The Saloon in Politics
THE various temperance organizations of the country have been endeavoring for some time to secure the appointment, by Congress, of a commission to inquire into and report upon the effects of the liquor traffic. During the last session, a bill providing for such a commission passed the Senate ; that being the sixth time the upper chamber had testified its willingness to make the investigation. The annual report of the National Temperance Society relates succinctly the further fortune of the measure : “ In the House of Representatives the Senate bill has been reported adversely, with a minority report in its favor, by the Select Committee on the Alcoholic Liquor-Traffic. It is not probable that the bill will pass the present House.” When it is remembered that the public conscience is at present manifesting unprecedented sensitiveness on the temperance question, and that the gravity and extent of the drink-evil are recognized more generally to-day than ever before, the apparent apathy of the popular branch of the national legislature is the more striking. It is possibly true that the commission asked for would, if appointed, effect little. But the mischief done by drink is so palpable, the waste of capital upon it is so enormous, its action as a generator of crime is so direct and patent, its agency as an obstacle to progress and a check to civilization is so positive and undeniable, that it does not seem easy for an ostensibly representative body to make any valid defense of its refusal to inquire formally into a subject of such importance and scope.
But it is not Congress alone that in this matter appears to be in opposition to a strong and constantly growing popular sentiment. In two States, New York and New Jersey, the legislatures
have recently refused to give the people the opportunity to vote upon the temperance question. In neither of these eases have the politicians who took this course any explanation to offer which can be regarded as justifying their action. How is it, then, that while, in the absence of absorbing political issues, this great question is attracting more and more attention among the people, the politicians of both the old parties seem to close their ears, shut their eyes, and turn their backs with increasing obstinacy to all demands and solicitations on behalf of temperance ? The answer to this question is not hard to find. It is that party politics in the United States to-day are controlled by the saloon, and that when action against the drink-evil is proposed politicians revolt as from a parricidal proposition. For many years the political corruption of American cities has been a source of perplexity to reformers. All kinds of schemes for amending and purifying municipal government have been devised, but none of them have proved successful. Changes of party control have simply substituted hungry spoilsmen for gorged ones. There have been now and then flashes of improvement, but they have passed quickly, and the old knavery, plunder, and bad government have returned. In vain have Citizens’ parties, Independent parties, all manner of new experiments, been tried. Against every effort at reform the discipline and power of the saloon have prevailed, and have restored the old conditions. Long ago the saloon abolished party politics in our largest cities. To-day, in every such city, the local government is vested in neither party, but is in the hands of the saloon itself. Nominally, the government may be Democratic or Republican. Actually, it is in commission by a band of venal politicians, who have no convictions or principles, who trade and “swap” opportunities for plunder with one another, who act as agents for the so-called party leaders, but who acknowledge allegiance only to the saloon.
A government “of the people, by the people, and for the people ” is the ideal of democracy ; but the American people assuredly do not enjoy it at present, whatever they may do in the future. The delusion that the suffrage as now exercised enables any citizen to express his own opinions is perhaps less widely diffused than formerly, but even yet it interferes with a just comprehension of the hold the saloon has obtained upon our politics. In order to make the situation intelligible a few figures are here necessary. There are in round numbers 135,000 saloons in the country. These places and the 8000 wholesale liquor stores together absorb every year a revenue estimated at from seven to nine hundred million dollars. It is in the cities that the saloon is most powerful. Now, the ten largest cities in the Union — namely, New York, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, Baltimore, Cincinnati, San Francisco, and New Orleans — contain nearly one tenth of the entire population of the country, while fifty other cities, of 30,000 and over, contain another tenth; so that sixty cities comprise one fifth of the whole population. It is in these cities that the saloon is most strongly intrenched, and it is here that it exercises that mastery in politics which renders it so formidable and so mischievous.
