John McKee was born on September 16th, 1851 in Belfast County, Ireland. At 18, McKee immigrated to the United States and came to New York City; he would spend most of his life in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
He started off working in jobs, including a brickyard laborer, a store clerk, and a store night watchman. He became a clerk at the linen counter of A.T. Stewart’s company. Stewart was a prominent New York City businessman, who had also originated from Ireland, and was admired by many of the city’s ambitious young men. While working at the company McKee caught the attention of Stewart, and they connected over their common origins. Stewart mentored him, and McKee became friends with Stewart and his family.
Stewart's nieces, the Misses Morrow, made McKee the inheritor in their will, and McKee received $200,000 when they passed. McKee used this money and his savings to enter into the real estate business. He was able to make a fortune buying and selling properties in Manhattan and Long Island City, and at the end of his life had produced an estate worth an estimated 1 to 3 million dollars. He had been briefly married to Mary McKee. They had married in 1918, and separated in 1922 after a fight over whether to get rid of family heirlooms that McKee had inherited from one of the Ms. Morrows.
John McKee was highly involved in the activities of the Prohibition Party in New York City and New York state for much of the late 19th and early 20th century. In his life he had donated over $50,000 in support of the Party. In 1894, he ran as the Prohibition Party candidate for U.S. congress in the 12th district. He received 93 (0.4%) votes and came in 6th place. In 1897, he ran for Manhattan Borough President. He received 655 (0.24%) votes and came in 6th place. In 1898, he ran for congress in the 13th district. He received 58 (019%) votes and came in 4th place. In 1903, he ran for mayor of New York City. He received 869 (0.15%) votes and came in 6th place. In this period, he was also one of the Prohibition Party’s presidential electors for their candidates in 1896, 1900, and 1908.
In 1904, McKee ran for governor of New York. He competed against Alfred L. Manierre (who had been the party’s 1902 candidate for governor) for the Prohibition Party nomination, and was able to win at the party’s convention in Oswego. With the party’s nomination, he proceeded to campaign for governor. He received 20,568 (1.27%) votes and came in 4th place. In 1906, McKee had been county chairman of the Prohibition Party in Kings County. In 1907, he had served on the board of directors of the National Temperance Society and Publishing House. He served on Committee of Promotion for planning the Word Temperance Centennial Congress, which was held in Saratoga Springs in June 1908.
John McKee held an annual St. Patrick’s Day Rally for the party at his home in Brooklyn. For instance, it was reported that his 1911 St. Patrick’s Day celebration was attended by hundreds of prohibitionists, and Dr. C.H. Mead penned a poem on McKee’s good Irish spirit (of hard work, wit, and politeness) and support for women’s suffrage. In 1912, McKee ran for congress in the 7th district. He received 66 (0.24%) votes and came in 5th place. In 1916, he ran again in the 7th district. He received 112 (0.46%) votes and came in 4th place. In 1918, McKee worked to help Eugene M. Travis (who was the Republican and Prohibition Party candidate) get on ballot for state comptroller. An affidavit by McKee to the state Court of Appeals, when Travis’s petition to the ballot was challenged, interestingly points out that in 1918 that there were 58,393 New York voters registered as Prohibition Party members. In 1920, McKee ran as the Prohibition Party candidate for New York State Treasurer. He received his largest single electoral performance out of all his runs for office. He received 30,095 (1.10%) votes, and came in 4th place. In 1921, he made his last run for office, s the Prohibition Party candidate for New York City Comptroller. He received 1,840 (0.16%) votes and came in 5th place.
McKee continued to be involved in Prohibition Party efforts. During the period of National Prohibition, McKee engaged in public commentary, defending National Prohibition, opposing wets, and criticizing the Anti-Saloon League (the Anti-Saloon League was a major prohibition-advocacy organization which sought to advance national prohibition through lobbying public officials. The ASL sometimes cooperated with the Prohibition Party, and at other times clashed with it over differences in approach). In 1922, he was treasurer of the Prohibition Trust Fund Association. McKee served as state party chairman in 1922-1924. He also served as state chairman in 1928. As Chairman, he worked to invigorate the party and worked on efforts to elect dry politicians to the state legislature and congress. The party both ran its own candidates and at other times did fusion tickets with certain major party candidates who were committed dry politicians. In 1928, he supported the effort to petition to get Alfred Manierre on ballot as the Prohibition Party candidate for governor. Although the effort proved unsuccessful.
McKee died on December 25th, 1931 at Brooklyn hospital, from an intestinal ailment. In his life, John McKee came to this county and gained personal success. But he went beyond this, to put his efforts towards participating in civic society and encouraging social reform. Though he never won elected office himself, he worked to advance the Prohibition Party and, to paraphrase McKee, not let the foxes take the position of guarding the geese.
"$1,071,000 ADDED TO HARVARD FUND." New York Times (1923-Current File), Mar 05, 1932. https://search-proquest-com.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/docview/99739052?accountid=14169.
Andersen, Lisa M. F.. The Politics of Prohibition : American Governance and the Prohibition Party, 1869–1933. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Accessed April 26, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central. Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac 1906. New York City: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1906. CALLS ON DRYS TO BACK PROHIBITION NOMINEE. (1926, Oct 15). New York Times (1923- Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquestcom.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/docview/103725507?accountid=14169
Hanson, David J. "Events in Temperance and Prohibition History: Calendar Timeline." Alcohol Problems & Solutions. January 05, 2018. Accessed June 22, 2018. "JOHN M'KEE IS DEAD; PROHIBITION LEADER." New York Times (1923-Current File), Dec 26, 1931. https://search-proquest-com.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/docview/99200368?accountid=14169.
Kestenbaum, Lawrence. "Index to Politicians: Mckee." The Political Graveyard. Accessed June 22, 2018. http://politicalgraveyard.com/bio/mckee.html.
"LOCAL NOMINATIONS FILED." New York Times (1857-1922), Oct 17, 1894. https://searchproquest-com.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/docview/95155036?accountid=14169.
“Other Past Candidates: New York”. Partisan Prohibition Historical Society. Prohibitionists.org. Accessed March 29th, 2018. http://www.prohibitionists.org/Candidates/candidates.html
"Our Campaigns - Candidate - John McKee." Our Campaigns. Accessed June 22, 2018. https://www.ourcampaigns.com/CandidateDetail.html?CandidateID=52105.
Special to The New,York Times. "WICKERSHAM PLAN STIRS DRY LEADERS." New York Times (1923-Current File), Jul 18, 1929. https://search-proquestcom.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/docview/104948533?accountid=14169.
"STATE PROHIBITIONISTS MEET." New York Times (1857-1922), Jun 15, 1904. https://searchproquest-com.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/docview/96447081?accountid=14169.
Sullivan, Jere L, editor. “Prohibition Party FIghts Anti-Saloon League.” The Mixer and Server: The Official Journal of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees' International Alliance and the Bartenter's International League of America, vol. 31, no. 10, The National Advocate. 42-45 vols. New York City: National Temperance Society, 1907. United States, Court of Appeals of the State of New York, “In The Matter of The Designation of Eugene M. Travis as a candidate for the Republican nomination for the office of Comptroller for the State of New York, and in the matter of the petition whereby said designation is attempted to be made.” Court of Appeals 1918, vol. 131, 1918, pp. 29–30. “
-- Contributed by Jonathan Makeley