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failing in the personal interview, to write you a letter, but the subject passed out of my mind. Recently while in New York I learned from my friend, Mr. John D. Rockefeller, that such suit was still pending, and without any solicitation on his part or suggestion from him, I determined to write you, believing that both political and business interests justified me in doing so. While I am not personally interested in the Standard Oil Co., many of my closest friends are, and I have no doubt that many of the business associations with which I am connected are equally open to attack. The simple fact is, as you will discover, if you have not already done so, that in these modern days most commercial interests are properly and necessarily taking on the form of organization for the safety of investors, and the improvement of all conditions upon which business is done. There is no greater mistake for a man in or out of public place to make than to assume that he owes any duty to the public or can in any manner advance his own position or interests by attacking the organizations under which experience has taught business can best be done. From a party standpoint, interested in the success of the Republican party, and regarding you as in the line of political promotion, I must say that the identification of your office with litigation of this character is a great mistake. There is no public demand for a raid upon organized capital. For years the business of manufacturing oil has been done with great success at Cleveland, competition has been open and free, and the public has been greatly benefited by the manner in which the oil business has been carried on. The Standard Oil Co. is officered and managed by some of the best and strongest men in the country. They are pretty much all Republicans and have been most liberal in their contributions to the party, as I personally know, Mr. Rockefeller always quietly doing his share. I think I am in a position to know that the party in this state has been at times badly advised. We need for the struggles of the future the coöperation of our strongest business interests and not their indifference or hostility. You will probably not argue with me in this. I have been informed, though I can hardly credit the information, that Senator Sherman has encouraged or suggested this litigation. If that be correct, I would like to know it, because I shall certainly have something to say to the Senator myself. I simply say with respect to this matter, that prudence and caution require you to go very slow in this business. “Very truly yours, (Signed) “M. A. HANNA.”
On December 13, Mr. Watson answered with the letter published by Miss Tarbell in which he disclaimed any attack on organized capital and asserted that Senator Sherman had nothing whatever to do with the suit. Two weeks later he received from Mr. Hanna an answer which is reproduced below:—
“CLEVELAND, OHIo, Dec. 27, 1890. “HoN. D. K. WATson, “DEAR SIR: — “On my return from the East I find your favor of the 13th inst. and I am much obliged for your attention. I think I know a good deal about the Standard Oil and have from its beginning, as I have known the men who organized it for thirty years, and most of . them are intimate friends. There has been no industry of greater benefit to our city, and there are large holdings among our enterprising business men. They are indignant at this attack, and when the time comes will make their influence felt. Therefore I have said to you in all frankness that politically it is a very sad mistake, and I am sure will not result in much personal glory for you. I am glad to know that Senator Sherman has nothing to do with it, and for the same reason I wish you might have as little to do with it as possible from this time. “Truly yours, (Signed) “M. A. HANNA.”
The second of these letters is unquestionably genuine. Mr. James B. Morrow saw the original with Mr. Hanna's signature attached. The first of them is admittedly only a copy and obviously has no authenticity as a document. A man possessing a copy can make as many additional copies as he likes and add or suppress as much as suits his purpose. An alleged copy must consequently be scrutinized with care, and the copyist cannot complain, in case any part of the text is rejected which does not square with what we know about its supposed author.
