The Tammanyizing of a Civilization
By S. S. McClure, McClure’s Magazine (November 1909)
Editor’s Note: Tammany Hall, or simply Tammany, was the name given to a powerful political machine that essentially ran New York City throughout much of the 19th century. It began modestly as a patriotic and social club established in New York in the years following the American Revolution, when such organizations were commonplace in American cities.
Tammany Hall grew to represent the archetype of the political machines that flourished in many American cities in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The influence of Tammany did not wane until the 1930s, and the organization itself did not cease to exist until the 1960s.
FOR a thousand years the Germanic races have built up, slowly and laboriously, the present civilization of the West, the great and complicated structure that now lifts the whole race above barbarism and bestiality, and gives the individual the guaranties of security and justice and decency that make civilized life more worth living than savagery. The three leading nations in which this development has come about have been England, Germany, and the United States. The United States had every prospect, from the traditions and motives and stock of its founders, of carrying this development to its highest point.
But for at least half a century strong reactionary forces have been continuously at work in this country to drag its inheritance of civilization down again to barbarism. The lowest point that they have yet attained is their nation-wide organization for the sale of the bodies of women, described in the article, “The Daughters of the Poor,” by George Kibbe Turner, in this number of MCCLURE’s. The deep-seated and instinctive disgust of every normal person for this transaction proves beyond any demonstration its essential nature. It is not a mere attack on individual morals. It aims at the disintegration and degradation of a civilization, and the social training of centuries set in the bones and marrow of the race—revolts against it.
How America’s Civilization has been Degraded
This fifty years of struggle to degrade the standards and guaranties of civilization in America has come about largely through the populations of cities. This is perfectly natural. For forty years large American cities have contained great masses of primitive peoples from the farms of Europe, transported to this country as laborers, together with a considerable proportion of negro slaves liberated by the Civil War. To this body of people— absolutely ignorant in tradition or practice of the development and operation of civilization by self-government — was suddenly given the domination of American city life by manhood suffrage. From the beginning of the shifting of power into these unaccustomed hands, the development inevitable to this class of population since and before the time of Rome has been in progress. They have been exploited on every hand, and, through them, the entire population of American cities; in the meanwhile they have been kept in control by their exploiters through systematic largesses of public wages, charity, or entertainment. In this ample field for their enterprise have sprung up organizations for the profitable debauching of populations, such as have rarely, if ever, been equaled in the history of the world.
The obvious way to exploit and degrade populations of this kind has been along two lines of strong primitive appeal— their saturation with alcoholic liquor, and the develop of sexual license. The whole system has been a perfectly natural social growth — the exploiters as well as the exploited. And the incentive necessarily behind the process has been the profit that could be made by abrogating the laws so as to develop and exploit to the limit the appetites and passions of the great body of the least trained and most undefended population.
Seventy Years of Tammany Hall
The oldest and most infamous organization in America for exploiting this population is Tammany Hall of New York, which the great classic historian, Professor Guglielmo Ferrero, recently compared to the very similar organizations that were formed for exploiting the city of Rome during its decadence. For fifty years and more this body has perverted civilization in New York, using the great politically untrained population for this purpose. Its political saloon-keepers have killed unnumbered multitudes of these people through excessive drinking; its political procurers have sold the bodies of their daughters; its contractors and street-railway magnates have crowded them into the deadly tenement districts by defrauding them of their rights of cheap and decent transportation; and its sanitary officials have continuously murdered a high percentage of the poor by their sale of the right to continue fatal and filthy conditions in these tenement districts, contrary to law. Meantime they have kept control of the population they have exploited by their cunning distribution of wages and charity.
The story of the development of this organization for the promoting of barbarism is illuminating enough to justify giving the following outline of its progress during the past seventy years, taken from Gustavus Myers’ history of the society:
In 1842 Tammany organized immigrants into voting gangs.
In 1851 the Common Council first became generally known as “The Forty Thieves.” The city government was thoroughly organized for “graft,” from the receipt of large bribes by the aldermen for franchises, to the payment by the police of a regular schedule of prices for promotions.
By 1856 the saloon power had grown until it controlled the politics of the city. The saloonkeepers furnished cheaply gangs of illegal voters, ballot-box stuffers, and “shoulder hitters” to intimidate citizens and smash ballot-boxes.
Between 1865 and 1871 — including both city appropriations and bond issues — New York City was robbed of about $200,000,000 by Tammany Hall under the rule of “Boss” Tweed.
In 1869 the impossibility of obtaining justice under the corrupt Tammany judiciary brought about the serious suggestion — published in a standard magazine— that a vigilance committee be formed in New York along the lines of that organized to clear up San Francisco in the days of its first lawlessness.
In 1871 the exposures of Tammany Hall rule, together with the arrest of Tweed, made its name a by-word across the earth for political corruption. It was believed to be crushed.
In 1872 Samuel J. Tilden, August Belmont, Charles O’Conor, and other leading citizens were elected Tammany sachems.
In 1874 Tammany Hall again secured control of New York City government [by the familiar plan of advancing respectable and notable men to the prominent places in their οrganization].
Fully three quarters of its office-seekers in the election were connected with the liquor trade, many of them being keepers of low groggeries. Nine out of fifteen Tammany candidates for alderman were former creatures of the Tweed ring — one of them being under two indictments for fraud.
In 1884 came the Broadway street-railway scandal, which gave the word “boodle” to the language, and resulted in sending many aldermen to the penitentiary.
In 1892 revenue from vice assumed great proportions. The estimated annual blackmail by the Tammany police alone was $7,000,000.