What have the seven thousand saloons of New York city done for her ? They have fastened upon her citizens the most shamefully corrupt government ever endured by a community indulging in the illusion that it was free; they have almost made it impossible for an honest, educated man to touch local politics, much less take office; they have
degraded the conduct of public affairs to their own low level; they have brutalized every institution they have had to do with ; they have perverted and spoiled the democratic system, making a hissing and a reproach of American citizenship and the suffrage, establishing political shambles, pandering to the worst vices of the worst classes, defiling everything decent and pure with their ribald scoffing, and producing at intervals, as proof of their quality, tendencies, and power, such abominable scandals as that of the Tweed Ring, or the more recent sale of votes in the board of aldermen. But evil as are the results of the combination between the saloon and the politicians, it is not just to hold the latter responsible for all the mischief they cause. In truth, they are the result of conditions which could not produce anything better, and it is unreasonable to blame the product while refusing to interfere with the generating agencies. The saloon is an arrangement for the maintenance and propagation of the worst vice with which humanity is afflicted ; a vice which destroys every elevating influence, kills shame, manhood, ambition, family affection, honor, all that makes life worth living; a vice which fosters brutality, self-indulgence, and all the train of ignoble and degrading passions and inclinations. Now, the purpose and intent of the saloon being what it is, the developments noted are simply what ought to have been expected when so large a share in the government of the country was permitted to be seized by this sinister agency. The American system of government is theoretically sound. The means of education are accessible to all. But when our children have passed through the public schools and enter into active life, if they wish to take part in public affairs they must descend to the saloon for instruction in politics, and in the same institution the foreign immigrants must graduate before they can exercise the right of citizenship. These are our political schools, in fact, and they give the tone to our politics, city, state, and national. The candidate for office finds it indispensable to “ make himself solid with ” the rum power. He must buy the favor of the saloon-keepers. He must frequent these places and flatter the vanity of those who gather there. Through them he must obtain the votes of the idle, the vicious, the criminal, classes. He must become familiar with all the ward “ strikers ” and loafers. He must be represented at the caucuses which are always held where drink abounds. He must defer to the views of men of the lowest intelligence. He must subscribe to platforms drawn up by demagogues and time-servers. Is it any wonder that self-respecting men so often shrink from these ordeals, and prefer the obscurity of private life to a political career demanding such sacrifice and such debasement ? The foreigner who lands in this country obtains his first ideas of its governmental system from the saloon. There he is introduced to the lowest intrigues of factional conflict. There he is taught that the chief end and aim of politics is to make as much as possible for the “workers.” There he is enlisted into one or the other of the great organizations which have reduced party politics to periodical battles for plunder. to contests for the opportunity to misgovern. There he learns that honor and principle are simply “ molasses to catch flies,” as a notorious politician once expressed it. There he is made to understand that he is not expected to think for himself, but that he must obey implicitly the party mandates, reverence the saloon-keepers of his ward, submit himself humbly to his “ boss,” and on election day be thankful that he can sell his vote for a couple of dollars or a debauch on bad whiskey. This is no fanciful picture. There is not a considerable city in the United States in which purchased votes are not cast by the thousand at every important election, and these votes are almost invariably bought and paid for in and through the saloon.
It is absurd to expect that under such a state of things politics can be anything but corrupt. It is absurd to look, in parties dependent upon the saloon, for enlightened patriotism, progressive policies, or any real care for the welfare of the nation. The country is now in a defenseless condition. All the riches of its sea-board cities lie at the mercy of any fifth-rate power with which we may happen to quarrel. Yet it has been impossible to rouse Congress to action. While throwing itself with feverish zeal into struggles over place and patronage, while exhibiting demagogic eagerness in squandering the public funds upon unnecessary local works, it has shown itself indifferent to this vital question ; has betrayed a want of public spirit which would be remarkable and perplexing, were it not apparent that members have been desirous only of enacting measures redounding to their personal or party advantage. A Congress which refuses to investigate the liquor traffic, and will not authorize the necessary appropriations for the defense of the coasts against foreign enemies, is in one sense a pattern legislature. It is a pattern, that is to say, of the best that can be expected from the saloon in politics. It can be relied upon to protect the rum power. It cannot be relied upon to defend the country against invasion from without Or corruption from within.
But nothing is to be gained by putting all the weight of responsibility upon the congressmen. It cannot be too strongly insisted upon that they are what the political system makes them. If the people want a Congress of patriotic, upright, independent, able men, they must provide other machinery for electing them. At present, they are for the most part representatives less of the public than of the saloon, and it would be carping criticism to say that they are not worthy of their origin. In the rural districts and in a few Western States, it is still possible for a candidate to be chosen on his merits, without selfhumiliation. But in the cities those who seek office can scarcely avoid demagogism and venality, for they can only run subject to the indorsement of the rum power. As regards municipal offices, the record is so clear and full that little remains to be said. The kind of political judgment cultivated by the saloon has been exhibited lately in a startling way. What it produces cannot be better described than in the words of Tennyson: —
Unfurnish’d brows, tempestuous tongues,
Expecting all things in an hour,
Brass mouths and iron lungs ! ”
However wild and foolish and impolitic the demands of saloon-made socialism may be, nevertheless, he who seeks public office where it is influential must avow his belief in its wisdom and justice, and declare his readiness to further its aims. So it is that fuddled anarchism finds a hearing, and that the subversive doctrines which have been filtered through the beer-keg and the whiskey-bottle are sometimes paraded solemnly as the expression of American public opinion.
