The Assassination of President William McKinley, September 6, 1901.

The Assassination of William McKinley – September 6, 1901

At exactly 4:07 p.m. on Friday, September 6, 1901, President William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, was shot twice in the abdomen at close range by an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz. The president did not survive the shooting and would die eight days later on Saturday, September 14, 1901, at exactly 2:15 a.m. He was 58.

McKinley was the third President of the United States to be assassinated after Presidents Abraham Lincoln and James Abram Garfield.

In response to President William McKinley’s assassination and death just six months into his second term, the United States Congress formally and permanently directed the Secret Service to protect the president as part of its missions.

This is the full story of the Assassination of President William McKinley on September 6, 1901, who later died on September 14, 1901.

Early Life and Education

William McKinley Jr. was born on January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio, USA, to William McKinley Sr. and Nancy Allison. He was the seventh of eight children. His father was the manager of a charcoal furnace and was also the owner of an iron foundry. His father was an astute believer in education and because he was dissatisfied with the level of education received by the children in Niles, he relocated with his family to Poland, another city in Ohio, when McKinley Jr. was just 10.

The young McKinley later went on to work as a country schoolteacher and as a clerk in the post office.

American Civil War

Shortly after the American Civil War broke out in 1861, McKinley signed up for Ohio’s 23rd infantry unit. He would go on to prove himself on the battlefield, despite starting as a lowly private. He, through his sheer display of bravery, commitment, and discipline, soon enough, earned several promotions in rank. Most noteworthy of his display of valour was at the Battle of Antietam which took place on September 17, 1862.

A young William McKinley
A young William McKinley at the Albany Law School/McKinley Presidential Library Museum.

The day is often described as one of the bloodiest days in American history. McKinley, not minding his safety, put together a wagon to deliver rations to the front line. This singular action would earn him the admiration and respect of his superiors who conferred on him the position of Second Lieutenant. William McKinley would eventually rise to the position of Brevet Major by the end of the war in 1865.

Personal Life and Marriage

At the end of the Civil War, William McKinley went on to study Law at the Law School located in Albany, New York. In 1867, he passed the bar exams and started practice, opening his law firm that same year in Canton, Ohio. It was there he met Ida Saxton, the daughter of a local banker. They eventually got married in 1871.

The McKinleys had two daughters who, unfortunately, died at a very young age, and in quick succession as well. Ida went into full-blown depression, became a chronic invalid and never recovered until her death in 1907. Despite his rapidly developing political career, McKinley catered for his wife with such doting affection until he died in 1901. His devotion to his wife would earn him the praise of the public.

The Man, Mark Hanna

Born in New Lisbon, Ohio, United States, on September 24, 1837, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, also known as Mark Hanna, soon grew up to become a wealthy and exceedingly prosperous businessman. An astute businessman known for his acumen and intelligence, he would eventually become a major factor in the rise of William McKinley. He was the owner of a coal and iron enterprise and soon expanded into other sectors such as banking, transportation (shipping) and publishing (newspaper). He became active in politics as a representative of “the business interest” in the Ohio Republican Party.

Mark Hanna met with William McKinley, who was, at the time, a Congressman at the Republican Convention of 1888. He was thoroughly impressed by McKinley’s friendly personality and found his demonstration of loyalty to the Republican Party quite captivating. The duo would eventually become great friends with Mark Hanna engineering McKinley’s campaigns for Governor of Ohio, in 1891 and 1893, and for President of the United States in 1896 and 1900.

Political Career

McKinley delved into politics in 1869, beginning his political career with the Republican Party. He was elected Prosecutor for Stark County, Ohio. During the Civil War, in which he fought, William McKinley served as one of the staff of Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes. The duo would go on to become great friends with Rutherford serving as a political mentor to McKinley. They had an excellent year in their respective careers in the year 1876. Rutherford became America’s 19th President and McKinley ran his first congressional campaign – which was a success. He became a congressman and served in that position from 1876 to 1891. The longest of his political career. He only had a brief two-year break during the period.

Rutherford and Hanna would prove instrumental to the rise of William McKinley from Prosecutor to Congressman to Governor and eventually, President of the United States of America.

Perhaps one of his most notable achievements as a Congressman was becoming Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. As Chair, he was responsible for the McKinley Tariff of 1890 which raised protective tariffs by 50%. This tax law would prove costly as it was not well received by his constituency, and it cost him his re-election campaign in 1890.

Rise to the Presidency

Following his loss in his congressional re-election bid in 1890, McKinley left Washington DC for his hometown, Ohio. The following year, 1891, he contested for the position of Governor. He won the contest, by a narrow margin. The Panic of 1893 described as one of America’s most devastating economic collapses, reinstated McKinley’s stature in national politics. He created a new tax commission after identifying an unfair distribution of taxes within the state. In 1894, he was re-elected as Governor of Ohio.

Two years after his re-election as Governor, McKinley rose to become a prominent figure in the Republican Party. His commitment to protectionism, his popularity and the “backstage” political management of his friend, and chief political supporter, Mark Hanna, gave him the presidential nomination on the first ballot at the Republican Convention.

