PHILADELPHIA: CORRUPT AND CONTENTED

Other American cities, no matter how bad their own condition may be, all
point with scorn to Philadelphia as worse—“the worst-governed city in
the country.” St. Louis, Minneapolis, Pittsburg submit with some
patience to the jibes of any other community; the most friendly
suggestion from Philadelphia is rejected with contempt. The
Philadelphians are “supine,” “asleep”; hopelessly ring-ruled, they are
“complacent.” “Politically benighted,” Philadelphia is supposed to have
no light to throw upon a state of things that is almost universal.

This is not fair. Philadelphia is, indeed, corrupt; but it is not
without significance. Every city and town in the country can learn
something from the typical political experience of this great
representative city. New York is excused for many of its ills because it
is the metropolis, Chicago because of its forced development;
Philadelphia is our “third largest” city and its growth has been gradual
and natural. Immigration has been blamed for our municipal conditions;
Philadelphia, with 47 per cent. of its population native-born of
native-born parents, is the most American of our greater cities. It is
“good,” too, and intelligent. I don’t know just how to measure the
intelligence of a community, but a Pennsylvania college professor who
declared to me his belief in education for the masses as a way out of
political corruption, himself justified the “rake-off” of preferred
contractors on public works on the ground of a “fair business profit.”
Another plea we have made is that we are too busy to attend to public
business, and we have promised, when we come to wealth and leisure, to
do better. Philadelphia has long enjoyed great and widely distributed
prosperity; it is the city of homes; there is a dwelling house for every
five persons,—men, women, and children,—of the population; and the
people give one a sense of more leisure and repose than any community I
ever dwelt in. Some Philadelphians account for their political state on
the ground of their ease and comfort. There is another class of
optimists whose hope is in an “aristocracy” that is to come by and by;
Philadelphia is surer that it has a “real aristocracy” than any other
place in the world, but its aristocrats, with few exceptions, are in the
ring, with it, or of no political use. Then we hear that we are a young
people and that when we are older and “have traditions,” like some of
the old countries, we also will be honest. Philadelphia is one of the
oldest of our cities and treasures for us scenes and relics of some of
the noblest traditions of “our fair land.” Yet I was told how once, “for
a joke,” a party of boodlers counted out the “divvy” of their graft in
unison with the ancient chime of Independence Hall.

Philadelphia is representative. This very “joke,” told, as it was, with
a laugh, is typical. All our municipal governments are more or less bad,
and all our people are optimists. Philadelphia is simply the most
corrupt and the most contented. Minneapolis has cleaned up, Pittsburg
has tried to, New York fights every other election, Chicago fights all
the time. Even St. Louis has begun to stir (since the elections are
over), and at the worst was only shameless. Philadelphia is proud; good
people there defend corruption and boast of their machine. My college
professor, with his philosophic view of “rake-offs,” is one Philadelphia
type. Another is the man, who, driven to bay with his local pride, says:
“At least you must admit that our machine is the best you have ever
seen.”

Disgraceful? Other cities say so. But I say that if Philadelphia is a
disgrace, it is a disgrace not to itself alone, nor to Pennsylvania, but
to the United States and to American character. For this great city, so
highly representative in other respects, is not behind in political
experience, but ahead, with New York. Philadelphia is a city that has
had its reforms. Having passed through all the typical stages of
corruption, Philadelphia reached the period of miscellaneous loot with a
boss for chief thief, under James McManes and the Gas Ring ‘way back in
the late sixties and seventies. This is the Tweed stage of corruption
from which St. Louis, for example, is just emerging. Philadelphia, in
two inspiring popular revolts, attacked the Gas Ring, broke it, and in
1885 achieved that dream of American cities—a good charter. The present
condition of Philadelphia, therefore, is not that which precedes, but
that which follows reform, and in this distinction lies its startling
general significance. What has happened since the Bullitt Law or charter
went into effect in Philadelphia may happen in any American city “after
reform is over.”

For reform with us is usually revolt, not government, and is soon over.
Our people do not seek, they avoid self-rule, and “reforms” are
spasmodic efforts to punish bad rulers and get somebody that will give
us good government or something that will make it. A self-acting form of
government is an ancient superstition. We are an inventive people, and
we all think that we shall devise some day a legal machine that will
turn out good government automatically. The Philadelphians have
treasured this belief longer than the rest of us and have tried it more
often. Throughout their history they have sought this wonderful charter
and they thought they had it when they got the Bullitt Law, which
concentrates in the mayor ample power, executive and political, and
complete responsibility. Moreover, it calls for very little thought and
action on the part of the people. All they expected to have to do when
the Bullitt Law went into effect was to elect as mayor a good business
man, who, with his probity and common sense, would give them that good
business administration which is the ideal of many reformers.

