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tv   History Bookshelf Robert Merry President Mc Kinley  CSPAN  February 3, 2019 8:00am-9:06am EST

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. ♪ [applause] >> so good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the kansas city public library.
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robert merry, this is his second presentation in the somewhat hallowed halls of the kansas city public library, five-star library this week from library journal. [applause] >> thank you. he's a graduate of the university of washington. he has a master's degree from columbia university school of journalism. he's been a reporter for the observer, "the wall street journal," managing editor, executive editor and editor in chief of congressional quarterly and more recently the editor of the national interest in the american conservative. the american conservative has an about us passage and says it's collaborative but sounds a lot like robert merry. this is a description of their philosophy. we believe in constitutional government, fiscal prudence, sound monetary policy and clearly delineated borders, protection of civil ribts, authentically free markets and restraint in foreign policy mixed with diplomatic acuity.
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we adhere to our ideas of aidology, principles over party. one could wish there were more of that kind of true conservatism wandering around the beltway than some who confess to be conservative. he's also the author of books on those ultimate journalistic insiders stewart and joseph alsa and written "the sands of empire and analysis" and something of a lament for american foreign policy and laterally a country of vast designs, a rehabilitation of james polk, president james polk and now president mckinley, architect of the american century. above polk and mckinley, he makes the case in the importance of expansion of america. polk in the pure geographical sense of extending our boundaries further than thomas jefferson in the louisiana purchase. nd mckinley in the noncolonial
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imperialism that did bring us geographical expansion with the annexation of hawaii and the acquisition of puerto rico, but more importantly the expansion f american power, concern, and engagement as world power manifested in the spanish-american war, the battles in cuba and battles in the philippines and the control over cuba and the philippines for an extended period of time, the open door in china and the vast expansion of the american economy. polk has been called the most successful president and what he proposed to do as president is incorporate california, oregon, texas and reduce the tariff and reinstate the independent treasury. you can see me after class to explain that one. we're all accomplished. , he's the only president who saw his entire program written into law. he's also called one of our most morally degraded because of the shenanigans associated
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with the american war which made part of that program possible. robert merry sides with the diagnosis of him as a successful politician. with mckinley he gives us a more subtle case there was a less overt but just perhaps important program of the president to give the united states a new place in the international stage. the only stated program of the mckinley campaign for president was on the tariff with which he was more than anyone else identified the high tariff. historian has a hard time discerning the foreign policy in his plans but merry makes a strong case he was the guide who gave us empire, it wasn't lodge or roosevelt or admiral la hahn or john hay but the deliberate sudden mastery of william mckinley. this book is an ongoing effort of robert merry to reverse the trend of contemporary academics to, i quote him, devour our heritage through an akronistic
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and dalizing from the ivory tower and create created a study of one of the architects of the american century. ladies and gentlemen, robert merry. [applause] robert: thank you. robert: thank you very much. it's a pleasure to be here and great pleasure to see all of you here. time, actually my third and i've spoken at a number of libraries, not a lot of five-star libraries so congratulations on that. robert: i entitled my introduction on this volume to mckinley, the mystery of william mckinley. i was pleased to see "the wall street journal" sort of picked up on that in writing a headline over its review of my
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book which, by the way, was very favorable, that's my . fort to emulate donald trump [laughter] robert: i have to say i didn't set out to solve the mystery of william mckinley for the simple fact there was a mystery and i didn't understand mckinley well enough when i started the project to understand there was something strange, something mysterious about him and can be explained in perhaps two sentences which is given all the consequential things that happened on his presidential watch, why does he not rise higher in america's historical consciousness of today? or put another way, given the fact he was such a nonflamboyant, undramatic personage, how did all those consequential things happen on his presidency? so as i got into the process, i
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have to say that the guy started to drive me crazy because i had a hard time getting a handle on him. he was not a forceful man and yet all these things happened on his presidency, and i was having a hard time sort of bringing this to life. the historical consensus on him was that yeah, yeah, ok, big things happened on his watch, yeah, fine. but he didn't have anything to do with it, he was just president. and that didn't really strike me as being totally credible, that's what i call the leaf in the wind theory of william mckinley. allen le is a bookly lickman and sam cassell, 13 states of the presidency, it's a very good book and i quote a lot, not just about mckinley but how the presidency works. they have a chapter on mckinley and they write that he enjoyed, quote, one of the more successful incumbencies in american history. but then they add that he found
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himself, quote, benefiting in part from circumstances beyond his control. and there's the rub. beyond his control. he was seen as less than the sum of his deeds. and what struck me, also, was in the academic polls i wrote about and talked about here in this hall some years ago, that in those polls he comes in not exactly sort of middle average but maybe upper average. he comes in at like 16th, 15th, maybe 14th occasionally. often he's below such undistinguished or failed presidents as chester arthur which was a pretty good one given his background with the machine of new york but nevertheless the care take of president, martin van buren who was a failed president who presided over a terrible recession, depression he couldn't control.
