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.


Frequently Forgotten President Benjamin Harrison

In 1888 President Cleveland lost the election to Benjamin Harrison. Harrison ran on a pro-business platform and hailed from Indiana, a state that had a healthy number of electoral votes. The election was so close that without states like Indiana and New York, Harrison could not have won.

Throughout his life Benjamin Harrison wanted to be known as an individual. He did not want his presidential campaign to mention his grandfather, former President William Henry Harrison. Against his wishes his campaign supporters used references to “Tippecanoe” and his grandfather’s allegedly humble origins.

They also pointed out that the grandson had inherited his grandfather’s reputation as a fighter. During the Civil War Harrison fought in as many battles as possible. In 1864 he joined General Sherman’s Atlanta campaign.


Official Presidential Portrait of Benjamin Harrison

Harrison’s actions as president included generous pensions for Civil War veterans and the signing of an anti-trust law. Under Harrison and the next few presidents, the law, meant to prevent the establishment of monopolies, remained mainly symbolic. Harrison did not wish to anger the businessmen who helped elect him.

The American voters were unimpressed by Harrison’s spending of millions of dollars on pensions and his pro-business stance. As a result his opponent (former President Grover Cleveland) was re-elected in 1892.

Harrison’s personality did nothing to endear him to voters either. Nicknamed “The Icebox” for his cold manner, he disliked having to deal with people outside his family. In public he often looked up at the sky so he would not have to greet others, even if he knew them! He was, however, very devoted to his wife, who died of tuberculosis during his re-election campaign. Harrison personally nursed her through her illness and didn’t care at all when he lost the election.

After his wife’s death he went home to Indiana. In his loneliness he married his wife’s niece, a circumstance that shocked his older children. The couple had a daughter, and Harrison doted on her until he died.


Queen Liliuokalani: Hawaii’s Last Queen

In 1959, Hawaii officially became America’s fiftieth state. Before any Americans arrived, however, Hawaii was a free nation governed by one ruler. Hawaii’s last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, sought a peaceful resolution with America but also wanted to keep her title. Instead, she lived to see her nation taken over by another country.

As early as age four, Liliuokalani felt the influence of Americans in Hawaii. In 1842, she attended a school for Hawaiian royal children, where she received lessons from missionaries from New England. Some of the lessons, such as English and music, were useful to Liliuokalani when she became queen.

The missionaries, Amos and Juliette Cooke, did more than insist that the children do homework, however. At the Royal School, Liliuokalani learned to pray to one god instead of many. No one at the school called Liliuokalani by her real name. Instead, she was given the Christian name Lydia. The Cookes also made the children wear more clothing than they were used to out in the warm climate of Hawaii, and they ate less. Liliuokalani wrote later, “It seems to me that they failed to remember that we were growing children. A thick slice of bread covered with molasses was usually the sole article of our supper.”

At age sixteen, Liliuokalani married an American named John Dominis. He served as an advisor to Hawaii’s king. King Kamehameha V noticed young Liliuokalani’s musical talent and asked her to write a national anthem for Hawaii. She wrote it in both Hawaiian and English. It read in part, “Grant Thy peace throughout the land/O’er these sunny, sea-girt Isles/Keep the nation’s life O Lord/And upon our sovereign smile.”

When King Kamehameha died, Liliuokalani’s brother became king. By the 1870s, more Americans came to Hawaii. These Americans were businessmen, not missionaries. They bought Hawaiian land and grew sugarcane on it. By shipping sugarcane around the world, Americans in Hawaii became rich.

Liliuokalani’s brother, King Kalakaua, wanted native Hawaiians and Americans to get along. To accomplish his goal, Kalakaua made a treaty with President Grant. The treaty said that American sugar growers could ship their sugar without paying taxes, and that only the United States could use Hawaii’s harbors. Kalakaua thought the treaty would create better relations with Americans, but it just made Americans richer by helping them stockpile their money. When her brother signed away Hawaii’s harbor, later known as Pearl Harbor, Liliuokalani wrote, “King signed lease of Pearl river to U. States for eight years. It should not have been done.”

One day, a group of Americans stormed Ionlani Palace where the king lived. They had weapons and demanded that he sign a new constitution that gave Americans the power to make Hawaii’s laws. A few years later, King Kalakaua, who had become only a figurehead in Hawaii, died with no heir.

His sister Liliuokalani was crowned queen. She worked hard to return her country back to native Hawaiians. She wrote a new constitution that gave her the right to rule. The Americans rejected it. When an American named Sanford Dole took over as Hawaii’s leader, she appealed to President Cleveland for help. Cleveland supported Liliuokalani, but failed to convince Dole to step down. Some of Liliuokalani’s loyal supporters in Hawaii tried to overthrow the new government, but they only managed to imprison themselves and their queen.

The new government locked Liliuokalani away for eight months, during which she was forced to sign away her rights to the throne. When she was released in 1895, she traveled the United States, unsuccessfully trying to gain support for Hawaii’s independence from America.