The Bullitt Law went into effect in 1887. A committee of twelve—four men
from the Union League, four from business organizations, and four from
the bosses—picked out the first man to run under it on the Republican
ticket, Edwin H. Fitler, an able, upright business man, and he was
elected. Strange to say, his administration was satisfactory to the
citizens, who speak well of it to this day, and to the politicians also;
Boss McManes (the ring was broken, not the boss) took to the next
national convention from Philadelphia a delegation solid for Fitler for
President of the United States. It was a farce, but it pleased Mr.
Fitler, so Matthew S. Quay, the State boss, let him have a complimentary
vote on the first ballot. The politicians “fooled” Mr. Fitler, and they
“fooled” also the next business mayor, Edwin S. Stuart, likewise a most
estimable gentleman. Under these two administrations the foundation was
laid for the present government of Philadelphia, the corruption to which
Philadelphians seem so reconciled, and the machine which is “at least
the best you have ever seen.”

The Philadelphia machine isn’t the best. It isn’t sound, and I doubt if
it would stand in New York or Chicago. The enduring strength of the
typical American political machine is that it is a natural growth—a
sucker, but deep-rooted in the people. The New Yorkers vote for Tammany
Hall. The Philadelphians do not vote; they are disfranchised, and their
disfranchisement is one anchor of the foundation of the Philadelphia
organization.

This is no figure of speech. The honest citizens of Philadelphia have no
more rights at the polls than the negroes down South. Nor do they fight
very hard for this basic privilege. You can arouse their Republican ire
by talking about the black Republican votes lost in the Southern States
by white Democratic intimidation, but if you remind the average
Philadelphian that he is in the same position, he will look startled,
then say, “That’s so, that’s literally true, only I never thought of it
in just that way.” And it is literally true.

The machine controls the whole process of voting, and practices fraud at
every stage. The assessor’s list is the voting list, and the assessor is
the machine’s man. “The assessor of a division kept a disorderly house;
he padded his lists with fraudulent names registered from his house; two
of these names were used by election officers…. The constable of the
division kept a disreputable house; a policeman was assessed as living
there…. The election was held in the disorderly house maintained by
the assessor…. The man named as judge had a criminal charge for a life
offense pending against him…. Two hundred and fifty-two votes were
returned in a division that had less than one hundred legal votes within
its boundaries.” These extracts from a report of the Municipal League
suggest the election methods. The assessor pads the list with the names
of dead dogs, children, and non-existent persons. One newspaper printed
the picture of a dog, another that of a little four-year-old negro boy,
down on such a list. A ring orator in a speech resenting sneers at his
ward as “low down” reminded his hearers that that was the ward of
Independence Hall, and, naming over signers of the Declaration of
Independence, he closed his highest flight of eloquence with the
statement that “these men, the fathers of American liberty, voted down
here once. And,” he added, with a catching grin, “they vote here yet.”
Rudolph Blankenburg, a persistent fighter for the right and the use of
the right to vote (and, by the way, an immigrant), sent out just before
one election a registered letter to each voter on the rolls of a certain
selected division. Sixty-three per cent. were returned marked “not at,”
“removed,” “deceased,” etc. From one four-story house where forty-four
voters were addressed, eighteen letters came back undelivered; from
another of forty-eight voters, came back forty-one letters; from another
sixty-one out of sixty-two; from another, forty-four out of forty-seven.
Six houses in one division were assessed at one hundred and seventy-two
voters, more than the votes cast in the previous election in any one of
two hundred entire divisions.

The repeating is done boldly, for the machine controls the election
officers, often choosing them from among the fraudulent names; and when
no one appears to serve, assigning the heeler ready for the expected
vacancy. The police are forbidden by law to stand within thirty feet of
the polls, but they are at the box and they are there to see that the
machine’s orders are obeyed and that repeaters whom they help to furnish
are permitted to vote without “intimidation” on the names they, the
police, have supplied. The editor of an anti-machine paper who was
looking about for himself once told me that a ward leader who knew him
well asked him into a polling place. “I’ll show you how it’s done,” he
said, and he had the repeaters go round and round voting again and again
on the names handed them on slips. “But,” as the editor said, “that
isn’t the way it’s done.” The repeaters go from one polling place to
another, voting on slips, and on their return rounds change coats, hats,
etc. The business proceeds with very few hitches; there is more jesting
than fighting. Violence in the past has had its effect; and is not often
necessary nowadays, but if it is needed the police are there to apply
it. Several citizens told me that they had seen the police help to beat
citizens or election officers who were trying to do their duty, then
arrest the victim; and Mr. Clinton Rogers Woodruff, the executive
counsel of the Municipal League, has published a booklet of such cases.
But an official statement of the case is at hand in an announcement by
John Weaver, the new machine mayor of Philadelphia, that he is going to
keep the police out of politics and away from the polls. “I shall see,”
he added, “that every voter enjoys the full right of suffrage and that
ballots may be placed in the ballot box without fear of intimidation.”