In 1894 the Lexow Committee’s investigations showed official encouragement and cultivation of vice by the Tammany Hall administration, which astonished and horrified the civilized world.
Mr. Moss on the Beginning of the Political Procurer
Myers’ history closed before the development of the procurer and merchant of vice as a power in Tammany Hall was fully comprehended. However, the new development of vice in the Tammany districts of the East Side tenement section of New York was being watched and understood by competent observers.
In 1897 Frank Moss, ex-president of the New York Police Board, trustee of the City Vigilance League, and counsel of the Society for the Prevention of Crime, described conditions of life in the red-light district of the East Side in his book, “The American Metropolis,” as follows:
“Women of all nationalities have drifted into the district, and are unable to live out of it. There has grown up, as an adjunct of this herd of female wretchedness, a fraternity of fetid male vermin (nearly all of them being Russian or Polish Jews), who are unmatchable for impudence and bestiality, and who reek with all unmanly and vicious humors. They are called `pimps.’ A number of them are on the roll of the Max Hochstim Association. They have a regular federation, and manage several clubs, which are influential in local politics, and which afford them the power to watch their poor women victims, to secure their hard- and ill-earned money, and to punish them when they are refractory. . . . They stand by each other, and by the aid of the powerful politicians of the ward, and of professional witnesses, they send refractory women to the `Island’ (prison).”
Bishop Potter’s Protest Against Tammany’s Exploitation of Vice
In 1900 the moral forces of New York awoke to an understanding of the great political power of the purveyor of vice under the Tammany administration of Mayor Van Wyck. The late Bishop Henry C. Potter, who was particularly active among the Protestants of the time, summarized the existing conditions as follows:
“A corrupt system, whose infamous details have been steadily uncovered, to our increasing horror and humiliation, was brazenly ignored by those who were fattening on its spoils, and the world was presented with the astounding spectacle of a great municipality whose civic mechanism was largely employed in trading in the bodies and souls of the defenseless.”
The situation was treated in great detail by Bishop Potter in his open letter to Mayor Van Wyck on November 15, 1900:
“But the thing that is of consequence, Sir, is that when a minister of religion goes to the headquarters of the police of his district to appeal to them for the protection of the young, the innocent and defenseless, against the leprous harpies who are hired as runners and touters for the lowest and most infamous dens of vice, he is met not only with contempt and derision [of police officials] but with the coarsest insult and obloquy.
“I affirm that the virtual safeguarding of vice in the city of New York is a burning shame to any decent and civilized community and an intolerable outrage upon those whom it especially and preminently concerns.
“But 1 approach you, Sir, to protest with all my power against a condition of things in which vice is not only tolerated but shielded and encouraged by those whose sworn duty it is to repress and discourage it, and in the name of unsullied youth and innocence, of young girls and their mothers who, living under conditions often of privation and the hard struggle for a livelihood, have in them every instinct of virtue and purity that are the ornaments of any so-called gentlewoman in the land.
“I know those of whom I speak — their homes, their lives, their toil, and their aspirations. Their sensibility to outrage or insult is as keen as that of those who are in your own household or mine; and, before God and in the face of the citizens of New York, I protest, as my people have charged me to do, against the habitual insult, the persistent menace, the unutterably defiling contacts, to which, day by day, because of the base complicity of the police of New York with the lowest forms of vice and crime, they are subjected.
“And in the name of these little ones, these weak and defenseless ones, Christian and Hebrew alike, of many races and tongues, but of homes in which God is feared, and His law reverenced, and virtue and decency honored and exemplified, I call upon you, Sir, to save these people from a living hell, defiling, deadly, damning, to which the criminal supineness of the constituted authorities, set for the defense of decency and good order, threatens to doom them.
“The situation which confronts us in this metropolis of America is of such a nature as may well make us a by-word and hissing among the nations of the world.
“Such a Condition Nowhere Else on Earth”
“For nowhere else on earth, I verily believe, does there exist such a situation as defiles and dishonors New York to-day. Vice exists in many cities, but there is at least some persistent repression of its external manifestations, and the agents of the law are not, as here, widely believed to be fattening upon the fruits of its most loathsome and unnamable forms.
“I come to you, Sir, with this protest, in accordance with the instructions lately laid upon me by the Convention of the Episcopal Church of the Diocese of New York.
‘In all these months [of protest] the condition of things in whole neighborhoods has not improved, but rather grown worse. Vice not only flaunts itself in the most open, ribald forms, but hard-working fathers and mothers find it harder than ever to-day to defend their households from a rapacious licentiousness which stops at no outrage and spares no tenderest victim. Such a state of things cries to God for vengeance, and calls no less loudly to you and me for redress.
“HENRY C. POTTER,
Bishop of New York.”
The Committee of Fifteen
The horrible revelations of conditions under the Van Wyck administration aroused public interest to such an extent that a body of citizens was chosen to investigate the conditions of the white slave trade. This was the Committee of Fifteen; rarely, if ever, has an organization of such able and prominent men taken part in the public affairs of New York, as will be seen from the following list of its members:
The late William Henry Baldwin, Jr. (chairman), Harvard 1885; president of the Long Island Railroad Company.
Felix Adler, Columbia 1870, Ph.D. Berlin; professor of Hebrew at Cornell 1874 to 1876; founder of Society for Ethical Culture.
The late Joel Benedict Erhardt; prominent business man and soldier; from 1883 to 1884 Police Commissioner of New York City; president of the Lawyers’ Surety Company and a trustee of the Bowery Savings Bank.
