Although the recent election in Pennsylvania turned exclusively on local issues, those issues involve considerations of national importance, and the struggle aroused attention so general that a brief review of its causes and consequences may not be without interest beyond the borders of the State.
Among the various agencies of our political demoralization, not the least threatening is the development of that perfection of organization known as “the machine,” of which the exponent is the “boss.” The boss is a product of natural selection, — a man who by nature and training rises above his fellows in all the baser arts of management, who unites shrewdness and audacity with executive ability, and whose profoundest conviction is the one so cynically expressed by Senator Ingalls, that the Decalogue and the Golden Rule have no place in politics. The power of the boss is based largely on the prostitution of public patronage, — the ability to reward his followers and punish his rivals by distributing or withholding the spoils of office, with the single object of maintaining his own ascendency over the henchmen who do his dirty work in managing primary elections and controlling nominating conventions. In a community where the machine is highly developed there is small chance for the expression of healthy public sentiment. The avenues to public life are closed to all aspirants who will not pledge obedience to the boss; honorable ambition is stifled; politics becomes a game of thimblerig, and the interest of the people at large is the last thing to be considered. Statesmanship thus is rendered impossible; the statesman disappears and is replaced by the boss, and the conduct of public affairs, which should be the noblest employment of the highest intellects, is degraded to a sordid trade, from which men of honor instinctively shrink. A nation which should contentedly submit to such debasement of its public life is foredoomed.
For a generation Pennsylvania has been a peculiarly boss-ridden community. The machine so skillfully organized by Simon Cameron not only lasted his lifetime, but was so strongly compacted that he was able to bequeath it to his son, the present Senator. Bossism, however, is essentially personal, and is not readily transmissible by inheritance; the perfected adept should pass through the lower grades to acquire the suppleness and knowledge of detail and the ability to choose his lieutenants which are requisite to continued success. Senator Cameron was handicapped by both good and bad qualities; he was too autocratic, and did not know when to yield gracefully to necessity. His course in 1880, when he endeavored to force the nomination of General Grant for a third term, led to an independent movement, which defeated his plans, and ripened into organized revolt at the gubernatorial election of 1882. Though General Garfield had carried the State by a plurality of over 37,000 in 1880, Mr. Cameron’s slated ticket in 1882 was defeated by a plurality of more than 40,000; the Independent Republicans polled a vote of 43,743 for a third ticket, and thus elected Mr. Pattison, the Democratic candidate. The lesson was a valuable one, but was soon forgotten. The Independent organization, having accomplished its immediate object, dissolved, and Mr. Cameron’s authority seemed to recover from the shock. Yet the weakness of its hold upon the people had been demonstrated, and the way was opened for an able and vigorous leader to supplant him.
Matthew Stanley Quay was one of the most useful of his lieutenants. He was energetic, troubled with few scruples, full of resources, and had been trained in the worst school of political management. In 1874 he had been appointed by Governor Hartranft Secretary of the Commonwealth; he had been reappointed in 1878 by Governor Hoyt, and had resigned the office in 1882, in view of the approaching change of dynasty. Vague rumors ascribed to him various delinquencies, but nothing was publicly and positively known; and as he remained out of office for several years the rumors died away, and he was generally regarded as one whose political career was closed. Suddenly he reappeared in 1885 and claimed a “vindication.” The occasion was selected with his customary shrewdness. The only state office to be balloted for in that year was the treasurership. In 1884 Pennsylvania had given Mr. Blame a majority of 80,000, and the Democrats were still greatly disheartened; there was nothing on which to arouse public sentiment, and a Republican nomination was equivalent to election. With consummate skill Mr. Quay laid his plans and captured the nomination. A feeble effort to start an independent movement against him failed, and he was elected as a matter of course. He was now fully “vindicated” and fairly in the saddle. In 1887 an obedient legislature elected him to the United States Senate, and his colleague, Mr. Cameron, found the reins rapidly slipping from his grasp.
In 1888 Mr. Quay carried to the Chicago Convention a delegation which, with few exceptions, was completely under his control. To a politician of less versatile resources the stubborn opposition which he made to the nomination of Mr. Harrison would have been suicidal, but he only gathered strength from defeat. The chairmanship of the National Committee would put him in position to exact his own terms, and this, it is said, he obtained, characteristically, by absenting himself from the meeting of organization, and sending an alternate who voted for him, thus securing his election by a majority of one over his competor, Mr. Clarkson. From his management of the canvass there were observers who became apprehensive that he secretly courted defeat, and his strange control over the President has led to the suggestion that a few weeks before the election he visited Indianapolis, and threatened to sacrifice the ticket unless certain pledges were given.
