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William Brown McKinley Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: JEJ
Date: Mar 1969

Biographical History

William Brown McKinley, businessman and congressman, was born in Petersburg, Illinois, September 5, 1856, the son of George and Hannah (Finley) McKinley. After attending local public schools, he enrolled at the University of Illinois, Urbana, for two years. In 1881 he married Kate Frisbee of Chicago.

McKinley began a business career in the family firm of J.B. & W.B. McKinley. The company originally specialized in private banking and mortgages, then expanded into public finance and the construction of municipal utilities. In the city of his residence, Champaign, Illinois, McKinley built and controlled the trolley car lines and water, gas and electric utilities. He continued to acquire urban utilities and interurban lines across the state, eventually becoming president of both the Western Railways & Light System and the Illinois Traction Company.

After the turn of the century, McKinley served three years as a trustee of the University of Illinois, then, almost fifty, he embarked on a twenty-year career in politics. As a Republican, he was elected representative of the 19th Illinois district in the 59th, 60th, 61st, and 62nd Congresses (19051913). His unsuccessful candidacy in 1912, the year he directed President William Howard Taft's renomination campaign, was followed by three more terms in the House of Representatives (1915-1921).

McKinley left the House of Representatives for the Senate in 1920. He died on December 7, 1926, months short of completing his first term in the Senate and weeks after the disappointment of losing a renomination for a second term.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The William Brown McKinley Papers are organized into six groups: correspondence, political records, legislative documents, petitions, printed material, and scrapbooks. The larger part of the papers fall within the decade 1908-1918. One of the congressman's major assignments was the organization of the 1912 Republican Presidential Convention in Chicago in support of incumbent William Howard Taft. Most of the collection focuses on the political contest between Taft and Theodore Roosevelt for the Republican party nomination, but correspondence and election records concentrating on other campaign years are present, as well as McKinley's correspondence relating to international affairs, such as the proposed Pan-American Congress of 1906; the national issues debated in Washington, such as the tariff, the trusts and judicial reform; and the special concerns of politics in McKinley's Illinois constituency.

Among subjects of potential research value are the position of the Negro in the Republican Party, the relation of Congressman McKinley to the business community, and an abundance of contemporary comment, both crank and sophisticated, about the election issues of 1912 and the contrasting personalities of William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt.

Correspondence (Boxes 1-51) consists of more than 28,000 letters, most of which were sent to McKinley and his staff in 1912 when McKinley directed the National Taft for President Bureau. Carbon copies of outgoing correspondence are attached to the incoming correspondence from supporters and opponents of the. Taft candidacy. The "Miscellaneous" folders included with some states contain anonymous, unidentified, fragmentary, group and form correspondence; and the "Miscellaneous, United States" folder in Box 51 contains the same type of materials which cannot be identified with any particular state.

Much of the correspondence appears to have been dictated by McKinley's personal secretary, John C. Eversman, as well as by Henry Casson, William Hayward and Leroy T. Vernon, all officers of the Republican National Committee and its organs in the convention, the National Taft Bureau and the Subcommittee on Arrangements. Party correspondence addressed to President Taft at the White House was often referred to McKinley for answer by the Presidential Secretary, Charles D. Hilles. After McKinley succeeded in managing the renomination of Taft at the Chicago convention, Hilles took charge of the national campaign against Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. There is one letter signed by President Taft which covers enclosures advocating legal reforms.

Other notable correspondents include Charles Ballinger; Charles G. Dawes, president of the Central Trust Company of Illinois, associate of McKinley, and a financier who gained prominence after World War I for his plan to cope with reparations payments; Henry A. DuPont of Delaware; and Henry L. Stim5on, Secretary of War in Taft's cabinet. Within the correspondence of several states will be found letters from governors, congressmen, civil servants, political organizers, businessmen, and voters of every opinion about the issues and personalities in the election of 1912.

Political Records (Boxes 52-56) are subdivided into national campaign records, state campaign records, financial records, speeches and position papers, press releases, and memorabilia.

National campaign records (Box 52) contain historical references from conventions antedating the convention of 1912, a few memoranda on strategy, an unbound packet of electoral statistics for all states in 1918, party organizational charts, and a scrapbook of form letters, broadsides, press releases, pamphlets and serial publications issued by the National Taft Bureau in 1912. Among the miscellaneous campaign records is a confidential packet of instructions to doormen, bandmasters, police operatives, "yell captains", and other McKinley functionaries inside convention hall. Rosters of Republican National Committee members and minutes of the Republican National Congressional Committee (Box 53) cover the period 1908-1916.

State campaign records (Box 54) are divided by state (35) and include formal assessments of political conditions on the eve of the 1912 convention, as well as copies of Republican state committee resolutions, lists of party officers, delegates and workers, memoranda on state organization, reports on local issues, and materials referring to the campaign strategy of the opposition.

Financial records (Boxes 54-55) include bills and receipts for the following expenses listed here in descending order of cost: printing, engraving, and campaign novelties; telephone, telegraph and messenger service; office and hotel rent; freight charges; decorations and military bands; office supplies. Also included in this section are expense accounts, bank deposits, drafts, statements and cancelled checks. The bills were accumulated between the years 1907 and 1916, and the larger part fall within the six-months preceding the Chicago convention of 1912. "Studies and reports" consist of lists of campaign contributors, periodic statements of receipts and disbursements of the Republican National Committee, and analyses of campaign expenditures between 1912-1917.

Speeches, position papers and press releases about President Taft and Theodore Roosevelt are located in Box 56. Memorabilia include a brochure of the Taft inauguration, itineraries, two photographs of Taft, the family genealogy, a Taft banner, a campaign ribbon and assorted campaign buttons.

Legislative documents (Box 57) contain a small group of bills and acts in draft and printed form.

Petitions (Box 57) are dated 1910 and concern boiler inspection legislation and the parcels post.

Printed materials (Box 57) consist of broadsides, government publications, magazines, separates, clippings and pamphlets about Taft, his opponents, and a range of political issues between 1906 and 1920. All titles are given in the shelf list.

There are two Scrapbooks of clippings (Boxes 58-59) taken from Chicago newspapers of June, 1912.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged first according to state or territory of origin in alphabetical sequence, and within each state or territory in alphabetical sequence by name of correspondent. A small group of correspondence originating from outside the United States follows and is arranged alphabetically by country of origin. Legislative documents and petitions are in chronological order. Printed material is arranged alphabetically by type and within that in chronological order.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


McKinley, William Brown, 1856-1926 -- Archives.
Taft, William H. (William Howard), 1857-1930.


Campaign management.
Legislators -- United States.
Political campaigns -- United States.
Politicians -- United States.
Presidents -- United States -- Election, 1912.
Republican National Committee (U.S.)
Republican Party (U.S. : 1854- )


United States -- Politics and government -- 1901-1953.

Genres and Forms

Broadsides (notices)
Financial records.
Press releases.
Speeches (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

William Brown McKinley Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Purchase, ca. 1963.

Table of Contents


Political records

Legislative documents


Printed material