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Mon Jul 13, 2015, 09:30 AM

1896 election, William McKinley, money in politics, trickle-down, and where we are today

I find the 1896 election and events following to be a major turning point that set us on the path to where we are now.

"Trickle-down economics" used to be known as the "Horse and sparrow theory" which was responsible for the "Panic of 1896" so keep that in mind.

The United States presidential election of 1896 was the 28th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 3, 1896. It climaxed an intensely heated contest in which Republican candidate William McKinley (a former Governor of Ohio) defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan (a former Representative from Nebraska) in one of the most dramatic and complex races in American history.



The McKinley campaign invented a new form of campaign financing that has dominated American politics ever since.[20] Instead of asking office holders to return a cut of their pay, Hanna went to financiers and industrialists and made a business proposition. He explained that Bryan would win if nothing happened, and that the McKinley team had a winning counterattack that would be very expensive. He then would ask them how much it was worth to the business not to have Bryan as president. He suggested an amount and was happy to take a check. Hanna had moved beyond partisanship and campaign rhetoric to a businessman's thinking about how to achieve a desired result. He raised $3.5 million. Hanna brought in banker Charles G. Dawes to run the Chicago office and spend about $2 million in the critical region.[21]

Meanwhile, traditional funders of the Democratic Party (mostly financiers from the Northeast) rejected Bryan, although he did manage to raise about $500,000. Some of it came from businessmen with interests in silver mining.

The financial disparity grew larger and larger as the Republican funded more and more rallies, speeches, and torchlight parades, as well as hundreds of millions of pamphlets attacking Bryan and praising McKinley. Lacking a systematic fund-raising system, Bryan was unable to tap his potential supporters, and he had to rely on passing the hat at rallies. National Chairman Jones pleaded, "No matter in how small sums, no matter by what humble contributions, let the friends of liberty and national honor contribute all they can."[22]
Republican attacks on Bryan

Increasingly, the Republicans personalized their attacks on Bryan as a dangerous religious fanatic.[23] The counter-crusading rhetoric focused on Bryan as a reckless revolutionary whose policies would destroy the economic system.[24] Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld was running for re-election after having pardoned several of the anarchists convicted in the Haymarket bombings. Republican posters and speeches linked Altgeld and Bryan as two dangerous anarchists.[25] The Republican Party tried any number of tactics to ridicule Bryan's economic policies. In one case they printed fake dollar bills which had Bryan's face and read "IN GOD WE TRUST...FOR THE OTHER 53 CENTS," thus illustrating their claim that a dollar bill would be worth only 47 cents if it was backed by silver instead of gold.[26]


William McKinney

Rising politician 1877–1895

"Under free trade the trader is the master and the producer the slave. Protection is but the law of nature, the law of self-preservation, of self-development, of securing the highest and best destiny of the race of man. [It is said] that protection is immoral.... Why, if protection builds up and elevates 63,000,000 [the U.S. population] of people, the influence of those 63,000,000 of people elevates the rest of the world. We cannot take a step in the pathway of progress without benefiting mankind everywhere. Well, they say, 'Buy where you can buy the cheapest'.... Of course, that applies to labor as to everything else. Let me give you a maxim that is a thousand times better than that, and it is the protection maxim: 'Buy where you can pay the easiest.' And that spot of earth is where labor wins its highest rewards."[50]


From his first term in Congress, McKinley was a strong advocate of protective tariffs. The primary purposes of such imposts was not to raise revenue, but to allow American manufacturing to develop by giving it a price advantage in the domestic market over foreign competitors. McKinley biographer Margaret Leech noted that Canton had become prosperous as a center for the manufacture of farm equipment because of protection, and that this may have helped form his political views. McKinley introduced and supported bills that raised protective tariffs, and opposed those that lowered them or imposed tariffs simply to raise revenue.[56] Garfield’s election as president in 1880 created a vacancy on the House Ways and Means Committee; McKinley was selected to fill it, placing him on the most powerful committee after only two terms.[57]


Gerrymandering and defeat for re-election

Recognizing McKinley’s potential, the Democrats, whenever they controlled the Ohio legislature, sought to gerrymander or redistrict him out of office.[63] In 1878, McKinley faced election in a redrawn 17th district; he won anyway, causing Hayes to exult, “Oh, the good luck of McKinley! He was gerrymandered out and then beat the gerrymander! We enjoyed it as much as he did.”[64] After the 1882 election, McKinley was unseated on an election contest by a near party-line House vote.[65] Out of office, he was briefly depressed by the setback, but soon vowed to run again. The Democrats again redistricted Stark County for the 1884 election; McKinley was returned to Congress anyway.[66]
Judge magazine cover from September 1890, showing McKinley (left) having helped dispatch Speaker Reed's opponent in early-voting Maine, hurrying off with the victor to McKinley's “gerrymandered” Ohio district.

