Mark Hanna’s 1898 Senate Bribery Scandal – page 9

Admittedly, Myers could have been lying about his role in obtaining Clifford’s vote. It is possible he just wanted to appear important.[134] But without conflicting proof, his confession has to be viewed as credible.

Garfield and Morrow vouched for Hanna’s innocence because they thought they knew more than they did.[135] If they were kept in the dark about Representative Clifford’s bribe, they were likely kept in the dark about Representative Otis’s bribe.

The statements prepared by Garfield and Morrow reflected naiveté. The statements of Dick and Congressman Theodore E. Burton reflected suspicions, but suspicions phrased so artfully they were easy to miss.

Burton and Dick were attorneys who chose their words carefully. Both men understood the benefits of seeming to say something without saying it. Burton, for instance, wrote:

I never saw any evidence of the use of money in Columbus and don’t believe any money was used corruptly.[136]

By itself, this sentence seemed to say, “I do not believe Hanna ever authorized bribing Otis.” At the most basic level, however, the bribe offered to Otis was offered in Cincinnati – not Columbus. Speaking precisely, Burton’s sentence did not address the Otis controversy in Cincinnati at all.

Also, Burton’s sentence was embedded in a paragraph that provided context. The two sentences that followed it were:

The legitimate expenses of the campaign were heavy and these, of course, Mr. Hanna met. I have every reason to believe that his conduct in all respects was honorable; that no man who voted for him did so except from party and patriotic motives.[137]

The concluding clause of the paragraph cannot be ignored. By adding it, Burton limited his preceding comments. He clarified he was only commenting on Hanna’s successful efforts to influence the men “who voted for him;” he was not commenting on Hanna’s unsuccessful efforts to influence men who voted against him, such as Otis.

Dick adopted the same approach in his statement, but he was more overt:

Of course I have heard a great deal said about the use of money during that whole proceeding. I don’t believe a cent went to any of the seventy-three who voted for Mr. Hanna. I don’t believe one of that number ever received a dollar directly or indirectly to vote for Mr. Hanna.[138]

Dick was anxious to limit his assessment to “the seventy-three who voted for Mr. Hanna.” He did not want to give an opinion “about the use of money” to influence other Ohio legislators.

He drew this distinction again, in a passage describing a meeting he had with President McKinley after the scandal broke. Dick prepared two accounts: an original draft and an edited, final version. In his first draft, he stated he had told President McKinley there was nothing in “that whole affair” from “start to finish” that was not honorable.[139] Later, reviewing his language, he had second thoughts. He crossed out the original wording. In the final version, he reported telling the president there was nothing in “Mr. Hanna’s election” from “start to finish” that was not honorable.[140]


[134] “The men who obtained the one vote that elected Mr. Hanna in 1898 are numberless.” Letter of George W. Gardner… May 14, 1905, p. 3, box 4, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers (a concluding notation written by J.B. Morrow).

[135] The slippery nuances of denial could have fooled Garfield. Garfield believed Hollenbeck was innocent because “Hollenbeck told me that the charge was absolutely untrue.” According to Garfield, the “charge” Hollenbeck was accused of was “taking money to Cincinnati to give to Otis.” Garfield statement, p. 11, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers. Hollenbeck might not have taken money. He might have taken documents that would entitle him to receive money from a bank. Plus, Hollenbeck did not give anything to Otis. He dealt solely with Boyce.

Garfield believed Andrew Squire, who said Hollenbeck had gone to Cincinnati to pay railroad bills. Ibid. Hollenbeck did visit railroad offices in Cincinnati. 33 Cong. Rec. 6618 (1900). However, it is doubtful this was why he took a train from Columbus in the middle of the night.

[136] Burton statement, p. 3, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers.

[137] Ibid., 3, 4.

[138] Edited Dick statement, p. 24, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers. Also, “Not a dollar was paid for a vote to any man. A good many people may have felt that there was a cloud upon Mr. Hanna’s commission as a Senator, but his was as clean a title as any man ever had.” [Emphasis added] Again, Dick emphasized the legitimacy of Hanna’s victory, not the legitimacy of activities that did not result in votes. Ibid., 25.

[139] Original Dick statement, p. 34, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers.

[140] Edited Dick statement, p. 24, 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