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New York City, several judges, and a number of other officers were from the “Ring," as this group of ruling spirits was called. They would make contracts for laying out streets or building public buildings, on the plan that the contractors should be paid much more than the work was worth. This surplus was shared with the Ring. A county court house was planned to cost two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. After three years a sum estimated at from eight to thirteen millions had been expended upon it and it was still unfinished. Most of the surplus went into the pockets of Tweed and his friends. The city debt increased eighty-one millions of dollars during two years and eight months. When people complained, Tweed asked, “What are you going to do about it?”
For a long time nothing was done about it. But finally the Ring was overthrown and Tweed ended his days in jail. How had it been possible for a band of plunderers to gain possession of the government? Was it because the people really wanted bad government? Mr. Bryce says:
"It was not such a democracy as Jefferson had sought to create and Hamilton to check that had delivered over to Tweed and to Barnard the greatest city of the Western World. That was the work of corruptions unknown to the days of Jefferson and Hamilton, of the Spoils system, of election frauds, of the gift of the suffrage to a host of ignorant strangers, and above all of the apathy of those wealthy and educated classes, without whose participation the best-framed government must speedily degenerate.”
No other city has had so famous an organization as New York; but Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Chicago, San Francisco have been plundered by “rings” in much the same way and for the same reasons. Con
trol of government for private ends has been managed with special success in the great cities, where the more well-to-do classes, often called “good citizens,” have been so busy making money or in other occupations, that they have taken little part in government; while the immigrants have wanted jobs or some sort of favors, and so have been willing to vote for any one who would get these for them, not knowing or caring just what the official might be getting for himself meanwhile.
The other great type of cases in which some special Railroad interest has controlled government is what has been interests called control by “Big Business.” The railroads were the first to control state governments on a large scale, just as he railroads were the first great organization of capital. In no less than four states it was notorious for years that the legislature was under the control of the leading railway system of the state. In at least one of these states the decisions of the courts were also so uniformly on the side of the leading railway in doubtful cases as to make the charge plausible that the court was also controlled by the railways. Control of legislature and courts would of course not mean that the railroads determined all matters, but only the particular issues in which they were interested. In some cases this would mean that they wanted special favors, such as valuable franchises. In other cases it would mean that they wanted to prevent laws that might make expense or trouble for them.
Insurance companies have not attempted to govern Insurance on any such large scale as the railroads, but the famous interests investigation into insurance companies, made under the charge of Charles E. Hughes, showed that the companies had spent large sums of money at Albany to
influence legislation. In some cases, no doubt, they did this to prevent what is called blackmail. A corrupt legislator plans a scheme by which to levy upon an insurance company. He prepares a bill for a law imposing some heavy burden upon any such company in his state. Then he goes to the company-or waits for the company to come to him,—with a proposal that perhaps the bill will not pass if the company is willing to pay handsomely to prevent it from becoming a law. The company may choose to pay rather than incur the penalty which is threatened. A measure of this sort is sometimes called a “sandbagging” or “ hold-up ” scheme. But the insurance companies did not limit themselves to defeating such “sandbagging” measures. Their officers watched all measures introduced in state legislatures and favored or opposed them as they were favorable or unfavorable to life insurance interests. No one could question that an insurance company might properly oppose a bill which it believed to be hostile to its interests, just as any private citizen might oppose a bill which he thought threatened his own interests. The suspicious feature with regard to the action of the insurance companies was that so much money expended for this purpose was in the form of " confidential ”
payments for “ legal” expenses. In one instance the general solicitor of the company expended $100,000 in ways known only to himself. Contributions were also made to political parties in national campaigns. (These facts were brought out in testimony taken before the joint committee, appointed in the State of New York, to investigate and examine into the business and affairs of life insurance companies in the State of New York1905.)
Besides railroads and insurance companies, other
great interests which have sought special favors—in cities, the street railways particularly; in several states, the mining interests—have sought to influence elections, to secure the appointment of favorable judges, and virtually to govern the country for their own ends. They form what Senator Beveridge so well calls “ the invisible government."
This control of government by special interests is Bosses generally managed through party leaders, who are often called “bosses.” Bosses are of various grades. In a city there is a ward boss who knows the voters in his ward and passes around word as to whom they shall vote for. In return he finds jobs for them either with the city or with the street railway or with some other corporation that needs favors. The city boss controls enough votes in the city government to pass measures which are wanted by various interests. In return he receives contributions for the party organization. The state boss controls votes in the legislature. The railroads, insurance companies, coal or oil companies, which may want favors, give him money and he gives them votes. Usually he does not keep this money himself. He uses it to maintain the party, to carry elections. When we feel very indignant because the people are not governing themselves, we blame the bosses. As a matter of fact, it does not seem to be the boss who is so much to blame. He is simply one wheel in the machine. The blame seems to belong rather to two groups: the first, those who want to carry on government for their own advantage and seek special favors; the other, the great number of citizens who are too busy with their private affairs to take part in government. A democratic government is a splendid government in many ways, but it will not run itself. It needs much
more time and thought than most people have been willing to give to it. In early days in this country, when there were no great chances for making money by special gifts from the government, there was not such great temptation. In recent years the prizes to be gained through getting control of some state or city government have been dazzling. It is said that when General Blücher, a Prussian officer who fought at Waterloo, visited England, he was taken up into the Tower of London. When he saw the great city, he exclaimed, “What a chance for plunder!” As we read the history of the Thirty Years' War, where the chief motives of campaigns seemed to be to capture and plunder cities, we realize how well General Blücher stated the old military point of view. A city is a great chance for plunder. In modern times the easy way to plunder has been not by an army but by votes. The city of New York has given away millions upon millions to groups of men. Other cities have given less amounts.
No wonder that when there have been such prizes it has been hard for the people to maintain self-government. In early times, the struggle for democracy was against a king or a nobility. Now it is against the invisible government. We do not need to be discouraged. Now that we understand the case better, we are in a much better situation. Practices which were common twenty-five or even ten years ago are now condemned. The very fact that the invisible government is no longer invisible, but is seen and understood, robs it of power.
We must not think that the railway and insurance managers and other business leaders who have sought to control government have been especially wicked men.
No need for discourage ment