Why James G. Blaine Should Not Be President
Fellow-Citizens: — In obedience to the invitation with which I have been honored, I stand here in behalf of Republicans opposing the Presidential candidates of the Republican party. You may well believe me when I say that it is no pleasure to me to enter upon a campaign like this. But a candid statement of our reasons for the step we have taken is due to those whose companionship in the pending contest we have left. It is, therefore, to Republicans that I address myself. I shall, of course, not waste any words upon politicians who follow the name of the party, right or wrong; but to the men of reason and conscience will I appeal, who loved their party for the good ends it was serving, and who were faithful to it in the same measure as it was faithful to the honor and the true interests of the Republic. Let them hear me, and then decide whether the same fidelity will not irresistibly lead them where we stand now.
At the threshold I have to meet a misapprehension of our motives. It has been said, and, I suppose, believed by some, that we were dissatisfied with the Republican party because its present candidates were protectionists. This is easily answered. Is Senator Edmunds, of Vermont, a free-trader? On the contrary, he is well known to be as strong a protectionist as any member of the Senate. And who among the candidates before the Republican National Convention was the favorite of the same “Independent Republicans” now opposing the Republican nominations? The same Senator Edmunds. Why was he their favorite? Because he was thoroughly trusted as an honest man, who could be depended upon to be faithful to those moral principles and political methods the observance of which would make and keep the Government honest. There was the decisive point. We should have supported other Republican candidates even of less prominence and of less ability than Mr. Edmunds possesses, no matter whether they were as strong protectionists as he, provided they satisfied that one fundamental requirement of unimpeachable, positive and active integrity. This is a fact universally known which no candid man will question. What, then, has the tariff question to do with the motives of our opposition? Nothing at all. And if any of those to whom these presents may come still assert that the tariff is the moving cause of our action, they convict themselves of being afraid of the real reasons which govern us, and of seeking artfully to deceive the people about them. So far, it may have been a mistake; now it will be a lie.
Undoubtedly the tariff is an interesting and important subject; so is the currency; so is the bank question; so is the Mormon question; so are many others. At other times they might absorb our attention. But this time the Republican National Convention has, with brutal directness, so that we must face it whether we will or not, forced upon the country another issue, which is infinitely more important, because it touches the vitality of our institutions. It is the question of honesty in government. I say the Republican Convention has forced it upon the country, not by platform declarations, but by nominating for the Presidency a man with a blemished public record. Understand me fully. The question is not merely whether Mr. Blaine, if elected notwithstanding his past career, would or would not give the country a comparatively honest Administration. The question is much larger than that. It is whether the public record of the Republican candidate is not such as to make his election by the American people equivalent to a declaration on their part that honesty will no longer be one of the requirements of the Government of the Republic. It is whether such a declaration will not have the inevitable effect of sinking the Government for generations to come, perhaps forever, into a depth of demoralization and corruption such as we have never dreamed of before. If this is really the issue of the pending campaign, then you will admit it to be the most momentous that has been upon us since the civil war; nay, as momentous as any involved in the civil war itself.
Above all, let us be sure of the facts. Are the public character and record of the Republican candidate really such that his election would produce results of greater consequence to the future of the Republic than the decision one way or the other of any political question now pending? Some of Mr. Blaine's friends assert that he is a much abused and calumniated man; that certain charges have been trumped up against him and exploded; that unscrupulous enemies are persecuting him with accusations of a vague and indefinite nature, using against him the insidious weapons of hint, insinuation and innuendo. If this be so, it is wrong. Mr. Blaine has a clear right to demand the facts. The citizens who are asked to vote against him on the ground of his character and record have a right to demand the facts. And if indeed others have been vague in their statements on a subject so important to the people at this time, nobody shall have any reason to complain of a want of straightforwardness on my part. Nothing could be more distasteful to me than to discuss the personal conduct of a public man. But it has been forced upon us as a public duty, which, however disagreeable, must be performed. I shall certainly not abuse Mr. Blaine. I shall not even make a charge against him which he has not made against himself. You shall have his own words, taken from the official record of Congress, by which to judge him. I shall leave aside all other accusations brought by others, however well authenticated or plausible, and confine myself to one representative and simple case. It is a somewhat tedious story.
In May and June, 1876, an investigation was made by a committee of the National House of Representatives into the affairs of certain land-grant railroads. This investigation brought out certain letters which Mr. Blaine, while Speaker of the House of Representatives, had written to Mr. W. Fisher, of Boston, a gentleman connected in a business way with one of those roads. The first one of the letters I want to mention reads thus:
My dear Mr. Fisher: I thank you for the article from Mr. Lewis. It is good in itself and will do good. He writes like a man of large intelligence and comprehension. Your offer to admit me to a participation in the new railroad enterprise is in every respect as generous as I could expect or desire. I thank you very sincerely for it, and in this connection I wish to make a suggestion of a somewhat selfish character. It is this: You spoke of Mr. Caldwell's offer to dispose of a share of his interest to me. If he really desires to do so I wish he would make the proposition definite, so that I could know just what to depend on. Perhaps if he waits to the full development of the enterprise he may grow reluctant to part with the share, and I do not by this mean any distrust of him. I do not feel that I shall prove a deadhead in the enterprise if I once embark in it. I see various channels in which I know I can be useful.
Mr. Fisher, India Street, Boston.
This is what Puck calls the “letter of acceptance.”
The second, dated three days later, reads as follows:
My dear Mr. Fisher: You ask me if I am satisfied with the offer you made me of a share in your new railroad enterprise? Of course, I am more than satisfied with the terms of the offer; I think it a most liberal proposition. If I hesitate at all it is from considerations in no way connected with the character of the offer. Your liberal mode of dealing with me in all our business transactions of the past eight years has not passed without my full appreciation. What I wrote you on the 29th was intended to bring Caldwell to a definite proposition. That was all. I go to Boston by the same train that carries this letter, and will call at your office to-morrow at 12 M. If you don't happen to be in, no matter; don't put yourself to any trouble about it.
Mr. Fisher, Jr.
Here let us pause a moment. Who were Mr. Fisher and Mr. Caldwell? Business men occasionally engaged in railroad affairs, in this case interested in the building of the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad in Arkansas, and in the financial operations connected therewith. It should be remembered that this Little Rock Railroad had received from the National Government a valuable grant of land, and that its interests could occasionally be promoted or injured, as the case might be, by the legislative action of Congress.
And who was Mr. Blaine? He was at the time Speaker of the National House of Representatives. And what is the Speaker of the House of Representatives? He is, without question, by far the most powerful man in the Government, next to the President of the United States. He appoints the committees of the House, in which all legislation is prepared — aye, in which, it might almost be said, the principal business of the House is done. He can, if he pleases, compose those committees in a way favorable or unfavorable to certain lines of policy, or measures, or interests. He can make the Committee on Banking and Currency a protector or an enemy to the national banks. He can give the Committee on Pacific Railroads or on Public Lands a bias friendly or hostile to the land-grant roads. And so on. He can reward and exalt, or punish and humiliate members whom he likes or dislikes, or whom he wants to strengthen or to weaken, by giving them desirable or undesirable places on the committees. Moreover, he presides over the deliberations and administers the rules of the House. It is in a great measure in his power to recognize or not to recognize members who want to “catch his eye” in order to speak or make motions. He decides points of order — to be sure, subject to appeal — but his bare decision goes, of course, for much. And during those days of hurry and confusion which sometimes occur, especially towards the close of the session, a great many things may be put through the House by his rapid action, of which only he and those especially interested and watchful keep the run. In short, it is currently said that a bill to which the Speaker is seriously opposed has but a slim chance, and that a measure he desires to pass will frequently find unexpected and powerful help.
Such is the power of the Speaker, almost too vast and arbitrary in a government like ours, especially as to the composition of the committees. But all the more important is it to the country that this vast power, so dangerous if abused, should be wielded with the utmost scrupulousness and the highest sense of official honor; and all the more important to the Speaker himself that his disinterestedness, his impartiality — in one word, his official honor — should stand clean and clear not only above reproach, but above the reach of suspicion.
Well, Mr. Blaine had for eight years been in various business transactions with Mr. Fisher, in which he says Mr. Fisher treated him very handsomely. Now, he was thankful to Mr. Fisher for his “generous” offer to admit him (the Speaker) “to a participation in the new railroad enterprise” — that railroad being a land-grant road. The “terms” offered by Mr. Fisher, whatever they may have been, pleased Speaker Blaine greatly. But he wanted more. He wished very much that Mr. Caldwell, the business friend of Mr. Fisher, should “dispose of a share of his interest” to him (the Speaker), and that without much delay. And he desired Mr. Caldwell as well as Mr. Fisher to understand that he (Speaker Blaine) would not prove a deadhead in the enterprise if he once embarked in it, and that he saw various channels in which he knew he could make himself useful.
