All this time Mr. McKinley had been broadening and deepening in mind and heart. All this time, through prosperity and adversity, public and private, he had been getting a stronger and wider grip upon the majority of his countrymen. The McKinley tariff bill of 1890, although he was not entirely responsible for it, retired him from Congress, but made him governor of Ohio, and eventually President of the United States. There was nothing accidental in it all. It was simply a natural and orderly process of evolution under favoring circumstances. It was the old story of an American country boy's success through steady and deserved promotion, without wealth, or a college education, or high social position as aid or hindrance. At fifty-three, ripened and enriched intellectually, he was elected President of the United States as though by inevitable logic. He was ready for his great task. How great it was to be neither he nor any one else could have imagined then. Few seriously thought that the United States was in danger of war with Spain, and even those who thought war possible did not conceive the extent or character of its consequences. Mr. McKinley was elected, as he thought, and as almost everybody else in his party thought, to substitute on the statute books in cooperation with the Republican Congress elected at the same time, a modification of the McKinley tariff bill for the Wilson Gorman tariff law, and thus to restore the prosperity which had for some reason disappeared; and also, as others thought, to bring about the enactment of a law for the maintenance of the existing gold standard, and to remedy the defects in the Treasury system which, under the conditions of the former administration, had compelled it to issue two hundred and thirty million dollars in new bonds, and at the same time to make a last effort to secure an agreement on "international bimetallism." To accomplish these things was felt to be enough for one administration, with the minor matters which naturally would be disposed of besides.
If the Cuban question, with all its consequences, could have been postponed for four years, and if the Chinese question, with all its consequences, had not arisen, Mr. McKinley could still have pointed, at the end of his first administration, to a record of work accomplished that would have been extremely creditable. The Fifty-Fifth Congress, on his recommendation and under his inspiration, passed the Dingley tariff law to take the place of the Wilson-Gorman law, at the extra session which he called promptly after his inauguration; and the next Congress, on his recommendation and under his inspiration, passed the law to maintain the gold standard, to provide for refunding at two per cent, the lowest rate of interest ever paid by the United States government, and to extend the national banking system to small towns. These two measures by themselves would make a very respectable showing for an administration in time of peace. While neither the President nor Congress can make prosperity to order, they can make conditions which are favorable or unfavorable to it. The Wilson-Gorman act, which was considered to be so largely a protectionist measure that President Cleveland allowed it to become law only against this protest, did not yield sufficient revenue, because the Supreme Court annulled its provision for an income tax; and this kept the "endless chain" going which drew the gold out of the Treasury, and compelled the issue of bonds to put more gold in the Treasury, since there was no law to protect the gold reserve necessary to maintain the gold standards. Following close on the commercial panic of 1893, these conditions prevented the restoration of business confidence, and so the return of prosperity. Sentiment, as usual, played a large part in the matter. President McKinley, who was nominated chiefly because of his record on the tariff question, and elected largely because of his position on the money question, stood, after his victory at the polls, as the prophet of "good times," and the long-desired confidence began to return before he was inaugurated. Redeeming his pledges in the order in which it could be best done, as well as in the order of making them, President McKinley first secured the necessary revenue, and at the same time satisfied the sentimental desire for a Republican tariff. He knew that that could be had quickly and easily, compared with any measure for the improvement of the financial system, in view of the differences over remedies for its ills which compelled delay and discussion. The drain of the Treasury gold was stopped, so that there was time to consider what should be and what could be done with respect to the future of the currency system. By the time Congress met in regular session the President was ready with his recommendation, which, postponing all the more elaborate and experimental projects of "currency reform," provided the plan on which the gold standard act of 1900 was built, — of keeping United States notes redeemed in gold at the Treasury, to be paid out again only in exchange for gold.