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ERIE COUNTY, OH – “The Treason of the Senate”

November 3, 2009

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“The Treason of the Senate” (1906), David Graham Phillips

Rhode Island is the smallest of our states in area and thirty-fourth in population—twelve hundred and fifty square miles, less than half a million people, barely seventy thousand voters with the rolls padded by the Aldrich machine. But size and numbers are nothing; it contains as many sturdy Americans proportionately as any other state. Its bad distinction of supplying the enemy with a bold leader is due to its ancient and aristocratic constitution, changed once, away back before the middle of the last century, but still an archaic document for class rule. The apportionment of legislators is such that one-eleventh of the population, and they the most ignorant and most venal, elect a majority of the legislature—which means that they elect the two United States senators. Each city and township counts as a political unit; thus, the five cities that together have two-thirds of the population are in an overwhelming minority before twenty almost vacant rural townships—their total population is not thirty-seven thousand—where the ignorance is even illiterate, where the superstition is mediaeval, where tradition and custom have made the vote an article of legitimate merchandising.

The combination of bribery and party prejudice is potent everywhere; but there come crises when these fail “the interests” for the moment. No storm of popular rage, however, could unseat the senators from Rhode Island. The people of Rhode Island might, as a people and voting almost unanimously, elect a governor; but not a legislature. Bribery is a weapon forbidden those who stand for right and justice—who “fights the devil with fire” gives him choice of weapons, and must lose to him, though seeming to win. A few thousand dollars put in the experienced hands of the heelers, and the senatorial general agent of “the interests” is secure for another six years.

The Aldrich machine controls the legislature, the election boards, the courts—the entire machinery of the “republican form of government.” In 1904, when Aldrich needed a legislature to reelect him for his fifth consecutive term, it is estimated that carrying the state cost about two hundred thousand dollars—a small sum, easily to be got back by a few minutes of industrious pocket-picking in Wall Street. . . .

And the leader, the boss of the Senate for the past twenty years has been—Aldrich! . . .

The greatest single hold of “the interests” is the fact that they are the “campaign contributors”—the men who supply the money for “keeping the party together,” and for “getting out the vote.” Did you ever think where the millions for watchers, spellbinders, halls, processions, posters, pamphlets, that are spent in national, state and local campaigns come from? Who pays the big election expenses of your congressman, of the men you send to the legislature to elect senators? Do you imagine those who foot those huge bills are fools? Don’t you know that they make sure of getting their money back, with interest, compound upon compound? Your candidates get most of the money for their campaigns from the party committees; and the central party committee is the national committee with which congressional and state and local committees are affiliated. The bulk of the money for the “political trust” comes from “the interests.” “The interests” will give only to the “political trust.” And that means Aldrich and his Democratic (!) lieutenant, Gorman of Maryland, leader of the minority in the Senate. Aldrich, then, is the head of the “political trust” and Gorman is his right-hand man. When you speak of the Republican party, of the Democratic party, of the “good of the party,” of the “best interests of the party;” of “wise party policy,” you mean what Aldrich and Gorman, acting for their clients, deem wise and proper and “Republican” or “Democratic.” . . .

No railway legislation that was not either helpful to or harmless against “the interests”; no legislation on the subject of corporations that would interfere with “the interests,” which use the corporate form to simplify and systematize their stealing; no legislation on the tariff question unless it secured to “the interests” full and free license to loot; no investigations of wholesale robbery or of any of the evils resulting from it—there you have in a few words the whole story of the Senate’s treason under Aldrich’s leadership, and of why property is concentrating in the hands of the few and the little children of the masses are being sent to toil in the darkness of mines, in the dreariness and unhealthfulness of factories instead of being sent to school; and why the great middle classÑthe old-fashioned Americans, the people with the incomes of from two thousand to fifteen thousand a year—is being swiftly crushed into dependence and the repulsive miseries of “genteel poverty.”

[From David Graham Phillips, “The Treason of the Senate,” Cosmopolitan, April 1906, pp. 628–38.]

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