But many Philadelphians do not try to vote. They leave everything to the
machine, and the machine casts their ballots for them. It is estimated
that 150,000 voters did not go to the polls at the last election. Yet
the machine rolled up a majority of 130,000 for Weaver, with a
fraudulent vote estimated all the way from forty to eighty thousand, and
this in a campaign so machine-made that it was called “no contest.”
Francis Fisher Kane, the Democrat, got 32,000 votes out of some 204,000.
“What is the use of voting?” these stay-at-homes ask. A friend of mine
told me he was on the lists in the three wards in which he had
successively dwelt. He votes personally in none, but the leader of his
present ward tells him how he has been voted. Mr. J. C. Reynolds, the
proprietor of the St. James Hotel, went to the polls at eleven o’clock
last election day, only to be told that he had been voted. He asked how
many others from his house had voted. An election officer took up a
list, checked off twelve names, two down twice, and handed it to him.
When Mr. Reynolds got home he learned that one of these had voted, the
others had been voted. Another man said he rarely attempted to vote, but
when he did, the officers let him, even though his name had already been
voted on; and then the negro repeaters would ask if his “brother was
coming ‘round to-day.” They were going to vote him, as they vote all
good-natured citizens who stay away. “When this kind of man turns out,”
said a leader to me, “we simply have two repeaters extra—one to balance
him and one more to the good.” If necessary, after all this, the machine
counts the vote “right,” and there is little use appealing to the
courts, since they have held, except in one case, that the ballot box is
secret and cannot be opened. The only legal remedy lies in the purging
of the assessor’s lists, and when the Municipal League had this done in
1899, they reported that there was “wholesale voting on the very names
stricken off.”

Deprived of self-government, the Philadelphians haven’t even
self-governing machine government. They have their own boss, but he and
his machine are subject to the State ring, and take their orders from
the State boss, Matthew S. Quay, who is the proprietor of Pennsylvania
and the real ruler of Philadelphia, just as William Penn, the Great
Proprietor, was. Philadelphians, especially the local bosses, dislike
this description of their government, and they point for refutation to
their charter. But this very Bullitt Law was passed by Quay, and he put
it through the Legislature, not for reform reasons, but at the instance
of David H. Lane, his Philadelphia lieutenant, as a check upon the power
of Boss McManes. Later, when McManes proved hopelessly insubordinate,
Quay decided to have done with him forever. He chose David Martin for
boss, and from his seat in the United States Senate, Penn’s successor
raised up his man and set him over the people. Croker, who rose by his
own strength to the head of Tammany Hall, has tried twice to appoint a
successor; no one else could, and he failed. The boss of Tammany Hall is
a growth. So Croker has attempted to appoint district leaders and
failed; a Tammany district leader is a growth. Boss Martin, picked up
and set down from above, was accepted by Philadelphia and the
Philadelphia machine, and he removed old ward leaders and appointed new
ones. Some leaders in Philadelphia own their wards, of course, but
Martin and, after him, Durham have sent men into a ward to lead it, and
they have led it.

The Philadelphia organization is upside down. It has its root in the
air, or, rather, like the banyan tree, it sends its roots from the
center out both up and down and all around, and there lies its peculiar
strength. For when I said it was dependent and not sound, I did not mean
that it was weak. It is dependent as a municipal machine, but the
organization that rules Philadelphia is, as we have seen, not a mere
municipal machine, but a city, State, and national organization. The
people of Philadelphia are Republicans in a Republican city in a
Republican State in a Republican nation, and they are bound ring on ring
on ring. The President of the United States and his patronage; the
National Cabinet and their patronage; the Congress and the patronage of
the Senators and the Congressmen from Pennsylvania; the Governor of the
State and the State legislature with their powers and patronage; and all
that the mayor and city councils have of power and patronage—all these
bear down upon Philadelphia to keep it in the control of Quay’s boss and
his little ring. This is the ideal of party organization, and, possibly,
is the end toward which our democratic republic is tending. If it is,
the end is absolutism. Nothing but a revolution could overthrow this
oligarchy, and there is its danger. With no outlet at the polls for
public feeling, the machine cannot be taught anything it does not know
except at the cost of annihilation.

But the Philadelphia machine-leaders know their business. As I said in
“Tweed Days in St. Louis,” the politicians will learn, if the people
won’t, from exposure and reform. The Pennsylvania bosses learned the
“uses of reform”; we have seen Quay applying it to discipline McManes,
and he since has turned reformer himself, to punish local bosses. The
bosses have learned also the danger of combination between citizens and
the Democrats. To prevent this, Quay and his friends have spread
sedulously the doctrine of “reform within the party,” and, from the
Committee of One Hundred on, the reformers have stuck pretty faithfully
to this principle. But lest the citizens should commit such a sin
against their party, Martin formed a permanent combination of the
Democratic with the Republican organization, using to that end a goodly
share of the Federal and county patronage. Thus the people of
Philadelphia were “fixed” so that they couldn’t vote if they wanted to,
and if they should want to, they couldn’t vote for a Democrat, except of
Republican or independent choosing. In other words, having taken away
their ballot, the bosses took away also the choice of parties.