But Mr. Caldwell seems to have been a little hard of hearing in this respect. He may have thought that Mr. Blaine was neither a practical railroad man to help in building a road, nor as useful a financier as a practical banker or Wall Street man would have been in raising funds. He seems to have feared that Mr. Blaine might turn out a deadhead in the enterprise after all, and that his “usefulness in various channels” would not amount to much. And so for three months Mr. Blaine waited in vain for that “definite proposition” from Mr. Caldwell which he had so urgently asked for.
Mr. Blaine then evidently grew impatient at Mr. Caldwell's obtuseness, and wrote two more letters calculated to quicken his intelligence. The first was as follows:
My dear Sir: I spoke to you a short time ago about a point of interest to your railroad company that occurred at the last session of Congress.
It was on the last night of the session, when the bill renewing the land grant to the State of Arkansas for the Little Rock road was reached, and Julian, of Indiana, chairman of the Public Lands Committee, and, by right, entitled to the floor, attempted to put on the bill, as an amendment, the Fremont-El Paso scheme — a scheme probably well known to Mr. Caldwell. The House was thin, and the lobby in the Fremont interest had the thing all set up, and Julian's amendment was likely to prevail if brought to a vote. Roots and other members from Arkansas, who were doing their best for their own bill (to which there seemed to be no objection), were in despair, for it was well known that the Senate was hostile to the Fremont scheme, and if the Arkansas bill had gone back to the Senate with Julian's amendment, the whole thing would have gone on the table and slept the sleep of death.
In this dilemma Roots came to me to know what on earth he could do under the rules, for he said it was vital to his constituents that the bill should pass. I told him that Julian's amendment was entirely out of order, because not germane; but he had not sufficient confidence in his knowledge of the rules to make the point, but he said General Logan was opposed to the Fremont scheme, and would probably make the point. I sent my page to General Logan with the suggestion, and he at once made the point. I could not do otherwise than sustain it, and so the bill was freed from the mischievous amendment moved by Julian, and at once passed without objection.
At that time I had never seen Mr. Caldwell, but you can tell him that, without knowing it, I did him a great favor.
W. Fisher, Jr., Esq., No. 24 India street, Boston.
On the same day he wrote a second letter to Mr. Fisher which reads thus:
My dear Mr. Fisher: Find inclosed contracts of parties named in my letter of yesterday. The remaining contracts will be completed as rapidly as possible, as circumstances will permit.
I inclose you part of the Congressional Globe of April 9, containing the point to which I referred at some length in my previous letter of to-day. You will find it of interest to read it over and see what a narrow escape your bill made on that last night of the session. Of course it was my plain duty to make the ruling when the point was once raised. If the Arkansas men had not, however, happened to come to me when at their wits end and in despair, the bill would undoubtedly have been lost, or at least postponed for a year. I thought the point would interest both you and Caldwell, though occurring before either of you engaged in the enterprise.
I beg you to understand that I thoroughly appreciate the courtesy with which you have treated me in this railroad matter, but your conduct toward me in business matters has always been marked by unbounded liberality in past years, and, of course, I have naturally come to expect the same of you now. You urge me to make as much as I fairly can out of the arrangement into which we have entered. It is natural that I should do my utmost to this end. I am bothered by only one thing, and that is the indefinite arrangement with Mr. Caldwell. I am anxious to acquire the interest he has promised me, but I do not get a definite understanding with him as I have with you. I shall be in Boston in a few days, and shall then have an opportunity to talk matters over fully with you. I am disposed to think that whatever I do with Mr. Caldwell must really be done through you. Kind regards to Mrs. Fisher.
W. Fisher, Jr.
Now, Mr. Caldwell may have been very slow of apprehension. But these two letters (for they were evidently addressed to him through Mr. Fisher) were certainly clear enough to remind him that Mr. Blaine was something more than a mere railroad man or Wall Street financier; that, in fact, he was Speaker of the House of Representatives. They told him very pointedly that Mr. Blaine, as Speaker, had done him a great favor — although he had done it “without knowing it,” and in a correct way — but a favor which was of great value to the company. And it was certainly not the fault of Mr. Blaine's letters if Mr. Caldwell did not understand that a Speaker of the House, who could do such favors “with out knowing it,” might do equal and still greater favors while knowing it; and that, therefore, Mr. Blaine, as Speaker, had more various channels in which to make himself useful, and to prove a live-head in this land-grant railroad enterprise, than a mere railroad builder or a mere Wall Street financier. And writing two letters on the same subject on one day, Mr. Blaine showed himself dreadfully in earnest in pounding clear notions of the Speaker's opportunities for usefulness into Mr. Caldwell's head, in order to induce that gentleman to give at last to Speaker Blaine that interest in the railroad enterprise which the Speaker insisted upon having.
Mr. Blaine's friends dislike greatly to be brought face to face with these letters. They cannot deny their genuineness and they cannot explain them away. Some of them content themselves with the general remark that after all they were such as the Speaker of the House would have no reason to be ashamed of. And then they at once change the subject and speak of the tariff. The fact is that Mr. Blaine did see reason for being extremely anxious that they should not become known. He certainly did not consider them innocent. But they did become known in a very peculiar way. Mr. James Mulligan, who had been the bookkeeper of Mr. Fisher, having been summoned to testify before the investigating committee, brought those letters among others with him to Washington. This he did with Mr. Fisher's consent. As soon as Mr. Blaine heard of the letters he called upon Mr. Mulligan, and the meeting was a very curious one. Mr. Mulligan, the next day, described it to the committee under oath. He swore that Mr. Blaine had come to him and implored him most piteously to give him those letters — there were fifteen of them in all; that Mr. Blaine almost went on his knees, saying that if the committee should get hold of these papers it would ruin him and sink him forever; that Mr. Blaine had talked even of suicide and made an appeal in behalf of his wife and his six children, and that then he opened to him (Mulligan) the prospect of a consulship abroad; that Mr. Blaine, finally, wanted at least to be permitted to look at the letters, which Mulligan did permit him to do on condition that he would return them; that Mr. Blaine did return them, and then wanted to look at them again, and then refused to give them back, and against Mr. Mulligan's protest kept them in his possession.
The next day Mr. Blaine testified that what Mr. Mulligan had said about his (Mr. Blaine's) being on his knees and talking of ruin and suicide was “mere fancy.” As to the consulship, he admitted he had alluded to something like that in a jocular way. He disclaimed meaning to say that Mr. Mulligan falsified; “not at all.” Mr. Mulligan might have put a wrong construction on what he said. But as to the letters, Mr. Blaine admitted that he took them from Mulligan and kept them against Mr. Mulligan's remonstrance. Mr. Blaine insisted that the letters, being his “private correspondence,” were his property, in whatever way obtained, and he also refused to give them up to the committee.
This is the story as it appears in the sworn testimony; it shows conclusively that, whatever his friends may now say, Mr. Blaine himself did not consider those letters at all harmless. You will readily admit, it is a sorry and humiliating thing to see Mr. Blaine, the late Speaker of the National House of Representatives, involved in a pointed issue of veracity on sworn testimony between him and Mr. Mulligan — Mr. Blaine's own friend, Mr. Fisher, testifying that he had known Mulligan intimately for many years, and that his character was the best, as good as, or perhaps better than, that of any other man he ever knew; and another one of Mr. Blaine's friends, Mr. Alkins, swearing that he had never heard anything against Mr. Mulligan's reputation, and that he had never doubted anything Mr. Mulligan said — all of which you can read at length in Miscellaneous Document No. 176 of the House of Representatives, Forty-fourth Congress, First Session. A sorry story, I repeat; but the sorriest thing of all was that Mr. Blaine fatally discredited himself by daring and obvious misstatements of his own about other points connected with this affair, of which I shall speak later. At any rate, it is not denied by anybody that Mr. Blaine got possession of those letters and kept them without authority, in violation of his promise to return them, and that he made a desperate struggle to conceal them. This, I should think, is sufficient to show that Mr. Blaine himself in conscience felt these letters to be extremely grave things to him, and the smiles of his friends are rather ghastly when they now try to make light of them.
