Rather curiously, it was by no means as easy to keep politics and corruption out of the promotions as out of the entrance examinations. This was because I could take complete charge of the entrance examinations myself; and, moreover, they were largely automatic. In promotions, on the other hand, the prime element was the record and capacity of the officer, and for this we had largely to rely upon the judgment of the man's immediate superiors. This doubtless meant that in certain cases that judgment was given for improper reasons.
However, there were cases where I could act on personal knowledge. One thing that we did was to endeavor to recognize gallantry. We did not have to work a revolution in the force as to courage in the way that we had to work a revolution in honesty. They had always been brave in dealing with riotous and violent criminals. But they had gradually become very corrupt. Our great work, therefore, was the stamping out of dishonesty, and this work we did thoroughly, so far as the ridiculous bi-partisan law under which the Department was administered would permit. But we were anxious that, while stamping out what was evil in the force, we should keep and improve what was good. While warring on dishonesty, we made every effort to increase efficiency. It has unfortunately been shown by sad experience that at times a police organization which is free from the taint of corruption may yet show itself weak in some great crisis or unable to deal with the more dangerous kinds of criminals. This we were determined to prevent.
Our efforts were crowned with entire success. The improvement in the efficiency of the force went hand in hand with the improvement in its honesty. The men in uniform and the men in plain clothes—the detectives—did better work than ever before. The aggregate of crimes where punishment followed the commission of the crime increased, while the aggregate of crimes where the criminal escaped punishment decreased. Every discredited politician, every sensational newspaper, and every timid fool who could be scared by clamor was against us. All three classes strove by every means in their power to show that in making the force honest we had impaired its efficiency; and by their utterances they tended to bring about the very condition of things against which they professed to protest. But we went steadily along the path we had marked out. The fight was hard, and there was plenty of worry and anxiety, but we won. I was appointed in May, 1895. In February, 1897, three months before I resigned to become Assistant Secretary of the Navy, the Judge who charged the Grand Jury of New York County was able to congratulate them on the phenomenal decrease in crime, especially of the violent sort. This decrease was steady during the two years. The police, after the reform policy was thoroughly tried, proved more successful than ever before in protecting life and property and in putting down crime and criminal vice.
The part played by the recognition and reward of actual personal prowess among the members of the police force in producing this state of affairs was appreciable, though there were many other factors that combined to bring about the betterment. The immense improvement in discipline by punishing all offenders without mercy, no matter how great their political or personal influence; the resolute warfare against every kind of criminal who had hitherto been able corruptly to purchase protection; the prompt recognition of ability even where it was entirely unconnected with personal prowess—all these were elements which had enormous weight in producing the change. Mere courage and daring, and the rewarding of courage and daring, cannot supply the lack of discipline, of ability, of honesty. But they are of vital consequence, nevertheless. No police force is worth anything if its members are not intelligent and honest; but neither is it worth anything unless its members are brave, hardy, and well disciplined.
We showed recognition of daring and of personal prowess in two ways: first, by awarding a medal or a certificate in remembrance of the deed; and, second, by giving it weight in making any promotion, especially to the lower grades. In the higher grades—in all promotions above that of sergeant, for instance—resolute and daring courage cannot normally be considered as a factor of determining weight in making promotions; rather is it a quality the lack of which unfits a man for promotion. For in the higher places we must assume the existence of such a quality in any fit candidate, and must make the promotion with a view to the man's energy, executive capacity, and power of command. In the lower grades, however, marked gallantry should always be taken into account in deciding among different candidates for any given place.
During our two years' service we found it necessary over a hundred times to single out men for special mention because of some feat of heroism. The heroism usually took one of four forms: saving somebody from drowning, saving somebody from a burning building, stopping a runaway team, or arresting some violent lawbreaker under exceptional circumstances. To illustrate our method of action, I will take two of the first promotions made after I became Commissioner. One case was that of an old fellow, a veteran of the Civil War, who was at the time a roundsman. I happened to notice one day that he had saved a woman from drowning, and had him summoned so that I might look into the matter. The old fellow brought up his record before me, and showed not a little nervousness and agitation; for it appeared that he had grown gray in the service, had performed feat after feat of heroism, but had no political backing of any account. No heed had ever been paid him. He was one of the quiet men who attend solely to duty, and although a Grand Army man, he had never sought to use influence of any kind. Now, at last, he thought there was a chance for him. He had been twenty-two years on the force, and during that time had saved some twenty-five persons from death by drowning, varying the performance two or three times by saving persons from burning buildings. Twice Congress had passed laws especially to empower the then Secretary of the Treasury, John Sherman, to give him a medal for distinguished gallantry in saving life. The Life-Saving Society had also given him its medal, and so had the Police Department. There was not a complaint in all his record against him for any infraction of duty, and he was sober and trustworthy. He was entitled to his promotion; and he got it, there and then. It may be worth mentioning that he kept on saving life after he was given his sergeantcy. On October 21, 1896, he again rescued a man from drowning. It was at night, nobody else was in the neighborhood, and the dock from which he jumped was in absolute darkness, and he was ten minutes in the water, which was very cold. He was fifty-five years old when he saved this man. It was the twenty-ninth person whose life he had saved during his twenty-three years' service in the Department.
The other man was a patrolman whom we promoted to roundsman for activity in catching a burglar under rather peculiar circumstances. I happened to note his getting a burglar one week. Apparently he had fallen into the habit, for he got another next week. In the latter case the burglar escaped from the house soon after midnight, and ran away toward Park Avenue, with the policeman in hot chase. The New York Central Railroad runs under Park Avenue, and there is a succession of openings in the top of the tunnel. Finding that the policeman was gaining on him, the burglar took a desperate chance and leaped down one of these openings, at the risk of breaking his neck. Now the burglar was running for his liberty, and it was the part of wisdom for him to imperil life or limb; but the policeman was merely doing his duty, and nobody could have blamed him for not taking the jump. However, he jumped; and in this particular case the hand of the Lord was heavy upon the unrighteous. The burglar had the breath knocked out of him, and the "cop" didn't. When his victim could walk, the officer trotted him around to the station-house; and a week after I had the officer up and promoted him, for he was sober, trustworthy, and strictly attentive to duty.
Now I think that any decent man of reasonable intelligence will agree that we were quite right in promoting men in cases like these, and quite right in excluding politics from promotions. Yet it was because of our consistently acting in this manner, resolutely warring on dishonesty and on that peculiar form of baseness which masquerades as "practical" politics, and steadily refusing to pay heed to any consideration except the good of the service and the city, and the merits of the men themselves, that we drew down upon our heads the bitter and malignant animosity of the bread-and-butter spoils politicians. They secured the repeal of the Civil Service Law by the State Legislature. They attempted and almost succeeded in the effort to legislate us out of office. They joined with the baser portion of the sensational press in every species of foul, indecent falsehood and slander as to what we were doing. They attempted to seduce or frighten us by every species of intrigue and cajolery, of promise of political reward and threat of political punishment. They failed in their purpose. I believe in political organizations, and I believe in practical politics. If a man is not practical, he is of no use anywhere. But when politicians treat practical politics as foul politics, and when they turn what ought to be a necessary and useful political organization into a machine run by professional spoilsmen of low morality in their own interest, then it is time to drive the politician from public life, and either to mend or destroy the machine, according as the necessity may determine.
We promoted to roundsman a patrolman, with an already excellent record, for gallantry shown in a fray which resulted in the death of his antagonist. He was after a gang of toughs who had just waylaid, robbed, and beaten a man. They scattered and he pursued the ringleader. Running hard, he gained on his man, whereupon the latter suddenly turned and fired full in his face. The officer already had his revolver drawn, and the two shots rang out almost together. The policeman was within a fraction of death, for the bullet from his opponent's pistol went through his helmet and just broke the skin of his head. His own aim was truer, and the man he was after fell dead, shot through the heart. I may explain that I have not the slightest sympathy with any policy which tends to put the policeman at the mercy of a tough, or which deprives him of efficient weapons. While Police Commissioner we punished any brutality by the police with such immediate severity that all cases of brutality practically came to an end. No decent citizen had anything to fear from the police during the two years of my service. But we consistently encouraged the police to prove that the violent criminal who endeavored to molest them or to resist arrest, or to interfere with them in the discharge of their duty, was himself in grave jeopardy; and we had every "gang" broken up and the members punished with whatever severity was necessary. Of course where possible the officer merely crippled the criminal who was violent.
