Political Inauguration of the Greater New York
THE day after the candidate of Tammany Hall was chosen mayor of the greater New York, last November, the city turned to another event significant of much in American civilization. Even the first election of the reorganized and consolidated metropolis was to many of its citizens hardly less interesting than the opening of the largest hotel in the world, the most sumptuous, perhaps, of all large hotels. An English visitor, though he wrote with the Philistine glories of Thames Embankment hotels before his eyes, has ventured to give this latest aspect of New York life the gruesome name of Sardanapalus. No doubt Americans have not very much to learn from the rest of the world in the matter of lavish display within the dwellings of their rich men and the hotels and other places of resort of the well-to-do. One may now find there all that moderns know of inlaid marbles, rugs, mural paintings, French and German canvases, and sybaritic indulgences of the table. Semibarbarous, perhaps, it all is, and surely far enough from the modest amenities of hostelries like the Revere House and residences of Washington Square a half century ago. The vast hotel palace towering to the skies in New York does represent, however, something more than the mere accumulation of wealth in the greater citics of America and its doubtful ostentations. It exhibits superb energy and skill in mechanical arts, and an able and now thoroughly disciplined determination to triumph in the devices for physical well-being as well as the appointments of magnificence.
Still, one’s reflections on this triumph are not altogether cheerful. So signal an illustration of what New York can do in hotel-keeping, coming when it did, threw into a painful depression many sensible citizens of New York, who loved their city, or would love it if they could. Its success in achievements of sheer luxury cast into deeper shade for them that seeming failure of American democracy to produce order, disciplined ability, and honor in the government of cities which the Tammany victory had just demonstrated. That their country succeeds as it does in grosser things brings them no comfort, when they see, as they think, its complete and final failure in municipal administration, —a failure the more lamentable that it comes at the time when municipal administration has become the greatest function of the modern state.
Perhaps they ought not to care for “ abroad,” but they do care for it, and all the more when the most patriotic pride cannot save them from humiliating admissions. They find it irksome to hear the British premier ask the citizens of London, as he did a few days after the New York election, “ Do you want to be governed like New York ? ” Or to hear another and equally important member of the British cabinet, Mr. Chamberlain, in his very able speech at Glasgow on the 8th of November last, explain “ the whole secret of the failure of American local institutions,” and admonish the British workingmen that if they should abandon the businesslike and honorable system upon which — so he declared, and seemingly without danger of contradiction — British public work is conducted, they might “fall at last as low” as their “ cousins unfortunately have done.” Since they had agreed with English journals, before the result, that a Tammany victory would “ make of New York a rotten. hopeless sink, . . . whose existence would prove the standing insoluble problem of American life,”1 they cannot, with any satisfaction to themselves, take refuge in belligerent anglophobia when they read, after the result, that it casts “ a lurid glow on the conditions of American institutions, and the failure of the world’s most democratic people to solve a problem vital to the well-being of society.” Americans whose buoyancy has survived Lecky’s powerful summing up against democracy read with a pang the foreign assertions that now “democratic ideals . . . must be relegated to the limbo of exploded fancies and buried hopes, whither so many fond illusions of the enthusiast have been consigned.” 2
There is about it all a wearing kind of grief, such as men feel when their religious convictions are undermined. Every one knows that democracy is to prevail in the United States ; every one knows that there will be no turning back. This much is inexorable. So when those who have doubted the beneficence of democracy now have their doubts turned into disbelief, and when those who have disbelieved now find a complete demonstration of the evils of democratic government, the air becomes heavy with political melancholy. The century is indeed ending in sorrow.
Is it not worth while to ask whether all this be justified ? Did not the future of their free institutions seem, to patriotic and intelligent Americans, to be quite as gloomy, to say the least, during the half dozen years after the revolutionary war, and just before the splendid success of the federal Constitution ? Were not Americans more humiliated at the bar of foreign opinion and of their own conscience by the triumph of the slave power and the seeming meanness of our national career in the few years before the noble awakening of 1861 ? Is there anything to-day quite as sodden and hopeless as the triumph of public crime in New York, and the acquiescent submission of its reputable classes, when, in 1870, Tweed carried the city by a great majority, — and this but a few months prior to the uprising of its citizens in 1871 ? If wise Americans ought not to shut their eyes to the public evils from which their great cities suffer, and which have made urban growth seem to be in many respects a calamity, ought they, on the other hand, to help increase the self-indulgent temper of inefficient pessimism, of which we have quite too much ? Is not the large and true test of the result of the election in the greater New York the character of the general progress which it indicates, rather than the mere inferiority of the municipal administration of New York for the next four years to what it might have been had the election gone differently ? I venture to say that when the election is treated in this way, when it is rationally compared with the past, there appears in it a real progress in American politics towards better, that is to say towards more vigorous and honest and enlightened administration. No doubt another opportunity to reach an immediate and practical good has been lost, and lamentably ; and we are all growing older. But, on the other hand, far more plainly than ever before do our municipal politics show a powerful and wholesome tendency.