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rutherford hayes who became president on the basis of one of the great election scandals of our history. grover cleveland who we all know was the only president who served two nonconsecutive terms. he was rejected by either his party of the voters after each, thus making him the only two-time one-term president in our history. and john quincy adams who was swept away in a populist way at the behest of andrew jackson. so the mystery deepens when we think about what happened on his watch. i'm going to urge you to not think with -- what i'm going to tick off as bullet points on a piece of paper but think about the political drama likely to attend many of these things. well, he led us into a war with spain in 1898 that ended up
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being a huge success. it was a three-month war. we destroyed the spanish empire essentially. in the process we destroyed two spanish fleets, the atlantic and pacific fleets. we became an empire by acquiring from spain, puerto rico, guam and the philippines. we liberated cuba in the caribbean. we could have kept it, also, but already made a commitment that we wouldn't. he kicked spain out of the caribbean and turned the caribbean into an american lake. for good measure, as properly noted, he acquired hawaii through negotiation and annexation. he set in motion the events that led eventually, i saw the display outside, to the panama canal and t.r. gets a awful lot of credit for that and he deserves it but it was really mckinley who reversed the properly of the pedestrian saysor cleveland who was an
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anti-expansionist and said no, we're going to move on the canal and set in motion the studies and actions and planning that led to the canal. he brought about the open door to china which basically saved china from being carved up by the industrial powers, european and japanese powers. he created the concept of trade reciprocity which when i was covering trade policy in the 1980's when it was a hot issue with "the wall street journal," reciprocity was really what was then called sort of fair trade, make it even so that we can have these exchange of goods back and forth across borders. he crafted the concept of noncolonial empiralism which i believe was pibblingd up by franklin roosevelt when he was transforming the world through world war ii and putting america at the center of it. it was on his watch we established the special
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election of britain, just the previous couple years earlier under the cleveland administration. we also went to war with britain over a silly border dispute in south america but after that, we never ever had anything like that in terms of tensions with great britain because of the special relationship. and he created the gold standard, we tend to look down on gold standards these days but in those days it was a very, very big deal and he ran when the currency issue was probably the hottest in our history and he essentially solved that in his first term. of is is a big collection accomplishments or developments that occurred on his watch and the question is to what extent does he deserve the credit? i myself came to conclude that the idea, the leaf in the wind theory was a myth and i sat out to expose that myth in this
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book. i'll let you decide whether i succeed in that and i'm happy to do that because you can't decide unless you buy the book. is so who was this man? born in 1843, he was the seventh of nine children, eight of whom lived to adulthood. he grew up in ohio, small town ohio, imbued with what you might call the ohio culture of the time, which was a reflection of what people in those times considered christian values of thrift, optimism, modesty, hard toil. his father ran and owned blast furnaces around ohio and worked very, very hard. his mother had a strong sense of civic and religious duty. she was a very civic minded and worked very hard for her church and communities wherever they happened to be. they were in poland for much of
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the growing up years of william. his mother was imbued with all those things we talked about, those so-called christian values and one of my favorite stories about her is she was taking a train to columbus later in her life to visit her son, the governor of ohio. the lady next to her struck up a conversation, are you going to columbia pus? yes, i am, she said. oh, do you have family there? i have a son there. that's all she said. she didn't feel the need to explain her son was governor of the state. so 17 young women go off to college in pennsylvania. the first year he developed some sort of illness, an ailment and never was quite ex-chained or understood what it was but he had to return to poland where he recuperated but by the time he recuperated he couldn't go back to college because economic difficulties had rendered a need for all of the family members to go to
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work. so he got two jobs and was a school teacher, like 17 at that time, 18, and he was a postal clerk. and then comes the civil war. i can't say that he enlisted immediately. he gave himself two days to think it over and sort of try to figure out with his cousin whether this is the right thing to do. his family was very, very strong abolitionists, his mother particularly. she subscribed to horace greeley's weekly tribune you could get in the mail and reinforced that sentiment. he and his cousin, william osborne, decided in a day and a half they couldn't stay out of that war and enlisted. he had -- i think i can accurately describe as a pretty amazing war record. he entered as an 18-year-old private. immediately his commanding officer, rutherford b. hayes, later president and great
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mentor of him but rutherford hayes was an officer and became a general and was wounded five times in the war and became a congressman and governor and became president. and hayes saw that this young man had a remarkable organizational ability and so he made him a sergeant and made him quarter master sergeant so he was sort of taking care of supplies. at the battle of antietam, the single most bloody day of battle in our history, he was two miles behind the lines because his job was to provide provisions and he heard about a unit that had gotten caught, trapped essentially in an area of the battle where they couldn't move, they couldn't get out, nobody could get in to help them, and they were starving and they had run out of water. the battle began very early in the morning and hadn't had breakfast and it was late
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afternoon and hadn't had lunch and they had run out of water well before noon. so these troops were in trouble and young mckinley concocted the idea of loading up a wagon with hard tack and bread and coffee and water and a few other things and getting that wagon to these troops. well, he had to go right through the battle to do it. he gets a friend or some other young associate to help him load up the wagon and get in the wagon and they head out through the surrounding forest and encounter two officers who say this is ridiculous, you can't do this, go back. but after they left, mckinley and his associate ignored it and went on. they got to the clearing and then made a run for it. bullets were whizing by with can nonballs overhead and back of the wagon was shot away and they managed to get the rovisions to these troops.
