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While this volume touches on many aspects of McKinley's leadership, the core of it relates to the coming of the Spanish-American War, the president's conduct of the war itself, and the emergence of an American empire from 1898 to 1900. According to Gould, the Spanish-American War was not the result presidential weakness or of cowardice before public hysteria. McKinley sought to persuade Spain to relinquish Cuba peacefully, turning to war only when it became apparent that Madrid would never acquiesce.
During the war, McKinley effectively directed the American military effort and the diplomacy that brought territorial acquisitions and peace. The process of making peace with Spain—involving, as it did, American annexation of the Philippines—and of securing the ratification of the resulting treaty in the Senate underscored McKinley's expansive view of presidential power. He functioned as chief diplomat, from the sending of senators on the peace commission to the personal supervision of the terms of the negotiation. At home he made tours of the West and South in 1898 to lead popular opinion to his position as no president had done before him. For the Senate he evidenced a readiness to dispense patronage, woo votes with personal persuasion, and marshal the resources of the political system behind his treaty.
Later episodes in McKinley's administration support Gould's thesis. In administering Puerto Rico and Cuba and in suppressing an insurrection in the Philippines, McKinley relied further on the war power and continued to shape affairs from the White House. He sent troops to china during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 without congressional authorization, governed the new possessions through presidential commissions, and allowed Capitol Hill only a subsidiary role in the process. By 1901 the nation had an empire and a president whose manner and bearing anticipated the imperial executives of six decades later.
Gould does not argue that McKinley was a great president. He maintains, instead, that what McKinley contributed to the office, the examples he offered and the precedents he set make him an important figure in the emergence of the modern presidency in this century.
This book is part of the American Presidency Series.
Author Biography: Lewis L. Gould is Eugene C. Barker Centennial Professor Emeritus in American History at the University of Texas at Austin and author or coauthor of eighteen other books, including The Spanish-American War and President McKinley; The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt; 1968: The Election that Changed America; Lady Bird Johnson and the Environment; and Lady Bird Johnson: Our Environmental First Lady.