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May 19th, 2019

In the election of 1892, although the Republicans lost the Presidency, Congressman William McKinley became Governor William McKinley, and he established himself as a leading light in the party. McKinley was seen as the front-runner to be the party's next presidential candidate in 1896 and he did not squander the opportunity. He was elected President and his economic policy of ongoing tariff protection and support for the gold standard was seen as what the nation needed in the aftermath of the Panic of 1893. McKinley's opponent in the 1896 election was 36 year old former Nebraska Congressman William Jennings Bryan, an opponent of the gold standard and a hard-working campaigner who was also a very skilled orator. McKinley defeated Bryan in 1896, but perhaps Democrats were emboldened by Grover Cleveland's success in the rematch of 1892, so in 1900, the stage was set for another rematch. This time, incumbent President McKinley would once again square off against William Jennings Bryan. This was not the first (or the last) time the same two candidates faced off against each other for the second time. (Earlier examples are John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, Harrison and Cleveland. A later example is Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson).


The popular McKinley was renominated by the delegates to the Republican convention, who met in Philadelphia from June 19–21, 1900. McKinley's first Vice-President, Garrett Hobart, had died in 1899, and the big question was who would fill the second spot on the ticket. Theodore Roosevelt was by then the Governor of New York. Thomas C. Platt, the "boss" of the New York State Republican Party, did not like Roosevelt, even though he was a fellow Republican. Roosevelt's efforts to clean up New York politics led Platt and other state GOP leaders to pressure McKinley to accept Roosevelt as his new vice-presidential candidate. Roosevelt was reluctant to accept the vice-presidency, which he regarded as a relatively trivial and powerless office. McKinley's campaign manager Mark Hanna also was opposed to putting the unpredictable Roosevelt on the ticket. But Roosevelt's great popularity among most Republican delegates led McKinley to pick him as his new running mate. He was a near unanimous selection on the first ballot (one voter abstained.)

For the Democrats, there was a move to draft Admiral George Dewey, who had returned home from the Spanish-American War as a hero. However, his candidacy was plagued by gaffes. Newspapers started attacking him as naïve after he was quoted as saying the job of president would be easy, since the chief executive was merely following orders in executing the laws enacted by Congress, and that he would "execute the laws of Congress as faithfully as I have always executed the orders of my superiors." He also admitted to never having voted in a presidential election and drew more criticism when he offhandedly told a newspaper reporter that, "Our next war will be with Germany." (It turned out he was right, but his foresight didn't help him much at the time. Dewey married a Catholic, Mildred McLean Hazen (the widow of General William Babcock Hazen and daughter of Washington McLean, owner of The Washington Post), in November 1899 and gave her the house that the nation had given him following the war. This also made him unpopular. Dewey withdrew from the race in mid-May and endorsed William McKinley.

William Jennings Bryan was easily nominated as the Democratic nominee after Dewey withdrew from the race. Bryan won the nomination at the Democratic National Convention held Kansas City, Missouri from July 4–6. Former Vice-President Adlai Stevenson was selected as Bryan's running mate.

The economy was booming in 1900, and the Republican campaign slogan was “Four More Years of the Full Dinner Pail”. They touted the victory in the brief Spanish–American War in 1898. Theodore Roosevelt had become a national hero fighting in Cuba during the war. In his speeches he repeatedly argued that the war had been just.

Bryan's campaign was a repeat of the 1896 campaign. His big issue was that of a dollar tied to silver. This argument was not as successful in 1900 because of the improved economy and an increase in gold supply caused by new production from Alaska. Bryan's second major campaign theme attacked McKinley's imperialism. He argued that instead of liberating Cuba and the Philippines, the McKinley administration had simply replaced a cruel Spanish tyranny with a cruel American one.

As he had in 1896, McKinley again campaigned from the front porch of his home in Canton, Ohio. Bryan took to the rails again, traveling 18,000 miles to hundreds of rallies across the Midwest and East. This time, he was matched by Theodore Roosevelt, who campaigned just as energetically in 24 states, covering 21,000 miles by train.

Democrats tried to undermine Republican popularity from the victorious war by arguing that the war was not over because of the insurgency in the Philippines. The McKinley administration pointed out that there were reductions of troops there. Republicans pledged that the fighting in the Philippines would die down of its own accord within sixty days of McKinley's re-election. Secretary of War Elihu Root kept quiet about a report from General Arthur MacArthur, Jr. who had been in command of the Philippines for four months, warning Washington that the war was not lessening and that the end was not even in sight.

Despite Bryan's energetic efforts, the renewed prosperity under McKinley, combined with the public's approval of the Spanish–American War, allowed McKinley to gain a comfortable victory. McKinley received over 7.2 million votes. He carried 28 states, obtaining 292 electoral votes. He slightly increased his national percentage (51.70%) and had 120,000 more votes than in 1896.


One surprise in the results was that, in spite of Roosevelt being on the ticket, Bryan managed to win New York City by almost 30,000 votes when he had lost it by more than 60,000 votes just 4 years earlier. In all other sections, Bryan's vote was less than in 1896, and in the nation his total vote was 23,000 less than in 1896. In 16 states the Democratic vote increased, but in 29 states it was less than in 1896. Bryan carried only 17 states.

McKinley would be assassinated a year later and Theodore Roosevelt would shed the insignificance of the Vice Presidency and become President.


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