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Persons of Interest: Mark Hanna

Mark Hanna was a successful businessman and later a United States Senator. But he was first and foremost a political genius and the man who orchestrated the successful campaigns of his friend William McKinley. Today, over a century after his death, his political strategies and tactics are still studied and emulated.


Marcus Alonzo Hanna was born on September 24, 1837, in New Lisbon, Ohio (since renamed Lisbon). His father was Dr. Leonard Hanna and his mother was the former Samantha Converse. Mark Hanna attended the local public school, held in the basement of the Presbyterian church. He competed in the local boys' debating society. Dr. Hanna relocated his family to Cleveland in 1852, where Mark attended several public schools, including Cleveland Central High School, which he attended at the same time as John D. Rockefeller. After graduation in 1857, Hanna attended Western Reserve College, but he was expelled for distributing mock programs at a solemn ceremony. When the Civil War began, Dr. Hanna had become ill and Mark became more involved in his father's businesses. Dr. Hanna died on December 15, 1862. Mark Hanna could not be spared by his family to join the Union Army, so he hired a substitute to enlist in his place, a common practice at the time. He also became a member of the Perry Light Infantry, a regiment of National Guard troops consisting mostly of young Cleveland business men. In 1864, his regiment was briefly mustered into active service as the 150th Ohio Infantry and sent to be garrison troops at Fort Stevens, part of Washington, D.C.'s defenses. The regiment saw brief combat action when Confederate General Jubal Early feigned an attack on Washington. But Hanna, then a second lieutenant, was absent at the time.

Hanna married Charlotte Augusta Rhodes on September 27, 1864. She was a distant relative of Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for president in 1860. The couple's political difference was at first an impediment in their courtship, but one they were able to overcome.

In 1865, Hanna built a petroleum refinery in the Cleveland area, and also invested his own money in the Lac La Belle, a Great Lakes steamer. The ship sank and the refinery burned, and both were uninsured. The losses nearly wiped out Hanna financially. His father-in-law took him into his own business in 1867 as a partner, and soon retired. The firm, Rhodes and Company (later M.A. Hanna and Company), dealt principally in coal and steel, but under Hanna the company diversified into many other fields. The firm had close dealings with the railroads—especially the Pennsylvania Railroad, which carried much of its freight and Hanna became director of two railroads.

In the 1868 presidential election, Hanna supported Ulysses S. Grant, in part because he believed that Grant's monetary policy would be advantageous to Hanna's business, which included significant dealings in the new confederation of Canada. During Grant's first term, Hanna became more involved in politics, supporting Republican candidates for local offices. In 1869, he was elected to the Cleveland Board of Education.

Hanna continued to prosper and in 1880 he added The Cleveland Herald newspaper to his business holdings. By doing so he made an ememy of Edwin Cowles, who owned the Republican newspaper in Cleveland, The Cleveland Leader. Cowles constantly attacked Hanna in his newspaper, and this is attributed as a major reason why Hanna developed a negative image of Hanna in the press. The Hearst newspaper chain would pile on in this activity over a decade later.

In 1880, at the Republican convention, the party nominated Ohio Representative James Garfield as its candidate after 36 ballots. Hanna did not attend the convention, but he was very active in Garfield's campaign, especially with fundraising. Garfield ran a front porch campaign from his home in Mentor. Hanna coordinated arrangements for the campaign visit of former President Grant and New York Senator Roscoe Conkling to Ohio. Having Grant and Conkling go to Mentor was an important show of party unity, helping in Garfield's election. Hanna sought no reward from the Garfield administration. When Garfield died in office, Hanna was in charge of the committee which took charge of the late president's body when it was brought to Cleveland and saw to the funeral arrangements and interment at Lake View Cemetery.

In 1884, Hanna was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in support of the presidential bid of Ohio Senator John Sherman. Hanna supported Sherman because Sherman favored the gold standard and because he was from Ohio. At the convention, Hanna joined forces in support of Sherman. Maine Senator James G. Blaine won the nomination and Hanna worked less enthusiastically in 1884 than he had in 1880. After Blaine lost to the Democratic candidate, New York Governor Grover Cleveland, Hanna continued to run his businesses, and prepared for another run by Sherman. President Cleveland selected Hanna as one of the Union Pacific Railroad's directors. (Part of the corporate board was then appointed by the government.) The appointment was made on the recommendation of Sherman. Hanna's work for the railroad was highly praised.

