American in the Making

A native of New York City, son of Italian immigrants, FIORELLO H. LA GUARDIA spent his boyhood in Arizona, where his father was bandmaster of the 11th U.S. Infantry, and his early manhood in Fiume, where as our Consular Agent he continued the self-education which was to make him one of the most creative statesmen of our time. In this, the first of three installments drawn from his autobiography, which he did not live to finish, we see the unforgettable interaction between his youthful experience and his mature legislation. The autobiography, edited by M. R. Werner, will be published by Lippincott in May.

I have heard Gilbert and Sullivan's Pinafore in almost every language, in many countries, and in the rendition of the song, "For He Is an Englishman," the traditional gesture mimicking the organ-grinder and the word "Eyetalian" have always annoyed me.

Early in my first administration as Mayor, a traffic report by the Police Department showed that among the obstacles to free traffic was the nuisance of the street organ-grinder. It was with a great deal of gusto that I banned the organ-grinder from the streets of the city of New York. I caused some resentment among those who were sentimental about organ-grinders. One woman came up to me at a social function and berated me mildly for depriving her of her favorite organ-grinder. "Where do you live?" I asked. "Park Avenue," she said. "What floor?" "The fourteenth," she answered.

In addition to the fact that I never did like organ-grinders ever since my days of ridicule in Prescott when that one organ-grinder came to town, I felt that they made our traffic problem in New York more difficult. I was accused by some New Yorkers who liked them of having no sentimental feelings about organ-grinders, of having no soul, of oppressing the poor, of neglecting more important things to deprive old residents and young children of their pleasure. Some of my correspondents were genial and some were angry. Cornelia Otis Skinner, Beatrice Kaufman, Viola Irene Cooper, were among the literary defenders of the hurdy-gurdy.

Petitions were got up urging me to rescind the order. My answer to my critics was that there had been a time when the hurdy-gurdy was the only means of bringing music to many people. That was also the time before automobiles filled our streets. With the advent of the phonograph and the radio that time had passed. Free public concerts in parks, libraries, museums, and other public places had given ample opportunity to hear music. But, more important, traffic conditions had changed. Children were endangered by trucks and other automobiles when they gathered in the middle of streets to hear and watch the organ-grinders. Also, the simple, sentimental hurdy-gurdy man had become a victim of a racket. My sentimental correspondents did not realize that the Italians' instruments were rented to them by padrones at exorbitant fees. Their licenses from the city were in reality licenses to beg. About a year before I banned the organ-grinders, I had terminated the contract with musicians on city ferryboats, on the grounds that these were merely licenses to beg issued by the city. Despite these reasons, which I gave to my correspondents in answer to their protests, the defenders of the hurdy-gurdy men kept on writing to me for over a year, and some of them warned me that they wouldn't vote again for a man without a soul.


IT WAS during my boyhood in Arizona that I first learned about corrupt local government, and I got my political education from Pulitzer's New York World. We had two newspapers in Prescott, the Journal Minder and the Prescott Courier. Those were typical Bret Harte Western newspapers, devoted mostly to local news. When the Sunday edition of the New York World arrived in Prescott on the following Friday or Saturday, I would rush to Ross's drugstore, where it was on display. There I had looked at the first funny sections I had ever seen, featuring the Yellow Kid. From that comic strip came the expression "yellow journalism." I have enjoyed the comics ever since.

When I got home with the Sunday World, I would carefully read every word of the World's fight against the corrupt Tammany machine in New York. That was the period of the lurid disclosures of corruption in the Police Department made by the Lexow investigations—corruption that extended throughout the political structure of the city. The papers then were filled with stories of startling crookedness of the police and the poll. ticians in New York. Unlike boys who grow up in the city and who hear from childhood about such things as graft and corruption, the amazing disclosures hit me like a shock. I could not understand how the people of the greatest city in the country could put up with the vice and crime that existed there. A resentment against Tammany was created in me at that time, which I admit is to this day almost an obsession. But I did not become cynical or lose faith in government. I was certain that good people could eliminate bad people from public office. But as I grew older, my hatred of corrupt politicians and my feeling against dishonest and inefficient government increased with the years in proportion with my experience of it.

When I went to live in New York again after my return from Europe in 1906, Tammany was once more all-powerful. It was the era of "honest graft.” When I had to choose a political party, my choice was easy. I joined the Republican Party. I was young and innocent. A party in the minority cannot help being good and pure. That seemed the only avenue I could choose at the time in order to carry out my boyhood dreams of going to work against corrupt government.

There was, of course, great excitement at Whipple Barracks in Prescott when the news reached us that the U.S. Battleship Maine had been blown up in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, on February 16, 1898. The Postal Telegraph operator in Prescott pasted up Associated Press bulletins on the Maine disaster as soon as they came in, and along with the other children of Army men, as well as the parents, I watched and waited eagerly for the latest news. We expected war momentarily, especially after the news came that two hundred and fifty American lives had been lost.

In about ten days, orders came for our regiment to get itself ready for war. Inventories were taken. The equipment of some other regiments and of National Guard units was not up to date, but our regiment had the modern Krag-Jorgensen rifles. Some of our noncommissioned officers had seen service in the Civil War.

As the weeks passed and there was still no declaration of war, there was a feeling in our military circles that President McKinley was hesitating too long. But it finally came on April 6, and our regiment was soon sent to Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri. It remained there for a few days and then went into camp at Mobile, Alabama, but the families of the officers and enlisted men remained in quarters at Jefferson Barracks.

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