The Boss and the Machine
by Samuel P. Orth
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By Samuel P. Orth






The party system is an essential instrument of Democracy. Wherever government rests upon the popular will, there the party is the organ of expression and the agency of the ultimate power. The party is, moreover, a forerunner of Democracy, for parties have everywhere preceded free government. Long before Democracy as now understood was anywhere established, long before the American colonies became the United States, England was divided between Tory and Whig. And it was only after centuries of bitter political strife, during which a change of ministry would not infrequently be accompanied by bloodshed or voluntary exile, that England finally emerged with a government deriving its powers from the consent of the governed.

The functions of the party, both as a forerunner and as a necessary organ of Democracy, are well exemplified in American experience. Before the Revolution, Tory and Whig were party names used in the colonies to designate in a rough way two ideals of political doctrine. The Tories believed in the supremacy of the Executive, or the King; the Whigs in the supremacy of Parliament. The Tories, by their rigorous and ruthless acts giving effect to the will of an un-English King, soon drove the Whigs in the colonies to revolt, and by the time of the Stamp Act (1765) a well-knit party of colonial patriots was organized through committees of correspondence and under the stimulus of local clubs called "Sons of Liberty." Within a few years, these patriots became the Revolutionists, and the Tories became the Loyalists. As always happens in a successful revolution, the party of opposition vanished, and when the peace of 1783 finally put the stamp of reality upon the Declaration of 1776, the patriot party had won its cause and had served its day.

Immediately thereafter a new issue, and a very significant one, began to divide the thought of the people. The Articles of Confederation, adopted as a form of government by the States during a lull in the nationalistic fervor, had utterly failed to perform the functions of a national government. Financially the Confederation was a beggar at the doors of the States; commercially it was impotent; politically it was bankrupt. The new issue was the formation of a national government that should in reality represent a federal nation, not a collection of touchy States. Washington in his farewell letter to the American people at the close of the war (1783) urged four considerations: a strong central government, the payment of the national debt, a well-organized militia, and the surrender by each State of certain local privileges for the good of the whole. His "legacy," as this letter came to be called, thus bequeathed to us Nationalism, fortified on the one hand by Honor and on the other by Preparedness.

The Confederation floundered in the slough of inadequacy for several years, however, before the people were sufficiently impressed with the necessity of a federal government. When, finally, through the adroit maneuver of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, the Constitutional Convention was called in 1787, the people were in a somewhat chastened mood, and delegates were sent to the Convention from all the States except Rhode Island.

No sooner had the delegates convened and chosen George Washington as presiding officer, than the two opposing sides of opinion were revealed, the nationalist and the particularist, represented by the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, as they later termed themselves. The Convention, however, was formed of the conservative leaders of the States, and its completed work contained in a large measure, in spite of the great compromises, the ideas of the Federalists. This achievement was made possible by the absence from the Convention of the two types of men who were to prove the greatest enemy of the new document when it was presented for popular approval, namely, the office-holder or politician, who feared that the establishment of a central government would deprive him of his influence, and the popular demagogue, who viewed with suspicion all evidence of organized authority. It was these two types, joined by a third—the conscientious objector—who formed the AntiFederalist party to oppose the adoption of the new Constitution. Had this opposition been well-organized, it could unquestionably have defeated the Constitution, even against its brilliant protagonists, Hamilton, Madison, Jay, and a score of other masterly men.

The unanimous choice of Washington for President gave the new Government a non-partizan initiation. In every way Washington attempted to foster the spirit of an undivided household. He warned his countrymen against partizanship and sinister political societies. But he called around his council board talents which represented incompatible ideals of government. Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, and Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, might for a time unite their energies under the wise chieftainship of Washington, but their political principles could never be merged. And when, finally, Jefferson resigned, he became forthwith the leader of the opposition—not to Washington, but to Federalism as interpreted by Hamilton, John Adams, and Jay.

The name Anti-Federalist lost its aptness after the inauguration of the Government. Jefferson and his school were not opposed to a federal government. They were opposed only to its pretensions, to its assumption of centralized power. Their deep faith in popular control is revealed in the name they assumed, Democratic-Republican. They were eager to limit the federal power to the glorification of the States; the Federalists were ambitious to expand the federal power at the expense of localism. This is what Jefferson meant when he wrote to Washington as early as 1792, "The Republican party wish to preserve the Government in its present form." Now this is a very definite and fundamental distinction. It involves the political difference between government by the people and government by the representatives of the people, and the practical difference between a government by law and a government by mass-meeting.

Jefferson was a master organizer. At letter-writing, the one means of communication in those days, he was a Hercules. His pen never wearied. He soon had a compact party. It included not only most of the Anti-Federalists, but the small politicians, the tradesmen and artisans, who had worked themselves into a ridiculous frenzy over the French Revolution and who despised Washington for his noble neutrality. But more than these, Jefferson won over a number of distinguished men who had worked for the adoption of the Constitution, the ablest of whom was James Madison, often called "the Father of the Constitution."

The Jeffersonians, thus representing largely the debtor and farmer class, led by men of conspicuous abilities, proceeded to batter down the prestige of the Federalists. They declared themselves opposed to large expenditures of public funds, to eager exploitation of government ventures, to the Bank, and to the Navy, which they termed "the great beast with the great belly." The Federalists included the commercial and creditor class and that fine element in American life composed of leading families with whom domination was an instinct, all led, fortunately, by a few idealists of rare intellectual attainments. And, with the political stupidity often characteristic of their class, they stumbled from blunder to blunder. In 1800 Thomas Jefferson, who adroitly coined the mistakes of his opponents into political currency for himself, was elected President. He had received no more electoral votes than Aaron Burr, that mysterious character in our early politics, but the election was decided by the House of Representatives, where, after seven days' balloting, several Federalists, choosing what to them was the lesser of two evils, cast the deciding votes for Jefferson. When the Jeffersonians came to power, they no longer opposed federal pretensions; they now, by one of those strange veerings often found in American politics, began to give a liberal interpretation to the Constitution, while the Federalists with equal inconsistency became strict constructionists. Even Jefferson was ready to sacrifice his theory of strict construction in order to acquire the province of Louisiana.

The Jeffersonians now made several concessions to the manufacturers, and with their support linked to that of the agriculturists Jeffersonian democracy flourished without any potent opposition. The second war with England lent it a doubtful luster but the years immediately following the war restored public confidence. Trade flourished on the sea. The frontier was rapidly pushed to the Mississippi and beyond into the vast empire which Jefferson had purchased. When everyone is busy, no one cares for political issues, especially those based upon philosophical differences. So Madison and Monroe succeeded to the political regency which is known as the Virginia Dynasty.

This complacent epoch culminated in Monroe's "Era of Good Feeling," which proved to be only the hush before the tornado. The election of 1824 was indecisive, and the House of Representatives was for a second time called upon to decide the national choice. The candidates were John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William H. Crawford. Clay threw his votes to Adams, who was elected, thereby arousing the wrath of Jackson and of the stalwart and irreconcilable frontiersmen who hailed him as their leader. The Adams term merely marked a transition from the old order to the new, from Jeffersonian to Jacksonian democracy. Then was the word Republican dropped from the party name, and Democrat became an appellation of definite and practical significance.

By this time many of the older States had removed the early restrictions upon voting, and the new States carved out of the West had written manhood suffrage into their constitutions. This new democracy flocked to its imperator; and Jackson entered his capital in triumph, followed by a motley crowd of frontiersmen in coonskin caps, farmers in butternut-dyed homespun, and hungry henchmen eager for the spoils. For Jackson had let it be known that he considered his election a mandate by the people to fill the offices with his political adherents.

So the Democrats began their new lease of life with an orgy of spoils. "Anybody is good enough for any job" was the favorite watchword. But underneath this turmoil of desire for office, significant party differences were shaping themselves. Henry Clay, the alluring orator and master of compromise, brought together a coalition of opposing fragments. He and his following objected to Jackson's assumption of vast executive prerogatives, and in a brilliant speech in the Senate Clay espoused the name Whig. Having explained the origin of the term in English and colonial politics, he cried: "And what is the present but the same contest in another form? The partizans of the present Executive sustain his favor in the most boundless extent. The Whigs are opposing executive encroachment and a most alarming extension of executive power and prerogative. They are contending for the rights of the people, for free institutions, for the supremacy of the Constitution and the laws."

There soon appeared three practical issues which forced the new alignment. The first was the Bank. The charter of the United States Bank was about to expire, and its friends sought a renewal. Jackson believed the Bank an enemy of the Republic, as its officers were anti-Jacksonians, and he promptly vetoed the bill extending the charter. The second issue was the tariff. Protection was not new; but Clay adroitly renamed it, calling it "the American system." It was popular in the manufacturing towns and in portions of the agricultural communities, but was bitterly opposed by the slave-owning States.

A third issue dealt with internal improvements. All parts of the country were feeling the need of better means of communication, especially between the West and the East. Canals and turnpikes were projected in every direction. Clay, whose imagination was fervid, advocated a vast system of canals and roads financed by national aid. But the doctrine of states-rights answered that the Federal Government had no power to enter a State, even to spend money on improvements, without the consent of that State. And, at all events, for Clay to espouse was for Jackson to oppose.

