THE American boss is a creature much talked about, and generally from the moral standpoint. Americans spend much ink in affirming with great earnestness that he ought not to be ; we exhort one another to get rid of him, and exhibit our several panaceas for his extermination. All this, doubtless, is well, but once in a while it may also be well to limit ourselves to a consideration of his nature and of the causes of his existence. In investigating and describing the bacillus of cholera, the scientific man spends little time in denouncing the bacillus as the enemy of man, or in proving that man’s moral duty is to destroy it. Sometimes, at least, he confines himself almost altogether to a description of the bacillus, and to an investigation of the causes of its appearance. Abominable as a boss must be to right-thinking men, just for once we may be content to treat him as the bacteriologist treats his bugs. Cultivate him we need not, indeed, but in order to isolate the object of our research we may examine the cultures made for us by others.
In studying the politics of one country, a comparison of them with the politics of another country is always instructive, and so, in investigating the American boss, a comparison of English political conditions with American will explain some things otherwise hard to understand. Before discussing the causes of bossism, however, let us try to define our terms. The word “ boss ” is used so loosely in common speech that it has no very definite meaning.
The boss is a man who concerns himself with politics and with partisan politics ; so much is clear. That there are many partisan politicians who are not bosses is equally clear. Again, a boss is not the same thing as a bad or unprincipled politician. Though it were admitted that Mr. Bryan, for example, is as bad and unprincipled a politician as his worst enemies habitually represent him, yet he would not be constituted a boss.
A boss is not only a partisan politician, that is, one concerned with partisan politics, but he is a political machinist, that is, one concerned with the machinery of political parties. Many politicians are not political machinists. In England, indeed, while nearly every public man is a partisan politician, few of the leading public men are political machinists. Mr. Chamberlain is, or is supposed to be, a rare exception to the general rule. In this country, Messrs. Reed, Edmunds, Blaine, Bayard, and Thurman, all partisan politicians, and none of them wholly ignorant of partisan political machinery, were not political machinists, as was Mr. Tilden, for instance. None of them could have properly managed his own campaign in an important popular election as Tilden could and did manage his. No one of the men first mentioned was a boss, or could have been ; their lack of training as political machinists forbade it; but Tilden, though a most accomplished machinist, was no boss. It follows, therefore, that the term boss is not synonymous with political machinist. The relation of the boss to partisan political machinery is so close, however, that if we are to investigate the boss, our political machinery also must be examined at some length rather than taken for granted.
Let us suppose two great national parties contending for a majority at a popular election. Each party represents, or is supposed to represent, certain political principles ; that is to say, each party in its corporate capacity seeks to obtain, or to prevent, certain action by the nation or general body politic. In this attempt it is opposed by the other party. Even if no political principle be seriously involved in the election supposed, there are candidates for political office whom the parties severally seek to elect. To secure the triumph of its partisan political principles by the election of its partisan candidates, or to secure the election of those candidates without much regard to principles, each party needs elaborate organization and expensive political machinery. Any party or other body of men, whatever its character or principles, which should seek political success without organization and machinery would meet the same fate that would befall, let us say, a religious denomination which depended entirely upon spasmodic individual effort. The individual members of the denomination supposed might combine character and ability in rare perfection. Its doctrine might be the purest truth, but in the attempt to convert the public to its doctrines the unorganized denomination would be surpassed by a well-organized religious body whose members were inferior persons and whose doctrine contained some error. The like is true of political parties, probably in a greater degree. Effective unorganized political movements do occur, generally in small communities, but they are the exceptions which prove the rule, and their effect is usually both temporary and uncertain. To have extended and lasting effect, political movements ordinarily require political machinery.
The requirements of partisan machinery have been partially stated in an interesting and convincing manner by the late Mr. John M. Forbes, whose relation to the Republican national political machine was unique. Perhaps no man in this country who did not make politics a profession ever had so intimate a knowledge of political machinery, or operated it on so large a scale.
