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William McKinley and Us

  • Eric Rauchway (a1)


In the presidential campaign of 2004, George W. Bush's advisor Karl Rove repeated to journalists his long-standing explanation of why he admires William McKinley and expects Bush to reproduce what Rove regards as McKinley's successes. In 2003, Kevin Phillips, a Bush critic, wrote a book explaining how much he also admires McKinley. Eric Schlosser, a muck-raking journalist, saw his play Americans debut in London in the fall of 2003 to a theater full of Britons drawn to a play about the assassination of McKinley. Schlosser explains his interest in McKinley by invoking William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It isn't even past.” By saying so he raises anew the old question of how much our interest in present events ought to inflect our study of the past, but he also raises a question of peculiar interest to historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. The McKinley of Rove, Phillips, and Schlosser—the McKinley whom Rove wants the President to emulate—may sound dimly familiar to us. But does the work of professional historians sustain this gloss on current affairs?



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1 Fineman, Howard, “In the Driver's Seat,” Newsweek, September 6, 2004, p. 24 .

2 Phillips, Kevin, William McKinley (New York, 2003) . For Phillips on Bush, see Phillips, Kevin, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush (New York, 2004) .

3 On Schlosser as muckraker, see e.g. Schlosser, Eric, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the AllAmerican Meal (Boston, 2001) , and Schlosser, Eric, Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market (Boston, 2003) .

4 Schlosser, Eric, Americans (London, 2003), 99 .

5 , Schlosset, Americans, 99 ; Phillips, Kevin, McKinley, 6 .

6 Lemann, Nicholas, “The Redemption: Everything Went Wrong for George W Bush, Until He Made it All Go Right,” The New Yorker, January 31, 2000, 62 . The gloss on “conservative revisionist historians” is Lemann's. Although I have no personal knowledge of Lewis L. Gould's politics, I suspect that this characterization cannot be entirely fair.

7 , Lexington, “Dusting off William McKinley,” The Economist, November 13, 1999, 34 ; also Dionne, E. J., “In Search of George W,” The Washington Post Magazine, September 19, 1999, p. W18 .

8 , Lexington, “Dusting off William McKinley,” 34 .

9 Bacote, Clarence, “Negro Officeholders in Georgia under President McKinley,” The Journal of Negro History 44 (July 1959): 217-39, 220 .

10 Blight, David W., Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, Mass., 2001), 351 .

11 Ibid., 350-52

12 Ibid., 366-67.

13 Perman, Michael, Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (Chapel Hill, 2001), 118 .

14 On the election o f 1928, see recent treatments in Finan, Christopher M., Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior (New York, 2002) , and Slayton, Robert A., Empire Statesman: The Rise and Redemption of Al Smith (New York, 2001) .

15 I am grateful to one of the journal's anonymous readers for suggesting this phrasing.

16 ”On McKinley in the Civil War, see Armstrong, William H., Major McKinley: William McKinley and the Civil War (Kent, Ohio, 2000) . McKinley's action at Antietam, for which he received a promotion, often strikes the reader predisposed against him as less than heroic, because McKinley did his duty as a cook, not a rifleman. But this seems to me uncharitable and insensible of the difficulty of performance—any performance—under fire. See Armstrong, 39-40.

17 Davis, Lance E., Easterlin, Richard A. et al., American Economic Growth: An Economist's History of the United States (New York, 1972), 138, table 5.7 .

18 , Phillips, McKinley, 78 x. Phillips draws here on Jensen, Richard, The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888-1896 (Chicago, 1971) , and Kleppner, Paul, The Cross of Culture: A Social Analysis of Midwestern Politics, 1850-1900 (New York, 1970) .

19 Daniels, Roger, Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882 (New York, 2004), 32 .

20 Goldin, Claudia, “The Political Economy of Immigration Restriction in the United States, 1890 to 1921,” in The Regulated Economy: A Historical Approach to Political Economy, ed. Goldin, Claudia and Iibecap, Gary D. (Chicago, 1994), 230 .

21 , Daniels, Guarding, 33 .

23 Iipset, Seymour Martin and Marks, Gary, It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States (New York, 2000), 146 .

24 , phillips, McKinley, 77 .

25 Irwin, Douglas A., “Tariffs and Growth in Late-Nineteenth-Century America,” NBER Working Paper no. 7639, April 2000 ; Irwin, Douglas A., “Could the U. S. Iron Industry Have Survived Free Trade after the Civil War?” NBER Working Paper no. 7640, April 2000 ; Irwin, Douglas A., “Higher Tariffs, Lower Revenues? Analyzing the Fiscal Aspects of ‘The Great Tariff Debate of 1888’,” Journal of Economic History 58 (March 1998): 5972 ; Irwin, Douglas A., “Did Late-Nineteenth-Century U.S. Tariffs Promote Infant Industries? Evidence from the Tinplate Industry,” NBER Working Paper no. 6835, December 1998 .

26 , Phillips, McKinley, 109–10 . Emphasis in the original.

27 Friedman, Milton and Schwartz, Anna Jacobson, A Monetary History of the United 1867-1960 (Princeton, 1963), 135 ; Friedman, Milton, Money Mischief: Episodes in Monetary History (San Diego, 1994), 125 .

28 The Democrats had a minority in the 65th Congress of 1917-1919 but with the votes of independent Congressmen were able to return Champ Clark as Speaker of the House. See Link, Arthur, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Bra, 1900-1917 (New York, 1954), 249, n.63 ; Link, Arthur, Wilson: Campaigns for Progressivism and Peace, 1916-1917 (Princeton, 1965), 422 .

29 According to the Clerk of the House website, the 62nd Congress as elected in 1910 included 230 Democrats, 162 Republicans, 1 Progressive Republican and 1 Socialist. <> (May 5, 2005).