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got bust alad said one of the veterans. he immediately as a result of that was promoted and became a lieutenant and i won't go into all of them but he had other experiences, some like that in which he put himself very directly in harm's way, almost always voluntarily, and each time he got another promotion. as a nded the war 22-year-old major. so he goes back to poland and he decides he wants to become a lawyer and he wants to run for congress like his mentor rutherford hayes. and he sent a letter, kind of starry eyed letter to hayes, i want to do what you did, sir. hayes writes him back a letter and says yeah, that's pretty good but, you know, frankly,
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with all this industrialization going on, i think maybe you should go into business, you could become a wealthy man by age 40 and really take care of your life. well, mckinley carefully preserved the letter but discarded the advice. he knew what he wanted. so he moves to canton, ohio, where his sister had become a school teacher and after he becomes a lawyer, and he hangs out a shingle and becomes a civic leader in canton. he joined everything. he joined veterans groups, he joined the church, he joined the chamber of commerce, and immediately he was pulled up into positions of leadership. so there was something special about this guy that led people to turn to him for leadership even though he was not a flamboyant person. and i have a little passage in my book here describing him
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after his civil war experience. and i think we see here in the book the first hint of what becomes an element of the mystery of william mckinley and i write, the civil war transformed william mckinley much as his father's white hot forges turned iron into big iron for more sophisticated uses and went to war as a teenager with a vague sense of what he was and what he would do with his life. he left the army as an adult and had been severely questioned to interact in ability, leadership and courage and passed these tests and demonstrated men gravitated naturally to his side and many older men were drawn into roles of sew his it is mentorship. yet this new confidence and sense of self settled upon him softly without as tenization or bravo. it meshed with a temperament of
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demeanor of heavy quiet. he learned the how power of mystique and left unsaid that didn't need explicit expression and left people guessing to his motives and led some to underestimate his intellect or resolve and he didn't seem bothered by it thus emerged the enigmatic persona, an easygoing demeanor enshrouded in a increasingly restless ambition. so he does run for congress and becomes a congress and serves 14 years and becomes chairman of the ways and means committee where he is in position to push his pet issue, tariffs, protectionism, high trade tariffs to protect american manufacturing and agriculture eventually at a time when america was burgeoning as a productive machine. and he even as chairman of the ways and means crafts a bill, a
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tariff bill, very high tariff bill, the mckinley tariff they called it of 1890. turned out to be a bad move. the tariffs didn't go into effect for quite some time and a lot of businesses took the opportunity to raise prices because they were going to raise anyway they figured. the american people didn't like that very much. and the result was a disaster from republicans by the 1890 elections. and poor mckinley is sitting in his office as the returns are coming in and disshe have elled with the office a mess with posters and papers and he's sitting there smoking a cigar and in walks his good friend, the editor of a newspaper and the editor says it's all over, mckinley says nothing and he says what am i going to say in the newspaper? mckinley looks up with a pencive look on his face and
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darkest he time of trevail, victory is nearest. hat? he couldn't get pessimistic by anything. it was conagainityly impossible for him. so he left the seat but runs for governor and serves two two-year terms and now is ready to run for president of the united states, begins his campaign in 1895 and sends his good friend an the man who serves him so well, mark hannah, very successful industrialist from cleveland, sends him to new york on an important mission and wants to find out from the big bosses of tom plaid in new york who basically owned the republican party and quaid who owned that state had all the patron age
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and wanted to know, and left his bosses who sort of worked under them if they'd support mckinley. because if they did he was the frontrunner anyway and probably would have the nomination sewed up and probably wouldn't even be a battle. so hannah comes back to cleveland and mckinley is there and they have a nice dinner and go into hannah's study lined with books and they set themselves into overstuffed leather chairs and light up their cigars and hannah is pretty excited and says well, governor, it's all over but the shouting. these guys will all go for you without conditions and didn't seem disturbed by the conditions. he said what are they? pat wants the patronage of course and convey pennsylvania and manly wants the whole new england and he ticks off a couple others and said oh, yeah, plat also wants to be treasury secretary and he wants