These were the more important immediate issues of the conflict between Clay's Whigs and Jackson's Democrats, though it must be acknowledged that the personalities of the leaders were quite as much an issue as any of the policies which they espoused. The Whigs, however, proved unequal to the task of unhorsing their foes; and, with two exceptions, the Democrats elected every President from Jackson to Lincoln. The exceptions were William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, both of whom were elected on their war records and both of whom died soon after their inauguration. Tyler, who as Vice-President succeeded General Harrison, soon estranged the Whigs, so that the Democratic triumph was in effect continuous over a period of thirty years.

Meanwhile, however, another issue was shaping the destiny of parties and of the nation. It was an issue that politicians dodged and candidates evaded, that all parties avoided, that publicists feared, and that presidents and congressmen tried to hide under the tenuous fabric of their compromises. But it was an issue that persisted in keeping alive and that would not down, for it was an issue between right and wrong. Three times the great Clay maneuvered to outflank his opponents over the smoldering fires of the slavery issue, but he died before the repeal of the Missouri Compromise gave the death-blow to his loosely gathered coalition. Webster, too, and Calhoun, the other members of that brilliant trinity which represented the genius of Constitutional Unionism, of States Rights, and of Conciliation, passed away before the issue was squarely faced by a new party organized for the purpose of opposing the further expansion of slavery.

This new organization, the Republican party, rapidly assumed form and solidarity. It was composed of Northern Whigs, of anti-slavery Democrats, and of members of several minor groups, such as the Know-Nothing or American party, the Liberty party, and included as well some of the despised Abolitionists. The vote for Fremont, its first presidential candidate, in 1856, showed it to be a sectional party, confined to the North. But the definite recognition of slavery as an issue by an opposition party had a profound effect upon the Democrats. Their Southern wing now promptly assumed an uncompromising attitude, which, in 1860, split the party into factions. The Southern wing named Breckinridge; the Northern wing named Stephen A. Douglas; while many Democrats as well as Whigs took refuge in a third party, calling itself the Constitutional Union, which named John Bell. This division cost the Democrats the election, for, under the unique and inspiring leadership of Abraham Lincoln, the Republicans rallied the anti-slavery forces of the North and won.

Slavery not only racked the parties and caused new alignments; it racked and split the Union. It is one of the remarkable phenomena of our political history that the Civil War did not destroy the Democratic party, though the Southern chieftains of that party utterly lost their cause. The reason is that the party never was as purely a Southern as the Republican was a Northern party. Moreover, the arrogance and blunders of the Republican leaders during the days of Reconstruction helped to keep it alive. A baneful political heritage has been handed down to us from the Civil War—the solid South. It overturns the national balance of parties, perpetuates a pernicious sectionalism, and deprives the South of that bipartizan rivalry which keeps open the currents of political life.

Since the Civil War the struggle between the two dominant parties has been largely a struggle between the Ins and the Outs. The issues that have divided them have been more apparent than real. The tariff, the civil service, the trusts, and the long list of other "issues" do not denote fundamental differences, but only variations of degree. Never in any election during this long interval has there been definitely at stake a great national principle, save for the currency issue of 1896 and the colonial question following the War with Spain. The revolt of the Progressives in 1912 had a character of its own; but neither of the old parties squarely joined issue with the Progressives in the contest which followed. The presidential campaign of 1916 afforded an opportunity to place on trial before the people a great cause, for there undoubtedly existed then in the country two great and opposing sides of public opinion—one for and the other against war with Germany. Here again, however, the issue was not joined but was adroitly evaded by both the candidates.

None the less there has been a difference between the two great parties. The Republican party has been avowedly nationalistic, imperialistic, and in favor of a vigorous constructive foreign policy. The Democratic party has generally accepted the lukewarm international policy of Jefferson and the exaltation of the locality and the plain individual as championed by Jackson. Thus, though in a somewhat intangible and variable form, the doctrinal distinctions between Hamilton and Jefferson have survived.

In the emergence of new issues, new parties are born. But it is one of the singular characteristics of the American party system that third parties are abortive. Their adherents serve mainly as evangelists, crying their social and economic gospel in the political wilderness. If the issues are vital, they are gradually absorbed by the older parties.

Before the Civil War several sporadic parties were formed. The most unique was the Anti-Masonic party. It flourished on the hysteria caused by the abduction of William Morgan of Batavia, in western New York, in 1826. Morgan had written a book purporting to lay bare the secrets of Freemasonry. His mysterious disappearance was laid at the doors of leading Freemasons; and it was alleged that members of this order placed their secret obligations above their duties as citizens and were hence unfit for public office. The movement became impressive in Pennsylvania, Vermont, Massachusetts, Ohio, and New York. It served to introduce Seward and Fillmore into politics. Even a national party was organized, and William Wirt, of Maryland, a distinguished lawyer, was nominated for President. He received, however, only the electoral votes of Vermont. The excitement soon cooled, and the party disappeared.

The American or Know-Nothing party had for its slogan "America for Americans," and was a considerable factor in certain localities, especially in New York and the Middle States, from 1853 to 1856. The Free Soil party, espousing the cause of slavery restriction, named Martin Van Buren as its presidential candidate and polled enough votes in the election of 1848 to defeat Cass, the Democratic candidate. It did not survive the election of 1852, but its essential principle was adopted by the Republican party.

Since the Civil War, the currency question has twice given life to third-party movements. The Greenbacks of 1876-1884 and the Populists of the 90's were both of the West. Both carried on for a few years a vigorous crusade, and both were absorbed by the older parties as the currency question assumed concrete form and became a commanding political issue. Since 1872, the Prohibitionists have named national tickets. Their question, which was always dodged by the dominant parties, is now rapidly nearing a solution.

The one apparently unreconcilable element in our political life is the socialistic or labor party. Never of great importance in any national election, the various labor parties have been of considerable influence in local politics. Because of its magnitude, the labor vote has always been courted by Democrats and Republicans with equal ardor but with varying success.


Ideas or principles alone, however eloquently and insistently proclaimed, will not make a party. There must be organization. Thus we have two distinct practical phases of American party politics: one regards the party as an agency of the electorate, a necessary organ of democracy; the other, the party as an organization, an army determined to achieve certain conquests. Every party has, therefore, two aspects, each attracting a different kind of person: one kind allured by the principles espoused; the other, by the opportunities of place and personal gain in the organization. The one kind typifies the body of voters; the other the dominant minority of the party.

When one speaks, then, of a party in America, he embraces in that term: first, the tenets or platform for which the party assumes to stand (i.e., principles that may have been wrought out of experience, may have been created by public opinion, or were perhaps merely made out of hand by manipulators); secondly, the voters who profess attachment to these principles; and thirdly, the political expert, the politician with his organization or machine. Between the expert and the great following are many gradations of party activity, from the occasional volunteer to the chieftain who devotes all his time to "politics."

It was discovered very early in American experience that without organization issues would disintegrate and principles remain but scintillating axioms. Thus necessity enlisted executive talent and produced the politician, who, having once achieved an organization, remained at his post to keep it intact between elections and used it for purposes not always prompted by the public welfare.

In colonial days, when the struggle began between Crown and Colonist, the colonial patriots formed clubs to designate their candidates for public office. In Massachusetts these clubs were known as "caucuses," a word whose derivation is unknown, but which has now become fixed in our political vocabulary. These early caucuses in Boston have been described as follows: "Mr. Samuel Adams' father and twenty others, one or two from the north end of the town, where all the ship business is carried on, used to meet, make a caucus, and lay their plans for introducing certain persons into places of trust and power. When they had settled it, they separated, and used each their particular influence within his own circle. He and his friends would furnish themselves with ballots, including the names of the parties fixed upon, which they distributed on the day of election. By acting in concert together with a careful and extensive distribution of ballots they generally carried the elections to their own mind."

As the revolutionary propaganda increased in momentum, caucuses assumed a more open character. They were a sort of informal town meeting, where neighbors met and agreed on candidates and the means of electing them. After the adoption of the Constitution, the same methods were continued, though modified to suit the needs of the new party alignments. In this informal manner, local and even congressional candidates were named.

Washington was the unanimous choice of the nation. In the third presidential election, John Adams was the tacitly accepted candidate of the Federalists and Jefferson of the Democratic-Republicans, and no formal nominations seem to have been made. But from 1800 to 1824 the presidential candidates were designated by members of Congress in caucus. It was by this means that the Virginia Dynasty fastened itself upon the country. The congressional caucus, which was one of the most arrogant and compact political machines that our politics has produced, discredited itself by nominating William H. Crawford (1824), a machine politician, whom the public never believed to be of presidential caliber. In the bitter fight that placed John Quincy Adams in the White House and made Jackson the eternal enemy of Clay, the congressional caucus met its doom. For several years, presidential candidates were nominated by various informal methods. In 1828 a number of state legislatures formally nominated Jackson. In several States the party members of the legislatures in caucus nominated presidential candidates. DeWitt Clinton was so designated by the New York legislature in 1812 and Henry Clay by the Kentucky legislature in 1822. Great mass meetings, often garnished with barbecues, were held in many parts of the country in 1824 for indorsing the informal nominations of the various candidates.

But none of these methods served the purpose. The President was a national officer, backed by a national party, and chosen by a national electorate. A national system of nominating the presidential candidates was demanded. On September 26, 1831, 113 delegates of the Anti-Masonic party, representing thirteen States, met in a national convention in Baltimore. This was the first national nominating convention held in America.