One of the things that we did while in office was to train the men in the use of the pistol. A school of pistol practice was established, and the marksmanship of the force was wonderfully improved. The man in charge of the school was a roundsman, Petty, whom we promoted to sergeant. He was one of the champion revolver shots of the country, and could hit just about where he aimed. Twice he was forced to fire at criminals who resisted arrest, and in each case he hit his man in the arm or leg, simply stopping him without danger to his life.
In May, 1896, a number of burglaries occurred far uptown, in the neighborhood of One Hundred and Fifty-sixth Street and Union Avenue. Two officers were sent out each night to patrol the streets in plain clothes. About two o'clock on the morning of May 8 they caught a glimpse of two men loitering about a large corner house, and determined to make them explain their actions. In order to cut off their escape, one officer went down one street and one the other. The first officer, whose name was Ryan, found the two men at the gateway of the side entrance of the house, and hailed to know what they were doing. Without answering, they turned and ran toward Prospect Avenue, with Ryan in close pursuit. After running about one hundred feet, one of them turned and fired three shots at Ryan, but failed to hit him. The two then separated, and the man who had done the shooting escaped. The other man, whose name proved to be O'Connor, again took to his heels, with Ryan still after him; they turned the corner and met the other officer, whose name was Reid, running as hard as he could toward the shooting. When O'Connor saw himself cut off by Reid, he fired at his new foe, the bullet cutting Reid's overcoat on the left shoulder. Reid promptly fired in return, his bullet going into O'Connor's neck and causing him to turn a complete somersault. The two officers then cared for their prisoner until the ambulance arrived, when he was taken to the hospital and pronounced mortally wounded. His companion was afterward caught, and they turned out to be the very burglars for whom Reid and Ryan had been on the lookout.
In December, 1896, one of our officers was shot. A row occurred in a restaurant, which ended in two young toughs drawing their revolvers and literally running amuck, shooting two or three men. A policeman, attracted by the noise, ran up and seized one of them, whereupon the other shot him in the mouth, wounding him badly. Nevertheless, the officer kept his prisoner and carried him to the station-house. The tough who had done the shooting ran out and was seized by another officer. The tough fired at him, the bullet passing through the officer's overcoat, but he was promptly knocked down, disarmed, and brought to the station-house. In this case neither policeman used his revolver, and each brought in his man, although the latter was armed and resisted arrest, one of the officers taking in his prisoner after having been himself severely wounded. A lamentable feature of the case was that this same officer was a man who, though capable of great gallantry, was also given to shirking his work, and we were finally obliged to dismiss him from the force, after passing over two or three glaring misdeeds in view of his record for courage.
We promoted another man on account of finding out accidentally that he had performed a notable feat, which he had forborne even to mention, so that his name never came on the roll of honor. Late at night, while patrolling a lonely part of his post, he came upon three young toughs who had turned highwaymen and were robbing a peddler. He ran in at once with his night-stick, whereupon the toughs showed fight, and one of them struck at him with a bludgeon, breaking his left hand. The officer, however, made such good use of his night-stick that he knocked down two of his assailants, whereupon the third ran away, and he brought both of his prisoners to the station-house. Then he went round to the hospital, had his broken hand set in plaster, and actually reported for duty at the next tour, without losing one hour. He was a quiet fellow, with a record free from complaints, and we made him roundsman.
The mounted squad have, of course, many opportunities to distinguish themselves in stopping runaways. In May, 1895, a mounted policeman named Heyer succeeded in stopping a runaway at Kingsbridge under rather noteworthy circumstances. Two men were driving in a buggy, when the horse stumbled, and in recovering himself broke the head-stall, so that the bridle fell off. The horse was a spirited trotter, and at once ran away at full speed. Heyer saw the occurrence, and followed at a run. When he got alongside the runaway he seized him by the forelock, guided him dexterously over the bridge, preventing him from running into the numerous wagons that were on the road, and finally forced him up a hill and into a wagon-shed. Three months later this same officer saved a man from drowning.
The members of the bicycle squad, which was established shortly after we took office, soon grew to show not only extraordinary proficiency on the wheel, but extraordinary daring. They frequently stopped runaways, wheeling alongside of them, and grasping the horses while going at full speed; and, what was even more remarkable, they managed not only to overtake but to jump into the vehicle and capture, on two or three different occasions, men who were guilty of reckless driving, and who fought violently in resisting arrest. They were picked men, being young and active, and any feat of daring which could be accomplished on the wheel they were certain to accomplish.
Three of the best riders of the bicycle squad, whose names and records happen to occur to me, were men of the three ethnic strains most strongly represented in the New York police force, being respectively of native American, German, and Irish parentage.
The German was a man of enormous power, and he was able to stop each of the many runaways he tackled without losing his wheel. Choosing his time, he would get alongside the horse and seize the bit in his left hand, keeping his right on the crossbar of the wheel. By degrees he then got the animal under control. He never failed to stop it, and he never lost his wheel. He also never failed to overtake any "scorcher," although many of these were professional riders who deliberately violated the law to see if they could not get away from him; for the wheelmen soon get to know the officers whose beats they cross.
The Yankee, though a tall, powerful man and a very good rider, scarcely came up to the German in either respect; he possessed exceptional ability, however, as well as exceptional nerve and coolness, and he also won his promotion. He stopped about as many runaways; but when the horse was really panic-stricken he usually had to turn his wheel loose, getting a firm grip on the horse's reins and then kicking his wheel so that it would fall out of the way of injury from the wagon. On one occasion he had a fight with a drunken and reckless driver who was urging to top speed a spirited horse. He first got hold of the horse, whereupon the driver lashed both him and the beast, and the animal, already mad with terror, could not be stopped. The officer had of course kicked away his wheel at the beginning, and after being dragged along for some distance he let go the beast and made a grab at the wagon. The driver hit him with his whip, but he managed to get in, and after a vigorous tussle overcame his man, and disposed of him by getting him down and sitting on him. This left his hands free for the reins. By degrees he got the horse under control, and drove the wagon round to the station-house, still sitting on his victim. "I jounced up and down on him to keep him quiet when he turned ugly," he remarked to me parenthetically. Having disposed of the wagon, he took the man round to the court, and on the way the prisoner suddenly sprang on him and tried to throttle him. Convinced at last that patience had ceased to be a virtue, he quieted his assailant with a smash on the head that took all the fight out of him until he was brought before the judge and fined. Like the other "bicycle cops," this officer made a number of arrests of criminals, such as thieves, highwaymen, and the like, in addition to his natural prey—scorchers, runaways, and reckless drivers.
The third member of the trio, a tall, sinewy man with flaming red hair, which rather added to the terror he inspired in evil-doers, was usually stationed in a tough part of the city, where there was a tendency to crimes of violence, and incidentally an occasional desire to harass wheelmen. The officer was as good off his wheel as on it, and he speedily established perfect order on his beat, being always willing to "take chances" in getting his man. He was no respecter of persons, and when it became his duty to arrest a wealthy man for persistently refusing to have his carriage lamps lighted after nightfall, he brought him in with the same indifference that he displayed in arresting a street-corner tough who had thrown a brick at a wheelman.
Occasionally a policeman would perform work which ordinarily comes within the domain of the fireman. In November, 1896, an officer who had previously saved a man from death by drowning added to his record by saving five persons from burning. He was at the time asleep, when he was aroused by a fire in a house a few doors away. Running over the roofs of the adjoining houses until he reached the burning building, he found that on the fourth floor the flames had cut off all exit from an apartment in which there were four women, two of them over fifty, and one of the others with a six-months-old baby. The officer ran down to the adjoining house, broke open the door of the apartment on the same floor—the fourth—and crept out on the coping, less than three inches wide, that ran from one house to the other. Being a large and very powerful and active man, he managed to keep hold of the casing of the window with one hand, and with the other to reach to the window of the apartment where the women and child were. The firemen appeared, and stretched a net underneath. The crowd that was looking on suddenly became motionless and silent. Then, one by one, he drew the women out of their window, and, holding them tight against the wall, passed them into the other window. The exertion in such an attitude was great, and he strained himself badly; but he possessed a practical mind, and as soon as the women were saved he began a prompt investigation of the cause of the fire, and arrested two men whose carelessness, as was afterward proved, caused it.
