Mark Hanna’s 1898 Senate Bribery Scandal – page 6

Damage Control

Hanna’s opponents were ecstatic. They knew they had completed a successful sting. Although their memories of the operation were sometimes inconsistent,[94] they hoped newspaper coverage of Boyce’s adventure in Cincinnati would humiliate Hanna.[95]

Hanna initially refused to respond to reporters when the scandal broke in the Ohio papers[96] on Monday, January 10.[97] By Monday evening, however, he knew he had to say something. He issued a terse denial.[98]

His press office distributed a much longer statement to reporters, claiming the bribery charge was “false in every particular” and a “fairy story.”[99]

Despite the confident tone of the press office statement, Hanna and his allies were alarmed. Years later, a top campaign official, Major Charles F. Dick, wrote an account. In his original, unedited, manuscript,[100] Dick acknowledged that Boyce had panicked even before the story had come out in the papers.

Boyce…was in a great state of excitement, he insisted that he must be gotten away, that he didn’t want to be subjected to arrest so [Major Estes G. Rathbone]…got Boyce to the station, on the train and sent him out of the state.[101]

Once the scandal had burst into print, Dick said, it “made a terrible sensation.”[102]

Hanna and his supporters were still dealing with the crisis during the early morning of January 11. Dick reported that Rathbone appeared at his door, carrying a suitcase:

He [Rathbone] said, “I am going to leave town…I don’t want to be arrested, I don’t want to be arrested, put in jail, tried and all that sort of thing.”

Dick ordered Rathbone to stay and to “go around here with a smile on your face.” To do otherwise would be “a confession of guilt.”[103]

In the pre-dawn hours, Hanna himself needed encouragement:

He said he wanted to talk with me a minute. He said, [“]Dick, everything looks pretty bad don’t it? Everything is demoralized, everybody is gone.…”

According to Dick, he consoled Hanna, who then left and went to sleep.[104]

Certainly these conversations as described by Dick could have been embellished. But none of the other accounts furnished by Hanna’s aides contradicted the tense mood that Dick recollected. Dick painted a picture of worried men – not of wrongfully maligned men.

Hanna’s accusers, on the contrary, were filled with righteous indignation. They viewed Hanna’s mocking press office denial as an attack on their integrity. On January 12, Representative Otis stood in the Ohio House of Representatives to defend his reputation:

“Mr. Speaker – I rise to a question of privilege, a question both affecting my character as a legislator, and related to the proper performance by this body of its duty in the election of a United States senator.”[105]

He referred to an account of the bribery that he had given earlier.[106]


[94] In one call, Boyce said Otis’s price was $20,000. 33 Cong. Rec. 6631 (1900). Yet Otis’s attorney, Campbell, testified the total bribe was $10,000. Ibid., 6626. This inconsistency can be explained. Boyce planned to get $20,000 from Hanna, pay $10,000 to Campbell, then pocket the “residue.” Ibid.

Other differences are harder to explain. Otis and Campbell disagreed as to the denominations of the bills in the first cash payment. Ibid., 6623, 6625. One witness testified that Boyce used the upstairs telephone before going to the theater, but other witnesses testified he used the downstairs telephone. Ibid., 6607, 6603, 6605. Witnesses combined and confused the contents of Boyce’s two post-theater calls. Ibid. 6603, 6605, 6606, 6630, 6631.

The witnesses could have been lying. They all swore under oath, however, to tell the truth. Ibid., 6595-6632. Neither Hanna, nor his friends, ever testified under oath that any evidence presented against them was untrue.

[95] Bliss gleefully called Hanna’s aides “suckers.” “Mark Hanna is Caught!” Columbus Evening Press, Jan. 10, 1898, latest edition.

[96] Elements of the story were leaked in New York on January 9. Alfred Henry Lewis, “Hanna Persuades Legislators to Change Their Minds,” New York Journal and Advertiser, Jan. 9, 1898. Also see Alfred Henry Lewis, “Hanna Fights for One Vote,” New York Journal and Advertiser, Jan. 10, 1898. Croly gave January 9 as the date of first publication. Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, 259.

[97] “Hanna Won’t Discuss It,” Columbus Evening Press, Jan. 10, 1898, latest edition and Jan. 11, 1898, second edition.

[98] Differing versions were reported. “Bolt the Caucus,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 11, 1898; 33 Cong. Rec. 6635; Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, 261.

[99] “Tell-Tale Telegrams,” Columbus Evening Press, Jan. 11, 1898, second edition; “Was Otis Offered $10,000?” The Saint Paul Globe, Jan. 11, 1898. The press office statement offered two different explanations for the scandal.

First, the statement blamed Hanna’s political opponents in Ohio for concocting the story. This theory was adopted and expanded upon by James R. Garfield, Hanna’s ally on the Ohio investigating committee. 33 Cong. Rec. 6634 (1900). According to this view, Boyce was secretly working for Hanna’s Ohio opposition, including Allen O. Myers, Sr., Jerry P. Bliss, and Charles Kurtz. No one described how Hanna’s opponents might have carried out this plan. Did they hire Boyce before C.C. Shayne in New York sent him to Columbus? Did they hire him before Rathbone sent him to Cincinnati? “C. C. Shayne on Gen. Boyce,” New York Times, Feb. 6, 1898; Rathbone statement, p. 2, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers.

The biggest problem with this explanation is that it contradicts the sworn testimony of multiple witnesses who stated, implicitly or explicitly, that Boyce was not a known co-conspirator. See, for example, 33 Cong. Rec. 6603, 6611, 6612, 6624-5 (1900).

The second press office explanation was that Hanna’s out of state political opponents were behind the story. The statement claimed that a man “with large sums of money” had been hired by a New York newspaper to spring “bribery fakes.” The Ohio State Journal amplified this explanation, claiming that William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Advertiser had sent two operatives to Ohio. One was Boyce, a “smooth confidence man,” who would trap Hanna; the other was Alfred Henry Lewis, a “special high-priced” reporter, who could write bogus telephone conversations. “Bribery Fake Exploded,” Ohio State Journal, Jan. 11, 1898.

Part of this theory could be true. Boyce could have been a double agent who duped Shane into sending him to Ohio. It is doubtful, however, that Lewis, an attorney, would have risked criminal prosecution for concocting false evidence, even though he loathed Hanna and was in contact with Hanna’s enemies. “Alfred H. Lewis, Author, is Dead,” New York Times, Dec. 24, 1914; Alfred Henry Lewis, “Seven Years More,” New York Journal and Advertiser, Jan. 13, 1898 and “Hanna Fights for One Vote,” Jan. 10, 1898.

[100] Original. Dictated statement of Senator Charles Dick, of Akron, Ohio, made in Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 1906, Elmer Dover being present, box 4, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers. Dick’s original statement was typed. The original wording can still be read beneath cross-outs and handwritten alterations made later.

[101] Ibid., 32.

[102] Ibid., 31.

[103] Ibid., 32.

[104] Ibid., 32, 33.

[105] “$ Hanna’s $ One $ Vote $,”Columbus Evening Press, Jan. 12, 1898, latest edition.

[106] “Hanna Has One Margin,” Columbus Evening Press, Jan. 11, 1898, latest edition.

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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