privilege

The Menace of Privilege, by Henry George Jr.
Installment 40
PRIVILEGE

We are pleased to present, in installments, a very rare yet significant book written by former Congressman Henry George Jr. in 1905.

Earlier installments are available at the Progress Report Archive.

end of CHAPTER 17, STATE & MUNICIPAL POLITICS

State by State, Corruption is Rife

A weather-beaten New York politician describes the hierarchy of corrupt municipal party managers: (1) those who will take from the great privilege-owning corporations and from no one else; (2) those who will take only from the public contractors; (3) those who will take from none below the larger gamblers and liquors dealers; (4) those who will exact tribute from brothels; (5) those lowest of all who will accept the miserable little offerings of three-card monte men.

Here are the five chief sources of political loot. The first yields many times that of the other four taken together. Indeed, it may truly be said that Privilege is responsible for it all, since Privilege robs the masses of the people into poverty, which causes many to neglect and others to sell their suffrages.

These things are not true of New York State alone. They are true of all the States. As Gould and Havemeyer said, the great privileged corporations conduct debauching operations wherever it suits their interests. Colonel Alexander K. McClure, chairman of the Pennsylvania State Committee in 186o, stated that the Lincoln managers had but $12,000 to spend in the presidential campaign in Pennsylvania that year, whereas the late United States Senator Quay, the servant of railroad, steel and coal interests, is believed to have spent $200,000 simply to have himself reelected State chairman; and Philadelphia, as all the world knows, has been until quite recently, in the words of Rev. Dr. Parkhurst, "comfortably rotten."

In Delaware Addicksism is a synonym for political putrefaction. A detailed charge made by Mr. Thomas W. Lawson of Boston that Mr. Henry H. Rogers, vice-president of the Standard Oil Company, paid in cash a quarter of a million dollars as a bribe for the vacation of a receivership of the Addicks Bay State Gas Company, has been confirmed by several, among them ex-United States Senator Anthony J. Higgins. ("Frenzied Finance," Everybody's Magazine, January, 1905. Interview in Philadelphia North American, Dec. 21, 1904. The magazine containing the Lawson charge was issued about the middle of December.) Mr. Rogers has not taken the trouble even to deny the charge through the press.

New Jersey, once the peculiar province of the Camden and Amboy Railroad, is now the breeding-place of trusts. Her Legislature, under trust guidance, acts as if she had no fellowship with the other States of the Union.

Rule or ruin has long been the policy of the railroads in Illinois politics, while $1,000,000 was put in a safe deposit box, and the key given to Governor Altgeld's nephew, with the statement that the money was for the State's Executive if he would not veto a gas trust bill which had been passed by the Legislature. When told of this the Governor said to his nephew: "Guard that key as the most precious thing in your life. To-morrow I shall veto the bill." And the next day he did veto it.

The Baking Powder Trust in Missouri wanted a law to crush the Independents. Former Lieutenant-Governor John A. Lee undertook to procure its passage. He received, by his subsequent confession, $8500, from which he paid seven Senators $1000 a piece. Six of these Senators were members of the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence. Bribers and bribed were taken in the net and scourged.

Tariff-protected sugar interests have for decades dominated Louisiana.

"The impudent railroad lobby," wrote Governor La Follette, in a recent special message to the Wisconsin Legislature, "has cost the State millions of dollars in the last six years, and has been a nuisance and disgrace in the legislative halls of the State." (Message to Legislature, May 25, 1905.)

In accepting a renomination, Governor Herrick of Ohio declared that "the professional lobby should go," it being "subversive of the basic principles upon which American institutions are founded to permit a few men to control legislation and to put their judgment as to what is best for the people against that of the representatives of the people, elected for the sole purpose of registering their will." (Speech before the Republican State Convention,, May 25, 1905.)

In Montana copper companies and not political parties bid for office, with the result that "corruption, bribery, and grafting" are rampant in Silverbow County.

General Sherman Bell, speaking for Colorado, says that water, electric light, telephone and street railroad corporations of Denver spent $190,000 corruptly in a recent city election and had 14,000 fradulent votes cast and counted. (He told me this during an interview for publication, Colorado Springs, June, 1904.) Seventy thousand dollars is the amount commonly said to have been paid by the allied mining, smelting and steam railroad powers for fourteen votes in the Legislature in the recent gubernatorial struggle in that State.

A million-dollar timber scandal in Idaho threatens sooner or later to envelop many public officials there in its toils, and Oregon bows under the disgrace of having two of her representatives in Congress - one a member of the Senate, the other of the House - caught in similar frauds. Senator Mitchell had for two years been master of the Republican party of that State.

California and Nevada have long been as completely under the domination of the Pacific railroads as Alabama has been under that of the Louisville and Nashville, Ohio under the group headed by the Lake Shore and Big Four, and Florida under the Plant-Flagler interests.