Now and then a man, though a brave man, proved to be slack or stupid or vicious, and we could make nothing out of him; but hardihood and courage were qualities upon which we insisted and which we rewarded. Whenever I see the police force attacked and vilified, I always remember my association with it. The cases I have given above are merely instances chosen almost at random among hundreds of others. Men such as those I have mentioned have the right stuff in them! If they go wrong, the trouble is with the system, and therefore with us, the citizens, for permitting the system to go unchanged. The conditions of New York life are such as to make the police problem therein more difficult than in any other of the world's great capitals. I am often asked if policemen are honest. I believe that the great majority of them want to be honest and will be honest whenever they are given the chance. The New York police force is a body thoroughly representative of the great city itself. As I have said above, the predominant ethnic strains in it are, first, the men of Irish birth or parentage, and, following these, the native Americans, usually from the country districts, and the men of German birth or parentage. There are also Jews, Scandinavians, Italians, Slavs, and men of other nationalities. All soon become welded into one body. They are physically a fine lot. Moreover, their instincts are right; they are game, they are alert and self-reliant, they prefer to act squarely if they are allowed so to act. All that they need is to be given the chance to prove themselves honest, brave, and self-respecting.
The law at present is much better than in our day, so far as governing the force is concerned. There is now a single Commissioner, and the Mayor has complete power over him. The Mayor, through his Commissioner, now has power to keep the police force on a good level of conduct if with resolution and common sense he insists on absolute honesty within the force and at the same time heartily supports it against the criminal classes. To weaken the force in its dealings with gangs and toughs and criminals generally is as damaging as to permit dishonesty, and, moreover, works towards dishonesty. But while under the present law very much improvement can be worked, there is need of change of the law which will make the Police Commissioner a permanent, non-partisan official, holding office so long as he proves thoroughly fit for the job, completely independent of the politicians and privileged interests, and with complete power over the force. This means that there must be the right law, and the right public opinion back of the law.
The many-sided ethnic character of the force now and then gives rise to, or affords opportunity for, queer happenings. Occasionally it enables one to meet emergencies in the best possible fashion. While I was Police Commissioner an anti-Semitic preacher from Berlin, Rector Ahlwardt, came over to New York to preach a crusade against the Jews. Many of the New York Jews were much excited and asked me to prevent him from speaking and not to give him police protection. This, I told them, was impossible; and if possible would have been undesirable because it would have made him a martyr. The proper thing to do was to make him ridiculous. Accordingly I detailed for his protection a Jew sergeant and a score or two of Jew policemen. He made his harangue against the Jews under the active protection of some forty policemen, every one of them a Jew! It was the most effective possible answer; and incidentally it was an object-lesson to our people, whose greatest need it is to learn that there must be no division by class hatred, whether this hatred be that of creed against creed, nationality against nationality, section against section, or men of one social or industrial condition against men of another social and industrial condition. We must ever judge each individual on his own conduct and merits, and not on his membership in any class, whether that class be based on theological, social, or industrial considerations.
Among my political opponents when I was Police Commissioner was the head of a very influential local Democratic organization. He was a State Senator usually known as Big Tim Sullivan. Big Tim represented the morals of another era; that is, his principles and actions were very much those of a Norman noble in the years immediately succeeding the Battle of Hastings. (This will seem flattery only to those who are not acquainted with the real histories and antecedents of the Norman nobles of the epoch in question.) His application of these eleventh-century theories to our nineteenth-century municipal democratic conditions brought him into sharp contact with me, and with one of my right-hand men in the Department, Inspector John McCullough. Under the old dispensation this would have meant that his friends and kinsfolk were under the ban.
Now it happened that in the Department at that time there was a nephew or cousin of his, Jerry D. Sullivan. I found that Jerry was an uncommonly good man, a conscientious, capable officer, and I promoted him. I do not know whether Jerry or Jerry's cousin (Senator Sullivan) was more astonished. The Senator called upon me to express what I am sure was a very genuine feeling of appreciation. Poor Jerry died, I think of consumption, a year or two after I left the Department. He was promoted again after I left, and he then showed that he possessed the very rare quality of gratitude, for he sent me a telegram dated January 15, 1898, running as follows: "Was made sergeant to-day. I thank you for all in my first advancement." And in a letter written to me he said: "In the future, as in the past, I will endeavor at all times to perform my duty honestly and fearlessly, and never cause you to feel that you were mistaken in me, so that you will be justly proud of my record." The Senator, though politically opposed to me, always kept a feeling of friendship for me after this incident. He served in Congress while I was President.
The police can be used to help all kinds of good purposes. When I was Police Commissioner much difficulty had been encountered in locating illegal and fraudulent practitioners of medicine. Dr. Maurice Lewi called on me, with a letter from James Russell Parsons, the Secretary of the Board of Regents at Albany, and asked me if I could not help. After questioning him I found that the local authorities were eager to prosecute these men, but could not locate them; and I made up my mind I would try my hand at it. Accordingly, a sealed order was sent to the commanding officer of each police precinct in New York, not to be opened until just before the morning roll call, previous to the police squad going on duty. This order required that, immediately upon reaching post, each patrolman should go over his beat and enter upon a sheet of paper, provided for that purpose, the full name and address of every doctor sign there appearing. Immediately upon securing this information, the patrolman was instructed to return the sheet to the officer in charge of the precinct. The latter in turn was instructed to collect and place in one large envelope and to return to Police Headquarters all the data thus received. As a result of this procedure, within two hours the prosecuting officials of the city of New York were in possession of the name and address of every person in New York who announced himself as a physician; and scores of pretended physicians were brought to book or driven from the city.
One of the perennially serious and difficult problems, and one of the chief reasons for police blackmail and corruption, is to be found in the excise situation in New York. When I was Police Commissioner, New York was a city with twelve or fifteen thousand saloons, with a State law which said they should be closed on Sundays, and with a local sentiment which put a premium on violating the law by making Sunday the most profitable day in the week to the saloon-keeper who was willing to take chances. It was this willingness to take chances that furnished to the corrupt politician and the corrupt police officer their opportunities.
There was in New York City a strong sentiment in favor of honesty in politics; there was also a strong sentiment in favor of opening the saloons on Sundays; and, finally, there was a strong sentiment in favor of keeping the saloons closed on Sunday. Unfortunately, many of the men who favored honest government nevertheless preferred keeping the saloons open to having honest government; and many others among the men who favored honest government put it second to keeping the saloons closed. Moreover, among the people who wished the law obeyed and the saloons closed there were plenty who objected strongly to every step necessary to accomplish the result, although they also insisted that the result should be accomplished.
Meanwhile the politicians found an incredible profit in using the law as a club to keep the saloons in line; all except the biggest, the owners of which, or the owners of the breweries back of which, sat in the inner councils of Tammany, or controlled Tammany's allies in the Republican organization. The police used the partial and spasmodic enforcement of the law as a means of collecting blackmail. The result was that the officers of the law, the politicians, and the saloon-keepers became inextricably tangled in a network of crime and connivance at crime. The most powerful saloon-keepers controlled the politicians and the police, while the latter in turn terrorized and blackmailed all the other saloon-keepers. It was not a case of non-enforcement of the law. The law was very actively enforced, but it was enforced with corrupt discrimination.
