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His letters to his lieutenants in the South all run to the same effect. During February and March, 1896, when the combination against McKinley was using every device of the political professional to snatch the delegates away from McKinley, Mr. Hanna was overwhelmed with demands for money from his assistants in the South. He wrote to one correspondent late in January: "You are laboring under the impression that there is a liberal fund provided for distribution. Such is not the case. I am personally providing what seems to be necessary for such expenses as are legitimate. Mr. McKinley is most decidedly opposed to the expenditure of money along the line of purchasing support. Therefore I suggest that in districts where the sentiment is against us, from whatever cause, we had better avoid any fight. We will not find fault with you if you secure no districts which cannot be won on the merits of Mr. McKinley as a candidate." The difficulties under which he labored may be inferred from the following letter, written early in February: "I am in receipt of yours of the 3d and enclose a draft for $500, which is all I can possibly spare for the occasion. The fact is, my friend, I am at a point where I will have to put a stop on expenditures, until some of our friends come to our assistance, which up to date has not been done. Business is as bad as it was in '93, and I have had to borrow this money to send to you. My firm is as hard up as I am." So far from being a campaign in which money was freely disbursed, the fight for Mr. McKinley's nomination was an example of the attainment of a striking political success without any but a very economical expenditure of money.
In a speech made to his friends at the Union Club in Cleveland after the Convention was over, Mr. Hanna declared he had been forbidden by Mr. McKinley to win the nomination by means of any pledge of office or remuneration. There is no evidence either in Mr. Hanna's correspondence or in the testimony of his associates that specific pledges were made to bestow particular offices on particular men. But many promises were undoubtedly made that the local political leaders who worked for Mr. McKinley's nomination would in the event of success be "recognized" in the distribution of Federal patronage. Again and again Mr. Hanna wrote to local politicians who were known to favor Mr. McKinley that if they would organize their district or state in his favor they would be consulted after the election in respect to the appointments. In so wording the promises, Mr. Hanna freed himself and Mr. McKinley from specific obligations. They could always reject any proposed appointment in case it seemed to them unfit. The distinction between making a definite pledge and admitting a general claim for "recognition" has a validity which should not be ignored, even by those who deplore any purchase of political support by the promise of official patronage. The American Civil Service can never become efficient unless such methods are abandoned; but they are deeply rooted in our political practice, and their use was considered necessary to the nomination of Mr. McKinley. They were so essential a part of the political system, to which Mr. Hanna was accustomed, that he would have regarded their scrupulous avoidance as absurd.
In telling his friends at the Union Club that Mr. McKinley had forbidden the purchase of support by specific pledges, Mr. Hanna was probably thinking of the negotiations between himself and the Eastern "bosses." He himself came to recognize that such bargains gravely compromised the public interest; and the lesson which his friend had taught him was one which he did not forget. In the distribution of patronage after the election, most of the men who had contributed effectively to Mr. McKinley's nomination received offices, but in spite of certain mistakes an honest attempt was made to fill the higher offices with able and disinterested public servants. Both the President and his friend knew the value to the administration of good service and the danger of poor service. Under Mr. McKinley's stewardship the country was on the whole well served by its higher executive officials. The earlier mistakes were soon rectified, and the vacated offices were always filled by exceptionally strong administrators.
