Genealogy Data > Index to 1885 History of Hendricks County

The History of Hendricks County (Chicago: Interstate Publishing, 1885)--Guilford Township, pages 619-622

John Hanna, a son of James Parks Hanna, was born Sept. 3, 1827, in what is now a part of the city of Indianapolis. His father entered and improved eighty acres of land in Warren Township and there died Aug. 21, 1839, leaving a widow and five children, John being the eldest. The mother died in 1844. John and the children remained on the farm until 1846, when, at the instance of General Robert Hanna, their guardian, they broke up housekeeping that they might go to school. The subject of this sketch, determined to acquire an education, started for Greencastle in February, 1846, with only $4 in his pocket. He walked the entire distance, entered the university, got the position as janitor of the college, worked his way through college and graduated with honors in June, 1850. He then entered the law office of Judge Delaney R. Eckles and there finished the study of his profession. He then became the law partner of his preceptor and settled in Greencastle. He was elected Mayor of the city of his adoption and served three years. After Judge Eckles went upon the bench as Circuit Judge, Mr. Hanna formed a partnership with the Hon. John A. Matson, which continued until the spring of 1858 when he went to Kansas. He was the same year elected a member of the Territorial Legislature from the county of Lykins, now Miami, and served as such during the session of 1868-'9; was chairman of the judiciary committee, introduced and carried through the act abolishing and prohibiting slavery in the Territory; was an earnest-working Republican in politics. After remaining one year in Kansas he returned to Greencastle and resumed the practice of law. In the presidential canvass of 1860 he was the Republican elector of the Seventh District, and as such voted for Abraham Lincoln. Prior to the Chicago convention he had advocated the nomination of Edward Bates, of Missouri, for the Presidency. Afterward Mr. Bates became Lincoln's Attorney-General. Hon. Henry S. Lane and Schuyler Colfax recommended the apointment of Mr. Hanna for United States Attorney for the district of Indiana, and he was also recommended by Mr. Bates, and appointed a few days after the inauguration of President Lincoln. He served four years; then his re-appointment was ordered by Mr. Lincoln, although his name was not sent to the Senate until after the death of the President. He continued to serve until the split between Johnson (the successor of Lincoln) and the Republican party, when he denounced Johnson, at a Johnson meeting held in Indianapolis he introduced a series of resolutions which was the immediate cause of his being removed, and Alfred Kilgore was appointed. This proves clearly that Mr. Hanna's political opinions were not in the market, to be transferred as merchandise. He furnished Mr. Kilgore all the information desired as to the business of the office; assisted him in the trials the first term after his appointment. Mr. Hanna then formed a partnership with General Fred Knefler, of this city, in the practice of law, and has devoted his time entirely to the practice of his profession, except in the canvass of 1868, when he, at the request of his political friends, canvassed the county of Putnam as a candidate for the Legislature. Although defeated he ran ahead of the State ticket. Since 1868 he has made no political speeches, although known as a decided, out-spoken Republican in politics. His life at the bar has been a constant warfare and he has more than the usual share of hotly contested litigated cases. He has perhaps been engaged in as many jury trials as any lawyer of his age. As United States Attorney during the war his position was one requiring great labor, yet, without assistance, he managed to discharge his duties to the entire satisfaction of the Government. The prosecutions for violations of the draft laws, the revenue laws, confiscation acts, conspiracies, treasons and felonies were numerous, as the records of the court attest. As a successful prosecutor his record was satisfactory to those who gave him their influence. Since he commenced the practice of law in this city he has been engaged in a number of the most prominent murder cases for the defense, the Clem case perhaps being the most noted. His practice at present is remunerative. He still resides at Greencastle, where he has a lovely home near the town. His family library is the best in the county and the favorite resort of his children of evenings. He regards it as money well spent, and it is his boast that he never had a moment's concern about the whereabouts of his boys at night. His sons incline to be farmers rather than professional men. The oldest is now a farmer in Hendricks County. While attending the University Mr. Hanna became acquainted with Miss Mahala Sherfy, of Perrysville, Vermillion County, who was attending the female collegiate seminary, then in charge of Mrs. Larabie, wife of Prof. William C. Larabie. Miss Sherfy and Mr. Hanna graduated from the same rostrum in June, 1850, and May, 1851, they were married. Mrs. Hanna was a woman of liberal education and superior intellect, and in the fullest sense of the word a true wife. As a Christian she was loved by her neighbors and idolized by her husband. She was the mother of seven children, one who died in infancy. She died in the spring of 1870, leaving her husband three sons and three daughters. Mr. Hanna remained a widower two years then married Mrs. Emma Pothorff, of Greencastle. They have now another son and daughter, eight in all. His children are devoted to him, and it seems a labor of love for him to work in their interest. His eldest child, a daughter, Lillie, graduated at the University two years ago. Mr. Hanna was, therefore, the first graduate of the institution that furnished a daughter for graduation. His second daughter and two of his sons are now attending the same University. He believes in giving girls equal chance with boys in the advantage of education, and, therefore, insisted that the University open its doors to both, which was finally done. The result has proven that the "honors" may be won by the so-called weaker sex if they are given an equal opportunity. Mr. Hanna's great success in his profession has demonstrated that he is man of much more than ordinary natural ability, starting out a poor boy comparatively, without friends or money, working his way through college and attaining an enviable and high position both as a civil and criminal lawyer. It is certainly a great incentive to other poor young men to go and do likewise. Mr. Hanna's record shows that he has descended from an ancestry that had rendered service during the Revolution. His great-grandfather was a native of South Carolina and was there engaged during the entire struggle for American independence in behalf of liberty and the stars and stripes. He had a large family of sons. Mr. Hanna's grandfather, John Hanna, was one of the elder brothers. The late General Robert Hanna, the younger, and several more of the family removed to Brookville, Franklin County, early in the history of Indiana Territory. General Robert Hanna was a member of the convention that framed the first Constitution of the State in 1816. The father of the subject of this sketch was a mere boy at the time they first came to Indiana. They removed to Marion County in 1826. The grandfather settled on a farm near where the poor house now stands in Wayne Township; his brother Joseph, a short distance from him on the Crawfordsville State road. James Parks Hanna, father of John, lived with his uncle, General Hanna, up to the time of his marriage with Miss Lydia Heward, of New Jersey. Four years ago Mr. Hanna removed the remains of his father and mother to Greencastle cemetery, where they will probably remain until that day when the graves and the sea will be called on to give up their dead. Mr. Hanna's record is one worthy of emulationi, and should be inscribed in the pages of history.

In person he is about five foot eight inches in height, with a heavy, square frame, though not inclined to corpulency, dark hair, eyes and complexion, and seems to be in the full strength and vigor of manhood, plain and unassuming in manner. A stranger upon entering our court could at once single him out as one of the leading spirits of the Indianapolis bar.

In 1884 Mr. Hanna was nominated by the Republican convention for Representative in Congress from the capital city district, and was elected at the State election in October, defeating the Hon. Franklin Landers, the incumbent, and one of the most popular men in the district, 1,398 votes.

"Nothing is difficult beneath the sky, Man only fails because he fails to try."