Study Guide

William McKinley in Platt Amendment

By U.S. Congress

William McKinley

Mount McKinley

When most people think of American presidents who have been assassinated, they think of Lincoln and JFK. Poor McKinley always gets left off the list (not to mention James Garfield back in the 1880s).

McKinley was shot and killed by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. (Fun fact: McKinley's assassination was the event that began the Secret Service's mission to protect the President.)

But before all that, President McKinley oversaw the annexation of Hawaii (and Wake Island); the conquest of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines through the Spanish-American War; and the control of Cuba. That's a lot of islands to add to the U.S. empire.

And we say "empire" because that was certainly the touchy word of the time.

Did the U.S. have the right to acquire land around the globe, imitating the European powers of old? Wouldn't that be just a tad hypocritical, given America's history of actually being one of those territories originally? You can see how McKinley was a controversial figure at the time. He even said,

"We need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California. It is Manifest Destiny." (Source)

Hmm. Did he think owning Cuba was Manifest Destiny too?

McKinley signed the Platt Amendment, which gave the U.S. almost complete control over Cuba after the Spanish-American War. McKinley was not allowed to completely annex Cuba thanks to the Teller Amendment, but historians love to wonder if full annexation was a secret (or not-so-secret) goal of many in American government.

In fact, you could look at the Platt Amendment as a loophole—a convenient way for the U.S. to be directly involved in Cuba without breaking the Teller Amendment's rules.

So McKinley is seen as one of America's empire builders, for better or worse, who was killed before we could perhaps know the full extent of his intentions. Was he a good guy or a bad guy? We know that Czolgosz, his assassin, called McKinley "the enemy of the good people," but we also know that McKinley's biographer H. Wayne Morgan claimed that he died "the most beloved president in memory" (source).

A controversial president? Can't argue with that. An impactful one? You better believe it.

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