In The Days of McKinley Author:Margaret Leech From Amazon.com: — The title of "In The Days Of McKinley" is very descriptive. Although it contains much biographical material, it is not a true biography. It does tell much about the stage on which William McKinley played. — McKinley rose to national prominence by becoming an expert on the tariff. In congress he was known as the technical master ... more »of customs duties. How he used this expertise to propel himself to the post of Governor of Ohio is a puzzlement, but it does reflect the immense importance of tariff policy in an era when elections were fought over protection and when most federal revenue was derived from the tariff.
Much of the book tells the story of aspects of public life in which McKinley participated. A major portion of the book deals with the Spanish American War. Here one sees McKinley among those presidents whose administrations were transformed by events from a domestic focus into one dominated by martial exploits. I have studied much about the Spanish American War (see my Listmania, "Remember The Maine, To Hell With Spain" and my Amazon Reviews, A Ship To Remember, Colonel Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, An Army For Empire and Little Brown Brothers) but this book provides a unique perspective on the war. Here the focus is on the role of the president in the decision to go to war and its subsequent prosecution. On these pages we see the veteran who had learned to hate war being drawn into a war despite all of his efforts to avoid it. In some parts the narration of the war almost makes the reader forget that McKinley was involved. Even so, it places some aspects of the war, such as the exploits of the Rough Riders, into a perspective of the greater conflict which is lacking in some works. With war a reality, the president became actively involved in the need to equip the army, decide on the targets of attack and the peace negotiations. All of these aspects receive ample attention from the author.
With the conclusion of the war, the controversy over the disposition of the captured islands became a focus of public debate and a major issue in the 1900 election. William Jennings Bryan's "mixed messages" to use a recent term, are contrasted to McKinley's consistency. The decision to "Take whatever we can and to keep whatever we want" would have profound implications for the U. S. and the world. McKinley's self image as God's chosen instrument would be echoed in some of his successors.
In an era when vice-presidents were rarely heard, McKinley's first Veep. Garrett Hobart, was a close friend who played a surprisingly important role in the administration, leading its programs through the Senate and carrying out special assignments. With Hobarts' death the selection of a second term running mate became a major event in McKinley's career and, with the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt, in the life of the nation.
Through the chapters of this book, author Margaret Leech gives the reader an excellent study of themes in the history of McKinley's days. In so doing she does not neglect McKinley himself. She shows how he was and remained a product of Nineteenth Century Ohio where he was born and lived his life. She tells of McKinley's service in the Union Army, during which he reached the rank of Major before returning to Ohio to undertake legal studies. Settling in Canton, he rose steadily in his career and in public esteem.
Leech tells the tender love story of McKinley and his wife, Ida, whose neurological disorder would be a constant concern throughout their married life. He learned to cope with her frequent seizures without interrupting the routine of the day, while always placing Ida first in his heart. It is amazing that he accomplished what he did with the limitations imposed by Ida's infirmity. He comes across as a highly successful man who kept his priorities in order.
This book has been described as a first rate book about a second rate president. While you read it you will understand why it made Margaret Leech the first woman to win two Pulitzer prizes. From it I acquired a respect for McKinley as a president who successfully confronted a variety of complex issues. I think that he successfully advanced the interests of his country and followed practices which serve as good models for others. Read it and formulate your own rating of McKinley.« less