Biography of William McKinley, 25th President of the United States

William McKinley

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William McKinley (January 29, 1843–September 14, 1901) was the 25th president of the United States. Prior to that, he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the governor of Ohio. McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist less than a year into his second term as president.

Fast Facts: William McKinley

  • Known For: McKinley was the 25th president of the United States; he oversaw the beginning of U.S. imperialism in Latin America.
  • Born: January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio
  • Parents: William McKinley Sr. and Nancy McKinley
  • Died: September 14, 1901 in Buffalo, New York
  • Education: Allegheny College, Mount Union College, Albany Law School
  • Spouse: Ida Saxton (m. 1871–1901)
  • Children: Katherine, Ida

Early Life

William McKinley was born on January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio, the son of William McKinley, Sr., a pig iron manufacturer, and Nancy Allison McKinley. He had four sisters and three brothers. McKinley attended public school and in 1852 enrolled in the Poland Seminary. When he was 17, he enrolled in Allegheny College in Pennsylvania but soon dropped out due to illness. He never returned to college because of financial difficulties and instead taught for a while at a school near Poland, Ohio.

Civil War and Legal Career

After the Civil War began in 1861, McKinley enlisted in the Union Army and became part of the 23rd Ohio Infantry. Under Colonel Eliakim P. Scammon, the unit headed east to Virginia. It eventually joined the Army of the Potomac and participated in the bloody Battle of Antietam. For his service, McKinley was made a second lieutenant. He later saw action at the Battle of Buffington Island and in Lexington, Virginia. Near the end of the war, McKinley was promoted to major.

After the war, McKinley studied law with an attorney in Ohio and later at Albany Law School. He was admitted to the bar in 1867. On January 25, 1871, he married Ida Saxton. Together they had two daughters, Katherine and Ida, but both sadly died as infants.

Political Career

In 1887, McKinley was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served until 1883 and again from 1885 to 1891. He was elected governor of Ohio in 1892 and held the post until 1896. As governor, McKinley supported other Republicans running for office and promoted business inside the state.

In 1896, McKinley was nominated to run for president as the Republican Party nominee with Garret Hobart as his running mate. He was opposed by William Jennings Bryan, who, upon accepting the Democratic nomination, gave his famous "Cross of Gold" speech in which he denounced the gold standard. The main issue of the campaign was what should back the U.S. currency, silver or gold. McKinley was in favor of the gold standard. In the end, he won the election with 51 percent of the popular vote and 271 out of 447 electoral votes.

McKinley easily won the nomination for president again in 1900 and was again opposed by William Jennings Bryan. Theodore Roosevelt ran as McKinley's vice president. The main issue of the campaign was America's growing imperialism, which the Democrats spoke out against. McKinley won the election with 292 out of 447 electoral votes.


During McKinley's time in office, Hawaii was annexed. This would be the first step toward statehood for the island territory. In 1898, the Spanish-American War began with the Maine incident. On February 15, the U.S. battleship Maine—which was stationed in Cuba's Havana harbor—exploded and sank, killing 266 of the crew members. The cause of the explosion is not known to this day. However, the press—led by newspapers such as those published by William Randolph Hearst—published articles claiming that Spanish mines had destroyed the ship. "Remember the Maine!" became a popular rallying cry.

On April 25, 1898, the United States declared war against Spain. Commodore George Dewey destroyed Spain's Pacific fleet, while Admiral William Sampson destroyed the Atlantic fleet. U.S. troops then captured Manila and took possession of the Philippines. In Cuba, Santiago was captured. The U.S. also captured Puerto Rico before Spain asked for peace. On December 10, 1898, the Paris Peace Treaty was signed. Spain gave up its claim to Cuba and gave Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands to the United States in exchange for $20 million. The acquisition of these territories marked a major turning point in American history; the nation, previously somewhat isolated from the rest of the world, became an imperial power with interests around the globe.

In 1899, Secretary of State John Hay created the Open Door policy, where the United States asked for China to make it so that all nations would be able to trade equally in China. However, in June 1900 the Boxer Rebellion occurred, and the Chinese targeted Western missionaries and foreign communities. The Americans joined forces with Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan to stop the rebellion.

One final important act during McKinley's time in office was the passage of the Gold Standard Act, which officially placed the United States on the gold standard.


McKinley was shot two times by anarchist Leon Czolgosz while the president was visiting the Pan-American Exhibit in Buffalo, New York, on September 6, 1901. He died on September 14, 1901. Czolgosz stated that he shot McKinley because he was an enemy of working people. He was convicted of the murder and died by electrocution on October 29, 1901.


McKinley is best remembered for his role in U.S. expansionism; during his time in office, the nation became a world colonial power, controlling territories in the Caribbean, Pacific, and Central America. McKinley was also the third of four U.S. presidents who have been assassinated. His face appears on the $500 bill, which was discontinued in 1969.


  • Gould, Lewis L. "The Presidency of William McKinley." Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1980.
  • Merry, Robert W. "President McKinley: Architect of the American Century." Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018.
  • Morgan, H. W. "William McKinley and His America." 1964.
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Kelly, Martin. "Biography of William McKinley, 25th President of the United States." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Kelly, Martin. (2023, April 5). Biography of William McKinley, 25th President of the United States. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "Biography of William McKinley, 25th President of the United States." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).