Mark Hanna’s 1898 Senate Bribery Scandal – page 2

At the time, state legislatures elected U.S. senators (popular election of senators would not take place until after the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913). The Ohio General Assembly, scheduled to convene in Columbus on January 3, 1898,[7] would vote on whether Hanna would serve for the remainder of Sherman’s term and for the next term, which would end in 1905.[8]

At first, Hanna seemed certain to return to Washington. The state Republican convention endorsed him in June 1897 and Republicans won a plurality in the November state legislative elections.[9]   But long-standing political competition resurfaced as the Senatorial election drew near. Some Republican politicians, including associates of Hanna’s rival Joseph B. Foraker,[10] began collaborating with Democrats.[11] By the end of December, they were poised to block his election.[12]

Hanna’s allies were furious. Party loyalty ran deep in the late nineteenth century. Republican legislators had been elected with the presumption that they would vote for Hanna. The pro-Hanna forces said their Republican opponents were “traitorous.”[13] Hanna’s opponents were equally vehement about their right to vote as they pleased. Reports of campaign abuses by both sides filled the newspapers.[14] Members of the General Assembly were reportedly courted, plied with alcohol and money, even bullied. Detectives and spies were “scattered everywhere,”[15] including at least two spies in Hanna’s headquarters.[16] Commentators found that “the facts had to be toned down” for publication.[17]

The strength of Hanna’s opponents was displayed on January 3, 1898, when they defeated candidates he had endorsed to lead the Ohio legislature.[18] Hanna’s top campaign official was distressed:

The organization of the Legislature went against us. That was a very severe shock and ordinarily would have indicated Hanna’s defeat. We lost the Senate and the House both.[19]

By the day of the election, the fight to determine Mark Hanna’s fate had disintegrated into “the bitterest political contest” in Ohio history.[20]

On January 12, 1898, the Ohio legislature met in joint session and reelected Hanna by one vote.[21] His victory was marred, however, by a charge of bribery. Just hours after the balloting ended, a five-member committee was appointed by the Ohio Senate[22] to investigate whether Hanna and his supporters had tried – without success – to buy the vote of Representative John C. Otis of Hamilton County.[23] The committee was overtly partisan. Of the five members, three were Democrats and one was a Republican opponent of Hanna’s; only one was a Hanna ally.[24]

Hanna brusquely denied the allegation.[25] During January, February, and March, 1898, the investigating committee called approximately 40 witnesses.[26] Most of the testimony obtained was hearsay evidence which would not be admissible in a court.[27] Hanna and his aides, following the advice of Hanna’s attorney, disregarded subpoenas and declined to testify.[28]

The majority of the committee prepared a report summarizing its conclusions, which the full Ohio Senate adopted on April 23, 1898. The report concluded that one man, Henry H. Boyce, had, indeed, paid a bribe to Representative Otis. The report also concluded that a young Hanna campaign worker, H. H. Hollenbeck, “aided” Boyce and that two of Hanna’s top campaign officials – Major E. G. Rathbone and Major Charles F. Dick (an attorney) – participated in the plot, too.[29]


[7] “The Preliminaries,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 4, 1898.

[8] Sherman’s term (the “short term”) would extend until March 1899. The following “long term” would extend until March 1905. “The Voting,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 11, 1898; “Hanna Elected Senator,” New York Times, Jan. 13, 1898.

[9] Warken, “The First Election of Marcus A. Hanna,” 36, 18, 35Sixty-two Republicans were sent to the Ohio House of Representatives (including four elected on a joint or “fusion” ticket with Democrats) and forty-seven Democrats were elected. Eighteen Republican senators were elected (one being elected on a fusion ticket) and eighteen Democratic senators were elected. Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio for the Regular Session of the Seventy-Third General Assembly Commencing Monday, Jan. 3rd, 1898 (Norwalk, OH, 1898), 93: 3,4; Journal of the Senate of the State of Ohio for the Regular Session of The Seventy-third General Assembly, Commencing on Monday, January 3rd, 1898 (Norwalk, OH, 1898), 93: 3,4; “Majority Against Hanna,” New York Times, Jan. 4, 1898.

[10] Hanna’s split with his former friend, Foraker, occurred in 1888 at the Republican National Convention. Hanna suspected that Foraker had been disloyal to John Sherman. Herbert Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His Life and Work (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1912), 137. Foraker suspected that Hanna had bribed delegates. Joseph Benson Foraker, Notes of a Busy Life, vol. 1 (Cincinnati: Stewart & Kidd Company, 1916), 363. After the split, Hanna’s supporters and Foraker’s divided into “established, antagonistic factions.” Foraker’s allies “were leading the fight against Hanna.” Warken, “The First Election of Marcus A. Hanna,” 3, 4, 14. 48.

