The seventh of nine children, William McKinley was born in Ohio on the 29th of January 1843. Both his parents were of English and Scots-Irish ancestry. His father, William McKinley Sr. ran a humble iron foundry in Niles, Ohio. His mother, Nancy Allison McKinley, served as a village leader. William’s brothers and sisters were named James, David, Mary, Anna, Sarah Elizabeth, Abner and Helen. The entire family moved to Poland, Ohio when he was only ten years old. It is here where he graduated from the academy before attending Allegheny College for a single term in the year 1860. He became the president of the Debating Society and the Everett Library in which he showed immense leadership qualities.
When William turned seventeen, he went to Meadville, Pennsylvania to pursue his studies, but it was later cut short due to illness. He returned to Ohio where he tried to earn money by teaching in a small school. The year 1861 marked the start of the American Civil War. McKinley enlisted as a private in the 23rd Ohio Infantry with future US President Rutherford Hayes serving as his superior officer. McKinley was promoted to commissary sergeant, but soon left the army as a major in the year 1865.McKinley decided to attend law school in 1866. After studying in Albany, New York he was soon admitted to take the bar in Ohio, the place for his first political participations. He worked as an eager Republican campaigner for Rutherford Hayes. Three years later, McKinley was elected as an attorney for the Democratic Stark County where he met the daughter of a businessman Ida Saxton, who he later married on the 25th of January 1871.
In 1876, William McKinley was elected to Congress, where he became the Republican party's leading expert on the protective tariff, which he promised would bring prosperity. His 1890 McKinley Tariff was highly controversial; together with gerrymandering it led to his defeat in the Democratic landslide of 1890.
William McKinley was elected Ohio's governor in 1891 and 1893, steering a moderate course between capital and labor interests while in office. With the aid of his close adviser Mark Hanna, he secured the Republican nomination for president in 1896, amid a deep economic depression. He defeated his Democratic rival, William Jennings Bryan; McKinley ran a front porch campaign in which he advocated "sound money" (the gold standard unless altered by international agreement) and promised that high tariffs would restore prosperity.
Rapid economic growth marked McKinley's presidency. He promoted the 1897 Dingley Tariff to protect manufacturers and factory workers from foreign competition, and in 1900, he secured the passage of the Gold Standard Act. McKinley hoped to persuade Spain to grant independence to rebellious Cuba without conflict, but when negotiation failed, led the nation in the Spanish-American War of 1898; the U.S. victory was quick and decisive. As part of the peace settlement Spain turned over its main overseas colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, and received $20 million for its improvements.
Cuba was promised independence but at that time remained under the control of the U.S. Army. The independent Republic of Hawaii joined the U.S. in 1898 as a territory. McKinley was re-elected in the 1900 presidential election following another intense campaign against Bryan, which focused on imperialism, prosperity, and free silver.
President McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist in September 1901, and was succeeded by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt. Historians regard McKinley's 1896 victory as a realigning election, in which the political stalemate of the post-Civil War era gave way to the Republican-dominated Fourth Party System, which began with the Progressive Era. He is generally placed near the middle in rankings of American presidents.