McKinley tirelessly stumped his new district, reaching out to its 40,000 voters to explain that his tariff

was framed for the people ... as a defense to their industries, as a protection to the labor of their hands, as a safeguard to the happy homes of American workingmen, and as a security to their education, their wages, and their investments ... It will bring to this country a prosperity unparalleled in our own history and unrivalled in the history of the world.”[68]


McKinley was sworn in as president on March 4, 1897, as his wife and mother looked on. The new President gave a lengthy inaugural address; he urged tariff reform, and stated that the currency issue would have to await tariff legislation. He warned against foreign interventions, “We want no wars of conquest. We must avoid the temptation of territorial aggression.”[115]


War with Spain
Main article: Spanish–American War

For decades, rebels in Cuba had waged an intermittent campaign for freedom from Spanish colonial rule. By 1895, the conflict had expanded to a war for Cuban independence.[126] As war engulfed the island, Spanish reprisals against the rebels grew ever harsher. These included the removal of Cubans to internment camps near Spanish military bases, a strategy designed to make it hard for the rebels to receive support in the countryside.[127] American opinion favored the rebels, and McKinley shared in their outrage against Spanish policies.[128] As many of his countrymen called for war to liberate Cuba, McKinley favored a peaceful approach, hoping that through negotiation, Spain might be convinced to grant Cuba independence, or at least to allow the Cubans some measure of autonomy.[129] The United States and Spain began negotiations on the subject in 1897, but it became clear that Spain would never concede Cuban independence, while the rebels (and their American supporters) would never settle for anything less.[130]

In January 1898, Spain promised some concessions to the rebels, but when American consul Fitzhugh Lee reported riots in Havana, McKinley agreed to send the battleship USS Maine there to protect American lives and property.[131] On February 15, the Maine exploded and sank with 266 men killed.[132] Public opinion and the newspapers demanded war, but McKinley insisted that a court of inquiry first determine whether the explosion was accidental.[133] Negotiations with Spain continued as the court considered the evidence, but on March 20, the court ruled that the Maine was blown up by an underwater mine.[134] As pressure for war mounted in Congress, McKinley continued to negotiate for Cuban independence.[135] Spain refused McKinley’s proposals, and on April 11, McKinley turned the matter over to Congress. He did not ask for war, but Congress declared war anyway on April 20, with the addition of the Teller Amendment, which disavowed any intention of annexing Cuba.[136]


Peace and territorial gain
Signing of the Treaty of Paris

On July 22, the Spanish authorized Jules Cambon, the French Ambassador to the United States, to represent Spain in negotiating peace.[152] The Spanish initially wished to restrict the discussion to Cuba, but were quickly forced to recognize that their other possessions would be claimed as spoils of war.[152] McKinley's cabinet agreed with him that Spain must leave Cuba and Puerto Rico, but they disagreed on the Philippines, with some wishing to annex the entire archipelago and some wishing only to retain a naval base in the area.[153] Although public sentiment seemed to favor annexation of the Philippines, several prominent political leaders, including Bryan, ex-President Cleveland, and the newly formed American Anti-Imperialist League made their opposition known.[154]


During the war, McKinley also pursued the annexation of the Republic of Hawaii. The new republic, dominated by American interests, had seized power from the royal government in 1893.[159] The lame-duck Harrison administration had submitted a treaty of annexation to the Senate; Cleveland, once he returned to office, had sent a special commission to the islands. After receiving the report, Cleveland withdrew the treaty, stating that the revolution did not reflect the will of Hawaiian citizens.[160] Nevertheless, many Americans favored annexation, and the cause gained momentum as the United States became embroiled in war with Spain.[161] McKinley came to office as a supporter of annexation, and lobbied Congress to adopt his opinion, believing that to do nothing would invite a royalist counter-revolution or a Japanese takeover.[161] Foreseeing difficulty in getting two-thirds of the Senate to approve a treaty of annexation, McKinley instead supported the effort of Democratic Representative Francis G. Newlands of Nevada to accomplish the result by joint resolution of both houses of Congress.[162] The resulting Newlands Resolution passed both houses by wide margins, and McKinley signed it into law on July 8, 1898.[162] McKinley biographer H. Wayne Morgan notes, “McKinley was the guiding spirit behind the annexation of Hawaii, showing ... a firmness in pursuing it”;[163] the President told Cortelyou, “We need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California. It is manifest destiny.”[164] Wake Island, an uninhabited atoll between Hawaii and Guam, was claimed for the United States on July 12, 1898.[165]

