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Mark Hanna’s 1898 Senate Bribery Scandal


One enduring question about Mark Hanna is if he paid a bribe during his 1898 Senate campaign. To answer this question, we looked at transcripts of testimony taken by the Ohio legislature, newspaper accounts, the Congressional Record, affidavits prepared by Hanna's friends and other sources. We conclude Hanna was guilty, and offer our analysis in the following article.


In 1897, U. S. Senator John Sherman of Ohio resigned to become President William McKinley’s Secretary of State. This move created a vacancy in the Senate. The governor of Ohio chose Mark Hanna to serve as senator until the Ohio legislature could elect a successor to Sherman.

In January 1898, the Ohio General Assembly voted to return Hanna to the Senate. Immediately after Hanna’s election, however, disgruntled legislators appointed a committee to investigate whether Hanna had offered a bribe to an Assembly member. Hanna and his supporters refused to cooperate with investigators and ignored subpoenas to testify.

After months of inquiry, the committee concluded that Hanna’s aides had offered cash to state representative John C. Otis in an unsuccessful attempt to get his vote. Hanna himself was not explicitly charged with a crime, but the committee sent a final report to the Senate requesting additional investigation.

The U. S. Senate, where Hanna was already a powerful force, refused to pursue the matter. The public, which had been fixated on the scandal at one time, lost interest in it.

The evidence against Hanna was imperfect. It showed, however, that he personally participated in a bribery scheme. Furthermore, his conduct during the election was worse than that of other Gilded Age senatorial candidates.

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Kristie Miller is the author of three political biographies, Ruth Hanna McCormick (nominated for the Pulitzer Prize); Isabella Greenway; Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson's First Ladies. She holds degrees from Brown University and Georgetown University. Learn more at


Robert H. McGinnis is a member of the Washington DC bar. He is a graduate of the University of Florida Law School and Harvard Divinity School. His work has appeared in the Florida Law Review, Lawyer of the Americas (now Inter-American Law Review) and Rolling Stone. He and Kristie co-edited A Volume of Friendship: The Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Isabella Greenway. Learn more at