Yet it will not avail us to rail at the work of the saloon. If we choose to establish competitive examinations in politics on the principle of the Dutch auction, giving the highest marks to those who show the least merit, rewarding demagogism and lack of principle and venality with offices, and disqualifying for the public service such as will not stoop to baseness or corruption for their own advancement, we have no right to complain of the results of the methods we have adopted. Nor can we with reason find fault because, after subjecting our least advanced classes to the degrading and brutalizing influences of the saloon, they learn their lessons more thoroughly than we expected, and threaten the country with the danger of a venal proletariat. We are reaping as we have sown. We have chosen to ignore the growth of this evil. We have shut our eyes obstinately to the real cause of the political corruption scourging us. We have allowed partisanship to blind us to the inevitable consequences of alliance or even compromise with the rum power. We have valued votes only, caring nothing how they were obtained. We have let things drift until the influence of the saloon in politics has become almost paramount.
Many men of sound capacity have wondered why the idea of woman suffrage has not made more progress in this country. The usual explanation has been that the measure is incompatible with “ practical politics,” and a variety of minor objections have been raised, as that women “ know nothing of public questions,” that “ they are wanting in judgment,” and so forth. When the fearful mess that men have made of politics is impartially considered, it can scarcely be maintained soberly that women, however inexperienced, could do much worse. It is, indeed, hardly possible to conceive of worse being done by any kind of creatures. But there are obviously some things now done by men which women could be trusted not to do. For example, we may be quite sure that they would not squander five hundred million dollars a year in strong drink, and then coolly ignore this extravagance, and threaten to revolutionize the country on the ground that they were not receiving their fair share of the wealth they produced. They would not, we may be confident, strike for eight hours a day while permitting their husbands to work sixteen. They would not, at the week’s end, spend seven eighths of their wages in the saloon, and then beat their hungry and naked children instead of feeding and clothing them. But when one thinks of the suffering and misery which the saloon inflicts upon woman, the opposition it exhibits to woman suffrage is perfectly intelligible. There is nothing so cruel, nothing so brutal, nothing so uncivilized, in American politics to-day, as the dominance of the spirit which refuses a voice in the government to that sex upon whose virtues, piety, and long-suffering every worthy hope of the nation depends. But the difficulties of refusing this measure of justice, this logical and inevitable extension of the democratic principle, become greater with every tentative effort in the direction of a broader suffrage. The proposition can no longer be rejected on the ground that it is untried. It has been tried, and wherever it has had a fair trial it has produced satisfactory results. Naturally, woman suffrage is hostile to the saloon, whether in or out of politics. It is to woman the serpent of Scripture. The antagonism is fundamental, radical, inevitable. Woman stands for all the elevating influences in this stage of existence. The home, the family, the church, the school, all derive from her their best qualities, their highest capabilities. The saloon stands for all that is retrogressive, destructive, debasing, vile, and evil. It ruins the home, breaks up the family, undermines religion,nullifies educational agencies, checks intellectual and moral growth, fosters brutality, coarseness, immorality, and dishonesty. Yet man, enlightened and civilized as he thinks himself, cannot be persuaded to trust his helpmate with even a share of the government whose present abuses weigh so heavily upon her ; cannot believe that the judgmentand clear-sightedness which, if he is candid and prudent, he is glad to avail himself of in private life would produce as beneficent results when applied to the general concerns.
In this perversity the average mail takes a course eminently calculated to maintain the supremacy of the saloon in politics. He shuts himself out from the only zealous help he is certain of. He deprives himself of the one ally who is pledged, by nature as by condition, to eternal war upon the rum power. It is scarcely necessary to point out that, if women could vote, the saloon as an active force in politics would speedily disappear. Therefore, we may be certain that so long as the saloon holds the reins of power it will oppose all its energies to the extension of the suffrage. This is not, however, an additional argument against the saloon. It is simply one of the conditions of its existence. Having been permitted to attain its present strength, having been recognized as a perfectly legitimate institution, it has a right to fight for its life, and it would certainly do so, whether or not such a right could be demonstrated. The point to be emphasized is that the American people are themselves mainly accountable, and that, while they may take action to remove what has become a gigantic abuse, they are not justified in denouncing those who have profited by it as though they had not acted throughout with popular sanction and scarcely tacit popular approval.
