McKinley visits Tennessee, pushes Hawaii annexation
Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.
On June 11, President William and Mrs. McKinley attended the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition. The president received a warm welcome in Nashville, Tenn., that was displayed in a blurring of party lines and a proud enthusiasm by the crowds who were happy to see him make his first visit to the South.
Nashville greeted the president with crowded streets and elaborate decorations. McKinley’s optimistic address applauded the American people for their fortitude and hinted at the return of prosperity for the country. He urged for a renewed hope for the success of the country. He concluded his address by saying “the lesson of the hour, then, is this – that whatever adverse conditions may temporarily impede the pathway of our national progress, nothing can permanently defeat it.” McKinley was presented with a hickory cane at the conclusion of his speech.
He and Mrs. McKinley visited the exposition again on June 12. After attending a luncheon, the president attended a reception and shook hands with 5,000 to 6,000 people. It is said that McKinley holds the record as the president who shook the most hands.
Upon returning to Washington, D.C., after being away for a week, McKinley had many duties to which to attend. On June 16, McKinley signed a treaty to annex Hawaii and submitted it to the U.S. Senate for ratification. The Washington Post labeled the signing as McKinley’s most important act-to-date.
Although the majority of senators favored the treaty, opposition was aggressive with much debate regarding colonization and potential statehood. Some senators in opposition to Hawaii potentially becoming a state argued that if annexed, Hawaii should become a part of Oregon, Washington, or California. Speculation on the annexation of Hawaii led some senators to believe that acquiring Cuba would follow.
Due to opposition, a vote was put off, which allowed time for Native Hawaiians to respond. Ever since Europeans and American settlers arrived in Hawaii in the late 1700s, Hawaiians struggled to maintain their culture and lifestyle.
After McKinley signed the treaty in 1897, the Hawaiian Patriotic League decided to fight annexation with a mass petition drive, signed by more than 50 percent of Native Hawaiians. Queen Lili’uokalani and many Hawaiians would ultimately defeat the treaty. However, on February 15, 1898, the explosion of the U.S. Battleship Maine in Havana harbor in Cuba would lead to the Spanish-American War. The Hawaiian Islands would serve the U.S. well strategically in the war, acting as a mid-Pacific fueling station and a naval installation for the U.S.
Therefore, members of Congress in favor of the annexation of Hawaii proposed the annexation by joint resolution that required a simple majority vote in both houses. Congress passed the “Newlands Resolution” and it was signed into law by McKinley on July 7, 1898, officially annexing Hawaii.
Hawaii remained a U.S. territory until 1959, when it was declared the 50th state.
McKinley is a Niles native who served 120 years ago beginning with his March 1897 inauguration.
Michelle Alleman is library director at the McKinley Memorial Library in Niles.