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Fundamental Documents of Ohio







1900- 1904

George Kilbon Nash's election as governor of Ohio in November 1899 climaxed thirty years of faithful service to the Republican party. He was born in 1842 on a farm in York Township, Medina County, Ohio. His family was of New England extraction and of strong anti- slavery views. Young Nash studied at Western Reserve Academy and attended Oberlin College for two years. He entered the Union Army as a private in 1864, serving in the same regiment as Mark Hanna. At the end of the war he came to Columbus, read law, and was admitted to the bar in 1867.

His political career began in 1869 with an appointment as chief clerk in the office of the secretary of state. During the 1870's he was twice elected prosecuting attorney of Franklin County, and in the eighties he served two terms as attorney general in the administration of Governor Charles Foster. It was at this time that he won widespread public notice through the successful prosecution of a lawsuit against the Vanderbilt interests to prevent the merger of two competing railroad lines. Before leaving office Foster appointed Nash to the supreme court commission, a body which assisted the court to clear its docket.

Like Foster, Nash belonged to the Sherman-Hanna-McKinley wing of the Republican party rather than to the Foraker faction. He was Hanna's choice for governor in 1895, but lost the nomination to Asa Bushnell, a Foraker man. Two years later, after Hanna had won control of the party machinery, Nash was named chairman of the Republican state executive committee. He supported Hanna's candidacy for election to the United States Senate in 1898 and, with the aid of Hanna and the endorsement of Boss Cox of Cincinnati, received the Republican nomination for governor in 1899. In the campaign of 1899 Nash defeated John R. McLean, the Democratic candidate, and Samuel M. Jones, mayor of Toledo, who ran as an independent. He was reelected in 1901 by a substantial plurality over James Kilbourne, Democrat, of Columbus.

Nash enjoyed a reputation as a strong governor and he gave the state a businessman's administration. He used the prestige and authority of his office to push the measures he favored through the legislature and to block those that he opposed. He supported a constitutional amend- ment, ratified in 1903, which conferred a limited veto power on the governor; established a uniform auditing system for state offices and institutions; and conducted vigorous investigations of several state schools and hospitals. His administration repeatedly intervened in the affairs of the larger cities of the state.

Many of the laws enacted and executive actions taken during Nash's four years in office can be understood only in the light of the concern aroused in the Hanna wing of the Republican party by the policies and popularity of municipal reformers in three of the major cities in Ohio: the fusion (anti-Cox) group in Cincinnati, "Golden Rule" Jones in Toledo, and Tom L. Johnson in Cleveland. Among the first bills considered by the general assembly in 1900 was one which reorganized the government of Cincinnati in a manner that permitted the Cox machine to return to power. In 1902 the legislature passed an act removing control of the Toledo police force from Mayor Jones and vesting it in a bipartisan board appointed by the governor; a similar measure transferred the supervision of the Cleveland park system from city officials to a county board.

Statutes of this kind were made possible, despite a constitutional prohibition of special legislation, by the long-established legislative prac- tice of classifying municipalities in such a way that there was usually only one city in a given classification. Thus laws could be passed referring to "cities of the first class of the second grade" which were seemingly general in application but actually were directed at one particular city. The municipal classification system had been sanctioned by the state supreme court in a series of decisions extending over many years but, in two cases decided on June 27, 1902, the court reversed its stand. One suit involved the Toledo police law, which was ruled invalid as special legislation. The other case concerned the Cleveland city charter, and restored certain independent powers to that city.

The Cleveland charter case had been instituted by Nash's attorney general, John M. Sheets, apparently in order to bar Mayor Johnson and the city council of Cleveland from taking action prejudicial to Mark Hanna's street railway company. The effect of the two decisions was to upset the government of virtually every city in Ohio, since practically all of them had been chartered by special acts of the legis- lature. To correct the situation the governor summoned a special session of the general assembly.

In framing the new code both Nash and the legislature ignored the recommendations of a commission appointed in the second Bushnell administration to formulate a uniform system of municipal law. The model code, drawn up by the commission and reported to the legislature in 1900, proposed the federal plan of city government, provided for strong popular control over the granting of franchises, and permitted municipal ownership of public utilities. Nash, however, opposed the centralization of executive power in the office of mayor, favored the administration of police departments by bipartisan boards appointed by and responsible to the governor, and believed it necessary to limit the power of cities to tax, assess, borrow money, and contract debts. In general his views on municipal government were in harmony with those of Boss Cox and Senators Hanna and Foraker, all of whom took an active interest in the preparation of the new code.

As adopted the new municipal code followed the general lines laid down by the governor in his message to the special session of the general assembly. In the opinion of a national magazine the legislation represented "a distinct disappointment to municipal reformers," and even Nash admitted that it was "not perfect." Although the legislature refused to accept the principle of administering local affairs through boards appointed by state officials, the general result of the measure enacted was to weaken the powers of mayors and divide executive responsibility among numerous elective boards, some of them bipartisan in composition. The utility franchise issue was avoided for the time being; the code contained no plan for controlling the issuance of fran- chises, but referred the problem to a new commission.

Governor Nash's chief interest and major achievement lay in the field of taxation. During his administrations, laws were passed requiring an annual report from corporations and the payment of a fee of one-tenth of one percent upon the capital actually invested in them; the public utility tax was raised from one-half of one percent to one percent of gross receipts; and insurance companies chartered in other states were taxed two and one-half percent of their gross receipts in Ohio. Revenue obtained from the new taxes enabled the Nash administration to effect a reduction in the direct property tax from 28 to 131/2 cents per hundred dollars of valuation.

As Nash pointed out, he was no foe of corporations. He supported the amendment repealing the double liability clause in the state con- stitution. The annual report required of corporations was, in his words, "not inquisitorial," and the tax laws he sponsored were scarcely burden- some to the businesses involved. Under his plan public utility franchises were left untaxed and business firms benefited by the scaling down of the direct levy on general property. Furthermore the Nash adminis- tration remitted increases in tax valuations assessed against public utilities by Cleveland officials, and protected railroads against proposed increases in the tax valuations of their properties.

Nash died on October 28, 1904, eight months after leaving office. He had been preceded in death by his wife and only child, a daughter. The Ohio State University


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