30 Sanders, Elizabeth, Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers, and the American State, 1877-1917 (Chicago, 1999) .

31 Bartels, Larry M., “Electoral Continuity and Change, 1868-1996,” Electoral Studies 17 (September 1998): 290, 301-26 .

32 Mayhew, David R., Electoral Realignments: A Critique of an American Genre (New Haven: 2002), 104–05 . For a recent argument emphasizing the realignment of 1896, see Jensen, Richard, “Democracy, Republicanism, and Efficiency: The Values of American Politics, 1885-1930,” in Contesting Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775-2000, ed. Shafer, Byron E. and Badger, Anthony J. (Lawrence, 2001) . Bartels and Mayhew take on the specific claims of realignment theory, which comprises a logically robust and even predictive set of postulates. Scholars may salvage a weaker version of an 1890s realignment, but it will have correspondingly weaker analytical value. For an argument on Congressional realignment in the same period, see Jenkins, Jeffery A., Schickler, Eric, and Carson, Jamie L., “Constituency Cleavages and Congressional Parties: Measuring Homogeneity and Polarization, 1857-1913,” Social Science History 28 (Winter 2004): 537573 . Daniel Klinghard makes the argument that McKinley innovated in party organization, which constituted a kind of realignment: Klinghard, Daniel P., “Turn of the Century Politics and Party Realignment,” paper presented at the Southern Political Science Association, January 7-10, 2004 .

33 Morgan, H. Wayne, William McKinky and His America (Syracuse, 1963), 527 .

34 Hilderbrand, Robert C., Power and the People: Executive Management of Public Opinion in Foreign Affairs, 1897-1921 (Chapel Hill, 1981), 199 ; Gould, Lewis L., The Presidency of William McKinley (Lawrence, 1980), 241 .

35 Gould, Lewis L., The Modern American Presidency (Lawrence, 2003), 15 .

36 Wiebe, Robert H., The Searchfor Order, 1877-1920 (New York, 1967), 166 .

37 Galambos, Louis, “The Emerging Organizational Synthesis in Modern American History,” Business History Review 44 (autumn 1970), 280 ; Galambos, Louis and Pratt, Joseph, The Rise of the Corporate Commonwealth: U.S. Business and Public Policy in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1988), 44 .

38 Wiebe, Robert H., Businessmen and Reform: A Study of the Progressive Movement (Cambridge, Mass., 1962), 6 .

39 See also Thompson, J. A., Progressivism, British Association of American Studies Pamphlets no. 2 (1979), 37 .

40 Robert La Follette did, like Roosevelt, support McKinley during McKinley's life but as Nancy Unger notes he, like Roosevelt, tried mightily to bring Bryanism (without calling it Bryanism) into the Republican Party afterward. Unger, Nancy C., Fighting Bob ha Folktte, the Righteous Reformer (Chapel Hill, 2000), 107–10 .

41 Chandler, Alfred D., The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, Mass., 1977), 174 .

42 Wiebe, Robert H., “The Anthracite Strike of 1902: A Record of Confusion,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 48 (September 1961): 229–51 , quote from 237.

43 See , Phillips, McKinley, 123–24 .

44 Ibid., 128.

45 Beard, Charles A., Contemporary American History, 1877-1913 (1914 ; reprint New York, 1918), 255, 258-59.

46 Sherman, Stuart P., Americans (New York, 1923), 273 .

47 “Harding Nominates Taft,” New York Times, June 23, 1912, p. 2 .

48 See e.g. ”Opponents of Taft Uniting on Hughes,” New York Times, October 28, 1907, p. 4 ; ”Choice of Taft against Party Will,” New York Times, June 21, 1908, p. Cl .

49 , Mayhew, Electoral Realignments, 104–05 .

50 Zimmermann, Warren, First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country into a World Power (New York, 2002), 265 .

51 , Morgan, McKinley, 412 . See also , Gould, McKinley, 141–42 .

52 On evidently insufficient troo p strength in what otherwise can be viewed as a militarily successful counter-insurgency, see linn, Brian McAllister, The Philippine War, 1899-1902 (Lawrence: 2000) .

53 , Zmmermann, First Great Triumph, 404 .

54 lbid., 445.

55 Grenville, J. A. S., “Diplomacy and War Plans in the United States, 1890-1917,” in The War Plans of the Great Powers, 1880-1914, ed. Kennedy, Paul (London, 1979) .

56 , Schlosser, Americans, 95 .

57 Ibid., 89.

58 Roth, Philip, American Pastoral (1997; New York, 1998), 86 .

59 For another recent journalistic account of such ideas, see Krakauer, Jon, Under the Banner of Heaven (New York, 2003) .

60 Fein, Robert A. and Vossekuil, Bryan, “Assassination in the United States,” Journal of Forensic Sciences 44 (1999): 321–33, esp. 323 .

61 , Schlosser, Americans, 39 .

62 Rauchway, Eric, Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt's America (New York, 2003), 102 . The spirit of full disclosure compels me to say that the view of Czolgosz in my own book is similar to Schlosser's, though my politics are I suspect not Schlosser's, and I wrote the book without knowledge of his then-unpublished and -unstaged play and from a different angle; I worked mainly from the notes of Vernon Briggs and Walter Channing in their postmortem investigation of Czolgosz's motives.

63 , Schlosser, Americans, 96 .

64 , Lemann, “The Redemption,” 63 .

65 Lemann, Nicholas, “The Iraq Factor,” The New Yorker, January 22, 2001, p. 34 .

66 See e.g. United States Government Manual, March 1945 (Washington, DC, 1945), 318, 613 ; Hunt, Gaillard, The Department of State of the United States: Its History and Functions (New Haven, 1914), 244–45 .

67 , Schlosser, Americans, 6 .


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