How, then, did the letters come out? Mulligan's testimony, being telegraphed all over the country, created a tremendous sensation. There was a universal outcry. It became clear to Mr. Blaine that the further concealment of these letters was impossible. It was sure death. There was still a desperate chance in apparent audacity. The highly exciting scene is still remembered as he himself read them to the House of Representatives. But he who coolly reads the printed proceedings of that day will find some very curious and characteristic things. Mr. Blaine did not permit the letters which he read to pass into the hands of the officers of the House so that their contents might have been verified. He promptly put them into his own pocket again and carried them away. And, secondly, in reading them to the House he dexterously mixed letters of different periods and about different subjects together, so that no listener could on the spot make head or tail to them.
Thus Mr. Blaine could prevent the House from verifying the letters and from at once understanding their full import. But he could not prevent the letters as actually read from being subsequently arranged according to dates and subjects and compared with the testimony. Then their connection became clear, and with it their meaning. What is that meaning? What does it signify when a Speaker of the House of Representatives writes to a business man that he (the Speaker) wants a profitable interest in an enterprise the value of which has been, and may again be, affected by acts of the same legislative body over which that Speaker presides, and in which he exercises great power; when that Speaker says he feels that he shall not prove a deadhead in the enterprise if he once embarks in it, and that he sees various channels in which he knows he can be useful, and when finally, the desired profitable interest not being forthcoming, he points to an exercise of his power as Speaker by which, even “without knowing it,” he did a great favor to the party from whom he asks that profitable interest, thus pointing directly at the field upon which he can make himself most useful? What does this mean? On its very face it means one of the highest and most powerful officers in the Government marketing his official power for private gain. It means official power offering itself for prostitution to make money.
I say this is its meaning on the very face of it. Still, let us carefully examine whether that face may not possibly deceive us. For explanation we naturally turn to Mr. Blaine himself, and to his nearest friends. What have they brought forth? Let us see.
First, Mr. Blaine, in a solemn statement in the House of Representatives, said that the “company derived its life, franchise and value wholly from the State,” and that “the Little Rock road derived all that it had from the State of Arkansas and not from Congress.” The obvious object of this statement was to convey the impression that the House, over which Mr. Blaine presided as Speaker, had no power over that land-grant road or its interests and value, and that, therefore, his owning or his asking for an interest in that enterprise, while he was Speaker, was an absolutely harmless thing. I regret to say that this explanation, coming from Mr. Blaine, was almost as bad as the original offense, for in making it he deliberately said what he knew to be not true. And this I affirm, not upon the authority of one of Mr. Blaine's enemies and detractors, but upon the authority of Mr. Blaine himself. Remember Mr. Blaine's letter of October 4, 1869, to Mr. Fisher. “It was on the last night of the session,” he wrote, “when the bill renewing the land grant to the State of Arkansas for the Little Rock road was reached.” This was the bill which he informs Mr. Fisher and Mr. Caldwell would have failed to pass but for his (Speaker Blaine's) opportune intervention. And Speaker Blaine wants it understood that by intervening he did Mr. Caldwell “a great favor.” Who was Mr. Caldwell? Was he the State of Arkansas? No; he was the builder of the Little Rock road. And it was he, the Little Rock man, and not the State of Arkansas, to whom Mr. Blaine claims to have done this favor. Mr. Blaine knew, as every well-informed man knows, that land grants for railroads, with some exceptions, were nominally made to States, but really with a specific road in view, and that all legislation concerning those land-grant roads made to States for railroad purposes always directly affected the interests of the roads concerned. That he knew this is clear from the language in his own letters. It is therefore, I repeat, not one of Mr. Blaine's enemies, but Mr. Blaine himself, who has proved out of his own mouth that when he made this explanation in the House of Representatives he knew it to be untrue.
The second point alleged by Mr. Blaine in his own defense is that he did not get any favor from those railroad men that was not open to anybody else; that is to say, properly speaking, no real favor at all. He declared solemnly before the House of Representatives that he bought his Little Rock bonds and stocks “at precisely the same rates as others paid,” or, in the language of Mr. Blaine's warmest friend and spokesman, “as they were sold on the Boston market to all applicants.” Here again Mr. Blaine has to face his own tell-tale letters. What did that gush of gratitude mean when he wrote to Mr. Fisher: “Your offer to admit me to a participation in the new railroad enterprise is in every respect as generous as I could expect or desire”; “of course I am more than satisfied with the terms of the offer; I think it a most liberal proposition”? Did it mean: “Oh, Mr. Fisher, how generous you are in letting me have some bonds and stocks 'at precisely the same rates as others pay'; it is such a liberal proposition”? What did it mean when he wrote further: “You spoke of Mr. Caldwell's offer to dispose of a share of his interest to me; I wish he would make the proposition definite, so that I could know just what to depend on”? And again: “I am bothered by only one thing, and that is definite and expressed arrangements with Mr. Caldwell. I am anxious to acquire the interest he has promised me.” Did this mean that Mr. Caldwell's interest, of which the Speaker of the House was so anxious to acquire a part, consisted only of the privilege of buying Little Rock securities at “precisely the same rates which others paid”? Did it mean that Mr. Caldwell should graciously concede to him some right which “all applicants in the Boston market” possessed? What an audacious farce such an assertion would be! If there is anything evident from Mr. Blaine's own letters it is that the Speaker of the House wanted to be — and, according to his gush of gratitude to Mr. Fisher, was — if not the favored one in that railroad enterprise, then one of the favored few, on the “bottom floor,” in the “inside ring,” who skim the cream before the public get at the milkpan. And when in the investigation he hinted at his being situated in the enterprise no better than the public generally, he was confronted by Mr. Mulligan with a memorandum book in Mr. Blaine's own handwriting, showing that Mr. Blaine had received as a gratuity or commission about $130,000 in bonds and $15,150 in money. Thereupon there was dead silence on the part of Mr. Blaine. He had nothing more to say than that he did not want his private affairs inquired into. It is painfully evident that here again Mr. Blaine stands convicted, not by his enemies and defamers, but by his own pen, of having made solemn explanations of his conduct before the House of Representatives which were obviously untrue.
These are the things referred to when I said that Mr. Blaine, in the issue of veracity between him and Mr. Mulligan concerning that famous interview, had put him self at a decided disadvantage by untruthful statements about other parts of this business.
The third point urged in extenuation is that there was no subsequent legislation concerning that railroad, except, as Mr. Blaine said, an act “merely to rectify a previous mistake in legislation.” But, whether to correct a mistake or not, it was a very important act. It was to repeal a proviso that the granted lands “should be sold to actual settlers only, in quantities not greater than one quarter of a section to each purchaser, at a price not exceeding $2.50 per acre.” The repeal of that proviso was certainly calculated to enhance the value of the land grant very materially, and also that of the land-grant bonds, of which Mr. Blaine had become a holder. Many members of the House voted against the repeal, but it was carried.
The fourth point urged in favor of Mr. Blaine is that after all he did not make any money by the operation. It appears that the Little Rock enterprise proved somewhat wild-cattish; that Speaker Blaine had disposed of a number of bonds among his neighbors and friends at high rates; that some of these, when the enterprise failed, grew ugly; that he found it best to take back the securities and refund the money; and so he claims that on the whole he lost instead of gaining. If this is so, it shows that this was not one of the operations through which Mr. Blaine made his fortune. But would his failure to make the money he desired and expected to make change the character of the transaction? You might as well say: This man is a truthful man. To be sure he lied, but nobody would believe him. Or, this man is an honest man; to be sure, he tried to pass counterfeit money, but nobody would take it. Would the conduct of the Speaker of the House on account of this failure be official power not offering itself for prostitution? No, it would only be official power offering itself for prostitution without, in this instance, realizing its price.
Is there, then, nothing in the official record to put those fatal letters in a better light? Search and sift that record as carefully as you may, and you will search and sift it in vain. You will find other curious things. You will find this Speaker of the House “controlling” a large interest in another land-grant road liable to be affected by Congressional legislation, the Northern Pacific — “a splendid thing,” which he himself “can't touch,” but which he can offer to his friend Fisher, cautioning that friend to be careful to keep the Speaker's name quiet. You find a large and mysterious sum of money passing through his hands, which he “had not in his possession forty-eight hours,” but paid over to parties whom he tried to protect from loss — a mysterious sum of money much inquired about, of which Mr. Blaine proved himself anxious to show where it had not come from, but avoided showing where it had come from. We find him mediating as a friend between different interests and organizations connected with railroads, and we begin to ask ourselves with wonder whether there was a pie in which the Speaker of the House did not have his finger.
