Mark Hanna’s 1898 Senate Bribery Scandal – page 12

One transcript introduced into evidence was “Exhibit XXX.” This transcript purported to describe a conversation that took place late January 7 or early January 8. Boyce was in the upstairs private office of the Gibson House in Cincinnati. Allen O. Myers, Jr. was secretly in the downstairs office listening in on the call. Myers, Jr. had plugged the mouthpiece of his phone and was calling out the conversation to the hotel’s night clerk, Russell H. Pryor, who wrote down notes of what was said.[157] The party on the other end of the line in Hanna’s hotel in Columbus was identified as “Major,” although it is uncertain whether it was Major Rathbone or Major Dick.[158]

“BOYCE. Hello, Columbus! This you, Major?

“MAJOR. (Major.) Yes.

“BOYCE. What do you want?

“MAJOR. Have been talking to H. [Hanna], and he says: ‘Suppose he [Otis] won’t put signature on paper – what will we do?’  

“BOYCE. I will fix that all right, but if I was in his place I would not sign paper, as it is a foolish play….How will you arrange matters?

“MAJOR. I will speak to HANNA. I will send Hollenbeck down in the morning. He will be there about 10; may be a little late. We are afraid that if Mr. O falls out the rest will go to pieces. We will make it in a package and give it to Hollenbeck, so as he can transfer it and not know what he is doing.”[159]

Myers, Jr. was so excited after listening to this call, that he boarded a 3:25 AM train to Columbus, went to his father’s hotel room, and woke him up with the news.[160] His excitement was justified. If Major really had “been talking to H.,” as the conversation indicated, then Myers, Jr. had discovered proof of Hanna’s guilt.

In fairness, however, Major might not have ever talked to Hanna about the bribery plot. Major could have been lying; maybe he never talked to Hanna at all. But why would Major lie to Boyce – what incentive would there have been?

Or, maybe Myers, Jr. (as he listened in on the call) or Pryor (as he wrote down the words Myers, Jr. called out) concocted this dialogue. Both men would have had an incentive; they both would have realized that this text would implicate Hanna himself.

But Pryor swore under oath that the words he wrote down were correct.[161] Myers, Jr. also swore he was telling the truth.[162] And it would have been hard, probably impossible, for Myers, Jr. to have made up this dialogue on the fly, in this midst of calling out other sentences.

Plus, looking closely at these three men, who was most likely to bend the facts? Myers, Jr.[163] and Pryor, who appeared before the investigating committee, told their stories, and were cross-examined? Or Hanna, who left town, never swore to tell the truth and never answered any questions under oath?

If Hanna, Boyce, Major and the others had come to Columbus and testified, they could have explained all of the transcribed conversations, protected their reputations, and corrected the record. But they did not come. The committee had to rely on transcripts, which were hearsay.[164] As a result, based on well established rules of evidence, Hanna was never found guilty of a crime, nor should he have been.

But historians are not bound by the rules of judges or investigating committees. Historians can look at everything. Using this freedom, a central question about Hanna’s political career can be answered: he did know about and approve the scheme of his campaign workers to bribe Otis.

NOTES

[157] Ibid., 6605-07, 6630-31.

[158] Exhibit XXX contains a notation, “(DICK is speaking to HANNA.).” Ibid., 6631. This notation indicates Major Dick was on the call with Boyce and that he stepped away to consult with Hanna. Major Dick, however, denied dealing with Boyce. “Tell-Tale Telegrams,” Columbus Evening Press, Jan. 11, 1898, second edition; “Was Otis Offered $10,000?” The Saint Paul Globe, Jan. 11, 1898; Edited Dick statement, p. 22, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers.

Major Rathbone admitted working with Boyce. Rathbone statement, p. 2, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers; Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, 262. C.C. Shayne also said he worked with Rathbone. C. C. Shayne to President William McKinley, Jan. 7, 1898, George B. Cortelyou Papers.

Myers, Jr. was probably never certain of the identity of Boyce’s callers. Of the two “Majors” working on the Hanna campaign in Columbus, Major Dick was the more senior and the better known. It would be reasonable for anyone listening in on a call with “Major” to assume that “Major” was Major Dick, not Major Rathbone. 33 Cong. Rec. 6612 (1900). Regardless of whether it was Major Dick or not, the notation tends to implicate Hanna.

[159] Ibid., 6630-31.

[160] Ibid., 6606.

[161] Ibid., 6607, 6630. Pryor was not sworn immediately prior to describing Exhibit XXX, but he had been previously sworn and remained under oath. Seymour D. Thompson, A Treatise on the Law of Trials in Actions Civil and Criminal, vol. 1 (Chicago: T. H. Flood & Company, 1889), 330, http://archive.org/stream/cu31924020164228/cu31924020164228_djvu.txt.

[162] 33 Cong. Rec. 6605 (1900).

[163] This is not to say Myers, Jr. was a perfect witness. He was reluctant to admit that he had met with a newspaper reporter when he was in Columbus. Ibid., 6606, 6609. He liked to play jokes on reporters. Ibid., 6605. His sworn testimony, however, was never contradicted by anyone under oath.

[164] 33 Cong. Rec. 6633 (1900).

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