U.S. President William McKinley

One of many presidents who grew up in Ohio, William McKinley always believed he would be president someday. He inherited a poor economy from President Cleveland and wanted to focus on America’s domestic problems.


Official Presidential Portrait of William McKinley

Instead, he ended up presiding over a war with Spain. Having already witnessed the Civil War, McKinley had no desire to involve the country in Cuba’s fight for independence. Once the U.S. warship Maine exploded in Havana’s harbor, however, McKinley was pressured by the public to declare war. He finally gave in.

Once committed to a war, McKinley set out to win it. He set up the first modern war room in a corner office of the White House. By the war’s end the U.S. emerged for the first time as a world power. The United States not only served as protector of Cuba, but also took Puerto Rico and Guam from the Spaniards.

A confident president McKinley also sought to take the Philippines from Spain, but the Filipinos fought back. In order to subdue them, U.S. soldiers resorted to tactics such as burning villages in which innocent people, including children, were killed. McKinley disliked the atrocity stories but believed strongly in Manifest Destiny. He saw it as America’s duty to civilize the Filipinos and convert them to Christianity.

The bullet of an assassin ended the president’s second term during a cross-country tour. That trip was the last time a president traveled without the Secret Service.


How Religion Shaped American History

Religion in America has been used to justify unforgivable actions against others. The treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government is one example. In the nineteenth-century, Americans believed that it was their manifest destiny, or God-given duty, to spread their society across the continent. Americans’ godly mission, however, did not require them to care about the Native Americans who were displaced from their lands as whites moved closer. When President Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Act with the approval of Congress in 1830, Native Americans were forced to move to land west of the Mississippi. In 1838, the Cherokee Indians journeyed west. Baptist missionary Evan Jones traveled with the Cherokee and described the experience: “The Cherokees are nearly all prisoners…In Georgia, especially, multitudes were allowed no time to take anything with them, except the clothes they had on. Well-furnished houses were left a prey to plunderers, who, like hungry wolves, follow in the train of the captors.” Although the U.S. believed that manifest destiny justified the seizing of land, this action led to the unjust treatment of Native Americans.

Despite the negative consequences of manifest destiny, religion in American has also served as a motivation for reform. Throughout our nation’s history, churches promoted various social reforms. In the mid-twentieth century, for example, African Americans found leaders for the civil rights movement in their congregations. Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott during which African Americans refused to ride buses after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person. He also organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to protest the treatment of blacks in white society. Today African American church leaders continue to fight for social justice. Reverend Jesse Jackson consistently brings media attention to issues of civil rights and other causes like welfare reform. Both King and Jackson demonstrate that religion can be a positive force when it is used to uproot injustices in society.