We find something more. We find Mr. Blaine again and again protesting against any line of inquiry which might “expose his private business.” What? Here was the late Speaker of the House of Representatives, the second officer in the Government, whose official integrity was questioned, before an investigating committee of the same House over which he had presided; and he did not cry out: “Here are my books, here my bank accounts, here my letters, here my keys, here my friends, here my enemies take them all! Search, sift, question, leave no stone unturned, no dark corner unexplored; hold up every circumstance in the least suspicious to the sunlight. I have been Speaker of the House of Representatives. When my official integrity is seriously questioned I must stand before the people, not only as one who cannot be legally proved guilty, but as one whom suspicion must not touch!” No, he did not say anything of the kind. He did not remember Alexander Hamilton's example. What example was that? When some mysterious circumstance had become known which threw a shadow of suspicion upon his official integrity, what did Hamilton do? Crouch behind the limitations of legal evidence? Protest against exposing his private affairs? Not he. With a courage that must have wrung his own proud heart and pierced with agony that of his wife, he tore the veil from the mystery with his own hand, and, at the expense of confessing himself guilty of a transgression of a widely different and peculiarly “private” kind, he proved the stainlessness of his official character. Rather would he have those of his failings exposed which men are most anxious to conceal, rather the happiness of his home endangered, rather his reputation as a husband and a father questioned than leave the faintest shadow of suspicion upon his official honor. But what find we here? An official honor of a different kind. We find Mr. Blaine protesting again and again: “I do not think that my private business ought to be exposed.” “I do not want all my private matters gone into that way.” What private matters? The pecuniary relations between the Speaker of the House of Representatives and operators in land-grant railroads. Fiercely he struggled to keep the Mulligan letters concealed. On what ground? Because, as he said, they were his “private correspondence,” which, he pretended, nobody had any right to see. And what did we see, when at last that was found out which Mr. Blaine called his “private” correspondence? And what would we see if that were exposed which Mr. Blaine called his “private” business? Again, it is not one of his enemies and detractors that asks this question. It is Mr. Blaine's own language before the investigating committee that forces it upon us.
Analyze this case to classify it. Here we find not a mere solitary slip of the conscience, not a mere occasional yielding to the seduction of opportunity to eke out a scanty existence. Here we find the Speaker of the House of Representatives in a businesslike way participating, and urgently asking for a greater share, in a large enterprise, the pecuniary success of which is in a great measure dependent on the action of the same House over which he presides, and in which he wields great power — for the purpose of getting rich. We find him pointing out the exercise of his official power as a channel in which he already has made himself useful, and, consequently, can make himself more useful, in order to obtain more of a valuable interest in such an enterprise, thus literally trading on his official trust and opportunities. To cover up these things we find him resorting to all sorts of barefaced untruths, deceptions and concealments on the most solemn occasions. The concealments resorted to and the side perspectives opened by the official investigation strongly suggest the inference that the case disclosed is only one of several. We find that he did get rich while in office, without any other regular business. His most devoted friend, by implication, admits his fortune to be nearly half a million, while the estimates of others go far beyond that. But the lowest estimate, about half a million, is wealth to all of our countrymen, except a few. This is the character of the case.
And this is the man we are asked to elect President of the United States and to crown with the highest honors of the Republic. In the face of these facts? Perhaps you still doubt them, and I suggest to you another test. Tell one of Mr. Blaine's spokesmen what I have said and ask him whether it is not true. The answer I predict will be, that the objectors to Mr. Blaine are all free traders; that I, in particular, am a very objectionable person, who has done all sorts of wicked things and should not be believed. I advise you, then, to reply that you readily concede all my wickedness, but that I am not a candidate for the Presidency asking to be voted for, while Mr. Blaine is, and that therefore you would like to hear about Mr. Blaine. The answer is likely to be that I am a much worse man than you ever thought I was; that the tariff is in danger; that unless the Republican party triumph the Democrats will come in, and that therefore Mr. Blaine must be elected. When you hear this answer you will then be sure enough of your facts. But will you still think of making him President?
I know there are among those intending to do this thing still many estimable citizens. I entreat them soberly to consider what it is they mean to do. I grant a man may speculate in railroad securities, if he does it honestly, without forfeiting his good character. He may also dispose of Little Rock bonds and other securities among his neighbors and friends, and thereby earn a commission. A good many men make it a business to do such things, and it is a legitimate business, as things go. But when a Speaker of the House of Representatives has taken favors of a pecuniary value from railroad operators, whose interests are liable to be affected by Congressional legislation; and when that Speaker of the House, asking for more favors, has urged that request on the ground that he will not be a deadhead in the enterprise, and that he knows he can make himself useful in various channels; and when he has thereupon directly pointed out his official power as a channel of usefulness; and when, attempting to explain his doings, he has on solemn occasions unblushingly said things glaringly untrue; and when in an investigation into his official integrity he has, instead of voluntarily, freely and widely opening all the avenues of knowledge to prove his official purity, constantly and anxiously protested against any inquiry into his private business — when a Speaker of the House of Representatives has done this, and then the American people, in full view of these facts, deliberately elect that man their President — I ask you soberly and candidly, and I hope you will ponder it well, do you not think that the American people in doing so will put a disgrace upon themselves and upon the Republic? And more. We may be ever so lenient as to the private morals of public men. We may overlook ever so readily delinquencies in private conduct. But when a public man has conspicuously betrayed and prostituted high official trust for pecuniary gain, and is then elevated by the people, knowing this, to higher official trust and honor, do you not think that such a precedent and example will have a fearfully demoralizing and corrupting effect upon the public mind and come home to us in incalculable dishonor and disaster? If you have not thought of this, is it not time you should?
Look around you. Ours is certainly a magnificent country. It is inhabited by a powerful and energetic people, living under free institutions devised with uncommon wisdom. We have accomplished much. Wars and rebellions, small and great, we have successfully gone through. In spite of all sorts of errors and blunders we may have committed we have achieved wonderful successes. We have grown rich and great and civilized, and we find ourselves surrounded with all the elements of further and still greater success and progress. A grand prospect, apparently without bounds. And yet there is something which disquiets us. It is the germ of a moral disease which threatens the vitality of this great Commonwealth. You observe with alarm the morbid eagerness spreading among our young people to get rich without productive work; how this eagerness becomes more and more unscrupulous in the means it employs; how defalcations and embezzlements in places of public as well as private trust increase in number and magnitude, in ebbs and tides, to be sure, but the advancing tides growing all the time more formidable; how men of high position among their fellow-citizens, standing at the head of great financial institutions, now and then despoil those who trusted their money to them by acts little short of downright robbery. You watch the great corporations which the industrial developments of our times have brought forth; how powerful they are; how the financial management of them by hook or crook accumulates enormous fortunes in single hands; how this accumulated wealth sometimes grows more greedy and unscrupulous the more it increases; how it seeks to control for its purposes governments and legislatures and courts and the feeders and organs of public opinion, and how in some cases it has succeeded. With growing apprehension you see the Senate of the United States gradually invaded by millionaires whose whole distinction is wealth and whose world of action is making money. And an instinctive fear creeps over you that, unless this dangerous tendency be checked, or at least kept within bounds, not only our social life will be disastrously demoralized, but that our political contests will become mere wrangles between different bands of public robbers, legislation only a matter of purchase and sale and the whole government a festering mass of corruption; and that thus this great Republic will rapidly go the way of many predecessors grow, flourish, become corrupt, rot and perish.
Examine your own inmost thoughts and you will have to admit that just there you see our danger. It is an instinctive apprehension, but the instinct is correct. You may, indeed, say that we are after all still far from the ultimate catastrophe. You may also say that we can never expect to have a state of moral perfection in politics. That is true. There will probably always be some attempt at corrupt practices, more or less, as there will always be some highway robbery. But the extent of those corrupt practices, the more or less, and, therefore, the damage and danger arising from them, will depend upon the popular maintenance of that moral standard according to which corruption is branded as a dishonorable thing, condemned as a crime and treated as such. As long as it is branded and condemned you can fight and repress it with effect. But I ask you in all candor and entreat you to consider it well: what will the effect be if corruption not only ceases to be branded with dishonor, but if men tainted with it are held up, not merely by some individuals, but by the people, as men to be admired and honored, as models for the emulation of the ambitious? There will, I admit, always be some highway robbery. But there will not be very much as long as highway robbers are treated as criminals and sent to prison. But what would become of society if highway robbers were honored as model citizens and made presidents of trust companies?