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it in writing. it seems ages earlier the beginning of the heritage administration he had gotten similar commitment from harrison for his support but the treasury secretaryship never materialized and he wanted a promissory note. mckinley looked ahead and puffs on the cigar and stands up and walks a couple steps back and forth and turns to martin and says something comes at too high of a price. if that's the price it's worth nothing to me and less to the american people. if that's the price, i'm out of it. hold on, governor, says hannah. i was hoping to sew it up tomorrow but we don't need to, we can beat these guys and what they had to do because convey and platte and these guys were so upset they went to major politicians in various states and got them to try to become favorite sons in those states so they could deny mckinley a first ballot nomination in which case they thought maybe they could pull up somebody
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else who would play their game and pay the price but he beat them. he beat them and became the nominee and then he had to go up against william jennings bryant. you know this story, he was 36 years old when he ran for president in 1896. he had two terms in the house, then he lost that seat and went for the senate and lost. and he was one of the greatest orators of our history and we all know that he got himself on this platform, the podium at the democratic convention and gave his famous cross of gold speech, you shall not press throne of the thorns upon our head and he put his fingers across his face like blood trickling down. you shall not crucify a cross gold and the reason was the
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country was an extremist, the panic of 1893 was still very much with the country and the south and west particularly, the rural areas were really suffering and there was not enough liquidity in their view and they needed silver and what he rallying cry was and hannah became the man who was going to lead that charge and he did. he got in trains and crisscrossed the country and was all over the place and spending amazing amounts of time and he'd get up with his first speech at 7:00 in the morning and last speech at 7:00 at night. mckinley couldn't compete with that. for one thing he had a wife who was infirmed and we can talk about that in q&a which is interesting but i'll try to keep this thing going, who is somewhat in firm and didn't want to take her on the tour and didn't want to leave her in canton or in washington so he
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kind of concocted this famous front porch strategy. 750,000 americans came to lined up and nd poke with the governor as he stood on the front porch. they destroyed his yard, by the way, but who cares? it was amazing effort, you know what we say in politics, they control the message. well, mckinley controlled the message because these various groups that could be a church group or a labor group or african-american, they wanted to come and sent a letter saying we'd like to come and this date works for us if it works for you and he had his people working on this and sent back a letter and said, what are you going to say? what questions do you have and what's the point you want to make? so he knew exactly what they were going to say and all the reporters from all over the
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country were there taking notes and he basically, it was all somewhat quasiorchestrated. well, it worked. and he became president. so now i'm going to step back and try to describe what kind of a man had alerged through these experiences, starting with the civil war and that sort of sense of self that he developed as a result of his success in the war. so he seemed on the outside to , a very pleasant person congenial. he didn't seem to be a man of force. and a lot of people wondered whether he was really a leader. he was an incrementalist in terms of the way he managed things. he didn't try to push too hard. and i will say that he was not
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a visionary. he was not a man of imagination. in his days, theodore roosevelt as a man of imagination, henry cabette lodge, admiral mahon. these were men of imagination and had a great vision about american greatness and how america can bust out into the world. that wasn't where mckinley was but it turns out he had an amazing capacity to see events as they were unfolding with clarity and find ways to sort of mesh them in ways that would allow him to sort of nudge events in the favored direction. and this gave him a great deal of sort of subterranean force, that heavy quiet i was talking about. on top of that he had an iron will beneath that surface afterability. he always seemed to get his way
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somehow. and sometimes he did it by convincing people to do what he wanted them to do while hinking it was their idea. one of the great writers of the time and who was his war secretary, said that he almost got his way in part because he didn't care who got the credit. that wasn't important to him at all, unlike t.r.. and he had a close friend who said, i don't think mckinley ever let anything stand in the way of his own advancement. and julia forig, the wife of a very prominent ohio politician at that time, intermittently an ally and adversary of mckinley's, more often an adversary, talked about the masks that he wore. and the masks weren't phony. he was an affable man and was a pleasant fellow and was generous. but behind those masks was this