Austen G. Fox, Harvard 1869; Special Assistant District Attorney in the prosecution of police officials after the Lexow investigation; chairman of the Committee of Nine on the Police Problem in 1905.
John S. Kennedy, prominent banker. William J. O’Brien, master granite-cutter and a prominent labor-union leader.
The late Alexander E. Orr, several times president of the Produce Exchange and of the New York Chamber of Commerce; President of the Board of Rapid Transit Commissioners.
George Foster Peabody, prominent banker; trustee of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural institution.
George Haven Putnam, publisher.
The late John Harsen Rhoades, president of the Greenwich Savings Bank and director of many banks and financial institutions.
Jacob H. Schiff, member of the firm of Kuhn, Loeb and Company, bankers; director of the National City Bank and various other institutions.
A. J. Smith, professor in the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania and various other medical institutions; author.
Charles Sprague Smith, educator, lecturer, and writer.
Charles Stewart Smith, ex-president of the Chamber of Commerce; director in a large number of financial institutions.
Edwin R. A. Seligman, professor of political economy; prominent in various movements for municipal reform in New York City.
The Committee of Fifteen on the Political Power of Vice
This body of men published, in 1902, a book covering their investigation of the social evil in New York City. Their statements showed conditions so inconceivable that they would scarcely be credited on lesser authority. Concerning the power which the purveyors of vice had now secured in the political machine they said:
“The employees [of these disorderly houses] openly cried their wares upon the streets, and children of the neighborhood were given pennies and candy to distribute the cards of the prostitutes. A system of `watch-boys’ or `lighthouses’ was also adopted, by which the news of any impending danger could be carried throughout a precinct in a very few minutes.
“Honest police officers who attempted to perform their duties were defied by the `cadets’ and `lighthouses.’
“For a police officer to incur the enmity of a powerful `madame’ meant the transfer of that officer `for the good of the service,’ if not to another precinct, at least to an undesirable post in the same precinct. A virtual reign of terror existed among the honest patrolmen and the ignorant citizens of these districts.”
Committee of Fifteen `Describes the “Cadet”
The Committee of Fifteen describes the “cadet,” the new political power of whom Mr. Moss had written in 1897, as follows:
“His occupation is professional seduction. By occasional visits he succeeds in securing the friendship of some attractive shop-girl. By apparently kind and generous treatment, and by giving the young girl glimpses of a standard of living which she has never dared hope to attain, this friendship rapidly ripens into infatuation. The Raines-law hotel or the’ ‘furnished room house,’ with its cafe on the ground floor, is soon visited for refreshments. After a drugged drink, the girl wakens and finds herself at the mercy of her supposed friend. Through fear and promises of marriage she casts her fortunes with her companion and goes to live with him. The companion disappears; and the shop-girl finds herself an inmate of a house of prostitution.”
Committee of Fifteen on Dangers of Children in Tenements
The committee’s investigation of the condition of the tenement house showed how almost impossible it was for the children of the poor to grow up honest and virtuous under this thorough organization of vice and procuring by Tammany politicians. Concerning this it says:
“The revenue-producing power of the sale of immunity by the police seemed to make the appetite of the police insatiable. The infamy of the private house, with all the horrors arising from the `cadet’ system, did not satisfy official greed. The tenement houses were levied upon, and the prostitutes began to ply their trade therein openly. In many of these tenement houses as many as fifty children resided. An acquaintance by the children with adult vices was inevitable. The children of the tenements eagerly watch the new sights in their midst. The statistics of venereal diseases among children and the many revolting stories from the red-light district tell how completely they learned the lessons taught them.”
United Hebrew Charities on Jewish Conditions
The condition of life among the Jewish people, who were subjected to the influences of this district, was described by a statement published in the Twenty-seventh Annual Report of the United Hebrew Charities of New York in October, 1901. This said:
“The horrible congestion in which so many of our co-religionists live, the squalor and filth, the lack of air and sunlight, the absence frequently of even the most common decencies, are too well known to require repetition at this writing. Even more pronounced are the results accruing from these conditions: the vice and crime, the irreligiousness, lack of self-restraint, indifference to social conventions, indulgence of the most degraded and perverted appetites, which are daily growing more pronounced and more offensive.”
When it is realized that the Jewish people in New York number over 800,000, and that a great percentage of these are very poor,— so poor that from 75,000 to 100,000 persons, according to reliable authorities, are more or less dependent upon alms,— the danger arising from the tempting and exploiting of members of such a population by political procurers can easily be seen.
Government Reports on Present White Slave Trade
It was the hope of the Committee of Fifteen that the system of political procuring in New York City was on the wane. But two United States Government investigations and a State investigation dealing with the problem indicate that this is far from true. The findings of the Federal investigators are not given out for publication at the time this is written, but they will soon appear. They will show a shocking condition throughout the United States, and a general drift of the merchandising of women into the hands of procurers. Students of the problem believe that at least two thirds of the prostitutes of the country are controlled by individual cadets, and that in New York City the proportion is much higher.
New York State Report on White Slave Trade’s Organization
The report of the Commission of Immigration of the State of New York, published last summer, treats the present conditions of the white slave trade in New York as follows:
“In the State of New York, as in other States and countries of the world, there are organized, ramified, and well-equipped associations to secure girls for the purpose of prostitution. The recruiting of such girls in this country is largely among those who are poor, ignorant, or friendless. The attention of the Commission has been called to one organization, incorporated under the laws of New York State as a mutual benefit society, with the alleged purpose ‘to promote the sentiment of regard and friendship among the members and to render assistance in case of necessity.’ This society is, in reality, an association of gamblers, procurers, and keepers of disorderly houses, organized for the purpose of mutual protection in their business. Some of the cafes, restaurants, and other places conducted by the members are meeting-places for those engaged in the business of importation. The organization includes a membership of about one hundred residents of New York City, and has representatives and correspondents in various cities of the country, notably in Pittsburg, Chicago, and San Francisco.”
