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McKinley, War, and Indigenous Policy

Born January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio, William McKinley, was a world traveler until the
Civil War beckoned him to action. He signed up for the 23​rd​ Ohio Volunteer Infantry to
fight for the Union. Participating at some of the most important battles, he earned respect
that helped him win a seat in Congress from 1877-91, and the Ohio Governorship in
1892. William McKinley was sworn into the office of the President on March 4, 1897.

McKinley first sympathized with the Cubans in the Spanish American War, but the
U.S.S. Maine​ unexplained explosion in Havana Harbor in early 1898, and ​the sensational
rhetoric of journalism following, McKinley appeased domestic calls for the expansion of
U.S. influence by rubber-stamping the Spanish-American War and subsequently
occupying Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines - the lattermost of which saw
the government-approved use of concentration camps to suppress the citizenry.

This was Manifest Destiny.

The prior administration, President Grover Cleveland, opposed the idea of annexing the
nation of Hawaii. President McKinley reversed the U.S. position, even though the vast
majority of the former Kingdom’s residents were opposed to U.S. rule.

During McKinley’s Presidency, he continued policies of displacing, discriminating


against, and abusing native people. McKinley signed the Curtis Act of 1898, which took
away ​the sovereign status of the Five Civilized Tribes, overturned treaties and abolished
the tribes’ governments, invalidated their laws and dissolved their courts. The Curtis Act
called for the abolition of tribal governments, and was intended to establish the concept
of individual land holdings.​ ​This Act extended all provisions of the Dawes Act to the
lands of the Five Civilized Tribes, making large parts of these lands open to settlement by
whites. It resulted in removing an estimated 90 million acres of land formerly reserved
for Native Americans.

When an Indian nation signed a treaty, it agreed to give the federal government some or
all of its land as well as some or all of its sovereign powers. In return, the federal
government entered into a trust responsibility with the Indian Nation in which the federal
government in exchange for some or all of Indian land, is legally responsible for the
protection of tribal lands, assets, resources, and treaty rights. The trust responsibility
bound the United States to fulfill its treaty obligations and commitments. From 1898
onwards, acts of legislation dealing with sovereignty made by tribal governing bodies
would only be considered valid if signed by the President of the United States.

Northern Californian immigrant residents responded to Indian ‘troubles’, ie raids,


killings, and economic competition from Indian communities with acts of vigilante
violence against native people – none of which were punished by local, state, or federal
agencies.

McKinley was a veteran of The Civil War, and​ an espoused abolitionist, but as President
he turned a blind eye to repeated occurrences of mass lynchings of black Americans in
the South. In a letter titled an ​Open Letter to President McKinley by Colored People Of
Massachusetts​ ,which was read out loud at a church in Boston on October 3, 1899, it
includes the following,

“We have suffered sir, God knows we have suffered, since your accession to office, at
the hands of a country professing to be Christian, but which is not Christian, from the
hate and violence of a people claiming to be civilized, but who are not civilized, and you
have seen our sufferings, witnessed from your high place our awful wrongs and miseries,
and yet you have at no time, and on no occasion, opened your lips in our behalf….

Is there no help in the federal arm for us, or even a word of audible pity, protest, and
remonstrance in your own breast, Mr. President?”

And on the subject of the Spanish American War, the previous mentioned letter said,

“Are crying national transgressions and injustices more ‘injurious and menacing’ to the
Republic, as well as ‘shocking to it’s sentiments of humanity’, when committed by a
foreign state, in a foreign territory, against a foreign people, than when they are
committed by a portion of our people here at home? Do colored people of the United
States deserve equal consideration with the Cuban people at the hands of your
administration? “

McKinley, while simultaneously using rhetoric about worldly injustice and how the U.S.
should function as a role model for combating oppressive actors abroad, was known for
his ‘extraordinary and incomprehensible silence on the subject of wrongs’ done to black
and native Americans.