The promise of Federal offices, like the expenditure of money, played, however, only a subordinate part in the nomination of Mr. McKinley. Some of the other candidates had money to spend and offices to promise; but they could make slight headway by virtue of such paddles. Mr. McKinley had behind
him a current of popular favor, which was skilfully and systematically exploited to the very limit. It might have prevailed, even if it had not been exploited, but neither the candidate nor his friend was taking any chances. The final success was overwhelming, because advantage had been seized of every opportunity to make it so. That the opportunities were good does not subtract from the rarity of the achievement. Mr. McKinley and Mr. Hanna succeeded because they deserved to succeed. Back of every substantial success in American politics, one may trace the influence of very personal and human forces, and the Republican nomination of 1896 was no exception. Mr. McKinley was a man who had the faculty of making friends, not because he actually did very much for others, but because of the amiability, the tact and the good taste he showed in all his personal relationships. By virtue of his affability he usually avoided making enemies, even when he failed to make friends. The men who would not fight on his side had no special reason for fighting against him, and he sought to be as scrupulously correct in his political methods as he was scrupulously amiable in his personal relations. Added to this personal availability as a candidate was his equally decisive sectional availability. The Middle West usually furnishes the Republican presidential candidates, because by location and outlook it is more representative of the whole nation than any other part of the country. Its local interests and traditions have something in common with the interests and traditions both of the manufacturing East and the agricultural West. A candidate from an Eastern state, such as Mr. Thomas B. Reed, usually lacks this advantage, and starts for this reason under a grave handicap. The handicap is the more severe in case his state is small and by no means doubtful. Mr. McKinley represented, on the whole, a group of ideas and interests as nearly national as could any political leader of his own generation. Moreover, his personal and local merits as a candidate were raised to a higher power by the course of political and economic history from 1890 to 1895. The panic of '93, the acuteness of the resulting privations and the failure of the Wilson Bill gave real plausibility and enormous political effect to the claim that he was the "advance agent" of prosperity.
Mark Hanna seems to have been born and raised particularly for the purpose of exploiting these advantages. He loved McKinley as a man. He admired the politician. Whenever he had an enthusiasm, he could communicate it. He could make others believe in McKinley as he did. He could impart his own energy of affection and conviction to the whole movement on behalf of his friend's nomination. He himself was the kind of American citizen whom McKinley could represent only. He embodied in his own person the enterprising, homogeneous, uncritical Americanism of the Middle West which, with all its new organization and equipment, derived its vitality from the earlier economic nationalism of the pioneer. Americans of this type had always associated the American system with a generally diffused economic prosperity. Acute and widespread privation meant that the system was out of joint; and under the prevailing methods of stimulation by the government of all productive enterprise, the repair of the system became a political responsibility. The restoration of the Republican party to power and the election of McKinley assumed in his eyes the character of a patriotic mission.
His substantial successes in politics, including the nomination of William McKinley, were born of the fact that he remained an unspecialized American citizen, whose behavior awakened responsive approval among other Americans of the same kind. He expressed a phase of public opinion, which when aroused was all the more powerful, because it was only semiconscious and because it never could be completely expressed by lawyers or politicians. His ability to represent this element in the American political and economic life sharply distinguished him from the ordinary political professional. Just as in business he never became a dislocated financier, so in politics he never became the mere manipulator of a machine. He cooperated with the machine politicians. He used many of their methods. His standard of behavior in politics was not as high as his standard of behavior in business. When he supped with the Devil, he fished with a long spoon. But in these respects he was faithful to his type. The typical American has never been scrupulous about the means which he used in order to accomplish what seemed to him a worthy purpose. Mr. Hanna became more rather than less typical, because he used the professional politicians instead of fighting them. But he never became one of them; and if he had done so, he would have been as successful in nominating McKinley as Thomas C. Platt was in nominating Mr. Levi P. Morton. There is, I believe, no close parallel in American politics for the part which Mark Hanna played in the nomination of McKinley. Of course other men have labored faithfully and efficiently to make their friends or associates a presidential candidate. A state "boss" is always calculating whether or not he cannot force some favorite candidate on the Convention. Presidents have sometimes had a good deal to do with the naming of their successors. But when Mr. Hanna began to work first for Sherman and then for McKinley, he started with no leverage not possessed by hundreds of his fellow-citizens. He was merely a well-to-do business man with some small political experience. His special qualification for the task consisted merely in the fact that he wanted to do it. The will to nominate a President aroused in its possessor the abilities necessary for its accomplishment. After he had failed with Sherman, his ambition was sweetened and sanctified by a warm and loyal personal attachment to the new candidate himself. Mr. Hanna was aroused to still greater activity and still greater sacrifices, until the accomplishment of the task absorbed all his time and energy. He proved equal to one emergency after another. He selected good subordinates. He convinced and persuaded doubters. He converted to McKinley's support a whole section of the country. He worked upon public opinion quite as much as he did upon individuals and in the most effective way. Gradually the possible candidate was made probable and then irresistible. The task was achieved. William McKinley became the Republican nominee for the presidency; and Mark Hanna was no less responsible for the triumph than was the candidate himself.