Let us first, look at the present loss. Many of the pictures drawn of American “machines” of every political name fail of their effect because some of the colors used are impossible. The pictures are therefore believed to be altogether false by many who know from a personal knowledge that they are false in part. It was difficult to indict a whole people ; it is no less difficult and unreasonable to indict a majority of the voters of New York. Every sensible man practically familiar with the situation knows that the plurality which has returned Tammany Hall to power includes thousands of honest, good citizens, and even citizens both intelligent and highminded ; that under its restored administration some things — probably many things — will he well and fairly done ; that the masses of its voters have not deliberately intended to surrender their city to corruption or incompetency ; that even among its politicians are men whose instincts are sound and honorable. The picture might as well be made true ; it is surely dark enough without exaggeration. For, after making just allowance, it cannot be denied that nine tenths of the organized jobbery of the city sought Tammany success either directly, or through the indirect but no less practical alliance of the Republican organization, — a machine more Anglo-Saxon, perhaps, in its equipment, but not a whit better in morals, than its rival. Tammany Hall will in the future appoint to office some men having energy, skill, and character fit for their places as it has done in the past; but so, no doubt, will it put into the hands of brutal, reckless, ignorant, and grossly dishonest men an enormous and varied power over their fellow citizens. The scandals and crimes of the past will not return in full measure, for the rising standard of public morality affects even political machines. We are bound, however, to assume that they will return in a most corrupting and injurious measure.
For the argument of the reformers, it is unnecessary to deny that the Tammany candidates for the two great offices of mayor and comptroller are personally well disposed : for it is notorious — there was not the slightest concealment of the fact during the Tammany campaign — that they were not chosen for their own equipment in ability, in experience for the duties of really great and critical offices requiring statesmanship of the highest order, or in public confidence earned by any past public service. As sometimes, though very rarely, has happened with successful candidates of the machine, it is possible that after all they may have the necessary ability, and may have the sense of right and force of character to use it in the public interest. If that turn out to be the case, those who selected them will be as much shocked as the community will be rejoiced. They were chosen from among the large body of men counted upon to do absolutely, and without troublesome protest, the will of the powerful politicians, with no official responsibility, who nominated them, and who are tolerably skillful in judgment of this kind of human nature. But subject to that condition Tammany Hall preferred for candidates men having as much personal and popular respect, or at least as little popular dislike or disrespect, as public men could have who should seem fully to meet so unworthy a test.
Nor is it helpful to sketch with incredible lines the politcians who made these nominations. It would be unjust and untrue to say of all of them, as is sometimes said truly of powerful politicians, that conscious concern for the honor or welfare of their community, distinct from sheerly selfish personal intent, enters their heads as rarely as a pang for a dead private soldier struck the heart of Napoleon. It is both just and true, however, to say of many of those politicians that they never know that conscious concern. The first and supremely dominant motive of most of them — as the most generous observer is compelled to concede — is personal gain and advantage, with no more regard for the trust obligations of public life than is coerced by the fear of public opinion, or rather by the fear that such public opinion may become dangerous to their private or public safety. They are quite as bad in this respect as the members of the cabal of Charles II., or the Loughboroughs and Newcastlesof a contury later, or even as the objects of the Crimean investigation of 1855. Careers like theirs have made the personal corruption and incompetence of aristocratic government, and its disloyalty to public welfare, primary object lessons in the politics of generations far from ancient, and every land lying between the Atlantic and the Caucasus.
It would not be just to say that the Tammany campaign was one of pretense, even skillful pretense. The absence of necessity for pretense in that campaign ought of itself to arouse a deep anxiety. Except now and then in a perfunctory mention of tax rates or inadequate school accommodation and the like, and except, of course, in the traditional forms of speech about the rights of the people, Tammany Hall was tolerably frank. It deliberately refused to virtue the tribute, of the cant that it too desired those better things which the “ reformers ” affected to seek. Not only was it dauntless under the flaming exhibition of its police and police courts made in 1894, but it stood with explicit and bad courage upon that very record which had received a damning popular judgment not only in the decent homes of New York, but at the polls of the city. Its orators admitted, or rather they insisted, that the powers of the new municipality would be and ought to be used for the benefit of its organization ; nor was it seriously denied, or thought necessary to deny seriously, that they would also and largely be used for the personal gain of a very few men. As to that, it seemed a sufficient answer to make it clear that if the Tammany victory meant great personal gain to a few men, it likewise meant lesser gain to large numbers of men throughout the city, who would find their advantage in violations of law and in sacrifices of public interest.
Since, then, the successful candidates were chosen as they were; since the worst forces of the metropolis earnestly promoted their success ; since such are the ideals, the character, and the principles of the powerful but irresponsible politicians who have chosen them, and who, ten chances to one, will absolutely control them ; and since they have been chosen with no embarrassing public committal to any specific measure of economy or efficiency, it is no doubt difficult to hope that their administration will be either enlightened or useful. New York seems doomed to a low standard of civic administration till the end of 1901.
Nor was this all the grief of the “ reformers.” Most of them Suffered keen disappointment. And indeed there was good reason to hope at least for a better result. The greater New York had before it an exalting opportunity. This was to be the first election since the constitutional separation of municipal from national elections, and from state elections except in the choice of judges and of members of the lower house of the legislature. Public attention was almost exclusively directed, so far as law could direct it, to the welfare of the city. Then there was the consolidation which interested the world ; the election was to be on a grander scale than any city had yet known, — it surely must touch the imagination as never before. Whatever the faults of the charter, it did create the second municipality of the world in population and in wealth, — a city unsurpassed the world over in natural advantages, and in the energy, intelligence, and morality of its citizens. It was not unnatural for reformers to think that the inspiration of all this must reach and control most citizens.
