I N 1897 William McKinley became President. Like some other Presidents before him he came of very humble people, and had by his own efforts raised himself until at length he held the highest office in the land.
McKinley was a keen protectionist. That is, he believed in putting a heavy duty on foreign goods coming into the country, not in order to get revenue or income for the needs of the Government, but in order to protect the home manufacturer. He wanted to put such a high duty on foreign goods that the home manufacturer could sell his goods at a high price, and still undersell the foreigner. In President Harrison's time McKinley, then a member of Congress, succeeded in getting the tariff made higher than ever before, and the Act then passed was known as the McKinley Tariff Act. And just as President Monroe is known outside America chiefly because of the Monroe Doctrine, so President McKinley is known because of the McKinley Tariff Act.
For many years now the United States had been at peace. But the year after McKinley came into office the country was once more plunged into war.
In days long ago when Englishmen were struggling to found a colony in Virginia, Spain was a great and powerful nation, and her dominions in the New World were vast. But because of her pride and her cruelty Spain lost these dominions one by one, until at length there remained in the Western hemisphere only a few islands, the largest of which was Cuba. But even these were not secure, and again and again the Cubans rose in rebellion against their Spanish oppressors.
The Spaniards waged war against their revolted subjects in most cruel fashion, and the people of the United States looked on with sorrow and indignation at the barbarous deeds which were done at their very doors.
McKinley had been a soldier in the Civil War, and had fought well and gallantly for the flag. But like other soldier Presidents he loved peace more than war. Like Cleveland before him he felt unwilling to plunge the country into war. So he shut his ears, and turned away his eyes from the misery of Cuba.
But there were many Americans in Cuba. They as well as the Cubans were being starved. So ships were sent to Cuba with food for them, and in this way not only they but many Cubans were saved from starvation. Then a United States battleship called the Maine was sent to Cuba, and anchored in the harbour of Havana, to be ready in case of need to help the Americans.
For three weeks the Maine lay rocking at anchor. Then on the night of 15th February, 1898, while every one on board was peacefully sleeping the vessel was blown up, and two hundred and sixty-six men and officers were killed.
When the people of the United States heard the news a wave of anger passed over the land. But the President was calm.
"Wait," he said, "wait till we know how it happened."
So grimly the people waited until experts made an examination. What they found made them believe that the Maine had been attacked from outside. There seemed no doubt that the Spaniards had blown up the vessel although they indignantly denied having had anything to do with it.
Now there was no holding the people, and very shortly war was declared. It was short and sharp. In less than four months it was all over. On land and sea the Spaniards were hopelessly beaten, while in the whole campaign the Americans lost scarcely five hundred men in battle, although more than twice that number died of disease.
The war was fought not only in the West Indies but also in the Pacific. For there Spain possessed the Philippine Islands. These islands had been in the possession of Spain ever since their discovery by Magellan more than three hundred and fifty years before, and they had been called the Philippines after King Philip II of Spain. Now the long rule of Spain came to an end.
The first battle of the war was fought in the Bay of Manila, the capital of the Philippine Islands. Here the Spanish fleet was shattered while not an American was killed. A month or two later the town of Manila was taken, and the Philippines were in the power of the Americans.
In the West Indies too the Spaniards were beaten on land and sea and on August 2nd, 1898, she sued for peace.
By the treaty of peace Cuba became a free republic, while Porto Rico and all the other Spanish islands in the West Indies were given to the United States, as well as the Philippines.
But no sooner was the treaty signed than the Filipinos rose in rebellion against American rule. For three years a kind of irregular war went on. Then the leader of the rebellion, Aguinaldo, was captured, and after that the Filipinos gradually laid down their arms. And when they found that the Americans did not mean to oppress them as the Spaniards had done they became more content with their rule.
The winning of these foreign possessions brought something new into the life and history of America. For now America began to own colonies, a thing quite unlooked for, and not altogether welcome to many.
At this time, also, besides those won in the Spanish War another group of islands came under American rule. These were the Hawaiian Islands, also like the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean.