Be this as it may, he has been the evil genius of the administration. By the appointment of his friend Mr. Wanamaker to the postmaster-generalship, and by the unreserved abandonment to him of the federal patronage in Pennsylvania, he became the dictator of the party in the State. Even his silence under the damaging accusations scattered broadcast by the New York World and Evening Post had no apparent influence on either the President or the party. The press in Pennsylvania for the most part seemed muzzled, and to have entered with him into a conspiracy of silence. His power was unshaken, and the obedient convention of last June speculated on the torpidity of the public conscience by inserting as a plank in the party platform an expression of its sense of gratitude for his “matchless services,” and a declaration that, “as a citizen, a member of the General Assembly, as Secretary of the Commonwealth under two successive administrations, as State Treasurer by the overwhelming suffrage of his fellow-citizens, and as Senator of the United States, he has won and retains our respect and confidence.” Considering that there were unanswered charges against him of bribery as a member of the Assembly, and of unlawful use of public moneys as Secretary of the Commonwealth and State Treasurer, the allusion to his record in these positions showed, a peculiar audacity of servility.
If the public conscience be sluggish, it is all the more powerful when aroused. The population of Pennsylvania, with its strong infusion of Quaker and Teuton, is by no means excitable; it is patient, enduring, slow to move from the beaten path, but all the more formidable when fairly convinced that action is necessary. As the scandal deepened of Mr. Quay’s silence under charges generally believed to be well founded, and of his unwavering support by the national administration, ominous mutterings were heard. It became tacitly understood that, if he persisted in forcing the nomination of the slate which he had prepared, revolt would follow. Underrating the strength of the opposition, he carried out his programme undeviatingly; and indeed any retreat would have been a confession of weakness, — the one unpardonable failing in a boss. The larger portion of the party desired as gubernatorial candidate General Hastings, who had won popular regard by his management of affairs at Johnstown after the disastrous flood of 1889, and who refused to sell out his candidacy for an assistant secretaryship of war of which Mr. Quay apparently had the disposal. Mr. Quay, in fact, was understood to have given a positive pledge of the nomination to State Senator Delamater. Unfortunately, Mr. Delamater, like his chief, was the subject of damaging public accusations from a responsible source, and, like his chief, he adopted the policy of silence. The wires had been laid in advance. Mr. Delamater received the nomination, and was mounted on the platform which proclaimed the undiminished esteem and respect of the party for Mr. Quay. It was a challenge to battle for the vindication of both.
It is not worth while to enter into the vicissitudes of the canvass, which was the most hotly contested that Pennsylvania has seen since that of 1882, bringing out a vote closely approximating that of a presidential campaign. The Democrats wisely put in nomination Ex-Governor Pattison, whose previous administration had won the respect of all parties. Both candidates took the stump and vigorously canvassed the whole State. The efforts of the Republicans to inject national issues into the struggle were unavailing. Even when Mr. Blame was brought to Philadelphia, on the eve of election, and endeavored to show that the tariff was imperiled, he preached to deaf ears; nor was his protest against a canvass of defamation heeded, for people remembered his own canvass of 1884. Mr. Wanamaker was equally unsuccessful when he personally vouched for the honesty of his traduced friend Mr. Quay.
The returns, in fact, show plainly that the result is not one to be claimed as a party triumph, but that it is the victory of the people over the politicians of the baser sort in both parties, — a victory achieved for the most part by the independent voter. While there is not a county in the State that does not share in the revolt, it is highly significant that in the Democratic wards of Philadelphia and Pittsburg, where voters and barroom leaders are approachable, the Republican ticket made large gains. From these sources it may be computed that Mr. Delamater received from 15,000 to 20,000 votes. Allowing for these, and taking as a basis Mr. Harrison’s plurality of 81,000, it will be seen that Mr. Pattison’s plurality of 16,500 represents some 70,000 Republican votes against Quayism. Yet that this was simply a revolt, and not a political revolution; that these Republicans desired merely to purify their party, and not to abandon it, is seen by the maintenance of the party strength unbroken on all points where Quayism was not an issue. Local candidates for municipal office, for the legislature, and for Congress received the full party vote. The four congressional districts which were lost were lost because their candidates were regarded as the special representatives of Mr. Quay. Even Mr. Delamater’s associates on the state ticket were elected by respectable majorities, for many Independents contented themselves with striking at the head of the ticket as the conspicuous embodiment of the domination which they desired to destroy. It is perfectly safe to say that on a national issue, with an unexceptionable candidate and a fair canvass, Pennsylvania would to-morrow give her customary Republican majority.
