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The situation, however, as it developed, brought with it an additional complication, which was to be as embarrassing to Mr. McKinley in 1896 as it was to President Cleveland in 1893. When the new administration assumed office in the March of that year, not only was the economic prosperity of the country compromised, but the security of its whole credit system had been gravely threatened. The country had enjoyed thirteen or fourteen years of practically uninterrupted agricultural and industrial expansion. The new states between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains had been settled with unusual rapidity, and with an over-confident assurance that the prairie lands of the western part of Kansas and Nebraska would be as available for immediately profitable cultivation as had the better watered lands farther east. The farmers had gone heavily into debt for the sake of improving their homesteads, and were depending on a steady increase in ground value, remunerative prices for grain, and a persistently abundant supply of loanable capital in order to meet their obligations.
None of these necessities was forthcoming. The settlement of this particular region had been closely associated with an unprecedented amount of railway construction. The new mileage was built as much for the future as for the present. It had called for an enormous amount of capital, upon which sufficient returns could not be immediately earned. It stimulated the settlement of new farms to such an extent that for many years the supply of agricultural commodities tended to exceed the world's demand. This whole section of the country needed time to grow up to its improvements. Too much money had been borrowed on the strength of expectations, the realization of which would have to be postponed much longer than the borrowers anticipated.
Unfortunately, however, just at this juncture the security of the whole American financial system was threatened by the effects of the liberal purchase and coinage of silver by the government — a policy which had been favored by the West under the erroneous idea that the more money issued by the government per capita the more each farmer would have in his pocket. This policy eventually caused that very contraction of credit which was needed in order to compromise still more seriously the situation of the western borrowers. It had become doubtful whether the government could maintain gold payments — in the face of the persistent exportation of gold, and the steady drain on the gold reserve. At the same time the Treasury was embarrassed by a deficit resulting from a combination of industrial depression and the Republican tariff and appropriation acts of 1890. These different causes of uncertainty and depression began to be felt in full during the early months of President Cleveland's second term. By June the country was suffering from a fullfledged panic. Mr. Cleveland, who was as much committed to the maintenance of the gold standard as he was to tariff reform, called an extra session of Congress to assemble early in August. A long and a bitter struggle took place, during which the administration had to strain all its resources, but the silver purchase act was finally repealed. Nevertheless the business of the country did not recover. The drain upon the gold reserve continued; and the government was obliged repeatedly to sell bonds in order to replenish the supply. The business depression which accompanied and followed these events was exceptionally severe; and it was felt throughout the length and breadth of the United States. It did not have the usual effect of releasing money from active business and allowing debtors more easily to obtain loans on any sufficient security, because the whole credit system had been undermined. The borrowing farmers suffered severely, - often to the point of losing their farms. The prices of commodities fell and the cost of living was low, but business was so bad and so many men were out of employment that only a few were benefited. The suffering was acute and widespread and had an immediate effect upon the political situation. The administration was made responsible for the disasters, which it had worked heroically to avert. The tide began to set in favor of Republican candidates and policies. These events, disastrous as they were to the country, were manifestly favorable to the candidacy of William McKinley, Jr., but just at this crisis a misfortune befell that gentleman which threatened to ruin his political career. In February, 1893, he became bankrupt, as a result of the failure of a man named Walker, of Youngstown, Ohio. He had indorsed some paper for Mr. Walker, who was a friend of long standing, and who under Mr. McKinley's encouragement had gone into the business of manufacturing tin plates. The notes he had indorsed aggregated over $100,000, which was a larger sum than the combined possessions of himself and wife. Mr. McKinley was in despair — and saw no alternative but the abandonment of politics and the devotion of the remainder of his life to the payment of his obligations. In his distress he went to Myron T. Herrick of Cleveland, who was a close friend. Mr. Hanna was in New York at the time attending to troubles of his own, and could not immediately come to his assistance. Mr. Herrick, with the aid of H. H. Kohlsaat of Chicago and Thomas McDougal of Cincinnati, raised a fund to meet the first of the maturing obligations, but as their volume increased they found the task beyond their ability. Soon after, Mr. Hanna himself came to the rescue, took the matter in charge, and succeeded in raising