Times Were A-Changin All elections have many issues surrounding them. But none have had as many as the election of 1896. In my mind, the Depression was by far the largest issue in the election, but there were many other smaller issues, such as the gold vs silver standard, also played a major role in the candidates campaigns. The prior president, Grover Cleveland, had only worsened the economic standing in the United States by focusing all his efforts on the Silver Purchase Act. By doing this he lost his democratic supporters. This gave republicans great hopes for the upcoming election.
The republicans nominee for president was a man name William McKinley, who was a congressman and a two time governor of Ohio. The democrats surprisingly nominated a congressman named William Jennings Bryan. Most people did not see Bryan as presidential material. Although he surprised many people by giving one of the most famous speeches of all time, supporting silver and attacking the “Goldbugs”. McKinleys campaign strategy was to reach voters through a sophisticated mass-media, which was financed by huge corporations, such as Standard Oil and major rail roads.
McKinley was being advertised as the “advance agent of prosperity.” McKinley also supported not only the business classes, but also the unemployed workers, promising them a “full lunch pail”. Bryans strategy was to support the silver, which supported the lower classes, claiming free silver would lead to inflation and more disaster. Unlike McKinley, instead of staying at his home, Bryan traveled to twenty-seven states and speaking to three million people. With the election in the near future, many influential easterners thought Bryans platform would disrupt social harmony. Others labeled Bryan as a “madman” or “anarchist”.
Because of the major interest in the election, record number of voters were expected. When the voting was in McKinley had won by a landslide margin, 271 electoral votes to Bryans 176. In McKinleys platform he had promised that the Republican rule meant prosperity, and he kept his promise. As soon as McKinley stepped into office, the economic crisis recovered. This was largely due to discoveries of huge amounts of gold, which increased the nations money supply. The industrial production also shot up to full capacity.
With the industrial production at full capacity, America was soon overwhelmed with by excess goods. Many businessmen wanted new markets, instead of cutting prices, which would redistribute wealth by allowing lower classes to buy excess goods or laying off workers, which in turn would only cause social unrest. With these reasons in mind, businessmen had to expand their business to the international level. After expanding business by exporting goods to China, Central America and many countries in Europe, the United States went from fourth to first in the world in manufacturing. The U.S also led in technological production, such as farm machinery. The total value of exports tripled, from $434 million in 1866 to $1.5 billion in 1900 and kept increasing 67 percent over the next few years.
The trade was mainly done with Asian countries and the countries in Europe. This major exporting of goods was the first small step in helping the United States to becoming a dominant power in the world. More and more, Americans saw glory and greatness as legitimate motivation for expansionism. In the late 1890s, a group led by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, felt that the official policy not be “continentalism”, but what they called the “large policy”. Along with Roosevelt, a man named Alfred Thayan Mahan, a naval strategist, greatly influenced the foreign policy. Mahan advocated colonies in both the Caribbeans and the Pacific.
He thought that the strong nations had an obligation to dominate the weaker ones. Mahans and Roosevelts ideas were soon spreading. The United States in general began believing their nation was the ideal country and should be the standard for other countries. Missionaries were sent to China to change the Chineses beliefs. The number of Christian converts increased from 5,000 in 1870 to 100,000 in 1900. Economic relations also grew with China, the number of American firms rose from 50 to 550 between the years of 1870 and 1930, while trade increased more than 1500 percent. In 1895 the Cubans began to revolt against the harsh rule of the Spaniards.
The Madrid government had once again failed to implement reforms, but instead sent General “Butcher” Weyler with 50,000 soldiers to stop the disruption. The Americans soon received word on how the Spainards were treating the Cubans in the concentration camps and were outraged. The election of 1896 only diverted attention from the Cuban torture momentarily. McKinley did not want to take action against Spain, but he could not control the Spanish misrule or the Cubans aspirations for freedom. The main causes of the war were the Americans sugar interest in Cuba and sympathy for the weaker nation. On April 11, 1898 after much pressure from Roosevelt, McKinley sent a message to congress, that seemed to call for war.
Two weeks later, troops were authorized to be used against Spain and also a resolution was passed that recognized Cubas independence, these actions basically amounted to a declaration of war. The went well, few Americans lost their lives, mostly due to tropical diseases. Theodore Roosevelts part in the war, it not only helped advanced his political carer, but also the cause of expansionism and national glory. Before the Spanish-American war, Roosevelt had sent a nacal fleet, headed by Commodore George Dewey, from Hong Kong to the phillipenes to watch and make sure the Spanish squadron did not leave the Asiatic coast. This decision initiated a chain of events that began with the sinking of the battle ship Maine and ultimately led to the annexation of the Philippines.
On May 1, 1898 Dewey sank the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay and cabled President McKinley for more troops. McKinley in turn sent twice as many troops than Dewey had asked for. Soon after the troops were ordered, McKinley started to shape the American public opinion to accept the annexation of the 7,000 small Philippine Islands. The Treaty of Paris gave the U.S all of the islands in exchange for a $20 million payment to Spain. After several months of arguing between senators, on one side were two very different views of foreign policy and Americas vision of itself. After seeking much advice and hearing public opinion, McKinley appoved the annexation of the Philippines.
Many of the democrats supported McKinleys decision of annexation. Republicans also did, but not without insulting the Phillipinos. Many thought they were savages and could not be capable of running their own country. The idea of annexation was strongly opposed by many people and groups. Most felt it was not right based on the Declaration of Independence, believing it unconstitutional to govern people without their consent. Others thought we should get our nation under control, before taking on another country. After the Filipino-American war was under way, the hypocrisy of America became more and more evident. The U.Ss treatment to Filipinos was not unlike that of the Spanishs toward the Cubans that the Americans thought so wrong.
The war was soon labeled, “The White Mans Burden” because of the treatment toward black soldiers in the war. The blacks sympathized with the Filipinos, who they saw tied to the land and pressed by poverty, much like themselves. By 1900, the U.S had acquired several island territories, thereby joining the other great world powers. Different systems of government were worked out for each territory. The natives were allowed to elect their legislature, but governors were elected by the president.
Back to the election of 1896, McKinley being voted to President played a major role in America becoming a world power. By America becoming richer from the newly founded gold supplies in the Yukon territories and mass production expanding abroad, America got so caught up in itself and its idea of an idea government and country, that we wanted every to accept our ways and beliefs, no matter how or in what way, be it by suggestion or if it came down to it, war. America is still to this day trying to expand our thought and beliefs, that started over a 100 years ago when McKinley was elected president in the election of 1896.