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Late 19th century


Oil refining
Oil refining

During the late 19th century, politics in Ohio were dominated by the state’s giant industrial interests. These businesses also wielded enormous influence nationally, helping to elect seven Ohio natives to the presidency between 1868 and 1923: Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Warren G. Harding. All but Grant and Harrison were Ohio residents at the time of their elections. All were conservative Republicans closely attentive to the interests of big business. Other Ohioans also played major roles in national politics. Marcus Hanna, a Republican Party leader, U.S. senator, and presidential adviser, forged a long-lasting alliance between the party and corporate business interests. John Sherman, a longtime member of Congress and cabinet official under President Hayes, wrote the Sherman Antitrust Act, landmark legislation passed in 1890 that banned corporate monopolies in restraint of trade.

On the state and local levels, the industrial interests controlled both major parties through political machines. Corruption, graft, and fraudulent election practices flourished. The interests of big business were protected, often at the expense of programs for public welfare. The evils of the political system were particularly manifest in the big cities, which increasingly were transformed into grimy, ugly slums. Big business was not omnipotent, however. Liquor interests were taxed in 1886, and in 1892 Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust, the first corporate trust, was declared an illegal monopoly by the Ohio Supreme Court, which ordered it dissolved. The company was re-established in New Jersey, and in 1911 the company was broken into separate corporations by an antitrust decision of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Beginning in the 1890s, reformers came to power in Ohio, part of a national progressive movement that aimed to curb abuses by governments and industry and to improve life for workers, the poor, and other groups. Many Ohio reformers were elected by running independently of both major political parties, winning despite the opposition of entrenched political machines. Such progressive mayors as Samuel M. Jones and Brand Whitlock of Toledo and Tom L. Johnson of Cleveland instituted wide-reaching reforms. On the state level, reform efforts led to a constitutional convention in 1912, which produced 33 amendments that were approved by Ohio voters.

Included were amendments that established a merit system in state and local civil service and introduced such election reform measures as the initiative and referendum, which allowed voters to initiate and approve legislation, and the direct primary, in which voters rather than party bosses or conventions select candidates. The state legislature also passed important reform legislation, establishing a public utilities commission, modernizing the public schools, and creating a conservancy district, the first of its kind, to build a flood-control system after flooding severely damaged Dayton in 1913. "Ohio" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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