President takes short break to celebrate holiday with family

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

The week of Thanksgiving 1898 was business as usual for the president. President McKinley was still doing his daily work to include discussing tariffs over the new acquisitions and celebrations for the end of the war, taking just a brief day for family visits on the holiday.

With the closing motions of the war in action, large public celebrations were being held nationwide. On Sunday, Nov. 20, The Washington Post ran a special article on a peace jubilee to be held in Atlanta. The president wasn’t keen on the idea of calling this a “peace jubilee,” but rather he suggested “it be known simply as a celebration of the victory of the American arms.” The president it seems was uncomfortable with the term “peace” being used as he could not predict the future with Spain.

Tuesday, Nov. 22, brought a story from The New York Times regarding tariffs. It was becoming clear that tariffs were to be imposed on the United States’ new territories and “Mr. McKinley is said to be pleased” with this idea. The tariffs were to be high in the 55 percent range. The Times reports “The tariff question again will be raised in all its aspects. It will never be settled until it is settled right, as it never was nor will be with the aid of Senators from the mining camps and sugar plantations.”

For Thanksgiving Day, the president’s brother, Abner McKinley, and his wife, of New York, traveled to Washington and joined the first family for church and dinner. “President McKinley and his brother left the White House shortly before 11 o’clock, and were driven to the Metropolitan Church.” The services were presided over by Rev. Bristol, who announced blessings of the year in a long sermon. After church, the McKinleys went home for a dinner at 6:30, where only a bare-bones staff was present. “It was President McKinley’s wish that all those connected with the Executive Mansion should have a holiday, and notice was therefore given that no one would be required to attend to duties except the necessary household servants.”

After dinner, the McKinley family attended the theater in Washington.

Farris is director of the National McKinley Birthplace Museum in Niles.