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chapter 89: The Philadelphia Gas Ring - Viscount James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, vol. 2 
The American Commonwealth, with an Introduction by Gary L. McDowell (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995). Vol. 2.
Part of: The American Commonwealth, 2 vols.
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The Philadelphia Gas Ring
Philadelphia, though it has not maintained that primacy among American cities which in the days of the Revolution was secured to it by its population and its central position, is still one of the greatest cities in America, with a population of about a million.1 Though the element of recent immigrants is much smaller than in New York or Boston or Chicago,2 the old Quaker character has died out, or remains perceptible only in a certain air of staid respectability which marks the city as compared with the luxury of New York and the tumultuous rush of Chicago. It has of late years been strongly Republican in its politics, partly because that party obtained complete ascendency during the war, partly because Pennsylvania is a Protectionist state, owing to her manufacturing industries, and Philadelphia, as the stronghold of protection, is attached to the party which upholds those doctrines. During the Civil War the best citizens were busily absorbed in its great issues, and both then and for some time after, welcomed all the help that could be given to their party by any men who knew how to organize the voters and bring them up to the polls; while at the same time their keen interest in national questions made them inattentive to municipal affairs. Accordingly, the local control and management of the party fell into the hands of obscure citizens, men who had their own ends to serve, their own fortunes to make, but who were valuable to the party because they kept it in power through their assiduous work among the lower class of voters. These local leaders formed combinations with party managers in the state legislature which sits at Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, and with a clique managed from Washington by a well-known senatorial family, which for a long time controlled the Pennsylvania vote in Republican National Conventions and in Congress. They were therefore strongly entrenched, having powerful allies, both in state politics and in federal politics. Since they commanded the city vote, both these sets of politicians were obliged to conciliate them; while the commercial interests of Philadelphia in the maintenance of a protective tariff pressed so strongly on the minds of her leading merchants and manufacturers as to make them unwilling to weaken the Republican party in either state or city by any quarrel with those who commanded the bulk of its heavy vote.
The obscure citizens of whom I have spoken had begun by acquiring influence in the primaries, and then laid their hands on the minor, ultimately also on the more important, city offices. They sometimes placed men of good social standing in the higher posts, but filled the inferior ones, which were very numerous, with their own creatures. The water department, the highway department, the tax department, the city treasurer’s department, the county commissioner’s office, fell into their hands. A mayor appointed by them filled the police with their henchmen till it became a completely partisan force. But the centre of their power was the Gas Trust, administered by trustees, one of whom, by his superior activity and intelligence, secured the command of the whole party machinery, and reached the high position of recognized boss of Philadelphia. This gentleman, Mr. James M‘Manes, having gained influence among the humbler voters, was appointed one of the Gas Trustees, and soon managed to bring the whole of that department under his control. It employed (I was told) about two thousand persons, received large sums, and gave out large contracts. Appointing his friends and dependants to the chief places under the Trust, and requiring them to fill the ranks of its ordinary workmen with persons on whom they could rely, the boss acquired the control of a considerable number of votes and of a large annual revenue. He and his confederates then purchased a controlling interest in the principal horsecar (street tramway) company of the city, whereby they became masters of a large number of additional voters. All these voters were of course expected to act as “workers,” i.e., they occupied themselves with the party organization of the city, they knew the meanest streets and those who dwelt therein, they attended and swayed the primaries, and when an election came round, they canvassed and brought up the voters. Their power, therefore, went far beyond their mere voting strength, for a hundred energetic “workers” mean at least a thousand votes. With so much strength behind them, the Gas Ring, and Mr. M‘Manes at its head, became not merely indispensable to the Republican party in the city, but in fact its chiefs, able therefore to dispose of the votes of all those who were employed permanently or temporarily in the other departments of the city government—a number which one hears estimated as high as twenty thousand.3 Nearly all the municipal offices were held by their nominees. They commanded a majority in the Select Council and Common Council. They managed the nomination of members of the state legislature. Even the federal officials in the customhouse and post office were forced into a dependent alliance with them, because their support was so valuable to the leaders in federal politics that it had to be purchased by giving them their way in city affairs. There was no getting at the Trust, because “its meetings were held in secret, its published annual report to the city councils was confused and unintelligible, and (as was subsequently proved) actually falsified.”4 Mr. M‘Manes held the payrolls under lock and key, so that no one could know how many employees there were, and it was open to him to increase their number to any extent. The city councils might indeed ask for information, but he was careful to fill the city councils with his nominees, and to keep them in good humour by a share of whatever spoil there might be, and still more by a share of the patronage.