Hanna is best known for being a strong political supporter of William McKinley, though neither McKinley nor Mark Hanna could recall their first meeting. The paths of the two men crossed in 1876, when McKinley was the lawyer representing a number of coal miners who had rioted following attempts by owners to cut wages. Hanna was one of the mine owners. The militia was called in by Governor Rutherford Hayes, and it had fired on the strikers. 23 miners were arrested and put on trial in Canton, Ohio. McKinley was hired to represent them, and only one was convicted. McKinley's victory won him the gratitude of labor elements in both major parties, and he was election to Congress later that year. Rather than resenting McKinley, Hanna gained an admiration for the young lawyer.

Hanna was selected as a delegate to the 1888 Republican National Convention. Once again Hanna worked to get Sherman nominated as the party's candidate for president. The convention deadlocked, with Sherman in the lead but unable to secure the nomination. McKinley was approached to serve as a compromise candidate, but he refused, stating that he had come there pledged to support John Sherman and he would do so. This increased Hanna's esteem for McKinley. The party ultimately settled on Indiana Senator Benjamin Harrison, who was elected president. Hanna raised a significant amount of money for Harrison's campaign, but Harrison did not display any gratitude for Hanna's efforts.

Hanna wanted to see another Ohioan as President, but with Harrison likely to be the Republican candidate in 1892, the first real opportunity would be in 1896, when Sherman would be 73. For Hanna, McKinley was the obvious choice. The two men saw eye to eye on a number of issues, including the tarriff. In 1890 McKinley was defeated for re-election to Congress, due in large part to redistricting by Democrats. In 1891, McKinley was selected as the Republican candidate for Governor of Ohio. McKinley was elected governor and Hanna began to look ahead to the 1896 presidential election. At the 1892 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, McKinley's keynote address was very favorably received.

In the financial Panic of 1893, a friend of McKinley's had suffered financial losses and McKinley had personally guaranteed the friend's business notes. He was called upon to pay over $100,000 and proposed to resign as governor and earn the money as a lawyer. McKinley's supporters learned of the situation,and led by Hanna they bought up or paid off notes. McKinley reluctantly accepted the help but put up his own property as collateral. A request by McKinley for the names of the subscribers so he might repay them was refused. The episode actually made McKinley more popular with the public, because it was perceived that he had suffered in the hard times with his fellow countrymen.

McKinley was easily re-elected as governor in 1893. He was nationally popular and spoke across the country for other Republican candidates. He followed the usual Ohio custom and stepped down as Governor at the end of two terms. Hanna turned over management of his companies to his brother Leonard so he could focus on electing McKinley as president. Hanna rented a house in Thomasville, Georgia, where he met with many southern Republicans. Although the party had little electoral success in the south, it elected a substantial number of delegates to the national convention. In 1895, Hanna met with political bosses such as Senators Matthew Quay of Pennsylvania and Thomas Platt of New York to obtain their support for McKinley in exchange for control of local patronage, but McKinley was unwilling to make such a deal. In the months leading up to the Republican convention in St. Louis in June of 1896, Hanna built his organization, paying for expenses, and meeting with prospective supporters. He paid for thousands of copies of McKinley's speeches to be printed, and shipped quantities of McKinley posters, badges, and buttons across the nation.

In February 1896, Benjamin Harrison declared he would not run for president a third time. The eastern bosses decided to seek support for local favorite son candidates, believing that McKinley could be forced to bargain for support at the convention. A young Chicago businessman and future Vice-President was Charles Dawes, who worked to deliver the state for McKinley. At the convention McKinley was nominated easily. To balance the ticket, McKinley and Hanna selected New Jersey party official and former state legislator Garret Hobart, an easterner, as vice-presidential candidate.