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iron will and this desire to succeed. i think an example of this is words from a congressman of that period, ohio congressman by the name of ben foranger -- i'm sorry, ben butterworth. tterworth, i came across him in the mark hannah papers because they were very, very close friend and there were with a lot of letters going back and forth. i could see they were very close and concluded butterworth must be part of the politicians of ohio that clustered around him and mckinley. it became kind of clear as i got more and more into these letters, butterworth, while he loved hannah was a little wary of mckinley. and then i came across a "washington post" article in which butterworth was talking about mckinley, and he used it s kind of an illustration,
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sort of an idea of how mckinley operated. he said if mckinley and i were but g through an orchard with one bearing tree and that tree had but two apples, mckinley would walk into that tree and pick the two apples. he puts one in his pocket and takes a bite out of the other one and then turns to me and says ben, you like apples? butterworth, what he was trying to say is he was very congenial but he always seemed to get the a 8s. and he says he managed by indirection from the shadows. a little ng to talk bit about some of the elements, examples of the mckinley resolve that emerged in big
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ways during his presidency, and one would be the spanish-american war. now, the book on mckinley, and i'm going to talk briefly later about why i think he doesn't -- who has kept him from having the reputation i believe he deserved. but the book on mckinley is that he didn't really want to go to war with spain. and the american people, congress basically thrust him against his will towards a war that he didn't want. my view is that if you study this carefully and understand mckinley, you realize this isn't what happened at all. when mckinley was elected, there was a terrible, very bloody, very awful insurrection going on in cuba. the envisionist folks wanted independence from the spanish and this had been going on, there was a previous 10-year
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insurrection which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, maybe 200,000. and they had settled finally but now it had sort of reemerged. and it was destabilizing the caribbean. it was putting americans who were trying to do business in cuba at risk. it was also opening up the possibility that other european powers could see the chaos and come here and take over cuba which would be the last thing the united states wanted. it was one thing to have a fading power like spain in cuba, in the caribbean, which we considered our spear of influence and were there as a legacy, imperial power but they had germany or some other european power come in would be thus unattainable. there was a great deal of anguish and anger around congress and the country. post of it based on humanitarian grounds and not geopolitical factors but that
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was a factor as well. and mckinley comes into the presidency and takes over from grover cleveland. grover cleveland had essentially favored the spanish over the cubans, not because he liked the spanish particularly but because he was a status quo guy and wanted stability. his view was as soon as spain can put down the insuration we can go back to the status quo and everything will be stable and we'll be fine. not very realistic. mckinley rejected that out of hand almost from day one. from day one he concluded, i think the record is very clear if you study it correctly, he wanted spain out of the caribbean and wanted spain out of cuba but he didn't want to go to war to do it if he could avoid that war. so what did he do? e opened up a negotiation with sort of a program of diplomacy with spain. and spain realizes america is
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becoming a pretty powerful country and this is our neighborhood and it would be very difficult if they went to war with us. they didn't want a war with us so they entered into the diplomacy as well but pretty soon they could see that mckinley, his diplomacy was behind this afterability and velvet glover with an iron fist and essentially was saying to them we want this war to end. we don't care how you do it. you can win it or you can negotiate an end to it and probably that means more autonomy if the insurrectionists, the cubans would accept that. they don't seem to want that. that's a possibility. or you can bug out. but you've got to get this war over because it's destabilizing the region and untenable and unfit as the american people are not going to put up with it for much longer. so spain finally sort of said,
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you can't talk to us like that. we're a sovereign country. it doesn't matter how close cuba is to your shores. butt out they essentially said. and mckinley never wavered but just kept pushing and got more and more angry. and who knows what would have happened if the name battleship had not blown up in havana harbor but the fact the battleship was there is testament also to mckinley's resolve that he was going to make sure that the spanish were out of the caribbean because he -- ostencibly it was to protect american lives that might be at risk as a result of the insurrection because the spanish people in cuba were getting increasingly angry in america. nonetheless it did blow up and war became inevitable.