In February, 1831, the Whig members of the Maryland legislature issued a call for a national Whig convention. This was held in Baltimore the following December. Eighteen States were represented by delegates, each according to the number of presidential electoral votes it cast. Clay was named for President. The first national Democratic convention met in Baltimore on May 21, 1832, and nominated Jackson.

Since that time, presidential candidates have been named in national conventions. There have been surprisingly few changes in procedure since the first convention. It opened with a temporary organization, examined the credentials of delegates, and appointed a committee on permanent organization, which reported a roster of permanent officers. It appointed a committee on platform—then called an address to the people; it listened to eulogistic nominating speeches, balloted for candidates, and selected a committee to notify the nominees of their designation. This is practically the order of procedure today. The national convention is at once the supreme court and the supreme legislature of the national party. It makes its own rules, designates its committees, formulates their procedure and defines their power, writes the platform, and appoints the national executive committee.

Two rules that have played a significant part in these conventions deserve special mention. The first Democratic convention, in order to insure the nomination of Van Buren for Vice-President—the nomination of Jackson for President was uncontested—adopted the rule that "two-thirds of the whole number of the votes in the convention shall be necessary to constitute a choice." This "two-thirds" rule, so undemocratic in its nature, remains the practice of the Democratic party today. The Whigs and Republicans always adhered to the majority rule. The early Democratic conventions also adopted the practice of allowing the majority of the delegates from any State to cast the vote of the entire delegation from that State, a rule which is still adhered to by the Democrats. But the Republicans have since 1876 adhered to the policy of allowing each individual delegate to cast his vote as he chooses.

The convention was by no means novel when accepted as a national organ for a national party. As early as 1789 an informal convention was held in the Philadelphia State House for nominating Federalist candidates for the legislature. The practice spread to many Pennsylvania counties and to other States, and soon this informality of self-appointed delegates gave way to delegates appointed according to accepted rules. When the legislative caucus as a means for nominating state officers fell into disrepute, state nominating conventions took its place. In 1812 one of the earliest movements for a state convention was started by Tammany Hall, because it feared that the legislative caucus would nominate DeWitt Clinton, its bitterest foe. The caucus, however, did not name Clinton, and the convention was not assembled. The first state nominating convention was held in Utica, New York, in 1824 by that faction of the Democratic party calling itself the People's party. The custom soon spread to every State, so that by 1835 it was firmly established. County and city conventions also took the place of the caucus for naming local candidates.

But nominations are only the beginning of the contest, and obviously caucuses and conventions cannot conduct campaigns. So from the beginning these nominating bodies appointed campaign committees. With the increase in population came the increased complexity of the committee system. By 1830 many of the States had perfected a series of state, district, and county committees.

There remained the necessity of knitting these committees into a national unity. The national convention which nominated Clay in 1831 appointed a "Central State Corresponding Committee" in each State where none existed, and it recommended "to the several States to organize subordinate corresponding committees in each county and town." This was the beginning of what soon was to evolve into a complete national hierarchy of committees. In 1848 the Democratic convention appointed a permanent national committee, composed of one member from each State. This committee was given the power to call the next national convention, and from the start became the national executive body of the party.

It is a common notion that the politician and his machine are of comparatively recent origin. But the American politician arose contemporaneously with the party, and with such singular fecundity of ways and means that it is doubtful if his modern successors could teach him anything. McMaster declares: "A very little study of long-forgotten politics will suffice to show that in filibustering and gerrymandering, in stealing governorships and legislatures, in using force at the polls, in colonizing and in distributing patronage to whom patronage is due, in all the frauds and tricks that go to make up the worst form of practical politics, the men who founded our state and national governments were always our equals, and often our masters." And this at a time when only propertied persons could vote in any of the States and when only professed Christians could either vote or hold office in two of them!

While Washington was President, Tammany Hall, the first municipal machine, began its career; and presently George Clinton, Governor of New York, and his nephew, DeWitt Clinton, were busy organizing the first state machine. The Clintons achieved their purpose through the agency of a Council of Appointment, prescribed by the first Constitution of the State, consisting of the Governor and four senators chosen by the legislature. This council had the appointment of nearly all the civil officers of the State from Secretary of State to justices of the peace and auctioneers, making a total of 8287 military and 6663 civil offices. As the emoluments of some of these offices were relatively high, the disposal of such patronage was a plum-tree for the politician. The Clintons had been Anti-Federalists and had opposed the adoption of the Constitution. In 1801 DeWitt Clinton became a member of the Council of Appointment and soon dictated its action. The head of every Federalist office-holder fell. Sheriffs, county clerks, surrogates, recorders, justices by the dozen, auctioneers by the score, were proscribed for the benefit of the Clintons. De Witt was sent to the United States Senate in 1802, and at the age of thirty-three he found himself on the highroad to political eminence. But he resigned almost at once to become Mayor of New York City, a position he occupied for about ten years, years filled with the most venomous fights between Burrites and Bucktails. Clinton organized a compact machine in the city. A biased contemporary description of this machine has come down to us. "You [Clinton] are encircled by a mercenary band, who, while they offer adulation to your system of error, are ready at the first favorable moment to forsake and desert you. A portion of them are needy young men, who without maturely investigating the consequence, have sacrificed principle to self-aggrandizement. Others are mere parasites, that well know the tenure on which they hold their offices, and will ever pay implicit obedience to those who administer to their wants. Many of your followers are among the most profligate of the community. They are the bane of social and domestic happiness, senile and dependent panderers."

In 1812 Clinton became a candidate for President and polled 89 electoral votes against Madison's 128. Subsequently he became Governor of New York on the Erie Canal issue; but his political cunning seems to have forsaken him; and his perennial quarrels with every other faction in his State made him the object of a constant fire of vituperation. He had, however, taught all his enemies the value of spoils, and he adhered to the end to the political action he early advised a friend to adopt: "In a political warfare, the defensive side will eventually lose. The meekness of Quakerism will do in religion but not in politics. I repeat it, everything will answer to energy and decision."

Martin Van Buren was an early disciple of Clinton. Though he broke with his political chief in 1813, he had remained long enough in the Clinton school to learn every trick; and he possessed such native talent for intrigue, so smooth a manner, and such a wonderful memory for names, that he soon found himself at the head of a much more perfect and far-reaching machine than Clinton had ever dreamed of. The Empire State has never produced the equal of Van Buren as a manipulator of legislatures. No modern politician would wish to face publicity if he resorted to the petty tricks that Van Buren used in legislative politics. And when, in 1821, he was elected to the Senate of the United States, he became one of the organizers of the first national machine.

The state machine of Van Buren was long known as the "Albany Regency." It included several very able politicians: William L. Marcy, who became United States Senator in 1831; Silas Wright, elected Senator in 1833; John A. Dix, who became Senator in 1845; Benjamin F. Butler, who was United States Attorney-General under President Van Buren, besides a score or more of prominent state officials. It had an influential organ in the Albany Argus, lieutenants in every county, and captains in every town. Its confidential agents kept the leaders constantly informed of the political situation in every locality; and its discipline made the wish of Van Buren and his colleagues a command. Federal and local patronage and a sagacious distribution of state contracts sustained this combination. When the practice of nominating by conventions began, the Regency at once discerned the strategic value of controlling delegates, and, until the break in the Democratic party in 1848, it literally reigned in the State.

With the disintegration of the Federalist party came the loss of concentrated power by the colonial families of New England and New York. The old aristocracy of the South was more fortunate in the maintenance of its power. Jefferson's party was not only well disciplined; it gave its confidence to a people still accustomed to class rule and in turn was supported by them. In a strict sense the Virginia Dynasty was not a machine like Van Buren's Albany Regency. It was the effect of the concentrated influence of men of great ability rather than a definite organization. The congressional caucus was the instrument through which their influence was made practical. In 1816, however, a considerable movement was started to end the Virginia monopoly. It spread to the Jeffersonians of the North. William H. Crawford, of Georgia, and Daniel Tompkins, of New York, came forward as competitors with Monroe for the caucus nomination. The knowledge of this intrigue fostered the rising revolt against the caucus. Twenty-two Republicans, many of whom were known to be opposed to the caucus system, absented themselves. Monroe was nominated by the narrow margin of eleven votes over Crawford. By the time Monroe had served his second term the discrediting of the caucus was made complete by the nomination of Crawford by a thinly attended gathering of his adherents, who presumed to act for the party. The Virginia Dynasty had no further favorites to foster, and a new political force swept into power behind the dominating personality of Andrew Jackson.

The new Democracy, however, did not remove the aristocratic power of the slaveholder; and from Jackson's day to Buchanan's this became an increasing force in the party councils. The slavery question illustrates how a compact group of capable and determined men, dominated by an economic motive, can exercise for years in the political arena a preponderating influence, even though they represent an actual minority of the nation. This untoward condition was made possible by the political sagacity and persistence of the party managers and by the unwillingness of a large portion of the people to bring the real issue to a head.

Before the Civil War, then, party organization had become a fixed and necessary incident in American politics. The war changed the face of our national affairs. The changes wrought multiplied the opportunities of the professional politician, and in these opportunities, as well as in the transfused energies and ideals of the people, we must seek the causes for those perversions of party and party machinery which have characterized our modern epoch.


The Civil War, which shocked the country into a new national consciousness and rearranged the elements of its economic life, also brought about a new era in political activity and management. The United States after Appomattox was a very different country from the United States before Sumter was fired upon. The war was a continental upheaval, like the Appalachian uplift in our geological history, producing sharp and profound readjustments.

