“Uncle Mark: ‘Not Saying a Word’ ”

December 5, 1903

William A. Rogers

“Uncle Mark:  ‘Not Saying a Word’ ”

Presidential Election 1904; Symbols, Republican Elephant;

Hanna, Mark;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

No caption.

In the winter of 1903-1904, political commentators speculated that Mark Hanna, the powerful senator from Ohio who played a key role in winning the White House for William McKinley in 1896 and 1900, would himself become a candidate for the presidency in 1904, challenging McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt.  In this cartoon, Hanna, who symbolized the wealth and influence of “big business” in American politics, remains mum about his political intentions.  The Republican Elephant, which has no rider, casts his eyes toward the Ohio senator as they walk along together.  Hanna, though, died two months after this cartoon was published, removing the only potential rival to Roosevelt for the Republican nomination.

Marcus Alonzo Hanna was born on September 24, 1837, in New Lisbon (now, Lisbon), Ohio, the son of a physician turned grocer.  He was educated in the public schools of New Lisbon and Cleveland, where his family moved when he was 15.  He attended Western Reserve College in Hudson, Ohio, until expelled for a prank.  Hanna manifested a flare for salesmanship while working as a traveling salesman for his father’s wholesale food business, becoming managing partner upon his father’s illness and death in 1862.  He served briefly in 1864 with the Union armed forces, but saw no action.  Later that year, he married Charlotte Rhodes, the daughter of Daniel Rhodes, a prosperous iron and coal producer.  At first, Hanna chose to operate his own oil refinery, but joined his father-in-law’s firm in 1867.  The young man’s business vision and skills prompted him to steer the company down several additional avenues, including mining, railroads, shipbuilding, lake shipping, and steel manufacturing.  In 1885, he bought out his partners to establish M. A. Hanna and Company.

In Cleveland, Hanna purchased a bank, opera house, the Cleveland Herald newspaper, and battled Tom L. Johnson for control of the city’s streetcars.  He also became active in Republican politics, working on the presidential campaigns of Ohioans Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, James A. Garfield in 1880, and John Sherman in 1884 and 1888 (the latter was not nominated either time).  It was, however, his relationship with Ohioan William McKinley  for which Hanna was best able to demonstrate his political prowess.  Hanna first aided McKinley in the congressman’s unsuccessful bid to become speaker of the house in 1889, and then worked on McKinley’s successful gubernatorial campaigns in 1891 and 1893.  During the economic depression of the early 1890s, Hanna focused on business affairs, including finding donors to relieve McKinley’s personal debt.  In 1895, the businessman handed the reins of his company to his brother in order to manage McKinley’s presidential campaign.

Hanna convinced Southern Republicans to select delegations supportive of McKinley, and make sure that the Republican National Committee (RNC) ruled in favor of McKinley delegates in disputed cases.  McKinley won the nomination and Hanna was selected to chair the RNC.  When the Democrats nominated Congressman William Jennings Bryan, the maverick, 36-year-old, free-silver advocate, Hanna played on fears in the business community to raise an unprecedented amount of money ($3.5 million according to an audit, but Democrats claimed without evidence that it was higher).  Democrats and the press made an issue of both the large sum of Republican money raised and Hanna, caricaturing him as a rich, cigar-chomping political boss of questionable ethics.  Hanna borrowed tactics from the advertising industry to “sell” McKinley with slogans, such as promoting the nominee as the president who would guarantee “a full dinner pail” to working Americans.  Hanna dispatched nearly 1500 speakers across the country, published numerous pro-McKinley pamphlets in various languages, and spent most of the Republican war chest in the crucial Midwest.

In early 1897, Hanna declined President McKinley’s offer of the cabinet position of postmaster general, but was appointed by the Ohio governor to the U.S. Senate to fill the seat of John Sherman, who retired to become U.S. treasury secretary.  The next year, the Ohio legislature elected Hanna by one-vote to a full term.  An investigation by the U.S. Senate found no proof that he had bribed legislators to secure victory.  Despite his negative reputation, Hanna gained popularity among his colleagues and other Washington insiders because of his friendliness, access to the president, and knowledge of political issues. 

In 1900, Hanna again chaired McKinley’s presidential election campaign, and emphatically argued against placing Governor Theodore Roosevelt on the ticket as vice president.  “Don’t any of you realize that there’s one life between that madman and the Presidency?” Hanna reportedly exclaimed.  However, the view of Senator Thomas Platt, who wanted Roosevelt out of New York, prevailed.  During the campaign, Hanna used his influence to prevent a coal strike in Pennsylvania by bringing management and labor to the bargaining table.  As a member of the National Civic Federation, the Ohio senator worked for better management-labor relations.

After McKinley’s assassination in September 1901, Hanna loyally supported the new president’s policies, despite his uneasiness with Roosevelt.  In fact, the senator’s speeches in favor of a canal through Panama, rather than Nicaragua, were so effective that some of his colleagues nicknamed the project the “Hannama Canal.”  Behind the scenes, though, he told his fellow Republican senators to “stand pat” in opposing legislation that tinkered with the tariff or other economic policies.  He was considered a possible challenger to Roosevelt for the Republican nomination in 1904, and refused to endorse the president’s reelection before his death from typhoid fever in February 1904.  A few months later at the Republican National Convention that nominated Roosevelt, a huge portrait of the late Hanna hung on the podium.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Uncle Mark:  ‘Not Saying a Word’ ”
July 14, 2024

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