Hawaii was a monarchy, but for a long time the people had been discontented, and Queen Liliuokalani was the last royal ruler of Hawaii. She wanted to be an absolute monarch, and do what she liked. But when she tried to change the constitution to her liking there was a revolution.
It was a peaceful revolution, and not a shot was fired on either side. It was brought about chiefly by the white people who lived in the islands. A company of marines was landed from the United States cruiser Boston which happened to be in the harbour at the time. The Queen was deposed, and a provisional government set up.
Stamford Dole, an American, was chosen head of this new government. Dole then sent to Washington to ask the United States to annex Hawaii. Meanwhile the stars and stripes were hoisted over the Government buildings at Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii.
All this happened just at the end of Harrison's Presidency. He and his advisers were quite willing to annex Hawaii. But before the matter could be settled his term of office ended, and Cleveland took his place. The new President did not feel at all pleased with what had been done, and he sent a commissioner to Honolulu to find out exactly what had happened, and if the people really wanted to be annexed to the United States.
This commissioner came to the conclusion that the Hawaiians did not want to be annexed and that "a great wrong had been done to a feeble but independent State."
Cleveland therefore refused to annex the islands. He even offered to restore the Queen to her throne if she would promise to forgive all those who had helped to dethrone her. At first she would not promise this, but declared that the leaders of the revolution must be beheaded. In the end, however, she gave way.
"I must not feel vengeful to any of my people," she said. "If I am restored by the United States, I must forget myself, and remember only my dear people and my country. I must forgive and forget the past, permitting no punishment of any one."
But when Dole was asked to give up the islands he refused. He and his party were ready to fight rather than allow the Queen to be set again upon the throne. And seeing him thus determined President Cleveland gave up his efforts on behalf of the Queen.
So for several years Hawaii remained a little independent republic with Dole as President. Then when McKinley came into power the United States was again asked to take the islands under protection. And in July, 1898, while the Spanish War was being fought, Hawaii was annexed, and with solemn ceremony the flag was once more hoisted in Honolulu.
A few years later the islands were made a territory. So the people are now citizens of the United States, and send a representative to Congress.
No President perhaps grew in the love of the people as McKinley did. At the end of his four years' office he was loved far more than he had been at the beginning, and he was easily elected a second time. And but a few months of his second term had passed when people began to talk of electing him a third time.
But when McKinley heard of it he was vexed. He told the people that they must put such an idea out of their heads, for he would not be a candidate for a third term on any consideration.
"All I want," he said, "is to serve through my second term in a way acceptable to my countrymen, and then go on doing my duty as a private citizen."
But alas! he was not to be allowed even to serve out his second term. Only six months of it had gone when he went to visit the great Pan-American Exhibition at Buffalo. Here he made a speech which seemed to show that he was changing his ideas about high tariffs, and that it was time now, he thought, to lower them.
Next day he held a great reception in one of the buildings of the Exhibition. Crowds of all sorts of people streamed into the hall, eager to see the President and shake hands with him. Among these came a well-dressed young man who seemed to have hurt his hand, for it was covered with a handkerchief.
The man came quite close to the President who held out his hand with a smile. Then quickly the man fired two shots. Not an injured hand but a pistol had been hidden under the handkerchief.
The President did not fall. He walked steadily enough to a chair, and leant his head upon his hand.
"You are wounded," said his secretary.
"Ho, I think not. I am not much hurt," replied the President. But his face was white and drawn with pain; blood flowed from his wounds. Yet in his pain he thought only of others.
His first thought was for his wife, who was an invalid. "Don't let her know," he said. But he thought too of the wretched man who had shot him. "Don't hurt him," he murmured.
At first it was thought that the wounds were not fatal, and that the President would recover. But just as every one believed that the danger was over his strength seemed to fail him, and in little more than a week he died.
There was such a shining goodness and honesty about President McKinley that all who came near him loved and respected him. Now he went to his last resting-place mourned not only by his own people but by Great Britain and nearly every country in Europe besides. Even his murderer had no special hatred of McKinley. He was an anarchist who believed it was a good deed to kill any ruler.
So in the midst of his usefulness a good man was ruthlessly slain.