McKinley’s longtime friend now a senator
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.
“Congratulations Galore” was the headline of the L.A. Times Jan. 12, 1898. Before the rise of social media and technology, congratulatory messages came in the form of telegrams. Sen. Mark Hanna received more than 2,000 the evening of his election as a U.S. senator. Hanna responded with a telegraph to his close friend, President William McKinley, “God reigns and the Republican Party still lives.”
A return telegraph from McKinley stated, “Mrs. McKinley joins me in heartfelt congratulations. The result now plainly forecasted is one in which our citizenship, irrespective of party will profoundly rejoice. I congratulate you heartily, not only upon a victory beneficial to the country, but upon your leadership in a contest worthily won under the most trying circumstances.”
Although neither McKinley nor Hanna could remember their first meeting, it is widely accepted that Hanna was McKinley’s closest adviser. It was Hanna who successfully managed McKinley’s two presidential election campaigns.
Hanna was born in 1837 in New Lisbon. In 1852, the family moved to Cleveland, and he became a classmate of John D. Rockefeller. He was a Civil War veteran. He sold groceries for his father’s business before becoming a successful businessman. His business ventures included oil and coal before expanding his interests to include banking, transportation and publishing. By the 1880s, Hanna became active in politics and was known as one of the most powerful Republicans in Ohio.
It was 1876 that brought the two powerhouses together. McKinley was a novice lawyer hired to represent 23 striking coal miners from Ohio. Hanna was one of the mine owners directly affected by the strikes. Hanna expressed he became friends with McKinley soon after he entered Congress, “and our friendship ripened with each succeeding year.”
At the 1888 Republican National Convention, both men were delegates. McKinley was approached to become nominated, but declined, expressing his loyalty to John Sherman. Hanna was impressed by this gesture. From that point forward, he was determined to propel a fellow Ohioan to the presidency. Hanna focused on fundraising for McKinley after McKinley’s failed attempt for speaker of the House. His efforts helped McKinley win the Republican nomination for governor of Ohio. He later managed McKinley’s presidential campaigns and it was unprecedented that Hanna raised over $3.5 million for the campaign of 1896.
During the 1897 state legislative campaign, Hanna obtained endorsement for election by local conventions in 84 of Ohio’s 88 counties. McKinley campaigned on Hanna’s behalf in Ohio and recruited speakers for him.
As a senator, Hanna was McKinley’s strongest ally in Congress. His most notable success was persuading Congress to build the Panama Canal. In 1903 and 1904, many Republicans contemplated nominating Hanna for the presidency rather than Roosevelt. Hanna withdrew from consideration and supported Roosevelt’s nomination.
In 1903, the Ohio legislature reappointed Hanna to the Senate. Shortly after returning to Washington, D.C., he became ill. He died of heart failure Feb. 15, 1904. He was laid to rest at nearby Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.
Carrie Kibby is the manager of adult reference at the McKinley Memorial Library in Niles.