A major issue, going into the 1896 election cycle, was the question of the currency. Since 1873 the United States had been on the gold standard. The gold standard was unpopular in many agricultural and mining areas, as the quantity of gold available limited the money supply, making it difficult for farmers to obtain loans and pay debts. Advocates of the "free silver" believed a police of bi-mettalism would cure the country's economic woes by increasing the money supply. Advocates of the gold standard argued that a "free silver" policy would inflate the currency, and lead to difficulties in international trade with nations on the gold standard. McKinley and Hanna decided that an explicit mention of the gold standard in the party platform would be a better strategy than remaining silent on the issue.

The election was fought over this issue. McKinley's opponent, William Jennings Bryan, ran an ill-financed campaign. Bryan traveled the country making speeches from the back of a train, while McKinley ran a front porch campaign. The McKinley campaign had two main offices; one in Chicago, effectively run by Dawes, and one in New York, ran by Hanna. Hanna raised the money and Dawes and others decided how to spend it. Hanna had an easier time persuading donors with deep pockets to give to the McKinley campaign. This money went to pay for advertising, brochures, printed speeches and other means of persuading the voter.


During the campaign, the Democratic newspapers, especially the papers owned by Hearst, attacked Hanna for his supposed role as McKinley's political master. They spun a message that McKinley was not his own man, but that he was in the pocket of corporations. But Hanna's fundraising campaign, in which he asked banks and millionaires for a contribution equal to 0.25% of their assets, was unprecedented in its scale and its success. On Tuesday, November 3, McKinley won 271 electoral votes to Bryan's 176. McKinley took 51.0% of the vote, the first presidential majority since Grant in 1872. Voter interest in the campaign resulted in a very high turnout of 79.3%.

Hanna said that he would accept no office in the McKinley administration. He wanted be a senator. Senator Sherman, now aged almost 74, faced a difficult re-election battle in 1898. On January 4, 1897, McKinley offered Sherman the office of Secretary of State. He immediately accepted. This led to attacks on Hanna, suggesting that a senile man had been placed in a key Cabinet position to create a senate vacancy for Hanna. Even Sherman later stated in a letter after leaving the position of secretary of state: "When [McKinley] urged me to accept the position of Secretary of State, I accepted with some reluctance and largely to promote the wishes of Mark Hanna. The result was that I lost the position both of Senator and Secretary. They deprived me of the high office of Senator by the temporary appointment as Secretary of State."

Hanna received a temporary appointment to the Senate by Ohio's Republican Governor Asa Bushnell to fill Sherman's unexpired term. McKinley worked behind the scenes, urging Republicans to support Hanna. When the legislature met on January 3, 1898, the anti-Hanna forces succeeded in organizing both houses of the legislature. Hanna was re-elected with the barest possible majority.

After the death of Vice President Hobart in November 1899, Hanna took over the lease on his house on Lafayette Square, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.Hanna was allowed to recommend candidates for the majority of federal positions in Ohio. Hanna controlled a large part of the administration's patronage.

Through 1897, the issue of possible war with Cuba arose as pro-war elements, including the Hearst newspapers, pressured McKinley for a more aggressive foreign policy. On May 20, 1897, the Senate passed a resolution favoring intervention in Cuba, 41–14, with Hanna in the minority. As the crisis slowly built, Hanna became concerned about the political damage if McKinley, against popular opinion, kept the nation out of war. On February 15, 1898, the American warship Maine sank in Havana harbor. The cause of the explosion was unclear and McKinley ordered a board of inquiry while asking the nation to withhold judgment pending the result. The Hearst newspapers, with the slogan, "Remember the Maine and to hell with Spain!" pressed for war and blamed Hanna for the delay. The Hearst papers called Hanna the true master in the White House. Hanna and McKinley were burned in effigy in Virginia. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt told Hanna, "We will have this war for the freedom of Cuba in spite of the timidity of the commercial classes!" Hanna supported McKinley's patience and defended him in the senate.

The Navy's report blamed an external cause, believed by many to be a Spanish mine or bomb, for the sinking of Maine. On April 11, McKinley asked Congress for authority to secure Cuban independence, using force if necessary. Hanna supported McKinley in obtaining that authority Spain broke off diplomatic relations on April 20; Congress declared war five days later. Although the war resulted in a complete American victory, Hanna was uncomfortable with the conflict. He said, "Remember that my folks were Quakers. War is just a damn nuisance."