While this result could not have been attained without a healthy popular uprising against a corrupt and corrupting domination, it cannot be claimed to be due wholly to unalloyed unselfishness. In all popular movements there are many factors and many motives, nor can the wisest ascribe accurately to each their effectiveness. In our election there were revenges to be gratified. The distribution of patronage is a two-edged sword; if it confers power, it also awakens discontent. In Mr. Quay’s brief reign he could not pay his political debts without creating resentments, and his methods were not such as to soothe the feelings of those who thought themselves deprived of the recognition that was their due. The spoils system is a treacherous source of strength, which betrays its manipulator in his sorest need. Mr. Quay thus found local antagonisms springing up against him in all sections of the State, and lending themselves to swell the healthier flood of popular indignation which overwhelmed him.
Yet, with all due allowance for this, the result is one which may well encourage the believer in our institutions, and refute the assumption of accelerating degradation in our public life. It shows that popular opinion is sound at the core, and that the popular instinct is in favor of honesty in politics; that the fanaticism of partisanship may be overcome when an issue can be fairly presented to the people; that the independent voter is multiplying and learning how to use his power; that the crafty scheming of astute and experienced politicians is but folly, when boldly confronted in a good cause. At the same time, it would be easy to exaggerate the importance of the victory. Though it may have overthrown a boss who a few months ago seemed to be the most powerful leader in the land, overshadowing even the chief magistrate himself, it has not put an end to bossism. That evil springs from roots too deeply planted in our careless political habitudes to be eradicated without long and painful effort. Unremitting watchfulness and labor is the price which we must pay for our Republican institutions, if we wish them to be honestly and wisely administered. Spasmodic and sporadic efforts effect little that is permanent. Popular uprisings are inspiring to witness, like a gorgeous display of fireworks, which dazzle the eye only to leave the darkness more profound. Twenty years ago we watched eagerly such a spectacle, admirably arranged with impressive scenic effect, when the good citizens of New York drove Tweed and his gang to prison or to exile; but in a few years the old horde was succeeded by a new one, and these same good citizens have now, in spite of the Australian ballot, riveted upon themselves the domination of Tammany more firmly than ever. The trained politician smiles at such popular ebullitions, and hails them as an opportunity for filling the vacancies which they may occasion.
There are no panaceas for public disease. Even the abrogation of the spoils system, fruitful as that system is of evil, would at most be a palliative, unless accompanied by a far more jealous and exacting public opinion than at present exists. The only remedy for our ailments, in fact, lies with the individual voter. Until the millennium arrives we cannot expect every citizen to vote as we may think he ought; but at least every one can strive to free himself from the bondage of partisanship, and train himself to regard the exercise of the franchise as a sacred duty, not to be lightly or carelessly performed at the bidding of some self-constituted leader. The lesson of the Pennsylvania election is full of encouragement for such efforts, as it shows that ill-gotten and misused power, however securely intrenched, is at the mercy of a comparatively small portion of the voters, when that portion is ready to sink all partisanship in devotion to the public weal.
In the kaleidoscopic shiftings of American politics prophecy is proverbially dangerous, yet I cannot but think that the Republican party will eventually find itself stronger for its recent reverses. Containing, as I believe it does, the major portion of the intellect and culture of the land, it necessarily also contains a larger proportion of voters whose allegiance is lightly held, and whose support must be purchased by deserving. The grotesque spectacle afforded by the predominance in such a party of a man like Mr. Quay was in itself sufficient to repel from it enough voters to defeat it in the next presidential canvass. From that danger it is to be hoped that Pennsylvania has delivered it. The rough good sense of the people elsewhere has taught its leaders a severe lesson; and such lessons, if rightly laid to heart, are the salvation of parties. Experience has shown that reforms never come from within; they must be rubbed in from without, and the unguentum baculinum is the most effective excipient for the application. I think there is enough unselfishness and common sense in the party to profit by the warning; if so, there is yet time for it to repent of its follies, to set its house in order, and to come before the people in 1892 with a valid claim for support. Besides, it can always fairly reckon on the superior capacity of the Democracy for blundering.
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