It is difficult for men who have not been brought into contact with that side of political life which deals with the underworld to understand the brazen openness with which this blackmailing of lawbreakers was carried out. A further very dark fact was that many of the men responsible for putting the law on the statute-books in order to please one element of their constituents, also connived at or even profited by the corrupt and partial non-enforcement of the law in order to please another set of their constituents, or to secure profit for themselves. The organ of the liquor-sellers at that time was the Wine and Spirit Gazette. The editor of this paper believed in selling liquor on Sunday, and felt that it was an outrage to forbid it. But he also felt that corruption and blackmail made too big a price to pay for the partial non-enforcement of the law. He made in his paper a statement, the correctness of which was never questioned, which offers a startling commentary on New York politics of that period. In this statement he recited the fact that the system of blackmail had been brought to such a state of perfection, and had become so oppressive to the liquor dealers themselves, that they communicated at length on the subject with Governor Hill (the State Democratic boss) and then with Mr. Croker (the city Democratic boss). Finally the matter was formally taken up by a committee of the Central Association of Liquor Dealers in an interview they held with Mr. Martin, my Tammany predecessor as President of the police force. In matter-of-course way the editor's statement continues: "An agreement was made between the leaders of Tammany Hall and the liquor dealers according to which the monthly blackmail paid to the force should be discontinued in return for political support." Not only did the big bosses, State and local, treat this agreement, and the corruption to which it was due, as normal and proper, but they never even took the trouble to deny what had been done when it was made public. Tammany and the police, however, did not fully live up to the agreement; and much discrimination of a very corrupt kind, and of a very exasperating kind to liquor-sellers who wished to be honest, continued in connection with the enforcing of the law.
In short, the agreement was kept only with those who had "pull." These men with "pull" were benefited when their rivals were bullied and blackmailed by the police. The police, meanwhile, who had bought appointment or promotion, and the politicians back of them, extended the blackmailing to include about everything from the pushcart peddler and the big or small merchant who wished to use the sidewalk illegally for his goods, up to the keepers of the brothel, the gambling-house, and the policy-shop. The total blackmail ran into millions of dollars. New York was a wide-open town. The big bosses rolled in wealth, and the corrupt policemen who ran the force lost all sense of decency and justice. Nevertheless, I wish to insist on the fact that the honest men on the patrol posts, "the men with the night-sticks," remained desirous to see honesty obtain, although they were losing courage and hope.
This was the situation that confronted me when I came to Mulberry Street. The saloon was the chief source of mischief. It was with the saloon that I had to deal, and there was only one way to deal with it. That was to enforce the law. The howl that rose was deafening. The professional politicians raved. The yellow press surpassed themselves in clamor and mendacity. A favorite assertion was that I was enforcing a "blue" law, an obsolete law that had never before been enforced. As a matter of fact, I was only enforcing honestly a law that had hitherto been enforced dishonestly. There was very little increase in the number of arrests made for violating the Sunday law. Indeed, there were weeks when the number of arrests went down. The only difference was that there was no protected class. Everybody was arrested alike, and I took especial pains to see that there was no discrimination, and that the big men and the men with political influence were treated like every one else. The immediate effect was wholly good. I had been told that it was not possible to close the saloons on Sunday and that I could not succeed. However, I did succeed. The warden of Bellevue Hospital reported, two or three weeks after we had begun, that for the first time in its existence there had not been a case due to a drunken brawl in the hospital all Monday. The police courts gave the same testimony, while savings banks recorded increased deposits and pawnshops hard times. The most touching of all things was the fact that we received letters, literally by the hundred, from mothers in tenement-houses who had never been allowed to take their children to the country in the wide-open days, and who now found their husbands willing to take them and their families for an outing on Sunday. Jake Riis and I spent one Sunday from morning till night in the tenement districts, seeing for ourselves what had happened.
During the two years that we were in office things never slipped back to anything like what they had been before. But we did not succeed in keeping them quite as highly keyed as during these first weeks. As regards the Sunday-closing law, this was partly because public sentiment was not really with us. The people who had demanded honesty, but who did not like to pay for it by the loss of illegal pleasure, joined the openly dishonest in attacking us. Moreover, all kinds of ways of evading the law were tried, and some of them were successful. The statute, for instance, permitted any man to take liquor with meals. After two or three months a magistrate was found who decided judicially that seventeen beers and one pretzel made a meal—after which decision joy again became unconfined in at least some of the saloons, and the yellow press gleefully announced that my "tyranny" had been curbed. But my prime object, that of stopping blackmail, was largely attained.
All kinds of incidents occurred in connection with this crusade. One of them introduced me to a friend who remains a friend yet. His name was Edward J. Bourke. He was one of the men who entered the police force through our examinations shortly after I took office. I had summoned twenty or thirty of the successful applicants to let me look over them; and as I walked into the hall, one of them, a well-set-up man, called out sharply to the others, "Gangway," making them move to one side. I found he had served in the United States navy. The incident was sufficient to make me keep him in mind. A month later I was notified by a police reporter, a very good fellow, that Bourke was in difficulties, and that he thought I had better look into the matter myself, as Bourke was being accused by certain very influential men of grave misconduct in an arrest he had made the night before. Accordingly, I took the matter up personally. I found that on the new patrolman's beat the preceding night—a new beat—there was a big saloon run by a man of great influence in political circles known as "King" Calahan. After midnight the saloon was still running in full blast, and Bourke, stepping inside, told Calahan to close up. It was at the time filled with "friends of personal liberty," as Governor Hill used at that time, in moments of pathos, to term everybody who regarded as tyranny any restriction on the sale of liquor. Calahan's saloon had never before in its history been closed, and to have a green cop tell him to close it seemed to him so incredible that he regarded it merely as a bad jest. On his next round Bourke stepped in and repeated the order. Calahan felt that the jest had gone too far, and by way of protest knocked Bourke down. This was an error of judgment on his part, for when Bourke arose he knocked down Calahan. The two then grappled and fell on the floor, while the "friends of personal liberty" danced around the fight and endeavored to stamp on everything they thought wasn't Calahan. However, Bourke, though pretty roughly handled, got his man and shut the saloon. When he appeared against the lawbreaker in court next day, he found the court-room crowded with influential Tammany Hall politicians, backed by one or two Republican leaders of the same type; for Calahan was a baron of the underworld, and both his feudal superiors and his feudal inferiors gathered to the rescue. His backers in court included a Congressman and a State Senator, and so deep-rooted was the police belief in "pull" that his own superiors had turned against Bourke and were preparing to sacrifice him. Just at this time I acted on the information given me by my newspaper friend by starting in person for the court. The knowledge that I knew what was going on, that I meant what I said, and that I intended to make the affair personal, was all that was necessary. Before I reached the court all effort to defend Calahan had promptly ceased, and Bourke had come forth triumphant. I immediately promoted him to roundsman. He is a captain now. He has been on the force ever since, save that when the Spanish War came he obtained a holiday without pay for six months and reentered the navy, serving as gun captain in one of the gunboats, and doing his work, as was to be expected, in first-rate fashion, especially when under fire.
Let me again say that when men tell me that the police are irredeemably bad I remember scores and hundreds of cases like this of Bourke, like the case I have already mentioned of Raphael, like the other cases I have given above.
It is useless to tell me that these men are bad. They are naturally first-rate men. There are no better men anywhere than the men of the New York police force; and when they go bad it is because the system is wrong, and because they are not given the chance to do the good work they can do and would rather do. I never coddled these men. I punished them severely whenever I thought their conduct required it. All I did was to try to be just; to reward them when they did well; in short, to act squarely by them. I believe that, as a whole, they liked me. When, in 1912, I ran for President on the Progressive ticket, I received a number of unsigned letters inclosing sums of money for the campaign. One of these inclosed twenty dollars. The writer, who did not give his name, said that he was a policeman, that I had once had him before me on charges, and had fined him twenty dollars; that, as a matter of fact, he had not committed the offense for which I fined him, but that the evidence was such that he did not wonder that I had been misled, and never blamed me for it, because I had acted squarely and had given honest and decent men a chance in the Police Department; and that now he inclosed a twenty-dollar bill, the amount of the fine inflicted on him so many years before. I have always wished I knew who the man was.
The disciplinary courts were very interesting. But it was extraordinarily difficult to get at the facts in the more complicated cases—as must always be true under similar circumstances; for ordinarily it is necessary to back up the superior officer who makes the charge, and yet it is always possible that this superior officer is consciously or unconsciously biased against his subordinate.
In the courts the charges were sometimes brought by police officers and sometimes by private citizens. In the latter case we would get queer insights into twilight phases of New York life. It was necessary to be always on our guard. Often an accusation would be brought against the policeman because he had been guilty of misconduct. Much more often the accusation merely meant that the officer had incurred animosity by doing his duty. I remember one amusing case where the officer was wholly to blame but had acted in entire good faith.
