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America 1900 | Article

Notable People: Military/Government Officials and Politicians


Emilio Aguinaldo 
In the aftermath of the Spanish-American war, Filipinos' elation at throwing off the constraints of Spanish rule was quickly replaced with anger over the prospect of being subject to American domination. The fight for independence had been going on in the Philippines for some time. As far back as 1895, when he was inducted into the secret Katipunan Revolutionary Society, Emilio Aguinaldo had been deeply involved in efforts to win Filipino independence. Aguinaldo was the mastermind behind the defeat of Spanish regulars in the Battle of Binakayan in 1896. 

Appointed president of the revolutionary government in 1897, Aguinaldo helped draw up a constitution for the Filipino people. As part of negotiations with Spanish rulers, he agreed to go into exile in return for Filipino civil rights, Philippine representation in the Spanish parliament, and general amnesty for all freedom fighters. 

As the US defeated the Spanish at Manila Bay in 1898, Aguinaldo returned to the Philippines only to be discouraged by the prospect of a permanent American military presence. In June 1899, Aguinaldo, in open defiance of the Treaty of Paris, declared National Independence for the Filipino people. This action led to war with the US. 

Aguinaldo's forces proved to be more determined and elusive than the US had predicted. Still, after a prolonged and bloody war, Aguinaldo was captured in the mountains of the Isabela province in March 1901. Shortly thereafter he was forced to swear allegiance to the US.

William Jennings Bryan 
Despite a long and distinguished political career, William Jennings Bryan is best known for the decisive defeats that he endured. He was nominated three times to represent the Democratic party as their presidential candidate. Three times he was defeated. Known for his quick wit and mastery of spoken language, Bryan was a stirring speaker. In 1896, he railed in support of the coinage of free silver and the end of the gold standard: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor a crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." Bryan looked upon the wealthy with great suspicion and warned against the unchecked powers of the trusts. Responding to the plight of striking coal miners in Pennsylvania, Bryan said "Whether a man is a laboring man, a farmer or a merchant, he must see that the opportunities are constantly narrowing under this trust system." His campaign against William McKinley in 1900 centered largely on his opposition to McKinley's conduct regarding the war in the Philippines. Condemning what he termed US imperialism, Bryan asserted, "If we steal a man's purse we are thieves. If we steal twelve hundred islands we are patriots. If you steal a man's money you will be sent to the penitentiary. If you steal his liberty you will be sent to the White House." Political observers noted that Bryan was sometimes too forceful a speaker; he ended up scaring, rather than converting, large numbers of voters. Andrew Carengie, who sided with Bryan on the Philippines issue, decided, "Mr. Bryan is much too earnest, too sincere and true to be entrusted with power, filled as he is with ideas subversive of economic laws." 

Following another failed presidential bid in 1908, Bryan was named Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of State in 1913. He resigned from that post, however, in 1915 to devote himself full-time to the cause of American neutrality during World War I. In 1925, Bryan led the prosecution of John T. Scopes, a young biology teacher charged with breaking Tennessee law by teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. Squaring off against noted defense attorney Clarence Darrow, Bryan attempted in vain to defend his literal interpretation of the bible under Darrow's wilting cross examination. Humiliated and weakened by the stress of the trial, Bryan died one week after its conclusion. 

Admiral George Dewey 
In 1900 much of America was caught up in what might be termed Dewey Delirium. For the first time since the Civil War, Americans had set their sights upon a war hero whose allegiance was to the entire nation, not just the North or South. George Dewey, a commodore at the time, slipped into Manila Bay in the Philippines on the night of April 30, 1898 and quietly plotted to destroy the once-formidable Spanish Pacific fleet. Just 4 days earlier, the US had declared war on Spain in response to events in Cuba. Caught unawares, the Spanish fleet in Manila was destroyed a mere two hours after Dewey issued his famous order, "You may fire when ready, Gridley." Millions were on hand in New York harbor to greet Dewey upon his triumphant return to the States. Congress bestowed upon him the special rank of admiral of the navy. Other honors followed, including the naming of a chewing gum, Dewey's Chewies, after him. He also enjoyed the dubious distinction of providing the inspiration for a laxative: The Salt of Salts. 

