If you’d mentioned the name of the 25th president before this week, that’s the answer you would have gotten from about everyone except some Ohioans and the residents of a small California city (more about them later).
President Obama changed all that with his announcement that the nation’s highest peak, Mt. McKinley, would be officially renamed “Denali” by his secretary of the interior. Never mind that a 1917 Act of Congress had designated it as “Mt. McKinley.” As we know, Acts of Congress don’t matter when Obama’s working on his most important priority, his “legacy.”
He was on his way to a three-day visit to Alaska to tout his global warming agenda and said, in effect, to Alaskans, “Buy into my climate change blather and I’ll give you ‘Denali.’” They did and he did. “Denali” (“Great Mountain”) is the name native Alaskans have used for the peak for ages. Some years ago, the National Park Service named the park in which it sets, Denali National Park. In daily reference both names for the mountain often have been used side by side.
From his first election, in 1896, Willliam McKinley became one of the nation’s most popular presidents. He introduced the “front porch” campaign, never leaving his home town, Canton, Ohio. He invited one and all to visit him, and delegations large and larger came every day but Sunday. Railroads offered special ticket discounts for Canton-bound groups. Brass bands accompanied them from the railroad station to his front lawn. There, he met them, made remarks, answered questions, shook hands and mingled.
His Democrat opponent, William Jennings Bryan, was a skilled orator and stumped non-stop, demanding the free coinage of silver (which would have been inflationary). “Do not crucify this nation on a cross of gold” was his theme line. There were anti-Semitic overtones to all this because gold was often associated with Jewish bankers and traders.
McKinley’s strong support for the gold standard, for tariffs to protect American industries (not to raise revenue), and his emphasis on a sound economic put Bryan’s anti-Semitism to rest and resulted in a clear victory at the polls.
As president, he obtained passage of the Gold Standard Act. This, in turn, set the stage for the nation’s great 20th century growth.
When Spain spurned his efforts to negotiate freedom for Cuba (and the U.S. battleship Maine blew up in Havana Harbor), he presided over the Spanish-American War, which was won in a matter of months.
He saw to the rebuilding of the nation’s military and the creation of the Great White Fleet of warships (it was Theodore Roosevelt, his second vice president, who sent it around the world after McKinley’s death).
He had acquired Hawaii, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. In being reelected in 1900 he won all but four states. We’ll never know how much more he might have done, for on September 5, 1901, while attending an exposition in Cleveland, he was shot by an anarchist and died nine days later.
Now that McKinley is suddenly in the news again, the reaction is not known of the people of Arcata, California (pop.15,000), home of the state’s smallest state university campus.
For several years a vocal group there has pushed to remove the bronze statue of McKinley that for many decades has graced the Plaza, the town’s center. It covers a square block, with well-tailored shrubs, flowers, and lawns. There are walkways and benches for idling. It is an altogether pleasing setting and a good way to honor a man who brought honor to his country. By Arcata’s current standards, though, he would be considered irrelevant, even Politically Incorrect. Nevertheless, recently, the Arcata City Council voted to keep things as they are.
In nearby McKinleyville (which changed its name from Minorsville in 1903 in memory of the late president), there is no talk of changing the name to Obamaville or anything else.