That so vast and solid an edifice of power, covering the whole of a great city, should be based on the control of a single department like the Gas Trust may excite surprise. But it must be remembered that when a number of small factions combine to rule a party, that faction which is a little larger, or better organized, or better provided with funds, than the others, obtains the first place among them, and may keep it so long as it gives to the rest a fair share of the booty, and directs the policy of the confederates with firmness and skill. Personal capacity, courage, resolution, foresight, the judicious preference of the substance of power to its display, are qualities whose union in one brain is so uncommon in any group of men that their possessor acquires an ascendency which lasts until he provokes a revolt by oppression, or is seen to be leading his party astray. And by the admission even of his enemies, Mr. M‘Manes possessed these qualities. His origin was humble, his education scanty, but he atoned for these deficiencies by tact and knowledge of the world, with a quietly decorous demeanour veiling an imperious will. He knew how to rule without challenging opposition by the obtrusion of his own personality, nor does he seem to have used his power to plunder the city for his own behoof. The merit of the system was that it perpetuated itself, and in fact grew stronger the longer it stood. Whenever an election was in prospect, the ward primaries of the Republican party were thronged by the officers and workpeople of the Gas Trust and other city departments, who secured the choice of such delegates as the ring had previously selected in secret conclave. Sometimes, especially in the wards inhabited by the better sort of citizens, this “official list” of delegates was resisted by independent men belonging to the Republican party; but as the chairman was always in the interest of the ring, he rarely failed so to jockey these independents that even if they happened to have the majority present they could not carry their candidates. Of course it seldom happened that they could bring a majority with them, while argument would have been wasted on the crowd of employees and their friends with which the room was filled, and who were bound, some by the tenure of their office, others by the hope of getting office or work, to execute the behests of their political masters. The delegates chosen were usually officeholders, with a sprinkling of public works contractors, liquor dealers, always a potent factor in ward politics, and office expectants. For instance, the convention of 13th January 1881, for nominating a candidate for mayor, consisted of 199 delegates, 86 of whom were connected with some branch of the city government, 9 were members of the city councils, 5 were police magistrates, 4 constables, and 23 policemen, while of the rest some were employed in some other city department, and some others were the known associates and dependants of the ring. These delegates, assembled in convention of the party, duly went through the farce of selecting and voting for persons already determined on by the ring as candidates for the chief offices. The persons so selected thereby became the authorized candidates of the party, for whom every good party man was expected to give his vote. Disgusted he might be to find a person unknown, or known only for evil, perhaps a fraudulent bankrupt, or a broken-down bar keeper, proposed for his acceptance, but his only alternative being to vote for the Democratic nominee, who was probably no better, he submitted, and thus the party was forced to ratify the choice of the boss. The possession of the great city offices gave the members of the ring the means not only of making their own fortunes, but of amassing a large reserve fund to be used for “campaign purposes.” Many of these offices were paid by fees and not by salary. Five officers were at one time in the receipt of an aggregate of $223,000, or an average of $44,600 each. One, the collector of delinquent taxes, received nearly $200,000 a year. Many others had the opportunity, by giving out contracts for public works on which they received large commissions, of enriching themselves almost without limit, because there was practically no investigation of their accounts.5 The individual official was of course required to contribute to the secret party funds in proportion to his income, and while he paid in thousands of dollars from his vast private gains, assessments were levied on the minor employees down to the very policemen. On one occasion each member of the police force was required to pay $25, and some afterwards a further tax of $10, for party purposes. Anyone who refused, and much more, of course, anyone who asserted his right to vote as he pleased, was promptly dismissed. The fund was spent in what is called “fixing things up,” in canvassing, in petty bribery, in keeping barrooms open and supplying drink to the workers who resort thither, and, at election times, in bringing in armies of professional personators and repeaters from Washington, Baltimore, and other neighbouring cities, to swell the vote for the ring nominees. These men, some of them, it is said, criminals, others servants in the government departments in the national capital, could of course have effected little if the election officials and the police had looked sharply after them. But those who presided at the voting places were mostly in the plot, being ring men and largely city employees, while the police—and herein not less than in their voting power lies the value of a partisan police—had instructions not to interfere with the strangers, but allow them to vote as often as they please, while hustling away keen-eyed opponents.6
This kind of electioneering is costly, for secrecy must be well paid for, and in other ways also the ring was obliged to spend heavily. Regarding each municipal department chiefly as a means of accumulating subservient electors, it was always tempted to “create new voting stock” (to use the technical expression), i.e., to appoint additional employees. This meant additional salaries, so the taxpayers had the satisfaction of knowing that the sums they paid went to rivet on their necks the yoke of the bosses, just as a Greek tyrant exacted from the citizens money to hire the mercenaries who garrisoned the Acropolis. And there was of course a vast deal of peculation in nearly all the departments; because clerks who had it in their power to disclose damaging secrets had little to fear, either from a superior or from the councilmen who had procured their appointment. Thus the debt of the city rose rapidly. In 1860 it stood at about $20,000,000 (£4,000,000). In 1881 it had reached $70,000,000 (£14,000,000). Taxation rose in proportion, till in 1881 it amounted to between one-fourth and one-third of the net income from the property on which it was assessed, although that property was rated at nearly its full value.7 Yet withal the city was badly paved, badly cleansed, badly supplied with gas (for which a high price was charged), and with water.8 That such a burden should have been borne, with so little to show for it, was all the more surprising, because in Philadelphia there is a larger number of well-to-do working people, owning the houses they lived in, than in any other city of the Union.9 It might have been expected, therefore, that since the evils of heavy rating and bad administration pressed directly on an unusually large number of electors, the discontent would have been universal, the demand for reform overwhelming.10