in Cleveland and elsewhere a sum of money sufficient to meet all Mr. McKinley's debts. Among the contributors to this fund were H. H. Kohlsaat, Samuel Mather, John Hay, Thomas McDougal, J. H. Wade, James Pickands, A. A. Pope, William Chisholm, Charles Brush, James H. Hoyt, Charles Taft, Andrew Carnegie, H. C. Frick, Philander Knox, and many others. The list was made up as much of Mark Hanna's friends as it was of William McKinley's. The latter's personal popularity was such that a considerable sum was contributed voluntarily in small amounts by poor people. The panic which cost Mr. McKinley, his wife and friends so much money was a blessing to his cause. It only remained for him and his co-workers to turn the opportunity to good account — which was done in the fall of 1893. He had been renominated for governor in the spring of that year, and in November was reëlected by a majority of no less than 80,000. The brilliance of this victory made a profound impression on the public mind. No such majority had been known in Ohio since the war. Hundreds of telegrams and letters of congratulation were showered on the victor, and two-thirds of them welcomed him as the next President of the United States. For the first time he began to be named, not merely as an eligible, but as the logical, candidate. Two days after the election his name was placed on the editorial page of the Cleveland Leader as its candidate for the nomination. More significant and interesting is the fact that on November 18 a cartoon was published in the same newspaper, in which Uncle Sam was pointing to the rising sun of McKinley in 1896 and with it the dawn of renewed prosperity. So far as I know this was the first public advertisement of the idea that the nomination and election of McKinley would bring with it a revival of business activity. Manifestly a more popular slogan could not be found in a period of acute economic dearth; and it is significant that it apparently originated in Cleveland. Who was responsible for its origination is obscure; but as soon as it was suggested, Mr. Hanna was the man above all others to sympathize with it and understand its availability. The dominant object of political policy and action was from his business point of view the encouragement of a steady and general economic prosperity. Thereafter a systematic attempt was made to impress McKinley on the popular mind as the “advance agent of prosperity.” The “prosperity” issue was made more popular, and from the point of the Republican protectionist, more pertinent, by the course of business and politics in 1894. In that year the Democratic leaders made an attempt to revise the tariff in accordance with their campaign pledges. The attempt was bungled. The bill, as it finally passed, was so unsatisfactory to President Cleveland that he allowed it to become a law without his signature. During a period of economic dearth any legislation on the tariff was likely to make trouble. It emphasized the existing depression in several important manufacturing industries. At the same time it alienated public sympathy, because many of its schedules were just as plainly the work of selfish special interests as were those of the McKinley Bill. It was a measure of tariff reform which contained very little reform; and what was as bad it was a tariff for revenue only, which failed as a revenue law. The income tax, which was to provide the revenue needed under a tariff for revenue only, was declared unconstitutional. A heavy deficit was fastened on the Treasury at the very time when the gold reserve was being depleted by financial uncertainty. In every respect the Wilson Bill proved to be a failure, and really or apparently increased and prolonged the prevailing business depression. The effect of the Wilson Bill in contributing to the economic privations of the American people was very much exaggerated; but the Republican leaders, and particularly the friends of Mr. McKinley, can hardly be blamed for taking what advantage they could of the Democratic failure. They had always claimed that tariff reform would injuriously affect American business; and behold ! here was their prophecy fulfilled. Throughout 1894 general business continued to be prostrate. The voters attributed their privations to the party in power, and returned an enormous Republican majority to the House of Representatives in the fall of 1894. If Messrs. McKinley and Hanna had been able to write history for the benefit of the McKinley cause, they could not have improved upon the actual course of events. The failure of the Wilson Bill clinched every argument which could be made in favor of the candidate from Ohio. Protectionism was apparently vindicated. The McKinley Bill had ceased to be odious. Its author could claim a revision of the earlier adverse popular judgment. He could more plausibly than ever assert that his nomination and election would restore prosperity, because its return was contingent upon a new application of the doctrine of high protection. Needless to say that these arguments were reiterated, emphasized and spread broadcast over the country. The Cleveland Leader, which was the most sedulous advocate of McKinley's nomination along the foregoing lines, was widely circulated for a period of over eighteen months at Mr. Hanna's personal expense. Mark Hanna at that time had no inkling of the decisive effect which the increasing importance of the “prosperity” issue and its association with the McKinley candidacy would have upon his own subsequent political career. But if he had needed any further stimulus to exert all his energies in favor of the nomination of his friend, the shape which political and