One of the favorite and most demoralizing forms of gambling in New York was policy-playing. The policy slips consisted of papers with three rows of figures written on them. The officer in question was a huge pithecoid lout of a creature, with a wooden face and a receding forehead, and his accuser whom he had arrested the preceding evening was a little grig of a red-headed man, obviously respectable, and almost incoherent with rage. The anger of the little red-headed man was but natural, for he had just come out from a night in the station-house. He had been arrested late in the evening on suspicion that he was a policy-player, because of the rows of figures on a piece of paper which he had held in his hand, and because at the time of his arrest he had just stepped into the entrance of the hall of a tenement-house in order to read by lamplight. The paper was produced in evidence. There were the three rows of figures all right, but, as the accused explained, hopping up and down with rage and excitement, they were all of them the numbers of hymns. He was the superintendent of a small Sunday-school. He had written down the hymns for several future services, one under the other, and on the way home was stopping to look at them, under convenient lamp-posts, and finally by the light of the lamp in a tenement-house hallway; and it was this conduct which struck the sagacious man in uniform as "suspicious."
One of the saddest features of police work is dealing with the social evil, with prostitutes and houses of ill fame. In so far as the law gave me power, I always treated the men taken in any raid on these houses precisely as the women were treated. My experience brought me to the very strong conviction that there ought not to be any toleration by law of the vice. I do not know of any method which will put a complete stop to the evil, but I do know certain things that ought to be done to minimize it. One of these is treating men and women on an exact equality for the same act. Another is the establishment of night courts and of special commissions to deal with this special class of cases. Another is that suggested by the Rev. Charles Stelzle, of the Labor Temple—to publish conspicuously the name of the owner of any property used for immoral purposes, after said owner had been notified of the use and has failed to prevent it. Another is to prosecute the keepers and backers of brothels, men and women, as relentlessly and punish them as severely as pickpockets and common thieves. They should never be fined; they should be imprisoned. As for the girls, the very young ones and first offenders should be put in the charge of probation officers or sent to reformatories, and the large percentage of feeble-minded girls and of incorrigible girls and women should be sent to institutions created for them. We would thus remove from this hideous commerce the articles of commerce. Moreover, the Federal Government must in ever-increasing measure proceed against the degraded promoters of this commercialism, for their activities are inter-State and the Nation can often deal with them more effectively than the States; although, as public sentiment becomes aroused, Nation, State, and municipality will all cooperate towards the same end of rooting out the traffic. But the prime need is to raise the level of individual morality; and, moreover, to encourage early marriages, the single standard of sex-morality, and a strict sense of reciprocal conjugal obligation. The women who preach late marriages are by just so much making it difficult to better the standard of chastity.
As regards the white slave traffic, the men engaged in it, and the women too, are far worse criminals than any ordinary murderers can be. For them there is need of such a law as that recently adopted in England through the efforts of Arthur Lee, M.P., a law which includes whipping for the male offenders. There are brutes so low, so infamous, so degraded and bestial in their cruelty and brutality, that the only way to get at them is through their skins. Sentimentality on behalf of such men is really almost as unhealthy and wicked as the criminality of the men themselves. My experience is that there should be no toleration of any "tenderloin" or "red light" district, and that, above all, there should be the most relentless war on commercialized vice. The men who profit and make their living by the depravity and the awful misery of other human beings stand far below any ordinary criminals, and no measures taken against them can be too severe.
As for the wretched girls who follow the dreadful trade in question, a good deal can be done by a change in economic conditions. This ought to be done. When girls are paid wages inadequate to keep them from starvation, or to permit them to live decently, a certain proportion are forced by their economic misery into lives of vice. The employers and all others responsible for these conditions stand on a moral level not far above the white slavers themselves. But it is a mistake to suppose that either the correction of these economic conditions or the abolition of the white slave trade will wholly correct the evil or will even reach the major part of it. The economic factor is very far from being the chief factor in inducing girls to go into this dreadful life. As with so many other problems, while there must be governmental action, there must also be strengthening of the average individual character in order to achieve the desired end. Even where economic conditions are bad, girls who are both strong and pure will remain unaffected by temptations to which girls of weak character or lax standards readily yield. Any man who knows the wide variation in the proportions of the different races and nationalities engaged in prostitution must come to the conclusion that it is out of the question to treat economic conditions as the sole conditions or even as the chief conditions that determine this question. There are certain races—the Irish are honorably conspicuous among them—which, no matter what the economic pressure, furnish relatively few inmates of houses of ill fame. I do not believe that the differences are due to permanent race characteristics; this is shown by the fact that the best settlement houses find that practically all their "long-term graduates," so to speak, all the girls that come for a long period under their influence, no matter what their race or national origin, remain pure. In every race there are some naturally vicious individuals and some weak individuals who readily succumb under economic pressure. A girl who is lazy and hates hard work, a girl whose mind is rather feeble, and who is of "subnormal intelligence," as the phrase now goes, or a girl who craves cheap finery and vapid pleasure, is always in danger. A high ideal of personal purity is essential. Where the same pressure under the same economic conditions has tenfold the effect on one set of people that it has on another, it is evident that the question of moral standards is even more important than the question of economic standards, very important though this question is. It is important for us to remember that the girl ought to have the chance, not only for the necessaries of life, but for innocent pleasure; and that even more than the man she must not be broken by overwork, by excessive toil. Moreover, public opinion and the law should combine to hunt down the "flagrant man swine" who himself hunts down poor or silly or unprotected girls. But we must not, in foolish sentimentality, excuse the girl from her duty to keep herself pure. Our duty to achieve the same moral level for the two sexes must be performed by raising the level for the man, not by lowering it for the woman; and the fact that society must recognize its duty in no shape or way relieves, not even to the smallest degree, the individual from doing his or her duty. Sentimentality which grows maudlin on behalf of the willful prostitute is a curse; to confound her with the entrapped or coerced girl, the real white slave, is both foolish and wicked. There are evil women just as there are evil men, naturally depraved girls just as there are naturally depraved young men; and the right and wise thing, the just thing, to them, and the generous thing to innocent girls and decent men, is to wage stern war against the evil creatures of both sexes.
In company with Jacob Riis, I did much work that was not connected with the actual discipline of the force or indeed with the actual work of the force. There was one thing which he and I abolished—police lodging-houses, which were simply tramp lodging-houses, and a fruitful encouragement to vagrancy. Those who read Mr. Riis's story of his own life will remember the incidents that gave him from actual personal experience his horror of these tramp lodging-houses. As member of the Health Board I was brought into very close relations with the conditions of life in the tenement-house districts. Here again I used to visit the different tenement-house regions, usually in company with Riis, to see for myself what the conditions were. It was largely this personal experience that enabled me while on the Health Board to struggle not only zealously, but with reasonable efficiency and success, to improve conditions. We did our share in making forward strides in the matter of housing the working people of the city with some regard to decency and comfort.
The midnight trips that Riis and I took enabled me to see what the Police Department was doing, and also gave me personal insight into some of the problems of city life. It is one thing to listen in perfunctory fashion to tales of overcrowded tenements, and it is quite another actually to see what that overcrowding means, some hot summer night, by even a single inspection during the hours of darkness. There was a very hot spell one midsummer while I was Police Commissioner, and most of each night I spent walking through the tenement-house districts and visiting police stations to see what was being done. It was a tragic week. We did everything possible to alleviate the suffering. Much of it was heartbreaking, especially the gasping misery of the little children and of the worn-out mothers. Every resource of the Health Department, of the Police Department, and even the Fire Department (which flooded the hot streets) was taxed in the effort to render service. The heat killed such multitudes of horses that the means at our disposal for removing the poor dead beasts proved quite inadequate, although every nerve was strained to the limit. In consequence we received scores of complaints from persons before whose doors dead horses had remained, festering in the heat, for two or three days. One irascible man sent us furious denunciations, until we were at last able to send a big dray to drag away the horse that lay dead before his shop door. The huge dray already contained eleven other dead horses, and when it reached this particular door it broke down, and it was hours before it could be moved. The unfortunate man who had thus been cursed with a granted wish closed his doors in despair and wrote us a final pathetic letter in which he requested us to remove either the horses or his shop, he didn't care which.
