Mark Hanna’s 1898 Senate Bribery Scandal – page 3

The report never explicitly stated that Hanna himself authorized paying a bribe. But the sentiments of the committee were obvious:

It would be a most violent presumption that Mr. Hanna knew nothing of what Dick, Rathbone, Hollenbeck, and Boyce were doing to obtain Mr. Otis’s vote; it would be a most violent presumption that [the bribe was offered]… without Mr. Hanna’s consent, concurrence, advice, and direction.[30]

Four of the five members of the investigating committee signed the majority report.[31] Only one member, Hanna’s friend James R. Garfield, refused to sign. He submitted a brief minority report that took issue with the majority report’s conclusions.[32]

On May 26, 1898, the committee sent the majority report and a transcript of testimony[33] to the Republican-controlled[34] United States Senate. The committee asked the Senate to take “such action” as it “may deem advisable….” It concluded that if Hanna were found “guilty as hereby indicated,” then he “should be expelled” from the Senate.[35]

The U.S. Senate’s Committee on Privileges and Elections reviewed all of the documents it received from Ohio. After nearly a year had passed, it reached its decision. The committee did not recommend expelling Hanna or starting an independent investigation. Instead, the committee concluded no additional action should be taken. Its brief report stressed that the evidence against Hanna was weak and that Hanna had not been prosecuted for bribery in Ohio.[36]

Hanna stayed in the Senate. He was reelected by a substantial majority in January 1904,[37] but died a few weeks later.[38]

Today, the bribery allegation that dogged him seems almost forgotten,[39] due to the ongoing influence of two flattering biographies. Herbert Croly, the author of a 1912 book financed by Hanna’s family,[40] concluded that Hanna had “probably heard about the [Otis] matter, but had nothing to do with it personally.”[41] Thomas Beer, in his impressionistic and probably fictitious 1929 biography, called the bribery allegation “an inconclusive, wandering business.”[42]

Even esteemed historian H. Wayne Morgan gave Hanna a pass. Although the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Privileges and Elections declined to call any witnesses, Morgan wrote that the Senate gave the case “a close investigation.” Morgan also wrote that “Hanna was cleared” by the Senate, when the committee stopped far short of proclaiming innocence.[43] Other scholars have been sympathetic in their assessments.[44]

Mark Hanna’s rehabilitation has gone too far.

The Weekend of January 7, 1898

According to witnesses, the Otis bribery story began with a telephone call on Friday, January 7, 1898. John C. Otis, a forty-two year old member of Ohio’s House of Representatives, picked up the phone in his Cincinnati drugstore.[45] General Henry Harrison (“H.H.”) Boyce identified himself and said he had come from New York to see Otis about “very important business.”[46] Otis was a Republican, but he had been elected on a “fusion slate” with Democrats who opposed Cincinnati boss George B. Cox.[47] Otis had been lobbied hard for his vote for senator and likely knew what Boyce’s business was.[48] He agreed to visit with Boyce at the Gibson House hotel in Cincinnati later that day.[49]

Boyce was a man with a past. Originally from Ohio, he served in the Civil War and was cited for gallantry. He moved to California where he made a fortune. He served as president of a national bank and became a co-owner of the Los Angeles Daily Times.[50] He was active in Republican politics; in 1886, he chaired the Los Angeles County delegation to the Republican State Convention.[51]


[30] 33 Cong. Rec. 6594 (1900).

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid., 6633-35. The majority report is reprinted in the Appendix to 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: 83-94, but Garfield’s minority report is not.

Garfield noted that the investigation had ignored the rules of evidence. He pointed out inconsistencies in the testimony and defended Hanna’s refusal to appear. He suggested that Boyce was secretly working for Hanna’s opponents in Ohio. See footnote 99.

[33] 33 Cong. Rec. 6592 (1900). The May 26, 1898 transmittal letter to the U.S. Senate does not refer to Garfield’s minority report. Garfield’s minority report was inserted into the Congressional Record by Senator Foraker on June 5, 1900. Ibid., 6589.

[34] After the 1898 elections, Congress remained Republican “by a strong working majority.” “Will of the American People,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 9, 1898.

[35] 33 Cong. Rec. 6594 (1900).