Such adulation prompted Dewey to consider politics. Though he lacked any party affiliation and had never himself voted, in March 1900 Dewey let it be known that he was making himself available to the American people as a presidential candidate. "If the American people want me for this high office, I shall be only too willing to serve them," he declared. He went on to point out that "since studying this subject I am convinced that the office of the President is not such a very difficult one to fill..." The Admiral's lack of command of the issues of the day caused few to take him seriously. One reporter wrote, "A great sailor should have a better chart in a strange sea." Failing to secure any serious backing for his presidential bid, Dewey served out his days as the head of the General Board of the Navy Department.

President McKinley and American Expansion
In 1896, as Democrat William Jennings Bryan barnstormed the country in search of enough votes to be elected president, staid and conservative William McKinley was content to let the voters come to him. McKinley purposely went no further than his front porch to air his views to the American people. Trainload after trainload of would-be voters descended upon McKinley's Canton Ohio property to hear him speak of how he would pull the nation out of its current economic depression. While McKinley's style put off some observers-one referred to him as a figure "who walked among men like a bronze statue determinedly looking for a pedestal"-the American people elected him their 25th president with a plurality of more than 600,000 votes. 

Once in office, McKinley championed the Dingley Tariff which increased tariffs on imported products. He also adopted the Currency Act of 1900 which put the nation on the Gold Standard. However, foreign affairs soon came to dominate McKinley's agenda. As press accounts, some of dubious veracity, informed Americans of atrocities perpetrated by Spanish colonialists on Cuban natives, McKinley was pressured to act. Despite being on record as deploring what he termed "jingo nonsense," McKinley requested from Congress, on April 11, 1899, a declaration of war on Spain. Victory was swift, and for the US, fairly bloodless. McKinley soon found himself in a position to expand considerably the American empire. Along with winning Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines from Spain, McKinley oversaw the annexation of Hawaii, and the partition of the Samoan Islands with Germany. Such expansion did not come without a cost, however. When Filipino freedom fighters did not quietly submit to US rule, McKinley was forced to commit up to 70,000 troops to a prolonged and costly war. 

Displeasure with the duration of the war in the Philippines threatened to weaken McKinley as the presidential campaign of 1900 got underway. Buttressed by the vigor of his newly chosen running mate, Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley was able to regain the White House, beating out William Jennings Bryan by an even greater margin than in 1896. Among McKinley's aims for his second term was the breaking up of the increasingly powerful trusts. McKinley would not have the chance to see this goal through, however. On September 6, 1901 he was shot twice by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. After clinging to life for 8 days, William McKinley died on September 14.

John Hay 
John Hay's imprint on American foreign policy was evident during the presidential administrations of both William McKinley and Theodore Rooseveltcapacity as ambassador to Great Britain, who termed the Spanish-American war, "a splendid little war." Hay was no stranger to presidential politics. He had gained exposure to life in the White House as a private secretary to Abraham Lincoln. That experience was the inspiration for a 10-part volume called "Abraham Lincoln: A History," that Hay wrote along with John G. Nicolay. 

While serving as secretary of state under McKinley, Hay was the architect of the US's Open Door policy toward China which favored free commercial rights for US merchants in exchange for respect of Chinese sovereignty. The Boxer Rebellion proved to be a refutation by Chinese nationalists of that policy. 

The Hay-Paunceforte treaties of 1900 and 1901 with Great Britain, along with the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty of 1903 laid the groundwork for the US construction of the Panama Canal. 