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another example is hawaii. we have to understand, it's an amazing story and not a particularly savory story about americans, but hawaii had been a stopping off place for americans for decades and for other countries as well. but ultimately people from america settled there and were there for generations, mostly running sugar plantations, getting fabulously wealthy in the process. and pretty soon they had so much financial power they felt they should have political power to go with it and ended upending the royalty, the polynesian royalty that had been governing and presiding over the hawaiian islands for cades, centuries, and that
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happened on benjamin harrison's watch, cleveland in the second term was very upset about it and even contemplated going in and removing those people from the government but he didn't really want a war. he didn't want to have americans fighting essentially americans or former americans, and so that was the state of play. mckinley again rejected the policy of his predecessor and made it very clear through subterranean diplomacy, he liked subterranean diplomacy, that he was very interested in acquiring through annexation and the americans running cuba wanted that, also. but generated a lot of anti-expansionist sentiment and in other places among intellectuals and writers and mark twain and others. but he never wavered. he got the negotiation and he
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sent it to congress and he couldn't get it through the senate as a treaty so he didn't give up and went back to be dealt a -- to with by both houses which didn't require 2/3 vote, only required a majority vote in both houses and that's how we got hawaii. hen there was the philippines. when the spanish sued for peace after three months of that war, e basically said ok, fine, i'm more than happy to negotiate a peace treaty but here's the deal. spain has to leave cuba. we're not going to -- we'll take it temporarily but it's going to be independent. spain has to leave puerto rico. that came out of nowhere but we
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had conquered puerto rico. and spain has to give us an island in the pacific, turned out to be guam. and that has to happen before we even enter into negotiations. that's really tough diplomacy. and then he basically said after the philippines which we had essentially acquired, we took over lison after george dewy destroyed the spanish fleet. he said this position of the philippines is open to negotiate. well, thank you, mr. mckinley the spanish were saying. they asked the french ambassador of the united states to operate on their behalf and negotiate, a gentleman by the name of cambone who said to mckinley, you can't really get more glory than you've already
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gained in this war of yours so i'm assuming you'll be very generous. we found out mckinley wasn't generous at all but the question was what was he going to do about the philippines and while the negotiations in paris were going on, the peace treaty negotiations, he pondered it and he kind of concluded ultimately that he had to have a cooling station because we were building this big global navy and you couldn't have a global navy without coupling stations and you couldn't have coupling stations without controlling things around the globe and the best place would be subic bay but he couldn't control subic bay unless he had all of lizan, the island. and if we had lizan as the whole rest of the philippines, spain was nothing to keep the philippines at all. the people hated the spanish. now they've been defeated, they weren't going to be able to go
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back in there. the question was who was going to have the philippines? it wouldn't be the filipino people so it would have to be us or germany or some other power. germany was on the prowl for possessions -- for colonies. and if germany had all these other islands, then lizan wouldn't be secure. basically i decided i'm taking the whole thing and got them in to war very much like the vietnam war. it was insurrection and guerrilla warfare and was a very sympathetic figure from my view who ran that insur action aganado and of them broke the back of during the roosevelt dministration.
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so as i say, that seems to be a congress conventional president -- consequential presidency. so why didn't he get more credit? why does he get no respect? one reason has to do with his successor, teddy roosevelt. you read my book, you'll see -- i'm a great admirer of roosevelt and might have been the greatest genius to become president and what he could do with that brain of his is pretty amazing. but he never shared credit with anybody. nd he was self-absorbed. even his kid said he longed to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral. and he then -- mckinley was killed in buffalo six months into his second term. teddy roosevelt immediately
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when he became president words to the effect of i intend to govern just as my predecessor did and his agenda will be my agenda, that sort of thing. then two days he gets to the white house from buffalo and brings in a bunch of reporters nd people didn't swoon so he didn't feel like he had to say those things anymore. he said i intend to govern as if the acollectors left me as president and not mckinley. it's a remarkable thing to be said while mckinley was lying in state in the capital rotunda. roosevelt was always conscious of the narrative and always put himself at the center of the narrative. and over the succeeding ecades, his admiring geographic, adoring buying ters -- biographers basically bought the narrative and the narrative didn't work when they said
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well, p.r. didn't do marvelous and incredible things but the foundation was laid by his predecessor. in my view, mckinley gets kind of the short end of the stick in terms of that interpretation. in describing this turn of events and this historical narrative building, i describe t.r. and i'll quote, impetuous, volumeable, amusing, grandiose, prone to marking his territory with political defiance, roosevelt stirred the imagination of the american people as mckinley never had. to the major's caution, the roughrider operated a mind that moves by sudden impulses as white described it. he took the american people on a political roller coaster ride nd to many it was thrilling. it was thrilling and significant and helped define
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america in the 20th century. but behind him was one william mckinley who may be mysterious but is a consequential president and think perhaps he was even worth the three years of toil i put in on his behalf. thank you very much. i think we can have some questions. [applause] >> would you please come up to the microphone if you have questions so people at home watching on tv can hear you? >> have you changed your ranking of mccubly -- mckinley on your book of where he stands? robert: i don't offer my own ranking, i talk about what presidents have done and what constitutes greatness or mere
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greatness or mediocrity or whatever. but the answer to that of my own impression of mckinley is higher and when i note the presidents that i consider to be failures or not particularly consequential i certainly would put him above those people. so i think he would preside in or 12th, in 11th something like that really. i haven't focused where i would put him directly but somewhere around there. no more questions? ere we go. >> can you talk about ida as an invalid and how that shaped mckinley's america's public compassion for him and the death of the children. robert: the very point of the story when mckinley moved to canton as a young lawyer, he encountered, after he had within there a while and been
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in the war, etc., he ncountered young ida faxton. she was the belle of canton, the daughter of the richest man in canton, his grandfather bought a newspaper and a printing press by pennsylvania by oxen and start the canton repository and it was a successful newspaper and then her father went into mining and banking and other things and she grew up, was quite lovely. she was a sparkling personality and stimulating in many ways and had many, many suitors but sort of fixated finally on mckinley. and they were married. there were over a thousand people at her wedding, according to "the repository" owned by her father, maybe it was a exaggeration but nevertheless it was a big, big wedding, big occasion at the time. he was moving up into policy ticks.
