Ananias Baker was a Congressional Representative who, in 1905, revealed tobacco industry attempts to bribe legislators for their votes on a bill dealing with cigarette manufacturing.
In 1905, a bill that would prohibit the manufacture and use of cigarettes in Indiana started making its circuitous way through the state legislature. The measure was passed by the Indiana Senate on February 3, 1905, but this was widely considered to be posturing on the part of the Senators – an attempt to force the House to vote it down. Moreover, it was being reported by reliable sources that the Tobacco Trust would buy every member of the House rather than allow the bill to pass. The House debated the measure on February 22, but just before the bill’s expected defeat an extraordinary event occurred. Representative Ananias Baker took the floor, held up a sealed envelope and announced that it had been given to him by a tobacco lobbyist with instructions to vote nay. A hush fell over the House, broken only by eager cries of “open it!” Baker proceeded to tear the envelope open, causing $100 to float out.
The dramatic gesture had seismic repercussions. Not only had Baker’s actions confirmed the rumors that votes would be bought, it also created a very difficult dilemma for the Representatives. Suddenly, any member of the House who voted against the ban on cigarettes would be laying themselves open to suspicion of accepting a bribe. A special investigative committee was assembled and at first, Ananias Baker refused to name the person responsible for the bribe. But after “half an hour of persistent and cleverly planned questioning” from the special committee, he finally accused Oscar A. Baker of Marion, a former state senator turned tobacco lobbyist who was known as “Cigarette” Baker. A warrant was sworn for the arrest of O. A. Baker, who fled before he could be arrested. Meanwhile the House voted 74-17 to approve the bill, and it was then signed into law by the governor.
Ananias Baker’s remarkable intervention brought this formerly obscure legislator into the national limelight. In some portrayals, he became a crusader who had made a heroic stand against corruption. A piece in Collier’s Weekly depicted Baker as a sort of “cross between a martyr and a Sherlock Holmes” who “spent a sleepless night in prayer” after being offered the bribe. Then when the vote on the anti-cigarette bill began, Baker, “rose to his tall, bewhiskered height, held the envelope aloft for all to see, told his tale in a voice that trembled beyond control and with the light of martyrs and tribunes in his eye, tore open the envelope and ripped therefrom one hundred dollars.” Baker was transformed into a folk hero of sorts, and indeed the Ananais Baker Awards are now used to honor those who take such stands (the winners can be seen on Youtube).
Others, however, expressed doubt about Baker’s motives. Some suggested that he was a religious zealot who had hatched a brilliant scheme to rid Indiana of cigarettes. Others insinuated that he was a political opportunist who had used the grandstand maneuver to achieve fame and advance his own political career.
Who then was Ananias Baker?
Ananias Baker was born in a one-room log cabin near Strasburg, Virginia, on January 9, 1848, the son of Abraham Baker, a blacksmith, and the former Terzah Claypool Boehm. He attended a log schoolhouse until the outbreak of the Civil War forced the closing of the State schools, effectively ending his formal education. An Ananias Baker served in the 146th Regiment of the Virginia Militia during the war, and this may have been him, although he was underage. After the war, he headed west and settled in Ohio, working as a book agent on a route that included Illinois. Kentucky and Indiana.
Within a few years, he moved farther west to Rochester, Indiana, where he married Tame Holder on December 17, 1872, and became a carpenter. He proved very successful and soon branched out from building houses to buying and selling them. By 1879, he had set enough money aside to open a lumber business. As one sketch put it, “the sign on the little office read: A. BAKER, Dealer in Lumber, Lath and Shingles. He was always at his place of business ready to buy or sell a bill of lumber and his trade increased and he prospered.” By 1886, Baker was running advertisements that boasted of a “mammoth stock of building material,” including “Lumber, Lath and Shingles.” In the next few years, he opened new lumber yards in Tipton and Marion and by 1892 was the owner of six lumber yards.