The Consolidated Railroad regularly "opens the bag" in Connecticut, with a result, as related by Rev. Dr. Newman Smyth (The Outlook, March 11, 1905), that "in one hill town the amount of purchasable votes became so large that the town committee of both parties made a mutual bargain that year not to buy any votes." The Aldrich-Perry-Brayton combination of steel railway, electric, gas and other franchise utilities, says the New York Evening Post, "finds its traffic in franchises and privileges relatively cheap and simple while it can make its bargains with the rotten boroughs."

No longer could such a keen and impartial observer as Mr. Bryce say, as he said fifteen years ago, that "the Legislatures of Massachusetts, Vermont and several of the northwestern States, such as Michigan, are pure, i.e. the members who would take a bribe are exceedingly few, and those who would push through a job for some other sort of consideration a small fraction of the whole."

The Legislature of Michigan is now easily susceptible to the magnetic influences of the iron, copper, lumber and public franchise interests. The Legislature of Vermont quietly bows before the will of the marble and granite quarry interests, whose rule there is as complete, though without turbulence, as is the rule of the coal and metallurgic mine owners in Colorado.

As to Massachusetts: Lomasney is to Boston much as Croker was to New York, Shepard to Washington and Buckley (the Chinese called him the "blind White Devil") to San Francisco. Indeed, Lomasney is greater than any of them, for he is in a sense non-partisan. Managers of both parties not only in Boston but in the State treat with him, since he can when he pleases prove his boast "stand the House of Representatives [of which he is a member] on end."

The Massachusetts Senate of the 1905 session was notorious. Of the forty members, twenty-five, who were purchasable, hung together and were known collectively as "the Syndicate." The remaining fifteen were called "Discards." Mr. Thomas W. Lawson has circumstantially charged the Standard Oil gas interests with buying up legislative votes like fish at the market. ("The American Commonwealth," Vol.11, p.156, Second Edition.) That black indictment has stood unchallenged.

Thus might we go through the entire line of States. Everywhere Privilege, the offspring or the ward of Government, is active in politics. And it is there for itself, not for the general good; there to master, not to submit. Its influence may not always be dominant, but it strives for dominance, aided with money and corrupting methods. Too often the question at the polls or in legislative halls is not what the people in general will do, but what those possessing privileges will permit to be done.

Tammany Boss Croker once amazed the public with his candor by announcing that he was in politics for his pocket. Yet why the surprise? To such as he politics is only a vocation or business. His largest customer is he who will buy his way to privilege and will expand large sums to keep it. In local politics this causes such a rottenness as to daunt so wise a man as Mr. Bryce and such a public-spirited one as Mr. Goldwin Smith. They distinctly do not follow Macaulay and say that "institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty or civilization, or both." (Letter of Thomas Babington Macaulay to Henry S. Randall, the biographer of Thomas Jefferson.) But they do speak of the government of great cities as being a conspicuous failure in the United States. (Bryce's "American Commonwealth," Second Edition, Vol.1, p. 608; "City Government," by Goldwin Smith, in The Independent March 30, 1905.)

Mr. Bryce would have the people more vigilant and follow higher political standards. This is only another form of the urging of the pulpit, "Be virtuous and then you will be wise and strong." The masses of men, except in times of crisis, will be what their circumstances make them. Grants of privilege by Government condemn the masses to circumstances of brutalizing poverty and ignorance. This is the fallowest ground for corrupt politics.

Mr. Smith distrusts "the blind chances of popular elections" and would have Government by Commission, the Commission appointed by the Governor. But would appointed Commissioners be less the servants of Privilege than officials elected directly by the people? Experience says not. The power that corrupts local politics also elects Governors, or at least has a potent influence over most of them. This power would name the Commissioners. Better a corrupt democracy, with freedom to correct its ways, than a well-ordered paternal Government, which may with a strong hand preserve the peace only to fasten permanently upon the people devices for robbing them, all the more effective because indirect and subtle.

Others, like M. Ostrogorski in his work "Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties," go farther and reach pessimistic conclusions as to the entire fabric of democratic Government, seeing deterioration at top and utter degradation at bottom; the whole in the hands of party machine, caucus and lobby, which are growing stronger and stronger, and correspondingly unaccountable.

M. Ostrogorski treats this as revealing the innate weakness of a government by the masses, all unconscious of the existence of Privilege standing behind, pulling the wires - Privilege, concentrating in fewer and fewer hands and waxing great with power.

"The conditions of life in this Republic have wonderfully changed during the last century," says Mr. Justice Brewer. (Address before the Albany IAw School, June 1, I904.) "Formerly there were two parties: the individual and the Government. Now there are three: the individual, the corporation and the Government." By the "corporation," the justice obviously means the corporation possessing government-made or sanctioned privilege; for, continues he, in some respects the corporation "stands halfway between the individual and the Government, and at times antagonizes both the interests of the one and the power of the other."

What is this but a conservative way of saying that Privilege robs the people and debauches their politics and their Government?

And how do those exponents as well as molders of public sentiment and opinion - the press, the university and the pulpit - act in respect to all these things? What is the attitude of Privilege toward each of them, and what is their bearing toward Privilege? We shall proceed to consider.

Next week -- Bondage of the Press!


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