The elections from 1893 to 1896 had shown widespread independence among the Democrats, who constituted the great majority of the voters of New York. All Republicans, or nearly all, it was assumed, would be enemies of Tammany Hall. Besides, it seemed too plain to be forgotten by the builders and mechanics of New York, its manufacturers and the great classes engaged in transportation on its harbor and bounding rivers, that their interests required a higher standard of administration than either political machine could or would give. The newspaper press, the pulpit, and the chief representatives of the business and social life of the city stood overwhelmingly for the new departure. Then there was great hope — and, as it turned out, not without reason — that Tammany would not completely hold the poorer quarters of the city, as it had held them for years. Since its defeat in 1894, less fortunate citizens, under Mayor Strong, had secured a far larger share of the benefits of good administration than ever before ; and the benefits were such as could not be overlooked even by a casual passer-by. Under Colonel Waring’s vigorous and popular control of the street-cleaning and the wise distribution of the still meagre provision for good paving, many densely crowded districts had lost their aspect of public squalor.
Moreover, much had been done at the very foundation of public sentiment by the University Settlement and other noble and thriving societies. James B. Reynolds and his associates had been admirably successful in the popularization of sound politics. For a full year the discussions of the plan of a greater New York had been so incessant and so eloquent that it seemed incredible that political light should not have permeated the entire city. In short, it was perfectly reasonable to believe that, whatever might be the difficulties of the new charter, the popular intelligence was at last alert, the popular conscience at last deeply stirred and responsive to popular feeling. The reformers were fond of saying that the revolution in municipal politics was at last upon us. The seeming reasonableness of all this hope added material bitterness to the result.
Even this does not sum up the disappointment. It grew more poignant when the reformers recalled the immediate thing which the city rejected. It could have had its executive administration in the hands of Seth Low, and its financial administration in the hands of Charles S. Fairchild. Those men represented, in their training, their careers, and their ideals, the very best of American public life ; and no public life in the world has anything better. Mr. Fairchild had held with distinguished honor the high office of Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, and had been attorneygeneral of the state. He had exhibited courage and energy of the first order as a political leader. The candidates represented a rational measure of enthusiasm. They believed that public life could be made better. They believed that enormous improvement could be made, and made now, in the administration of American cities. Without this belief nothing very good was likely to be accomplished. But further, they had demonstrated by practical experience in great affairs that they were not visionaries ; that they could, as well as would, improve the standard of administration.
The problems of that administration, ready for immediate solution, and capable of solution by Mr. Low and Mr. Fairchild, were admirably presented in the brief declaration of the Citizens’ Union. Its members proposed to make of municipal administration a business, to be carried on with the zeal and loyalty and skill which a highly competent man brings to the transaction of his own business. They were ready to continue the substitution of the best of modern pavements for those which had so long disgraced the city. They were ready to enforce sanitary regulations that are of real consequence to all, but of vital consequence to the least fortunate in a large city. They proposed the establishment of public lavatories, the almost complete absence of which in New York seems to any one familiar with great foreign cities an incredible and stupid disgrace. They proposed a rational treatment of the problem of parks and of transit facilities. They gave a pledge, which everybody knew to be honest, that public franchises would not be surrendered into the hands of private persons ; that the city would not, as it had done in the past, give up the common property and profit of all in the streets to the enrichment of a few. Above all, they promised — and everybody knew they would keep the promise — that if the great powers of the mayoralty and comptrollership should come to them, those powers would be used solely in the public interest, without that personal prostitution of the offices of the city to which we have become so lamentably used, or that political prostitution of them to the real or fancied exigencies of national politics.
We have never known a more creditable campaign than theirs. If it did not command a majority of the votes, it did command a substantial and universal respect. It rendered a lasting service to American politics. Ordinarily the defeated head of a ticket has lost his " availability ; ” but to-day Seth Low, it is agreeable to see, occupies a more enviable position than he has ever held, or than is held by any other American now active in politics. He has the deserved good fortune to stand before the country for a cause which, to the average American, is largely embodied in his person. What was believed before his nomination was confirmed at the election : he was plainly the strongest candidate who could have been chosen to represent his cause. He polled 40,000 votes more than his ticket ; that is to say, there were that number of citizens to whom the cause meant Seth Low, and no one else, or who were willing to leave the tickets of their respective machines only on the mayoralty, that they might Cast their votes for him. He has come out of the campaign far stronger than he entered it.
So much for the disappointments of the election. There were, on the other hand, some conditions recognized in advance as distinctly unfavorable to success. For several reasons, it was seen, — and upon this Tammany Hall openly counted, — the test at the polls would not represent the full strength of the reform cause. The trend of independent sentiment in New York was distinctly away from the Republican party; and the independent Democrats had become so hostile to what they considered to be Republican misdoing that they were animated by a really intense desire to cast the most effective vote against the Republican ticket. For months before the election of 1897, the temper of even the most liberal of the Gold Democrats was raw. They were inclined — doubtless too much inclined — to forget misbehavior of their own party. But this was natural. In 1896 they had made serious political sacrifices by repudiation of the Chicago candidates and platform. To most of them opposition to a protective tariff was the first political cause save one, the preservation of the financial honor of the country by a firm adherence to the gold standard. They were glad to be known as Gold Democrats. The Republican administration, though it came to Washington by their votes, promptly treated them, as they thought, with a sort of contumely. They saw no effort made to establish the national finances upon the sound basis of intrinsic and universally recognized value ; instead they were affronted by the Wolcott mission to Europe in the interest of the free coinage of silver. The administration, they felt, had left them little party excuse for supporting it. The Dingley bill seemed to them the sum of tariff iniquities. And then, descending from greater things to less, the Democratic federal office-holders who were not protected by the civil service law, and who in 1896 had stood for sound money, were treated in the old proscriptive fashion.
