Dingley Tariff Act:
Sponsored by Congressman Nelson Dingley of Maine,
the legislation fulfilled an 1896 campaign promise by Republicans to raise
tariffs. Signed by President William McKinley in July, it increased the
average rate to 46% (from the previous 41%). The law also authorized the
president to negotiate reciprocal trade treaties, a policy the administration
After several years of fighting, Spain granted
limited autonomy to Cuba on January 1. Protests by Spanish loyalists
provoked concern for the safety of Americans, so the USS Maine arrived in Havana
on January 25.
On February 9, American
newspapers published a letter from a Spanish diplomat revealing that his country
had negotiated in bad faith and ridiculing President McKinley.
On February 15, two explosions
sank the Maine, killing 266 American crewmen aboard. Assumed to be the
work of pro-Spanish forces, American press and politicians called for war.
On April 24, Spain declared war
on the U.S., and the American Congress responded likewise the next day.
On May 1, Commodore George
Dewey’s fleet captured Manila Bay in the Philippines, a Spanish colony.
On July 14, Spanish forces in
Santiago, Cuba, surrendered.
On July 24, the Spanish
relinquished Puerto Rico and the next day requested terms of peace.
The war officially ended on
August 12, and a peace treaty was signed on December 10. Under its terms,
the United States gained control of Cuba, the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto
Annexation of Hawaii:
On July 7, President McKinley signed a congressional
resolution annexing the Pacific island chain. The action reversed the
policy of Democratic President Grover Cleveland who had rejected a
similar resolution in early 1893.
To win support for ratification of the peace
treaty ending the Spanish-American War, President McKinley went on a
speaking tour, used patronage, and lobbied Congress. On February
6, the Senate approved the treaty by one vote over the required
An undeclared war between
Filipino nationalists, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, and the United States
lasted from early 1899 until 1902, during which 10,000 Americans and
200,000 Filipinos died.
First Open Door Note:
Formulated by American diplomat William
Rockhill, at the request of Secretary of State John Hay and President
William McKinley, the Open Door policy was an attempt to prevent Japan
and European nations from restricting trade within their spheres of
influence in China and from extending their political authority by
carving the country into several colonies. The note (a formal, written
diplomatic communication) declared three principles: 1) open
commercial access to all spheres of influence and treaty ports; 2) the
Chinese government alone would be able to collect tariffs and custom
duties; and, 3) the Great Powers would have to pay China harbor and
railroad fees in their respective spheres of influence. By March
1900, Hay announced all the Great Powers had accepted the Open Door
Gold Standard Act:
The “Money Question” of whether the
United States should have a stable currency backed by gold reserves or
inflationary currency (“greenbacks”) or silver coins was one of the most
divisive in the late-nineteenth century. In 1896, Democratic presidential
nominee William Jennings Bryan campaigned on a platform of “free silver”
(unlimited coinage), but was soundly defeated by Republican William McKinley.
The return of economic prosperity in 1897 effectively ended the free-silver
movement. In March 1900, the Republican-dominated Congress passed and
President McKinley signed legislation making all currency redeemable only in
gold and mandating the U.S. Treasury to maintain a minimum of $150 million in
Meeting in Philadelphia on June 19-21,
the Republican National Convention nominated President William McKinley for a
second term and Governor Theodore Roosevelt of New York as his vice-presidential
running mate. The Republican platform credited the return of economic
prosperity to the McKinley administration, characterized the Spanish-America War
as just, and endorsed a continued American presence in the territories gained
from Spain. The document reaffirmed the party’s traditional commitments to
the gold standard, tariff protectionism, trade reciprocity, veterans’ pensions,
voting rights for all races, and an interoceanic canal in Central America.
It approved the annexation of Hawaii (1898), antitrust legislation, and the
creation of a cabinet-level department of commerce.
Rebellion/Second Open Door Note:
A group of Chinese known as “Boxers”
violently resisted the presence and influence of European, American, and
Japanese foreigners in their country. Support from many ordinary Chinese
and, secretly, the Chinese government allowed the Boxer Rebellion to spread
quickly in the spring of 1900. In late June, President McKinley dispatched
2500 American servicemen from the Philippines to take part in an international
military force, which ended the uprising on August 14. McKinley and Hay
issued the Second Open Door Note emphasizing the need to preserve the political
and territorial integrity of China and to safeguard free trade there. All
the powers except for Japan agreed to the note, but its implementation proved
difficult. The Boxer Rebellion had undermined the prestige of the Chinese
administration, and the foreign presence and influence continued for decades.
Meeting in Kansas City on July 4-6, the
Democratic National Convention nominated former congressman and 1896 nominee
William Jennings Bryan for president and former vice president (1893-1897) Adlai
Stevenson for vice president. At Bryan’s insistence, the party platform
repeated its 1896 call for the unlimited coinage of silver (“free silver”).
The first third of the document criticized Republican “imperialism,” which was
labeled “the paramount issue of the campaign.” It characterized the
Philippine War as “unnecessary.” However, it also endorsed tougher
enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine in Latin America and declared for expansion
into “desirable territory” that could become states and whose people were
“willing and fit to become American citizens.” In addition, the platform
stood firmly against business trusts, blaming Republicans for their recent
On November 6, Republican William
McKinley defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan by a margin of 292-155 in the
Electoral College and 52%-46% in the popular vote. It was the first time
an incumbent president had won a second term since Republican Ulysses S. Grant
in 1872. Republicans picked up two seats in the U.S. Senate and 11 in the
U.S. House, raising their totals to 57 and 198, respectively. Results of
the 1900 election consolidated the realignment begun in 1896 of the GOP as the
dominant party in national politics through the 1920s.
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