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Roosevelt helps McKinley win re-election

­­­Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.

The election of 1900 was held Tuesday, Nov. 6. Incumbent President William McKinley ran against Democrat William Jennings Bryan.

The issues of the day were nearly the same as those of the election of 1896, when McKinley and Bryan first squared off. Bimetallism, imperialism and a “full dinner pail” were the issues of this campaign.

McKinley, again supported by business and workers, supported the gold standard. Bryan, supported by Midwestern farmers, spoke of the silver standard. McKinley used the front porch campaign, in deference to his wife’s health. Bryan again used the whistle stop campaign.

However, there were several major differences in the 1900 election.

First of all, economic prosperity returned to the United States during McKinley’s first term. Gold discoveries in the Klondike, as well as in South Africa and Australia, aided this return to economic health.

Additionally, the United States had just claimed victory against the Spanish in the Spanish-American War. Imperialism became the rule after Spain ceded Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines to the United States. In November 1898, Hawaii also became a United States territory.

Surplus U.S.-made goods found a market in these territories, leading to more production of goods, and jobs for laborers in the United States.

During the campaign, Democrats ran on anti-imperialism and opposition to the gold standard. Of course, with the United States becoming increasingly involved with and dependent on foreign markets, this became a moot point. The issue of silver was exhausted.

Conservatives in the Democratic Party supported Cmdr. George Dewey, recent hero of the Spanish-American War. Support for Dewey waned when he wrote to his backers, “I am convinced that the office of the president is not such a very difficult one to fill.” Democratic support for Bryan grew and he was easily nominated.

Undeterred by these new economic challenges, Bryan continued to campaign by train, making some 600 speeches.

However, McKinley had one new person involved in the campaign: Theodore Roosevelt, who was then governor of New York. Theodore Roosevelt injected youthfulness into the campaign as well as vitality. He covered 21,000 miles, gave 673 speeches in 24 states, and spoke to an estimated 3 million people.

Roosevelt defended the gold standard, and McKinley’s foreign policy, while attacking Bryan for wanting to “paralyze our whole industrial life” and for appealing to “every foul and evil passion of mankind.”

Theodore Roosevelt made his name as a representative in the New York House of Representatives. During that time, he began supporting issues favorable to the common man and started developing his reputation as a trust buster, battling to bring big business monopolies to an end.

Roosevelt became president of New York City’s Board of Police Commissioners, catching the attention of McKinley’s political associates. As a result, McKinley appointed Roosevelt assistant secretary of the Navy in 1897. Roosevelt caused much consternation in this office, as he made policy himself while Navy Secretary Long was out of the office. This included appointing and supplying Admiral Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron with orders to go to Manila Bay.

Roosevelt resigned his post in May 1898 and eventually became commander of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, aka the Rough Riders.

Roosevelt was among the many advisers who encouraged McKinley to send U.S. troops to defend Cuba. It was Roosevelt who led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill, leading to victory. After this, Roosevelt was elected governor of New York.

Because he viewed Roosevelt as an all-too-progressive troublemaker, Thomas C. Platt, head of New York’s Republican machine, put Roosevelt on the ticket as McKinley’s running mate in 1900. At that time, politicians viewed the vice presidency as purely an honorary position.

They did not understand that William McKinley had begun using his first vice president, Garret Hobart (who died in office November 1899), as a sort of political assistant. McKinley often called upon Hobart to intercede for him in Congress when needed. McKinley intended to continue this effort with Roosevelt.

And so, Theodore Roosevelt became McKinley’s running mate. The McKinley-Roosevelt ticket easily won, securing 292 electoral votes while Bryan earned 155 votes. Celebrations rang true across the country.

While it is understood that this series of articles discusses McKinley’s first term, it is hoped that due to this article appearing on the anniversary of McKinley’s election to his second presidential term, it will encourage people to vote in Tuesday’s election. Your voice cannot be heard if your vote remains uncast.

Scarmuzzi is curator of collections at the National McKinley Birthplace Museum in Niles.

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