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kind of a storybook theme. a we're after they were married their first daughter arrived, katie, and about a year later, a little bit more than a year after that their second daughter arrived. she becomes pregnant for the second time. during that pregnancy she learns that her mother is dying probably of cancer. they were very, very close and it affected her greatly. whether it affected her pregnancy it's not clear but she had a troubled pregnancy and her daughter lived only five months and sent her into a tremendous depression and it wasn't clear she would ever come out of it. he coaxed her out of it through a lot of patience and just refusing to let go. and then sometime after that her first caught daytonay died and then she went back into a terrible depression.
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during this time something else happened, it's described as a carriage act but nobody knows exactly what happened. i suspect she fell backwards and hurt her spine in some way because she became rather immobile, sort of intermittent but often confined to a wheelchair and even when she wasn't she walked with a cain and in the white house she could walk down the stairs with a cane. they had a new elevator in the white house that didn't work much of the time so if it didn't work, she'd walk down the stairs but he'd have to carry her up the stairs, which he did. and then on top of all this, she developed epilepsy, which in those days was considered kind of a mental illness and he didn't want anyone to know you were mentally ill but these seizures would come and so it affected the marriage, it affected their life, it affected ida tremendously. her father let her run the bank, he was traveling around in his other business duties
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and as a young woman in the 20's she was running this bank which was very unusual in those days. well, now she sort is reduced to a sedentary life and she crochets and does other little things like that and she becomes rather sort of narrow in her outlook, very devoted to her husband and thinks her husband is the greatest politician in the history of america. d she becomes somewhat peevish and somewhat difficult. he never wavered in his devotion to her and just basically accepted that as just sort of part of life. when this became kind of known as he was emerging as a national figure politically, it came a -- it became an element of identity for mckinley, the man who took such good care of his troubled wife. and there are some people, and at all ain say this
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but some suspect was manipulated to some extent as sort of a political advantage. so that's the story. yes, sir? >> mckinley's first vice president, what happened to him that t.r. was able to get on the ticket? robert: garrett hobart died of cancer i think in the middle of the first year of the first term so the result was mckinley did not have a vice president for a significant part of his first term. t.r. had anwhile, been his assistant navy secretary who mckinley wasn't sure he wanted to give t.r. that job. he didn't know t.r. all that well but knew he tended to be sort of impetchueous and got him to rouse as he said to one of t.r.'s good friends who was pushing for him to have that job.
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and they promised him that no, no, t.r. isn't going to do that, he's going to be controllable. well, he wasn't. but he did an amazing thing. when the war came, he, you know, resigned the office. he put together the roughriders and he did it extremely courageous to the point of maybe sanity when he ran up hat he called san juan hill on the ridge and becomes along with george dewy one of the two greatest heros from that war. the american people loved him and he knew exactly how to play it. so when the second convention comes up in 1900, the convention just goes crazy for teddy and it couldn't be resisted. mark hannah didn't like t.r. and didn't trust him and tried to resist and mckinley had to send a note to him to say cease
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and desist because you can't put me in this position of being against the sentiment of the convention. o he becomes vice president. mark hannah sends a note to mckinley after the convention and say oh, it came out fine, you hado admonish me but i'm happy with it. your job now is to live for the next four years. and when he died, mark hannah is quoted as saying now that cowboy is going to be president of the united states. yes, sir. >> i'm curious to how mckinley handled the confederacy, of course at that time the south was still, you know, sort of in and out of the union. and of course that brings up civil rights and things like that. but what was his policies towards the farmer confederate states, did he want them back, was he a forgiving person, did
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he want to reconcile with the south, and indirectly, how did that approach the civil rights positions? robert: it's a very, very good question and it can't be ignored. so here's what i say about that. you really have to go back to his great mentor, rutherford b. hayes. hayes became president by making what you might call, you know, a deal to end reconstruction. and a lot of recent historians who are sort of giving a revisionist view of reconstruction consider that to have been a terrible thing because it kept african-americans in the south down for the next 100 years. but the deal was essentially, to stitch this country back together and it's not going to be easy.
