Page images
PDF
EPUB

on any conceivable subject, he herewith returned them their kind communication.*

In concluding I would say, that while there is so much evil at Albany, and so much reason for our exerting ourselves to bring about a better state of things, yet there is no cause for being disheartened or for thinking that it is hopeless to expect improvement. On the contrary, the standard of legislative morals is certainly higher than it was fifteen years ago or twenty-five years ago. In the future it may either improve or retrograde, by fits and starts, for it will keep pace exactly with the awakening of the popular mind to the necessity of having honest and intelligent representatives in the State Legislaturet

I have had opportunity of knowing something about the workings of but a few of our other State Legislatures: from what I have seen and heard, I should say that we stand about on a par with those of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Illinois, above that of Louisiana, and below those of Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Wyoming, as well as below the national legislature at Washington. But the moral status of a legislative body, especially in the West, often varies widely from year to year.

* A few years later a member of the Italian Legation "scored” heavily on one of our least pleasant national peculiarities. An Italian had just been lynched in Colorado, and an Italian paper in New York bitterly denounced the Italian Minister for his supposed apathy in the matter. The member of the Legation in question answered that the accusations were most unjust, for the Minister had worked zealously until he found that the deceased “had taken out his naturalization papers, and was entitled to all the privileges of American citizenship."

7 At present, twelve years later, I should say that there was rather less personal corruption in the Legislature; but also less independence and greater subservience to the machine, which even less responsive to honest and enlightened public opinion.

VI

MACHINE POLITICS IN NEW YORK CITY*

N New York City, as in most of our other great

municipalities, the direction of political affairs has been for many years mainly in the hands of a class of men who make politics their regular business and means of livelihood. These men are able to keep their grip only by means of the singularly perfect way in which they have succeeded in organizing their respective parties and factions; and it is in consequence of the clock-work regularity and efficiency with which these several organizations play their parts, alike for good and for evil, that they have been nicknamed by outsiders "machines," while the men who take part in and control, or, as they would themselves say, “run” them, now form a well-recognized and fairly well-defined class in the community, and are familiarly known as machine politicians. It may be of interest to sketch in outline some of the characteristics of those men and of their machines, the methods by which and the objects for which they work, and the reasons for their success in the political field.

The terms machine and machine politician are now undoubtedly used ordinarily in a reproachful

* The Century, November, 1886.

sense; but it does not at all follow that this sense is always the right one. On the contrary, the machine is often a very powerful instrument for good; and a machine politician really desirous of doing honest work on behalf of the community, is fifty times as useful an ally as is the average philanthropic outsider. Indeed, it is of course true, that any political organization (and absolutely no good work can be done in politics without an organization) is a machine; and any man who perfects and uses this organization is himself, to a certain extent, a machine politician. In the rough, however, the feeling against machine politics and politicians is tolerably well justified by the facts, although this statement really reflects most severely upon the educated and honest people who largely hold themselves aloof from public life, and show a curious incapacity for fulfilling their public duties.

The organizations that are commonly and distinctively known as machines are those belonging to the two great recognized parties, or to their factional subdivisions; and the reason why the word machine has come to be used, to a certain extent, as a term of opprobrium is to be found in the fact that these organizations are now run by the leaders very largely as business concerns to benefit themselves and their followers, with little regard to the community at large. This is natural enough. The men having control and doing all the work have gradually come to have the same feeling about politics that other men have about the business of a merchant or manufacturer: it was too much to expect that if leit entirely to themselves they would continue disinterestedly to work for the berert of others. Vary a machine politician who is to-day a most unwholesome influence in our polities is in private life quite as respectable as any one else: only he has forgotten that his business affects the State at large, and, regarding it as merely his own private concern, he has carried into it the same seifish spirit that actuates in business matters the majority of the average mercantile community. A merchant or manufacturer works his business, as a rule, purely for his own benefit, without any regard whatever for the community at large. The merchant uses all his influence for a low tariff, and the manufacturer is even more strenuously in favor of protection, not at all from any theory of abstract right, but because of self-interest. Each views such a political question as the tariff, not from the standpoint of how it will affect the nation as a whole, but merely from that of how it will affect him personally. If a community were in favor of protection, but nevertheless permitted all the governmental machinery to fall into the hands of importing merchants, it would be small cause for wonder if the latter shaped the laws to suit themselves, and the chief blame, after all, would rest with the supine and lethargic majority which failed to have enough energy to take charge of their own affairs. Our machine politicians in actual life act in just the same way; their actions are very often dictated by selfish motives, with but

« PreviousContinue »