“ The legitimate expenses of the national campaign can only be indicated in a very general way, extending from barbecues at the South to clambakes and public meetings at the North. Some, however, can be specified. The New York headquarters bill, with its Fifth Avenue or other rooms for four months, its staff of correspondents and traveling agents for canvasses, is always a heavy item. Public speakers sent over the country by the national committee are often paid for their speeches, but their expenses are usually paid out of the fund and are apt to be large, — traveling, as they do, in palace cars and living in first-class hotels ; and they cannot well be scrutinized carefully, through vouchers or by auditors. Flag-raisings, torchlight processions, and bands of music swallow the fund fast. The nominating conventions are costly, but paid in part by the cities where the convention sits. Other states have usually called largely upon the commercial ones, and especially upon the cities, for their expenses. . . . Newspaper advertisements are sometimes very costly indeed ; extra copies of papers foot up a heavy bill, as does the distribution of campaign matter from headquarters ; the newspaper supplement, or broadside, often going in the same wrapper without additional postage, is a very valuable method, and in proportion to its value is not a costly one; but there is abundant room to spend money legitimately in this way. The most costly part of the last Republican campaign  was the picketing of the Indiana border for the legitimate purpose of preventing Kentucky from colonizing its spare voters into Indiana, where the requirement as to prior residence was short and loose. Men were brought from Kentucky also to attend the Indiana polling places and identify, or scare away, Kentucky residents who illegally offered to vote. This was right while fairly conducted, but, of course, very liable to abuse and to the charge of illegality and fraud; similar scrutiny at the polls is necessary in large cities, and very expensive.
“ In all these methods of using money, high pay for workers and great waste of money are almost inevitable. There is, of course, much room for abuse, and the only real check upon it is to avoid trusting money with the Dorsey class, but they are for such purposes the smart ones, and there is great temptation for both parties to employ them. . . . Printing and distributing votes and bringing voters to the polls on election day are all right and will easily absorb very large sums. In Massachusetts it is generally done by local contribution, but money is almost always asked of us for this sort of work in other states where (especially in the country) ready money is really scarce.”
The absolute necessity of elaborate and expensive partisan machinery is felt in England quite as much as in the United States. During the long interval, sometimes of six years, between one general election and another, the machinery of each party in each constituency must be kept ready for instant use, and it is thus maintained at the expense of much money and much unpaid devotion. There are considerable differences, however, between the workings of English and American political machinery. In England the machinist has a subordinate influence in determining the policy of his party. An English party leader is chosen by natural selection after the severest competition in one of the houses of Parliament. To lead his party he must perforce be able to lead it in the national legislature. In the United States, the national legislature is of vastly less relative importance. Here the leader of a party may be a governor or mayor, or he may, without holding any office, be potent in procuring the election of others. Doubtless English party leaders both seek and regard the opinion of election agents, but still, generally speaking, it is Salisbury, and not Middleton, who determines the policy of the Conservative party. Some great American party leaders, also, do not concern themselves much with election machinery, though upon the whole the machinist has here a more important place than in England. The difference is caused partly, as has been said, by the English parliamentary system, but it is caused also by the fact that the English candidate for office is usually a rich man, who pays directly and as a matter of course most or the whole of his own large election expenses. By paying directly and personally the men who operate the machinery used to secure his election, he becomes accustomed to treat the machinists as his paid employees. In the United States the machinist is not so well paid directly; often, perhaps generally, he receives no direct payment, but he expects that his influence and pay indirectly received will be greater than in England.
A most important cause of the difference between English and American political machinery is found in the federal form of our government. This form has consequences not obvious at the first glance. The function of Republican political machinery, for example, and the duty of those who operate it are to procure the realization of Republican principles, chiefly by the success of Republican candidates. So far as federal elections are concerned, whether presidential or congressional, these functions and duties are quite evident. The relation of this machinery and its machinists to the state or local election is another matter. Let us suppose a state election in which the principles of the national Republican party are not directly at issue. This happens frequently. The questions which divide national parties often, perhaps usually, are not actually at issue in a state election. The regulation of the liquor traffic, the proper use of the Erie Canal, the centralization of responsibility in municipal government, public parks, and the best means of obtaining good water and gas have no natural connection with the tariff, the currency, or with foreign policy. How shall the political machinists conduct themselves and their machinery in a state election where national political issues are not directly involved ? Theoretically, they may refrain from taking any part in the state election supposed, but practically there are great obstacles in the way of this quiescence. In the first place, the election may be, and very commonly is, both national and local. President, congressman, governor, legislature, mayor, and city council are often voted for on the same ballot. Let us suppose that A and B prefer X for president, and that C and D prefer Y. A and D prefer U for governor, B and C prefer Z. It is difficult, at the least, for A, after spending his morning with B in planning how to defeat Y, D’s candidate for the presidency, to spend the afternoon with D in planning the defeat of Z, B’s candidate for governor. The difficulty is greatly increased, indeed it becomes insuperable, if A and D agree in considering the presidential election so much more important than the gubernatorial that each of them would, in case of necessity, sacrifice his gubernatorial to realize his presidential preferences.