If the Republican national administration had become obnoxious to Democrats of this temper, the Republican administration at Albany since January 1, 1897, seemed nothing less than detestable. In the opinion of the independent body of voters in the state, nothing worse, nothing more barbarous or ignorant, had been known before in the executive control of the state. The governor’s appointment of men of scandalous record to great places, and his determined and measurably successful attempt to defeat the civil service reform article of the new constitution, had gone a long way toward making it seem the first political duty of good citizens to punish him and the party organization which stood behind him. How could this be done, according to American political usage, except by voting “ the Democratic ticket ” ? And this, under the influence of such real or fancied wrongs and affronts, independent Democrats felt an eager desire to do.
The Republican machine in New York contributed all in its power to augment this feeling. No defeat of Tammany Hall was possible, as it well knew, unless with the support of 70,000 or 80,000 Democrats. Yet it industriously made it difficult for the most liberal of Democrats to vote against the nominee of their party convention, if that vote would add to the probability of Republican success. It is, or ought to be, a political axiom that a political party should carefully avoid the hostility of strong feeling upon any subject irrelevant to the matter in hand. Such a course is foolish in the extreme; and there has been no better illustration of the folly than in the behavior of the Republican machine. The Republican convention declared that the “ one great issue before the people at this time ”— that is to say, in the mayoralty campaign of New York — was “ the issue created by the Chicago platform.” It presented candidates who, if they were chosen, could have in their official relations no national function whatever, whose measures and official acts could be in no way related to the tariff or currency or foreign affairs. Could anything, therefore, be more grotesque than the following sentences in the platform upon which General Tracy was nominated? " We indorse the St. Louis platform. . . . We indorse the patriotic and successful administration of William McKinley. He was truly the ' advance agent of prosperity.’ We congratulate the people upon the passage of a Republican protective tariff bill. . . . No duty can be so obvious as that of the people of this commercial city to sustain the party which has so completely and so surely rescued the country from the financial depression into which it had been plunged by Democratic follies.”
To the intense desire of every Democrat to strike the most effective blow possible at the Republican party was due, no doubt, a material part of the Tammany plurality. This, however, is only palliation. To vote for the Tammany candidate on this account, rather than for Seth Low, may have been natural; but it was the height of unreason to vote for one wrong because of irritation at another wrong. An impeachment of democracy for folly and incompetence is hardly less formidable than for moral wrong.
Before proceeding to judgment, however, we have to consider temporary conditions which have prevailed in New York, which had nothing to do with democracy, but which enormously helped on the result. The first of these was its cosmopolitan character. Of its present population, one third are foreign-born, and another third are children of foreign-born parents. Of the third who are Americans, a very large proportion came to New York afterreaching manhood. Still, it is not the large existing Irish or German or Scandinavian population which is the serious factor, or even the continuous addition of the distressed and demoralized from foreign lands. It is probable that either the Americans, or the Irish, or the Germans, or the Scandinavians, by themselves and separate from the others, would make a far better city government. The European or American cities which are held up as models to New York have homogeneous populations ; the foreigners are only visitors or small colonies having no share in political power. New York, in reality, consists of several great communities, essentially foreign to one another, which share the government between them with many struggles and rivalries. Every municipal ticket must have at least its American and Irish and German candidates. For a complete union of these various strains of population we need not years, but generations. Mere birth and residence within the limits of New York do not give that root in the soil which makes the citizen a firm and useful member of the community. He does not belong to the whole city if he be one of a body of citizens foreign to all other citizens.
Venerable in years as New York is coming to be, it still retains many features of a shifting camp. Its population comes and goes. There is within its limits not a single square mile, or probably half that territory, a majority of whose inhabitants or of their parents were there twenty-five years ago. Political relations, social relations, neighborhood relations, have been changing with a rapidity unknown in the great urban communities of western Europe. This condition is highly inconsistent with good politics or sound and steady public sentiment, whatever the form of government. If it be said that in Philadelphia and in other cities where the American population is preponderant there is great corruption, it must he answered that in them precisely the same condition exists, although to a smaller degree. In Philadelphia the overpowering and conspicuously present interests of the protective system have stifled the local conscience. There patriotism becomes " the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Sound local politics depend upon the kind of continuous local life illustrated in quarters of London which, a century ago, were eligible for superior residences, and are still eligible, or in the quarters of what are called lower middle class residences, where one still sees the house-fronts and methods of living described in Dickens’s earlier novels, and the children and grandchildren of his characters.
A further demoralizing influence which has prevented any municipal election in New York from fairly and directly representing its public sentiment has been its enervating dependence upon the legislature at Albany. The great majority of that body are ignorant of the city. Their habits and prejudices are foreign to it ; and they look with more or less animosity upon its large accumulations of wealth. The city has been ruled by special legislation, — and this, it is lamentable to say, with the moral support of much of its intelligence. Its inhabitants have been trained to suppose the true cure of a political evil to be an appeal, not to political bodies or forces at home, but to legislation in a city one hundred and fifty miles distant. The charter of greater New York is bad enough in this respect, but the charter under which New York has lived for generations has been even worse. Nearly all its provisions have been in perpetual legislative flux ; its amendment has usually been unrelated to the public sentiment of the city, and has frequently violated it. No system can be imagined better fitted to destroy intelligent, popular self-reliance, — and this whether the distant power be democratic, or aristocratic, or autocratic.