The Trade in Pittsburg
The conditions existing in the three large centers of the “white slave trade” alluded to by the State Commission have been previously described in this magazine. In May, 1903, Lincoln Steffens wrote of the situation in Pittsburg as follows:
“Disorderly houses are managed by ward syndicates. Permission is had from the syndicate real-estate agent, who alone can rent them. The syndicate hires the houses from the owners at, say, $35 a month, and he lets it to a woman at from $35 to $50 a week. For furniture the tenant must go to the `official furniture man,’ who delivers $1,000’s worth of `fixings’ for a note for $3,000, on which high interest must be paid. For beer the tenant must go to the `official bottler,’ and pay $2 for a one-dollar case of beer; for wines and liquors to the `official liquor commissioner,’ who charges $10 for five dollars’ worth; for clothes to the `official wrapper-maker.’ These women may not buy shoes, hats, jewelry, or any other luxury, or necessity except from the official concessionaries, and then only at the official, monopoly prices. If the victims have anything left, a police or some other city official is said to call and get it (there are rich ex-police officials in Pittsburg).”
The Large Business in Chicago
In April, 1907, George Kibbe Turner, after an investigation of several months, described the situation of this political industry in Chicago as follows:
“The largest regular business in furnishing women, however, is done by a company of men, largely composed of Russian Jews, who supply women of that nationality to the trade. These men have a sort of loosely organized association extending through the large cities of the country, among their chief centers being New York, Boston, Chicago, and New Orleans. In Chicago they now furnish the great majority of the prostitutes in the cheaper district of the West Side Levee, their women having driven out the English-speaking women in the last ten years. From the best returns available, there are some ten or a dozen women offered for sale at the houses of prostitution in the Eighteenth Ward every week. The price paid is about fifty dollars a head. In some exceptional cases seventy-five dollars has been given. This money, paid over to the agent, is charged up to the debt of the woman to the house. She pays, that is, for her own sale. In addition, she gives over a large share of her earnings to the man who places her.”
What this means to the victims is thus described further on by Mr. Turner:
“To the average individual woman concerned, it means the expectation of death under ten years; to practically all the longer survivors, a villainous and hideous after-life. There is a great profit in this business, however. Chicago has it organized — from the supplying of young girls, to the drugging of the older and less salable women out of existence— with all the nicety of modern industry. As in the stock-yards, not one shred of flesh is wasted.”
Α Chicago Newspaper Describes the Local Market
The Chicago papers carry articles dealing with this business almost continuously; indeed, that city is now in the midst of the discussion of its perennial municipal scandal, concerning the protection of the traffic in women by city officials. On October 22, 1906, during one of the periodical outbreaks of feeling against the trade in Chicago, the Daily News said:
“Vice and depravity are openly traded in as a commodity in Chicago, and the streets of a district traversed daily by at least one third of the city’s population are its marketplace. The district is bounded by Sangamon, Halsted, Lake, and Monroe streets, and is known as the West Side Levee. This public emporium of immorality and degradation exists by virtue of a regularly organized `protective association,’ whose members laugh at law, successfully defy those who have tried to cope with them, and, through some mysterious influence, are enabled to continue their traffic with a license and abandon that makes of the West Side Levee an open brothel.”
Chicago Organizes to Fight Traffic
In Chicago. as throughout the country, the moral and constructive forces among the Jews have been greatly exercised by the appearance of the Jewish cadet and girl in the white slave trade. During the past summer a police inspector, Edward McCann, was tried for receiving money for the protection of the traffic in women on the West Side of the city. In this trial it appeared that Julius Frank, who, with his brother Louis, has been for years notorious as a leader in the business in women there, was the president of a Jewish church congregation. This revelation caused great excitement among the Jews of Chicago, and has resulted in bringing to a head a general movement to organize against the white slave trade of that city. The Chicago News of September 25, 1909, tells the story of this movement, which is led by Jews, and whose counsel is to be Clifford G. Roe, the young Chicago attorney who has been the most prominent figure in the local campaign against the white slave trade in Chicago during the past two years. The News says:
“Traffic in white slaves and pandering are to be stamped out in a wide and far-reaching crusade in Chicago, plans for which were made known to-day by Adolf Kraus, one of the guiding spirits in the movement. This vice is to be attacked in a systematic way, according to Mr. Kraus, who talked of the aims of the movement, following disclosures in the recent trial of Police Inspector Edward McCann. Big church and civic organizations, regardless of creed, are to back the move in a financial way. The B’nai B’rith, of which Mr. Kraus is president, and the Commercial Club, are two of the big associations behind the crusade.
“Clifford G. Roe, former Assistant State’s Attorney, who, under the administration of John J. Healy as State prosecutor, handled the white slave traffic cases, has been engaged and will direct the obtaining of evidence to be laid before the State’s Attorney in the campaign against pandering.
Result of Article in McClure’s
“Mr. Kraus said he and others had been investigating this traffic for almost three years, and that the law on the statute-books now was a result of exposures that came three years ago in an article printed in McCLURE’s MAGAZINE. This dealt with the Jewish phase of conditions, and was the first information that Jews in Chicago had that members of their race were engaged in this illegal traffic.