Even if the national, state, and municipal elections occur at different times, the trouble just suggested exists, though in a less degree. Political machinery is not created at a week’s notice, or in a month’s. In truth, the difficulty is fundamental in human nature. Men do not vote for Republican candidates altogether because of a reasoned preference for these candidates as individuals, or for the principles which Republican candidates are supposed to represent. Most voters are largely influenced by habit, tradition, and sentiment. That a man is a consistent Democrat often means little more than that he is attached to the Democratic name, and always votes for Democratic candidates because they are labeled with it. Such a Democrat naturally prefers a Democratic governor to a Republican governor, a Democratic alderman to a Republican alderman, although the principles of the Democratic national party have little or nothing to do with the action of governors and aldermen. This disposition of the voters makes it almost impossible to separate local from state politics, or to keep the machinery primarily devised for national purposes from use in local elections. Municipal elections outside the large cities, indeed, when they occur apart from state and national elections, are not infrequently conducted with little regard for national politics; so sometimes is the election in a single legislative district. But these important and interesting exceptions cannot hide the rule or the conditions of human nature upon which the rule is based. To expect those who manage the local machinery of a national party to keep that machinery idle in a state election, or in the municipal election of a large city, is to expect the impossible under existing conditions. The introduction of national politics into local elections is caused not so much by the intrigues of political machinists as by the workings of ordinary human nature. If, then, the parties and their machinery are to be the same in national and state elections, and commonly the same in national and municipal elections, how will the operative machinist, who is thoroughly and unselfishly devoted to the national triumph of his party’s principles and candidates, regard the local election in which he and his machine are to take part ? After examining the standpoint of an ideal machinist, we can lower our view to that of the machinist of less exalted character. Plainly, a state or municipal election is not unlikely to disturb the working of political machinery which has been created to affect national elections. If there is a real issue in local politics, even if the personality of a candidate for local office is marked, some voters who are Republicans on national issues will vote the Democratic local ticket. Though this loss will be made good more or less by the votes of some who are Democrats on national issues, yet the change will disarrange the Republican machine and may endanger the success of its party’s national principles. A machinist seeks to bring out the full Republican or Democratic vote, and to increase that vote within certain limits, by improved machinery. He dreads great changes, even though they are in his own favor, for he knows that they bring their reaction. If the state branch of the national party adopts an important state issue, he knows that some of his men will stray, and, worse than all, that carefully formed habits of partisan discipline will be weakened; hence, so far as state politics are concerned, he tends to caution. The voters of his party may believe in prohibition, high license, low license, or unrestricted sale of liquor, so long as the working of his machinery is not disturbed. The Republican machine in Massachusetts, for instance, once procured the submission to the people of a prohibitory amendment to the state constitution, but declined to take sides upon the amendment’s adoption. The machine wished to get the question out of its way without losing support by taking sides. The faithful national machinist will also dread the disturbance caused by an exciting municipal election, and here the man whose chief interest is in state politics will agree with him. If the machinist is honest and well-intentioned, he will desire honest and efficient administration by his party in city and state, as well as in the nation, knowing that this will commend his machinery and the principles it exists to promote ; but he will hesitate to disarrange the machinery by violent interference with a particular piece of maladministration, especially if it concerns the state or municipality rather than the nation.
Having observed the attitude toward local elections of a patriotic, single-minded, and unselfish machinist, we are ready to consider the attitude of a machinist whose qualities are less ideal. The importance given in the United States to political machinists, and the opportunity afforded by a federal system for carrying local elections without much regard for local considerations, are the conditions which produce the boss. A boss is a political machinist who uses the local machinery of the national party to which he belongs, for his own personal advantage in the local elections of the state or city of which he is boss. The word boss connotes a territory, as much as the word king. A boss must be boss of some place, and an unattached boss is as inconceivable as an unattached king.