To all of these conditions which have made popular elections in New York city unrepresentative of the ideal of government held by its electors — to all of these conditions seriously inconsistent with any good politics — have for generations been added the intensely and almost exclusively commercial and business temper of its population. It has been to the last degree difficult to secure from its business men systematic, continuous, and unselfish attention to public affairs ; such attention, for instance, as is given by the same classes to the government of Hamburg, or as has been given, even in New York, within the past generation by two very remarkable men, Samuel J. Tilden and Abram S. Hewitt. The situation has been little helped by the sporadic participation in machine politics of a few rich men, — generally young men, — whose notion of public life is the mere possession and prestige of official title, rather than any moral or real political power, or any constructive or useful exercise of public influence. By their refusal to stand for any good cause except as permitted by the “boss,” they have made contemptible the politics of the jeunesse dorée and the “ business man in politics.” On the other hand, the admirable body of younger men who have come into activity in New York and Brooklyn within ten or fifteen years have not constituted a political force continuous or disciplined, until very recently, although more than once they have done signal service, like the establishment by Theodore Roosevelt, when a member of the lower house at Albany, of the mayor’s sole responsibility for appointments of departmental heads. These, however, are exceptions. The complete separation of political life from business and commercial life has been the rule, and in a modern democracy nothing is more inconsistent with good administration.
We are looking a long way back, but the efficient causes of what is discreditable in the New York election are a long way back. The result was determined principally by deep and slowly changing conditions, not by skill or management or bribery on one side, or by lack of organization on the other. Democratic government in a city means free elections by its citizens, but it does not imply or necessitate incompetence or dishonor. The result was due not to the democracy of the city, but to its shifting and camplike character, the heterogeneity of its population, and the lack of political continuity in its life, — all necessarily incident to its enormous and rapid growth, while it has been the entrance gate of America for all the races of men, and to a signal indifference to the government of the city on the part of its business and representative men. The not unfriendly comments of friends in England and the patriotic fears of those of our own household have no deep or permanent foundation in fact. Democracy certainly is not responsible for the urban phenomena of Constantinople or the corruptions and oppressions of great Russian cities. On the other hand, municipal corruption and incompetence subsist and have subsisted with an abiding and homogeneous population governed autocratically or by an " upper class.” Democracy was not responsible for local administration in England one or two centuries ago. In English cities of to-day, however, where the population is abiding and homogeneous, and where governmental power is almost sheerly democratic, we see municipal administration at a very high point of honor and efficiency. So in many of the New England cities and some of the smaller cities of the South we see far less disparity between the standards of public and private life than in New York. Not that the democracy of their government is less, but that the steadiness and homogeneity of their populations are greater.
The one and perhaps the only feature characteristic of American democracy which tends to inefficient and corrupt municipal administration is the disparagement of public life which has gone so far since the civil war. This has been a national misfortune. But its influence is seen no more in cities than in other political communities. It has been, to say the least, quite as conspicuous a feature of administration at Washington as at New York. This of itself is a large subject, which can be dealt with now but casually. While the popular ideal of a man qualified to hold an important public office, requiring the most powerful and disciplined faculties, is the “ plain man, like all the rest of us,” one out of ten thousand or a million ; while it is left to private corporations and great business interests to observe the rule that exceptional gifts and training in chief administrative officers are necessary to the safety and profit of the business, we must expect public administration to be on a standard lower than the administration of private affairs.
A labor representative in the British Parliament was quoted by Joseph Chamberlain, in his recent speech at Glasgow, as saying that nobody is worth more than £500 a year. On this text Mr. Chamberlain, not without reason, attributed what he called “ the failure of American local institutions,” first to the jealousy of superior qualifications and reward in the great and critical places of government, and, next, to a tendency to give compensation far beyond value in lower and more numerous places. The result of this tendency, he asserted, is to create a privileged class of workmen, to whom public place is in itself a distinct advantage, instead of letting them share the conditions of other men doing, in private life, the same amount and character of work. The jealousy of personal superiority in places of superior power and responsibility inevitably leads, on the other hand, to the exclusion from those places of the very talents which are necessary to the transaction of the business. Mr. Chamberlain acutely pointed out that the chief sufferers from this system are the masses of wage-earners not in public employ,— they standing in the position of the shareholders, and not employees, of a private corporation, the principal officers of which are incompetent, and the majority of whose employees are overpaid. No doubt the inadequacy of compensation in more important governmental offices as compared with private employment is really injurious to the standard of public service. Private employment withdraws ability from public life. It is common nowadays in the United States for public place to be valued by really able men as a useful and legitimate means of advertisement of their fitness for great private trusts. But so strong is the attractiveness of public service where it really brings both honor and power that, in our country at least, the inadequacy of compensation is not very disastrous. The really serious thing is the sort of disparaging contempt with which the exercise of great powers of government is treated. The disparagement of public life ought to be the topic of many essays and sermons. But the evil is not peculiar to cities.
So much for the darker side of the New York election. So much by way of explanation of the result in past causes whose effects we may believe are only temporary. Are we not bound to turn to the other side, and ask, What is the promise for the future ?