“Mr. Kraus and others questioned the article and asked the author to submit proof or apologize. Proof was forthcoming, said Mr. Kraus, and the fight has been on ever since, and is to be broadened now so as to take in all denominations.
“The article appearing in McCLURE’s,’ said Mr. Kraus, “came as a shock to us. Two years ago a bill was drafted and sent to the legislature as the first move to remedy conditions. This measure was finally passed upon by Judge Mack, Samuel Alschuler, and myself. I went down to Springfield, and, with the assistance of Speaker Shurtleff, it was pushed through the legislature.
“There was no law on the books then whereby it was possible to punish those who engaged in so-called white slavery. The law as it has been amended is more severe now than it was as originally enacted. As there was no law at the time, we were afraid to make it too severe for fear the legislature might reject it.
‘” In two years the people became educated to the gravity of the situation, and it was made more severe by the last legislature by amendments.
“`There is a movement now on foot by different organizations, regardless of creed, to stamp out this traffic in Chicago. The Jews have prided themselves upon the chastity of their women and their moral family life; and when the article in McCLURE’s MAGAZINE came out, many felt that it ought not to be talked about and thereby made to give more publicity and possibly create prejudice. Better judgment prevailed afterward, and it is the universal opinion that those who profit by such practices must be punished.'”
‘Name of God and Jew Profaned as Never Before”
Dr. Emil G. Hirsch, preaching at the Sinai Temple in Chicago on September 25, 1909, on the Jewish connection with the traffic in women, said:
“We have learned in a recent infamous trial that rich men in our race are profiting through leasing their property for purposes of evil.
“You who are here to-day have, many of you, given largely of your money for charities, but now a crisis has arisen that makes it needful that you give more than money. You must give of your souls to regenerate those of our race who have allowed their ideals to be lowered.
“Over on the West Side, the worst thing has occurred that has ever happened to our race. The name of God and Jew has been profaned as never before.”
The “Forward” on Jewish White Slave Traders
The Forward made a special investigation of them after, and devoted a large amount of its space to the situation. In an editorial it said:
“The facts that were uncovered at the trial of inspector McCann are horrifying. Seventy-five per cent of the white slave trade in Chicago is in Jewish hands. The owners of most of the immoral resorts on the West Side are Jews. Even in Gentile neighborhoods Jews stand out prominently in this nefarious business.
“The shame would not be so overwhelming if the thing stopped there. For, after all, we could say: `What can we do if such creatures persist in calling themselves Jews?’ But we could say this only if these outcasts had remained where they belong, and had no standing in the Jewish community of this city. When these men, however, fill public offices in the Jewish community, when they parade and are designated as model citizens in certain quarters of the Jewish population, we no longer can remain on the defensive.
“One of these ‘prominent’ Jews is Julius Frank. Julius Frank confessed openly that he is the owner of a number of disorderly houses. He confessed that he paid protection money to the police so that his houses might not be raided.
“This creature, this Julius Frank, is president of the Congregation Anshe Calvaria, Twelfth and Union streets.
“Julius Frank, self-confessed owner of disorderly houses, is the head of a Jewish congregation!
“Can you, Jews of Chicago, conceive it fully? A Jewish synagogue, a holy temple, which should be the cleanest, the loftiest, the most beautiful place and institution in our lives —such an institution gives away its most honorable rank and post to a man who lives on the money earned by running disorderly houses!”
San Francisco’s Riot of Vice and Crime
The situation in San Francisco was shown by George Kennan’s description of the municipal scandals there, published in MCCLURE’S ΜΑGAZINE in November, 1907:
“The entire government of the city, therefore, fell into the hands of blackmailers, extortioners, and thieves; and the corruption affected the whole body of citizens simply because the whole body of citizens was brought directly into contact with it.
“Under the rule of Schmitz and Ruef, men were forced to pay for protection and privileges which they ought to have had without payment; the work of the city was badly done or wholly neglected; and professional lawbreakers could buy the right to commit almost any crime short of burglary, highway robbery, and murder.
“In consequence of this exercise of unlimited power for selfish purposes by an unscrupulous municipal bureaucracy, the credit of the city was impaired; vice and crime, in their most dangerous forms, were encouraged or protected; thousands of boys and girls were tempted into evil courses; life and property became insecure; and the moral standards of the whole community were gradually lowered and debased.
Ruef, Schmitz, and their confederates not only robbed San Francisco: they debauched it as well, because they made graft, bribery, and vice so common and so familiar that they seemed almost to be normal features of business and social life. . . .
“At that time, according to Police Captain Mooney, the area of the Tenderloin had greatly increased.
“The saloons, generally, had thrown off all restraints of law; brothels, gambling dens, and assignation houses multiplied and flourished under administrative protection; women lured men to ‘dives’ and ‘deadfalls’ and assisted in the work of drugging and robbing them; charges brought against law-breakers were dismissed, or indefinitely postponed, by the Police Commission and the police courts; honest officers who tried to enforce the laws were transferred to quiet and unimportant resident districts; nickelodeons, disreputable theaters, and penny arcades corrupted the young; street-walking prostitutes intercepted even men who were on their way to church and gave them cards; drunkenness, immorality, and dissipation in every form became common; all-night drug-stores sold opium, morphine, and chloral without regulation or restraint; and the number of drug fiends’ in the city increased to about eight thousand.”