But the greatest lesson learned and applied was that of conciliation and
“good government.” The people must not want to vote or rebel against the
ring. This ring, like any other, was formed for the exploitation of the
city for private profit, and the cementing force is the “cohesive power
of public plunder.” But McManes and Tweed had proved that miscellaneous
larceny was dangerous, and why should a lot of cheap politicians get so
much and the people nothing at all? The people had been taught to expect
but little from their rulers: good water, good light, clean streets well
paved, fair transportation, the decent repression of vice, public order
and public safety, and no scandalous or open corruption, would more than
satisfy them. It would be good business and good politics to give them
these things. Like Chris Magee, who studied out the problem with him,
Martin took away from the rank and file of the party and from the ward
leaders and office holders the privilege of theft, and he formed
companies and groups to handle the legitimate public business of the
city. It was all graft, but it was to be all lawful, and, in the main,
it was. Public franchises, public works, and public contracts were the
principal branches of the business, and Martin adopted the dual boss
idea, which we have seen worked out by Magee and Flinn in Pittsburg. In
Philadelphia it was Martin and Porter, and just as Flinn had a firm,
Booth & Flinn, Ltd., so Porter was Filbert and Porter.

Filbert and Porter got all the public contracts they could handle, and
the rest went to other contractors friendly to them and to the ring.
Sometimes the preferred contractor was the lowest bidder, but he did not
have to be. The law allowed awards to be the “lowest and best,” and the
courts held that this gave the officials discretion. But since public
criticism was to be considered, the ring, to keep up appearances,
resorted to many tricks. One was to have fake bids made above the
favorite. Another was to have the favorite bid high, but set an
impossible time limit; the department of the city councils could extend
the time afterwards. Still another was to arrange for specifications
which would make outsiders bid high, then either openly alter the plans
or let the ring firm perform work not up to requirements.

Many of Martin’s deals and jobs were scandals, but they were safe; they
were in the direction of public service; and the great mass of the
business was done quietly. Moreover, the public was getting something
for its money,—not full value, but a good percentage. In other words,
there was a limit to the “rake-off,” and some insiders have told me that
it had been laid down as a principle with the ring that the people
should have in value (that is, in work or benefit, including a fair
profit) ninety-five cents out of every dollar. In some of the deals I
have investigated, the “rake-off” over and above profit was as high as
twenty-five per cent. Still, even at this, there was “a limit,” and the
public was getting, as one of the leaders told me, “a run for its
money.” Cynical as it all sounds, this view is taken by many
Philadelphians almost if not quite as intelligent as my college
professor.

But there was another element in the policy of conciliation which is a
potent factor in the contentment of Philadelphia, and I regard it as the
key to that “apathy” which has made the community notorious. We have
seen how Quay had with him the Federal resources and those of the State,
and the State ring, and we have seen how Martin, having the city, mayor,
and councils, won over the Democratic city leaders. Here they had under
pay in office at least 15,000 men and women. But each of these 15,000
persons was selected for office because he could deliver votes, either
by organizations, by parties, or by families. These must represent
pretty near a majority of the city’s voters. But this is by no means the
end of the ring’s reach. In the State ring are the great corporations,
the Standard Oil Company, Cramp’s Shipyard, and the steel companies,
with the Pennsylvania Railroad at their head, and all the local
transportation and other public utility companies following after. They
get franchises, privileges, exemptions, etc.; they have helped finance
Quay through deals: the Pennsylvania paid Martin, Quay said once, a
large yearly salary; the Cramps get contracts to build United States
ships, and for years have been begging for a subsidy on home-made ships.
The officers, directors, and stockholders of these companies, with their
friends, their bankers, and their employees, are of the organization.
Better still, one of the local bosses of Philadelphia told me he could
always give a worker a job with these companies, just as he could in a
city department, or in the mint, or post-office. Then there are the
bankers who enjoy, or may some day enjoy, public deposits; those that
profit on loans to finance political financial deals; the promoting
capitalists who share with the bosses on franchises; and the brokers who
deal in ring securities and speculate upon ring tips. Through the
exchange the ring financiers reach the investing public, which is a
large and influential body. The traction companies, which bought their
way from beginning to end by corruption, which have always been in the
ring, and whose financiers have usually shared in other big ring deals,
adopted early the policy of bribing the people with “small blocks of
stock.” Dr. Frederick Speirs, in his “The Street Railway System of
Philadelphia,” came upon transactions which “indicate clearly that it is
the policy of the Union Company to get the securities into the hands of
a large number of small holders, the plain inference being that a wide
distribution of securities will fortify the company against possible
attacks by the public.” In 1895 he found a director saying: “Our critics
have engaged the Academy of Music, and are to call an assemblage of
people opposed to the street railways as now managed. It would take
eight Academies of Music to hold the stockholders of the Union Traction
Company.”

