Election of 1900: McKinley Versus Bryan and the Issue of American Empire

Republican Party: William McKinley (Ohio) and Theodore Roosevelt (New York)
Democratic Party: William Jennings Bryan (Nebraska) and Adlai Stevenson (Illinois)

Election Results:
McKinley and Roosevelt: 7.21 million popular votes, 292 electoral votes.
Bryan and Stevenson: 6.35 million popular votes, 155 electoral votes.

William McKinley’s renomination in 1900 was without little doubt, considering the great popularity of McKinley and of the Spanish-American War (McKinley was actually quite uncertain about this war, but accepted the benefits of its execution). McKinley received the nomination without opposition but had to decide on a new vice presidential candidate, due to the death of Garret Hobart while in office (Hobart was a proponent of both the Spanish-American War and action in the Philippines). The bosses of the New York Republican Party wanted to rid themselves of Governor Theodore Roosevelt and the national party bosses, while reluctant to put such a maverick in the White House, obliged with the request. Mark Hanna, McKinley’s friend and campaign manager, worried himself that the famously rebellious Roosevelt was one accident away from the presidency. But Roosevelt’s heroism and his record of public service, though limited, was enough to make him a credible vice presidential candidate.

The Democratic Party was similarly without much doubt as to who they would nominate, selecting 1896 candidate William Jennings Bryan to be the Democratic standard bearer and former vice president Adlai Stevenson to run with Bryan. Bryan’s populist reputation led to a populist platform that included a plan to prosecute the many trusts and monopolies in America, a condemnation of America’s imperialist intentions in Cuba and the Phillippines, and a call for independence for the Phillippines with protectorate status until they were prepared to take back their land. The Democratic campaign strategy includes a promotion of expanding the economy and protecting American business, opposition to the Republican Party’s ties to big businesses, and increased relations with China and Southeast Asia.

The Republican campaign, which highlighted peace and prosperity during the McKinley years, capitalized on the finding of large gold deposits in the West and in Alaska. This created an increase in the money supply, an increase in farm profits, and a major strike against the Democratic Party’s plan to use agrarian discontent against the Republicans. McKinley utilized Theodore Roosevelt’s larger than life personality to make campaign appearances to warn of the dangers of a Bryan presidency. Hanna and the Republican organization used millions in donations to distribute 25 million campaign documents and hire 600 speakers to travel the country in support of McKinley. In the end, the defections of big city progressives toward the increasingly progressive Republican Party, the amount of money spent by the Republicans, and the dying agrarian revolt led to McKinley’s renomination. An ominous foreshadowing of the future came when Roosevelt referred to himself as a “non entity” after his election to the vice presidency, when in a year’s time he would ascend to the presidency with McKinley’s assassination.

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