I have spoken before of my experience with the tenement-house cigar factory law which the highest court of New York State declared unconstitutional. My experience in the Police Department taught me that not a few of the worst tenement-houses were owned by wealthy individuals, who hired the best and most expensive lawyers to persuade the courts that it was "unconstitutional" to insist on the betterment of conditions. These business men and lawyers were very adroit in using a word with fine and noble associations to cloak their opposition to vitally necessary movements for industrial fair play and decency. They made it evident that they valued the Constitution, not as a help to righteousness, but as a means for thwarting movements against unrighteousness. After my experience with them I became more set than ever in my distrust of those men, whether business men or lawyers, judges, legislators, or executive officers, who seek to make of the Constitution a fetich for the prevention of the work of social reform, for the prevention of work in the interest of those men, women, and children on whose behalf we should be at liberty to employ freely every governmental agency.
Occasionally during the two years we had to put a stop to riotous violence, and now and then on these occasions some of the labor union leaders protested against the actions of the police. By this time I was becoming a strong believer in labor unions, a strong believer in the rights of labor. For that very reason I was all the more bound to see that lawlessness and disorder were put down, and that no rioter was permitted to masquerade under the guise of being a friend of labor or a sympathizer with labor. I was scrupulous to see that the labor men had fair play; that, for instance, they were allowed to picket just so far as under the law picketing could be permitted, so that the strikers had ample opportunity peacefully to persuade other labor men not to take their places. But I made it clearly and definitely understood that under no circumstances would I permit violence or fail to insist upon the keeping of order. If there were wrongs, I would join with a full heart in striving to have them corrected. But where there was violence all other questions had to drop until order was restored. This is a democracy, and the people have the power, if they choose to exercise it, to make conditions as they ought to be made, and to do this strictly within the law; and therefore the first duty of the true democrat, of the man really loyal to the principles of popular government, is to see that law is enforced and order upheld. It was a peculiar gratification to me that so many of the labor leaders with whom I was thrown in contact grew cordially to accept this view. When I left the Department, several called upon me to say how sorry they were that I was not to continue in office. One, the Secretary of the Journeyman Bakers' and Confectioners' International Union, Henry Weismann, wrote me expressing his regret that I was going, and his appreciation as a citizen of what I had done as Police Commissioner; he added: "I am particularly grateful for your liberal attitude toward organized labor, your cordial championship of those speaking in behalf of the toilers, and your evident desire to do the right thing as you saw it at whatever cost."
Some of the letters I received on leaving the Department were from unexpected sources. Mr. E. L. Godkin, an editor who in international matters was not a patriotic man, wrote protesting against my taking the Assistant-Secretaryship of the Navy, and adding: "I have a concern, as the Quakers say, to put on record my earnest belief that in New York you are doing the greatest work of which any American to-day is capable, and exhibiting to the young men of the country the spectacle of a very important office administered by a man of high character in the most efficient way amid a thousand difficulties. As a lesson in politics I cannot think of anything more instructive."
About the same time I had a letter from Mr. (afterwards Ambassador) James Bryce, also expressing regret that I was leaving the Police Department, but naturally with much more appreciation of the work that was to be done in the Navy Department. This letter I quote, with his permission, because it conveys a lesson to those who are inclined always to think that the conditions of the present time are very bad. It was written July 7, 1897. Mr. Bryce spoke of the possibility of coming to America in a month or so, and continued: "I hope I may have a chance of seeing you if I do get over, and of drawing some comfort from you as regards your political phenomena, which, so far as I can gather from those of your countrymen I have lately seen, furnish some good opportunities for a persistent optimist like myself to show that he is not to be lightly discouraged. Don't suppose that things are specially 'nice,' as a lady would say, in Europe either. They are not." Mr. Bryce was a very friendly and extraordinary competent observer of things American; and there was this distinct note of discouragement about our future in the intimate letter he was thus sending. Yet this was at the very time when the United States was entering on a dozen years during which our people accomplished more good, and came nearer realizing the possibilities of a great, free, and conscientious democracy, than during any other dozen years in our history, save only the years of Lincoln's Presidency and the period during which the Nation was founded.
THE WAR OF AMERICA THE UNREADY
I suppose the United States will always be unready for war, and in consequence will always be exposed to great expense, and to the possibility of the gravest calamity, when the Nation goes to war. This is no new thing. Americans learn only from catastrophes and not from experience.
There would have been no war in 1812 if, in the previous decade, America, instead of announcing that "peace was her passion," instead of acting on the theory that unpreparedness averts war, had been willing to go to the expense of providing a fleet of a score of ships of the line. However, in that case, doubtless the very men who in the actual event deplored the loss of life and waste of capital which their own supineness had brought about would have loudly inveighed against the "excessive and improper cost of armaments"; so it all came to about the same thing in the end.
There is no more thoroughgoing international Mrs. Gummidge, and no more utterly useless and often utterly mischievous citizen, than the peace-at-any-price, universal-arbitration type of being, who is always complaining either about war or else about the cost of the armaments which act as the insurance against war. There is every reason why we should try to limit the cost of armaments, as these tend to grow excessive, but there is also every reason to remember that in the present stage of civilization a proper armament is the surest guarantee of peace—and is the only guarantee that war, if it does come, will not mean irreparable and overwhelming disaster.
In the spring of 1897 President McKinley appointed me Assistant Secretary of the Navy. I owed the appointment chiefly to the efforts of Senator H. C. Lodge of Massachusetts, who doubtless was actuated mainly by his long and close friendship for me, but also—I like to believe—by his keen interest in the navy. The first book I had ever published, fifteen years previously, was "The History of the Naval War of 1812"; and I have always taken the interest in the navy which every good American ought to take. At the time I wrote the book, in the early eighties, the navy had reached its nadir, and we were then utterly incompetent to fight Spain or any other power that had a navy at all. Shortly afterwards we began timidly and hesitatingly to build up a fleet. It is amusing to recall the roundabout steps we took to accomplish our purpose. In the reaction after the colossal struggle of the Civil War our strongest and most capable men had thrown their whole energy into business, into money-making, into the development, and above all the exploitation and exhaustion at the most rapid rate possible, of our natural resources—mines, forests, soil, and rivers. These men were not weak men, but they permitted themselves to grow shortsighted and selfish; and while many of them down at the bottom possessed the fundamental virtues, including the fighting virtues, others were purely of the glorified huckster or glorified pawnbroker type—which when developed to the exclusion of everything else makes about as poor a national type as the world has seen. This unadulterated huckster or pawnbroker type is rarely keenly sympathetic in matters of social and industrial justice, and is usually physically timid and likes to cover an unworthy fear of the most just war under high-sounding names.
It was reinforced by the large mollycoddle vote—the people who are soft physically and morally, or who have a twist in them which makes them acidly cantankerous and unpleasant as long as they can be so with safety to their bodies. In addition there are the good people with no imagination and no foresight, who think war will not come, but that if it does come armies and navies can be improvised—a very large element, typified by a Senator I knew personally who, in a public speech, in answer to a question as to what we would do if America were suddenly assailed by a first-class military power, answered that "we would build a battle-ship in every creek." Then, among the wise and high-minded people who in self-respecting and genuine fashion strive earnestly for peace, there are the foolish fanatics always to be found in such a movement and always discrediting it—the men who form the lunatic fringe in all reform movements.
All these elements taken together made a body of public opinion so important during the decades immediately succeeding the Civil War as to put a stop to any serious effort to keep the Nation in a condition of reasonable military preparedness. The representatives of this opinion then voted just as they now do when they vote against battle-ships or against fortifying the Panama Canal. It would have been bad enough if we had been content to be weak, and, in view of our weakness, not to bluster. But we were not content with such a policy. We wished to enjoy the incompatible luxuries of an unbridled tongue and an unready hand. There was a very large element which was ignorant of our military weakness, or, naturally enough, unable to understand it; and another large element which liked to please its own vanity by listening to offensive talk about foreign nations. Accordingly, too many of our politicians, especially in Congress, found that the cheap and easy thing to do was to please the foolish peace people by keeping us weak, and to please the foolish violent people by passing denunciatory resolutions about international matters—resolutions which would have been improper even if we had been strong. Their idea was to please both the mollycoddle vote and the vote of the international tail-twisters by upholding, with pretended ardor and mean intelligence, a National policy of peace with insult.