As the year 1900 began, it was unclear if Hanna would run McKinley's re-election campaign. McKinley wanted to show the public that he was not Hanna's puppet. This was displeasing to Hanna. But in late May, McKinley announced that Hanna would run his campaign. Vice President Hobart had died in late 1899. President McKinley was content to leave the choice of a vice presidential candidate for 1900 to the upcoming Republican convention. New York Senator Platt disliked his state's governor, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, and Platt hoped to sideline Roosevelt politically by making him vice president. Roosevelt was a popular choice in any event because of his well-publicized service during the Spanish–American War. Hanna hoped to persuade McKinley to use patronage to get the delegates to vote for another candidate. After he had tried and failed to get McKinley to agree, he was heard to state "Do whatever you damn please! I'm through! I won't have anything more to do with the convention! I won't take charge of the campaign! I won't be chairman of the national committee again!" He added, "What is the matter with all of you? Here's this convention going headlong for Roosevelt for Vice President. Don't any of you realize that there's only one life between that madman and the Presidency?"

The Democrats nominated Bryan a second time at their convention. This time, Bryan ran with a broader agenda, and attacked McKinley as an imperialist for taking the Spanish colonies. Hanna summed up the Republican campaign in four words, "Let well enough alone." Hanna was called upon to do less fundraising this time as the corporations were willing to give. In September, a strike by the United Mine Workers threatened a crisis which might cause problems for McKinley. Hanna believed that the miners' grievances were just, and he persuaded the parties to allow him to arbitrate. With Hanna's aid, the two sides arrived at a negotiated settlement.

On November 6, 1900, the voters re-elected McKinley with 51.7% of the popular vote, a slight increase from 1896. He won 292 electoral votes to Bryan's 155.

In September 1901, McKinley attnded the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. On September 6, 1901, while receiving the public in the Temple of Music on the Exposition grounds, McKinley was shot by an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz. When news of this reached Hanna, he hurried to the president's bedside.

McKinley appeared to be improving, and Hanna, with the doctors' reassurance, left Buffalo for an encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in Cleveland, at which Hanna was to speak. While there, he received a telegram stating that the President had taken a turn for the worse, and hurried back to Buffalo. There he found an unconscious McKinley. On the evening of September 13, Hanna was allowed to see McKinley. Hanna wept and went to the library in the Milburn House where the President was staying, and remained. McKinley died on September 14 at 2:15 a.m. and Hanna made the necessary plans and arrangements to return his friend to Canton.


McKinley's death left Hanna devastated both personally and politically. The new president, Theodore Roosevelt, reached out to Hanna, hoping to secure his influence in the Senate. Hanna said that he was willing to support Roosevelt if Roosevelt carried out McKinley's political agenda. Roosevelt agreed. Hanna was a supporter of building a canal across Central America to allow ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans without making the lengthy journey around Cape Horn. The United States Senate was called upon to ratify the treaty in February 1904. The debate began as Hanna lay dying. The treaty was ratified on February 23, 1904, eight days after Hanna's death.

Hanna was re-elected to the Senate in January 1904 for the term 1905–1911 by a legislative vote of 115–25. In November 1903 Roosevelt asked Hanna to run his re-election campaign. Hanna was considering his own run for the presidency and financier J. P. Morgan, who disliked Roosevelt's policies, offered to finance Hanna's presidential campaign. Hanna remained silent at the offer. In December, Hanna and Roosevelt had a lengthy meeting and resolved many of their differences.In the end Hanna decided neither to run Roosevelt's campaign nor to seek the office himself. By this time Hanna was an exhausted man.

On January 30, 1904, Hanna attended the Gridiron Club dinner at the Arlington Hotel. This was the last time he left his Washington residence, having fallen ill with typhoid fever. Hanna drifted in and out of consciousness for several days and on the morning of February 15, his heart began to fail. Roosevelt visited at 3 pm, but Hanna was unaware of the visit. At 6:30 pm, Hanna passed away.


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