Despite their falling out, Hanna and Foraker maintained a professional working relationship. Marcus A. Hanna to Joseph B. Foraker, Nov. 3, 1897 and Joseph B. Foraker to Marcus A. Hanna, Nov. 4, 1897, Correspondence with Senator Hanna 1884 – 1903 [a printed, apparently unpublished, paper-back volume], 146, 147, box 2, Joseph Benson Foraker Papers, Library of Congress.

[11] Warken, “The First Election of Marcus A. Hanna,” 38. Some Republican legislators opposed Hanna because he supported corrupt Cincinnati Mayor George B. Cox. Others rejected Hanna’s embrace of the gold standard. Ibid., 12, 36, 51, 52.

[12] One “wild” guess was that twenty-seven Republicans might defect. Ibid., 52, 53, 36. Hanna was concerned. Marcus A. Hanna to John Hay, Dec. 4, 1897, reel 8, John Hay Papers, Library of Congress; M. A. Hanna to William R. Day, Dec. 24, 1897, box 6, William R. Day Papers, Library of Congress.

[13] R. Hal Williams, Realigning America: McKinley, Bryan, and the Remarkable Election of 1896 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2010), 2; Dictated Statement of Andrew Squire, Esq., to J.B. Morrow, Esq. May 23, 1905, p. 2, box 4, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers, Library of Congress.

[14] Solon Lauer, Mark Hanna: A Sketch from Life and Other Essays (Cleveland: Nike Publishing House, 1901) 68; “One Short,” The Cleveland Leader, Jan. 11, 1898.

[15] Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, 256.

[16] One Democratic leader testified that “persons we had at Republican headquarters” had kept him informed of the activities of a key Hanna aide. 33 Cong. Rec. 6612 (1900).

[17] John T. Kenny, “The Legislature That Elected Mr. Hanna,” The Arena 21, no. 3 (Mar. 1899): 315.

[18] “Majority Against Hanna,” New York Times, Jan. 4, 1898.

[19] Edited. Dictated statement of Senator Charles Dick, of Akron, Ohio, made in Washington, D. C., Feb. 10, 1906, Elmer Dover being present, p. 21, box 4, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers.

[20] 33 Cong. Rec. 6589 (1900).

[21] All legislators voted, except one. Hanna received seventy-three votes (Senate – seventeen, House – fifty-six). His opponent, Robert E. McKisson, received seventy votes (Senate – nineteen, House – fifty-one). John J. Lentz received one vote. If one of Hanna’s supporters had voted against him, the count would have been seventy-two for Hanna and seventy-two against him; Hanna would have failed to have obtained the necessary majority and would not have been elected. Of the 144 votes cast, seventy-three Republicans voted for Hanna; seven Republicans (Senator Vernon H. Burke, as well as six members of the House) voted for McKisson; sixty-three Democrats voted for McKisson; one Democrat voted for Lentz. Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio, 93: 40, 41; “They Stood by Hanna,” Washington Post, Jan. 13, 1898.

[22] The Ohio House of Representatives also appointed an investigating committee, but it took no substantive action. Warken, “The First Election of Marcus A. Hanna,” 93; “Bribery and Corruption,” Atlanta Constitution, Feb. 3, 1898.

[23] “Hanna Elected Senator,” New York Times, Jan. 13, 1898.

[24] Warken, “The First Election of Marcus A. Hanna,” 93.

[25] 33 Cong. Rec. 6635 (1900).

[26] Ibid., 6595-6632; S. Rep. No. 55-1859, at 195-196 (1899).

[27] 33 Cong. Rec. 6633 (1900).

[28] Edited. Dictated statement of Hon. James R. Garfield, Commissioner of Corporations, Department of Commerce and Labor, made in Washington, D. C., February 14-15th, 1906, p. 10, box 4, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers; 33 Cong. Rec. 6594, 6595-6632 (1900).

Two Hanna supporters appeared before the committee, but refused to testify under oath. 33 Cong. Rec. 6599, 6614 (1900). In addition to the hearsay objection, Hanna and his friends noted that outside attorneys were prohibited from participating in the hearings. Ibid., 6587, 6595, 6635.

The problem sounds more serious than it was. Lawyers could not address the committee, but they could attend the hearings and advise their clients. One witness had four lawyers with him. If Hanna or his aides had questions they wanted asked, they could have given them to Hanna’s ally on the committee, Senator James R. Garfield (a lawyer), who would have asked them. Ibid., 6599, 6595; “Jimmy Garfield’s Advent,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), July 6, 1895.

Other reasons given by Hanna and his friends for boycotting the hearings included bias against them, lack of jurisdiction and the dubious character of the committee chairman (he was later disbarred, though eventually reinstated). 33 Cong. Rec. 6587, 6614 (1900); “V. H. Burke is Reinstated,” New York Times, Dec. 23, 1900.

[29] “Hanna Bribery Case,” Los Angeles Times, April 24, 1898; 33 Cong. Rec. 6592, 6599, 6613 (1900);

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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