There is nothing in the letter of November 21 which in my opinion Mr. Hanna might not have written in November, 1890, except two sentences. The text reads: “While I am not personally interested in the Standard Oil Co. many of my closest friends are, and I have no doubt that many of the business associations with which I am connected are equally open to attack.” It is true, of course, that certain of Mr. Hanna's friends and relatives were interested in the Standard Oil Company, but, so far as I know, none of the “business associations” with which he was connected was under any suspicion of being illegal. They certainly were not organized and operated under a trust agreement, as was the Standard Oil Company, and they certainly could not have been attacked as monopolies or as combinations in restraint of trade. Of
course Mr. Hanna may have written the sentence loosely and vaguely, in order to emphasize his general idea that the Standard Oil Company was merely one example of desirable organization in business, but why should he suggest to the Attorney-General of the state that part of his own business was being conducted in defiance of state laws, particularly in view of the fact that the assertion would have been untrue? Much more serious, however, is the suspicion which must attach to the sentence: “There is no greater mistake for a man in or out of public place to make than to assume that he owes any duty to the public or can in any manner advance his own position or interests by attacking the organizations under which experience has taught business can best be done.” A fair-minded man cannot read the foregoing sentences carefully without suspecting that the words “he owes any duty to the public or” have been interpolated. With those words omitted the meaning of the whole passage is consistent, whereas the phrase under suspicion adds an irrelevant idea which breaks the force of the rest of the sentence. Mr. Hanna might well have written, “There is no greater mistake for a man in or out of public place to make than to assume that he can in any manner advance his own interests by attacking the organizations,” etc., but why, even had he believed it, should he be cynical and incoherent enough to throw in a remark that a public official owes no duty to the public? The supposition is incredible. One can conceive that some such remark could be passed in private among a group of the lowest professional politicians or entirely unscrupulous business men, but for a man in semi-public life, no matter how corrupt personally, to commit such an idea to paper would be to convict him of childish folly. The folly becomes more than inexplicable when it is remembered that the recommendation was addressed to a man with whom Mr. Hanna was slightly acquainted, and who would have good ground to be aggrieved by the letter. A perversion so gross, so palpable and so stupid exposes itself. Whether or not any other passage in the letter is or is not genuine one does not like to assert with confidence. No doubt the greater part of it is authentic, but the suspicion which attaches to the whole document makes it impossible to accept absolutely any part of it and base a criticism of Mr. Hanna upon it. In general, however, there is this to be said. Much of the letter might have been written by Mr. Hanna in 1890, and, having done so, he might have wanted it destroyed in 1897. Moreover, he might have wanted to destroy it, not merely because it was troublesome, but because he was ashamed of it. A man who was to become United States Senator should not have reproached a state prosecuting attorney for bringing a plausible suit against a possibly illegal corporation, and he should not have intimated that for the attorney's own political welfare he should thereafter have as little as possible to do with such business. But Mr. Hanna had changed a good deal since the fall of 1890. He still believed that the organization of capital was a good thing and should not be discouraged by law. He still had very little curiosity whether as a matter of fact corporations like the Standard Oil Company were conducting their business illegally. He was still too complaisant about accepting money for political purposes from corporations whose legal standing was at best dubious. But he would not have reproached a state prosecuting attorney for attempting to enforce the law, nor would he have intimated that by so doing the man's political future would have been compromised.
THREE YEARS OF TRANSITION
AN account of Mark Hanna's career in the Senate of the United States need touch only incidently upon many essential phases of the legislative and political history of his seven years of service. To associate the history of these years too intimately with Mr. Hanna's biography would be to convey a false impression of the scope of his political influence. In respect to certain problems confronting Mr. McKinley's administration, his preferences and opinions were extremely powerful. In respect to other questions, equally if not more important, his influence was negligible. He was not the man to interfere in any business with which his past training and his present position did not make him very competent to deal; and in relation to many of the most pressing questions of public policy, his opinions were no more powerful and his advice no more useful than that of a dozen other Republican Senators.
The first three years of Mr. Hanna's service in the Senate constituted a period of transition in his career. Never before had he occupied an important official position. Never before had he shouldered any personal responsibility for questions of public administration and policy. Hitherto his dominant political interest had been that of contriving the election of his friends and associates to more or less important offices. But suddenly he had become a part of the government—and an important part, by virtue both of his constitutional and his extra-constitutional powers. His extra-constitutional power as the confidential friend and adviser of the President and the chairman of the Republican National Committee was the natural product of his past achievements; and these powers were exercised with vigor and with good judgment. But his official power as Senator did not immediately attain any considerable momentum. It was allowed to grow naturally and from relatively obscure and small beginnings.