Now that we have determined what a boss is, we have next to consider what is his relation to his party in the nation, the state, and the municipality. Theoretically, a boss is faithful to his party and to his party’s principles so far as national elections are concerned. The party’s triumph in national elections is, in theory, the end for which exist both the political machinery and the machinist who operates it. As the boss is a political machinist, the party’s national triumph is the avowed end of his political existence. In fact he may, and often does, prefer his local personal unprincipled triumph to the national partisan principled triumph which he is pledged to secure, and so he often, though not always, betrays his party more or less completely. As his attention is given to political machinery rather than to political principles, and as he is laboring secondarily or primarily for his own personal triumph, he is apt to underrate the importance of political principles, and to overrate the importance of political machinery. Unlike the English political machinist, he expects to have an important voice in the establishment of his party’s national policy. Unlike the English politician generally, he expects to control the national patronage in the locality of which he is boss. This patronage he is supposed to use for the advancement of his party’s interests. The local machinery of the national party is avowedly worked, in large part, by national employees, whose salary, paid by the national government, is deemed to recompense their political as well as their official labor. In England, a very few officials, like the whips, are openly paid for their partisan political services out of the public treasury, but there the number of these partisan employees is insignificant.
The federal patronage is used by the boss to establish his personal control over the local politics of his city or state. It is hard to draw a sharp line between the labor of a national employee given to operate the political machinery of his party for the party’s national success, and his labor given to help the boss in controlling that machinery for the boss’s personal ends in local matters. Both these sorts of labor are commonly deemed to be recompensed by the employee’s official salary. The relations between bosses and their subordinates differ greatly. In cities the political machine sometimes becomes social in its operations, and even its humblest operatives, men who can do little more than shout at a caucus and vote for the candidate at the polls, are fed in sickness, amused in health, and protected by the boss from an impartial administration of the law. Probably Tammany has developed its machinery in this direction more perfectly than any other political organization. In the country, and with a more intelligent population, the boss’s methods are less minute and paternal. In all cases he is a political machinist operating the national political machinery for his own personal triumph in the politics of the state and the city. To the national party the machinist may give honest and faithful support. If so, the faithful machinist deems himself under obligation to manipulate local politics with a single eye to the national interests of his party, while the boss deems himself at liberty to deal with local politics as he pleases.
A boss is often an unsavory person whose connection with the national political party and with its representatives in the national administration is damaging to the latter, and causes the loss of elections, congressional and even presidential. A national party and its leaders are often blamed for not getting rid of bosses like Quay and Gorman. To say that a national party should rid itself of a boss is much easier than the act of riddance. Suppose the national Republican party desires to get rid of Quay, how is the result to be accomplished ? A solemn reading out of the party is difficult, if not impossible, for this reason, if for no other, that no man and no body of men, except perhaps the national convention, has authority to read any man out of the party. The national convention meets but once in four years. Moreover, by the theory of national conventions, they are composed of delegates freely elected by the supporters of the party in each state. If Pennsylvania Republicans freely elect delegates favorable to Quay, the Republican convention can hardly refuse to admit them. It may be said that the convention can at least determine if Quay’s delegates are really the choice of the majority of Republican voters in Pennsylvania; but a national convention has very poor machinery for determining contested elections. It cannot well go far behind the face of the returns, at any rate in the absence of a strong contesting delegation.
The only practical method by which the national leaders of a party can rid that party of a boss like Quay or Gorman is to deprive the boss of the national patronage in his locality. If the president is of the other political party, there is practically no national patronage of which the boss can be deprived, and so this means of getting rid of him does not always exist. Even if the president belongs to the party of the boss in question, the difficulty of using the national patronage to get rid of him is still very great. If the situation of the boss be precarious, patronage given to his rival may turn the scale; but the rival may be no better than the boss. Ordinarily, this course, even when successful, does but change one boss for another. The attempt to get rid of a boss by using the national patronage against him not infrequently is resented by the people at large, and strengthens the boss. When the administration of President Garfield sought to read Senator Conkling out of the Republican party in New York, the result of the attempt was not precisely satisfactory. There is no boss so bad but that he has the support of some good man. There are good men who believe even in Tammany.