Despite the fact that in 1864 Lincoln had been elected on a Union ticket supported by War Democrats, the Republicans claimed the triumphs of the war as their own. They emerged from the struggle with the enormous prestige of a party triumphant and with "Saviors of the Union" inscribed on their banners.

The death of their wise and great leader opened the door to a violent partizan orgy. President Andrew Johnson could not check the fury of the radical reconstructionists; and a new political era began in a riot of dogmatic and insolent dictatorship, which was intensified by the mob of carpetbaggers, scalawags, and freedmen in the South, and not abated by the lawless promptings of the Ku-Klux to regain patrician leadership in the home of secession nor by the baneful resentment of the North. The soldier was made a political asset. For a generation the "bloody shirt" was waved before the eyes of the Northern voter; and the evils, both grotesque and gruesome, of an unnatural reconstruction are not yet forgotten in the South.

A second opportunity of the politician was found in the rapid economic expansion that followed the war. The feeling of security in the North caused by the success of the Union arms buoyed an unbounded optimism which made it easy to enlist capital in new enterprises, and the protective tariff and liberal banking law stimulated industry. Exports of raw material and food products stimulated mining, grazing, and farming. European capital sought investments in American railroads, mines, and industrial under-takings. In the decade following the war the output of pig iron doubled, that of coal multiplied by five, and that of steel by one hundred. Superior iron and copper, Pennsylvania coal and oil, Nevada and California gold and silver, all yielded their enormous values to this new call of enterprise. Inventions and manufactures of all kinds flourished. During 1850-60 manufacturing establishments had increased by fourteen per cent. During 1860-70 they increased seventy-nine per cent.

The Homestead Act of May 20, 1862, opened vast areas of public lands to a new immigration. The flow of population was westward, and the West called for communication with the East. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railways, the pioneer transcontinental lines, fostered on generous grants of land, were the tokens of the new transportation movement. Railroads were pushing forward everywhere with unheard-of rapidity. Short lines were being merged into far-reaching systems. In the early seventies the Pennsylvania system was organized and the Vanderbilts acquired control of lines as far west as Chicago. Soon the Baltimore and Ohio system extended its empire of trade to the Mississippi. Half a dozen ambitious trans-Mississippi systems, connecting with four new transcontinental projects, were put into operation.

Prosperity is always the opportunity of the politician. What is of greatest significance to the student of politics is that prosperity at this time was organized on a new basis. Before the war business had been conducted largely by individuals or partnerships. The unit was small; the amount of capital needed was limited. But now the unit was expanding so rapidly, the need for capital was so lavish, the empire of trade so extensive, that a new mechanism of ownership was necessary. This device, of course, was the corporation. It had, indeed, existed as a trading unit for many years. But the corporation before 1860 was comparatively small and was generally based upon charters granted by special act of the legislature.

No other event has had so practical a bearing on our politics and our economic and social life as the advent of the corporate device for owning and manipulating private business. For it links the omnipotence of the State to the limitations of private ownership; it thrusts the interests of private business into every legislature that grants charters or passes regulating acts; it diminishes, on the other hand, that stimulus to honesty and correct dealing which a private individual discerns to be his greatest asset in trade, for it replaces individual responsibility with group responsibility and scatters ownership among so large a number of persons that sinister manipulation is possible.

But if the private corporation, through its interest in broad charter privileges and liberal corporation laws and its devotion to the tariff and to conservative financial policies, found it convenient to do business with the politician and his organization, the quasi-public corporations, especially the steam railroads and street railways, found it almost essential to their existence. They received not only their franchises but frequently large bonuses from the public treasury. The Pacific roads alone were endowed with an empire of 145,000,000 acres of public land. States, counties, and cities freely loaned their credit and gave ample charters to new railway lines which were to stimulate prosperity.

City councils, legislatures, mayors, governors, Congress, and presidents were drawn into the maelstrom of commercialism. It is not surprising that side by side with the new business organization there grew up a new political organization, and that the new business magnate was accompanied by a new political magnate. The party machine and the party boss were the natural product of the time, which was a time of gain and greed. It was a sordid reaction, indeed, from the high principles that sought victory on the field of battle and that found their noblest embodiment in the character of Abraham Lincoln.

The dominant and domineering party chose the leading soldier of the North as its candidate for President. General Grant, elected as a popular idol because of his military genius, possessed neither the experience nor the skill to countermove the machinations of designing politicians and their business allies. On the other hand, he soon displayed an admiration for business success that placed him at once in accord with the spirit of the hour. He exalted men who could make money rather than men who could command ideas. He chose Alexander T. Stewart, the New York merchant prince, one of the three richest men of his day, for Secretary of the Treasury. The law, however, forbade the appointment to this office of any one who should "directly or indirectly be concerned or interested in carrying on the business of trade or commerce," and Stewart was disqualified. Adolph E. Borie of Philadelphia, whose qualifications were the possession of great wealth and the friendship of the President, was named Secretary of the Navy. Another personal friend, John A. Rawlins, was named Secretary of War. A third friend, Elihu B. Washburne of Illinois, was made Secretary of State. Washburne soon resigned, and Hamilton Fish of New York was appointed in his place. Fish, together with General Jacob D. Cox of Ohio, Secretary of the Interior, and Judge E. Rockwood Hoar of Massachusetts, Attorney-General, formed a strong triumvirate of ability and character in the Cabinet. But, while Grant displayed pleasure in the companionship of these eminent men, they never possessed his complete confidence. When the machinations for place and favor began, Hoar and Cox were in the way. Hoar had offended the Senate in his recommendations for federal circuit judges (the circuit court was then newly established), and when the President named him for Justice of the Supreme Court, Hoar was rejected. Senator Cameron, one of the chief spoils politicians of the time, told Hoar frankly why: "What could you expect for a man who had snubbed seventy Senators!" A few months later (June, 1870), the President bluntly asked for Hoar's resignation, a sacrifice to the gods of the Senate, to purchase their favor for the Santo Domingo treaty.

Cox resigned in the autumn. As Secretary of the Interior he had charge of the Patent Office, Census Bureau, and Indian Service, all of them requiring many appointments. He had attempted to introduce a sort of civil service examination for applicants and had vehemently protested against political assessments levied on clerks in his department. He especially offended Senators Cameron and Chandler, party chieftains who had the ear of the President. General Cox stated the matter plainly: "My views of the necessity of reform in the civil service had brought me more or less into collision with the plans of our active political managers and my sense of duty has obliged me to oppose some of their methods of action." These instances reveal how the party chieftains insisted inexorably upon their demands. To them the public service was principally a means to satisfy party ends, and the chief duty of the President and his Cabinet was to satisfy the claims of party necessity. General Cox said that distributing offices occupied "the larger part of the time of the President and all his Cabinet." General Garfield wrote (1877): "One-third of the working hours of Senators and Representatives is hardly sufficient to meet the demands made upon them in reference to appointments to office."

By the side of the partizan motives stalked the desire for gain. There were those to whom parties meant but the opportunity for sudden wealth. The President's admiration for commercial success and his inability to read the motives of sycophants multiplied their opportunities, and in the eight years of his administration there was consummated the baneful union of business and politics.

During the second Grant campaign (1872), when Horace Greeley was making his astounding run for President, the New York Sun hinted at gross and wholesale briberies of Congressmen by Oakes Ames and his associates who had built the Union Pacific Railroad, an enterprise which the United States had generously aided with loans and gifts.

Three committees of Congress, two in the House and one in the Senate (the Poland Committee, the Wilson Committee, and the Senate Committee), subsequently investigated the charges. Their investigations disclosed the fact that Ames, then a member of the House of Representatives, the principal stockholder in the Union Pacific, and the soul of the enterprise, had organized, under an existing Pennsylvania charter, a construction company called the Credit Mobilier, whose shares were issued to Ames and his associates. To the Credit Mobilier were issued the bonds and stock of the Union Pacific, which had been paid for "at not more than thirty cents on the dollar in road-making." * As the United States, in addition to princely gifts of land, had in effect guaranteed the cost of construction by authorizing the issue of Government bonds, dollar for dollar and side by side with the bonds of the road, the motive of the magnificent shuffle, which gave the road into the hands of a construction company, was clear. Now it was alleged that stock of the Credit Mobilier, paying dividends of three hundred and forty per cent, had been distributed by Ames among many of his fellow-Congressmen, in order to forestall a threatened investigation. It was disclosed that some of the members had refused point blank to have anything to do with the stock; others had refused after deliberation; others had purchased some of it outright; others, alas!, had "purchased" it, to be paid for out of its own dividends.

* Testimony before the Wilson Committee.

The majority of the members involved in the nasty affair were absolved by the Poland Committee from "any corrupt motive or purpose." But Oakes Ames of Massachusetts and James Brooks of New York were recommended for expulsion from the House and Patterson of New Hampshire from the Senate. The House, however, was content with censuring Ames and Brooks, and the Senate permitted Patterson's term to expire, since only five days of it remained. Whatever may have been the opinion of Congress, and whatever a careful reading of the testimony discloses to an impartial mind at this remote day, upon the voters of that time the revelations came as a shock. Some of the most trusted Congressmen were drawn into the miasma of suspicion, among them Garfield; Dawes; Scofield; Wilson, the newly elected Vice-President; Colfax, the outgoing Vice-President. Colfax had been a popular idol, with the Presidency in his vision; now bowed and disgraced, he left the national capital never to return with a public commission.