And this, just this, fatal leap the American people are asked to take in this Presidential election. Consider it well. It is success that attracts the eager eye of the young. Public honors mean the popular approval of public conduct, and the public conduct of him who receives them is set up by the people as a model for the ambitious to follow. The more powerful that model, the higher the pedestal on which it stands. The Presidency of the United States is the highest. What will the model teach in this case, and what kind of ambition will it excite? How will it work to teach our young by this example of popular approval that in order to win the highest honors of the Republic it is no longer necessary to be officially honest? What will the effect be upon our aspiring politicians if they are told by the American people that as men in high place they may prostitute their official power for private gain, and then lie about it, and then baffle investigation by refusing to have their “private business” inquired into, and then be exposed by their own showing, and have all this known by the American people, and still be elected Presidents of the United States? Where will our public morals be if the American people by this election proclaim that in their opinion these practices are “all right,” and that the man who has conspicuously indulged in them is just the man to be distinguished and exalted as the great representative American with a big A?
If you want to know what the result of Mr. Blaine's election would be, stop and observe what the result of his mere nomination already has been. What do you see? Men high in standing, who but yesterday were shocked at such things as Mr. Blaine has done, who thought that the people would and ought to brand them with their emphatic disapproval, now meekly apologizing for the same things and dismissing them as little eccentricities of genius. Nay, some of them grow fairly facetious at the “Pharisees,” or “saints,” or “dudes,” or “gentle hermits” who denounce corruption to-day as they themselves denounced it yesterday. Indeed, “Pharisees” and “saints.” What, then, are the strange and extravagant things which these Pharisees and saints demand, and which after Mr. Blaine's nomination have suddenly become so ridiculous? Do they ask that a candidate for the Presidency should be the ideal man and the embodiment of all the human virtues? That he should part his hair in the middle and wear lavender gloves? No, not that. But these strange creatures, these “Pharisees” and “dudes,” insist that a man to be elected President of the United States should be a man of integrity; that he should have a just sense of official honor; that he should not be one with a record of prostituted official power, such as the Mulligan letters and the investigation show, upon his back. That is all. Why, how ridiculous this is, to be sure! Have you ever heard anything so outlandish?
Well, fellow-citizens, when you see grave men, men of public standing, suddenly disposed to laugh at other men who to-day refuse to honor bad practices which yesterday they all in common condemned, it is not altogether amusing. It is a rather serious symptom of the moral effect Mr. Blaine's mere nomination has already produced. But it is only one of many. The Republican party once proudly and justly called itself the party of moral ideas. Where are those moral ideas now? What is the answer of the thorough-paced partisan when you remind him of “the party of moral ideas” of the past, and point at the record of his candidate? “Hang moral ideas, we are for the party!” And he will tell you further that, whatever may become of your moral ideas, you are in honor bound to be for the party too. The Republican party was a party of freemen and volunteers. From the Whigs and from the Democrats they came, proud of having cut their party ties, and they gathered around the anti-slavery banner, for this they thought the cause of right. And now the spokesmen of the same party tell you that he who opposes the candidates of his party because he conscientiously believes it wrong to support them commits a dishonorable act.
As a member of a party I do not cease to be a citizen. Under all circumstances the duties which I owe as a citizen to my country are superior to the duties which I can possibly owe to any party. When I go as a delegate to a party convention, I consult with others as to what may be best for party action. When as a voter I go to the polls, I consult my own conscience about what is best for the country's welfare. And if I conscientiously find that what the party demands is not for the good of the country, then it is not only my right but my duty as a citizen to vote against it. Who will gainsay this? But now we are told not only that a delegate to a convention has no right to oppose his party's nominees, but that an ordinary member of the party is by his honor forbidden to do so. A new code of political honor is invented which forbids us to be honest. There was an outcry once in this country against the English principle: “Once a subject, always a subject.” It seems the Blaine party wants to improve upon this by the proclamation: “Once a party member, always a party slave.” And what is worse, we see men who know that all we say is true, and who but yesterday said it themselves, stifle their consciences and wear the badge of that slavery.
But that is not all the mere nomination of Mr. Blaine has already accomplished. As it is tainting the present so it is defiling the past. How often have you had to read and to hear these days that, as Mr. Blaine is pursued with charges and abuse, so were Washington and Lincoln pursued, and that between these three there is really little difference. What a comparison! It is true Washington was called by his enemies a monarchist and Lincoln a baboon. But we cannot learn that either of them found it necessary to defend himself against the imputation. If the friends of Mr. Blaine want to establish a real parallel between him and them they should carefully examine Washington's and Lincoln's private correspondence. Among Washington's letters they would have to find one somewhat like this:
My dear Mr. Fisher: Your offer to admit me to a participation in your beef contract is very generous. Accept my thanks. But I want more. You spoke of your friend Caldwell, who has the flour contract, as willing to dispose of a share of his interest to me. I wish he would make the proposition definite. Tell him that I feel I shall not prove a deadhead in the enterprise. I see various channels in which I know I can be useful.
P.S. — In looking over my order books, I find that when Mr. Caldwell delivered the last lot of flour there was some irregularity, which induced the Commissary of the Army to refuse acceptance. I promptly cut the red tape by ordering the Commissary to accept the delivery at once, so that I saved Mr. Caldwell much trouble in getting the flour passed and in obtaining his money. Thus, without knowing him, I did him a favor which must have been worth much to him. Let him hurry up his proposition to me.
Or in Mr. Lincoln's private correspondence they might look for a letter somewhat like this:
My dear Mr. Fisher: Your agent, Mr. Blaine, a very smart young man apparently, who got your Spencer rifle accepted by the Ordnance Department, brought me your very generous offer for a share in the contract, for which accept my thanks. I learn, also, of your friend Mr. Caldwell's disposition to let me have a share of his interest in the manufacture of belts and cartridge boxes. Let him make me a definite proposition as quickly as possible. I tell you I am not going to be a deadhead in that enterprise. I feel it. There are lots of channels in which I can make myself useful. By the way, you can tell Mr. Caldwell that I did him a great favor some time ago without knowing him. A large lot of belts and cartridge boxes were detained here because the ordnance officers wanted more time to inspect them. But the troops needed them, and I ordered them to be hurried to the front, and Caldwell got his money. You see? I want him to send me a definite proposition at once.
Well, if such letters could be found among Washington's and Lincoln's private correspondence, and if it could be further discovered that Washington and Lincoln had publicly declared that the interest they had in those contracts was only such as any other citizen might have purchased on the Boston market, and that they could not have exercised any power with regard to those contracts, because in the one case it was the business of the Commissary and in the other of the Ordnance Department, and if Washington and Lincoln had taken those letters from Mr. Fisher's bookkeeper without authority and kept them notwithstanding a promise to return them, and if Washington and Lincoln before a committee of Congress investigating these things had time and again protested against inquiry into their private business, and if Washington and Lincoln had accumulated large fortunes while in office — then, I admit, the parallel would be justified, and Washington and Lincoln, too, might be enrolled in the order of Americans with a big A.
But as history knows them it would have been a delight to see Washington's boot kick the man suggesting such propositions out of his tent, and to hear Lincoln crying out at the insulting tempter, “Do you take me for a knave?” and whirling him down the stairs of the White House.
You see what Mr. Blaine's nomination has already done for us. Not only has it taken the moral backbone out of many living men who were aggressively honest before, but it has led even to the desecration of the graves of the dead. Washington and Lincoln had to be paraded as tattooed men to make the American people forget the dark spots on the Republican candidate. Our great historic names, whose significance should ever be the inspiration of American youth, had to be dragged down into the dust to meet his. We have had to witness one of those infamous attempts at profanation which even the most passionate zeal of partisanship cannot excuse. But if the mere nomination of Mr. Blaine has accomplished this, what would be the effects of his election to the Presidency? Imagine that event to have taken place. Imagine then one of the older men among us with the old-fashioned notions of better times to meet a company of young, able, active and aspiring politicians, and to discourse to them about their duties as public men. He would, of course, mention foremost among those duties unselfish devotion to the public interest, scrupulous honesty and the maintenance of the highest standard of official honor. You must not be surprised if an answer like this comes back: “Old friend, you are behind the times. That was good talk years ago, but only Pharisees and dudes speak so now, and they, you should know, are very ridiculous persons. As for us, we are going into politics to make money. We see various channels of usefulness there, and we are not going to be deadheads in anything that offers itself.” “But,” you object, “the people will never tolerate such a thing.” What will the answer be? “You are behind the times again, old friend. Years ago the people might not have tolerated it, but now they do. They rather like it. Do you know the story of James G. Blaine? His case was clear enough. Everybody knew that he had been on the make when he was Speaker of the House. There were the Mulligan letters and the testimony, and the fact that he had made a large fortune without any business. There could be no doubt about it. And what happened? The Republican party nominated him for the Presidency. And Mr. Evarts made a long speech for him, with several jokes in it. And those who protested against it were laughed at as dudes and Pharisees. And he was elected President, and called the great representative American. You see the American people like this sort of thing. This is the way to wealth and to public honor at the same time, as in James G. Blaine's case. That is what we want too. It is the road to the Presidency. And some of us may get there in the same way. Let us be on the make, then.” What would you answer? Would not, in case of Mr. Blaine's election, all this be true, every word of it?
But more would be true; and here I ask for the attention of business men. Do you think that the contagion of that example would remain confined to the political field? Do you think that the sanction and encouragement, aye, the glorification which being “on the make” would receive by the popular vote for Mr. Blaine, would not be noticed by your cashiers and your bookkeepers and your salesmen and your clerks? Will not many of them ask themselves why they should be more conscientious in the discharge of their business duties and the use of their business opportunities than the man whom the American people honored with the Presidency was in the use of his opportunities as Speaker of the House of Representatives? Have you not had enough of that sort of thing? Do you want to give it an additional stimulus by letting every one in the country who handles other people's money or goods know that the American people regard being “on the make” by hook or crook rather as an elegant accomplishment which will not stand in the way of the highest honors?
Now, what does all this signify? It is what will follow if in electing a man with a notorious and conspicuous record such as Mr. Blaine's to the Presidency of the United States, the American people take the fatal step of declaring the corrupt abuse of public power, the prostitution of official trust for private gain, will no longer be branded with dishonor, but will henceforth not even stand in the way of a man's promotion to the highest office of the Republic.
There is corruption enough now. But when the American people shall have proclaimed that they care nothing for a proper sense of honor in their public men and the public service, then a crop of corruption and demoralization will ripen such as we have never dreamed of. You complain now that the money kings and the great corporations have too much power in our public concerns. But when the American people by a solemn popular election shall have taught our politicians, young and old, that they can make themselves rich by the prostitution of official trust without fear of disgrace, that they may have pelf and public honor at the same time, there will be no limit to the corrupting power of wealth, and your dreaded money kings and corporations will do in open daylight what they now attempt in the dark. Corruption will irresistibly “broaden down from precedent to precedent.” Its flood may overwhelm all that we hold dear and are proud of to-day.
Citizens of the United States, I warn you solemnly not to take this fatal leap. The honor of the American people, the vitality of our institutions, the whole future of the Republic are involved in the issue. Do you want to protect that honor, to save those institutions from deadly rot, and the future of the Republic from incalculable disaster and disgrace? There is but one thing to do. If a political party, however great and glorious, has been so forgetful of its dignity and its duty as to nominate a candidate for the Presidency conspicuously bearing the fatal taint, then the American people must show that they have moral sense enough to reject him, and to reject him overwhelmingly. That is the way of salvation. There is no other.
It is vain for Mr. Blaine's friends to cry out that, however grave his offenses may have been, the people have already again and again condoned them. If it were so, it would be the highest time to reconsider before pronouncing the final verdict. But I deny it. It is not so. True, the legislature of Maine elected him a Senator, and the Republican National Convention nominated him as their candidate after his offenses had become known. So much the worse for the Maine legislature and for the Republican Convention. But they have only proved that some people have forgiven and forgotten his delinquencies. The question is, How many? The American people will pronounce their opinion on those offenses in November for the first time, and I trust it will be shown by an overwhelming majority that the American people have never forgotten them, and never will make the man guilty of them President of the United States.
In view of all this, of the glaring unfitness of the nomination, and of the fearful demoralization and disgrace the election of such a candidate by the American people would inflict upon this Republic, I do not hesitate to declare as my honest conviction that the consequences of Mr. Blaine's election, immediate and remote, would be far worse, infinitely more dangerous to our future as a Nation, than anything a Democratic Administration could under present circumstances bring with it. I mean exactly what I say. Take all the things which the most fanatical Republicans predict and the most nervous of them fear as to the possible results of Democratic success — a precipitate disturbance of our tariff policy, renewed troubles in the South, a clean sweep and a new deal in all the Federal offices — consequences which I by no means admit as probable with such a President as the Democrats have nominated, at the head of affairs — but admit for argument's sake that all these things would follow; yet all the evils thus predicted — business confusion and financial loss, violence in the South and another carnival of spoils in the Federal offices — would only be of a temporary nature. The energy of our business community and the resources of the country would quickly help us over our financial embarrassments, and bad laws can be changed by amendment and repeal. New disorder in the South and a spoils carnival would quickly provoke an overwhelming reaction, and the guilty party would soon lose power again. All these apprehended results of a Democratic victory, if they really did occur, would, therefore, be only temporary. Subsequent action would obliterate them to the last trace. They would be like flesh wounds, painful enough at the time, but capable of easy and permanent healing. But you let the American people declare that in the bestowal of their highest trusts and distinctions they care nothing for official honor; that gross and systematic prostitution of official power for private gain, even in the most important positions in the Government, is not regarded by the people as an offense disqualifying a public man for the most exalted honor in the land, the Presidency of the United States — let the American people declare that, and you have injected into our system the virus of a disease which is not of a mere passing nature, which will not be easily and permanently cured by a mere reaction, but which will fester on and on, attacking the very fountain of our vitality. This is not a mere flesh wound — this is poisoning of the blood.
Therefore I repeat that nothing a Democratic success can bring with it will be as bad in its nature and as dangerous in its consequences to the future of the Republic as the mere fact of Mr. Blaine's election. And I am ready further to declare that, for this reason, while I had my preferences among the Democratic candidates, I should have been willing, as against Mr. Blaine, to support any of them, provided he be an honest man with a perfectly untarnished record of official integrity. And here I may say, by the way, that some of Mr. Blaine's friends pretend that the nomination of Mr. Hendricks for the Vice-Presidency, together with Governor Cleveland in the first place, must be a great embarrassment to men of my way of thinking, and that we are unwilling to face it. They are mistaken. I am willing to face it. There are things in Mr. Hendricks's record, in the way of opinion and endeavor, which, I say it frankly, I was opposed to at the time and which I would oppose now were they to be repeated. But there is one thing which is not to be found in Mr. Hendricks's record, and that is the least flavor of corruption or of the prostitution of official power for private gain. Here is what the New York Tribune said of him some years ago: “An honest jurist, an able and incorruptible statesman and a wise politician, his views on public questions are entitled to great weight. His record as Senator, Representative, Commissioner and State legislator is pure and untarnished.” And this happens to be now the main question. I therefore do not hesitate to say that were Mr. Hendricks not the candidate for the Vice-Presidency merely, but the Presidency itself, I should, in spite of our disagreements on subjects of policy, accept his election as a welcome escape from the blood poisoning with which Mr. Blaine's election would inevitably curse the American Republic.
Nobody can deny that I have treated Mr. Blaine fairly and with moderation. I have not depended upon statements made by his enemies or detractors. I have not even quoted the fiery denunciations poured upon him, not many years ago, by some of his recently magnetized friends. I have discussed only one phase of his career, and only one salient point in that phase. I have not taken up his foreign policy in order to inquire whether it is true that he recklessly jeoparded the peace of the country, and that the most important international questions, as soon as he touched them, began to revolve around a claim and seemed to turn into a job. I have not touched his plan of distributing the surplus revenue, which, of course, involves the preservation of the surplus as the fountain of a multitude of jobs. I have not touched his original and curious conception that the people of Virginia should not repudiate their debt, but neither should they pay it, for the United States should pay it for them, and so on. All these things, interesting and instructive specimens of statesmanship, I have left aside. I have, as I said, discussed only one salient point in one phase of his career, and in doing so I have called to the stand as principal witness Mr. Blaine himself. By his own words, written and spoken — words authentic beyond cavil, words imprinted on the official records of the Government — Mr. Blaine has convinced me, and, I trust, has convinced you, that his defeat as a candidate for the Presidency is at this time the supreme duty of American citizenship. To vindicate the honor of the American name it should be done by a phenomenal majority, so that the world may know how strongly the American heart beats for righteousness and honest government. And to repair the honor of the Republican party it should be done by Republican votes. Yes, to repair the honor of the Republican party it should be done by Republican votes, to make it known that, while a strange debauchment of conscience permitted such a nomination to be made, the true Republican heart revolted at it, to undo by its own act the disgraceful mischief.
But here the partisan cry rises up that this would involve party defeat. Republicans, do you not see that the best Republican principles have already been defeated by that Republican nomination? Do you not see that those principles, which were the great soul of the Republican party, command you to maintain good government at any cost, be it even the timely sacrifice of party ascendancy? I am speaking to Republicans, and, I trust, to patriotic men and to men of sense. Many of you, perhaps, recoil from the thought of having the Government, by the defeat of the Republican party, pass into the hands of the Democrats. There was a time when such a transfer of power appeared to involve great danger. That was the time of the civil war, of supreme National peril. That time lies twenty years behind us. The Union is no longer in jeopardy. The existence of the Government as such is safe. We are in profound peace. I have shown you that, aside from the question of honesty in government, there is none the decision of which one way or the other would result in more than temporary inconvenience. This is an auspicious time for looking calmly at the nature of our Government and its requirements. Every thinking man will admit these propositions: republican government, as it has shaped itself, is government through political parties. This certainly does, in the nature of things, not mean that one party should remain in possession of the Government all the time. Such a state of things would inevitably in the long run bring forth very corrupt and very tyrannical government, because it would be irresponsible. What a long uninterrupted period of party ascendancy may accomplish we have already learned by painful experience. I go further, and affirm: The very notion that there is only one political party capable of carrying on the Government, or that there is only one party that can be trusted with it, will in the long run become seriously dangerous to free institutions. A republic in which this assumption is practically maintained will be a republic only in name. The absurdity of the assumption is self-evident. The American people are almost equally divided in politics. In 1880 the Republican vote was 4,450,921; the Democratic vote, 4,447,888 — about one-half of the people on one side and one-half on the other. If it were true that the existence of the Republic depended upon the ability of one-half of the people to keep the Government permanently in their own hands, and out of the hands of the other half, the Republic might as well wind up at once and have a receiver appointed. It is absurd. There must be, therefore, in the very nature of republican government, occasionally a change from one party to another.
Now, the Republican party has been in power for twenty-four successive years — nearly a quarter of a century. Candidly, my Republican friends, you cannot think that the Republican party should or can always remain in power. Does it not occur to you, when looking at the present condition of things, that it would have been much better for the Republican party had it already gone through the discipline of some interruption? At any rate, every sensible man knows that with the certainty of fate it will have to go out of power sometime. No sane being will deny this. Well, then, I beg you soberly to consider whether, all things taken into account, the present time is not as propitious a one as you can ever expect to find.
Look at the circumstances surrounding us. I repeat, we are in profound peace. Nobody will pretend that, as far as political parties are concerned, the existence of the country depends on the ascendancy of either of them. I have already shown you what dangerous consequences the election of the Republican candidate would draw after it. I will, indeed, not say that Mr. Blaine is the most objectionable candidate the Republican party will ever nominate; for if you elect him, heaven only knows what that precedent may bring forth next. There may be at least a chance for geniuses of the school of Dorsey or Brady, or similar statesmen of magnetic faculties. But the very fact that the election of the present Republican nominee would pave the way for such a class of successors is in itself a strong reason why he should not be elected. This is bad enough; it would be folly to wait for worse and to invite it.
On the other hand, the Democratic party has never presented a candidate whom any friend of good government, Democrat or Republican, could see step into the Presidential chair with a greater feeling of security than Grover Cleveland. This time, therefore, is uncommonly propitious for a change of power, on account of the safety with which it can be effected. And here I may remark, by the way, that the scandalous stories recently circulated about Mr. Cleveland's private character have, to my knowledge, been inquired into by several parties separately — by men of high standing in Buffalo, by a clerical gentleman of the editorial staff of the Independent and by others — and that the reports of all of them, as they have come to me, based upon a conscientious study of the facts of the case, agree in pronouncing those stories monstrous calumnies on the man, which will recoil upon the inventors. The public will undoubtedly hear more from the investigators through the press. With this conviction I stand here speaking of Governor Cleveland. I beg Republicans to remember that when Mr. Cleveland was elected governor of New York two years ago, it was through Republican support that he received his enormous majority. And I am sure every Republican in New York whose object was not mere party advantage, but an honest, able and fearless administration of public affairs for the public good, has ever since congratulated himself upon the support he gave that Democratic candidate. To be sure, while receiving the hearty approbation and applause of the friends of good government, Governor Cleveland also made enemies: the bitterest among them were the greedy politicians for whom he was not a good enough partisan because he was so good a governor; and he was so good a governor just because he was not a good enough partisan for them.
Mr. Blaine's advocates loudly complain that Governor Cleveland is not a statesman. It must be admitted that he is not a statesman in the Blaine sense. If he were, it would be dangerous to vote for him. He has evidently not the genius to be all things to everybody. He is not magnetic enough to draw every rascal to his support. He will probably be cold enough to freeze every job out of the White House. He is not brilliant enough to cover the whole world with flighty schemes. But, unless I am much mistaken, he possesses very much of that kind of statesmanship which is now especially required and for which Mr. Blaine has conspicuously disqualified himself. And that is the statesmanship of honest and efficient administration. What is the kind of business which under present circumstances the Executive branch of the National Government has to attend to? It is in the main administrative business. It is to see to it that the laws be faithfully and efficiently executed, and, to that end, to introduce and maintain honest and efficient methods for the execution of the laws, and to enforce the necessary responsibility. This is administration, and this is under present circumstances the principal business of the Executive. No flighty genius, therefore, is required to make business for the Government; but what we want is solid ability and courageous integrity to see to it that the business which is found there be well done.
Of this kind of statesmanship Mr. Cleveland, as all who have impartially observed his career will admit, possesses in a high degree the instinct, and now also the experience. When he entered upon his duties as mayor of Buffalo, a few years ago, he said: “It seems to me that a successful and faithful administration of the government of a city may be accomplished by constantly bearing in mind that we are the trustees and agents of our fellow-citizens, holding their funds in sacred trust to be expended for their benefit; that we should at all times be prepared to render an honest account to them touching the manner of its expenditure; and that the affairs of the city should be conducted as far as possible upon the same principles as a good business man manages his private concerns.” You may say that this is neither very brilliant nor quite original. But it contains after all the fundamental principles of honest and efficient administration, applicable not only to a city, but to a State and to the Nation. And when a public man coming into power speaks such words, and fully understands what they mean, and has the ability and courage to give them full effect, he possesses a statesmanship for executive office infinitely more valuable to the country than Mr. Blaine's statesmanlike skill and experience in making himself “useful in various channels,” and being a deadhead in none.
And that Mr. Cleveland did understand the meaning of what he said and was determined to carry it out, he showed sometimes in a way which astonished the natives. Here is an instance: When the city council of Buffalo, composed of Democrats and Republicans, had passed a resolution approving an extravagant contract for street-cleaning, his veto message contained the following language: “This is a time for plain speech. I withhold my assent from the same [the resolution] because I regard it as the culmination of a most barefaced, impudent and shameless scheme to betray the interests of the people and to worse than squander the public money. I will not be misunderstood in this matter. There are those whose votes were given for this resolution whom I can not and will not suspect of a willful neglect of the interests they are sworn to protect; but it has been fully demonstrated that there are influences, both in and about your honorable body, which it behooves every honest man to watch and avoid with the greatest care.” This meant as plainly as parliamentary language could express it: “Gentlemen, there are some scoundrels among you. I know it. And I want you to know that I know it, and that I watch you, and that your schemes will not succeed as long as I am here.” I like that kind of statesmanship. The taxpayers of Buffalo liked it. The people of the State soon showed that they liked it. And I think the people of the United States would like it too, the knaves always excepted.
Mr. Cleveland had never been a professed civil service reformer. But he soon showed that he understood and adopted the vital principles of civil service reform by instinct. He said in his letter of acceptance when nominated for the governorship: “Subordinates in public place should be selected and retained for their efficiency, and not because they may be used to accomplish partisan ends. The people have a right to demand here, as in cases of private employment, that their money be paid to those who will render the best service in return, and that the appointment to and tenure of such places should depend upon ability and merit.” This is the whole in a nutshell. And he not only understood it and said it, but he acted accordingly when in power, for he favored and signed and faithfully helped to execute the civil service act for the State of New York which embodies just these principles, although he knew that it cut off the loaves and fishes of public spoil in a great measure from his own party. But more. He said in the same letter of acceptance: “The expenditure of money to influence the action of the people at the polls or to secure legislation is calculated to excite the gravest concern. It is useless and foolish to shut our eyes to the fact that this evil exists among us, and the party which leads in an honest effort to return to better and purer methods will receive the confidence of our citizens and secure their support.” Having said this, he favored and signed a prohibition of political assessments in the civil service of New York, although he knew that this measure would most severely curtail the electioneering funds of his own party.
As a member of the Civil Service Reform Association, I may say that when we prepared and urged a legislative reform measure we never inquired whether Governor Cleveland, although a Democrat, would sign it, because we knew he would if it was a good one. When the citizens of New York City sought to correct the crying abuses of their municipal government, they, too, always counted with the same confidence upon the governor, no matter whether the Democratic or the Republican party might be hurt by a measure of true reform, and that confidence was always justified. And, by the way, it is rather a shabby piece of business that some of the gentlemen who leaned upon the governor as one of their principal pillars of strength, and were then full of praise of him for his courageous resistance to party pressure, should throw paltry quibbles at him since he has become a candidate for the Presidency. Had he not been nominated it would have been said that the unbending courage for the right with which he resisted pressure coming from his own party was the very thing that defeated him. It was, indeed, the thing which made his enemies hate him so bitterly. But take his whole record. When he ceased to be mayor of Buffalo a Republican paper said: “Yesterday Buffalo lost the best mayor she ever had.” When he ceases to be governor, to become President of the United States, these very gentlemen will say: “New York never had a more efficient governor than this.”
In justice we are bound to say that here is a man whose ideas of honest, intelligent and efficient administration are remarkably clear and correct; who has not only promised but performed; whose performance, in fact, went ahead of the manifesto; who has proved himself to possess in an eminent degree the principal requisites of executive efficiency, which are incorruptible integrity, a clear head, a well-informed mind, a devotion to duty shrinking from no labor, a cool judgment, a high sense of official honor, a keen instinct of justice and that rare courage which, whenever the public good requires it, firmly resists not only the opposition of a hostile party but, which is more difficult, the entreaty of party friends. You fear that another party coming into power will, in its eagerness to get possession of the offices, turn out the good men together with the bad, and you ask whether there is a man who as President would be strong enough to withstand the pressure of his partisans. I admit you cannot find many strong enough to do this, but I do not think I risk anything in saying that Mr. Cleveland is one of the few. I should not be surprised if he were the strongest of them all. As to the higher spheres of statesmanship, it may be remembered that in every position of power assigned to him he has shown an ability to perform its duties beyond the expectations of his friends. And when he now says, as he did a week ago in accepting the nomination, that he considers himself pledged to give to the people “the utmost benefits of a pure and honest administration of national affairs,” we may recall the fact that so far not one of his pledges has remained unfulfilled. Indeed, a man with just such a public record and just such qualities might be seen in the Presidential chair without alarm, whatever party name he may bear; for he need only follow his own example in order to adopt from any party what is good, and to reject, even coming from his own party, what is bad. He would be especially what the hour demands: The representative of courageous conscience in the administration of public affairs.
You will admit, therefore, my Republican friends, that if a change of party in power must come sometime, the present time is an exceedingly propitious one, considering the safety with which the inevitable transition can now be effected. You can scarcely hope to find a man more peculiarly adapted to the occasion.
But, let me repeat, even if it were not so, even if greater risks were to be taken and real perils to be feared, the duty of the hour would always remain the same. It is to defeat a candidate whose election to the Presidency would be a proclamation to all the world that a high sense of official honor is no longer required in the Government of the United States, and that the American people consider a man who has offered for prostitution his official power to make money as still worthy of the highest honors of the Republic, to be held up as a model for emulation to this and coming generations.
Republicans, I yield to none of you in pride of the spirit and the great achievements of the Republican party in the past. There are undoubtedly men before me who took an active part in the great Republican campaign of 1860. I know you will feel your pulse beat quicker when you remember the joyous glow with which the enthusiastic consciousness of a noble cause filled our hearts; with what eagerness we went into the conflict, having nothing to apologize for and nothing to conceal; with what affection and confidence we commended to the suffrages of the people our standard bearer, honest Abraham Lincoln. Remember how, under Republican guidance, the American Union was washed clean of the stain of slavery, and the great rebellion was vanquished, and Abraham Lincoln was borne once more on our shield, with the same faith and the same affectionate confidence, for the trials of power had given to his honesty still more radiant luster.
And now, after twenty-four years of uninterrupted ascendancy, what has the party come to? Look at it, the party of moral ideas, presenting as its great leader and representative a man whose unclean record it cannot deny and dare not face. Listen to its spokesmen, how they dodge and squirm around that record as something too hot to touch — unfortunate attorneys, wretchedly troubled by the feeling that, if they respect themselves, they must take care not to become identified with the public morals of their client. Watch them, how they use the tariff question as a great fig leaf which they stretch and spread to make it cover and hide the crookedness of their standard bearer! What a burning shame and disgrace is this! Pride of party indeed! Those who are truly proud of the good the party has done will be too proud to consent to its degrading perversion into an instrument of evil. If the great party which abolished slavery and saved the Republic is to serve as an instrument to poison the life of the same Republic by crowning corruption with its highest honors, then the truly proud Republicans will wash their hands of it.
As they understood the great problem of the anti-slavery period, so they understand the great problem of to-day. The contest in which we are engaged is not a mere crusade against one man. It is not a mere race between two. It is one of the great struggles for the vitality of this Nation, the second one in our days. In 1860, when the slave-power had stretched out its hand to secure its ascendancy in this Union forever, we fought to reestablish the fundamental condition of human society, which is freedom. And now, when the corrupt tendencies stimulated by the civil war and the commotions following it culminate in reaching for the prestige of National approval, we fight to reëstablish the fundamental condition of good government, which is honesty. The cause of to-day is no less great and vital than was the cause of twenty-five years ago, and those who were proudest to stand up for freedom then will be proud to stand up for honest government now.
This is not the cause of a mere party. It is greater than any party. It is in the broadest sense the cause of the people, the cause of all classes and honorable occupations, alike. It speaks the language of interest and says to our merchants and business men: You know that the successful working of commerce and trade hangs upon trust between man and man. You need credit as a nation as you need confidence between individuals. If you discover that a managing man in your business is in secret concert with any of your customers, and uses the opportunities of his position for his own personal profit, you confide in him no longer, but you discharge him. If you learn that the cashier of your bank so uses the opportunities of his place, you distrust the institution and with draw your deposits. What will you think of yourselves, what will the world think of your business judgment and your sense of honesty, if in something far greater than your shop or your bank, if in the Government of your country you promote the man who has done this, to the highest place of honor and trust? You complain that the credit of our great enterprises has most injuriously suffered at home and abroad by the unscrupulous tricks of the inside rings in corporate management. How will it be if you give the solemn sanction of your votes to something akin to the same practice in the Government of the Republic?
This is the cause of labor and says to the workingmen: What you need above all things is a government of just laws and of honest men to execute the laws. You need men who have the conscience and courage to say “No” to you when the law forbids that which you may ask for; for such men will have the conscience and courage to say “No” to those more powerful than you when they ask for what is unjust and injurious to you. Beware of the demagogue who the more he flatters you with promises to-day, the more he will be likely to betray you to-morrow. Beware of the political jobber, for in the very nature of things he is always the monopolist's own pet and bed fellow. How can you, laboring men, so betray your own interests as to support a candidate whose election will mean that in the opinion of the American people jobbery in the Government is a legitimate occupation, not to be punished, but to be honored?
This is the cause of patriotism and national pride, and it says to every citizen of the Republic: Do you want the world abroad to respect the American name? Then show them first that the American people respect themselves. The American people will show how they respect themselves by the choice they make for their highest honors. Ask yourselves, Americans, how this Republic will stand in the esteem of mankind, and how its influence will be upheld by the confidence of nations if the American people by a solemn vote proclaim to the world that official honor is to them a thing of indifference, and that they select their President from among those who have traded on high official trust to make money.
And in the face of all this still the cry of “Party!” Woe to the republic whose citizens think of party and nothing but party, when the honor of their country and the vitality of their Government are at stake! But, happily, what an impotent cry it is in these days! Look around you and see what is going on. The time of a new migration of political forces seems to have come. The elements are restlessly moving, in all directions breaking through the barriers of old organizations. Here they march and there, some with uncertain purpose, crossing one another's paths and sometimes even their own. No doubt, one of the candidates of the two great parties will be President. But neither of the two parties, when it issues from the struggle, will be what it was before. This is the disorder which evolves new energies, for good or for evil. Such are periods of promise, but also of danger. What will come we cannot foresee. But in the confusion that surrounds us it is the part of patriotic men to stand together with clear heads and one firm purpose. Their duty is plain. It is to see to it that, whatever the future may build up, its foundations at least be kept sound; that the honor of the American people be preserved intact, and that all political parties, new or old, become forever impressed with the utter hopelessness of any attempt to win success without respecting that vital condition of our greatness and glory, which is honest government.