While whites in the North and South were moving toward reconciliation during President William McKinley’s first term, it came at the expense of black citizens.
McKinley did little to support or protect the rights of black Americans. There was a continuing erosion of the voting rights of black people and increased segregation in the country during his presidency.
McKinley did little to stem the terror black people faced in an era of lynchings and selected fewer black for posts in his administration than previous Republican presidents.
And when he was invited to celebrate Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday on Jan. 19, 1900, by the Confederate Veterans Camp of New York, he was “pleased” because he thought it signaled improved relations between the ruling classes of the North and South.
Though McKinley expressed a desire to unite the country in the years after the Civil War, where he served in the Union Army, it seems the division he attempted to heal was between white people with geographical differences and may have been an attempt to land votes in the South. Upon returning to Ohio from the war, McKinley advocated for Confederate soldiers.
McKinley lost the entire South in the 1896 election despite his campaigning on the platform of uniting a divided country, but he appointed Confederate generals to leadership positions in the Army during the Spanish-American War and often spoke about a reunification between the white northerners and southerners.
Southerners began to show an interest in McKinley’s economic policies. He began to reach out to them for political support. McKinley spoke about reuniting a divided country when speaking to southern audiences.
“What was it all for? A reunited country makes answer. No other is needed. A union is stronger and freer than ever before,” McKinley said at the site of the Chickamauga battlefield in 1895.