William McKinley’s rise to the U.S. Presidency can be traced back to the innovation of Mark Hanna who helped raise funds for the campaign by appealing to wealthy businessmen. In fact, Hanna raised at least $3.5 million, obtaining crucial and highly significant contributions from financial and industrial interests such as Standard Oil and J.P. Morgan. In contrast, the Democrats’ campaign budget for the 1896 Presidential Election was just over $400.

The Republicans would go on to print and distribute over 200 million pamphlets, with about 1,400 speakers touring the country and canvassing support for William McKinley, who would go on to deliver 350 carefully crafted speeches right from his front porch to 750,000 visiting delegates.

McKinley’s opponent, William Jennings Bryan was an astute and prolific speaker from the Democratic Party. While the Republicans endorsed the gold standard, the Democrats went in support of William Jennings Bryan who advocated for free coinage of silver at an overvalued rate.

William Jennings Bryan toured the country, covering over 1,800 miles and speaking widely to enthusiastic crowds.

At the end of the campaign, McKinley won with a massive landslide, defeating Bryan with over 600,000 votes, the most in the history of the country in twenty-five years.

In 1900, William Jennings Bryan faced William McKinley again for the office of President. Once more, McKinley won and was re-elected as President of the United States of America. Unfortunately, the president would preside for only six months when he was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist who was believed to have acted alone.

The Assassination of President William McKinley

On Friday, September 6, 1901, President William McKinley arrived at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He would, unknown to him, and Americans alike, give his last speech at the Exposition. In the speech, he encouraged reciprocal trade arrangements with foreign countries and emphasised the need to put aside attitudes of isolationism.

The assassination of President William McKinley, September 6, 1901.
The assassination of President William McKinley, September 6, 1901.

At about 3:30 p.m., the President started greeting members of the public who had arrived in large numbers at the Exposition, wanting to see and shake hands with McKinley himself. The President’s personal secretary at the time, George Cortelyou disliked these types of receptions because of the security risks involved and the vulnerable state it left the President.

At the time, McKinley did not have an official bodyguard force. However, a few Secret Service agents, along with some Buffalo detectives and a detachment of the US Army were on the ground roaming the premises. Although they scrutinised the premises, no searches were carried out.

At exactly 4:07 p.m., Leon Czolgosz, who had been in waiting in line for about 10 minutes, got to the front of the procession, and with the gun wrapped in a handkerchief in his pocket, he shot the President twice in the abdomen.

Reports had it that McKinley, who was still conscious at the time, ordered that Czolgosz should not be harmed. He also asked that care be taken when informing his chronically ill wife of the incident.

Czolgosz on why he shot the President said “I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people, the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime.”

Leon Czolgosz was tried, found guilty and executed on October 29, 1901, a month after the assassination of President William McKinley.

Death of William McKinley

A few minutes after the President had been shot, an ambulance arrived and he was rushed to a nearby hospital on the Exposition grounds. Reports have it that the best-qualified surgeon available at the time and who operated on the President was a gynaecologist who had no experience with bullets. The surgery would turn out to be partially successful as one of the bullets was found and extracted as it had deflected off the President’s breastbone.

The second bullet, however, was nowhere to be found. The doctors thought it wise to close the wound as the other bullet might have found its way past the colon and kidney to the back muscles of the President and an attempt to extract it would cause more damage.

After the operation, the doctors were optimistic about the recovery of the President. McKinley was later taken to the home of John Millburn, who was the exposition director, to begin his recovery.

Mugshots-of-Leon-Czolgosz-after-his-arrest-in-1901
Mugshots of Leon Czolgosz after his arrest, September 1901/History.

Hopes were high as to the total recovery of the President and the doctors, on September 9, addressed the press and assured them of the President’s recovery. The Vice President at the time, Theodore Roosevelt and members of the cabinet who had come to visit were also confident of the President’s recuperation. However, this was not to be.

On September 13, President William McKinley relapsed and his health deteriorated. He went into shock and although he was placed on oxygen and given adrenaline, it proved abortive. On September 14, 1901, at exactly 2:15 a.m., the President died as a result of gangrene and infection from the bullet wound. His last words were, “God’s Will Be Done.”

William McKinley became the third president of the United States to be assassinated after Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and James Garfield in 1881.

Vice President Theodore Roosevelt becomes the 26th President of the United States

Following the death of William McKinley on September 14, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt, the Vice President, who was on vacation with his family after being confident of McKinley’s recovery, travelled back to Buffalo. There he took the oath of office and became the 26th President of the United States. Roosevelt remains the youngest person to become the President of the United States. He was 42.

After McKinley’s assassination, Congress formally and permanently directed the Secret Service to protect every President of the United States as part of its duties. The Secret Service was successful in protecting every President from that time until the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

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References

Baker, R., Frydman, C., & Hilt, E. (2018). Political Discretion And Antitrust Policy: Evidence From Thr Assassination of President Mckinley.

Baker, R., Frydman, C., & Hilt, E. (2014) From Plutocracy to Progressivism? The Assassination of President Mckinley as a Training point in American History.

Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2006). The Presidents of the United States of America. The White House Historical Association. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/william-mckinley/

Gordon, A. & Prokes, C. (2022). President William McKinley: Life and Legacy. Retrieved from https://study.com/learn/lesson/president-william-mckinley-biography-facts-accomplishments.html

Saldin, R. (2011). William Mckinley and the Rhetorical Presidency. University of Montana.

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