Expanding influence overseas

In acquiring Pacific possessions for the United States, McKinley expanded the nation’s ability to compete for trade in China.[166] Even before peace negotiations began with Spain, McKinley asked Congress to set up a commission to examine trade opportunities in the region and espoused an “Open Door Policy”, in which all nations would freely trade with China and none would seek to violate that nation’s territorial integrity.[167] When John Hay replaced Day as Secretary of State at the end of the war, he circulated notes to that effect to the European powers.[168] Great Britain favored the idea, but Russia opposed it; France, Germany, Italy and Japan agreed in principle, but only if all the other nations signed on.[168]

Trade with China became imperiled shortly thereafter as the Boxer Rebellion menaced foreigners and their property in China.[169] Americans and other westerners in Peking were besieged and, in cooperation with other western powers, McKinley ordered 5000 troops to the city in June 1900 in the China Relief Expedition.[170] The westerners were rescued the next month, but several Congressional Democrats objected to McKinley dispatching troops without consulting the legislature.[169] McKinley’s actions set a precedent that led to most of his successors exerting similar independent control over the military.[170] After the rebellion ended, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to the Open Door policy, which became the basis of American policy toward China.[171]


I included a lot of text already as I encourage looking into the history of this era deeply as it is complex in a variety of ways that I see are why we are here. So I'll close with just a couple more paragraphs


Plans and arrivals

McKinley gave a short speech at his second inauguration on March 4, 1901.[11] Having long been an advocate of protective tariffs, and believing the Dingley Tariff, passed during his first year in office, had helped the nation reach prosperity, McKinley planned to negotiate reciprocal trade agreements with other countries. This would open foreign markets to US manufacturers that had dominated the domestic market thanks to the tariff, and who sought to expand.[1][12] During a long trip planned for the months after his inauguration, he intended to make major speeches promoting this plan, culminating in a visit and address at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on June 13.[13][14]


After McKinley's murder, newspaper editorials across the country heavily criticized the lack of protection afforded to American presidents. Though it still lacked any legislative mandate, by 1902, the Secret Service was protecting President Theodore Roosevelt full-time. This did not, however, settle the debate. Some in Congress recommended the United States Army be charged with protecting the President.[85] Not until 1906 did Congress pass legislation officially designating the Secret Service as the agency in charge of presidential security.[86]

The aftermath of the assassination saw a backlash against anarchists; the Buffalo police announced soon after the shooting that they believed Czolgosz had not acted alone, and a number of anarchists were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the attack.[87] Czolgosz mentioned his contacts with Emma Goldman during the interrogation; authorities arrested her family to give her incentive to turn herself in, which she did on September 10. She spent nearly three weeks in jail; she, like all other arrestees thought to have conspired with Czolgosz, was released without charge.[61][88] Anarchist colonies and newspapers were attacked by vigilantes; although no one was killed, there was considerable property damage.[89] Fear of anarchists led to surveillance programs which were eventually consolidated in 1908 as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.[90] Anti-anarchist laws passed in the wake of the assassination lay dormant for some years before being used during and after World War I, alongside newly passed statutes, against non-citizens whose views were deemed a threat. Among those deported in December, 1919 was Goldman, who did not have US citizenship.[91][92]

Leech believed the nation experienced a transition at McKinley's death:

The new President was in office. The republic still lived. Yet, for a space, Americans turned from the challenge and the strangeness of the future. Entranced and regretful, they remembered McKinley's firm, unquestioning faith, his kindly, frock-coated dignity; his accessibility and dedication to the people: the federal simplicity that would not be seen again in Washington ... [After McKinley's death,] old men came to the [White House] on errands of state and politics, but their primacy was disputed by the young men crowding forward. The nation felt another leadership, nervous, aggressive, and strong. Under command of a bold young captain, America set sail on the stormy voyage of the twentieth century.[93]


One of those "anti-anarchist" laws was the "Espionage Act" which was used liberally by J. Edgar Hoover. I'll have to do another OP on free speech, Zechariah Chafee, and the Espionage Act another day but as you can see I find these events as a critical turning point to how we got here.

On edit - Fourth Party system for a quick overview

The period featured a transformation from the issues of the Third Party System, which had focused on the American Civil War, Reconstruction, race and monetary issues. The era began in the severe depression of 1893 and the extraordinarily intense election of 1896. It included the Progressive Era, World War I, and the start of the Great Depression. The Great Depression caused a realignment that produced the Fifth Party System, dominated by the Democratic New Deal Coalition until the 1960s.

The central domestic issues concerned government regulation of railroads and large corporations ("trusts", the money issue (gold versus silver), the protective tariff, the role of labor unions, child labor, the need for a new banking system, corruption in party politics, primary elections, direct election of senators, racial segregation, efficiency in government, women's suffrage, and control of immigration. Foreign policy centered on the 1898 Spanish-American War, Imperialism, the Mexican Revolution, World War I, and the creation of the League of Nations. Dominant personalities included presidents William McKinley (R), Theodore Roosevelt (R) and Woodrow Wilson (D), three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (D), and Wisconsin's progressive Republican Robert M. LaFollette.


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