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McKinley deals with court, second-term issues

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

In the spring of 1901, President McKinley dealt with important national issues, including a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The president returned to Washington, D.C., to deal with some important questions that demanded his immediate attention with his cabinet. The Supreme Court was dealing with a decision on duties assessed from Puerto Rico and Hawaii, which became new territories of the U.S. with the recent victory of the Spanish American War. In a number of instances, duties, also known as tariffs, had been collected on goods imported from those islands to the United States. In one case, even 14 diamonds brought by a soldier from the Philippines had been seized for nonpayment of duty.

Several lawsuits were brought for the recovery of these duties that the high court needed to address. On May 28, 1901, in the suit of De Lima & Co. in a close 5-4 vote, the judges decided that before the Treaty of Paris to end the war, those islands were foreign countries and were subject to paying a duty. After that treaty, they became a domestic territory and, as such, subject to the jurisdiction of Congress to set duties upon its commerce. This meant until Congress acted, no duties could be charged on Puerto Rican or Hawaiian goods. Since the Philippines were not a territory, but under military control of the U.S., then duties could be levied. President McKinley, under executive order since the high court or Congress had not acted on the Philippines question, declared no duties until the United States could finish the formation of a new civil government there led by William Howard Taft.

The above-mentioned ruling was just one of many items the president needed to deal with at the start of his second term. Another issue had to do with Cuban affairs. The Cuban Constitutional Convention had accepted all but one item in fixing its relationship with the United States. McKinley had not wanted Cuba to become a territory of the U.S. but a protectorate over the island. The convention wanted to set conditions that McKinley disagreed with and threatened they accept the Platt amendment in its entirety or the military occupation of Cuba would continue. On June 12, 1901, the Cubans agreed to McKinley’s terms, which would provide a form of independence for Cuba.

Meanwhile the Chinese situation had been modified by the removal of the American troops, except for an attachment of guards to protect the U.S. embassy. The other foreign nations in China followed with their own commitment for their troops to leave after the Boxer Rebellion ended. All of the foreign countries went in together to provide the new Chinese government with more than $200 million as a form of indemnity.

America was becoming a wealthy nation in 1901, as an oil gusher hit at Spindletop Hill in Beaumont, Texas, creating a discovery of petroleum that was found out to be better for fuel than the Pennsylvania crude. Steel manufacturing interests in the country, which now amassed a capital of more than $1 billion, bought steamships for transportation. These ships, along with railroad magnates, began vast operations to move this commodity and other American products throughout the nation and around the world.

Mike Wilson is the director of SCOPE Senior Services of Trumbull County and has traveled around the nation performing as William McKinley for 30 years.

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