In 1874 came the disclosures of the Whiskey Ring. They involved United States Internal Revenue officers and distillers in the revenue district of St. Louis and a number of officials at Washington. Benjamin H. Bristow, on becoming Secretary of the Treasury in June of that year, immediately scented corruption. He discovered that during 1871-74 only about one-third of the whiskey shipped from St. Louis had paid the tax and that the Government had been defrauded of nearly $3,000,000. "If a distiller was honest," says James Ford Rhodes, the eminent historian, "he was entrapped into some technical violation of the law by the officials, who by virtue of their authority seized his distillery, giving him the choice of bankruptcy or a partnership in their operations; and generally he succumbed."

McDonald, the supervisor of the St. Louis revenue district, was the leader of the Whiskey Ring. He lavished gifts upon President Grant, who, with an amazing indifference and innocence, accepted such favors from all kinds of sources. Orville E. Babcock, the President's private secretary, who possessed the complete confidence of the guileless general, was soon enmeshed in the net of investigation. Grant at first declared, "If Babcock is guilty, there is no man who wants him so much proven guilty as I do, for it is the greatest piece of traitorism to me that a man could possibly practice." When Babcock was indicted, however, for complicity to defraud the Government, the President did not hesitate to say on oath that he had never seen anything in Babcock's behavior which indicated that he was in any way interested in the Whiskey Ring and that he had always had "great confidence in his integrity and efficiency." In other ways the President displayed his eagerness to defend his private secretary. The jury acquitted Babcock, but the public did not. He was compelled to resign under pressure of public condemnation, and was afterwards indicted for conspiracy to rob a safe of documents of an incriminating character. But Grant seems never to have lost faith in him. Three of the men sent to prison for their complicity in the whiskey fraud were pardoned after six months. McDonald, the chieftain of the gang, served but one year of his term.

The exposure of the Whiskey Ring was followed by an even more startling humiliation. The House Committee on Expenditures in the War Department recommended that General William W. Belknap, Secretary of War, be impeached for "high crimes and misdemeanors while in office," and the House unanimously adopted the recommendation. The evidence upon which the committee based its drastic recommendation disclosed the most sordid division of spoils between the Secretary and his wife and two rascals who held in succession the valuable post of trader at Fort Sill in the Indian Territory.

The committee's report was read about three o'clock in the afternoon of March 2, 1876. In the forenoon of the same day Belknap had sent his resignation to the President, who had accepted it immediately. The President and Belknap were personal friends. But the certainty of Belknap's perfidy was not removed by the attitude of the President, nor by the vote of the Senate on the article of impeachment—37 guilty, 25 not guilty-for the evidence was too convincing. The public knew by this time Grant's childlike failing in sticking to his friends; and 93 of the 25 Senators who voted not guilty had publicly declared they did so, not because they believed him innocent, but because they believed they had no jurisdiction over an official who had resigned.

There were many minor indications of the harvest which gross materialism was reaping in the political field. State and city governments were surrendered to political brigands. In 1871 the Governor of Nebraska was removed for embezzlement. Kansas was startled by revelations of brazen bribery in her senatorial elections (1872-1873). General Schenck, representing the United States at the Court of St. James, humiliated his country by dabbling in a fraudulent mining scheme.

In a speech before the Senate, then trying General Belknap, Senator George F. Hoar, on May 6, 1876, summed up the greater abominations:

"My own public life has been a very brief and insignificant one, extending little beyond the duration of a single term of senatorial office. But in that brief period I have seen five judges of a high court of the United States driven from office by threats of impeachment for corruption or maladministration. I have heard the taunt from friendliest lips, that when the United States presented herself in the East to take part with the civilized world in generous competition in the arts of life, the only products of her institutions in which she surpassed all others beyond question was her corruption. I have seen in the State in the Union foremost in power and wealth four judges of her courts impeached for corruption, and the political administration of her chief city become a disgrace and a byword throughout the world. I have seen the chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs in the House rise in his place and demand the expulsion of four of his associates for making sale of their official privilege of selecting the youths to be educated at our great military schools. When the greatest railroad of the world, binding together the continent and uniting the two great seas which wash our shores, was finished, I have seen our national triumph and exaltation turned to bitterness and shame by the unanimous reports of three committees of Congress—two in the House and one here—that every step of that mighty enterprise had been taken in fraud. I have heard in highest places the shameless doctrine avowed by men grown old in public office that the true way by which power should be gained in the Republic is to bribe the people with the offices created for their service, and the true end for which it should be used when gained is the promotion of selfish ambition and the gratification of personal revenge. I have heard that suspicions haunt the footsteps of the trusted companions of the President."

These startling facts did not shatter the prestige of the Republicans, the "Saviors of the Union," nor humble their leaders. One of them, Senator Foraker, says: * "The campaign (1876) on the part of the Democrats gave emphasis to the reform idea and exploited Tilden as the great reform governor of New York and the best fitted man in the country to bring about reforms in the Government of the United States. No reforms were needed: but a fact like that never interfered with a reform campaign." The orthodoxy of the politician remained unshaken. Foraker's reasons were the creed of thousands: "The Republican party had prosecuted the war successfully; had reconstructed the States; had rehabilitated our finances, and brought on specie redemption." The memoirs of politicians and statesmen of this period, such as Cullom, Foraker, Platt, even Hoar, are imbued with an inflexible faith in the party and colored by the conviction that it is a function of Government to aid business. Platt, for instance, alluding to Blaine's attitude as Speaker, in the seventies, said: "What I liked about him was his frank and persistent contention that the citizen who best loved his party and was loyal to it, was loyal to and best loved his country." And many years afterwards, when a new type of leader appeared representing a new era of conviction, Platt was deeply concerned. His famous letter to Roosevelt, when the Rough Rider was being mentioned for Governor of New York (1899), shows the reluctance of the old man to see the signs of the times: "The thing that really did bother me was this: I had heard from a great many sources that you were a little loose on the relations of capital and labor, on trusts and combinations, and indeed on the numerous questions which have recently arisen in politics affecting the security of earnings and the right of a man to run his own business in his own way, with due respect of course to the Ten Commandments and the Penal Code."

* "Notes from a Busy Life", vol. I., 98.

The leaders of both the great parties firmly and honestly believed that it was the duty of the Government to aid private enterprise, and that by stimulating business everybody is helped. This article of faith, with the doctrine of the sanctity of the party, was a natural product of the conditions outlined in the beginning of this chapter—the war and the remarkable economic expansion following the war. It was the cause of the alliance between business and politics. It made the machine and the boss the sinister and ever present shadows of legitimate organization and leadership.


The gigantic national machine that was erected during Grant's administration would have been ineffectual without local sources of power. These sources of power were found in the cities, now thriving on the new-born commerce and industry, increasing marvelously in numbers and in size, and offering to the political manipulator opportunities that have rarely been paralleled. *

* Between 1860 and 1890 the number of cities of 8000 or more inhabitants increased from 141 to 448, standing at 226 in 1870. In 1865 less than 20% of our people lived in the cities; in 1890, over 30%; in 1900, 40%; in 1910, 46.3%. By 1890 there were six cities with more than half a million inhabitants, fifteen with more than 200,000, and twenty- eight with more than 100,000. In 1910 there were twenty- eight cities with a population over 200,000, fifty cities over 100,000, and ninety-eight over 50,000. It was no uncommon occurrence for a city to double its population in a decade. In ten years Birmingham gained 245%, Los Angeles, 211%, Seattle, 194%, Spokane, 183%, Dallas, 116%, Schenectady, 129%.

The governmental framework of the American city is based on the English system as exemplified in the towns of Colonial America. Their charters were received from the Crown and their business was conducted by a mayor and a council composed of aldermen and councilmen. The mayor was usually appointed; the council elected by a property-holding electorate. In New England the glorified town meeting was an important agency of local government.

After the Revolution, mayors as well as councilmen were elected, and the charters of the towns were granted by the legislature, not by the executive, of the State. In colonial days charters had been granted by the King. They had fixed for the city certain immunities and well-defined spheres of autonomy. But when the legislatures were given the power to grant charters, they reduced the charter to the level of a statutory enactment, which could be amended or repealed by any successive legislature, thereby opening up a convenient field for political maneuvering. The courts have, moreover, construed these charters strictly, holding the cities closely bound to those powers which the legislatures conferred upon them.

The task of governing the early American town was simple enough. In 1790 New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and Charleston were the only towns in the United States of over 8000 inhabitants; all together they numbered scarcely 130,000. Their populations were homogeneous; their wants were few; and they were still in that happy childhood when every voter knew nearly every other voter and when everybody knew his neighbor's business as well as his own, and perhaps better.

Gradually the towns awoke to their newer needs and demanded public service—lighting, street cleaning, fire protection, public education. All these matters, however, could be easily looked after by the mayor and the council committees. But when these towns began to spread rapidly into cities, they quickly outgrew their colonial garments. Yet the legislatures were loath to cast the old garments aside. One may say that from 1840 to 1901, when the Galveston plan of commission government was inaugurated, American municipal government was nothing but a series of contests between a small body of alert citizens attempting to fix responsibility on public officers and a few adroit politicians attempting to elude responsibility; both sides appealing to an electorate which was habitually somnolent but subject to intermittent awakenings through spasms of righteousness.

