish? well, let's talk about that a little bit. um, he passed during his presidency or got through congress a major tariff bill. he increased tariff rates on a lot of incoming products to a great extent. now, this was hugely controversial in his day as indeed any kind of tax increases or decreases or controversial even in our day, but mckinney
was a significant protectionist. he was a republican and the republican party was a protectionist party the previous party the the wigs out of which the republicans emerged also was a protectionist party henry clay was a protectionist abraham lincoln was a protectionist. and the federalists who were the party that's preceded the wigs they were protectionists alexander. hamilton was somewhat of a protectionist. so melania mckinley felt that he wanted to raise care freights and he did and that wasn't so very easy now, i will say that mckinley was probably the greatest protectionist of our of our presidents and he didn't have what you might call a nuanced mind. he had a strong sense of what was right and wrong and tariffs were good and free trade was bad. i did tarbell the muckraking journalist of the turn of the
last century who didn't like tariffs and didn't like mckinley very much wrote that he had an advantage which few of his colleagues enjoyed that of believing with childlike faith that all he claimed for protection was true. well, he probably did believe that but he embraced protectionism as his ticket to national attention and national prominence and it worked because when he was chairman of the ways and means committee in the house, he passed at that time a major tariff bill. 90 to rates were reduced under the democratic cleveland administration and so he praised him again as president. so that's number one. number two the annexation of hawaii it's hard to think of america without hawaii and it seems most of us who don't know a lot about it, and i didn't before i took this project sort of think. it was just natural that hawaii would come under the aegis of the united states, but it wasn't that natural. japan had a very serious claim
on hawaii and wanted it very badly. the germans were in a sort of expansionist mode at that time. they didn't have much of a claim, but they didn't care about that. they wanted it also and the united states under mckinley brought hawaii under our jurisdiction. now, this was huge from a standpoint of america's emergence as a global power because hawaii is one of the most strategic points on the entire globe if if you if you control hawaii you're in a position to control and maintain significant influence military and otherwise trade in in the pacific. which means asia and if you don't um, you don't have that so consider if japan had gotten hawaii and the united states and japan were sort of moving towards hostilities in 1941. japan would have been in position to attack, california from hawaii as opposed to attacking hawaii from the islands of japan.
so it extends our defensive perimeter far far out beyond our continental boundaries and it also gives us a position from which to project power outward into asia. so that was a very very significant development. and then we come to the spanish-american war. well, i'm going to argue that that war was sort of gave us the greatest payoff for the least cost of any of our wars certainly more than the wars. we've been in recently and it was it was i think that you can say that if you study a carefully which i had to do to write this book mckinley engaged in what was very deaf really brilliant diplomacy leading up to that war. he didn't really he wanted to avoid war. there are a lot of people in america who were so upset about what was happening in cuba with the insurgency and and spain's effort to put it down. so brutally that they wanted
america to go to war. we can't really didn't but he but he wanted something that was very very significant and he was prepared to go to work and get it. he wanted to stay out of the caribbean. he wanted to stay out of the western hemisphere because any great wants to consolidate its position in its own neighborhood before it starts to project itself outward. otherwise, it's going to find itself in difficult situation if it does attempt to project itself outward, and so he was prepared to push spain to get them to move out of cuba and puerto rico and he was hoping that they would do it without a war but that didn't happen so we didn't go to war it was lasted less than four months a little more than three months. we destroyed this spain's pacific fleet the philippines then we destroyed their atlantic fleet and cuba and we essentially kicked them out of the caribbean. now in the process we picked up
guam and in the pacific we picked up puerto rico. we didn't lay any claim on cuba because we had always said in our agitations against the spanish ruling cuba that it wasn't because we were trying to gain dominance over over cuba. so we so we didn't make that claim, but then we also picked up the philippines and that was controversial highly controversial at the time and is remain controversial in historical terms even down to our own time. and i think that's probably fair we ended up in a insurgency war against philippine people who chafed under the rule of america. they didn't want to be ruled by anybody didn't want to be ruled by spain either. they wanted independence mckinley didn't think they were ready for independence and thereby we ended up in that brutal war which is more like vietnam than we like to think in terms of our immediate
historical perspective. but it was a seminal event not just for america, but for the world because when mckinley was elected president in 1896 america was not an empire when he ran for reelection in 1900 america was an empire. he took america into the world. in economic terms. he brought the country out of the panic of 1893 the panic of 1893 was a very serious economic dislocation. and it bred and fostered the emergence of a very powerful populist movement in america in which many farmers and other rural folk mostly rural folk in the south and the west were squeezed for liquidity in this they couldn't they couldn't keep themselves alive because they couldn't borrow money because there wasn't sufficient. it wasn't sufficient currency and money supply and so that led
to the emergence of people such as william jennings bryan who ran for president against mckinley in 1896 and again in 1900. and jennings bryan was pushing for the free coinage of silver, which was designed to increase the money supply and increase the liquidity needed by rural folk in the south and the west um, and it was a serious mckinley one pretty handedly but that was a serious threat coming from the democratic party four years later because the economy was picking up so significantly and because liquidity problems were being addressed when he ran again against william jennings bryan he wasn't able to get leverage on that issue. so that was a pretty significant accomplishment on mckinley's part. he basically lanced the boil of that kind of populism prairie populism. he said in motion.
