Mark Hanna’s 1898 Senate Bribery Scandal – page 10

A century has passed since Dick met with McKinley in the White House. It is impossible to know the words he uttered. He might have told McKinley the “whole affair” was honorable. He might have limited his assessment to the “election.” Regardless, he wanted to guarantee that Croly’s readers understood a key point: he was vouching for Hanna’s election, not for unsuccessful efforts before the election to secure votes.[141]

Dick’s statement provided another clue as to what happened.

Rathbone told me that Boyce had reported that John C. Otis, member-elect of the Legislature and a druggist in Cincinnati, was in financial distress, having some indebtedness on his shop; that he had spent some money in the campaign and that there was an obligation on him that ought to be discharged. The whole thing was done without any consultation with me until it got up to the stage where Boyce appeared in Columbus [on Monday, after the alleged bribe was offered]. So I told Rathbone that he would have to handle Boyce himself; that it was a situation in which I did not want to interfere. It had been gone into, I think, by Rathbone after a talk with Mr. Hanna and without the matter ever having been reported to me.[142] [Emphasis added]

This passage raises questions. Why would Boyce tell Rathbone that Otis’s financial obligation “ought to be discharged”? What reason would Boyce and Rathbone have for discussing Otis’s “financial distress”?

Rathbone realized how suspicious his conversations with Boyce appeared. In the statement he gave Croly, he addressed the question on everyone’s mind:

He [Boyce] was not authorized by me nor by any other friend of Mr. Hanna nor by Mr. Hanna himself, who did not see him at all, to do anything more than to call on Otis in Cincinnati and use his personal influence to have Otis vote for the Republican candidate for United States Senator.[143]

Thus, according to Rathbone, he and Hanna – definitely – never authorized a bribe.

Under normal circumstances, such an unequivocal assertion, made by a credible witness, would dispel doubts. There was a problem, however, in this case. Rathbone was not a credible witness; he was later proven to be a criminal.[144]

Just months after the Ohio Senate’s investigating committee finalized its report, Rathbone moved to Cuba, as the new director of the island’s postal system under U.S. military occupation.[145] Soon, his extravagant expenditures gave rise to a corruption investigation. By May 1900 he had been suspended from office. In March 1902, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for mishandling over $100,000 of postal funds.[146]

In June 1902, the Cuban congress passed a general bill of amnesty allowing him to return to the U.S. Rathbone spent his remaining years, with Hanna’s help, trying to clear his name.[147]

Admittedly, criminals sometimes tell the truth. But Rathbone’s statement contained other passages that made his portrait of campaign rectitude seem surreal. He acknowledged that, during the contest:

[M]any things were done that were novel and perhaps unprecedented. It was a fight to the death with a band of very unscrupulous and desperate men.[148]


[141] When Dick seemed to endorse the entire campaign, he still hedged. There were negotiations with Boyce but Dick was “unable to say” what they were. Ibid.

[142] Ibid., 22.

[143] Rathbone statement, p. 3, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers.

[144] Joseph L. Bristow, Fraud and Politics at the Turn of the Century (New York: Exposition Press, 1952), 102-106.

[145] “Cuba’s Mails,” The Times (Richmond), Dec. 11, 1898. His appointment conveniently took him abroad.

[146] “Washington News,” The News-Herald (Hillsboro, Highland Co., Ohio), May 31, 1900; “Postal Frauds in Cuba,” New York Times, Mar. 30, 1902; “Neely Quits Cuban Jail,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 12, 1902.

[147] “Amnesty to All Americans,” Washington Post, June 8, 1902; “Rathbone’s Fight for Vindication,” Washington Post, Aug. 6, 1906; “E. J. [sic] Rathbone Fails,” Washington Post, Mar. 21, 1917; “The Case of Estes G. Rathbone,” Washington Post, April 4, 1906; “Gen. Wood is Accused by Estes G. Rathbone,” New York Times, Aug. 6, 1906; Frank H. Rathbun, “Estes G. Rathbone Goes from Fame to Obscurity,” Rathbun-Rathbone-Rathburn Family Historian 14, no. 1 (Jan. 1994): 4,5,9, Hanna’s loyalty to his friends was legendary. (Edited.) Dictated Statement of Mr. Elmer Dover. Washington, September, 1905, p. 26, box 4, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers. “He stood by men who were really scoundrels….” Garfield statement, p. 14, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers.

[148] Rathbone statement, p. 3, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers

Next page
Previous 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