Sunday, September 28, 2003

Ohio Moments


D.K. Watson took on Standard Oil, bossism

On Sept. 28, 1918, David Kemper Watson - who had challenged the mighty Standard Oil Trust despite extraordinary pressure from his Republican colleagues in Ohio - died in Columbus at age 69.

While running for attorney general in 1887, he happened upon a book about trusts. He read the Standard Oil Trust agreement, ascertaining that the company had given power to out-of-state trustees in violation of its agreement with Ohio. Watson decided that if elected, he would have a duty to file a suit against the company.

He was elected, and a petition to dissolve Standard Oil was filed in 1890. Several influential businessmen tried to bribe him to drop the suit. Mark Hanna, a Cleveland industrialist who was a powerful member of the Republican Party, was said to have told Watson: "You have been in politics long enough to know that no man in public office owes the public anything." But Watson refused to withdraw the suit, and Standard Oil's trust agreement was canceled.

In 1894, Watson was elected to the House of Representatives from the mostly Democratic 12th District.

Rebecca Goodman

E-mail rgoodman@enquirer.com or call (513) 768-8361.




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