Fairness to the beneficiaries of an evil agency, however, must not interfere with the thorough exposure of the evil itself. We may be — nay, are — all more or less responsible for its continuance. It is a national sin, to be nationally put away and repented of, or to be persisted in at the general peril. But. that it is a great and even growing evil there can be no doubt. The corruption of American municipal government is not a diminishing quantity ; on the contrary, dose observers of politics must perceive that there is a tendency to the development of “ rings ” much earlier in the growth of towns than formerly. Once, the curse of local misgovermnent fell usually upon the largest cities alone. Now, every town of twenty thousand inhabitants is exposed to the same danger, and not many escape plunder permanently. This is not mysterious or wonderful. The tendencies of the saloon in politics are the came in the village as in the metropolis. The difference is merely one of opportunities. The saloon everywhere generates the same class of politicians, with the same low Standard of action, the same greed, the same cynicism, the same atrophy of public spirit. In these days, moreover, the saloon is better organized than ever before. It has its state and national “ protective ” associations, formidable by reason of their funds and deriving fresh confidence from their union. The prohibition movement has driven the rum power into a more solid and compact organization than it previously occupied, and has caused it to enter politics with more pronounced and definite aims. Formerly, it may be said to have been content to exercise a general patronage over the worst vices of the community, and to diffuse them as much as possible. Now, it goes farther, and requires that every political candidate shall pledge himself in distinct terms not to favor any temperance legislation, or take his chance of escaping the “ knife ” of the rum power. The prohibitionists, in fact, while making it apparent that public opinion is deeply moved on this question, have also caused the saloon to reveal something like its full strength, and a very formidable and menacing array it makes when thus brought to bay.
The stubborn and persistent opposition of professional politicians to civil service reform has usually been ascribed to other causes, but reflection will show that the saloon influence is the fons et origo mali. Here as elsewhere the theory of governmental administration taught in the saloon is based upon the grossest form of selfishness. The public is regarded from that point of view as a mere aggregation of tax-producing dullards, to he fleeced on every possible occasion by the “smart ” men who adopt politics as a business. The chief object of politics, in the eyes of the saloon, is to furnish the cover for schemes of plunder. Office is regarded as a means of robbing the treasury, on the one hand, and, on the other, of recompensing partisan service and cementing the organization. This is “ the cohesive power of public plunder,” a thoroughly saloon conception. Now, civil service reform, which is neither more nor less than the adoption of common sense business principles in public affairs, must, in the nature of things, be violently resisted by saloon politicians. For whereas it demands efficiency in the public service and the entire removal of opportunities for dishonesty, the saloon in politics cannot exist without the constant help of these abuses. All the incompetent loafers who hang about the cross-road taverns, corner groceries, and rum shops of the land ; all the blatant demagogues who make their living by manipulating these loafers in politics; all the people who keep saloons and all those who furnish them with their stock in trade, are necessarily loud against this reform. To substitute tests of competence, proofs of efficiency, experience of faithful work, for the arbitrary rewards of ward strikers and local “ bosses;” to put the public service upon the rational footing of private business, whence already so large a class of lazy adventurers has been excluded by its vices and its habits; to put an end to the halcyon state of affairs in which the highest prizes were reserved for the most intrepid liars, the most brazen hypocrites, the most corrupt knaves, and the most unprincipled demagogues; to close the avenues to office with an impassable barrier of examinations ; to make fitness the gauge instead of the doing of dirty work, is to carry despair, rage, and disgust to the hearts of all these supporters and beneficiaries of the spoils system.
