Ohio History Journal

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"You have been in politics long enough to know that no man in public office

owes the public anything." In these or closely similar words, Mark Hanna

is alleged to have advised the attorney general of Ohio in 1890 to drop an

antitrust suit against the Standard Oil Company.* Historians looking for

a succinct illustration of how the late nineteenth century's robber barons

and their vassals operated in the political field have found the alleged

remark invaluable. It first did duty in the Democratic campaign against

Hanna's election to the senate in 1897. Ida Tarbell used it in her History

of the Standard Oil Company in 1904. Two years later it appeared in Harry

Thurston Peck's influential Twenty Years of the Republic. The following

generation of readers would find it in Matthew Josephson's persuasive The

Robber Barons (1932), and elsewhere, while today it reappears in an occa-

sional college text--and probably more frequently in classroom lectures--

as well as in a recent paperback reissue of the Josephson book.1 Since

neither of Hanna's early biographers categorically denied that he expressed

the sentiments in question, the essential legitimacy of the quotation has never

been attacked.2