um the events that led to the possibility of getting building the panama canal the united states had a deal at a treaty with britain a pre-civil war treaty and basically said of either one of the two countries were to decide to attempt to build a canal it would go into partnership with the other so that we would not be able to build the canal as an independent thing just for america. well by the time we reached in 1900 1899 or so, that was really not viable because the american people wanted a canal and they didn't want to share it with the brits or anybody else. so he sent his vaunted secretary of state john hay to london to negotiate a revision of that treaty and he did that successfully which made it possible then under his
successor theodore roosevelt for us to move in that direction. you may remember that senator hayek, california during the big controversy in the 1970s about whether we give the canal back to the panamanians. he said we stole it fair and square and so why should we do that? number seven, he mckinley established the for the first time really the cordial 20th century special relationship between britain and america. and it's hard for us to recognize just how significant that was. we almost went to war with the brits just before mckinley's presidency over territorial disputes involving venezuela. i think in south america. and that was the nature of the relationship it was it was solid, but but had some brittleness to it.
and that was changed totally with the mckinley presidency with a huge impact on the diplomatic history of america and of britain and one could argue of the world. he established again through john hay the open door policy in china. he got america into china by basically breaking down the european. ironclad hold on chinese affairs and ended the feeding frenzy that was going on with western nations. basically just biting off huge chunks of china for their own benefit. so we ended that feeding frenzy. we allowed ourselves into china, but we weren't going to do it in the same way that they were doing it and and created a more stable environment in the far east. and so the question is how do you do all this given the fact
that he was not somebody who we look at in history? as a man of force. we did it through steady quiet deft. self-aware suddenly manipulative leadership now i'm mckinley was no visionary the visionaries of that time the people who saw american greatness and wanted to go for it were teddy roosevelt. henry cabot lodge and alfred thayer million but he was a brilliant chess master. he was a guy who could size up a situation and calibrate the right series of decisions and actions that would nudge officials and events in the favored directions. elijah who wrote who was his big new york lawyer who became his war secretary and also ultimately was a us senator said this about mckinley. he said he had a way of handling men so they thought his ideas were their own.
he cared nothing about the credit but mckinley always had his way. ben butterworth it was a congressman from ohio didn't care for a mckinley very much. he was very close to mark hanna who was mckinley's great operative. so this about mckinley trying to explain what kind of a guy was. he said if mckinley and i were walking through an orchard. that head but one bearing tree in that tree, but two apples. we can't even walk under that tree you pick. the two apples he could one in his pocket. you take a bite out of the other one, and he turned to me and say been do you like apples? and i think what butterworth was trying to say here is that mckinley could be rather ruthless and he seemed to have a sense of entitlement, but he was always friendly he never he never allowed himself to get agitated or nasty or biting in any way whatsoever. so root and others talked about
his listening skill and his reluctance to project any force of personality and that could be misunderstood as weakness. but he had what i would call a heavy quiet that was commanding. so i guess the question might be why is he not more highly rated in history, and i think there are a lot of reasons we can talk about in q&a. we're just coming up very shortly here, but one of the reasons is what i call the tr factor teddy roosevelt never shared the credit with anybody and he really kind of effaced sought to a face mckinley to foster his own sense of grandeur, and i think that the trio biographers and i've read most of them sort of filling to that trap. they like tr so much and he was pretty likeable guy and pretty amazing guy in a pretty and sort of person that gets your
attention that they bought into that idea that mckinley was as i say a leaf in the wind a person who yes, big events happened on his watch, but he was not the man responsible for most of it. i don't think that's the way history works or the he works. but anyway, i i wrote of a tr in by way of description impetuous valuable amusing grandiose prone to making his terror marking his territory with political defiance roosevelt stirred. the american people as mckinley never had although mckinley we have to note was highly popular and he was seen as a kind of a father figure whereas roosevelt was kind of the crazy uncle. he meaning tr took the american people on a political roller coaster ride and too many it was thrilling. well, it was thrilling and he was a great president. and i think mckinley also was a great president. so i like the guy.
