Mark Hanna’s 1898 Senate Bribery Scandal – page 7

“[S]ir, I made those charges upon my honor, as a man, and in response to my duty as a representative. If they are false I ought to be expelled from this body. If they are true…[Hanna] ought to withdraw from this contest….One of us is guilty; which is it? For my own honor and reputation, I demand that you ascertain and declare the truth.”[107]

Although the Ohio Senate heeded Otis’s request and investigated Hanna, the failure of the U.S. Senate to act on the investigation report doomed further action. The bribery allegation faded from the news. It was replaced by more pressing concerns, including the Spanish-American War.

The issue surfaced dramatically one more time.[108] On June 5, 1900, Senator Richard Pettigrew, a Hanna foe, launched a personal attack against him on the Senate floor.[109] Laughing at one point,[110] Pettigrew began reading out loud inflammatory passages from the Ohio bribery investigation transcript.[111]

Hanna, who was present in the Senate chamber, responded. Addressing the Senate’s presiding officer, he denied all wrongdoing.[112] He then issued a challenge. As Pettigrew slouched in his chair, Hanna, “never taking his eyes from the back of Pettigrew’s head,”[113] declared:

When it comes to personality I will stand up against him and compare my character to his. I will let him tell what he knows; then I will tell what I know about him.[114]

A few months after the Senate encounter, Pettigrew sought reelection in South Dakota. Hanna travelled out to that state to campaign against him. Although Hanna spoke frequently, he was careful not to mention Pettigrew by name. But when Pettigrew lost, the New York Tribune interviewed Hanna, who reportedly observed:

He had lots of money, too, and still he couldn’t win. Well, well, we’ll feel lonesome in the Senate without Pettigrew!”[115]

A Closer Look at the Croly Statements

Pettigrew lost his Senate race. But when Hanna ran for reelection in 1904, he won. His success was due partly to the loyalty of friends whose silence on the bribery issue protected him.

After Hanna’s death, scores of his friends submitted written statements to Hanna’s first biographer, Herbert Croly.[116] Their statements, taken at face value, point to Hanna’s innocence. When analyzed critically, they point to his guilt.[117]

Two quotations from Croly’s collection have been offered repeatedly to support Hanna’s innocence. They become unconvincing when placed in context.

James R. Garfield, the Ohio state senator who stood by Hanna during the Otis dispute, believed that Hanna did not know about the attempted bribery:

Men came to him, his personal friends, men whom he had known all his life and insisted that the public exigencies required that he should shut his eyes to some things. But he declined to do it.[118]


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

[108] Compilation of Senate Election Cases From 1789 to 1913, S. Doc. No. 62-1036, at 878 (1913),;view=1up;seq=9.

[109] 33 Cong. Rec. 6582 -84 (1900).

[110]Ibid., 6585. Either Pettigrew himself was laughing, or the Senate as a whole was.

[111] Horner, Ohio’s Kingmaker, 282; 33 Cong. Rec. 6585–87 (1900). The transcript excerpts were included in the minority report prepared in 1899 by the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Privileges and Elections. Pettigrew also read a portion of the majority report.

[112] He said he had “begged” to testify, but “was told it was not necessary….”33 Cong. Rec. 6587 (1900).

[113] Kenneth Elton Hendrickson, Jr., “The Public Career of Richard F. Pettigrew of South Dakota, 1848 – 1926” (PhD. diss., University of Oklahoma, 1962), 267. ProQuest (6203955).

[114] 33 Cong. Rec. 6588 (1900).

[115] “Senator Hanna Here,” New York Tribune, Nov. 10, 1900. See also “New York State Will Be in the McKinley Column,” San Francisco Call, Oct. 18, 1900; “Meetings Between Old Foes,” The Times (Washington, D.C.), Nov. 24, 1900.

[116] Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, v, vi.

[117] Reminiscences of Hanna’s attorney, Andrew Squire, provide an example. Squire prepared two statements for Croly. The first was in a question and answer format. This statement discussed the 1898 race. When asked if he saw “indications of any unfair methods employed by Mr. Hanna,” Squire answered “no.” Dictated Statement of Andrew Squire, Esq., to J.B. Morrow, Esq. May 23, 1905, p. 2, box 4, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers.

Squire also submitted a second statement. This statement was a narrative rewrite of the question and answer version. In the narrative, every reference to the 1898 election was eliminated. Dictated Statement of Andrew Squire, of the law firm of Squire, Sanders and Dempsey, Cleveland…May 23, 1905,” pp. 2, 3, box 4, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers. These deletions suggest that Squire preferred not to be quoted about the 1898 race.

[118] Garfield statement, p. 10, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers.

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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