But how was reform to be effected? Three methods presented themselves. One was to proceed against the gas trustees and other peculators in the courts of the state. But to make out a case the facts must first be ascertained, the accounts examined. Now the city departments did not publish all their accounts, or published them in a misleading and incomplete form. The powers which should have scrutinized them and compelled a fuller disclosure, were vested in the councils of the city, acting by their standing committees. But these councils were mainly composed of members or nominees of the ring, who had a direct interest in suppressing inquiry, because they either shared the profits of dishonesty, or had placed their own relatives and friends in municipal employment by bargains with the peculating heads of departments. They therefore refused to move, and voted down the proposals for investigation made by a few of their more public-spirited colleagues.11
Another method was to turn out the corrupt officials at the next election. The American system of short terms and popular elections was originally due to a distrust of the officials, and expressly designed to enable the people to recall misused powers. The astuteness of professional politicians had, however, made it unavailable. Good citizens could not hope to carry candidates of their own against the tainted nominees of the ring, because the latter having the “straight” or “regular” party nominations would command the vote of the great mass of ordinary party men, so that the only effect of voting against them would at best be to let in the candidates of the opposite, i.e., the Democratic, party. Those candidates were usually no better than the Republican ring nominees, so where was the gain? And the same reason, joined to party hostility, forbade good Republicans to vote for Democratic candidates. The Democrats, to be sure, might have taken advantage of Republican discontent by nominating really good men, who would in that case have been carried by the addition of the Republican “bolting” vote to the regular Democratic vote. But the Democratic wire-pullers, being mostly men of the same stamp as the Gas Ring, did not seek a temporary gain at the expense of a permanent disparagement of their own class. Political principles are the last thing which the professional city politician cares for. It was better worth the while of the Democratic chiefs to wait for their turn, and in the meantime to get something out of occasional bargains with their (nominal) Republican opponents, than to strengthen the cause of good government at the expense of the professional class.12
The third avenue to reform lay through the action of the state legislature. It might have ordered an inquiry into the municipal government of Philadelphia, or passed a statute providing for the creation of a better system. But this avenue was closed even more completely than the other two by the control which the city ring exercised over the state legislature. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives was notoriously a tainted body, and the Senate no better, or perhaps, as some think, worse. The Philadelphia politicians, partly by their command of the Philadelphia members, partly by the other inducements at their command, were able to stop all proceedings in the legislature hostile to themselves, and did in fact, as will appear presently, frequently balk the efforts which the reformers made in that quarter. It was enough for their purpose to command one house; indeed, it was practically enough to command the committee of that one house to which a measure is referred. The facilities for delay are such that a reforming bill can be stifled without the need of open opposition.
This was the condition of the Quaker City with its 850,000 people; these the difficulties reformers had to encounter. Let us see how they proceeded.
In 1870, a bill was passed by the state legislature at Harrisburg, at the instigation of the city ring, then in the first flush of youthful hope and energy, creating a Public Buildings Commission for the city of Philadelphia, a body with an unlimited term of office, with power to enlarge its numbers, and fill up vacancies among its members, to tax the city and to spend the revenue so raised on buildings, practically without restriction or supervision. When this act, which had been passed in one day through both houses, without having been even printed, came to the knowledge of the better class of citizens, alarm arose, and an agitation was set on foot for its abrogation. A public meeting was held in March 1871, a committee formed, with instructions to proceed to Harrisburg, and have the act repealed. The committee went to Harrisburg and urged members of both houses to support a repealing bill introduced into the state Senate. In May this bill passed the Senate, in which there was then a Democratic majority, five Republican members voting for it. However, a committee of the (Republican) House of Representatives reported against the repeal, influenced by interested persons from Philadelphia, and (as is generally believed) influenced by arguments weightier than words; so the Commission was maintained in force. The incident had, however, so far roused a few of the better class of Republicans, that they formed a Municipal Reform Association, whose career has been summarized for me by an eminent citizen of Philadelphia, in the words which follow:
The Association laboured earnestly to check the tide of misgovernment. Its task was a difficult one, for the passions aroused by the war were still vigorous, the reconstruction in progress in the South kept partisanship at a white heat, and fealty to party obligations was regarded as a sacred duty by nearly all classes. Consequently it had no newspaper support to depend upon, and as a rule it met with opposition from the leaders of both political organizations. Moreover, the laws regulating the registry of voters and the conduct of elections had been so framed as to render fraud easy and detection difficult. Undeterred by these obstacles, the Association set itself vigorously to work; it held public meetings, it issued addresses and tracts, it placed tickets in the field consisting of the better candidates of either party, and when neither had made passable nominations for an office it put forward those of its own. It continued in active existence for three or four years, and accomplished much of what it set out to do. Occasionally it succeeded in defeating specially objectionable candidates, and in electing better men to the city councils; the increase in the public debt was checked, the credit of the city was improved, and economy began to be practised in some of the departments; salaries were