Skip to Main Content

World of 1898: International Perspectives on the Spanish American War

William McKinley

Photographic history of the Spanish-American War, p. 335.


William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States, was born in Niles, Ohio on January 29, 1843. He enlisted as a private during the Civil War and distinguished himself in action earning the rank of major in 1865. He served in Congress from 1876 to 1890 and became a strong supporter of protective tariffs. McKinley was elected governor of Ohio in 1891, serving a second term in 1893. By this time, McKinley was considered an important national leader. In 1896, the Republican national convention nominated him for president, on a platform stressing protective tariffs and the maintenance of a monetary standard based on gold.


From the beginning of his administration, President McKinley was concerned about the Cuban insurrection. On February 15, 1898, the USS Maine was sunk on an official visit to Havana. President McKinley attempted to prevent war and endeavored to persuade the Spanish government to adopt a conciliatory policy with the Cuban insurrectionists. The Spanish government yielded too late to restrain the popular demand in the United States for intervention. On April 20, Congress adopted a resolution declaring war against Spain. A peace protocol ended hostilities on August 12, 1898. Under the peace treaty signed at Paris on December 10, 1898, Spain relinquished title to Cuba, and ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Phillippines to the United States.

Following the acquisition of these possessions, McKinley questioned whether the Constitution applied to them as it did to the continental United States. He accepted the view of Congress that since they lay outside the free trade area of the United States and were not incorporated territories, the provisions of the Constitution did not apply to them.

In 1900, McKinley was re-elected President. During his second term, he was gratified by the Supreme Court's decisons confirming the administration's limited application of the Constitution to these insular possessions, such as in Balzac v. Porto Rico. McKinley did not complete his second term because he was shot by an anarchist on September 6, 1901. He died shortly thereafter, on September 14, 1901, from complications related to the gunshot wound.