What the spoils system has done to demoralize party politics was strikingly shown the other day, when a distinguished Democratic member of Congress deliberately stultified both himself and his party by a proposition to emasculate the civil service law, and when other members of the House rose in their places and coolly denounced one of the most obviously righteous and necessary measures on the statute books. If such politicians cannot perceive the implications of their position on this question; if they do not realize that they are declaring themselves in league with public plunderers and corruptionists, and consequently in opposition to the plainest interests of the American people, the fact is attributable to the diffusion of that negative quantity which may be termed saloon ethics. When, too, we find public journals speaking contemptuously of the principles of civil service reform, — that is to say, of honesty, efficiency, and trustworthiness, — and sneering at all who uphold those principles as “dudes” or “ doctrinaires,” we must credit the saloon in politics with these proofs of moral blindness and perversity, and must remember that it is to pander to this influence that men of education so debase themselves.
But the politicians and the papers which oppose the proper performance of the public business, and clamor for the restoration of the old corrupt conditions, are not primarily responsible. It is the people themselves who have indorsed all the evils which they now suffer from, and who have suffered abuses to strike root so deeply that their extirpation becomes increasingly difficult. When the politics of the country embraced great and stirring issues, public attention was too much absorbed to take note of the progress being made beneath the surface by the evil elements. Loyalty to party, then as always, covered many faults, and the knowledge of this encouraged hypocrisy and demagogism. While weighty questions were before the people, really strong and public-spirited men held their place at the front, and controlled party politics in the main. As the grave questions of the day were one after another determined, and as the two parties ceased to be sharply divided, the worst elements in both acquired greater influence, and especially the influence of the saloon increased. In effect, the character of party politics has been deteriorating for several years, but it is only recently that this has become apparent to any considerable portion of the voters. Habit is a strong tie in all things. In settled times men come to hold their political opinions far more as matter of custom than of conviction. That they should do this in politics is not remarkable, seeing that the same practice is often followed in regard to religion. The tendency to take the line of least resistance is very strong in the average man, and it is one reason why all established abuses are so hard to get rid of. It is not that the public morals are really debauched, so much as that the public conscience is asleep. Moreover, it must be admitted that the mendacity and slander of factional journalism throw such an atmosphere of doubt over nearly all charges of political corruption that plain men are furnished a plausible excuse for discrediting such evidence when presented to them.
So habit intrenches saloon politics, while social custom obscures the worst features of the evil. But the saloon is always active, whether the people sleep or wake, and its work is never of a doubtful character. During the late labor disturbances, for example, it was observed that an element among the workingmen seemed to manifest a marked and growing disregard for property rights. It was not exactly the kind of hatred for private property affected by the socialists and anarchists. It was really one of the effects of saloon politics upon unenlightened minds. There is no phase of life with which workingmen become so soon familiar as that of party politics as conducted in our cities. In the saloon they encounter all who live by politics, and the first thing they realize is that here is a distinct class, which subsists by an organized system of plunder. Of course there is no pretense of concealment when saloon politicians are in their congenial haunts. Newspapers may speak delicately of such things, as a concession to their partisan relations, but the masses do not try to humbug one another. They know what “bosses” are, and how they become rich, and how they keep up their power, and whose money they distribute, and to what extent the public have to provide them with funds. They see that saloon politics is at bottom an organized method of robbery. They see that it succeeds ;, that the boldest thieves get the largest prizes; that, as a rule, the more they steal, the more they may steal ; that their shameful prosperity entails neither ostracism nor general condemnation ; that, in short, robbery of the public is regarded as venial among a class so numerous that their own lax opinion becomes a sort of defense to them. What wonder that ignorant workingmen, perceiving all this, should fail to draw distinctions between public and private property, and, when heated by disputes with their employers should somerimes apply, in a new and alarming way, the doctrine they have picked up in the slaoons ? In the cities, indeed, labor has had plenty of practical instruction in public plunder, as witness the scores of public buildings and works all over the country, which have been made excuses for perennial appropriations, expended, as every one knows, in keeping up party strength by furnishing subsistence to men who neither do nor are expected to do the work for which they are paid, and often paid above the market rate.
The growth of a venal proletariat has proceeded so far that the problem of municipal government is almost given up in despair. Local politics has been reduced to a science of obtaining votes under false pretenses, when they cannot be bought outright. It is a structure in which hypocrisy rests on corruption. There is the sounding declaration of principles for the innocent voter who thinks he is called upon to exercise his free choice ; there is the list of candidates selected by the “ machine ; ” and there is the solid body of disciplined followers who obey orders without caring two straws about any moral issue involved in their action. Intelligent citizens of course revolt against this condition of things, but when all parties are the same at bottom there is no room for choice, and the machinery is controlled too firmly by the saloon element to permit much hope of reform. Indeed, the state of the cities would before now have become the state of the whole country, but for the fact that the rural vote has hitherto escaped the blighting influence referred to. It is in the rural districts that the integrity of the suffrage is alone maintained. Prejudice, ignorance, blind partisanship, no doubt interfere often with its most effective exercise even there, but the vote of the country districts is to a great extent untrammeled, and it counteracts the vicious tendencies of the urban suffrage on important occasions.