J. Francisco Chaves
J. Francisco Chaves was born on June 27, 1833. He attended St. Louis University and was trained at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. During the Civil War, Chaves commanded a unit of New Mexican volunteers fighting on behalf of the Union. Chaves was later a delegate to the US Congress from the Territory of New Mexico. In 1900 he served as President of the New Mexico Territorial Council and was Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Territory of New Mexico from 1901-1903. Chaves also published and edited "La Bandera Americana," (The American Flag) a Spanish language newspaper that championed the rights of New Mexico's Latino citizens. Chaves died in 1904, the victim of a political assassination.

Theodore Roosevelt 
Theodore Roosevelt had heard the rumors, and knew they were probably true. Barely into his first year as governor of New York, Roosevelt found himself having to fend off questions of whether he would accept a nomination as William McKinley's-president. (Garret Hobart, McKinley's veep during his first term had died in 1899.) Early in 1900 Roosevelt had written to a friend, "In the vice-presidency I could do nothing...the office is merely a show office." Roosevelt's own popularity was working against his wishes. Having established himself as a national hero during the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt, in 1900, bore the burden of his own fame and the antipathy of some powerful Republicans in New York. Thomas Platt, chief of New York's Republican party had been wary about nominating the free-wheeling Roosevelt for governor but felt he had little choice. His fears were realized soon after TR took office. He and Platt clashed on numerous issues, and Roosevelt made it clear that he was not in anybody's pocket. Platt was delighted at the prospect, therefore, of shuttling Roosevelt off into the obscurity of the vice-presidency. Mark Hanna, senator from Ohio and chairman of the Republican National Committee, was hesitant to have Roosevelt one breath away from the presidency, however. Fearful of Roosevelt's maverick tendencies, Hanna explained, "Don't any of you realize there's only one life between this madman and the presidency?" 

By the time the Republican convention convened in June it was a foregone conclusion that Roosevelt would be McKinley's running mate. TR campaigned tirelessly for weeks on end. He and McKinley were awarded a substantial victory. Shortly after the campaign TR told a friend that his political life was over. Little did he realize, it was just beginning. Six months after his inauguration as vice-president, the 42-year-old Roosevelt became the youngest president in history when McKinley died as a result of an assassin's bullet.


Congressman George White
As 1900 was drawing to a close, Republicans in the US were in a celebratory mood. They had retained the White House by a wide margin and their plan for building up America as an industrial powerhouse at home and an expanding power abroad seemed to win the approval of the citizenry. But one member of the G.O.P. was not celebrating. Congressman George White, the sole remaining African American in Congress, had earlier in the year come to the conclusion that as a result of racist voting regulations he stood no chance of being reelected. In 1900, it appeared to many African Americans that the march toward equality had stalled, or even retreated. Although African Americans could count among their number many doctors, teachers, ministers, and writers, most were mired in a world hostile to their ambitions. A concerted attempt to deprive them of the right to vote was underway in Southern states. Through poll taxes, literacy tests, and out-and-out intimidation African Americans were kept out of the voting booths. In instances where they asserted their legal rights, African Americans were subjected to a particularly brutal form of terrorism: the lynching. 

Over 2,500 incidences of Southern lynchings were reported in the years leading up to 1900, 107 in 1899 alone. To stem the tide of terror, George White introduced a bill to Congress making lynching a federal crime. White appealed to his fellow Congressmen's sense of justice saying, "To cheapen Negro life is to cheapen all life. The first murder paves the way for the second until crime ceases to be abhorrent." White's bill was defeated soundly by a majority in Congress that still regarded the life of a black man to have less worth than that of a white man. 

In announcing his retirement from Congress, a defiant White declared to the House of Representatives, "This Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the Negroes' temporary farewell to the American Congress. But let me say, phoenix-like, he will rise up someday and come again. These parting words are on behalf of an outraged, heartbroken, bruised and bleeding people, but God-fearing people, faithful, industrious, loyal people-rising people, full of potential..." Not for 28 years would another African-American be elected to Congress. 

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