Again, if the Republican leaders were by any means to rid the Republican party of Quay, it would be their first duty thereafter to see that the Republican party in Pennsylvania did not want for political machinery in place of that which Quay has hitherto operated. Machinery to subserve the national purposes of the Republican party is an absolute necessity, and, in the overthrow of Quay, the machine which he has hitherto operated would not improbably be so broken up as to be practically worthless for the future. Now the difficulty in establishing new political machinery is great. Free trade or protection may be. hazarded by the exchange, and as the local Republicans have under our present system the final selection of the local machinery of the national party, it follows that if Quay could maintain his discarded machinery in face of the new machinery which the Republican party leaders should set up in its place, they would have had their labor for nothing. No wonder that these leaders shrink from the attempt of deposing the boss of a state, however much they wish he had never been. Their difficulties may not be insurmountable, but we must admit that they are great.
We come next to the relation of the boss to his party in the locality of which he is boss, the state or the municipality. It has been shown how the ideal honest and unselfish political machinist regards a state or city election ; how timid he tends to become; how he dreads an important state or municipal issue, or even a strong - willed candidate for state or municipal office. The selfish political machinist uses his machine in local affairs for his own personal ends. Even if faithful to the national principles and candidates of his party, he finds in local elections and in local politics opportunity for doing as he will, regardless of any principle save that of personal advancement. One boss may be less bad than another, but the rule of a boss can never be desirable. The proper function of a political machinist is not the wise administration of his particular locality, any more than the proper function of a spinner is the creation of beautiful designs for the cloth to be woven elsewhere. The operator of national political machinery should do his best service to local government by letting it alone, and yet so dependent are national and local politics upon each other that the national machinist is often compelled to take a hand in local administration. Sometimes his interference is harmful, but not very infrequently he is called on to clear up the confusion into which a state legislature has fallen for want of other leadership.
Having considered the relation of the boss to national politics on the one hand, and to state and municipal elections on the other, we have next to consider his relation to the people, to the ordinary voter. If the people have bosses, this is because the people want bosses, it is often said. To determine if this is true, we must examine the steps which the people of Pennsylvania, for example, must take if they wish to depose Quay from his boss-ship. Quay does not offer himself for election by the people. Nor does Croker or Platt. When it comes to defeating Quay’s nominee, the matter is not so simple. Quay is a Republican, and his nominees are called by that name. It is mainly by Republican votes that these nominees are chosen ; the Democrats who vote for them are commonly of the worst sort, and while they may sometimes turn the scale, they are not expected to accomplish anything by themselves. Now a Republican who wishes to get rid of Quay must, in order to do so, procure the defeat of Quay’s nominees either at the caucus or at the polls. To beat them in caucus or convention is almost impossible, since the machinery of caucus and convention is commonly in Quay’s hands. To defeat them at the polls means the election of Democrats. If these Democrats are congressmen, it may mean free trade or the free coinage of silver. If the Democrats are state officers, their election may not do much harm, although Republican traditions, as has been said, make a Republican dread a man who has the Democratic label, even in state or municipal office. The mere election of Democratic local officers is not, however, the evil most dreaded. To elect them, there must be a campaign, an organization. This campaign and organization may hazard the choice of a Republican president, and so of protection, the gold standard, a vigorous foreign policy, or something else which is deemed by the voter of supreme importance. Tradition and prejudice come to the support of reasoning; the nominee of the boss may personally be a pretty good man ; he may be better, or at all events no worse, than his opponent; he is elected, and Quay remains boss.