I abhor unjust war. I abhor injustice and bullying by the strong at the expense of the weak, whether among nations or individuals. I abhor violence and bloodshed. I believe that war should never be resorted to when, or so long as, it is honorably possible to avoid it. I respect all men and women who from high motives and with sanity and self-respect do all they can to avert war. I advocate preparation for war in order to avert war; and I should never advocate war unless it were the only alternative to dishonor. I describe the folly of which so many of our people were formerly guilty, in order that we may in our own day be on our guard against similar folly.
We did not at the time of which I write take our foreign duties seriously, and as we combined bluster in speech with refusal to make any preparation whatsoever for action, we were not taken seriously in return. Gradually a slight change for the better occurred, the writings of Captain Mahan playing no small part therein. We built some modern cruisers to start with; the people who felt that battle-ships were wicked compromising with their misguided consciences by saying that the cruisers could be used "to protect our commerce"—which they could not be, unless they had battle-ships to back them. Then we attempted to build more powerful fighting vessels, and as there was a section of the public which regarded battle-ships as possessing a name immorally suggestive of violence, we compromised by calling the new ships armored cruisers, and making them combine with exquisite nicety all the defects and none of the virtues of both types. Then we got to the point of building battle-ships. But there still remained a public opinion, as old as the time of Jefferson, which thought that in the event of war all our problem ought to be one of coast defense, that we should do nothing except repel attack; an attitude about as sensible as that of a prize-fighter who expected to win by merely parrying instead of hitting. To meet the susceptibilities of this large class of well-meaning people, we provided for the battle-ships under the name of "coast defense battle-ships"; meaning thereby that we did not make them quite as seaworthy as they ought to have been, or with quite as much coal capacity as they ought to have had. Then we decided to build real battle-ships. But there still remained a lingering remnant of public opinion that clung to the coast defense theory, and we met this in beautiful fashion by providing for "sea-going coast defense battle-ships"—the fact that the name was a contradiction in terms being of very small consequence compared to the fact that we did thereby get real battle-ships.
Our men had to be trained to handle the ships singly and in fleet formation, and they had to be trained to use the new weapons of precision with which the ships were armed. Not a few of the older officers, kept in the service under our foolish rule of pure seniority promotion, were not competent for the task; but a proportion of the older officers were excellent, and this was true of almost all the younger officers. They were naturally first-class men, trained in the admirable naval school at Annapolis. They were overjoyed that at last they were given proper instruments to work with, and they speedily grew to handle these ships individually in the best fashion. They were fast learning to handle them in squadron and fleet formation; but when the war with Spain broke out, they had as yet hardly grasped the principles of modern scientific naval gunnery.
Soon after I began work as Assistant Secretary of the Navy I became convinced that the war would come. The revolt in Cuba had dragged its weary length until conditions in the island had become so dreadful as to be a standing disgrace to us for permitting them to exist. There is much that I sincerely admire about the Spanish character; and there are few men for whom I have felt greater respect than for certain gentlemen of Spain whom I have known. But Spain attempted to govern her colonies on archaic principles which rendered her control of them incompatible with the advance of humanity and intolerable to the conscience of mankind. In 1898 the so-called war in Cuba had dragged along for years with unspeakable horror, degradation, and misery. It was not "war" at all, but murderous oppression. Cuba was devastated.
During those years, while we continued at "peace," several hundred times as many lives were lost, lives of men, women, and children, as were lost during the three months' "war" which put an end to this slaughter and opened a career of peaceful progress to the Cubans. Yet there were misguided professional philanthropists who cared so much more for names than for facts that they preferred a "peace" of continuous murder to a "war" which stopped the murder and brought real peace. Spain's humiliation was certain, anyhow; indeed, it was more certain without war than with it, for she could not permanently keep the island, and she minded yielding to the Cubans more than yielding to us. Our own direct interests were great, because of the Cuban tobacco and sugar, and especially because of Cuba's relation to the projected Isthmian Canal. But even greater were our interests from the standpoint of humanity. Cuba was at our very doors. It was a dreadful thing for us to sit supinely and watch her death agony. It was our duty, even more from the standpoint of National honor than from the standpoint of National interest, to stop the devastation and destruction. Because of these considerations I favored war; and to-day, when in retrospect it is easier to see things clearly, there are few humane and honorable men who do not believe that the war was both just and necessary.
The big financiers and the men generally who were susceptible to touch on the money nerve, and who cared nothing for National honor if it conflicted even temporarily with business prosperity, were against the war. The more fatuous type of philanthropist agreed with them. The newspapers controlled by, or run in the interests of, these two classes deprecated war, and did everything in their power to prevent any preparation for war. As a whole the people in Congress were at that time (and are now) a shortsighted set as regards international matters. There were a few men, Senators Cushman K. Davis,[*] for instance, and John Morgan, who did look ahead; and Senator H. C. Lodge, who throughout his quarter of a century of service in the Senate and House has ever stood foremost among those who uphold with farsighted fearlessness and strict justice to others our national honor and interest; but most of the Congressmen were content to follow the worst of all possible courses, that is, to pass resolutions which made war more likely, and yet to decline to take measures which would enable us to meet the war if it did come.
[*] In a letter written me just before I became Assistant Secretary, Senator Davis unburdened his mind about one of the foolish "peace" proposals of that period; his letter running in part: "I left the Senate Chamber about three o'clock this afternoon when there was going on a deal of mowing and chattering over the treaty by which the United States is to be bound to arbitrate its sovereign functions—for policies are matters of sovereignty. . . . The aberrations of the social movement are neither progress nor retrogression. They represent merely a local and temporary sagging of the line of the great orbit. Tennyson knew this when he wrote that fine and noble 'Maud.' I often read it, for to do so does me good." After quoting one of Poe's stories the letter continues: "The world will come out all right. Let him who believes in the decline of the military spirit observe the boys of a common school during the recess or the noon hour. Of course when American patriotism speaks out from its rank and file and demands action or expression, and when, thereupon, the 'business man,' so called, places his hand on his stack of reds as if he feared a policeman were about to disturb the game, and protests until American patriotism ceases to continue to speak as it had started to do—why, you and I get mad, and I swear. I hope you will be with us here after March 4. We can then pass judgment together on the things we don't like, and together indulge in hopes that I believe are prophetic."
However, in the Navy Department we were able to do a good deal, thanks to the energy and ability of some of the bureau chiefs, and to the general good tone of the service. I soon found my natural friends and allies in such men as Evans, Taylor, Sampson, Wainwright, Brownson, Schroeder, Bradford, Cowles, Cameron, Winslow, O'Neil, and others like them. I used all the power there was in my office to aid these men in getting the material ready. I also tried to gather from every source information as to who the best men were to occupy the fighting positions.
Sound naval opinion was overwhelmingly in favor of Dewey to command one squadron. I was already watching him, for I had been struck by an incident in his past career. It was at a time when there was threat of trouble with Chile. Dewey was off the Argentine, and was told to get ready to move to the other coast of South America. If the move became necessary, he would have to have coal, and yet if he did not make the move, the coal would not be needed. In such a case a man afraid of responsibility always acts rigidly by the regulations and communicates with the Department at home to get authority for everything he does; and therefore he usually accomplishes nothing whatever, but is able to satisfy all individuals with red-tape minds by triumphantly pointing out his compliance with the regulations. In a crisis, the man worth his salt is the man who meets the needs of the situation in whatever way is necessary. Dewey purchased the coal and was ready to move at once if need arose. The affair blew over; the need to move did not occur; and for some time there seemed to be a chance that Dewey would get into trouble over having purchased the coal, for our people are like almost all other peoples in requiring responsible officers under such conditions to decide at their own personal peril, no matter which course they follow. However, the people higher up ultimately stood by Dewey.
The incident made me feel that here was a man who could be relied upon to prepare in advance, and to act promptly, fearlessly, and on his own responsibility when the emergency arose. Accordingly I did my best to get him put in command of the Asiatic fleet, the fleet where it was most essential to have a man who would act without referring things back to the home authorities. An officer senior to him, of the respectable commonplace type, was being pushed by certain politicians who I knew had influence with the Navy Department and with the President. I would have preferred to see Dewey get the appointment without appealing to any politician at all. But while this was my preference, the essential thing was to get him the appointment. For a naval officer to bring pressure to get himself a soft and easy place is unpardonable; but a large leniency should be observed toward the man who uses influence only to get himself a place in the picture near the flashing of the guns. There was a Senator, Proctor of Vermont, who I knew was close to McKinley, and who was very ardent for the war, and desirous to have it fought in the most efficient fashion. I suggested to Dewey that he should enlist the services of Senator Proctor, which was accordingly done. In a fortunate hour for the Nation, Dewey was given command of the Asiatic squadron.