Cities — Americans’ Danger Point
It is not necessary to go beyond the examples of these three well-known cities. The same political forces engaged in degrading civilization into barbarism are at work with general success in all the larger cities of the country. The fight against them is the greatest single governmental problem of to-day. As Bishop Potter well said, there is absolutely nothing on earth similar to the degraded rule in American cities. Many nations and cities have races of inferior breed or training among their population, but nowhere else is the control of the government taken over by criminals, organized to break the law, for the purpose of exploiting the appetite and criminal weaknesses of such populations for their own profit. n the meanwhile the stock of the immigrants entering the United States, and especially its cities, is growing constantly worse. Drawn first from the higher and more intelligent types of northwestern Europe, our immigration has degenerated constantly to the poorest breeds of the eastern and southern sections of the continent. We have made the United States an asylum for the oppressed and incompetent of all nations, and have put the government into the hands of the inmates of the asylum. We are now permitting the country to become the Botany Bay of the world. The most incompetent and vicious settle down in our great cities; and there an army of political criminals, like Tammany, trained by half a century of political crime, exploit, and degrade, and corrupt them, and with them our whole civilization.
The Insecurity of Human Life
The results of this degradation of society cannot be traced in all things, but where they are observable they show startling results. One point that can be clearly seen is the comparative insecurity of human life against murder.
Twenty-five years ago D. Appleton & Company published a Cyclopedia of Biography which contained 14,243 names of the most eminent Americans, the names of the men who had laid the foundations of the United States and had fought through the Civil War. Of these 14,243 names northwestern Europe contributed 14,219; the English-speaking sections of it contributed 12,519—that is, all but 1,724. At this time—in 1884—the annual murder rate of the United States was 26.7 per million inhabitants; that is, there were 1,465 murders for nearly 55,000,000 inhabitants. As years went by the murder rate increased with frightful rapidity, reaching its maximum in 1895, when 152 people per million per annum were murdered. Since that time the average has run considerably over 100 per million per annum. The extraordinary prevalence of in the United States now as compared with twenty-eight years ago is shown by the table of homicides compiled annually for that period by the Chicago Tribune.
Our Huge Murder Rate
The immigration of people from sections of southern and eastern Europe, noted for their high murder rate, had much to do with this condition. But still more potent is the fact that, once in this country, the criminal element among these immigrants is protected by, and strongly allied with, the political criminals who manage our cities. Among the Italians of New York, for example, murder is less dangerous to the murderer, on the average, than the stealing of a five-dollar bill by a clerk from his employer. If the murderer is arrested, he is rarely convicted. The operation of the coroner’s court in New York in dealing with the average murder is one of the ghastliest travesties of justice in human government.
As a result of all this, the murder rate in the United States is from ten to twenty times greater than the murder rate of the British Empire and other northwestern European countries. The northwestern countries of Europe, which are the only nations worthy of comparison with the United States in their civilization, would require nearly a billion in- habitants that is, more than half of the population of the world— in order to bring the number of their murders up to that of the United States, with its eighty to ninety millions of population. Canada would require a billion and a quarter to have as many murders as the United States has at the present time. Murder has increased many times as rapidly as population for the last twenty-five years. During the past fifteen years the number of murders in the United States has been, according to the annual records of the Chicago Tribune, 133,192. The entire number of men in the Union army who were killed in battle or died of wounds was 110,070; in both the Union and Confederate forces it was 183,348.
Fourteen Times as Many Judges as in England
This insecurity of life in the United States is but one indication of the lapse from civilization that the whole population is suffering, as a result of its government by criminals. The huge size of our machinery of justice is certainly due in large part to the amount of crime it has to deal with. New York and Illinois have together a population under 14,000,000; these two States require 572 judges in their courts. England and Wales have a population of about 32,000,000; over this population there are 92 judges of the same general rank as that of the 572 who serve in New York and Illinois— that is, the two American States have about fourteen times as many judges in proportion to their population as England and Wales.
Taft and Eliot on American Lawlessness
The great excess of crime in this country over that in other civilized lands is recognized by all students of American life. President Taft, speaking in Chicago on September 16 of this year, said:
“It is not too much to say that the administration of criminal law in this country is a disgrace to our civilization, and that the prevalence of crime and fraud, which here is greatly in excess of that in the European countries, is due largely to the failure of the law and its administrators to bring criminals to justice.”
Ex-President Charles W. Eliot of Harvard University said in New York on December 16, 1908:
“We are to consider how American freedom has made possible lawlessness in many forms. The defenses of society against criminals have broken down. The impunity with which crimes of violence are committed is a disgrace to the country.”
These conditions have arisen chiefly for one reason: our large cities and many of our States are governed by organized criminals. But back of this more obvious lapse toward barbarism is a second still greater though less obvious disintegration of society, due to the same forces that were responsible for the first. Speaking broadly, the excessive use of alcohol and the prevalence of venereal disease are the two greatest dangers of the country to-day. The slum politicians, who, through their delivery of great numbers of votes, have a controlling grip in the administration of law in cities, have for years drawn their chief revenue from the saturation of the population with liquor and the promotion of the public prostitution of women. To-day they are, as Mr. Turner’s article clearly shows, almost exclusively responsible for the “white slave” trade in the United States. If they did not arrange to break down the laws of civilization to allow a market for the bodies of young girls, these girls would never be sold.
Two Chief Dangers of Civilization
Alcohol, as is well known, has filled our poorhouses, insane asylums, and prisons for fifty and a hundred years. But the proportions of the other great danger to our population are little appreciated. An excellent and authoritative statement of this danger may be secured from the carefully edited book, “A Report on Our National Vitality,” compiled by Professor Irving Fisher, and published ho the United States Government in 1909. n this Dr. Prince A. Morrow, the famous specialist, is quoted as follows:
“The extermination of social diseases would probably mean the elimination of at least one half our institutions for defectives.”