In the first place, the conditions for good politics have at last begun to mend. The population of New York grows more homogeneous. The addition from foreign immigration has long been relatively declining. The proportion of nativeborn citizens has already increased, and will henceforth go on increasing. The second generation begins to be American in type ; the third generation is quite American. The foreign strains of population mingle more and more. If the children of German parents learn German, it is not their vernacular. The American politics of children of parents born in Ireland become less dependent upon the wrongs of that afflicted land. There are districts of the greater New York which begin to have a settled neighborhood feeling ; that condition will rapidly increase. The dependence of New York upon Albany legislation is not, alas, at an end ; but the discussions over the new charter, and the great increase in the numerical weight of the city, in the legislature, will make that interference more difficult. New York is certain in the future to be more jealous of its own autonomy. Public sentiment, irregular, imperfect, sometimes unreasonable, as it is and always will be, grows steadier and more intelligent. Neither Tammany Hall nor any other political machine can escape its influence. The pavements of New York have begun to be better; the streets have begun to be cleaner ; the improvement will not stop, but will go on ; and every well-paved and well-cleaned street is the best kind of political missionary. We are a vast distance from the filthy New York described by Mrs. Trollope and Charles Dickens. Sanitary administration has been improved. The beneficent work of organizations like the tenement-house commission has grown remarkably fruitful; and it gives noble promise for the future. The discreditable poverty of New York and Brooklyn in their provision of parks, and especially of small parks near populations which cannot resort to distant pleasuregrounds, has at last yielded to better ideals. There is nothing more cheering in New York to-day than Mulberry Bend Park and the streets around it, which have taken the place of the unutterable squalor and degradation of the Five Points of one or two generations ago. The city is better, far better lighted. The supply of water is better. If there be more gross immorality in evidence than there was in the village days of New York, the increase is not due to the general deterioration of the body politic or of private morals, but to the inevitable conditions of crowded populations and resorts of strangers, — conditions which produce precisely the same result, and sometimes a more aggravated result, in London. It may be that property and life are not safer in New York than they were sixty years ago, although about that much might be said. But without any doubt property and life are far safer, and the administration of justice is more trustworthy, than they were in New York thirty years ago, at the time when its suffering from the shifting and varied character of its population had reached its height. Indeed, if the well-groomed citizen of New York who indulges in the luxury of the laudator temporis acti will ask himself whether, on the whole, the average private life of the average honest industrious citizen of New York in almost any calling be not better to-day, in all respects of well-being which its government can affect, than it was a generation ago, he will, I am sure, answer in the affirmative. If he do not, he is a very ignorant man. And pray what higher test is there of the merit of political institutions than the well-being of average private life, than the proof that, if government have not produced such wellbeing, it has at least protected and permitted it ? Is not this the real, even the sole end, which justifies political institutions ? By what other fruit shall we know them ? There is, perhaps, greater moral depression in our time, but that belongs to every advance in the ideals of life. It is not that things are worse, but that people require better things.
We now come more specifically to the question, What is the tendency to greater good or greater evil exhibited by the New York election? It can be answered easily and surely. Beyond reasonable doubt it showed a remarkable and cheering improvement in the political temper of the metropolis. The municipal election of 1897 was the most signal demonstration ever known in its history of the growth of rational voting. The antiphony between rival political bodies, neither of them observing any very high standard, which has been the type of its politics, has at last begun to yield to a new and dominant note. The interest of the commercial and business classes in local politics has enormously increased. From among the masses of hard-worked labor there has come a new and wholesome influence represented effectively, even if without much theoretic logic, by the candidacy of Henry George. The feature of the result first noticed, and the only feature thought of by many, is the plurality of 80,000 votes by which Tammany Hall, representing the “ regular democracy,” elected its ticket. Yet this is really far less significant than the fact that in November, 1897, with all the political trend in favor of the ticket of the Democratic party, the Tammany vote was a minority. Of the 510,000 votes for mayor, its candidate received but 234,000 as against 276,000. Not, indeed, that one must count all the other votes as votes for good administration. Of the 100,000 votes cast for the Republican candidate, it is the plain truth to say that a large number were as really cast for bad administration as were any votes of Tammany Hall. Whether the Republican or Tammany proportion of voting for a low standard were the greater is of little moment. If we content ourselves with the 151,000 votes for Mr. Low and the 22,000 votes for the younger George, being together 173,000, as representing an enlightened determination to vote for methods of municipal administration intrinsically good, there is reason for encouragement. Never before in our generation has a movement without the organized support of one of the two national parties had so great or nearly so great a vote as that given to Mr. Low. That his ticket should not only be second in the field, but should have a support much stronger than the Republican machine ticket, of itself demonstrates the improvement in political ideals held by the citizens of New York.
Other figures are significant. The vote in the greater New York for Judge Parker, the Democratic candidate for chief judge of the state, was about 280,000, but the vote for the Tammany candidate for mayor was only 234,000. About 46,000 Democrats, who otherwise adhered to their party, repudiated Tammany control upon the municipal question. Perhaps a third as many more voted the city ticket alone, ignoring their state party ticket, so that in all probably 60,000 Democrats voted for Mr. Low. His Republican vote was about 90,000. Nearly one half of the total Republican vote of the greater New York, and more than one fifth of the Democratic vote, was cast for sound municipal administration.
New York has not known in our day another such vote for that cause. There had not been any serious candidacy since the civil war, except in alliance with one or the other of the political machines. In 1892, within the limits of former New York, the Tammany candidate received 173,500 votes as against 98,000 cast for the Republican candidate. With a large increase in the total vote, the Tammany candidate in the same boroughs received in 1897 only about 144,000 votes. The progress of voting in the borough of Brooklyn is no less encouraging. The Tammany candidate for mayor received there about 70,000 votes as against 98,000 votes cast for the Democratic ticket in 1892. The 1897 vote was smaller relatively to the total vote than the vote of the Brooklyn machine in 1893, when it suffered an overwhelming defeat incident to its complete discredit, nearly one third of the Democrats voting against it. In 1897 the Tammany vote in Brooklyn was a minority vote, the vote for Mr. Low and the Republican candidate together outnumbering the Tammany vote by upwards of 25,000.