When the Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor, war became inevitable. A number of the peace-at-any-price men of course promptly assumed the position that she had blown herself up; but investigation showed that the explosion was from outside. And, in any event, it would have been impossible to prevent war. The enlisted men of the navy, who often grew bored to the point of desertion in peace, became keyed up to a high pitch of efficiency, and crowds of fine young fellows, from the interior as well as from the seacoast, thronged to enlist. The navy officers showed alert ability and unwearied industry in getting things ready. There was one deficiency, however, which there was no time to remedy, and of the very existence of which, strange to say, most of our best men were ignorant. Our navy had no idea how low our standard of marksmanship was. We had not realized that the modern battle-ship had become such a complicated piece of mechanism that the old methods of training in marksmanship were as obsolete as the old muzzle-loading broadside guns themselves. Almost the only man in the navy who fully realized this was our naval attache at Paris, Lieutenant Sims. He wrote letter after letter pointing out how frightfully backward we were in marksmanship. I was much impressed by his letters; but Wainwright was about the only other man who was. And as Sims proved to be mistaken in his belief that the French had taught the Spaniards how to shoot, and as the Spaniards proved to be much worse even than we were, in the service generally Sims was treated as an alarmist. But although I at first partly acquiesced in this view, I grew uneasy when I studied the small proportion of hits to shots made by our vessels in battle. When I was President I took up the matter, and speedily became convinced that we needed to revolutionize our whole training in marksmanship. Sims was given the lead in organizing and introducing the new system; and to him more than to any other one man was due the astonishing progress made by our fleet in this respect, a progress which made the fleet, gun for gun, at least three times as effective, in point of fighting efficiency, in 1908, as it was in 1902. The shots that hit are the shots that count!
Like the people, the Government was for a long time unwilling to prepare for war, because so many honest but misguided men believed that the preparation itself tended to bring on the war. I did not in the least share this feeling, and whenever I was left as Acting Secretary I did everything in my power to put us in readiness. I knew that in the event of war Dewey could be slipped like a wolf-hound from a leash; I was sure that if he were given half a chance he would strike instantly and with telling effect; and I made up my mind that all I could do to give him that half-chance should be done. I was in the closest touch with Senator Lodge throughout this period, and either consulted him about or notified him of all the moves I was taking. By the end of February I felt it was vital to send Dewey (as well as each of our other commanders who were not in home waters) instructions that would enable him to be in readiness for immediate action. On the afternoon of Saturday, February 25, when I was Acting Secretary, Lodge called on me just as I was preparing the order, which (as it was addressed to a man of the right stamp) was of much importance to the subsequent operations. Admiral Dewey speaks of the incident as follows, in his autobiography:
"The first real step [as regards active naval preparations] was taken on February 25, when telegraphic instructions were sent to the Asiatic, European, and South Atlantic squadrons to rendezvous at certain convenient points where, should war break out, they would be most available.
"The message to the Asiatic squadron bore the signature of that Assistant Secretary who had seized the opportunity while Acting Secretary to hasten preparations for a conflict which was inevitable. As Mr. Roosevelt reasoned, precautions for readiness would cost little in time of peace, and yet would be invaluable in case of war. His cablegram was as follows:
"'Washington, February 25, '98.
"'Dewey, Hong Kong:
"'Order the squadron, except the Monocacy, to Hong Kong. Keep full of coal. In the event of declaration of war Spain, your duty will be to see that the Spanish squadron does not leave the Asiatic coast, and then offensive operations in Philippine Islands. Keep Olympia until further orders.
"(The reference to keeping the Olympia until further orders was due to the fact that I had been notified that she would soon be recalled to the United States.)"
All that was needed with Dewey was to give him the chance to get ready, and then to strike, without being hampered by orders from those not on the ground. Success in war depends very largely upon choosing a man fit to exercise such powers, and then giving him the powers.
It would be instructive to remember, if only we were willing to do so, the fairly comic panic which swept in waves over our seacoast, first when it became evident that war was about to be declared, and then when it was declared. The public waked up to the sufficiently obvious fact that the Government was in its usual state—perennial unreadiness for war. Thereupon the people of the seaboard district passed at one bound from unreasoning confidence that war never could come to unreasoning fear as to what might happen now that it had come. That acute philosopher Mr. Dooley proclaimed that in the Spanish War we were in a dream, but that the Spaniards were in a trance. This just about summed up the facts. Our people had for decades scoffed at the thought of making ready for possible war. Now, when it was too late, they not only backed every measure, wise and unwise, that offered a chance of supplying a need that ought to have been met before, but they also fell into a condition of panic apprehension as to what the foe might do.
For years we had been saying, just as any number of our people now say, that no nation would venture to attack us. Then when we did go to war with an exceedingly feeble nation, we, for the time being, rushed to the other extreme of feeling, and attributed to this feeble nation plans of offensive warfare which it never dreamed of making, and which, if made, it would have been wholly unable to execute. Some of my readers doubtless remember the sinister intentions and unlimited potentialities for destruction with which the fertile imagination of the yellow press endowed the armored cruiser Viscaya when she appeared in American waters just before war was declared. The state of nervousness along much of the seacoast was funny in view of the lack of foundation for it; but it offered food for serious thought as to what would happen if we ever became engaged with a serious foe.
The Governor of one State actually announced that he would not permit the National Guard of that State to leave its borders, the idea being to retain it against a possible Spanish invasion. So many of the business men of the city of Boston took their securities inland to Worcester that the safe deposit companies of Worcester proved unable to take care of them. In my own neighborhood on Long Island clauses were gravely put into leases to the effect that if the property were destroyed by the Spaniards the lease should lapse. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy I had every conceivable impossible request made to me. Members of Congress who had actively opposed building any navy came clamorously around to ask each for a ship for some special purpose of protection connected with his district. It seems incredible, but it is true, that not only these Congressmen but the Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade of different coast cities all lost their heads for the time being, and raised a deafening clamor and brought every species of pressure to bear on the Administration to get it to adopt the one most fatal course—that is, to distribute the navy, ship by ship, at all kinds of points and in all kinds of ports with the idea of protecting everything everywhere, and thereby rendering it absolutely certain that even the Spanish fleet, poor though it was, would be able to pick up our own navy ship by ship in detail. One Congressman besought me for a ship to protect Jekyll Island, off the coast of Georgia, an island which derived its sole consequence because it contained the winter homes of certain millionaires. A lady whose husband occupied a very influential position, and who was normally a most admirable and sensible woman, came to insist that a ship should be anchored off a huge seaside hotel because she had a house in the neighborhood.
There were many such instances. One stood out above the others. A certain seaboard State contained in its Congressional delegation one of the most influential men in the Senate, and one of the most influential men in the lower house. These two men had been worse than lukewarm about building up the navy, and had scoffed at the idea of there ever being any danger from any foreign power. With the advent of war the feelings of their constituents, and therefore their own feelings, suffered an immediate change, and they demanded that a ship be anchored in the harbor of their city as a protection. Getting no comfort from me, they went "higher up," and became a kind of permanent committee in attendance upon the President. They were very influential men in the Houses, with whom it was important for the Administration to keep on good terms; and, moreover, they possessed a pertinacity as great as the widow who won her case from the unjust judge. Finally the President gave in and notified me to see that a ship was sent to the city in question. I was bound that, as long as a ship had to be sent, it should not be a ship worth anything. Accordingly a Civil War Monitor, with one smooth-bore gun, managed by a crew of about twenty-one naval militia, was sent to the city in question, under convoy of a tug. It was a hazardous trip for the unfortunate naval militiamen, but it was safely accomplished; and joy and peace descended upon the Senator and the Congressman, and upon the President whom they had jointly harassed. Incidentally, the fact that the protecting war-vessel would not have been a formidable foe to any antagonists of much more modern construction than the galleys of Alcibiades seemed to disturb nobody.