He and his wife were also becoming pillars of the Rochester community. In addition to raising their four children, both were active members of the local Christian Church, with Ananias Baker serving a trustee from the day it opened its doors. By 1892, he was described as “an extensive owner of town property, one of the principal stockholders in the Citizens State Bank, the heaviest stockholder in the Indiana Farmers Building and Loan Association, and a heavy investor in other securities. Ananias Baker is now widely known as a remarkably successful business man, a clever fellow, a liberal contributor to all deserving benevolences, a staunch and active democrat, and withal, a whole souled, well met gentleman.”
Eventually he earned election to the Indiana General Assembly as a Republican representing the counties of Cass and Fulton. Up until 1905, he served quietly, attracting attention only for his interest in astrology and for his quaint manners and appearance (he was described by one reporter as being “tall, angular, and with long spindle like beard”).
The dramatic speech changed that forever, however, making him a hero of reform crusaders and a target of many who questioned his motives. Those who believed that Baker harbored political ambition grew more suspicious when rumors flew that he was planning to run for the U. S. Congress. Instead he left the Indiana House and became convinced “that a price of $1,000 has been placed his head by ‘Cigarette’ Baker and other tobacco trust lobbyists. Not long ago a friend tipped it off to him that he is in danger and since then Mr. Baker has been glancing over his shoulder whenever he goes down a dark street at night. He says the idea of being a dead hero doesn’t strike him at all favorably.”
Later life and death
Ananias Baker’s health soon began to fail. He traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in hopes that the climate change would do him good, but he died there in March of 1909.
The death of Ananias Baker caused Indiana’s governor to withdraw the warrant for the arrest for “Cigarette” Baker, since there were now no living witnesses to the bribe attempt. Baker, who had fled to Canada and then Europe to escape arrest, promptly returned to U. S. soil. With the case dropped, the now infamous $100 bribe, which had been held as evidence, was donated to a local Home for Aged and Friendless Women.
The medical community's refusal to take the issue seriously, and subsequent legal challenges, severely limited the impact of the bill. An extraordinary article in the Indiana Medical Journal noted that the Senate had passed the bill in the “spirit of hilarity” and the House only because of Baker’s sensational bribery accusation. It then went on to describe the popularity of tobacco use and to add, “Consolation may be found for those who have to give up the cigarette in the statement of Professor Starr of the University of Chicago, who states he has found a new weed of Mexican origin known as ‘marihumana,’ which he asserts ‘gives a smoke sweeter than cigar, cigarette or pipe tobacco, an originator of dreamland castles and green fields with daisies growing in them, a tonic, not a stimulus.’” Although the statute survived initial court challenges, it was eventually ruled to constitute an illegal restraint of trade, with the result that manufacture of cigarettes in Indiana remained illegal but that importation and use of cigarettes were permitted.
All in all, the result of Ananais Baker’s bold gesture accomplished much less than he may have hoped.
“A Bribe, Says Ananias,” New York Times, February 23, 1905. Allan M. Brandt, The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America (New York: Basic Books, 2007). “Alleged Briber to Return,” New York Times, March 23, 1909. “Ananias Baker,” Rochester Sentinel, October 12, 1892. “Ananias Baker, Lumber Dealer,” Rochester Sentinel, February 29, 1888. “Ananias for Congress,” Rochester Sentinel, May 30, 1905 “Happy End of a Suit; Judge Opens Envelope, Finds $100 and Gives it to Charity,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 17, 1909. Richard Kluger, Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris (New York: Vintage Books, 1996). William E. Henry, compiler, Legislative and State Manual of Indiana for 1905 .(Indianapolis, 1905). “Our Own Ananias,” Rochester Sentinel, December 20, 1907 (reprint of an account in the Logansport Journal of a piece in Collier’s Weekly about Baker). “Tamer M. Baker” (obituary), Rochester News-Sentinel, June 5, 1926. “The Work of the Legislature, as Affecting the Medical Profession,” Indiana Medical Journal: A Monthly Journal of Medicine and Surgery, April 1905, 398-401. “Thinks He Is Marked,” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, January 17, 1907, 8. “Tried to Dope Indiana House,” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, February 23, 1905, 1.