During this epoch no important city remained immune from ruthless legislative interference. Year after year the legislature shifted officers and responsibilities at the behest of the boss. "Ripper bills" were passed, tearing up the entire administrative systems of important municipalities. The city was made the plaything of the boss and the machine.

Throughout the constant shifts that our city governments have undergone one may, however, discern three general plans of government.

The first was the centering of power in the city council, whether composed of two chambers—a board of aldermen and a common council—as in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, or of one council, as in many lesser cities. It soon became apparent that a large body, whose chief function is legislation, is utterly unfit to look after administrative details. Such a body, in order to do business, must act through committees. Responsibility is scattered. Favoritism is possible in letting contracts, in making appointments, in depositing city funds, in making public improvements, in purchasing supplies and real estate, and in a thousand other ways. So, by controlling the appointment of committees, a shrewd manipulator could virtually control all the municipal activities and make himself overlord of the city.

The second plan of government attempted to make the mayor the controlling force. It reduced the council to a legislative body and exalted the mayor into a real executive with power to appoint and to remove heads of departments, thereby making him responsible for the city administration. Brooklyn under Mayor Seth Low was an encouraging example of this type of government. But the type was rarely found in a pure form. The politician succeeded either in electing a subservient mayor or in curtailing the mayor's authority by having the heads of departments elected or appointed by the council or made subject to the approval of the council. If the council held the key to the city treasury, the boss reigned, for councilmen from properly gerrymandered wards could usually be trusted to execute his will.

The third form of government was government by boards. Here it was attempted to place the administration of various municipal activities in the hands of independent boards. Thus a board had charge of the police, another of the fire department, another of public works, and so on. Often there were a dozen of these boards and not infrequently over thirty in a single city, as in Philadelphia. Sometimes these boards were elected by the people; sometimes they were appointed by the council; sometimes they were appointed by the mayor; in one or two instances they were appointed by the Governor. Often their powers were shared with committees of the council; a committee on police, for instance, shared with the Board of Police Commissioners the direction of police affairs. Usually these boards were responsible to no one but the electorate (and that remotely) and were entirely without coordination, a mere agglomeration of independent creations generally with ill-defined powers.

Sometimes the laws provided that not all the members of the appointive boards should "belong to the same political party" or "be of the same political opinion in state and national issues." It was clearly the intention to wipe out the partizan complexion of such boards. But this device was no stumbling-block to the boss. Whatever might be the "opinions" on national matters of the men appointed, they usually had a perfect understanding with the appointing authorities as to local matters. As late as 1898, a Democratic mayor of New York (Van Wyck) summarily removed the two Republican members of the Board of Police Commissioners and replaced them by Republicans after his own heart. In truth, the bipartizan board fitted snugly into the dual party regime that existed in many cities, whereby the county offices were apportioned to one party, the city offices to the other, and the spoils to both. It is doubtful if any device was ever more deceiving and less satisfactory than the bipartizan board.

The reader must not be led to think that any one of these plans of municipal government prevailed at any one time. They all still exist, contemporaneously with the newer commission plan and the city manager plan.

Hand in hand with these experiments in governmental mechanisms for the growing cities went a rapidly increasing expenditure of public funds. Streets had to be laid out, paved, and lighted; sewers extended; firefighting facilities increased; schools built; parks, boulevards, and playgrounds acquired, and scores of new activities undertaken by the municipality. All these brought grist to the politician's mill. So did his control of the police force and the police courts. And finally, with the city reaching its eager streets far out into the country, came the necessity for rapid transportation, which opened up for the municipal politician a new El Dorado.

Under our laws the right of a public service corporation to occupy the public streets is based upon a franchise from the city. Before the days of the referendum the franchise was granted by the city council, usually as a monopoly, sometimes in perpetuity; and, until comparatively recent years, the corporation paid nothing to the city for the rights it acquired.

When we reflect that within a few decades of the discovery of electric power, every city, large and small, had its street-car and electric-light service, and that most of these cities, through their councils, gave away these monopoly rights for long periods of time, we can imagine the princely aggregate of the gifts which public service corporations have received at the hands of our municipal governments, and the nature of the temptations these corporations were able to spread before the greedy gaze of those whose gesture would seal the grant.

But it was not only at the granting of the franchise that the boss and his machine sought for spoils. A public service corporation, being constantly asked for favors, is a continuing opportunity for the political manipulator. Public service corporations could share their patronage with the politician in exchange for favors. Through their control of many jobs, and through their influence with banks, they could show a wide assortment of favors to the politician in return for his influence; for instance, in the matter of traffic regulations, permission to tear up the streets, inspection laws, rate schedules, tax assessments, coroners' reports, or juries.

When the politician went to the voters, he adroitly concealed his designs under the name of one of the national parties. Voters were asked to vote for a Republican or a Democrat, not for a policy of municipal administration or other local policies. The system of committees, caucuses, conventions, built up in every city, was linked to the national organization. A citizen of New York, for instance, was not asked to vote for the Broadway Franchise, which raised such a scandal in the eighties, but to vote for aldermen running on a national tariff ticket!

The electorate was somnolent and permitted the politician to have his way. The multitudes of the city came principally from two sources, from Europe and from the rural districts of our own country. Those who came to the city from the country were prompted by industrial motives; they sought wider opportunities; they soon became immersed in their tasks and paid little attention to public questions. The foreign immigrants who congested our cities were alien to American institutions. They formed a heterogeneous population to whom a common ideal of government was unknown and democracy a word without meaning. These foreigners were easily influenced and easily led. Under the old naturalization laws, they were herded into the courts just before election and admitted to citizenship. In New York they were naturalized under the guidance of wardheelers, not infrequently at the rate of one a minute! And, before the days of registration laws, ballots were distributed to them and they were led to the polls, as charity children are given excursion tickets and are led to their annual summer's day picnic.

The slipshod methods of naturalization have been revealed since the new law (1906) has been in force. Tens of thousands of voters who thought they were citizens found that their papers were only declarations of intentions, or "first papers." Other tens of thousands had lost even these papers and could not designate the courts that had issued them; and other thousands found that the courts that had naturalized them were without jurisdiction in the matter.

It was not merely among these newcomers that the boss found his opportunities for carrying elections. The dense city blocks were convenient lodging places for "floaters." Just before elections, the population of the downtown wards in the larger cities increased surprisingly. The boss fully availed himself of the psychological and social reactions of the city upon the individual, knowing instinctively how much more easily men are corrupted when they are merged in the crowd and have lost their sense of personal responsibility.

It was in the city, then, that industrial politics found their natural habitat. We shall now scrutinize more closely some of the developments which arose out of such an environment.


Before the Revolutionary War numerous societies were organized to aid the cause of Independence. These were sometimes called "Sons of Liberty" and not infrequently "Sons of St. Tammany," after an Indian brave whom tradition had shrouded in virtue. The name was probably adopted to burlesque the royalist societies named after St. George, St. David, or St. Andrew. After the war these societies vanished. But, in New York City, William Mooney, an upholsterer, reorganized the local society as "Tammany Society or Columbian Order," devoted ostensibly to goodfellowship and charity. Its officers bore Indian titles and its ceremonies were more or less borrowed from the red man, not merely because of their unique and picturesque character, but to emphasize the truly American and anti-British convictions of its members. The society attracted that element of the town's population which delighted in the crude ceremonials and the stimulating potions that always accompanied them, mostly small shopkeepers and mechanics. It was among this class that the spirit of discontent against the power of Federalism was strongest—a spirit that has often become decisive in our political fortunes.

This was still the day of the "gentleman," of small clothes, silver shoe-buckles, powdered wigs, and lace ruffles. Only taxpayers and propertied persons could vote, and public office was still invested with certain prerogatives and privileges. Democracy was little more than a name. There was, however, a distinct division of sentiment, and the drift towards democracy was accelerated by immigration. The newcomers were largely of the humble classes, among whom the doctrines of democratic discontent were welcome.

Tammany soon became partizan. The Federalist members withdrew, probably influenced by Washington's warning against secret political societies. By 1798 it was a Republican club meeting in various taverns, finally selecting Martling's "Long Room" for its nightly carousals. Soon after this a new constitution was adopted which adroitly transformed the society into a compact political machine, every member subscribing to the oath that he would resist the encroachments of centralized power over the State.

Tradition has it that the transformer of Tammany into the first compact and effective political machine was Aaron Burr. There is no direct evidence that he wrote the new constitution. But there is collateral evidence. Indeed, it would not have been Burrian had he left any written evidence of his connection with the organization. For Burr was one of those intriguers who revel in mystery, who always hide their designs, and never bind themselves in writing without leaving a dozen loopholes for escape. He was by this time a prominent figure in American politics. His skill had been displayed in Albany, both in the passing of legislation and in out-maneuvering Hamilton and having himself elected United States Senator against the powerful combination of the Livingstons and the Schuylers. He was plotting for the Presidency as the campaign of 1800 approached, and Tammany was to be the fulcrum to lift him to this conspicuous place.

