William McKinley - Forming a new administration

During the interval between his election and his inauguration, McKinley busied himself with selecting a cabinet and setting his administration in place. Cabinet appointments are never easy to make, for they involve considerations that may have little to do with qualifications of candidates. The president-elect proceeded logically enough and in the end satisfied most of the interests desiring a representative close to the White House. His most difficult decisions concerned the future of his campaign manager. McKinley asked Hanna to become postmaster general, a sensible request, but Hanna preferred a seat in the Senate. A way out of the dilemma came with the appointment of John Sherman as secretary of state, which created a senatorial vacancy. Ohio Governor Asa Bushnell then commissioned Hanna to take Sherman's place on Capitol Hill. The Sherman appointment was not a happy one, for the crusty old senator had long since passed his prime. Fortunately, McKinley secured the skills of William R. Day as assistant secretary. It was Day, along with the second assistant secretary, Alvee A. Adee, who was actually to run the Department of State during the demanding months before the Spanish-American War. Day assumed full responsibility as secretary after Sherman's resignation in April 1898.

If for no other reason, the controversy over silver made the appointment of a secretary of the treasury nearly as important as the appointment of a secretary of state. McKinley's first choice was Nelson Dingley, a congressman from Maine; but Dingley's health was poor, and he was reluctant to sacrifice a sure seat and seniority in the House for the uncertainties of administration. After contemplating several other possibilities, McKinley finally settled on Lyman J. Gage, a Chicago banker and staunch upholder of the gold standard. A man of candor as well as tact, Gage was to become one of the president's closest advisers.

Other outstanding appointments included John Davis Long as secretary of the navy and James H. Wilson as secretary of agriculture. The highly respected Long, who had gained administrative experience as governor of Massachusetts, proved a popular choice. His assistant secretary, Theodore Roosevelt, was far more controversial. Although disliked by Thomas C. Platt, political boss of New York's Republicans, "T. R." had important friends who urged his appointment. No squabbling surrounded "Tama Jim" Wilson of Iowa. Developing a warm relationship with McKinley, he soon became a key member of the cabinet and continued to head the Department of Agriculture until 1913. Also joining McKinley's official family were James A. Gary as postmaster general, Judge Joseph McKenna as attorney general, Cornelius Bliss as secretary of the interior, and Russell Alger as secretary of war. Except for Alger, who was to demonstrate his ineptitude during the war with Spain, the cabinet was competent; Wilson and Gage were unusually able.

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