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The Democratic Nomination
Admiral George Dewey’s swift victory at Manila Bay in 1898 earned him nationwide acclaim.  Upon his return to the United States in October 1899, he was treated to celebratory parades, rallies, and dinners.  Some Democrats envisioned the military hero as their best choice for defeating McKinley.  The admiral announced on April 3, 1900, his availability for the nomination, but his presidential boom soon went bust.  He had already angered some Americans, particularly Protestants, by marrying a wealthy Catholic widow in late 1899 and giving her the house that grateful citizens had donated to him.  However, it was his assertion to the press that the job of president was easy—he merely executed laws that Congress passed—that revealed his political na´vetÚ and made him a public laughingstock.

With Dewey’s candidacy effectively ended, William Jennings Bryan ran unopposed for the Democratic presidential nomination, setting up a rematch of the 1896 contest against Republican William McKinley.  However, the economic circumstances of the nation were quite different in the two election years.  In 1896, the United States was still in a depression and the “money question” of whether the nation should support the gold standard or allow the unlimited coinage of silver (“free silver”) was fiercely debated.  Bryan had insisted that gold was ruining the economy and that only inflationary free silver would restore prosperity.  By 1900, the economy had been thriving and growing for three years without free silver, and the Republican-dominated Congress settled the issue by passing the Gold Standard Act.

In the face of all evidence and advice, Bryan refused to drop free silver.  As former Republican congressman Thomas Reed dryly remarked, “Bryan would rather be wrong than [be] president.”  Several months before the Democratic National Convention, Vice-Chairman William J. Stone of the Democratic National Committee cautioned the candidate that he had to win Illinois, Indiana, and New York to win the presidency in 1900, and could only do so by downplaying the money question.  On July 1, Stone and four other Democratic leaders met the candidate at his Nebraska home to reiterate the warning.  Bryan threatened to run as an independent if the free-silver plank of the 1896 party platform was not incorporated unchanged into the 1900 platform.  After the meeting, he telephoned key delegates to convince them to vote for the free-silver plank. 

The Democratic National Convention of 1900 met in Kansas City on July 4-6.  The controversial money question became entangled in the local politics of the important New York delegation.  Tammany Hall “Boss” Richard Croker removed former senator David B. Hill, a gold-standard supporter, from the Resolutions Committee and replaced him with Tammany’s August Van Wyck, who backed Bryan’s free-silver plank.  The Resolutions Committee then approved the free-silver plank by one vote, a reflection of close party division on the issue.  Hill announced that he would fight the free-silver plank on the convention floor, but backed down when Croker threatened that the New York delegation would shun him politically. 

Delegates were also at odds over America’s role in the newly acquired territories of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam.  The first third of the Democratic platform of 1900 was devoted to criticizing Republican imperialism, which was deemed “the paramount issue of the campaign.”  The document condemned the imposition of laws without consent and taxes without representation on the people of those foreign lands; characterized the Philippine War as “unnecessary”; and mimicked Abraham Lincoln’s antislavery language to warn “that no nation can long endure half republic and half empire…” However, the force of the platform’s anti-imperialist stance was undermined by acknowledging the necessity of military pacification, calling for tougher enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine in Latin America, and favoring expansion into “desirable territory” that could become states and whose people were “willing and fit to become American citizens.”  The platform also stood firmly against business trusts, blaming Republicans for their recent proliferation. 

On July 6, as expected, William Jennings Bryan was unanimously renominated for president.  A loud and boisterous reaction in favor of David B. Hill’s nomination for vice president halted convention proceedings for 12 minutes.  The enthusiastic response indicated the unpopularity of both the free-silver plank and Tammany Hall with many of the delegates.  Nevertheless, Hill lost the nomination on the first ballot to Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, the former vice president in Grover Cleveland’s second term (1893-1897).

The Republican Campaign
On September 8, McKinley released his official letter of acceptance.  He criticized Bryan’s adherence to free silver, reviewed the nation’s economic prosperity during his administration, and called for lower taxes, a larger merchant marine, and an interoceanic canal in Central America.  McKinley’s antitrust language was more exacting and forceful than the Republican platform, arguing that trusts were “dangerous conspiracies against the public good and should be made the subject of prohibitory or penal legislation.”  Most of the letter discussed events and administration policy concerning the Philippines.  He rejected both immediate independence and Bryan’s idea of a protectorate, claiming the latter would leave America responsible without the authority to meet its obligations.  The president concluded, “The American verdict will be for duty and against desertion, for the republic against both anarchy and imperialism.”

With the American economy performing well throughout his first term, McKinley stood for reelection in 1900 on the campaign motto of having given workers “A Full Dinner Pail.”  He upheld the traditional taboo against incumbent presidents campaigning openly for reelection, and most of his time was devoted to official duties, particularly regarding foreign policy.  However, McKinley directed campaign strategy behind the scenes.  Campaign manager Mark Hanna raised $2.5 million ($53.2 million in 2002 dollars), a million less than in 1896, but five times more than Democrats raised in 1900.  Under Hanna’s chairmanship, the Republican National Committee distributed 125 million pieces of campaign literature, including McKinley’s letter of acceptance translated into German, Polish, and other languages.  The president wrote letters to campaign workers and for use at political rallies.  Confident of the Northeast and most of the Mid-Atlantic, Republicans focused their speakers and news bureaus on the Midwest and West. 

The GOP’s most effective speaker was vice-presidential nominee Theodore Roosevelt.  Beginning in early September, he traveled 21,000 miles through the Midwest, Far West, and Border States, before ending in his home state of New York.  As satirist Finley Peter Dunne said of Roosevelt through his popular character, Mr. Dooley, “he ain’t runnin, he’s gallopin’.”  The young, energetic New York governor (who turned 42 on October 27) delivered 673 speeches to an estimated audience of three million.  He defended the gold standard, charged that Democratic rule would “paralyze our whole industrial life,” and chastised Bryan for appealing “to every foul and evil passion of mankind.”  As commander of the “Rough Riders” cavalry regiment during the Spanish-American War, he was forceful in defending McKinley’s foreign policy:  “We are a nation of men, not a nation of weaklings.”  Roosevelt pointed out that the question was not “whether we shall expand—for we have already expanded—but whether we shall contract.”  In New York, he condemned Bryan’s association with Tammany Boss Richard Croker, who was embroiled in the Ice Trust scandal.

Hanna went on a speaking tour of the Midwest in mid-September.  In a speech in Chicago, he claimed that there were no longer any business trusts because they were outlawed.  The gaffe undermined McKinley’s strong antitrust statement in his acceptance letter and provided ammunition for Bryan’s campaign to link Republicans and big business.  Hanna was summoned quickly to the White House, where he lunched with McKinley on September 22 and afterward announced his agreement with the president’s antitrust position.  The Ohio senator then made a successful campaign swing through South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Bryan’s hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska.   

Hanna also assisted the Republican campaign through his intervention in a major coal strike.  On September 12, 12,000 workers in Pennsylvania walked off their jobs, demanding recognition of the United Mine Workers Union and a 10 percent pay raise.  By the end of the month, 100,000 coal miners were on strike, with violence erupting in some mining communities.  McKinley’s campaign manager was knowledgeable about the mining industry, had a friendly relationship with union president John Mitchell, and was sympathetic to the workers’ requests.  Hanna and industrialist J. P. Morgan pressured mine owners to the negotiating table, where they agreed to the full wage increase in exchange for the union not seeking recognition for one year.  The deal was considered a victory for the workers, and gained Republicans favorable press in the fall campaign.

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