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Research Papers on McKinley and American Imperialism

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At the turn of the 20th century, American imperialism began to become a more prominent issue than ever before, largely under the guidance of President McKinley. There were several reasons for this change in policy during this time, including the following:

  1. End of Manifest Destiny
  2. Financial motivations
  3. Religious and moral reasons
  4. Geopolitical concerns

Of these four justifications for this type of foreign policy, the latter is the most relevant when considering the role of the President.

McKinley’s primary target during this time period was a series of Spanish holdings, primarily those in Cuba and the Philippines. While other European nations were working to build up overseas empires, Spain was facing a series of struggles for independence within their possessions. Wary of a revolutionary government so close to our nation’s borders, America became involved in the struggle for Cuban independence, beginning the Spanish-American War. After several years of fighting, Spain was defeated, losing their holdings in Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines to America. No longer a nation restricted to North America, we were now a growing global superpower, with access to trade markets throughout the world and strategic points for military enhancement and protection. American imperialism would only continue for generations to come, ranging from something as seemingly innocuous as assisting in the building of the Panama Canal to something as widespread as taking on the role of policeman in the western hemisphere. Imperialism has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy for generations, and it is under the watchful eye of President McKinley at the turn of the 20th century that such trends began.

William McKinley’s rise to the Presidency came, in many ways, through his commitment to the “conservative” interests of business.  With supporters such as Wall Street baron J.P. Morgan, steel producer Andrew Carnegie and his own campaign manager and fellow Ohioan Mark Hanna, McKinley stood in sharp contrast to his 1896 Democratic opponent William Jennings Bryant. McKinley opposed taxes and business regulation, supported high tariffs to protect American industrialists from foreign competitors (which would become his key accomplishment as a Congressman) and a foreign policy of expansionism and imperialism.  McKinley’s “conservative” policies made him a symbol of all that was wrong in America for his assassin, Leon Czolgosz. 

On September 6, 1901 President William McKinley was shot, and eventually died giving a speech at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  When asked about why he decided to kill the President, before his execution Leon Czolgosz responded, “I only done my duty.  I don’t believe in one man having so much service and another man having none.”  Although he has never been an active member in anarchist, socialist or communist circles, he was seen as a hero to their growing movement and a martyr for the plight of the poor and working class. Czolgosz equated President McKinley and the Republican Party with the interests of money and business, the forces in society which created the conditions under which working people had to live.  Professionals began to examine this alienation Czologsz felt; the motives that drove him to kill the President. Leon Czolgosz, son of a poor Polish immigrant, grew up in Alpena, Michigan and worked various blue collar jobs throughout the Great Lakes region; a man whose actions in many ways gave a voice to a movement that was erupting in the streets of America.

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