substituted for fees in the public offices; the election laws were revised and honest elections became possible; prosecutions were instituted against offenders, and enough convictions were secured to serve as a wholesome warning. The services of the Association were especially apparent in two directions. It contributed largely to the agitations which secured the calling of a convention in 1873 to revise the State constitution, it had a salutary influence with the convention, and it aided in obtaining the ratification of the new constitution by the people. Still more important was its success in arousing the public conscience, and in training a class of independent voters who gradually learned to cast their ballots wihout regard to so-called party fealty. It thus opened the way for all subsequent reforms, and when its members, wearied with its thankless task, one by one withdrew, and the Association disbanded, they could feel that not only was the condition of the city materially improved, but that their successors in the Sisyphæan labour would have a lighter burden and a less rugged ascent to climb. One important result of the attention which they had drawn to municipal mismanagement was the passage of an act of legislature, under which, in 1877, the governor of the State appointed a commission of eleven persons to devise a plan for the government of cities. This commission made a report proposing valuable improvements, and submitted it, with a bill embodying their suggestions, to the State legislature in 1878. The legislature, however, at the bidding of the Rings, for Pittsburg and other cities have their Rings as well as Philadelphia, smothered the bill, and all efforts to pass it failed till 1885.
In the course of 1880, the horizon began to clear.13 Several honest and outspoken men who had found their way into the two councils of the city, denounced the prevailing corruption, and by demands of inquiry began to rouse the citizens. A correspondent of a New York paper obtained facts about the management of the Gas Trust which, when published, told seriously on opinion. At the November election, while Philadelphia cast a heavy vote in favour of General Garfield as Republican candidate for the presidency, and for the Republican nominees for the offices of state auditor general, and judge of the state Supreme Court, she returned as city controller, a young Democrat, who having, with the help of the Municipal Reform Association, found his way into that office at the last preceding election, had signalized himself by uprightness and independence. The Republican bosses did their utmost against him, but the vote of independents among the Republicans, joined to that of the Democratic party (whose bosses, although secretly displeased with his conduct, did not openly throw him over), carried him in. Thirteen days afterwards, under the impulse of this struggle, an energetic citizen convened a meeting of leading merchants to set on foot a movement for choosing good men at the elections due in February 1881. This meeting created a committee of one hundred businessmen, including a large number of persons bearing the oldest and most respected names in Philadelphia. All were Republicans, and at first they endeavoured to effect their purposes by means, and within the limits of, the Republican party. They prepared a declaration of principles, containing their programme of municipal reform, and resolved to support no candidate who would not sign it. Soon the time came for making nominations for the three offices to be filled up, viz., those of mayor, receiver of taxes, and city solicitor. For mayor, the “regular” Republican party, controlled by Mr. M‘Manes, nominated Mr. Stokley, who was then in office, a man against whom no fraud could be charged, but whose management of the police force and subservience to the boss had made him suspected by earnest reformers. At first, in the belief that he was prepared to subscribe their declaration, the One Hundred gave him their nomination; but when it turned out that he, influenced by the ring, refused to do so, they withdrew their “indorsement,” and perceived that the time had come for a bolder course. Since they must resist the ring Republicans, they invited the cooperation of the Democratic party in choosing a good man. The novelty of the circumstances, and the opportunity of doing a good stroke for their party and their city at once, brought to the front the best element among the Democrats. Overruling their bosses by a sudden movement, the Democratic convention nominated Mr. King for the mayoralty, a bold and honest man, whom, though a Democrat, the Committee of One Hundred promptly accepted. For the not less important office of receiver of taxes, the One Hundred had nominated Mr. Hunter, a Republican, who had approved his public spirit by upright service in the common council. The ring Republicans had taken for their candidate an unknown man, supposed to be a creature of Mr. M‘Manes; and everything now turned on the conduct of the Democratic nominating convention. It was strongly urged by the feeling of the people to accept Mr. Hunter. But the Democratic bosses had no mind to help a reformer, and even among the better men, the old dislike to supporting a person belonging to the opposite party was strong. A passionate struggle in the Democratic convention, round whose doors a vast and eager crowd had gathered, resulted in the carrying by a small majority of a regular party candidate named M‘Grath against Mr. Hunter. Thereupon the delegates who supported Hunter seceded, and marched, escorted and cheered by excited crowds, to the rooms of the One Hundred, where they organized themselves afresh as an independent convention, and nominated Hunter. Immense enthusiasm was evoked in both parties by this novel and unexpectedly bold action. Independent Democrats organized clubs and committees in Hunter’s cause, and the movement spread so fast that ten days before the election, M‘Grath retired, leaving the regular Democrats free to cast their votes for the Republican Hunter, along with the Democratic King. Only one chance was now left to the Gas Ring—the lavish expenditure of money, and the resort to election frauds. They assessed the police, about 1,300 in number, $20 a head to replenish the campaign fund, levying assessments on the other city departments also. Preparations for repeating and ballot box stuffing were made as in former days, but the energy of the One Hundred, who, while they issued a circular to clergymen of all denominations requesting them to preach sermons on the duty of electors, issued also notices threatening prosecution against anyone guilty of an election fraud, and organized a large force of volunteer citizens to look after the police, so much frightened the ringsters and their dependents, that the voting was conducted with fairness and purity. The excitement on the polling day was unprecedented in municipal politics, and the success of the reform candidates who were chosen, King by a majority of six thousand, Hunter by twenty thousand, was welcomed with transports of joy. Astræa had returned—the “City of Independence” was again a city of freedom.