When examined in greater detail, the Seth Low vote gives more specific promise to those who intend to persist in political well-doing. He received more votes than either of the other candidates in several uptown districts including a marked preponderance of middle class citizens. Far more significant, however, and a very rainbow of promise, is the vote of nearly 15,000 which he received in the densely populated districts south of Fourteenth Street. In the fifth assembly district, stretching back from the East River between Stanton and Grand streets, a region of tenement houses having a large foreign population, he received about 2700 as against 3000 for the Tammany candidate and 1800 for the Republican candidate. In the Brooklyn borough his vote in wards along the water-front, where the tenement population is large, was very considerable ; while in the districts of modest two-story houses, his vote was far larger than that of either of the other candidates, or even of both together.
These facts bring their real encouragement, however, only when they are compared with the past. In the former city of New York, the borough of Manhattan,3 we can only make an inference ; for as the vote for good local administration has always been merged with the machine vote on one side or the other, we have no precise measure, though the inference is a reasonably sure one. Such was the case when the Tammany Hall of Tweed was overthrown in 1871, and the Tammany Hall of Choker in 1894. But in the Brooklyn borough there had been at least two such tests. In 1885, at the expiration of Mr. Low’s four years of mayoralty, each of the two machines presented a situation which ought to have been unendurable to good citizens. A third nomination was made by citizens, which received 13,600 votes as against 49,000 for the candidate of the Democratic machine and 37,000 for the candidate of the Republican machine. The 13,600 votes were probably made up of about 4600 Democrats and 9000 Republicans. Instead of being encouraged by so substantial a beginning, the movement of the citizens fell to pieces, partly perhaps because of the real temporary improvement which it compelled in machine management on both sides. Ten years later, in 1895, a strictly Democratic revolt was organized, and a municipal ticket was then run, not with the idea of securing the obvious impossibility of an election as against the two machine candidates, but to recommence the definite assertion that American cities must have local government which is good in itself, and must not be shut up to a mere choice between two evils. The candidate of the revolting Brooklyn Democrats received, and without material Republican support, upwards of 9500 votes. There were, perhaps, as many more citizens who would have preferred his success, but who felt that they could not “ throw away their votes.” This modern and better view did not then have the sympathy of more than 20,000 voters in Brooklyn. In 1897 precisely the same sentiment was supported by upwards of 65,000 votes, almost twice as many as were given the Republican machine, and less than 12,000 below the number cast for the Tammany candidate.
In view of the whole situation, the vote in the greater New York for the Low ticket in 1897 must be accounted the most encouraging vote ever cast in a great American city on the exclusive proposition that the city ought to be well and honestly governed. Machine politics in the United States has not received a more serious blow than the treatment accorded the Republican candidate for mayor, although he was himself a man of the highest character, of distinguished ability, and of long and valuable public service. But for his alliance he would have been worthy of the mayoralty of the city. The 60,000 Democrats and the 90,000 Republicans who voted for Seth Low are a reasonably solid and sure foundation of the best hope for the future.
If it be a time for anxiety, as no doubt it is, it is likewise a time for hope. When Tammany Hall reached its grand climacteric with its overwhelming majority of 1892, there again revived the belief really held by some intelligent men that its power must last forever. Citizens of wealth and cultivation had twenty-five years before espoused the cause of Tweed as a sort of buffer of corruption and cunning against the more brutal dangers of the proletariat. In 1892 not only they, but even scholars, began to defend the Tammany method as a form of municipal administration both inevitable and beneficent. They pointed out that Tammany Hall was not impossibly bad ; that every great and long continuous political body must have some elements of soundness; that from time to time it put into places of power, as it has of late put upon the judges’ bench, men who were able and honorable, although still remaining in warm and active sympathy with Tammany Hall. Their defense was not far removed from the political philosophy of one of the greatest of Americans. Alexander Hamilton, sharing the eighteenth-century English view, deliberately insisted that corruption was a necessary cement of well-ordered free political institutions. Too many Americans of our day, who are really highminded, look upon some sort of concession to the deviltries of a large city and some sort of alliance with its political corruptions as inevitable, and no more discreditable than the bribery of a conductor of an English railway train.
The administration of Mayor Strong, who was elected in November, 1894, has been a good administration, in spite of its defects, some of which have been serious. If, notwithstanding its merits, it be followed by Tammany Hall, it ought to be remembered that New York has had other experiences of the kind. It was in 1859 that Fernando Wood, of unspeakable political memory, was reëlected mayor of New York after an intervening term of a most respectable “ reformer.” It was to Wood the reply was made, when, in solemn demagogy, he declared that he had a “single eye to the public good,” that good citizens were chiefly concerned about his other and more important eye. For several years before 1871 the chief ruler of New York was William M. Tweed, who, after the completest exhibition made of his crimes, and when he was under civil and criminal prosecution, was elected state senator by an overwhelming majority. No one ought to belittle the later iniquities of Tammany; but it is irrational to forget that they were mild compared with those of the Tweed-SweeneyConnolly administration, or that, with the support of much wealth and respectability, that administration was approved in 1870 by a large majority.