An interesting example of this condition, unusual in some of its details, occurred in New York in 1898. The Republicans nominated for governor Theodore Roosevelt, the Democrats, Judge Van Wyck. That the former was the better qualified personally for the office few thoughtful persons doubted; moreover, Van Wyck was the chosen candidate of Tammany, his brother being the Tammany mayor of New York, while Roosevelt, though accepted by Platt, the Republican boss, had evidently been accepted as the only escape from Democratic success. Roosevelt was a strong supporter of an expansive foreign policy, and expressed his convictions with his usual vigor in his gubernatorial campaign. Under these circumstances, Carl Schurz announced that he would not support Roosevelt, but Bacon, the nominee of a small group of Independents. As Bacon had no chance of election whatsoever, this action showed Mr. Schurz’s willingness, if not his wish, that Roosevelt should be defeated by Van Wyck. Mr. Schurz gave his reasons in a published letter. After expressing his dislike of Platt, and his fear that Roosevelt would yield too much to Platt’s influence, he set out the weightier cause of his opposition to Roosevelt, namely, the views and speeches of Roosevelt concerning imperialism and national expansion. Mr. Schurz continued : “ It may be said that as governor of New York he would not have the power to carry such ideas into effect. This is true enough, but we have to consider that, since these things have been by him injected into this campaign in so prominent, I might say so ostentatious a way, we cannot elect him without seemingly countenancing this sort of imperialism ; at any rate, we cannot elect him without approving and encouraging the annexation policy as far as it may go at present, — for that is what he has emphatically told us his election is to mean. We cannot elect him without making him in a large sense the spokesman of the state of New York as to these things, and we may count upon it that he would not be silent.
“ I may be asked whether the defeat of Colonel Roosevelt might not benefit the silver movement and Tammany. . . . But as a veteran in the fight against unsound money and against Tammany, whose sincerity and zeal nobody has a right to question, I do not hesitate to express the solemn conviction that there are worse things even than free silver and Tammany, and that one of them is the imperialism which in its effects upon the character of the Republic I consider as pernicious as slavery itself was, and which we are now asked to countenance and encourage.”
For the purposes of this article it is not important to determine if Mr. Schurz’s estimate of the influence of Mr. Roosevelt’s election upon our foreign policy was exaggerated. I think it was ; but his letter is quoted to show that a trained public man, unusually free from the trammels of party, may deem national issues so important that he prefers the election of a Tammany governor of no special personal fitness to that of a governor of admittedly greater personal fitness. If this be Mr. Schurz’s deliberate choice, who can wonder that the ordinary party voter, untrained, prejudiced, often ignorant, votes for the boss’s candidate rather than risk his party’s overthrow ? If Van Wyck had been elected governor, as Mr. Schurz probably preferred, it would be unjust to say that he was the sort of governor that Mr. Schurz liked ; Mr. Schurz merely preferred his election as the less of two admitted evils. If Quay’s candidate be elected governor of Pennsylvania by the mass of Republican voters, it is unjust to say that these voters desire Quay for their boss. Like Mr. Schurz, they merely consider national issues of supreme importance. Like Mr. Schurz, they consider national issues involved in a particular state election. In a given case, they may be right or wrong. Cases may be imagined in which national politics ought to determine the vote cast for a local office, cases in which, on national grounds, the candidate of less personal fitness should be voted for, but these occasions are much rarer than the ordinary partisan voter supposes. Upon the belief that these occasions are common, that practically every local election is such an occasion, rests the power of the boss.
The difficulties of dealing with a boss have lately been exemplified by the relations of Governor Roosevelt and Senator Platt. Many good men have complained that these appear to be friendly. Let us see what might have been done. That the governor ought not to do wrong because Mr. Platt asks him to is obvious, and it would seem equally obvious that he ought not to abstain from doing right because Mr. Platt advises its doing. He ought not, it is urged, to recognize Mr. Platt, that is to say, he ought not to ask or receive Mr. Platt’s advice ; he ought to seek to destroy Mr. Platt’s influence with the Republican party. As that influence is exercised through Mr. Platt’s control of the Republican machinery in New York, this means that the governor ought to seek to get the control of the machinery away from Mr. Platt, or to destroy that machinery and establish other in its place. Now, the captured or the substituted machinery would need machinists ; the governor has never been a machinist himself, and may not care to learn the trade. If he will not learn it, he must find some one to take Platt’s place who is better than Platt, and this, it must be assumed, in the face of Platt’s strongest opposition. In doing this, he must give up all hope of every governmental reform except the overthrow of Platt, for it is tolerably clear that Platt, if thoroughly opposed to the governor, could, by alliance with the Democrats or otherwise, defeat all reforms. Moreover, the disarrangement of the Republican machine under the circumstances supposed would almost certainly produce a Democratic victory in New York, and this would be especially probable if Platt’s assailant were not a trained machinist. A Republican defeat in New York might mean a severe blow to sound money and to imperialism, and if Mr. Schurz conscientiously prefers anti-imperialism with Tammany to imperialism without Tammany, it would not be surprising if the governor should conscientiously prefer imperialism and sound money with Platt to anti-imperialism and free silver without him. Under the circumstances, a man both honest and sensible, like the governor, will keep the peace with Platt as long as he can honestly do so, that is to say, until Platt definitely opposes some action which the governor deems to be both right and important.
