Hanna, Marcus Alonzo

Marcus Alonzo Hanna (1837-1904), a wealthy Ohio industrialist, political organizer, and United States Senator, epitomized the close relationship that existed between the titans of industry and politicians during America's Gilded Age. Hanna’s entrepreneurial ventures ultimately convinced him that politics, properly controlled, could help corporations prosper.

In politics, as in business, Hanna produced results. After two unsuccessful efforts to secure the Republican presidential nomination for Senator John Sherman of Ohio, Hanna cultivated the friendship of William McKinley, a “sound money” man with a reputation as a high tariff advocate. McKinley, thanks to Hanna’s backing, became governor of Ohio in 1892. The following year Hanna quietly rescued the governor from bankruptcy by soliciting funds from wealthy benefactors to repay McKinley’s debts. Manufacturers, banks, railroads, and insurance companies gave willingly, no doubt expecting a good return on their investment in McKinley.

In 1896 Hanna managed William McKinley’s presidential campaign. To enhance McKinley’s chances for victory, Hanna produced millions of pamphlets published in several languages, employed stump speakers, orchestrated a “front porch campaign,” and lavished patronage on party stalwarts. William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic nominee, complained that Hanna sought to purchase the presidency for McKinley.

President McKinley subsequently rewarded his friend and benefactor by appointing him to the Ohio Senate seat vacated by John Sherman, McKinley’s newly appointed Secretary of State. Progressive reformers ridiculed Hanna’s nomination and charged that Sherman was transferred to the cabinet to make room for Hanna. Senate insiders, however, hesitated to alienate the president’s influential supporter. By 1897 Hanna emerged as the undisputed leader of the Republican Party.

Vice President Garret Hobart’s death in 1899 provided Thomas Platt and other New York party bosses the opportunity to get rid of Theodore Roosevelt, their state’s reform-minded governor. Senator Hanna, chair of the Republican National Committee and McKinley’s campaign manager, was shocked to discover the delegates’ widespread support for Roosevelt. Hanna exclaimed, “Don’t any of you realize there’s only one life between this madman and the presidency?” When Hanna’s fears were subsequently realized on September 14, 1901, President Roosevelt reached out to the grieving Senator. Although Hanna may have disliked Roosevelt’s independent streak, the two Republicans reached an understanding. Hanna would support Roosevelt, but only if the president promised to champion his predecessor’s policies.

Hanna, the industrialist turned president-maker and politician, considered seeking the 1904 Republican presidential nomination. However, the Senator’s death on February 15, 1904, virtually ensured that Roosevelt would become the Republican nominee.