and i think he was a man of a great mark. and i don't care what anyone says that's my position. so that's those are my sort of opening comments. hoping that perhaps they will stir some interest in pursuing some of these questions. so, thank you very much. thank you bob for that presentation before we get to q&a. we're always excited to share a story that has a personal white house or presidential connection. so before we answer a lot of your great questions, which are coming in i wanted to share a story that has come to us from white house historical association board member bob mcgee both bob and president mckinley were students at allegheny college in meadville, pennsylvania, although obviously not at the same time. and what bought what bob writes to us about is a funny story that i'd like to share with you about president mckinley.
he says a widely told story both based in fact and fiction is that mckinley was expelled from allegheny college for somehow smuggling a cow into the belfry of bentley hall, which was the administration building on campus. although historical research has showed it was most likely a goat and not a cow the punishment was never recorded. nonetheless. mckinley could not complete his studies at allegheny college, which he he said subsequently that he deeply regretted. he returned to allegheny college as governor of ohio in 1895 to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary doctor of laws. degree, bob. what do you think about that story? well, actually i'm using story and i heard about the cow or the goat whatever it was. i do believe that he left the college at that time because of a health problem that has never been fully never been fully identified and i'm not sure that
it was identified at the time but all the biographies credit the story that he did have a medical situation that led to his having to go home to ohio and when he then recovered he was not able to go back to college because the economy had suffered and he needed to go to work along with all of his siblings. he had a lot of siblings. so he was working in a post office and teaching school doing both of those things when the civil war broke out. okay, we're gonna head to a lot of great questions we have from our audience. and our first one is coming to us from carolyn all the way from australia. she's a a regular history. happy hour attendee. she writes. i love that. kinley was a successful president, but can you please tell us a little about his devotion to his wife ida during all of her health challenges? that's a really poignant story. in fact, i have to say that if somebody wanted to write an
opera about will and item mckinley. i think it could do very very well on broadway and maybe sell a lot of my books. i i don't know but i i do was she came from a very well-to-do family. and can't in ohio. they were really kind of like the royalty of canton her grandfather had brought a printing press over across from pennsylvania and started a newspaper. that was very successful and then he and her father ended up in a lot of other enterprise's banking mining a lot of other things. um, and she was sparkling personality bright clever. when her father would go off on his business trips, he would let her run the bank. he ran he owned a bank and the canton and she would run it when she was just like a young woman very young woman barely 20 um, and they fell in love and it was a storybook romance and then things began to go. awry.
she they had a beautiful little daughter. and then they had another she was pregnant with another. baby turned out to be a girl she she had difficulty during her pregnancy. her mother died. she had a an accident of some kind i think it was a carriage accident that harmed her spine. and then the baby died. and she never quite got over it and then the older girl died. and ida became a comforting that something of an intermittent basket case. she had she was infirm the spinal problem led to her not being very mobile at certain times more mobile at other times. and from being this sparkling person who had this scintillating personality. she became a rather peevish woman. and sometimes rather difficult and a lot of people around mckinley would roll their eyes. he was totally devoted to her
throughout their life. however, as if none of this was was almost noticeable on his part and he said at one time to a friend of his a woman you should have seen item when she was young. she was really beautiful then and then thinking well, maybe the woman would think that he's saying she's not beautiful now he said, but of course, i think she's just as beautiful now, so it's a beautiful story and at some times have come rather poignant story and i'm glad it was asked. next question is from paul from the washington dc area. he asked could it be that historians are not favorable to mckinley because he was overly focused on big business whereas teddy roosevelt was focused on the people via his populism. yeah, i don't think i buy that event is a very interesting question mckinley. you have to you have to understand that there wasn't a big dichotomy between between
capital and labor and mckinley's time as it later developed especially during the great depression and mckinley was known as a politician who was very favorable to lawyer. i mean, i'm sorry to to labor and that he had as a lawyer he had he had taken on some many many sometimes difficult cases. sometimes highly controversial cases in ohio defending organized labor as it was emerging at that time. and if you look carefully at the literature surrounding mckinley's first term he had some advisors who were telling him. look you're gonna have to do something about this situation with the trust. and he knew it and so in his second term his two big aims was to alter the thinking that was going into trade policy. he was coming up.