The Committee of One Hundred, to whose efforts the victory was mainly due, was kept on foot to carry on and perfect the work of reform. It recommended candidates at the spring and fall elections during the three years that followed, obtaining for them a measure of success encouraging, no doubt, yet less complete than had been expected. It retained counsel to aid in a suit instituted against the gas trustees, which resulted in disclosing scandalous waste and fraud, and has led to a great improvement in the management of that department. It induced the state legislature to reduce the salaries of a number of overpaid officials, and to place on a permanent basis the salaries of judges which had hitherto been voted annually. The mayor, whom it had carried in 1881, stopped the assessment of the police for “campaign purposes,” and rigidly restrained them from joining in the nominating conventions or interfering with voters at the polls. The tax office was reorganized by the new receiver, and the income which its employees depleted turned into the city treasury. The system of banking city monies, which had been used for political purposes, was reformed under an ordinance of the city councils, secured by the efforts of the committee. The lists of voters, which had been carelessly and sometimes corruptly made up, were set to rights, and capable men appointed assessors instead of the ward politicians, often illiterate, to whom this duty had been previously entrusted. An inspector of highways was engaged by the committee to report cases in which contractors were failing to do the work in repairing streets and drains for which they were paid, and frauds were unearthed by which the city had been robbed of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Gross abuses in the management of the city almshouse and hospital were revealed; a new administration was installed, which in its first year saved the city $80,000, while the conviction and imprisonment of the chief offenders struck wholesome terror into evildoers in other departments. Finally, the committee undertook the prosecution of a large number of persons accused of fraud, repeating, personation, violence, tampering with ballot boxes, and other election offences, and by convicting some and driving others from the city, so much reduced these misdemeanours that in the end of 1883 the city elections were pronounced to show a clean bill of health.14
Work so various and so difficult cost the members of the Committee of One Hundred, who were nearly all men actively engaged in business, and had passed a self-denying ordinance binding themselves to accept no personal political advantage, an infinitude of time and trouble. Accordingly, when they found that the candidates, whom they had recommended at the election of February 1884, had been rejected in favour of other candidates, who made similar professions of reform, but seemed less likely, from their past history, to fulfil those professions, they determined to wind up and dissolve the committee. It had done great things and its failure to carry its candidates at this last election was due partly to the intrusion into municipal politics of the national issue of the protective tariff (the most burning of all questions to Philadelphians), partly to that languor which creeps over voters who fancy that by doing their duty strenuously for some years they have mortally wounded the power of corruption and need not keep up the fight till it is stone dead.
The situation was thus shortly afterwards summed up by competent writers:
The committee of One Hundred fought the Ring at every point and at all points for city and county officers, the council, and the legislature, the plan being to unite for the nominations of the two great parties and endorse one or the other of the candidates, or even nominate candidates of their own. They sent tickets to every citizen, and created the class of “vest-pocket voters”—men who come to the polls with their tickets made up, to the confusion of “the boys.” They changed for a while the complexion of councils, elected a reform mayor and receiver of taxes, caused the repeal of the infamous Delinquent Tax Collections Bill, and the equally notorious and obnoxious Recorder’s Bill, and generally made a more decent observance of the law necessary throughout the city. In its nature, however, the remedy was esoteric and revolutionary, and therefore necessarily ephemeral. It could not retain the spoils system and thereby attract the workers. Its candidates, when elected, often betrayed it and went over to the regulars, who, they foresaw, had more staying qualities. Its members became tired of the thankless task of spending time and money in what must be a continuous, unending battle. The people became restive, and refused their support to what jarred on their conservative ideas and what they were pleased to call the dictation of an autocratic, self-constituted body. The cry was raised: “Who made thee a ruler and judge over us?”