But we are not yet through. Quay has made a specialty all his life of
reformers, and he and his local bosses have won over so many that the
list of former reformers is very, very long. Martin drove down his roots
through race and religion, too. Philadelphia was one of the hot-beds of
“know-nothingism.” Martin recognized the Catholic, and the Irish-Irish,
and so drew off into the Republican party the great natural supply of
the Democrats; and his successors have given high places to
representative Jews. “Surely this isn’t corruption!” No, and neither is
that corruption which makes the heads of great educational and charity
institutions “go along,” as they say in Pennsylvania, in order to get
appropriations for their institutions from the State and land from the
city. They know what is going on, but they do not join reform movements.
The provost of the University of Pennsylvania declined to join in a
revolt because, he said, it might impair his usefulness to the
University. And so it is with others, and with clergymen who have
favorite charities; with Sabbath associations and City Beautiful clubs;
with lawyers who want briefs; with real estate dealers who like to know
in advance about public improvements, and real estate owners who
appreciate light assessments; with shop-keepers who don’t want to be
bothered with strict inspections.

If there is no other hold for the ring on a man there always is the
protective tariff. “I don’t care,” said a manufacturer. “What if they do
plunder and rob us, it can’t hurt me unless they raise the tax rates,
and even that won’t ruin me. Our party keeps up the tariff. If they
should reduce that, my business would be ruined.”

Such, then, are the ramifications of this machine, such is its strength.
No wonder Martin could break his own rules, as he did, and commit
excesses. Philadelphia is not merely corrupt, it is corrupted. Martin’s
doom was proclaimed not in Philadelphia, but in the United States
Senate, and his offense was none of this business of his, but his
failure to nominate as successor to Mayor Stuart the man, Boise Penrose,
whom Matt Quay chose for that place. Martin had consented, but at the
last moment he ordered the nomination of Charles F. Warwick instead. The
day that happened Mr. Quay arose on the floor of the Senate and, in a
speech so irrelevant to the measure under consideration that nobody out
of Pennsylvania understood it, said that there was in his town a man who
had given as his reason for not doing what he had promised to do, the
excuse that he was “under a heavy salary from a great corporation (the
Pennsylvania Railroad) and was compelled to do what the corporation
wished him to do. And,” added Senator Quay, “men in such a position with
high power for good or evil ought … to go about … with the dollar
mark of the corporation on their foreheads.” Quay named an the new boss
Israel W. Durham, a ward leader under Martin.

Martin having the city through Mayor Warwick fought Quay in the State,
with Chris Magee for an ally, but Quay beat them both there, and then
prepared to beat them in their own cities. His cry was Reform, and he
soon had the people shouting for it.

Quay responded with a Legislative committee to investigate abuses in the
cities, but this so-called “Lexow” was called off before it amounted to
much more than a momentary embarrassment to Martin. Martin’s friends, on
the other hand, caught Quay and nearly sent him to prison. The People’s
Bank, James McManes, president, failed. The cashier, John S. Hopkins,
had been speculating and letting Quay and other politicians have bank
funds without collateral for stock gambling. In return Quay and the
State Treasurer left heavy State deposits with the bank. Hopkins lost
his nerve and shot himself. McManes happened to call in friends of
Martin to advise him, and these suggested a Martin man for receiver.
They found among the items money lent to Quay without security, except
the State funds, and telegrams asking Hopkins to buy “1000 Met”
(Metropolitan) and promising in return to “shake the plum tree.” Quay,
his son, Richard R., and Benjamin J. Haywood, the State Treasurer, were
indicted for conspiracy, and every effort was made to have the trial
precede the next election for the Legislature which was to elect a
successor to Quay in the United States Senate; but Quay got stays and
postponements in the hopes that a more friendly District Attorney could
be put in that office. Martin secured the election of Peter F.
Rothermel, who was eager to try the case, and Quay had to depend on
other resources. The trial came in due course, and failed; Judge Biddle
ruled out the essential evidence on the ground that it was excluded by
the statute of limitation. Rothermel went on with the trial, but it was
hopeless; Quay was acquitted and the other cases were abandoned.

Popular feeling was excited by this exposure of Quay, but there was no
action till the factional fighting suggested a use for it. Quay had
refused the second United States Senatorship to John Wanamaker, and
Wanamaker led through the State and in Philadelphia a fight against the
boss, which has never ceased. It took the form of a reform campaign, and
Quay’s methods were made plain, but the boss beat Wanamaker at every
point, had Penrose made Senator, and through Penrose and Durham was
gradually getting possession of Philadelphia. The final triumph came
with the election of Samuel H. Ashbridge as mayor.




“Stars-and-Stripes Sam,” as Ashbridge is sometimes called, was a
speech-maker and a “joiner.” That is to say, he made a practice of going
to lodges, associations, brotherhoods, Sunday-schools, and all sorts of
public and private meetings, joining some, but making at all speeches
patriotic and sentimental. He was very popular. Under the Bullitt Law,
as I have said, all that is necessary to a good administration and
complete, though temporary reform, is a good mayor. The politicians feel
that they must nominate a man in whom the people as well as themselves
have faith. They had had faith in Warwick, both the ring and the people,
and Warwick had found it impossible to satisfy two such masters. Now
they put their faith in Ashbridge, and so did Durham, and so did Martin.
All interests accepted him, therefore, and all watched him with hope and
more or less assurance; none more than the good people. And, indeed, no
man could have promised more or better public service than Ashbridge.
The result, however, was distracting.

