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The Election Case of Marcus A. Hanna of Ohio (1899)

Photo of Marcus Hanna

Electoral misconduct: charges of bribery.

Petition received: May 28, 1898
Referred to committee: May. 28, 1898
Committee report: Feb. 28, 1899
No Senate action.

Result: Retained seat

When John Sherman (Republican-OH) resigned from the Senate in 1897 to become secretary of state in the administration of President William McKinley, the Ohio governor appointed Marcus A. Hanna (Republican), the president's political patron and campaign manager, as his replacement. Hanna, a successful entrepreneur, took office on March 5, 1897, and in January 1898 the Ohio legislature elected him to the remaining year of Sherman's term, as well as to the full six-year term beginning on March 4, 1899.

Statement of the Case
Hanna took his oath of office for the new term without objection on January 17, 1898. Five months later, on May 28, a special committee of the Ohio legislature submitted to the Senate the results of an investigation into charges that several "agents" of Hanna had tried to secure the vote of one Ohio legislator through bribery. The Senate referred the matter to the Committee on Privileges and Elections.

Response of the Senate
On February 28, 1899, a majority of the committee reported in favor of Hanna and asked to be discharged from further investigation into the Ohio election. The committee members remained unconvinced by the meager evidence offered by Hanna's opponents and the failure to supply convincing witnesses. Although the state report made clear that an unsuccessful effort had been made to bribe the legislator, the attempt had been exposed before the election, and the legislator voted against Hanna. There was no evidence linking Hanna to the individual offering the bribe. The report mildly rebuked Hanna and some of his Ohio associates for failing to respond to subpoenas from the state investigation but declined to suggest the need for further inquiry within the Senate.

Three committee Democrats signed a minority report that urged additional Senate action. In an era before federal wiretapping regulations, the minority report included incriminating transcripts secured by Hanna's foes when a stenographer eavesdropped on a hotel extension telephone to write down what purported to be conversations between the agent accused of bribery and Hanna's campaign headquarters.

Senators apparently agreed with the majority report, for the Senate ordered the reports to be printed and took no further action on the matter.

The issue reappeared briefly more than a year later, on June 5, 1900, in the midst of a debate on antitrust legislation. Richard F. Pettigrew, a Silver Republican from South Dakota, placed in the Congressional Record the majority and minority reports on the Hanna election case, as well as the records of the entire investigation by the Ohio legislative committee, running to forty-six double-columned pages of fine print. Hanna, who was on the Senate floor at the time, denied any connection with the controversy and pointed out that he had offered to testify before the Committee on Privileges and Elections but was assured it would not be necessary. He charged that, not only had he not instigated the conspiracy, but that it was really "a conspiracy on the part of the Democratic party and a few traitors in the Republican party . . . to prevent Ohio from having another Senator in the United States Senate."

Election practices in the late nineteenth century deteriorated to the point where senators knew the charge of bribery could easily be hurled at nearly any member. Painfully aware of the proliferation of abuses in the state caucuses and assemblies in all areas of the country, senators were reluctant to press the inquiry into Hanna's election.

Marcus Hanna continued to be a forceful presence in Republican politics and in the Senate until his death in 1904.

Source: Adapted from Anne M. Butler and Wendy Wolff. United States Senate Election, Expulsion, and Censure Cases, 1793-1990. S. Doc. 103-33. Washington, GPO, 1995.

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