In 1883 the committee’s candidate for controller was defeated in a pitched battle, and the following spring the reform mayor was beaten by over 7000 votes by the most advanced type of a machine politician, who has since been impeached by his own party in Common Council for pecuniary malfeasance.15
Since 1884 there have been many changes in the city administration, which I touch on but briefly, because it is to the Gas Ring episode that this chapter is devoted. A bill for reforming municipal government by the enactment of a new city charter, approved by the One Hundred, came before the state legislature in 1883. It was there smothered by the professionals at the instance of the Gas Ring. When it reappeared in the legislature of 1885 circumstances were more favourable. The relations between the state boss of Pennsylvania and the city ring headed by Boss M‘Manes were strained. The state boss seems, while wishing to cripple the city ring by cutting off some of its patronage, to have thought that it would be well to conciliate the good citizens of Philadelphia by giving his powerful support to a reform measure. He was the more drawn to this course because the mayor of Philadelphia, whose appointing power would be enlarged by the bill, was, although not a “high-class politician,” far from friendly to the Gas Trust. Long discussions of the bill in the press and at meetings had produced some effect even on the state legislature at Harrisburg; nor was there wanting in that body a small section of good members willing to help reform forward. Many leaders and most newspapers had in the course of the discussions been led to commit themselves to an approval of the bill, while not expecting it to pass. Thus, in 1885, the opposition in the legislature ceased to be open and direct, and came to turn on the question when the bill, if passed, should take effect. Its promoters prudently agreed to let its operation be delayed till 1887; and having thus “squared” some of their opponents, and outmanœuvred others, they ran it through. Public opinion and a righteous cause counted for something in this triumph, but even public opinion and righteousness might have failed but for the feud between Mr. M‘Manes and the state boss.
The new city charter did some good. By bringing gas management under the control of the city executive, it extinguished the separate gas trust, and therewith quenched the light of Mr. M‘Manes, who ceased to be formidable when his patronage departed, and thereafter became “a black number,” free to devote his interest to theological questions, for he was a champion of orthodoxy in his church. Municipal administration gained by the concentration of power and responsibility in the mayor and the executive heads of departments whom he appoints. The councils, however, remained bad bodies, few of the members respected, many of them corrupt. They continued to be nominated by a clique of machine politicians, and this clique they obeyed, paying some regard to the interests of their respective wards, but none to those of the city. Reformers thought that to give them a salary might lessen their temptations, since it seemed impossible to raise their tone. In the stead of Mr. M‘Manes, the state boss (a man even less trusted by the good citizens) reigned for a time through his lieutenants; and so tight was his grip of the city, that when, in 1890, the suspicions he aroused had provoked a popular uprising which overthrew his nominee for the state governorship, turning over to the other party some thirty thousand votes, he was still able to hold Philadelphia—rich, educated, staid, pious Philadelphia—by a large majority. Elections continued to be tainted with fraud and bribery; the politicians still refused the enactment of adequate laws for a secret ballot and the publication of election expenses. A menacing power was wielded by the great local corporations, including the railroad and streetcar companies. Whether by the use of money, or, as is thought more probable, by influencing the votes of their employees, or by both methods, these corporations seemed to hold the councils in the hollow of their hands. One of them secured from the city legislature, at a merely nominal figure, a public franchise, which, while it made the streets more dangerous, added to the market price of its stock about $6,600,000. And this was done by a two-thirds majority over the veto of the mayor, in the teeth of an active agitation conducted by the most worthy citizens. Against scandals like this the best city charter furnishes little protection. They can be cured only by getting upright councils, and these again can be secured only by having free instead of cooked nominations, honest elections, and a far more constantly active interest in the welfare of city than the mass of the voters have hitherto evinced. Philadelphia is not the only city in which private corporations have proved more than a match for public interests, and in which such corporations have netted immense profits, that ought to have gone to reduce the burdens of the people.16
Against these evils strenuous campaigns have been from time to time conducted by various associations of “good citizens,” some permanent, some formed for a special occasion. These associations, of which it is enough to say that they have been worthy successors of the Committee of One Hundred, have included nearly all those whom high personal character is united to a sense of public duty. But their members have hitherto formed so small a proportion of the voters that it is only when some glaringly bad candidate is nominated or outrageous job perpetrated that their efforts tell in an election. In 1912, however, they gained a sudden victory, carrying as mayor a veteran reformer who had been one of the foremost fighters in February 1881.
The history of all these efforts and of the failure to effect any thorough and permanent improvement in municipal conditions in this great city would stretch to a volume, were it given with the fulness needed to explain why the forces that make for misgovernment have proved so exceptionally strong. The episode I have selected is enough for the present purpose.