[36] S. Rep. No. 55-1859 (1899). The committee’s report was filed on February 28, 1899. 33 Cong. Rec. 6589 (1900). The report concluded there was “no direct evidence and substantially no presumptive evidence that Senator Hanna had any knowledge of what was going on.” Ibid., 6590. This conclusion is correct if “evidence” is read to mean “legally admissible evidence.” The absence of admissible evidence was likely the reason Hanna was not prosecuted for a crime in Ohio.

A minority report and one senator’s request to refrain from expressing an opinion were also filed. The minority report argued that the documents submitted by the Ohio investigating committee did contain facts justifying a U.S. Senate investigation. Ibid., 6590-92.

[37] “Senator Hanna Re-Elected,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 13, 1904.

[38] “Hanna’s Fight for Life Ended,” New York Times, Feb. 16, 1904.

[39] Even two scholars who criticize Hanna generally devote little attention to the specific facts of the Otis case. Robert Rienow and Leona Train Rienow, Of Snuff, Sin and the Senate (Chicago: Follett Publishing Company, 1965), 112-15.

[40] Hanna’s family also retained “the power of censorship before publication.” Croly remains an important source on Hanna, but writing the biography was “the most compromising intellectual act of Croly’s career.” David W. Levy, Herbert Croly of the New Republic: The Life and Thought of an American Progressive (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 146.

[41] Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, 262.

[42] Thomas Beer, Hanna (New York: Octagon Books, 1973), 222. Beer falsified information in at least one other work. Lawrence Block, ed., Gangsters, Swindlers, Killers, and Thieves: The Lives and Crimes of Fifty American Villains (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 1; Kristie Miller and Robert H. McGinnis, “It Looks Like Mark Hanna’s Biographer Invented Quotes,” History News Network, Jan. 20, 2014,

[43] H. Wayne Morgan, William McKinley and His America, Revised Edition (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2003), 227. The Committee on Privileges and Elections concluded that the evidence gathered by the Ohio investigators did not “fairly” tend to “prove” guilt. The Committee did not say whether it believed Hanna was innocent. 33 Cong. Rec. 6590 (1900).

[44] William T. Horner, author of a modern biography of Hanna, correctly concludes it is “difficult today to figure out what happened.” Horner is receptive, however, to several arguments supporting Hanna’s innocence. “Given Hanna’s determination to win and his willingness to play by the rules as they existed, money may have changed hands during the campaign, but if it did, it is important to remember the context.” Horner, Ohio’s Kingmaker, 229, 228.

According to Fred C. Shoemaker, “It is improbable that Hanna had any knowledge of such an amateurish bribery attempt.” Fred C. Shoemaker, “Mark Hanna and the Transformation of the Republican Party” (PhD. diss., Ohio State University, 1992), 245. ProQuest (9227379).

Philip W. Warken’s master’s thesis is reliable and comprehensive. Warken concludes that Hanna “would certainly have been aware” of Boyce, but Warken devotes only one paragraph of analysis to this issue. Warken believes Hanna’s behavior was “revealing of the ethics of the period.” Warken, “The First Election of Marcus A. Hanna,” 109.

[45] 33 Cong. Rec. 6592, 6622 (1900).

[46] Ibid., 6622.

[47] Warken, “The First Election of Marcus A. Hanna,” 12, 51.

[48] 33 Cong. Rec. 6627 (1900).

[49] Ibid., 6622. Otis testified that he had never heard of Boyce before the phone call on January 7, 1898 and that he had never seen Boyce until later that same day. Boyce, however, reportedly told C. C. Shayne of New York that he knew Otis “intimately.” Ibid., 6623; “C. C. Shayne on Gen. Boyce,” New York Times, Feb. 6, 1898.

[50] “Car Kills Gen. H. H. Boyce,” New York Times, Oct. 15, 1903; Frances Dinkelspiel, “Isaias Hellman and the Creation of California” in A Cultural History of Jews in California: The Jewish Role in American Life – An Annual Review, 7, eds. Bruce Zuckerman, William Deverell, Lisa Ansell (West Lafayette, IN, 2009), 1-2,; “Tell-Tale Telegrams,” Columbus Evening Press, Jan. 11, 1898, second edition.

[51] “County Convention,” Los Angeles Times, July 29, 1886.

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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