Link to Online Collection Catalog
Link to OHS HOME page
Link to CONTACT OHS page
Link to OHIO HISTORY STORE website
Link to OHS CALENDAR page
Link to OHS PLACES page
Link to OHS RESOURCES page
Link to the ABOUT OHS page
Link to SEARCH OHS page
OHS Online Home
Fundamental Documents of Ohio







1886- 1890

Joseph Benson Foraker, thirty-seventh governor of Ohio, was born July 5, 1846, near Rainsboro, Highland County, Ohio. His ancestors were English and Scotch-Irish; his paternal grandfather, John Fouracre, had emigrated from Devonshire, England, in the early eighteenth century and had settled in Delaware. Foraker's parents, Henry Stacey and Mar- garet (Reece) Foraker, were early Ohio settlers. Young "Ben," as he was called during his youth, was a typical Ohio farm lad, helping with the chores, fishing and swimming, and putting in a few months at school each year. He attended Sunday School and church services at the Method- ist Episcopal church. When only sixteen years old he enlisted in Company "A," 89th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and with this unit saw action in West Virginia and Tennessee. In 1864, as a lieutenant under General William T. Sherman, he marched through Georgia to the sea, and in 1865 through the Carolinas and Virginia. He was mustered out a captain in June 1865. As a farm boy he had made up his mind to become a lawyer, and upon his return to civilian life he set out to enter that profession. To this end he attended Salem Academy, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Cornell University; he was graduated a member of the first class of Cornell in 1869. That same year he was admitted to the Cincinnati bar, and soon thereafter became a successful attorney.

To confirm his legal reputation he ran for and was elected judge of the superior court of Cincinnati for the term 1879-81. His judicious conduct on the bench as well as his oratorical skill at political gatherings attracted the attention of Ohio Republican leaders who, in 1883, per- suaded him to run for governor. Although unable to overcome the unfavorable position of his party that year, he did become acquainted with important Republicans. Two years later he defeated George Hoadly, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Foraker served capably as governor for two terms. Limited in his executive powers by the Ohio constitution, he was able to bring about only part of the reforms he advocated. In an attempt to clean up the abysmal election practices, he was successful in sponsoring laws requiring the registration of voters and the formation of nonpartisan election boards in the state's larger cities. To meet the impending deficit created by the excessive spending of the preceding administration, Foraker pro- posed numerous measures to increase state revenues. Of these only the Dow Law, regulating the sale of and taxing intoxicating beverages, was enacted by a spendthrift but tax-shy legislature.

The unrealistic attitude of the general assembly on finances forced Foraker to refund the state debt on his own initiative, a measure of leadership which won him wide acclaim. After extensive investigation of Cincinnati's corrupt police force and public works administration, he appointed boards to bring about much needed reforms. At his urging, the legislature in 1886 created a state board of health and a board of managers to govern the state penitentiary. His second term was marked by celebrations at Marietta, Cincinnati, and Columbus of the centennial of the beginnings of organized settlement in the Northwest Territory. His attempt for a third term was unsuccessful.

Although a strong Republican, he played the "lone wolf" in Ohio politics. His faction, the "young Republicans," in the eighties and early nineties steadfastly and openly opposed the Sherman-Hanna-McKinley group. This opposition caused him to be accused in 1884 and 1888 of attempting to obtain the Republican presidential nomination for himself. In 1892 his independence led him to contest the venerable John Sherman for the senatorship. After this unsuccessful campaign, he quietly built up a state-wide organization and won election to the senate in 1896. His election was assured in 1895 at the Zanesville convention, which was controlled by the masterfully organized Foraker forces. Much of his political strength stemmed from the consistent support of "Boss" Cox of Cincinnati.

During the 1880's he was a leader in the use of the "Bloody Shirt" in campaigns. Early in his political career he had learned that his audiences throve on Civil War issues, and as he later stated, "I gave them what they wanted." His colorful mannerisms and trenchant verbal thrusts won him the sobriquet, "Fire Alarm Foraker." Later he quieted down, becoming one of the foremost speakers in the Midwest and East. While governor, his uncompromising Republicanism led him to bait President Cleveland. In reply to the latter's request to return to the South captured Confederate battle flags then in various state capitols, Foraker publicly announced, "No rebel flags will be surrendered while I am governor."

During the McKinley administration Foraker was known as an "administration senator." He took a position of leadership on our entry into the Spanish-American War and in the wave of imperialism which followed. As chairman of the committee on the Pacific islands and Puerto Rico, he sponsored and pushed through to adoption the Foraker Act, the organic law for the recently-acquired island of Puerto Rico. He also served on the powerful foreign relations committee of the senate.

A representative of the conservatives, Foraker did not go along with Theodore Roosevelt's "Square Deal" and its efforts to achieve social justice. His opposition reached its climax over the Hepburn Bill of 1906 which was designed to regulate railroads. He was the only Republi- can senator to vote against it. His opposition to Roosevelt developed into open battle during the complex Brownsville case in which Foraker took the part of a Negro regiment summarily discharged by a hasty and ill- considered presidential order.

As a result of the publication of the Archbold-Foraker letters he was retired from politics in 1908. These letters, published by William Randolph Hearst, disclosed that during his first term as senator Foraker had been employed as special counsel for the Standard Oil Company of Ohio. The relationship with business, not uncommon in the preceding era, was considered unethical by the nation in 1908.

After his political retirement he continued his law practice in Cincinnati, representing many large corporations. In 1914 he was, as he later stated, "wheedled" into the senatorial primary to run against Warren G. Harding, for years a staunch Forakerite. The younger man won both the primary and the election. During his last years Foraker relived his eventful life while writing his autobiography, Notes of a Busy Life. He died on May 10, 1917.

An interesting memoir of Foraker and his period is I Would Live It Again, written by his wife and the mother of his five children, Julia Bundy Foraker. The Ohio State University


Back to the Ohio Governors index


OHIO HISTORY STORE || CALENDAR || PLACES || RESOURCES || ABOUT || SEARCH || PRIVACY POLICY || Last modified Tuesday, 26-Jul-2005 12:23:39 Eastern Daylight Time
Ohio History Center 800 E. 17th Ave. Columbus, OH 43211 © 1996-2012 All Rights Reserved.