Mr. Ashbridge “threw down” Martin, and he recognized Quay’s man, “Is”
Durham, as the political boss. Durham is a high type of boss, candid,
but of few words; generous, but businesslike; complete master of
himself, and a genius at organization. For Pennsylvania politics he is a
conservative leader, and there would have been no excesses under him, as
there have been few “rows.” But Mr. Durham has not been the master of
the Philadelphia situation. He bowed to Quay, and he could not hold
Ashbridge. Philadelphians say that if it should come to a fight, Durham
could beat Quay in Philadelphia, but it doesn’t come to a fight. Another
thing Philadelphians say is that he “keeps his word,” yet he broke it
(with notice) when Quay asked him to stand for Pennypacker for Governor.
As I said before, however, Philadelphia is so constituted that it
apparently cannot have self-government, not even its own boss, so that
the allegiance paid to Quay is comprehensible. But the submission of the
boss to the mayor was extraordinary, and it seemed to some sagacious
politicians dangerous.

For Mr. Ashbridge broke through all the principles of moderate grafting
developed by Martin. Durham formed his ring—taking in James P. McNichol
as co-ruler and preferred contractor; John M. Mack as promoter and
financier; and he widened the inside circle to include more individuals.
But while he was more liberal toward his leaders, and not inclined “to
grab off everything for himself,” as one leader told me, he maintained
the principle of concentration and strict control as good politics and
good business. So, too, he adopted Martin’s programme of public
improvements, the filtration, boulevards, etc., and he added to it. When
Ashbridge was well settled in office, these schemes were all started,
and the mayor pushed them with a will. According to the “Philadelphia
Plan,” the mayor should not be in the ring. He should be an ambitious
man, and his reward promotion, not riches. If he is “out for the stuff,”
he is likely to be hurried by the fretful thought that his term is
limited to four years, and since he cannot succeed himself as mayor, his
interest in the future of the machine is less than that of a boss, who
goes on forever.

When he was nominated, Ashbridge had debts of record amounting to some
$40,000. Before he was elected these were satisfied. Soon after he took
office he declared himself to former Postmaster Thomas L. Hicks. Here is
Mr. Hicks’s account of the incident:

“At one of the early interviews I had with the mayor in his office, he
said to me: ‘Tom, I have been elected mayor of Philadelphia. I have four
years to serve. I have no further ambitions. I want no other office when
I am out of this one, and I shall get out of this office all there is in
it for Samuel H. Ashbridge.’

“I remarked that this was a very foolish thing to say. ‘Think how that
could be construed,’ I said.

“‘I don’t care anything about that,’ he declared. ‘I mean to get out of
this office everything there is in it for Samuel H. Ashbridge.’”

When he retired from office last April, he became the president of a
bank, and was reputed to be rich. Here is the summary published by the
Municipal League at the close of his labors:

“The four years of the Ashbridge administration have passed into
history, leaving behind them a scar on the fame and reputation of our
city which will be a long time healing. Never before, and let us hope
never again, will there be such brazen defiance of public opinion, such
flagrant disregard of public interest, such abuse of powers and
responsibilities for private ends. These are not generalizations, but
each statement can be abundantly proved by numerous instances.”

These “numerous instances” are notorious in Philadelphia; some of them
were reported all over the country. One of them was the attempted
intimidation of John Wanamaker. Thomas B. Wanamaker, John Wanamaker’s
son, bought the _North American_, a newspaper which had been, and still
is, exposing the abuses and corruption of the political ring. Abraham L.
English, Mr. Ashbridge’s Director of the Department of Public Safety,
called on Mr. John Wanamaker, said he had been having him watched, and
was finally in a position to demand that the newspaper stop the attacks.
The merchant exposed the whole thing, and a committee appointed to
investigate reported that: “Mr. English has practically admitted that he
attempted to intimidate a reputable citizen and unlawfully threatened
him in an effort to silence criticism of a public newspaper; that from
the mayor’s refusal to order an investigation of the conduct of Mr.
English on the request of a town meeting of representative citizens, the
community is justified in regarding him as aiding and abetting Mr.
English in the corrupt act committed, and that the mayor is therefore to
be equally censured by the community.”

The other “instances of brazen abuse of power” were the increase of
protected vice—the importation from New York of the “white slavery
system of prostitution,” the growth of “speak-easies,” and the spread of
gambling and of policy-playing until it took in the school children.
This last the _North American_ exposed, but in vain till it named police
officers who had refused when asked to interfere. Then a judge summoned
the editors and reporters of the paper, the mayor, Director English,
school children, and police officers to appear before him. The mayor’s
personal attorney spoke for the police during the inquiry, and it looked
black for the newspaper till the children began to tell their stories.
When the hearing was over the judge said:

“The evidence shows conclusively that our public school system in this
city is in danger of being corrupted at its fountain; that in one of the
schools over a hundred and fifty children were buyers of policy, as were
also a large number of scholars in other schools. It was first
discovered about eighteen months ago, and for about one year has been in
full operation.” The police officers were not punished, however.

