Mark Hanna’s 1898 Senate Bribery Scandal /Hanna’s Mixed Legacy


Hanna’s Mixed Legacy

Gilded Age cartoonists loved to sketch Mark Hanna. Homer Davenport and others caricatured Hanna as a huge man, wearing a suit covered with dollar signs, who controlled tiny President William McKinley. For millions of American newspaper readers, Hanna epitomized political corruption.[1]

Hanna’s January 1898 Senate race did nothing to dispel this image. He was accused of bribery; the Ohio legislature investigated him for months. Although he was not convicted, lurid stories of midnight phone calls and cash in hotel rooms appeared in the press.[2] Political scientist William T. Horner has observed that even today Hanna’s image is still “overwhelmingly negative” in popular culture.[3]

Among biographers and academics, however, opinions are mixed. Some writers question whether he paid a bribe during his Senate race at all. Some suspect that he might have paid a bribe, but if he did, we are told to consider the context; campaigns were brutal in Hanna’s day and his behavior was not that unusual.[4]

The opinion of the general public is more accurate. “Uncle Mark” did try to bribe his way into the Senate. Although such behavior was not unheard of, his was more extreme than the norm.

In 1896, Hanna had managed McKinley’s successful presidential campaign. McKinley rewarded Hanna by appointing Ohio’s senator John Sherman as Secretary of State, creating a vacancy in the Senate, which McKinley induced the governor of Ohio to fill temporarily with Hanna.[5] Hanna was sworn in as senator on March 5, 1897, to serve until a proper election could be held early the next year.[6]


[1] William T. Horner, Ohio’s Kingmaker: Mark Hanna, Man and Myth (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 5.

[2] Philip W. Warken, “The First Election of Marcus A. Hanna to the United States Senate” (master’s thesis, Ohio State University, 1960), 91-109,!etd.send_file?accession=osu1154654800&disposition=inline; Alfred Henry Lewis, “Hanna Bribe of $10,000 for a Single Vote,” New York Journal and Advertiser, Jan. 11, 1898.

[3] Horner, Ohio’s Kingmaker, 36, 5.

[4] See footnotes 39-44 and accompanying text.

[5] Warken, “The First Election of Marcus A. Hanna,”11. Governor Bushnell initially opposed Hanna. “The fact is they [Bushnell and his allies] are ugly and do not intend to appoint me if they can possibly avoid it.” M. A. Hanna to John Sherman, Feb. 6, 1897, box “596a Dec. 22, 1894 – June 5, 1900,” John Sherman Papers, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress.

[6] “Hanna Becomes a Senator,” New York Times, Mar. 6, 1897.

Next page


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