Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Greatness of McKinley and Lincoln (Part II)

Originally, McKinley was a “protectionist”, placing high tariffs (Dingley Tariff Act) on many foreign imports that competed with domestic products and production. But McKinley was a wise man, and unlike many of his Republican colleagues, he saw that the world was becoming a smaller place due to technological advances – faster boats, automobiles, phones, telegraph machines, etc. Isolationism through protectionism was not an ideal policy moving forward especially when expansionism opened the doors to Pacific markets. McKinley created an Open Door policy with Western powers for equal trade with China. McKinley saw the advantage of free trade for American goods around the globe. McKinley also created a treaty with Britain to create a canal in Panama or Nicaragua to provide Eastern and Western states easier access to the Pacific market. The Hay Treaty gave the US sole proprietorship of the canal and during times of war the canal would not remain neutral. McKinley realized that the future of America would involve free trade around the globe to maximize US corporate markets to maximize profits. McKinley was visionary and he had to fight the leaders of his Party to prepare the US for the future.

While Lincoln freed slaves in America, McKinley was not able to push his civil rights agenda (to help black disenfranchisement) for a few reasons. First, the Supreme Court decision for Plessy v. Ferguson made segregation legal and secondly, McKinley was still trying to mend fences between the North and South sectionalism that existed since the Civil War (McKinley pushed for more national unity). McKinley was able to place a large number of African-Americans is low level government jobs, but other than that he made little progress on civil rights (which incidentally is much more than most Presidents had done at the turn of the 19th century – Remember Woodrow Wilson was a self-proclaimed segregationist.)

The question of constitutionality came up often with both Lincoln and McKinley. Lincoln’s claim that succession from the union was unconstitutional may have been the hardest question for the Supreme Court to answer in the 1860’s (if it was asked). The arguments in favor of succession and against succession were both compelling. However, Lincoln’s providing statehood to West Virginia after they succeeded from Virginia was hypocritical to his thinking. In any event, by winning the Civil War, Lincoln answered this question and the Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. White (1975) that unilateral succession was unconstitutional. Lincoln’s Habeas Corpus Suspension Act has been scrutinized over the years. However, the Supreme Court has given war-time Presidents the benefit of the doubt over controversial issues such as Korematsu v. United States (internment of Japanese Americans during WWII was legal) or Schenck v. United States (limiting free speech during WWI was legal). Hence, I doubt the Supreme Court would have objected to Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus. Lincoln also instituted the military draft and an income tax to pay for the war. At the time, these were highly questionable acts, but today, these are all legal acts (in fact, the seventeenth amendment legalized the income tax).

McKinley was dogged over questions as to whether expansion was constitutional. However, what McKinley did was no different than what Thomas Jefferson did in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. And the Supreme Court ruled that expansionism was legal because it was done by treaty and the President is empowered by the constitution to create treaties with foreign nations. It also became a national issue as to whether those inhabitants of the US possessions, acquired under the peace treaty with Spain, where to be protected by the laws of the Constitution. Some believed the constitution followed the American flag. However, the Supreme Court ruling in Balzao v. Puerto Rico (1901) backed the President’s view of a limited application of the Constitution towards US possessions that were neither official territories nor states of the union.

Lincoln had by far the most difficult job of any President. Lincoln was much better read and smarter than McKinley (even though Lincoln had no formal education). Lincoln was also much more definitive with his decisions. . Lincoln had the better personality and sense humor. And Lincoln was much less likely to compromise than McKinley. McKinley was a great listener and very modest. McKinley was very patient (maybe too patient at times). McKinley was a visionary, not only on free trade and global markets, but he once warned college students not to believe everything they hear but to learn by being practical. But despite their differences, they were both great leaders.

Lincoln restored the union and ridded our nation of the evils of slavery while McKinley made the US a global power through expansion and new ideas of free trade. It is hard to beat what both Lincoln and McKinley accomplished both in domestic and foreign affairs in just over 8 years as the Executive of the US.

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