Marcus Alonzo Hanna

Businessman, politician, and U.S. senator, Marcus Alonzo Hanna (1837-1904) managed the election of President William McKinley and was a leading spokesman for enlightened capitalism.

Mark Hanna was born on Sept. 24, 1837, in New Lisbon (now Lisbon), Ohio. His parents were well educated. Young Hanna enjoyed material comfort and relative social privilege. When the family moved to Cleveland in 1852, he completed public school and attended Western Reserve College briefly.

Business permeated Hanna's youthful environment and immediately absorbed his energies. He became a full partner in the family grocery firm after his father's death in 1862. Following his marriage in 1864, he launched ventures in lake transportation and oil refining, areas of enterprise that were also attracting his Cleveland schoolmate John D. Rockefeller. Hanna later joined his father-in-law in a large iron and coal firm.

Politics, a vigorous Ohio tradition, early engaged Hanna's attention, and he embraced the Republican party instinctively. To his father-in-law, a fervent Democrat, he seemed "a damned screecher for freedom." In reality, despite this appearance and later skirmishes with Cleveland's ward bosses in the 1870s, Hanna was no reformer, but he realized that business and politics were becoming increasingly related. He lent his organizational talents and money to the Ohio Republicans who sought the presidency between 1880 and 1900: James A. Garfield, John Sherman, and William McKinley. He helped elect McKinley governor of Ohio in 1891 and president in 1896 and 1900. His management of the McKinley campaigns marked the successful application of business skills to American politics. Between 1897 and his death Hanna served in the Senate. He was a trusted presidential adviser to McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, despite his opposition to many of the latter's policies.

Although labeled "dollar Mark" by opponents, Hanna was no mere moneygrubber. The gold standard, high tariff, and large corporations—all of which he defended— seemed means to ensure general prosperity by stabilizing capitalism. For similar reasons he defended labor's right to organize and strike. After 1900 he championed ship subsidies and an Isthmian canal to increase America's power through international trade.

Although Hanna introduced the phrase "stand pat" into the American vocabulary, his dream of domestic and international order through responsible capitalism was not a formula for do-nothingism. His instinctive idealism and his concern for the public weal represented the best of American Whig attitudes. Unfortunately for his reputation, he became, even before his death, a symbol of many reactionary business attitudes that he had personally condemned.


Further Reading on Marcus Alonzo Hanna

Herbert D. Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna (1912), the standard biography, is sometimes overly sympathetic. Thomas Beer, Hanna (1929), is a bright, cynical study by the son of one of Hanna's associates. H. Wayne Morgan, William McKinley and His America (1963), describes Hanna's role with balanced sympathy.