No permanent security can, however, be anticipated from this comparative freedom and purity of the country vote, for the population of the cities is increasing much more rapidly than that of the rural districts, and as it increases it tends to fall more and more under the influence of the saloon in politics. In fact, the danger of a merely ignorant vote may be regarded to-day as less menacing than that of a vote which is organized for sinister purposes, and handled with military precision ; nor, so long as the saloon is permitted to fulfill its normal functions, can there be any reasonable expectation of a change for the better. For this institution has a double hold upon its votaries. It controls them by ministering to an appetite which, when developed, is perhaps the most masterful of all the vices man is subject to. It debauches the intellects of its followers, and it fosters their egotism on the lowest plane. The man whose fondness for drink leads him to neglect wife and children is already well on his way to the mental condition in which the hope of public plunder silences all scruples. The man whose introduction to politics consists iu making the acquaintance of the gaudily attired rowdies who swagger about the bars of political “ headquarter ” saloons will soon learn to look with admiration upon the methods which produce those flowers of civilization. The nature of whosoever frequents these places is “ subdued to what it works in, like the dyer’s hand.” The saloon, too, can emulate the public schools in producing after its kind. Its fecundity is prodigious, and where it flourishes most rankly all the higher forms of life tend to perish.
To think of political reform with the influence of the saloon in politics what it is seems almost fatuous. To discuss the subject of political reform without taking this weighty factor into consideration seems almost puerile. To belittle the importance of the saloon is most dangerous. To essay compromise with it is a fatal mistake. In the nature of the case it must be eliminated, or it must dominate everything. Full freedom having been accorded it thus far, it has made a long stride toward dominion. Even among those who clearly recognize the perils of the situation, it has become an axiomatic statement that it is useless to oppose the saloon in the cities. If that were true, the prospect would he dark. It is, in fact, an undemonstrated assertion, and really signifies no more than a conviction that such an undertaking must be attended with great difficulties. But we cannot afford to make so disastrous an admission, for the future of the country depends largely upon the possibility of abolishing this gigantic evil.
All the causes of uneasiness which have appeared of late are, directly or indirectly, subsidiary to this. If it does not produce every one of them, it certainly aggravates them all. By debauching politics, by setting and maintaining a low moral standard, by teaching toleration for corruption, by excluding the fittest from politics, by making careers for demagogues and trimmers, by honoring baseness and incompetence, by scoffing at integrity and efficiency, by substituting the bad for the good throughout the political liturgy, the saloon has spread demoralization everywhere, and infected all the movements of the day with its own vileness and foulness. What is called “ practical politics ” is really the application to party of the saloon code of ethics. It is practical politics to disregard all moral considerations; to traffic and dicker and covenant with all the corrupt elements for the sake of votes ; to exchange, if the occasion seems to demand it, the security of a whole community for enough votes to elect a ticket; to wink at the most flagitious schemes of robbery, provided their promoters can and will help elect the party candidates ; to break every pledge given to the people in the party platform, if it is necessary to do so in order to secure the adhesion of some influential gang of manipulators. The cheerful theory of the practical politician is that human nature is totally depraved, anyhow, and that it is all nonsense to act upon any other belief ; that, having to do with this omnipresent depravity, it is necessary to humor it; that everything is fair that tends to the success of the party ; and that while ethical considerations may he very well in church, they have no place whatever in the management of public affairs. This kind of politician plumes bimself on his entire freedom from narrowness and his adaptability to emergencies of all kinds. He has no embarrassing scruples. He regards the “ offices,” with all that the term implies, as the be-all and the endall of party warfare. In a word, he is a perfect illustration of the ripest results of the saloon in politics.
