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 followed.


Spanish-American War:
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 Rico.

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.


Peace Treaty Ratified: 
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 two-thirds, 57-27. 

Philippine War:
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 policy.


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 gold reserves. 

Republican National Convention:
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.

Boxer 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.

Democratic National Convention:
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 proliferation.

Presidential Election:
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.

Back to top








Website design © 2001-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to