CHAPTER XVII. REPUBLICAN DOMINATION AND WAR WITH SPAIN

The ceremonies attendant upon the inauguration of William McKinley on March 4, 1897, were typical of the care-taking generalship of Mark Hanna. The details of policing the crowds had been foreseen and attended to; the usual military review was effectively carried out to the last particular; "the Republican party was coming back to power as the party of organization, of discipline, of unquestioning obedience to leadership."[1]

The political capacity, the characteristics and the philosophy of the new President were sufficiently representative of the forces which were to control American affairs for the next few years to make them matters of some interest. McKinley was a traditional politician in the better sense of the word. As an executive he was patient, calm, modest, wary. Ordinarily he committed himself to a project only after long consideration, and with careful propriety he avoided entangling political bargains. His engaging personality, his consummate tact and his thorough knowledge of the temper and traditions of Congress enabled him to lead that body, where Cleveland failed to drive it. As a speaker he seldom rose above an ordinary plane, but he was simple and sincere. His messages to Congress breathed an atmosphere of serenity and of deferential reliance upon the wise and judicious action of the legislative branch. Their smug and genial tone formed a sharp contrast with his predecessor's anxious demands for multifarious reforms; while Cleveland inveighed against narrow partisanship and selfish aims, McKinley benignantly observed: "The public questions which now most engross us are lifted far above either partisanship, prejudice, or former sectional differences."

The political philosophy of McKinley typified that of his party. The possibilities which he saw in protective tariffs, which occupied the foremost position among his principles, were well set forth in his message to Congress on March 15, 1897. Additional duties should be levied on foreign importation, he asserted,

    to preserve the home market, so far as possible, to our own 
    producers; to revive and increase manufactures; to relieve and 
    encourage agriculture; to increase our domestic and foreign 
    commerce; to aid and develop mining and building; and to render 
    to labor in every field of useful occupation the liberal wages 
    and adequate rewards to which skill and industry are justly 
    entitled.

Like most American presidents, McKinley was a peace-lover, pleasantly disposed toward the arbitration of international difficulties and prepared to welcome any attempt to further that method of preserving the peace of the world. His conception of the presidential office differed somewhat sharply at several points from that of his predecessor. Like Cleveland he looked upon himself as peculiarly the representative of the people, but he was far less likely either to lead public opinion or to attempt to hasten the people to adopt a position which he had himself taken. This fact lay at the bottom of the complaints of his critics that he always had his "ear to the ground" in order that he might be prepared to go with the majority. On the other hand, although he was aware of constitutional limitation upon the functions of the executive, he was not so continually hampered by the strict constructionist view of the powers of the federal government as Cleveland had been. McKinley's attitude toward Congress was far more sagacious than Cleveland's. He distributed the usual patronage with skill; he approached Congressmen individually with the utmost tact; he appointed them to serve on commissions and boards of arbitration, and later, when matters upon which the commissions had been engaged came before Congress in the form of treaties or legislation, these men found themselves in a position to lead in the adoption of the principles which the President desired. All this indicated an ability to "touch elbows" with Congress that has rarely been exceeded. When coupled with the organizing power of Hanna, the harmonizing sagacity of the President soon brought about a notable degree of party solidarity. As a political organization, the Republican party reached a climax.

McKinley was hardly an idealist, and distinctly not a reformer. Although sensitive to pressure from the reform element, he was not ahead of ordinary public opinion on matters of economic and political betterment. Leaders in federal railroad regulation found the President cold toward projects to strengthen the Interstate Commerce law; the Sherman Anti-trust Act was scarcely enforced at all during McKinley's administration, and the parts of his messages which relate to the regulation of industry are vague and lacking in purpose. One searches these documents in vain for any indication that the Republican leader had either vigorous sympathy with the economic and social unrest which had made the year 1896 so momentous or even any thorough understanding of it. Even if he had possessed both sympathy and understanding, however, it is doubtful whether he could have made real progress in the direction of economic legislation and the enforcement of the acts regulating railroads and industry, in view of his long-continued and close affiliation with business leaders of the Mark Hanna type and his deep obligation to them at the time of his financial embarrassments in 1893.