The European reader may have found four things surprising in the foregoing narrative—the long-suffering of the taxpayers up till 1881; the strength of party loyalty, even in municipal affairs where no political principle is involved; the extraordinary efforts required to induce the voters to protect their pockets by turning a gang of plunderers out of office; and the tendency of the old evils to reappear as soon as the ardour of the voters cools. He will be all the more surprised when he learns that most of the corrupt leaders in Philadelphia have been not men of foreign birth, but Americans born and bred, and that in none of the larger cities was the percentage of recent immigrants so small. The general causes of municipal misgovernment have been already set forth, but it may be well to repeat that the existence of universal suffrage in a gigantic city imposes a vast amount of work on those who would win an election. Nothing but a very complete and very active ward organization, an organization which knows every house in every street, and drops upon the new voter from Europe as soon as residence and the oath have made him a citizen, can grapple with the work of bringing up these multitudes to the poll. It was their command of this local organization, their practice in working it, the fact that their employees were a trained and disciplined body whose chief business was to work it—services in the gas or water or some other department being a mere excuse for paying the “workers” a salary—that gave the Gas Ring and its astute head their hold upon the voting power of the city, which all the best Republicans, with frequent aid from the Democrats, found it so hard to shake. It was the cohesion of this organization, the indifference of the bulk of its members to issues of municipal policy and their responsiveness to party names and cries, that enabled the henchmen of the state boss to reestablish a selfish tyranny and with impunity to sacrifice the interests of the city to those of rich and vote-controlling corporations.
The moral of the whole story is, however, best given in the words of four eminent Philadelphians. I multiply testimonies because Philadelphia is a peculiarly instructive instance of the evils which everywhere infect municipal government. Her social and economic conditions are far more favourable than those of New York or Chicago, and the persistence of those evils in her is, therefore, a more alarming symptom than the grosser scandals which have disgraced those cities with their masses of recent immigrants.
Two of them wrote me as follows in 1888. One said:
Those who study these questions most critically and think the most carefully fear more for the Republic from the indifference of the better classes than the ignorance of the lower classes. We hear endless talk about the power of the Labour vote, the Irish vote, the German vote, the Granger vote, but no combination at the ballot box today is as numerous or powerful as the stay-at-home vote. The sceptre which is stronger to command than any other is passed by unnoticed, not because outworn in conflict, but because rusted and wasted in neglect. The primary, the caucus, and the convention are the real rulers of America, and the hand which guides these is the master. Here again the stay-at-home vote is still more responsible. In New York City in 1885 there were 266,000 voters; of these 201,000 voted at the regular election and between 20,000 and 25,000 voted at the primary. This proportion would hold good the country over, and it appears that one out of every four does not vote at all, and nine out of every ten do not attend the primaries. It can therefore easily be seen that it is very easy to control the primaries, and granting strong party fealty how difficult it is to run an independent ticket against the machine.
The other, Mr. Henry C. Lea, the distinguished historian, said:
Your expression of surprise at the mal-administration of Philadelphia is thoroughly justified. In existing social conditions it would be difficult to conceive of a large community of which it would appear more safe to predicate judicious self-government than ours. Nowhere is there to be found a more general diffusion of property or a higher average standard of comfort and intelligence—nowhere so large a proportion of landowners bearing the burden of direct taxation, and personally interested in the wise and honest expenditure of the public revenue. In these respects it is almost an ideal community in which to work out practical results from democratic theories. I have often speculated as to the causes of failure without satisfying myself with any solution. It is not attributable to manhood suffrage, for in my reform labours I have found that the most dangerous enemies of reform have not been the ignorant and poor but men of wealth, of high social position and character, who had nothing personally to gain from political corruption, but who showed themselves as unfitted to exercise the right of suffrage as the lowest proletariat, by allowing their partisanship to enlist them in the support of candidates notoriously bad who happened by control of party machinery to obtain the “regular” nominations.
The nearest approach which I can make to an explanation is that the spirit of party blinds many, while still more are governed by the mental inertia which renders independent thought the most laborious of tasks, and the selfish indolence which shrinks from interrupting the daily routine of avocations. In a constituency so enormous the most prolonged and strenuous effort is required to oppose the ponderous and complicated machinery of party organization, which is always in the hands of professional politicians who obtain control over it by a process of natural selection, and who thus are perfectly fitted for the work. Recalcitrants are raw militia who take the field with overwhelming odds against them, both in numbers and discipline. Even though they may gain an occasional victory, their enthusiasm exhausts itself and they return to more congenial labours, while the “regular” is always on duty, and knows, with Philip II, that time and he can overcome any other two.
A third wrote in 1893:
The great majority of the voters take no interest in local politics. They refuse to attend the party primaries, and can rarely be induced to do more than spend a few minutes once a year in voting at city elections. Many refuse to vote at all, or yield only to corrupt inducements or to the solicitations of interested friends. The result is that combinations of unworthy leaders and mercenary henchmen are enabled to control the nominating conventions of both parties; and when election day comes, the people can do nothing but choose between two tickets dictated by equally corrupt men and nominated by similar methods.
A fourth, writing in 1894, observed:
The most characteristic feature of the situation is the supremacy of the Republican party, which has an immense majority in the city. Politically, therefore, the controlling party managers and the class from which reform leaders might be expected to come are in accord (manufacturing interests being the most important); and the advantages to be derived by persons in business in a large way from standing well with the managers of the dominant party are sufficiently great to check in no small degree individual inclination to strive for better conditions. As elsewhere in America, it is not the natural leaders in the community, the men who have succeeded in business or in the professions, who are party leaders, but men who are of no importance in any other connection. This fastens upon us an impersonal rule, those who exercise it not being influenced by public opinion, which would certainly act as a restraint upon men of standing. . . . The councils are dominated by the party managers who nominated them, and corporations who pay wages, in one way or another, to a considerable portion of the members.
When these comments were written Philadelphia was erecting a magnificent city hall, the loftiest building of its kind in the United States, with a tower, 510 feet in height, which far overtops Cologne Cathedral and the Pyramid of Cheops and St. Peter’s at Rome. The thoughts of the traveller who is taken to admire it naturally turn to what goes on beneath its ample roof, and he asks whether the day will arrive when Philadelphian voters will take to heart the painful lessons of the past, and when the officials who reign in this municipal palace will become worthy of so superb a dwelling and of the city where the Declaration of Independence and the federal Constitution first saw the light. His Philadelphian friends reply that such a day will doubtless arrive. But though the situation was better in 1913 than it had been for many a long year, they have seen too many disappointments to feel sure that Astræa has “come to stay.”
 In 1910 it was 1,549,008.
 Only 24 per cent of the people of Philadelphia are of foreign birth, whereas in Boston the percentage is 35 and in Chicago nearly 42.
 The ballot did not protect these voters. Prior to the introduction of the so-called “Australian” ballot in 1891 it was generally possible for the presiding election officer to know how each man voted.
 See Report of the Committee of One Hundred, published November 1884. A leading citizen of Philadelphia, from whom I have sought an explanation of the way in which the Gas Trust had managed to entrench itself, writes me as follows: “When in 1835 gas was first introduced in Philadelphia, it was manufactured by a private company, but the city reserved the right to buy out the stockholders. When this was done, in 1841, with the object of keeping the works ‘out of politics,’ the control was vested in a board of twelve, each serving for three years. These were constituted trustees of the loans issued for the construction and enlargement of the works. Their appointment was lodged in the hands of the city councils; but when, on more than one occasion, the councils endeavoured to obtain control of the works, the courts were appealed to and decided that the board, as trustees for the bondholders, could not be interfered with until the last of the bonds issued under this arrangement had matured and had been paid off. Thirty-year loans under these conditions were issued until 1855, so that it was not until 1885 that the city was able to break within the charmed circle of the Trust.”
 In the suit subsequently instituted against the gas trustees, it was shown that in six years the trust had in cash losses, illegal transactions, and manufacturing losses due to corrupt management, involved the city in an expense of three and a half millions of dollars (about £700,000). These were the figures so far as ascertained in November 1884.—Report of the Committee of One Hundred, p. ii.
 A policeman is by law forbidden to approach within thirty feet of the voter. Who was to see that the law was observed when the guardians of the law broke it: according to the proverb, If water chokes, what is one to drink next?
 I take these facts from an interesting paper on the Form of Municipal Government for Philadelphia, by Mr. John C. Bullit, Philadelphia, 1882.
 See Chapter 51, p. 570 of Vol. I.
 There were in Philadelphia in 1886, 90,000 individual owners of real estate, constituting more than a majority of all the votes ever cast in an election.
 During a considerable part of the time the enormous annual expenditure for “city improvements” was defrayed out of fresh loans, so the citizens did not realize the burden that was being laid on them.
 A friend in Philadelphia writes me: “It might be thought that the power of election vested in the councils would enable the latter to control the trustees, but when ‘politics’ invaded the trust, a vicious circle speedily established itself, and the trust controlled the councils. Its enormous payroll enabled it to employ numerous ‘workers’ in each of the 600 or 700 election divisions of the city, and aspirants for seats in the councils found it almost impossible to obtain either nomination or election without the favour of the trust. Thus the councils became filled with its henchmen or ‘heelers,’ submissive to its bidding, not only in the selection of trustees to fill the four yearly vacancies, but in every detail of city government with which the leaders of the trust desired to interfere. It is easy to understand the enormous possibilities of power created by such a position.”
 It was generally believed in February 1881, that the Democratic bosses had made a bargain (for valuable consideration) with the Gas Ring not to nominate Mr. Hunter, the reformers’ candidate, for the receivership of taxes.
 In the narrative which follows I have derived much assistance from a little book by Mr. George Vickers, entitled The Fall of Bossism (Philadelphia, 1883) which, with some oddities of style, contains a great many instructive details of the doings of the bosses and the reform campaign. Some information as to ring methods in Philadelphia may also be gathered from a lively satire published anonymously, entitled Solid for Mulhooly (New York, 1881).
 The committee observe in the report that the party organization of the city, in nearly every instance, did its utmost by supplying bail, employing counsel, and rendering other assistance to protect the culprits, who were regarded as sufferers for the sake of their party.
 Mr. E. P. Allinson and Mr. B. Penrose, in an article on “City Government in Philadelphia.” For a history of earlier municipal government in the city, reference may be made to the treatise, “Philadelphia, 1681–1887,” of the same authors.
 It was stated by the Municipal League that the city had in recent years lost as much as $50,000,000 by improvident grants of valuable franchises to street railroad companies.