That corruption had reached the public schools and was spreading rapidly
through the system, was discovered by the exposure and conviction of
three school directors of the twenty-eighth ward. It was known before
that teachers and principals, like any other office holders, had to have
a “pull” and pay assessments for election expenses. “Voluntary
contributions” was the term used, but over the notices in blue pencil
was written “2 per cent.,” and teachers who asked directors and ward
bosses what to do, were advised that they would “better pay.” Those that
sent less than the amount suggested, got receipts: “check received;
shall we hold for balance or enter on account?” But the exposure in the
twenty-eighth ward brought it home to the parents of the children that
the teachers were not chosen for fitness, but for political reasons, and
that the political reasons had become cash.

Miss Rena A. Haydock testified as follows: “I went to see Mr. Travis,
who was a friend of mine, in reference to getting a teacher’s
certificate. He advised me to see all of the directors, especially Mr.
Brown. They told me that it would be necessary for me to pay $120 to get
the place. They told me of one girl who had offered $250, and her
application had been rejected. That was before they broached the subject
of money to me. I said that I didn’t have $120 to pay, and they replied
that it was customary for teachers to pay $40 a month out of their first
three months’ salary. The salary was $47. They told me they didn’t want
the money for themselves, but that it was necessary to buy the other
faction. Finally I agreed to the proposition, and they told me that I
must be careful not to mention it to anybody or it would injure my
reputation. I went with my brother to pay the money to Mr. Johnson. He
held out a hat, and when my brother handed the money to him he took it
behind the hat.”

The regular business of the ring was like that of Pittsburg, but more
extensive. I have space only for one incident of one phase of it:
Widener and Elkins, the national franchise buyers, are Philadelphians,
and they were in the old Martin ring. They had combined all the street
railways of the city before 1900, and they were withdrawing from
politics, with their traction system. But the Pennsylvania rings will
not let corporations that have risen in corruption reform and retire,
and, besides, it was charged that in the Martin-Quay fight, the street
railways had put up money to beat Quay for the United States Senate. At
any rate, plans were laid to “mace” the street railways.

“Macing” is a form of high blackmail. When they have sold out all they
have, the politicians form a competing company and compel the old
concern to buy out or sell out. While Widener and Elkins were at sea,
bound for Europe, in 1901, the Philadelphia ring went to the Legislature
and had introduced there two bills, granting a charter to practically
all the streets and alleys not covered by tracks in Philadelphia, and to
run short stretches of the old companies’ tracks to make connections.
Clinton Rogers Woodruff, who was an Assemblyman, has told the story.
Without notice the bills were introduced at 3 P. M. on Monday, May 29;
they were reported from committee in five minutes; by 8.50 P. M. they
were printed and on the members’ desk, and by 9 P. M. were passed on
first reading. The bills passed second reading the next day, Memorial
Day, and on the third day were passed from the Senate to the House,
where they were “jammed through” with similar haste and worse trickery.
In six legislative days the measures were before Governor Stone, who
signed them June 7, at midnight, in the presence of Quay, Penrose,
Congressman Foerderer, Mayor Ashbridge’s banker, James P. McNichol, John
M. Mack and other capitalists and politicians. Under the laws, one
hundred charters were applied for the next morning—thirteen for
Philadelphia. The charters were granted on June 5, and that same day a
special meeting of the Philadelphia Select Council was called for
Monday. There the citizens of Philadelphia met the oncoming charters,
but their hearing was brief. The charters went through without a hitch,
and were sent to Mayor Ashbridge on June 13.

The mayor’s secretary stated authoritatively in the morning that the
mayor would not sign that day. But he did. An unexpected incident forced
his hand. John Wanamaker sent him an offer of $2,500,000 for the
franchises about to be given away. Ashbridge threw the letter into the
street unread. Mr. Wanamaker had deposited $250,000 as a guarantee of
good faith and his action was becoming known. The ordinances were signed
by midnight, and the city lost at least two and one-half millions of
dollars; but the ring made it and much more. When Mr. Wanamaker’s letter
was published, Congressman Foerderer, an incorporator of the company,
answered for the machine. He said the offer was an advertisement; that
it was late, and that they were sorry they hadn’t had a chance to “call
the bluff.” Mr. Wanamaker responded with a renewal of the offer of
$2,500,000 to the city, and, he said, “I will add $500,000 as a bonus to
yourself and your associates personally for the conveyance of the grants
and corporate privileges you now possess.” That ended the controversy.

