From Ohio History Central
Ohio governor and United States senator Joseph Benson Foraker was born near Rainsboro in Highland County, Ohio, on July 5, 1846. His parents were Henry Stacey Foraker and Margaret Reece Foraker. Foraker spent his childhood working on the family farm and obtained only limited schooling during those years.
When Foraker was only sixteen years old, he decided to join the Union army during the American Civil War. He enlisted in Company A of the 89th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During the war, Foraker participated in military actions in West Virginia and Tennessee. He also served with General William T. Sherman during his March to the Sea. By the time that Foraker left the military in June 1865, he had obtained the rank of captain.
Once the Civil War was over, Foraker was free to pursue his goal of becoming a lawyer. He attended the Salem Academy at Ohio Wesleyan University before studying law at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Foraker was a member of Cornell's first graduating class in 1869. He moved to Cincinnati, gained admittance to the bar, and began practicing law.
Foraker first entered politics in 1879. He was elected to be a judge of the superior court in Cincinnati. He held this position until 1882. During his years on the court, he gained a reputation for his speaking skills and became an important member of the Republican Party. In 1883, Foraker ran for Ohio governor on the Republican ticket but failed to defeat Democrat George Hoadly. Foraker was successful in the gubernatorial election of 1885 and became Ohio's thirty-seventh governor.
As governor, Foraker was concerned about election fraud in Ohio. He helped institute a voter registration program and favored changes in how election boards were established. During his administration, the state legislature also passed the Dow Law, which taxed the sale of alcoholic beverages in Ohio. The governor instituted a number of reforms, including the establishment of boards to reduce corruption in city government, the creation of a state board of health, and greater oversight of the operations of the state penitentiary. Foraker was elected to a second term in 1887 but was unsuccessful in winning a third term in 1889.
Although Foraker was an influential member of the Republican Party in Ohio, he did not get along with prominent Republicans John Sherman, Marcus Hanna, and William McKinley. Instead, Foraker gained the support of prominent city boss George Cox of Cincinnati. In 1892, Foraker unsuccessfully attempted to contest Sherman's appointment as a United States senator. By 1896, he had organized his supporters and won election to the Senate.
Foraker served as one of Ohio's two senators from 1897 to March 3, 1909. Although the senator had competed with McKinley for political influence in Ohio, he supported the president's policies as a member of Congress. Foraker voted in favor of the Spanish-American War in 1898 and served as chairman of the committee on the Pacific Islands and Puerto Rico. When Theodore Roosevelt became president, Foraker was not as supportive. He was the only Republican to vote against the Hepburn Act of 1906, which regulated railroads. He also criticized Roosevelt's actions in the Brownsville case, in which the president ordered that an African-American regiment be discharged without formal charges filed against them in 1906.
Foraker was unsuccessful in obtaining a third term as senator in 1908. During his first term as senator, Foraker had taken money from the Standard Oil Company in exchange for providing some legal advice to the company. In the nineteenth century, this kind of arrangement between politicians and businesses had been acceptable. By the early twentieth century, many Americans viewed such a relationship as a conflict of interest. When news of his involvement with Standard Oil became public in 1908, Foraker was forced to retire from politics.
After leaving the Senate, Foraker returned to private legal practice in Cincinnati, Ohio. He once again attempted to enter politics in 1914, unsuccessfully running against Warren G. Harding for the Republican senatorial nomination. He published his memoirs, Notes of a Busy Life, in 1916. Foraker died in Cincinnati on May 10, 1917. He was buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery.