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" .... nobody thinks of drawin the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. Theres all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. Ive made a big fortune out of the game, and Im gettin richer every day, but Ive not gone in for dishonest graft blackmailin gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc. and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics. Theres an honest graft, and Im an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin: I seen my opportunities and I took em.
Plunkett of Tammany Hall:


USA - Corruption - 19th Century

When in 1789, the federal constitution went into operation and Washington gathered up the reins of government with something of the fear of a brave warrior on the eve of a critical battle, there was none of the eagerness for office that has marred so manysubsequent occasions. Washington recognized the fact that to accomplish the beet results, there must be harmony in the political opinions of the leading officers of the government.

Washington declared: "In every nomination to office I have endeavored, so far as my own knowledge extended or information could be obtained, to make fitness of character my primary object."

But as sooon as the 1796 campaign for Governor in Pennsylvania, party spirit ran high and personal abuse and vituperation still higher. In the end the Republican cause triumphed and Thomas McKean, an outspoken Jeffersonian Republican (or Democratic Republican), was elected. It was the first Democratic vistory and as the returns came in but slowly each stage of the triumph was fittingly celebrated. Town after town put on holiday attire. Labor ceased. Liberty poles were erected. Feasts, toasts, speeches, and songs were the order of the day, while huge bon-fircs lighted up the night. Oxen were roasted whole and barrels upon barrels of liquors consumed. Never had there been such prodigality of meat and drink, illumination and oratory. It was a popular triumph and a popular celebration.

At first, McKean ousted Federalists from state government positions. However, in seeking a third term in 1805, McKean was at odds with factions of his own Republican Party. Governor McKean forged an alliance with Federalists, called "the Quids," and defeated Snyder. Afterwards, he began removing Jeffersonians from state positions. McKean's nepotism extended to naming more than a dozen relatives to office. The mere fact of having voted against McKean was sufficient to condemn. Those who contributed most toward the election received the greatest rewards.

In the year 1835 a debate took place in the Senate of the United States on the condition of the civil service, and especially on the abuse of the power of appointment and removal to serve party ends instead of public ends. William L. Marcy, a Senator from New York, defending Van Buren against an attack by Henry Clay, Marcy made the unfortunate remark that : "The politicians of the United States are not so fastidious as some gentlemen are as to disclosing the principles on which they act. They see nothing wrong in the rule that to the victor belongs the spoils of the enemy." Marcy thereby became widely known as a champion of the proscription of political opponents.

Under the "Spoils System" elections did not merely settle the policy of the country, as to which parties may unselfishly differ. They became contests for spoils as well, and tended to become more and more contests for spoils and less disputes as to principle. The spoils were the offices, the places of trust, and these tended to be given not to those best fitted to perform their duties, but to those who had claims on the party.

One of the worst of the demoralizing effects of the Civil War were the political corruption which it engendered and the greed for wealth which it also fostered and the resultant inequality in the distribution of wealth. These were the causes of the degeneracy and final subversion of the Roman Republic and the Italian republics of the Middle Ages Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Florence. This great American Republic was fast traveling the same road to decay and ruin.

Certain censors declared that there had been more corruption in the United States since the Civil War than there has been in all other nations in all other ages of the world put together; but this was an extravagance of pessimism. Count Tolstoy said that Americans have lost their ideals and that the United States no longer produces great men, but only rich men. That politics and politicians have brought forth much corruption must be acknowledged; and this taint has also appeared in business and social life, and has even shown its demoralizing influence in certain sections of the religious world, where spiritual aims are lost sight of in the pursuit of material objects.

When justice was bought and sold in the courts; when judges and juries were open to the assaults of bribery; when elections were often carried by wholesale use of corruption-funds; when banks, insurance companies, building associations, and even charitable organizations, were found to be rotten to the core; when municipal corruption made American city government a byword throughout the civilized world when conditions such as these were seen to exist in the United States, it may well be questioned whether wealth, the mad pursuit of which was so largely accountable for them, be not made, through base modes of acquisition, a curse to the republic instead of a blessing.

By the end of the 19th Century nothing was more noticeable than the eagerness with which each elected officer, from the lowest to the highest, from the ward-foreman to the President of the United States, sought to augment his own importance and promote the interest of his own party, by appointing to places, over which he has jurisdiction, his own particular followers. The termination of each official term saw the wholesale removal of subordinate: and the appointment of others with claims, political or personal, upon their chief. Particularly was this true after a Presidential election, when Washington swarmed with office-seekers, the President and heads of departments being besieged by an eager throng all grasping for governmental pabulum.

Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, "boss rule" and "machine politics" flourished in the United States, and nowhere more intensely than in New York, the most populous state in the Union. The Tweed Ring ran the Democratic party's Tammany Hall apparatus in New York, and an equally powerful machine operated within the state's Republican party. .

Nathan Miller argued that the graft-taking politician, the fleecing business tycoon, and the crooked labor baron each "played a vital role in the development of modern American society." A gallery of rascals perpetrated grand larcency on the national and big-city levels and, for the most part, got away with it. One who didn't, however, was William Marcy "Boss" Tweed, who siphoned millions from New York City coffers. Miller comments on the irony of Tweed's imprisonment: "Here he was behind bars while Astor, Vanderbilt, Gould and others whose thefts were greater than his were regarded as wizards of finance to be praised and emulated." Miller nominated the Reagan administration as perhaps the most corrupt in U.S. history, one that, he claimed, combined the old-fashioned graft of the Grant and Harding eras with an undisguised grabbing for power "that would have done credit to Richard Nixon."

Throughout the 1870s, the Republican party's "stalwart" faction, led by Senator Roscoe Conkling, dominated New York politics until it reached both its apex and nadir within the space of a few months in 1881. Although responsible for some of the most tawdry politics in American history, Conkling's machine also produced two vice presidents, Chester Alan Arthur and Levi P. Morton, one of whom Arthur became president of the United States under tragic circumstances and turned against the machine and its spoilsmen.

A spellbinding orator with a commanding presence, Senator Roscoe Conkling was the uncrowned leader of the Senate in an era before majority and minority leaders were formally designated. One woman newspaper correspondent described him as the most alluring politician of his time and "the Apollo of the Senate." New York's other senator, Thomas C. Platt, similarly considered Conkling one of the handsomest men he had ever met.

He was over six feet tall, of slender build, and stood straight as an arrow. . . . A curl, described as Hyperion, rolled over his forehead. An imperial [air] added much to the beauty of his Apollo-like appearance. His noble figure, flashing eye and majestic voice made one forget that he was somewhat foppish in his dress.

A physical fitness fanatic, Conkling boxed to keep in shape for his political battles, and a journalist noted that Conkling also "loved to use words as a prize-fighter loves to use his fists." No one admired Conkling's talents and abilities more than he himself. A vain and haughty man with a monumental ego, he believed himself unfettered by the rules that governed lesser mortals. These impulses led him to carry on a scandalous affair with Kate Chase Sprague, the wife of his Senate colleague William Sprague, and to challenge openly two presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield for power and patronage.

Conkling built his political machine on a rich source of patronage, the New York customhouse, headed by the collector of the port of New York. Before income taxes, the chief sources of federal revenue were the duties charged on imported goods. The busy port of New York served as the point of deposit for many imports, and its customhouse became the largest federal office in the government, taking in more revenue and handing out more jobs than any other. Since the days of Andrew Jackson, the "spoils system" had prevailed in the hiring and retention of federal employees. Each new administration cleaned house, regardless of the ability of individual civil servants, making room for its own appointees. As was the case at the city and state level, these federal jobs provided the glue that united political party organizations. Yet increasingly in the post-Civil War era, federal offices like the New York customhouse became symbols of waste, fraud, and incompetence that cost the government millions of dollars.

Influence and political power were worth exactly what they cashed in for in patronage and perquisites. A politician who cannot get jobs for his people didn't last a week. Graft was the basis of politics. Graft was the lifeblood of politics. Graft controlled, dominated, swayed. Hairs might be split about terms. Protests might be made. Hands might be held up in horror. Individuals could proclaim they are free from the taint; but analyze it, sift it, dissect it, and back of it all, under it all, when hypocrisy was cleared and men tell the truth, is graft, graft, graft. Graft which was not limited and circumscribed by the term "honest" is stealing. The element of respectability was lacking. Better be poor than not respectable.

Graft was declared by that veteran practical politician, George Washington Plunkitt, of Tammany Hall, in a pronouncement from his rostrum on the boot-black stand in the New York County Court House, as being of two kinds, honest graft and dishonest graft.

Theres all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. Ive made a big fortune out of the game, and Im gettin richer every day, but Ive not gone in for dishonest graft blackmailin gamblers, saloon keepers, disorderly people, etc. and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics. Theres an honest graft, and Im an example of how it works. . . . Just let me explain myself. My partys in power in the city, and its goin to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, Im tipped-off, say, that theyre going to lay out a new park at a certain place.

I see my opportunity and take it. I go to that place and buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and theres a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particularly for before.

Aint it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course it is. Well, thats honest graft.

Plunkitt of Tammany Halls distinction between varieties of graft is interesting, because it is a distinction characteristic of an age that is passing, not only in the political world but in the business world. Dishonest graft is that kind of exploitation of the community, indulgence in which may get you into jail; by honest graft you may get rich at the expense of the community without living in terror of the law. So in the business world, in the era out of which we are growing, honesty was often measured less in terms of loyalty to the spirit of the moral law than in terms of observance of the letter of the penal code.

Until the later years of the 20th Century, there were two kinds of graft in the United States "honest graft" and graft. To a public grown inquisitive about finance came successive well-told stories of municipal and legislative corruption and the close alliance all over the country of the financiers and corporations with the political bosses and the political machines.

In the fall elections of 1905, the New York Sun put the case in few words when it said: "The universal rout of the bosses Tuesday was caused primarily by the universal disgust with dishonesty." That was it. The people turned on the bosses because they were tired of being robbed; tired of political ascendency for the sake of pecuniary opportunity; tired of "honest graft," dishonest graft, and graft generally; tired of being ruled in the interest of the rulers; tired of being fooled, swindled, exploited, and led by the nose.





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