Reviewing history behind name change of North America’s highest peak
It was an awe-inspiring sight and one we won’t forget. Thanks to the good fortune of visiting on a clear, sun-splashed day, we had the perfect view of Mount Denali. The 20,300-foot high mountain is the centerpiece of a 6 million acre national park in Alaska.
Our guide told us that such a clear view is rare due to cloud cover, and I believe it is the most impressive mountain peak I’ve seen. At the time we viewed the mountain it was named Mount McKinley, although the local residents called it “Denali.” However in the future, due to action by President Obama, it will be known by its original name, Mount Denali.
It is the highest peak on the North American continent and the first European to see it was George Vancouver on May 9, 1794. “Denali” was its name in the native language of the region. Due to politics, the name was changed during the 1896 presidential election and “Mt. McKinley” was first used by a gold prospector-journalist, William Dickey. His articles in the New York Sun used the name McKinley, which caught on with the public. Legislation was passed and signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1917 naming the peak “Mt. McKinley.”
From what I’ve read, McKinley had nothing to do with the name change, and there isn’t any information I’ve found saying it helped McKinley defeat William Jennings Bryant. As is often the case, a depressed economy probably had more to do with his win.
I was surprised that McKinley is virtually unknown to many modern Americans. He was born on Jan. 29, 1843, in Ohio, and he is the last U. S. President to be a veteran of the Civil War. He entered the Union Army as a private and saw a lot of heavy fighting. Obviously his military record was excellent and he earned the rank of Brevet Major.
He entered politics and was elected governor of Ohio. He had a good record in office including support for unions and supported other legislation which was progressive at that time. McKinley, a Republican, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1876 and served until 1890 when a Democratic landslide swept many incumbents out of office.
By 1896 the U. S. economy was mired in deep Depression and McKinley defeated Bryant largely because of his economic platform. Most historians I’ve read felt he was a “good” or “above average” president. His economic policies were working and the country slowly return to prosperity.
Probably his greatest achievements were in foreign policy. After years of controversy over freedom for Cuba, war was declared on Spain in April 1898 following the sinking of the U.S Maine. The war was short and very successful. In less than three months, the Spanish army and navy were in ruins and Cuba was freed. Also the United States acquired Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.
He rode a wave of popularity to an easy second term victory. The world was in upheaval at that time with a variety of anti-government movements including Anarchists. Although several world leaders were murdered, McKinley continued his policy of meeting and greeting citizens. He visited Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo, N. Y., and was shaking hands with visitor when a radical Anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, shot him twice. The popular president died on Sept. 14, 1901, and was followed in office by Theodore Roosevelt. Justice was swift in those days and Czolgosz was convicted and executed within six weeks.
I believe McKinley was a good president, however I have no problem with changing the name of the mountain. No matter what the mountain is named, it is one of the most beautiful sites in our great country.