Dr. Morrow further says that the number of syphilitics alone in the United States has been estimated at 2,000,000, and, finally, makes this terrible assertion: “Possibly ten per cent of men who marry infect their wives with venereal disease.”
The worst punishment of a mutinous regiment in the time of Rome was decimation— a word that has passed into our language as a term for fearful punishment. By this, one soldier in ten was chosen by lot to be killed. According to Dr. Morrow’s estimate, decimation by venereal disease is now taking place among the wives of America; that is, one out of every ten innocent women who are married is destined to be affected with diseases as frightful in their consequences as leprosy.
Across the entire United States a standing army of tens of thousands of cadets and prostitutes, practically all of them diseased, is maintained by the politicians of its large cities for the perennial infection of the population. An army of lepers of equal size would be far less dangerous. The very existence of the present force demonstrates that it is daily infecting thousands of people with one of the most terrible diseases known to medicine.
The Waste of Human Lives
It is the fashion of the time to place the chief emphasis in the fight for better city government upon financial considerations. The real consideration is far deeper than this. The cities of the United States are not concerned merely with the stealing of a few millions of dollars by political thieves: they are fighting for their civilization. The Evening Post of New York on September 27, 1909, stated this excellently in response to the announcement of Otto T. Bannard, the Republican candidate for Mayor, ‘that the fight against Tammany Hall was to be conducted on a business issue. It said:
“Mr. Bannard defines the anti-Tammany issue as `waste.’ Waste there is, but the waste of money, grave as it may be, is the least part. It is the waste of human lives that appalls the consumptives in the `lung blocks,’ dying in dark, inside rooms, the waste of children in partly inspected rattle-trap tenements, the waste of womanhood and manhood that comes with a `wide-open’ town. No, Mr. Bannard. The chief issue is Tammany Hall in all its unspeakable vileness; with all its smattering of respectables to lend the cloak of virtue, chock-a-block with the Sullivans, with panderers to vice and vileness of every description; with its rich treasury lined by contributions of corrupt or cowed corporations, of brothels and saloons, of all the powers that prey, and also from the educated rich who pay for office or for immunity. The issue is Tammany itself, because it is still, as for one hundred years past, a league of men banded together by the ‘cohesive power of public plunder,’ without conscience, without a spark of civic pride or patriotism, like Richard Croker, working for their pockets all the time. The issue is Tammany, because it is a veritable Juggernaut, crushing beneath its wheels the prostrate poor it pretends to succor and befriend. A monster of hypocrisy and greed, it is a disgrace to the city, a double disgrace to the nation under whose flag it flourishes. There is but one issue, and that is whether the Imperial City shall be in chains to Tammany.”
American Cities Made to Partners With Criminals
Besides the convincing statements of the late Bishop Potter, Charles Tv. Eliot, President Emeritus of Harvard University, the President of the United States, the Committee of Fifteen, and of other authorities, we invite the readers of this article to weigh carefully the few points in which statistics enable us to understand the present conditions of the United States, and to compare ourselves with other nations: The fact that murders are ten times as frequent in the United States as in other civilized countries; the fact that in the last thirteen years the deaths by murder in the United States have equaled the entire losses by death or wounds of the Northern armies in the entire four sear: of the War of the Rebellion; that more than ten times as many judges are required in the United States as in England to administer justice; and that the white slave trade, pressing the sale of women to its ultimate point, has incidentally and enormously spread the most terrible diseases.
But, above all, it must be remembered that these conditions exist primarily because dominating factors in the government of most of the large cities of the United States are men engaged in the propagation of crime and in pandering to vice. This is true in no other civilized country in the world. There is crime in all countries, and the white slave traffic exists everywhere, but this is the only country in which this traffic is supported by the political forces that govern cities. It is the only country in which honest policemen have everything to fear in enforcing the law, and in which the police in general are engaged in degrading the communities that they are supposed to serve. It is principally the result of this fact that the white slave trade, with all its unnamable cruelties and atrocities, has become so fastened upon the United States. Under normal conditions, with such government as the cities of the United States have a right to expect, the number of prostitutes in the country would decrease by two thirds. It is a crowning shame to American democracy that, while the white slave trade is being driven by the authorities of the entire world, including the pioneer countries of South Africa and South America, it is growing and fattening in the United States, with the connivance of the authorities of our cities themselves
What are the Churches Going to do About It?
The Christian World of September 2; makes this pertinent comment upon the situation in New York:
“It is a sad thing to hear such words as those of a Japanese recently spoken to a friend of the writer. He said: `Christianity is greatly discounted in Japan because of its seeming impotency in your own country.’ He then referred to the corrupt and pagan condition of our own cities, remarking that the missionary was completely handicapped in Japan by these revelations of the impotency of Christianity to redeem the so-called Christian countries from paganism. We presume he had been reading the Survey, with the disclosure of the inhuman social practices of Pittsburg, and the recent numbers of McCLURE’s MAGAZINE and Hampton’s Magazine, with their articles by General Bingham on the misgovernment of New York. General Bingham has stirred the whole country by revealing the secrets of his office. His contention that New York is governed by a band of professional criminals he substantiates from incontrovertible proofs of his own experience as Police Commissioner. There is no doubt in many people’s minds that he was deposed from office because he would not fall in with the corrupt political schemes of some party boss. We Cannot quote from him here, but would advise everybody, especially every citizen of New’ York, to read these articles. As the Mayoralty campaign approaches, the question becomes vital to the churches of New York, as well as the people. What are the churches going to do about New York? Are there not enough members of church and synagogue to lift the city out of this slough of iniquity? The New York State Conference of Religion is striving to unite the leaders of all denominations in such a campaign as has never before been seen in the city. We wish that every minister might, after the Hudson-Fulton celebration, use every moment in pulpit and out in arousing people to the pagan condition of the city. If he is not already on fire with indignation, let him read General Bingham’s articles.”