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so we'll probably have to sacrifice civil rights for a already of time. hayes and mckinley were abolitionists and liberal on civil rights but they cut that deal. and by the time mckinley was president he still was concerned about bringing the sessions back together. the spanish-american war helped a great deal. i'm drawing a blank but he got one of the great southern cavalry generals, wheeler, and and he was ommand in cuba and got the spanish on the run and he kind of lost sight of where he was and said we got the rebels -- we've got those yankees on the run. well, they weren't yankees but ere spanish.
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but towards the african-americans, his position was what i would call patronizing and there are worse words you can use and i wouldn't say those words but basicallyly patronizing, he had a good relationship with a lot of african-american organizations and he praised them for working so hard under difficult circumstances, you people are doing wonderful things, keep at it. but he wasn't lifting his finger for them and ultimately towards the end of his presidency, some of these groups were becoming quite agitated against him. >> one quick follow-up, was one of the -- was anyone in his cabinet confederates for the southern -- robert: no, he wanted to get somebody who was a southerner and ended up getting the one person that was assumed to be sympathetic to the south was from maryland and that was as far south as he got in terms of his cabinet making.
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yes, sir? >> who would be the politician in recent times you would say was most similar to mckinley? robert: i would say eisenhower. in fact, i see very significant parallels between eisenhower and mckinley. fred greenstein wrote the book "the hidden hand presidency" how eisenhower managed from the shadows and who managed by indirection and people thought he was sort of bumbling and when he didn't want to explain something he would become inarticulate and everyone said, especially stevenson backers would say this guy can't even express himself. but it was all with a purpose. and i think that was somewhat the way mckinley operated. but i think those two people are quite similar. sir? >> two unrelated questions, the rst is you mentioned
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mckinley's relationship to empiralism or empire. in 1898 there was an anti-empiral league, william james, the harvard professor was strongly against empiralism, can you say something about mckinley and how he reacted to that criticism on empiralism? and the other question is about his assassination, can you say just a word about that? robert: well, yes, indeed, there was a very strong anti- empiralist wave of sentiment that emerged in america, mark twain was involved in it and various other people of prominence, karl shultze, and mckinley was stung somewhat, some of these people were friends of him, mark twain certainly had been. t he never took personally any of the turmoil of politics
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and so he also had sort of upped the incidents of the president talking to the american people. he traveled a lot and made a lot of speeches. some of them designed to be major policy addresses, and he would explain what the policy was and why he had done it. so he understood he had this opposition. but was particularly bad when foreign affairs got particularly bad with the phillipine insurrection. and he was on the defensive. but he basically just handled it as part of the great american debate. assassination, he went to -- he was supposed to be at the great -- american expo position exposition but was traveling and part of the policy or practice he had of traveling
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around giving speeches, explaining himself to the american people, he thought that was very important. one of the things that led one of his academic biographers to suggest he was the first modern president, among other things. but nevertheless, ida got sick and developed a infection that got into her blood and she almost died. and they went immediately right back to washington. they were in san francisco. on their way to washington state. but they never made it. and so his appearance at the ex-position was postponed to the fall of september when the narchist, leon shelgus concocted the idea of assassinating him. mckinley was very fatalistic about the navy -- the optimism was about the prospect anybody could harm the president. he would talk openly with
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people, the secret service people went crazy but he didn't worry about it very much and leon had his hand in kind of a bandage, in a sling sort of like, he'd been injured. mckinley reached for his left hand and in his right hand he put the pistol in his chest and fired it point-blank. it did not penetrate very much but mckinley went back on his heel and shelgus fired a second time and went into his abdomen and lodged there. they couldn't find the bullet. they operated rather quickly. they couldn't find the bullet but concluded that looking for it was probably more dangerous than leaving it so they did. . d he was recuperating nicely they didn't really understand infection and sepsis and those things and that emerged and took him down and i think he lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of less than two weeks after the assassination efore he died.
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i believe that's it. >> thank you very, very much. [applause] robert: thank you. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp.2019] >> he'll be signing the book in the hall. thank you. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] announcer: you are watching american history tv, only on c-span 3.


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