Under the ostensible leadership of Matthew L. Davis, Burr's chief lieutenant, every ward of the city was carefully organized, a polling list was made, scores of new members were pledged to Tammany, and during the three days of voting (in New York State until 1840 elections lasted three days), while Hamilton was making eloquent speeches for the Federalists, Burr was secretly manipulating the wires of his machine. Burr and Tammany won in New York City, though Burr failed to win the Presidency. The political career of this remarkable organization, which has survived over one hundred and twenty years of stormy history, was now well launched.

From that time to the present the history of Tammany Hall is a tale of victories, followed by occasional disclosures of corruption and favoritism; of quarrels with governors and presidents; of party fights between "up-state" and "city"; of skulking when its sachems were unwelcome in the White House; of periodical displays of patriotism for cloaking its grosser crimes; of perennial charities for fastening itself more firmly on the poorer populace which has always been the source of its power; of colossal municipal enterprise for profit-sharing; and of a continuous political efficiency due to sagacious leadership, a remarkable adaptability to the necessities of the hour, and a patience that outlasts every "reform."

It early displayed all the traits that have made it successful. In 1801, for the purpose of carrying city elections, it provided thirty-nine men with money to purchase houses and lots in one ward, and seventy men with money for the same purpose in another ward, thus manufacturing freeholders for polling purposes. In 1806 Benjamin Romaine, a grand sachem, was removed from the office of city controller by his own party for acquiring land from the city without paying for it. In 1807 several superintendents of city institutions were dismissed for frauds. The inspector of bread, a sachem, resigned because his threat to extort one-third of the fees from his subordinates had become public. Several assessment collectors, all prominent in Tammany, were compelled to reimburse the city for deficits in their accounts. One of the leading aldermen used his influence to induce the city to sell land to his brother-in-law at a low price, and then bade the city buy it back for many times its value. Mooney, the founder of the society, now superintendent of the almshouse, was caught in a characteristic fraud. His salary was $1000 a year, with $500 for family expenses. But it was discovered that his "expenses" amounted to $4000 a year, and that he had credited to himself on the books $1000 worth of supplies and numerous sums for "trifles for Mrs. Mooney."

In September, 1826, the Grand Jury entered an indictment against Matthew L. Davis and a number of other Tammany men for defrauding several banks and insurance companies of over $2,000,000. This created a tremendous sensation. Political influence was at once set in motion, and only the minor defendants were sent to the penitentiary.

In 1829 Samuel Swartwout, one of the Tammany leaders, was appointed Collector of the Port of New York. His downfall came in 1838, and he fled to Europe. His defalcations in the Custom House were found to be over $1,222,700; and "to Swartwout" became a useful phrase until Tweed's day. He was succeeded by Jesse Hoyt, another sachem and notorious politician, against whom several judgments for default were recorded in the Superior Court, which were satisfied very soon after his appointment. At this time another Tammany chieftain, W. M. Price, United States District Attorney for Southern New York, defaulted for $75,000.

It was in 1851 that the council commonly known as "The Forty Thieves" was elected. In it William M. Tweed served his apprenticeship. Some of the maneuvers of this council and of other officials were divulged by a Grand Jury in its presentment of February 23, 1853. The presentment states: "It was clearly shown that enormous sums of money were spent for the procurement of railroad grants in the city, and that towards the decision and procurement of the Eighth Avenue railway grant, a sum so large that would startle the most credulous was expended; but in consequence of the voluntary absence of important witnesses, the Grand Jury was left without direct testimony of the particular recipients of the different amounts."

These and other exposures brought on a number of amendments to the city charter, surrounding with greater safeguards the sale or lease of city property and the letting of contracts; and a reform council was elected. Immediately upon the heels of this reform movement followed the shameful regime of Fernando Wood, an able, crafty, unscrupulous politician, who began by announcing himself a reformer, but who soon became a boss in the most offensive sense of that term—not, however, in Tammany Hall, for he was ousted from that organization after his reelection as mayor in 1856. He immediately organized a machine of his own, Mozart Hall. The intense struggle between the two machines cost the city a great sum, for the taxpayers were mulcted to pay the bills.

Through the anxious days of the Civil War, when the minds of thoughtful citizens were occupied with national issues, the tide of reform ebbed and flowed. A reform candidate was elected mayor in 1863, but Tammany returned to power two years later by securing the election and then the reelection of John T. Hoffman. Hoffman possessed considerable ability and an attractive personality. His zeal for high office, however, made him easily amenable to the manipulators. Tammany made him Governor and planned to name him for President. Behind his popularity, which was considerable, and screened by the greater excitements of the war, reconstruction, and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, lurked the Ring, whose exposures and confessions were soon to amaze everyone.

The chief ringster was William M. Tweed, and his name will always be associated in the public mind with political bossdom. This is his immortality. He was a chairmaker by trade, a vulgar good fellow by nature, a politician by circumstances, a boss by evolution, and a grafter by choice. He became grand sachem of Tammany and chairman of the general committee. This committee he ruled with blunt directness. When he wanted a question carried, he failed to ask for the negative votes; and soon he was called "the Boss," a title he never resented, and which usage has since fixed in our politics. So he ruled Tammany with a high hand; made nominations arbitrarily; bullied, bought, and traded; became President of the Board of Supervisors, thus holding the key to the city's financial policies; and was elected State Senator, thereby directing the granting of legislative favors to his city and to his corporations.

In 1868 Tammany carried Hoffman into the Governor's chair, and in the following year the Democrats carried the State legislature. Tweed now had a new charter passed which virtually put New York City into his pocket by placing the finances of the metropolis entirely in the hands of a Board of Apportionment which he dominated. Of this Board, the mayor of the city was the chairman, with the power to appoint the other members. He promptly named Tweed, Connolly, and P. B. Sweeny. This was the famous Ring. The mayor was A. Oakey Hall, dubbed "Elegant Oakey" by his pals because of his fondness for clubs, society, puns, and poems; but Nast called him "O. K. Haul." Sweeny, commonly known as "Pete," was a lawyer of ability, and was generally believed to be the plotter of the quartet. Nast transformed his middle initial B. into "Brains." Connolly was just a coarse gangster.

There was some reason for the Ring's faith in its invulnerability. It controlled Governor and legislature, was formidable in the national councils of the Democratic party, and its Governor was widely mentioned for the presidential nomination. It possessed complete power over the city council, the mayor, and many of the judges. It was in partnership with Gould and Fiske of the Erie, then reaping great harvests in Wall Street, and with street railway and other public service corporations. Through untold largess it silenced rivalry from within and criticism from without. And, when suspicion first raised its voice, it adroitly invited a committee of prominent and wealthy citizens, headed by John Jacob Astor, to examine the controller's accounts. After six hours spent in the City Hall these respectable gentlemen signed an acquitment, saying that "the affairs of the city under the charge of the controller are administered in a correct and faithful manner."

Thus intrenched, the Ring levied tribute on every municipal activity. Everyone who had a charge against the city, either for work done or materials furnished, was told to add to the amount of his bill, at first 10%, later 66%, and finally 85%. One man testified that he was told to raise to $55,000 his claim of $5000. He got his $5000; the Ring got $50,000. The building of the Court House, still known as "Tweed's Court House," was estimated to cost $3,000,000, but it cost many times that sum. The item "repairing fixtures" amounted to $1,149,874.50, before the building was completed. Forty chairs and three tables cost $179,729.60; thermometers cost $7500. G. S. Miller, a carpenter, received $360,747.61, and a plasterer named Gray, $2,870,464.06 for nine months' "work." The Times dubbed him the "Prince of Plasterers." "A plasterer who can earn $138,187 in two days [December 20 and 21] and that in the depths of winter, need not be poor." Carpets cost $350,000, most of the Brussels and Axminster going to the New Metropolitan Hotel just opened by Tweed's son.

The Ring's hold upon the legislature was through bribery, not through partizan adhesion. Tweed himself confessed that he gave one man in Albany $600,000 for buying votes to pass his charter; and Samuel J. Tilden estimated the total cost for this purpose at over one million dollars. Tweed said he bought five Republican senators for $40,000 apiece. The vote on the charter was 30 to 2 in the Senate, 116 to 5 in the Assembly. Similar sums were spent in Albany in securing corporate favors. The Viaduct Railway Bill is an example. This bill empowered a company, practically owned by the Ring, to build a railway on or above any street in the city. It provided that the city should subscribe for $5,000,000 of the stock; and it exempted the company from taxation. Collateral bills were introduced enabling the company to widen and grade any streets, the favorite "job" of a Tammany grafter. Fortunately for the city, exposure came before this monstrous scheme could be put in motion.

Newspapers in the city were heavily subsidized. Newspapers in Albany were paid munificently for printing. One of the Albany papers received $207,900 for one year's work which was worth less than $10,000. Half a dozen reporters of the leading dailies were put on the city payroll at from $2000 to $2500 a year for "services."

The Himalayan size of these swindles and their monumental effrontery led the New York Sun humorously to suggest the erection of a statue to the principal Robber Baron, "in commemoration of his services to the commonwealth." A letter was sent out asking for funds. There were a great many men in New York, the Sun thought, who would not be unwilling to refuse a contribution. But Tweed declined the honor. In its issue of March 14, 1871, the Sun has this headline:



Another kind of memorial to his genius for absorbing the people's money was awaiting this philanthropic buccaneer. Vulgar ostentation was the outward badge of these civic burglaries. Tweed moved into a Fifth Avenue mansion and gave his daughter a wedding at which she received $100,000 worth of gifts; her wedding dress was a $5000 creation. At Greenwich he built a country estate where the stables were framed of choice mahogany. Sweeny hobnobbed with Jim Fiske of the Erie, the Tweed of Wall Street, who went about town dressed in loud checks and lived with his harem in his Opera House on Eighth Avenue.

