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McKinley quells rumors that he’ll run for a third term

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

The spring of 1901 was filled with speculation and rumor about the possibility of William McKinley running for a third term in office.

Not only was it the topic of conversations in social circles, but it was also a popular story for the media. The second week of June brought the declaration of a definitive decision from McKinley by his issuing of the following statement:

“I regret that the suggestion of a third term has been made. I doubt whether I am called upon to give it notice. But there are now questions of the gravest importance before the administration and the country, and their just considerations should not be prejudiced in the public mind by even the suspicion of the thought of a third term. In view, therefore, of the reiteration of the suggestion of it, I will say now, once and for all, expressing a long-settled conviction, that I not only am not and will not be a candidate for a third term, but would not accept a nomination for it if it were tendered me.

“My only ambition is to serve through my second term to the acceptance of my countrymen, whose generous confidence I so deeply appreciate, and then with them do my duty in the ranks of private citizenship.”

Of course, this decision disappointed many. Congressman Charles Grosvenor of Ohio stated “McKinley is personally the most popular president we have had in a long time, and he has certainly most credibly performed the duties of his high office. I think it is time, furthermore, to demolish the fiction that there is an unwritten law, established by Washington, that no president of the United States may accept a third term.”

Some were not surprised by the decision, including Marcus Hanna, who from Cleveland, on June 11 stated, “It is just what I expected the president would say, if he would say anything at all on the subject. I have never exchanged one word with the president concerning this matter.”

Others fully supported the decision, including Rep. Landis of Indiana who strongly supported Charles Fairbanks, a senior senator from Indiana. He also felt McKinley’s popularity would be bolstered by his announcement. He stated, “No one at all acquainted with President McKinley will be surprised at this announcement. He could not add to his fame by a third term. He has won his place in history, and whoever may be president from 1905 to 1909 William McKinley, if he lives, will be the leading citizen of the Republic.” No one cold have predicted that this almost eerie premonition would manifest itself when McKinley’s life was cut short by an assassin in September 1901, ultimately eliminating the remainder of McKinley’s second term and any possibility of a third term.

The ratification of the 22nd Amendment 50 years later finally settled the question of term limits for the presidency. “No person shall be elected to the office of the president more than twice, and no person who has held the office of president, or acted as president, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected president shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.” The law was changed in 1951 more than a decade after Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to a third term in office Nov. 5, 1940, making him the only U.S. president to serve for more than two terms.

Carrie Kibby is the manager of adult reference at the McKinley Memorial Library, where she also moderates monthly book clubs.

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