In this week’s blog, journalist and author Eugene Byrne shares a historical joke published in an American joke book in 1916 about Marcus Alonzo Hanna, a once colourful figure in American politics, and takes a look at the story behind the joke.
Mark Hanna was walking through his mill one day when he heard a boy say: “I wish I had Hanna’s money and he was in the poorhouse.”
When he returned to the office the senator sent for the lad, who was plainly mystified by the summons.
“So you wish you had my money and I was in the poorhouse,” said the great man grimly. “Now supposing you had your wish, what would you do?”
“Well,” said the boy quickly, his droll grin showing his appreciation of the situation, “I guess I’d get you out of the poorhouse the first thing.”
Mr. Hanna roared with laughter and dismissed the youth.
“You might as well push that boy along,” he said to one of his assistants; “he’s too good a politician to be kept down.”
Marcus Alonzo Hanna, usually known just as Mark Hanna (1837-1904) was a colourful and powerful figure in American politics from the great age of the Robber Barons. After several unsuccessful business starts, he made a fortune in coal and iron in Cleveland, Ohio. He entered politics in the 1880s, becoming a Senator in 1897, and was usually aligned with the Republican right. Though very rich, he was said to be uninterested in money, much preferring the business of making deals.
Hanna’s political career plainly shows a lot of the antecedents of modern American politics. The quotation most commonly ascribed to him is: “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.”
His main claim to fame was as campaign manager of William McKinley’s successful Presidential campaign of 1896. With a war-chest of $3.5m Hanna’s management of McKinley’s campaign vastly outspent William Jennings Bryan’s rival bid and was notable for its sophisticated use of print publicity and stunts. He would almost certainly have fought Theodore Roosevelt for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1904 but for his sudden death of typhoid.
This story, from an American joke book published in 1916, looks as though it might well have been put about by Hanna himself.