But the deal went on. Two more bills, called “Trolley Chasers,” were put
through, to finish off the legislation, too hurriedly done to be
perfect. One was to give the company the right to build either elevated
or underground, or both; the second to forbid all further such grants
without a hearing before a board consisting of the Governor, the
Secretary of the Commonwealth, and the Attorney-General. With all these
franchises and exclusive privileges, the new company made the old one
lease their plant in operation to the company which had nothing but
“rights,” or, in Pennsylvania slang, a “good, husky mace.”

Ashbridgeism put Philadelphia and the Philadelphia machine to a test
which candid ring leaders did not think it would stand. What did the
Philadelphians do? Nothing. They have their reformers: they have men
like Francis B. Reeves, who fought with every straight reform movement
from the days of the Committee of One Hundred; they have men like
Rudolph Blankenburg, who have fought with every reform that promised any
kind of relief; there are the Municipal League, with an organization by
wards, the Citizens’ Municipal League, the Allied Reform League, and the
Law and Order Society; there are young men and veterans; there are
disappointed politicians and ambitious men who are not advanced fast
enough by the machine. There is discontent in a good many hearts, and
some men are ashamed. But “the people” won’t follow. One would think the
Philadelphians would follow any leader; what should they care whether he
is pure white or only gray? But they do care. “The people” seem to
prefer to be ruled by a known thief than an ambitious reformer. They
will make you convict their Tweeds, McManeses, Butlers, and Shepherds,
and even then they may forgive them and talk of monuments to their
precious memory, but they take delight in the defeat of John Wanamaker
because they suspect that he is a hypocrite and wants to go to the
United States Senate.

All the stout-hearted reformers had made a campaign to re-elect
Rothermel, the District Attorney who had dared to try Quay. Surely there
was an official to support! But no, Quay was against him. The reformers
used money, some $250,000, I believe,—fighting the devil with fire,—but
the machine used more money, $700,000, from the teachers,
“speak-easies,” office holders, bankers, and corporations. The machine
handled the ballots. Rothermel was beaten by John Weaver. There have
been other campaigns, before and since, led by the Municipal League,
which is managed with political sense, but each successive defeat was by
a larger majority for the machine.

There is no check upon this machine excepting the chance of a mistake,
the imminent fear of treachery, and the remote danger of revolt. To meet
this last, the machine, as a State organization, has set about
throttling public criticism. Ashbridge found that blackmail was
ineffective. Durham, Quay, and Governor Pennypacker have passed a libel
law which meant to muzzle the press. The Governor was actuated
apparently only by his sufferings from cartoons and comments during his
campaign; the Philadelphia ring has boodling plans ahead which exposure
might make exasperating to the people. The Philadelphia _Press_, the
leading Republican organ in the State, puts it right: “The Governor
wanted it [the law] in the hope of escaping from the unescapable
cartoon. The gang wanted it in hope of muzzling the opposition to
jobs…. The act is distinctly designed to gag the press in the interest
of the plunderers and against the interest of the people.”

Disfranchised, without a choice of parties; denied, so the Municipal
League declares, the ancient right of petition; and now to lose “free
speech,”—is there no hope for Philadelphia? Yes, the Philadelphians have
a very present hope. It is in their new mayor, John Weaver. There is
nothing in his record to inspire faith in an outsider. He speaks himself
of two notorious “miscarriages of justice” during his term as District
Attorney; he was the nominee of the ring; and the ring men have
confidence in him. But so have the people, and Mr. Weaver makes fair
promises. So did Ashbridge. There is this difference, however: Mr.
Weaver has made a good start. He compromised with the machine on his
appointments, but he declared against the protection of vice, for free
voting, and he stopped some “wholesale grabs” or “maces” that appeared
in the Legislature, just before he took office.

One was a bill to enable (ring) companies to “appropriate, take, and use
all water within this commonwealth and belonging either to public or to
private persons as it may require for its private purposes.” This was a
scheme to sell out the water works of Philadelphia, and all other such
plants in the State. Another bill was to open the way to a seizure of
the light and power of the city and of the State. Martin and Warwick
“leased” the city gas works. Durham and his crowd wanted a whack at it.
“It shall be lawful,” the bill read, “for any city, town, or borough
owning any gas works or electric light plant for supplying light, heat,
and power, to sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of the same to
individuals or corporations, and in order to obtain the best possible
returns therefor, such municipal body may … vest in the lessees or
purchasers the exclusive right, both as against such municipal
corporations and against any and all other persons and corporations, to
supply gas or electricity….” As in St. Louis, the public property of
the city is to be sold off. These schemes are to go through later, I am
told, but on Mr. Weaver’s declarations that he would not “stand for
them,” they were laid over.

It looks as if the Philadelphians were right about Mr. Weaver, but what
if they are? Think of a city putting its whole faith in one man, in the
_hope_ that John Weaver, an Englishman by birth, will _give_ them good
government! And why should he do that? Why should he serve the people
and not the ring? The ring can make or break him; the people of
Philadelphia can neither reward nor punish him. For even if he restores
to them their ballots and proves himself a good mayor, he cannot succeed
himself; the good charter forbids more than one term.

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