he was beginning to realize and this is really i think says something significant about mckinley that he realized that his protectionism wasn't going to work as well now because because our ability to produce products both agricultural and manufacturing was outstripping the us market and so we were going to have to go more and more into the world markets and that meant that we were going to have to be more free trade. so he developed this idea of reciprocity where countries would would come up with i've trade policies. that would be reciprocal. um, but right after that was the trust now how we've gone about taking on the trust. i don't know and i don't think he would have done it with this much flamboyance as tr did but i don't think you can make the case that he was that he instinctively favored capital over labor. the next question is from debbie and she asks, how did mckinley
meet or get connected with mark hanna? and do you believe that he made mckinley president? no, i don't believe that but but i can understand how people would think that in historical terms and i can understand how people thought that at the time and of course the cartoonist had a field day with. you know drawing mark hanna with dollars pin to his shirt and his jacket and everything. um, it's really an interesting story. there was a politician, you know, ohio ben 4 acre who became governor. well before mckinley was emerging beyond congress and four acre and mark hanna loved for acre, he and mark hanna was very wealthy and he was very clever and he was very patriotic with regard to ohio and he wanted to do two things. he wanted he wanted to make sure that the republicans held the
governorship of ohio, and he wanted to get a ohioan into the white house and ben foraker was his guy. we've been four acre never really liked. mark and all that much and he sort of pulled back and and didn't treat him all that. well and then when john sherman the ohio politician was running for president four acre was supporting him, but then he abandoned him. and that was something that mark hanna just couldn't abide. he couldn't abide a double dealing sort of a person so he turned his back on four acre and basically said, okay, who else do i have out here? that could possibly be present in the united states in ohio and he fixated on mckinley who immediately took a shine to hannah and the rest is history. next question is from bill. he asked do you see a parallel
between polk and mckinley both were involved in the expansion of us territory rather dramatically yet both have been largely forgotten and underrated in their impact. yeah, i think one of the distinctions i make between polk and mckinley and i think the question is on to it really but one of the distinctions i would make is that aside from the personality differences, which i outlined. is that polk is still regarded highly by the historians by the academics who are pulled and surveyed from time to time in in the ranking the president's exercises which has been going on since 1948. whereas mckinley. well, he's not really low and he's not even in sort of down in the middle, but he's he's just above the middle you generally ranks 16 15th. there was an 82 pool by the chicago tribune my friend steve neil where he was ranked 11, which is the highest he ever got
um, but so yeah, the two are like in that sense and i think that there's also a factor in which a lot of people especially academics and intellectuals. find themselves feeling that that the geopolitical actions that are sort of nationalist in scope as opposed to humanitarian are kind of suspect or not to be thought well of and i think that may be a factor as well. stanley asks a question about mckinley's background wasn't mckinley the last president to serve in the army in the civil war. was he an officer. yeah, i went in the he was the last president who served in the civil war there were five of them. he enlisted in the army shortly after the war began as a private. he had some amazing.
episodes of heroism and was discovered by a lot of high level officers. particularly rutherford b hayes from ohio who was one of the one of the civil war people who became president and he became mckinley's mentor and sort of guiding light and he left the army four years after joining as a private as a brevet major so he had a very very successful and heroic civil war experience. question from bill from california. he writes mckinley is among the largely unknown gilded age presidents what drew you to write a book on mckinley. oh, that's interesting question. yeah, i then poke and polk was again a president in a lot of people didn't know that much
about but a very consequential president. and i had a contract with my publisher simon schuster to do a book, which i'm now doing for simon schuster on the 1850s kind of a sequel to my pulp book sort of how expansionism led to the civil war and and trying to bring that whole complex difficult story to life. but i had the contract with simon schuster to do that book and another book on the presidency, which i had done. and one of the executives at simon schuster was reading my book on the presidency and thought that maybe it would be a good idea to keep me in sort of the presidential realm. and upon reading my book on the presidency. he found himself intrigued about mckinley and asked me how i would feel about staying with presidents doing mckinley and putting aside the book on the 1850s.
