Republican party manager and future Senator Mark Hannah spent vast sums to ensure the election of William McKinley to the presidency in 1896, and was known as McKinley’s “political master.” It was common in the postwar for the Republican president to have little or no say in selecting their own cabinet as these positions were already promised to party hacks and wealthy campaign contributors. So desperate were the Republicans to maintain political hegemony after 1865 that only Democrat Grover Cleveland briefly served two terms before Woodrow Wilson in 1912.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Democracy Controlled with Machine Money
“[William Howard] Taft’s career would owe much to Mark Alonzo Hanna’s control of Ohio politics. Hanna, a former grocery clerk in Cleveland, had become a great merchant whose fleets transported tonnages of coal and iron ore along the Great Lakes. He was often portrayed in the press as a bully, smoking a big cigar, drinking whiskey, and stamping on the skeletons of working class women and children.
A big man, he was once described as looking like a “well-fed merchant prince from an old Dutch masterpiece.” Above all, he was the new man in party politics, the businessman who constructed a well-run machine that forced out the political adventurers who had come into Ohio after the Civil War and who were often personally corrupt and willing to prey on the rich as well as the poor.
Once Hanna became wealthy, he turned over his business to his brother and concentrated all his efforts on creating the “business state.” As he once remarked to a group of dinner companions, “All questions of government in a democracy [are] questions of money.” Eventually he became chairman of the Republican National Committee, and the most powerful boss in Republican politics. His signal triumph was putting Ohio’s governor William McKinley into the presidency in 1896, and a year later he himself served as a senator from Ohio until his death in 1904.
Will Taft was not particularly close to Hanna, but after Hanna became the dominant force in Ohio politics after 1888, Taft was responsive to the new order and backed McKinley. A telling factor that connected the Taft family to Hanna was the willingness of Taft’s brother Charles to join a “syndicate,” organized by Hanna to pay off McKinley’s debts when the governor found himself in serious trouble after endorsing large sums of notes owned by a ruined business associate. (Several future cabinet members and ambassadors were also in the “syndicate.”)
Under Hanna’s direction, political professionalism was allied to financial capitalism, whose mantra was high tariff protectionism for industry coupled with “sound money,” tying the dollar to gold. Under these conditions, foreign monies soon flowed into the United States, making the country independent of European capital markets and one of the great creditor nations of the world.”
(1912, Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs, The Election That Changed the Country, James Chace, Simon & Shuster, 2004, pp. 24-25)