Term: March 4, 1897 – September 14, 1901
Vice President: Garret A. Hobart & Theodore Roosevelt
Home State: Ohio
Wife: Ida Saxton
Children: Katherine & Ida
President William McKinley celebrated four Christmas Seasons in the White House but would not make it to see the first Christmas of his second term in office. McKinley met his untimely death just before the Christmas Season in 1901, when he was assassinated by Leon Frank Czolgosz on September 6 of that year.
President McKinley and wife Ida Saxton celebrated Christmas of 1898 in the White House. The manner in which the First Family celebrated Christmas was mostly dictated by Mrs. McKinley’s health at the time. This was the second year of President McKinley’s first term, and he and the First Lady decided to spend the holidays at home in the White House. Just prior to Christmas, Mrs. McKinley was feeling strong enough to make a special trip to New York to purchase gifts for the White House servants and attachés. Several of the executive couple’s friends and associates from Ohio arrived to spend Christmas in Washington. When attending church services, their minister spoke of God’s Christmas gift of freedom to an oppressed people. Later in the afternoon the couple took advantage of the pleasant but brisk weather they were experiencing and went for a drive.
Many gifts arrived for the President and his wife during the Christmas Season in 1899 including the fattest, juiciest turkey from Rhode Island, which had been sent to the White House compliments of the raiser. Mrs. McKinley was quite ill during Christmas, preventing her from participating in the same celebrations as the year before. The President and First Lady invited their nieces to the White House to celebrate Christmas with them along with a few other family members, making the gathering quite small by White House standards. There is no record of any White House Christmas cards being sent during the years William McKinley was in office, but Mrs. McKinley was a creative First Lady who would have surely added a unique and personal touch to any Christmas cards sent. Being so ill, Mrs. McKinley was unable to travel to New York or anywhere else to purchase gifts for the White House staff. Instead, she crafted unique and thoughtful gifts for all the unmarried attachés showing her flair for creativity. It was customary for all married staff members to receive a turkey for the holidays.
White House Christmas celebrations in addition to most Christmases from before they moved to Washington were sad reminders for President McKinley and the First Lady. The couple’s first daughter, Katherine (“Katie”), had been born on Christmas Day in 1871 and passed away four short years later of typhoid fever. Their second daughter, Ida, was born in 1873 and passed away within four months of her birth, also close to the time that Mrs. McKinley’s mother had died. William McKinley’s wife suffered a breakdown following the death of their two daughters and never made a full recovery. She spent her remaining Christmases as an epileptic bordering on the edge of insanity. President McKinley’s associates, including his opponents, often voiced their amazement at his devotion to his wife. Protocol was often dismissed at formal dinners to allow the President to sit next to his wife in case she experienced one of her frequent seizures. At the moment of his own assassination, Ida’s health and safety was his only concern. “My wife,” he gasped, “be careful how you tell her – oh, be careful!”
William McKinley was surrounded by both personal tragedy and the tragedy of war throughout his adult life. McKinley was born January 29, 1843. He was the seventh of nine children. When he was nine years old, young William McKinley moved to Poland, Ohio where he received an excellent education. He continued his schooling at Allegheny College, where he attended for only one term. Shortly after, he enlisted in the Union Army as a private for the 23rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During the Civil War he served as an aide to Colonel Rutherford B Hayes, who was to become the 19th President of the United States. Hayes promoted McKinley twice while in the army and was an integral part of William McKinley’s political successes after the war and his graduation from Albany Law School. McKinley was a prominent supporter of Hayes during his political rise as well. He spent two terms in the House of Representatives and was Governor of Ohio (just as Hayes was) prior to his bid for the presidency.
During the election of 1896 William McKinley was able to successfully gain votes from urban areas and ethnic labor groups while still appealing to businesses and corporations. McKinley’s opponent during the election, William Jennings Bryan, was in the lead as late as August, but gigantic parades were held for McKinley in every major city a few days prior to the election, pushing him into the lead and ultimately locking in his win. McKinley and his wife certainly had quite a few people to thank in the Christmas cards they sent just prior to the President’s inauguration in 1897.
During his presidency there were many overseas conflicts occurring, mostly with Spain. McKinley opposed going to war even though the public was demanding it. As demand for war grew stronger, McKinley opted to turn over the decision to Congress, which ultimately voted to go to war. The Spanish-American War would turn out to be the easiest and most profitable wars in U.S. history, lasting only 113 days. The United States gained ownership of Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, and President McKinley was able to convince congress to vote for the Annexation of Hawaii, which he had been pushing for prior to the war. The taking over of the Philippines lead to the Philippines-American War, which was still being battled several Christmases after the Spanish-American War and several years after the President McKinley’s assassination.
When President McKinley ran for his second term, he faced the same opponent he ran against in the first election. McKinley easily won the bid for re-election but would only live to see one more Christmas Season after being elected to a second term. The President and First Lady attended the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in September of 1901. On the second day of their visit, McKinley was greeting the public at the Temple of Music. Leon Frank Czolgosz waited in line with a pistol concealed by a handkerchief. He fired twice at the President, the first bullet grazing his shoulder and the second going through several vital organs before lodging in his back.
McKinley’s doctor believed he would recover, even though the conditions of the hospital where his operation occurred were challenging. President McKinley stayed at the home of the exposition’s director in Buffalo recovering from his injuries. After a week he was feeling stronger and was able to have his first meal since the day of the shooting. But his condition took a turn for the worse, and with his heath deteriorating quickly, he died of gangrene the morning of September 14, 1901. Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in shortly after the announcement of McKinley’s death.
The President was buried in Canton, Ohio. After his death, Ida McKinley lost most of her will to live and became quite ill. Her sister cared for her for several years and six Christmases would pass before Ida died in May of 1907. She was buried next to her devoted husband.