and i really like writing for simon schuster. so i said well if that's the book you want. that's the book i'll do. so that's how i ended up doing. it wasn't even my idea. i can't claim. a question from steve who is watching from ann arbor, michigan tell us about the assassination. oh, yeah, mckinley was rather cavalier about the dangers potential dangers. he would always say that he's not the only politician like that kennedy's were like that and others. he just basically was a fatalist and he said but he didn't think that anybody would ever try to hurt the president united states, but this young anarchist who had been influenced by the sort of the anarchist movement got in his head that he was going to kill the president mckinley was in buffalo is everyone knows they know two things about it. they know he died in buffalo and they know something else. i can't remember now. but he was in a receiving line. and the assassin whose name i
can never pronounce and i i'm not even going to try but he was in the line and he had to sort of a bandage around his hand where the pistol was. and he got right up to mckinley and he had the gun right up against. chest and he fired that one. well, that was not that did not hurt him that much. but mckinley back off he was on his heels and he fired again into his into his abdomen. and that bullet ended up creating that wound ended up creating sepsis and he died quite a few days later a couple weeks. later. question from corbin we talked a lot about teddy roosevelt, but why did mckinley pick tr for as his vice president? oh the party picked up the party picked tr. is just endlessly fasting and character and i like him and i
don't like them. he muses me tremendously. but he was irrepressible. and when mckinley was first elected tr had all these friends henry cabot lodge and many many others many of whom new mckinley very well and everybody was promoting teddy for assistant naval secretary. and mckinley said to one of them, you know your man your man tr is known to sort of being agitator. he's always causing fusses and and i'm not sure i want that in my administration and they assured him no. no the mr. roosevelt will do this, right and and so he made him assistant secretary. well the navy secretary in former governor of massachusetts by the name of long he found that he was not a young man long and he needed to go home kind of early from time to time and taking a nap.
he couldn't leave the office because he didn't know what tr was gonna do with that power. if he now was you know, he had the he had the the portfolio. so so of course when the war broke out spanish-american war tr immediately left the government and and did his amazing exploits and san juan hill. and or the san juan ridge actually, but and he became famous and and the most beloved politician in america. kenny was very very popular and people looked up to him, but he didn't stir their juices the way we tr did so tr said he didn't want to be vice president didn't want to be on the ticket absolutely not but it seemed like he was sort of positioning himself and when he got to the convention he was wearing his rough rider hat was he was he arrived in the hotel the main
hotel lobby and everyone said that's that's a candidates and so the convention just went wild for him now. hannah hated tr and hannah was trying to thwart this this movement and it was irrepressible. you couldn't thwart it. it was really stupid on hannah's part and mckinley had to step in mckinley. didn't want to name a vice presidential candidate. he wanted the convention to do that and that was not unusual in those days. so hey mckinley. had to send a message through an intermediary to hannah saying stop this you're you know, it was it could have been very very embarrassing for mckinley to get himself in a position where he's trying to thwart the most popular politician in america. so it all came out fine except except that i really do believe that tr was a didn't didn't treat the memory of mckinley
very well and his biographers sort of ended up doing the same thing. this question is from stanley. can you talk about robert lincoln's relationship with mckinley? well, i i don't know that it was a very close relationship. i i in all the papers and diaries and and information that i went through i didn't come across that so i really not in a position to answer that. wasn't robert lincoln with mckinley when he died was he was there that's true. he was in buffalo. that's correct. and he was he was he was nearby for three assassinations. right? right, which is really the the strange fact of history including the garfield one. that's that's correct. and that's a very interesting thing. robert lincoln was a very very interesting human being and did a lot of very very impressive things over the course of his life, but i i was not aware of
any closeness between robert lincoln. so my last question really comes from kevin who did our mckinley's delight he argued at the end of his presentation that mckinley was a transformational president. do you agree with that assessment? oh, i truly do i think that he you know the republican party lincoln created a republican party is the as a successor party to the wigs lincoln, you know revered clay and and just think of all the things that the republican party did fostering the event of industrialization the railroads federal help for the railroads and creating that the land grant college all those things were out of that tradition and republican party totally dominated american politics for understandable reasons. it really transformed america and and ended slavery and and stitch the country back together as best as it could be done, but
it was running out of steam. and and mckinley's presidency was the beginning of the change bringing the republican back republican party back to a position where it was now modernized and you know, i have to give teddy roosevelt plenty of credit for that too because he saw the need and he had the passion to take on the trust. but as i say, i think that the republican party was going to take on the trust. in any event and that it would have begun under mckinley had mckinley live. i got if i could just add this. i got a note after the book came out from a friend of mine robert kaplan. those books i'm very very impressed with and so we're kind of friends and and he offered the thought that had mckinley lived and served eight years that he that we would be talking about him now and it totally different way and that's
jacobs was a journalist and urban activist who fought against the urban renewal and slum clearance movements. rizzoli bookstore hosted the event and provided the video. host: thank you so much for joining us tonight. i'm the store manager of rizzoli bookstore and i'm happy and honored tonight to host this virtual event. we are presenting jane jacobs, first city. she will be in conversation with andrew berman, the executive director of the greenwich village society for historic reservation.