Thoughtful citizens saw these things going on and believed the city was being robbed, but they could not prove it. There were two attacking parties, however, who did not wait for proofs—Thomas Nast, the brilliant cartoonist of Harper's Weekly, and the New York Times. The incisive cartoons of Nast appealed to the imaginations of all classes; even Tweed complained that his illiterate following could "look at the damn pictures." The trenchant editorials of Louis L. Jennings in the Times reached a thoughtful circle of readers. In one of these editorials, February 24, 1871, before the exposure, he said: "There is absolutely nothing—nothing in the city—which is beyond the reach of the insatiable gang who have obtained possession of it. They can get a grand jury dismissed at any time, and, as we have seen, the legislature is completely at their disposal."

Finally proof did come and, as is usual in such cases, it came from the inside. James O'Brien, an ex-sheriff and the leader in a Democratic "reform movement" calling itself "Young Democracy," secured the appointment of one of his friends as clerk in the controller's office. Transcripts of the accounts were made, and these O'Brien brought to the Times, which began their publication, July 8, 1871. The Ring was in consternation. It offered George Jones, the proprietor of the Times, $5,000,000 for his silence and sent a well-known banker to Nast with an invitation to go to Europe "to study art," with $100,000 for "expenses."

"Do you think I could get $200,000?" innocently asked Nast.

"I believe from what I have heard in the bank that you might get it."

After some reflection, the cartoonist asked: "Don't you think I could get $500,000 to make that trip?"

"You can; you can get $500,000 in gold to drop this Ring business and get out of the country."

"Well, I don't think I'll do it," laughed the artist. "I made up my mind not long ago to put some of those fellows behind the bars, and I am going to put them there."

"Only be careful, Mr. Nast, that you do not first put yourself in a coffin," said the banker as he left.

A public meeting in Cooper Institute, April 6, 1871, was addressed by William E. Dodge, Henry Ward Beecher, William M. Evarts, and William F. Havemeyer. They vehemently denounced Tweed and his gang. Tweed smiled and asked, "Well, what are you going to do about it?" On the 4th of September, the same year, a second mass meeting held in the same place answered the question by appointing a committee of seventy. Tweed, Sweeny, and Hall, now alarmed by the disclosures in the Times, decided to make Connolly the scapegoat, and asked the aldermen and supervisors to appoint a committee to examine his accounts. By the time the committee appeared for the examination—its purpose had been well announced—the vouchers for 1869 and 1870 had disappeared. Mayor Hall then asked for Connolly's resignation. But instead, Connolly consulted Samuel J. Tilden, who advised him to appoint Andrew H. Green, a well-known and respected citizen, as his deputy. This turned the tables on the three other members of the Ring, whose efforts to oust both Connolly and Green were unavailing. In this manner the citizens got control of the treasury books, and the Grand Jury began its inquisitions. Sweeny and Connolly soon fled to Europe. Sweeny afterwards settled for $400,000 and returned. Hall's case was presented to a grand jury which proved to be packed. A new panel was ordered but failed to return an indictment because of lack of evidence. Hall was subsequently indicted, but his trial resulted in a disagreement.

Tweed was indicted for felony. He remained at large on bail and was twice tried in 1873. The first trial resulted in a disagreement, the second in a conviction. His sentence was a fine of $12,000 and twelve years' imprisonment. When he arrived at the penitentiary, he answered the customary questions. "What occupation?" "Statesman." "What religion?" "None." He served one year and was then released on a flimsy technicality by the Court of Appeals. Civil suits were now brought, and, unable to obtain the $3,000,000 bail demanded, the fallen boss was sent to jail. He escaped to Cuba, and finally to Spain, but he was again arrested, returned to New York on a man-of-war, and put into Ludlow Street jail, where he died April 12, 1878, apparently without money or friends.

The exact amount of the plunder was never ascertained. An expert accountant employed by the housecleaners estimated that for three years, 1868-71, the frauds totaled between $45,000,000 and $50,000,000. The estimate of the aldermen's committee was $60,000,000. Tweed never gave any figures; he probably had never counted his gains, but merely spent them as they came. O'Rourke, one of the gang, estimated that the Ring stole about $75,000,000 during 1865-71, and that, "counting vast issues of fraudulent bonds," the looting "probably amounted to $200,000,000."

The story of these disclosures circled the earth and still affects the popular judgment of the American metropolis. It seemed as though Tammany were forever discredited. But, to the despair of reformers, in 1874 Tammany returned to power, electing its candidate for mayor by over 9000 majority. The new boss who maneuvered this rapid resurrection was John Kelly, a stone-mason, known among his Irish followers as "Honest John." Besides the political probity which the occasion demanded, he possessed a capacity for knowing men and sensing public opinion. This enabled him to lift the prostrate organization. He persuaded such men as Samuel J. Tilden, the distinguished lawyer, August Belmont, a leading financier, Horatio Seymour, who had been governor, and Charles O'Conor, the famous advocate, to become sachems under him. This was evidence of reform from within. Cooperation with the Bar Association, the Taxpayers' Association, and other similar organizations evidenced a desire of reform from without. Kelly "bossed" the Hall until his death, June 1, 1886.

He was succeeded by Richard Croker, a machinist, prizefighter, and gang-leader. Croker began his official career as a court attendant under the notorious Judge Barnard and later was an engineer in the service of the city. These places he held by Tammany favor, and he was so useful that in 1868 he was made alderman. A quarrel with Tweed lost him the place, but a reconciliation soon landed him in the lucrative office of Superintendent of Market Fees and Rents, under Connolly. In 1873 he was elected coroner and ten years later was appointed fire commissioner. His career as boss was marked by much political cleverness and caution and by an equal degree of moral obtuseness.

The triumph of Tammany in 1892 was followed by such ill-disguised corruption that the citizens of New York were again roused from their apathy. The investigations of the Fassett Committee of the State Senate two years previously had shown how deep the tentacles of Tammany were thrust into the administrative departments of the city. The Senate now appointed another investigating committee, of which Clarence Lexow was the chairman and John W. Goff the counsel. The Police Department came under its special scrutiny. The disclosures revealed the connivance of the police in stupendous election frauds. The President of the Police Board himself had distributed at the polls the policemen who committed these frauds. It was further revealed that vice and crime under police protection had been capitalized on a great scale. It was worth money to be a policeman. One police captain testified he had paid $15,000 for his promotions; another paid $12,000. It cost $300 to be appointed patrolman. Over six hundred policy-shops were open, each paying $1500 a month for protection; pool rooms paid $300 a month; bawdy-houses, from $25 to $50 per month per inmate. And their patrons paid whatever they could be blackmailed out of; streetwalkers, whatever they could be wheedled out of; saloons, $20 per month; pawnbrokers, thieves, and thugs shared with the police their profits, as did corporations and others seeking not only favors but their rights. The committee in its statement to the Grand Jury (March, 1892) estimated that the annual plunder from these sources was over $7,000,000.

During the committee's sessions Croker was in Europe on important business. But he found time to order the closing of disreputable resorts, and, though he was only a private citizen and three thousand miles away, his orders were promptly obeyed.

Aroused by these disclosures and stimulated by the lashing sermons of the Rev. Charles H. Parkhurst, the citizens of New York, in 1894, elected a reform government, with William L. Strong as Mayor. His administration set up for the metropolis a new standard of city management. Colonel George E. Waring organized, for the first time in the city's history, an efficient streetcleaning department. Theodore Roosevelt was appointed Police Commissioner. These men and their associates gave to New York a period of thrifty municipal housekeeping.

But the city returned to its filth. After the incorporation of Greater New York and the election of Robert A. Van Wyck as its mayor, the great beast of Tammany arose and extended its eager claws over the vast area of the new city.

The Mazet Committee was appointed by the legislature in 1899 to investigate rumors of renewed corruption. But the inquiry which followed was not as penetrating nor as free from partizan bias as thoughtful citizens wished. The principal exposure was of the Ice Trust, an attempt to monopolize the city's ice supply, in which city officials were stockholders, the mayor to the extent of 5000 shares, valued at $500,000. It was shown, too, that Tammany leaders were stockholders in corporations which received favors from the city. Governor Roosevelt, however, refused to remove Mayor Van Wyck because the evidence against him was insufficient.

The most significant testimony before the Mazet Committee was that given by Boss Croker himself. His last public office had been that of City Chamberlain, 1889-90, at a salary of $25,000. Two years later he purchased for $250,000 an interest in a stock-farm and paid over $100,000 for some noted race-horses. He spent over half a million dollars on the English racetrack in three years and was reputed a millionaire, owning large blocks of city real estate. He told the committee that he virtually determined all city nominations; and that all candidates were assessed, even judicial candidates, from $10,000 to $25,000 for their nominations. "We try to have a pretty effective organization—that's what we are there for," he explained. "We are giving the people pure organization government," even though the organizing took "a lot of time" and was "very hard work." Tammany members stood by one another and helped each other, not only in politics but in business. "We want the whole business [city business] if we can get it." If "we win, we expect everyone to stand by us." Then he uttered what must have been to every citizen of understanding a self-evident truth, "I am working for my pockets all the time."

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