We find, then, that the principal causes of the existence of the American boss are the universal need of elaborate and expensive political machinery, the undue importance given by the American system to those who operate it, and the confusion caused by conducting local elections upon national party lines. The causes of bossism often assigned are quite different, to wit: the timidity, indifference, ignorance, prejudice, stupidity, laziness, total or partial worthlessness of the citizen ; these also are weighty causes, but they are causes of another sort. If every human being were courageous, wise, impartial, intelligent, industrious, generally and particularly good in all respects, there would probably be little practical difference between one form of government and another ; but this proposition does not justify us in telling a people who wish to substitute a republic for a monarchy, or vice versa, that the true remedy for their political condition is virtue. It would be as much to the purpose to tell a man with a broken leg that he ought to look after his general health. Specific as well as general treatment is needed. No honest attempt to improve the moral character of our citizenship ought to be spoken of lightly, but, inasmuch as a citizenship of ideal morality is not likely soon to be created, we should accompany these attempts with remedies for the specific evils of our political system.
Two kinds of reform, indeed, are always necessary. One is concerned with the improvement of the moral and intellectual character of the citizen, the other with the improvement of the frame of government. Which kind of reform is the more important need not here be determined. Each reacts upon the other. A more intelligent electorate will naturally procure to itself a better form of government, and on the other hand improved governmental methods will educate the electorate. For reforms of the first sort we look especially to the clergyman, the moralist, and the schoolmaster ; for reforms of the second sort, to the statesman, the politician (in the better sense of that much abused word), and to the student of institutions.
The object of this article, already long enough, is to investigate the causes of the boss rather than to suggest means for his extirpation, and so only the briefest mention can be made of reforms even of the second class. The most effective political remedy for bossism is what we call civil service reform, the appointment of all minor employees of the government without regard to politics. If this is done, the boss can no longer pay his great body of political agents out of the public purse. Elaborate, expensive political machinery, however, must still be provided and maintained. An imaginable improvement in the intelligence of the electorate doubtless would lessen the necessary elaboration of political machinery, but to accomplish this result, the improvement must be that of generations, and perhaps of centuries. In England, for example, where the civil service is now pretty well out of politics, there is little reason to believe that the cost of political machinery has been diminished, and if that cost is not defrayed by the government, it must be provided for by the assessment of candidates or by voluntary contributions. It must be remembered also that England has in peerages, baronetcies, knighthoods, orders, and the like, an elaborate system of rewarding voluntary contributions to the party’s chest and other kinds of partisan service which we lack. Our lack of these gewgaws, as sensible men are sometimes tempted to call them, is a matter of considerable political importance.
After civil service reform, the most effective method of weakening the boss is to separate as far as possible local elections from national. This will encourage independent voting in its best sense, that is, local voting independent of really irrelevant national issues. The partisanship truly reprehensible does not consist in voting for the party’s candidate in elections where partisan principles are involved, but in voting for a candidate labeled with the party name in an election wholly unconcerned with partisan principles. Again, we should not only separate local from national elections, but should simplify elections of all kinds. The choice of a multitude of officers by direct popular vote may be practically democratic in a small community, where all the candidates are individually known to every one ; but in a large constituency the long ballot confuses the ordinary voter anti so unduly strengthens the partisan machinery and helps the boss. At the last state election in Massachusetts each voter had from nine to twelve officers to choose, and at the last municipal election in Boston about twenty. The simplification of our elections is a reform whose importance has been much underestimated, for the boss thrives on an election so complicated that the voter must of necessity be guided in his choice by the machine.
Other changes might be suggested tending to the elimination of the boss, but to discuss them would be a discussion of the whole American political system, and not specifically of that part of it which the boss plays.
Francis C. Lowell.