The country has become so habituated to this state of affairs that many very good people really find it impossible to conceive of any other way of doing things. We are all so accustomed to take it for granted that the “political pool ” must be “ filthy ” that we seldom think of reflecting whether a clean pool might not be substituted. If we assume that the saloon is ineradicable, then, indeed, it will have to be admitted that no cleansing process is available, for it is the saloon influence that imparts its filthiness to the pool. But is it ineradicable? That is a question than which none more important can be taken into consideration by the American people. The results of experiments in thinly settled districts or small towns cannot afford trustworthy indications for the populations of large cities. But there is in the results of these experiments one circumstance which seems to give some promise. The staple argument that men cannot be made sober by legislation appears to have been to a great extent refuted by the actual facts. It is now pretty clearly demonstrated that the removal of temptation to drink does promote sobriety. There is nothing new in this. Shakespeare long ago observed, —
Makes ill deeds done.”
Weak human nature, assailed by strong appetite and cozened by opportunity, falls easily, first into indulgence, then into excess. Nor does the fact that many men will seek the means of intoxication when it is denied them outweigh the former consideration, for in all such cases the number who abstain when unable easily to obtain liquor is undoubtedly much greater than that of those who persist in seeking it. The common argument is probably not altogether sincere, and it is certainly not very formidable. No doubt the drink-habit has been firmly rooted in a large class, but, equally without doubt, quite as large a class has, within fifty years, emancipated itself more or less completely from that habit, and this without the assistance which removal of opportunity constitutes. To this it may be said that the spread of knowledge and the growth of refinement so changed custom that relative abstinence became easy and natural; but that the same reforming processes would not apply if an attempt to abolish the saloon in large cities were made. The inference from this line of argument would be that the only hope lay in the gradual growth of education and culture among the masses. But the situation is difficult. The saloon is intrenched to-day. It has become an institution. It is an organized, disciplined force. It has obtained control of municipal politics ; it is an influential factor in state politics ; and it openly declares its intention to exert itself in national politics. Being so formidable at present, the country may well inquire what this element will be in another half century, if left to develop and extend itself freely.
In this paper the effects of the saloon upon society have been only touched incidentally, but in any review of the general prospect they would have to be considered carefully and fully. Side by side with its political growth proceed the growths of crime, pauperism, disease, which it fosters. It is obvious that it also constantly produces elements which are incapable of existence in a more wholesome environment, and which, while from their nature dangerous to society, are for the same reason devoted to the agency whence they issue. In a democracy, moreover, the control of the political machinery of both parties in the centres of population is always liable to lead co the control of politics in the country. Should circumstances once throw such a power into the hands of the saloon interest, it cannot be supposed that it would neglect the opportunity to reinforce itself still more strongly, nor is the suggested danger by any means chimerical. What the saloon is and does in American politics has been partially shown here. The first necessity is to awaken public sentiment on the question, and the best way to do that seems to be by telling the truth plainly and unequivocally. One of the most insidious vices of the times is the disposition to compromise. The present stage of social evolution has produced, while softening the hearts and polishing the manners of the educated classes, a reluctance to say and do positive things which is a real and dangerous weakness. It shows itself in forms which sometimes strike foreigners with surprise. When Mr. Herbert Spencer visited this country he observed the meekness with which we put up with the abuse of crowding the cars on all the transportation lines, and he pointed out the mischievous tendencies of this popular complacency and supineness. The habit of avoiding friction, of submitting to inconvenience, of suffering the deprivation of rights, rather than quarrel, or complain, or invite notoriety, is one which will have to be shaken off, ur it will lead to serious practical evils. In fact, it has led to them already, and one of them is the establishment of the saloon in irolitics upon a basis of assumed dignity and respectability.
Now, the saloon is utterly base and vile in all its relations and connections, and it is necessary that this should be said, and said plainly. Its influence in politics is altogether depraving and mischievous. It can only paralyze or destroy public spirit, and substitute the worst kind of demagogism. It can only give a preposterously disproportionate weight in public affairs to the elements which should, because of their unfitness, be the least in evidence. It can only discourage and exclude from public life the worthiest and most capable citizens. It can only encourage and thrust to the front the most impudent and incapable. Every vicious and debasing theory, every corrupt “ spoils ” doctrine, every line of thought whieh tends to brutalize and degrade politics, every aspect of them which is an insult and a wrong to the religion, the virtue, the womanhood, of the nation, may be traced to the saloon. The placid toleration of so rank and gross an evil is a shame to us as a people. The pretense that we can live in peace and harmony and fellowship with it is a reproach to the general intelligence. This is the question of the immediate future. It will not down at the behests of politicians. It will not cease to disturb the national conscience until remedial action is determined upon.
George Frederic Parsons.