If one look back over the history for the last forty years of the two great American cities now united in one, he is bound, no doubt, to admit that the general aspect has too often been one of cynical and indolent acquiescence in stupid, barbarous, and brutal maladministration ; that the natural advantages of the city, and especially and irretrievably those of Brooklyn, have been ruthlessly sacrificed by such administration ; and that the masses of less fortunate people in these cities have suffered and now suffer the chief results of it all. But, to recur to the principal note of this article, he is bound likewise to admit that the evils have been growing less and less ; that Tammany Hall will be less evil in 1898 than it was in 1890, and vastly less evil than the Tammany Hall of 1870 ; and that the fundamental conditions of municipal life will grow better. The new and decent paving and cleaning of the streets cannot cease ; they will go on, the best missionaries, as I have said, of good politics. The public sentiment which has endured the obstruction of crowded streets and the diminution of their light and air by elevated railroads will no longer endure them. It will cease to assume ugliness as a necessary element of our highways. The schools must increase ; their methods will grow better. The preaching — some more reasonable, some less reasonable, but all helpful — of the thousand agitators for better things will go on. Their instruction. reaching from one end of the city to the other, is of deeper consequence than organized political leadership, vitally necessary in practice as that is. The population grows more homogeneous, more stable. The fatigue and chagrin incident to the present defeat will disappear. There will be another and another and another political campaign in assertion of the needs and duty of good municipal administration ; and each will be held under more promising conditions of general city life than its predecessor.
Must good citizens, then, in optimistic fatalism, abandon political activity, and rest content with the general upward trend of human society? Are we to give up the noble art of statesmanship that leads and orders political progress ? Are we to accept as final the dull and oppressive mediocrity which even friendly critics say belongs to the public life of democracy? Not at all. No better thing has been accomplished by the stirring and elevating mayoralty campaign of New York than the creation, among masses of men hitherto indifferent, of an enthusiastic interest in political affairs. But this will not suffice without the discipline and continuity of organized political work. That work now needs, in New York and in every great American city, to he directed towards three different and practical preliminary results. When they are attained, as they can be, and at no distant day, we shall no longer fear Tammany victories.
The support of the merit system of appointment to office is first and foremost. Of the specific political diseases which we have known in the United States, the spoils system has been the most profoundly dangerous and far-reaching. Its destruction is an essential condition of sound public life in New York and in the United States. Civil service reform has been a slow growth, but a fairly sure one. When office-holding and office-seeking are no longer the mainspring of political action and the chief and always corrupting support of political organization, it will be easier to use with creditable results the democratic method of successive popular judgments upon the fitness of rival candidates and parties for the exigencies of municipal administration. The methods of the Tammany or Republican machines cannot survive the destruction of this their principal support.
A corollary of the reform of the civil service ought to be and will be the refusal to continue disparaging public life. When public life shall no longer involve patronage-mongering, either wholesale or retail, eminent fitness for the real duties of rational public life will neither avoid it nor be excluded from it. If only great ability and the highest character are tolerated in private employment of the highest grade, nothing less ought to be tolerated in public life. The worn-out absurdity of the “ plain, sensible man,” without equipment in experience or in native or acquired gifts for difficult and critical work, will disappear. Good citizens must refuse a mere choice between the rival evils to which political machines would constrain them. They must vote for positively good administration, even at the risk that the less of two evils shall be defeated by the greater for the lack of their support. If they be steadfast in this, the American democracy will return to its earlier and better view of fitness for important places in the public service.
Last, but not least, is the duty actively maintaining sound political organizations between political campaigns. It is easy to arouse interest, to form clubs, to gather meetings during the few weeks before election day. But when such organized activity begins in the September preceding the election, the cause is probably either won or lost already. The decision of the jury is reached nine times out of ten before the learned counsel sums up ; he can do little more than give the jurymen in sympathy with him, if any, arguments to use with dissenting associates. If the evidence have not been produced so as to make the case clear, but little hope of success remains. So with the political campaign. It is impossible to create or gather the public sentiment or the organization necessary for a political campaign during a few weeks. It is amazing to observe the reluctance of liberal and intelligent citizens during the rest of the year to yield support, whether in work or in money, to the wholesome political organizations upon which alone they can rely to promote the causes that are dear to them. In Brooklyn, for instance, such an organization doing work over the entire city, reaching or seeking to reach in some measure upwards of a million of people, requires, as I happen to know, perhaps $10,000 a year for effective work. But even that sum of money, less than the cost of many single entertainments given in New York every winter, and an insignificant percentage of public waste every year, which sound politics would check, can be got only by compelling the very small number found to bear the burden of the work to bear the expense as well. Tammany Hall does not sleep from November until September. Its most fruitful work is done then. The campaign of the New York Citizens’ Union in 1897 was effective chiefly because it began early. The thoroughness and interest in English parliamentary elections follow in part from the habit of having for years before each election more or less systematic discussion looking to the coming dissolution, although it be far off. Without such activity enlightened political methods will not prevail in the greater New York or in other populous cities.
In conclusion, I avow, even at this time, untoward as it seems to many, a profound confidence that the democratic experiment here on trial will work out well even in great cities. The disorderly, undisciplined, slatternly features of our politics and public work represent shifting and temporary conditions. They will disappear as those conditions cease. In the very dear school of experience, the mass of people will learn to insist upon exceptional ability and character in public administration, and to vote for nothing else, realizing that without them that administration must be contemptible. They will find, even if they find it slowly, and even if, for many, life must be too short for the fruition, that the heavy and often cruel burdens of political incompetence and dishonor fall chiefly upon those very masses of which and for which democratic government is constituted. When preference for good ad ministration shall have been developed into a powerful popular instinct, as it is being rapidly developed in the collisions and misfortunes of our politics, the institutions of sound government will find in the United States even a broader foundation than the marvelous advance of democracy has given them in England. When the scaffolding is taken down from the structure, when the workmen are gone and the grounds are cleared, we shall find, I believe, that all the turmoil and humiliation of our political experience, all the disorders and disgraces of our political career, have worked out, in a sort of survival of the fittest, that firm, practical political competence among the masses of men which is the best and broadest safety, and which will be the glory of democracy.
Edward M. Shepard.