There is one thing that will change this, and one only. The local government of cities must be taken from the hands of criminals and purveyors of vice. This is perfectly obvious. The reason it has not yet been done is that the American people have never concentrated their attention on this one main issue. The best forces in our life have, in fact, scattered their energies disastrously. The cities of the United States are filled to overflowing with organizations of all kinds to oppose crime and to dispense aid to the masses of criminals and unfortunates who are created by present conditions: law and order societies, temperance organizations, college settlements, committees to put down the traffic of women. All these work well and earnestly, but their efforts are either the work of salvage, after the great damage is done, or, at most, attempts at a very partial cure. They assist the population in very much the same way that a servant might who was hired to drive away the flies from the table of a dinner-party set upon the edge of a cesspool. What our country needs is, not more societies to remove flies, but the removal of the cesspool.
The Remedy — City Government by Commission
For this, it is only necessary to concentrate the attention and interest of the whole public upon the one main issue— local government. This will take place just as soon as the general public is given a clean-cut understanding of present conditions, and the power to see that these are changed. There is a great deal of silly talk about city populations not wanting decent city government. This is exactly equivalent to saying that the aggregate of individuals in a community desire to be robbed, murdered, ‘ and have their daughters sold as prostitutes. The real trouble is that under present forms of city government the general public can never know the truth, and, if it does, it can almost invariably be defrauded of its power to express its will. The necessity of the time is not an incentive for a change, but a system of local government for cities that will do two things: first, give an intelligent idea of the management of city affairs; and, second, allow the public to express its will accurately and subject to no change.
Exactly such a system has been developed and well tested in America during the past ten years. It is called the Galveston or Des Moines plan of commission government. In reality it is merely New England town government by selectmen — the most famous and successful single development of democracy in America adapted to the use of the city. This system elects a board of five or six members from a city at large, and gives them the entire power of government; each member is given charge of one of several general divisions of the government. n this way the best specialists in the population are chosen to manage the big departments of the city, such as finance, streets, and police. There is no shirking or shifting of responsibility; one well-known man is always responsible for one department. And careful and concise reports show the public periodically just what is being done.
This movement, starting with Galveston, Texas, is sweeping across the West and Southwest, and a large group of cities have already adopted the new governmental plan, including such large cities as Kansas City, Kansas, which has already put it into operation, and Memphis. Tennessee, which is about to do so.
New York City, under such a system, could command the services of the ablest men in the United States; a position in its government would offer not only one of the greatest honors in the United States, but a salary as large as those paid by the greatest corporations in America. The entire government of the city, excepting only the judiciary, would be given over to five men. The second greatest city in the world would not be governed, as now, by an association of criminals: it could and naturally would expect to secure the direction of a board of men of the caliber of the following ticket.
Mayor, Theodore Roosevelt.
Commissioner of Finance, J. Pierpont Morgan.
Commissioner of Police, General Leonard Wood.
Commissioner of Public Works, William G. McAdoo, the builder of the Hudson Tunnels.
Commissioner of Law, Senator Elihu Root.
A board of men of this ability, according to the experience of other cities, could be elected by an overwhelming vote to take charge of New York City. Once elected, they would not only save it millions of dollars, but would entirely change the quality of its civilization.
It is clear that some change must take place soon in the government of American cities, if we are to retain the quality of our civilization. Many careless and indifferent persons may choose to doubt this. Any one who wishes a clear understanding of the barbarism of the forces that dominate the present management of our cities need only read such articles as the autobiography of Judge Ben Lindsey, now running in Everybody’s Magazine, showing typical municipal conditions in Denver; or those of Mr. Turner on Chicago, published by us in April, 1907, and on New York in June, 1909; and, finally, that on “The Daughters of the Poor” in the present magazine. The valuable reform that Mr. Turner’s first article started in Chicago has already been shown. The present article is printed in the hope that it may lead to a movement of national scope against the vilest and most dangerous growth of present conditions in America which it describes. Only by the most thorough and revolutionary reforms along this line is there hope for the future of American democracy.
“This lovely land, this glorious liberty, the dear purchase of our fathers, are ours; ours to enjoy, ours to preserve, ours to transmit. Generations past and generations to come hold us responsible for the sacred trust. Our fathers from behind admonish us with their anxious paternal voices; posterity calls out to us from the bosom of the future; the world turns hither its solicitous eye—all, all conjure us to act wisely and faithfully on the relation which we sustain.“—WEBSTER.
- Published by the late Ρ F. Collier, founder of Collier’s Weekly.
- That is, those who would not pay their earnings to their manager.
- “The City of Chicago.” by George Kibbe Turner, published in MCCLURE’S MAGAZINE for April, 1907.
- A complete description of government by commission was published by Mr. Turner in MCCLURE’S Magazine far October, 1906. This article has been frequently republished in pamphlets and newspapers, by permission of the magazine.
Source: McClures Magazine 34 (November 1909): pp. 117-128.