Popular Science Monthly/Volume 30/January 1887/Misgovernment of Great Cities I
GREAT cities are essential to the development of any important or influential national life. They gather into themselves the resources of the nation, and so organize its stores of wealth, its enterprise, and the results of its genius and culture, as to render each efficient in promoting the common good. They are the centers of power. Without the facilities which through them are afforded for commerce and manufactures, without their aggregations of capital, their business systems and institutions, and their fostering care of art, science, and literature, it would seem impossible that there could be any civilization or progress.
These great municipalities are the exponents of the national advancement in material wealth, in commercial importance and influence, and in all forms of intellectual and moral culture. In times past they have been the agencies through which civil and intellectual freedom have been conserved, even if they may not be credited with having been the nursery in which liberty was cradled. They constitute the medium through which we must study many of the most important and interesting phases of history, and are the sources of all the greatest enterprises of the world.
So thoroughly do cities become representative of national life and characteristics, that it is frequently said that London is England, Rome is Italy, and Paris is France. In a less comprehensive but nevertheless very important sense it might properly be said that New York represents America, Boston stands for New England, and Chicago for the great West. A thorough acquaintance with either of these great cities is equivalent to knowing well the people by whom they are surrounded.
Notwithstanding their important relation to all that is significant or influential in national life and history, it is nevertheless true that there has never been developed anything, which even by courtesy, could be called a science of municipal government. Indeed, it is only within these latest years that the fact that there could be such a science has even been suggested. But the pressure has been constantly growing more and more imperious. Monstrosities which are the legitimate fruit of the hap-hazard system, or rather lack of system, which characterizes the government of many cities, evils of administration and burdens of taxation that had become almost unendurable; the astounding frauds which have been brought to light within the last few years in New York and Philadelphia, and the usurpation of power by demagogues through the aid of the most degraded elements of society, have at last forced an inquiry as to what form of municipal government will most efficiently correct present abuses and reduce to the minimum the opportunities for harm to the body politic.
Men begin to ask whether the municipal authority may not be so organized and administered that it shall promote and protect the interests of both the corporation and the individual; whether the evils to which I have alluded, and others equally apparent and subversive of the ends of good government, are inherent in our municipal system or only incident thereto. And some effort has been made to ascertain the principles which underlie a legitimate municipal authority and the most efficient means of making the application of those principles practical.
Not a very great deal has been accomplisbed by this study. The problem is complicated and many-sided. Its solution depends on careful and extended observation, and on the concurrent action of ise, patient, self-sacrificing, and public-spirited citizens. In this study the conclusions of purely theoretical political economists, and of those men whose thought and experience have been limited to special aspects of the subject, are alike unsafe and misleading: the first, because political communities never afford the proper conditions for the application of abstract principles; and the second, because the entire machinery of government is so interdependent and complicated that successful modifications of any special department imply corresponding changes in all the associated agencies. But whatever difficulties may embarrass the subject, we have good cause for congratulation in the fact that the problem is being studied, and not altogether studied in vain.
The evils growing out of the misgovernment of cities may be grouped in two general divisions: First, those which are the legitimate fruit of systems which are in themselves vicious, and which can only be corrected by a radical change in the governmental machinery; and, second, those which result from the abuse and corrupt use of agencies which in themselves are proper and beneficent, but which, in the hands of designing men, come to be efficient aids of fraud and the most obnoxious forms of wrong-doing. This class of evils can only be corrected by devising some means which shall keep the government in the control of its best citizens. Can this be done, and, if yes, then how?
Let us first note some of the difficulties of the problem, and then ascertain, so far as we may be able, what are the possibilities and methods of its solution.
As a primary proposition it may be stated that the lack of a general and comprehensive act of incorporation has been the cause of endless embarrassment and difficulty in the management of city affairs. In many States the method of municipal incorporation has been by the granting of special charters. These charters possess no uniformity as to the powers conferred, but in each case represent such powers as the persons asking for them deemed it desirable to have, or such as the Legislature could be induced to confer.
Frequently it has happened that neither the incorporators who were seeking charters, nor the legislators who granted them, were persons who had had such experience in municipal affairs as to guarantee that the corporations which were to be created would be possessed of needful powers and restrained by proper limitations. Ordinarily, almost as a matter of course, there would be found but little difficulty in starting off the new municipality, for its most obvious needs would have been recognized and provided for, but as little or no thought had been taken as to the future demands which would be made upon it, and no adequate provision had been made for the needs of a largely increased constituency, it would by-and-by be demonstrated that the powers and privileges which were amply sufficient for the small constituency were too limited when the growth of the city demanded increased facilities and improvements.
An attempt would then be made to meet these demands, not by abrogating the original act of incorporation and substituting for it such a system as should be comprehensive and sufficiently elastic to respond to all legitimate demands that should be made on the governing power, but by amendments and additions, and the substitution of boards of commissions, until the whole system became inextricably involved. As a result we find in many municipalities separate boards of control for the government of the fire and police departments, election boards, school boards, boards of health, boards of visitors, and so on, until the multiplication of authorities has subdivided responsibility into homœopathic quantities. The tendency is also to apply the homœopathic treatment, and, on the theory of similia similibus curantur, to meet the constantly increasing difficulties by the creation of more of these boards and commissions.
We have in this country had an extensive and disastrous experience in this constant effort to meet the increasing demands of local government by supplemental legislation, but so far as I can ascertain we have not yet even approximated the achievements of our English cousins in this patchwork style of city government.
The English municipal reform bill was passed in 1834. Since then there have been passed seventy additional acts, all of which are in force, and which are applicable to all boroughs. These are supplemented by nineteen further acts, which, to a greater or less extent, effect these municipal organizations.
In addition to these acts I find it stated in a number of the "Contemporary Review" that there was, at least until recently, comprised within the limits of one poor-law union, two municipal boroughs with town councils, eleven local board districts, three boards of guardians, twenty-four bodies of overseers, five burial boards, two school boards, and one highway board — in all forty-eight local authorities, each acting independently and having jurisdiction in the same territory; a condition of things that would seem in contrast to render Babel a veritable haven of rest.
Our own experiments with this system of government by local boards and special commissions, whether these independent bodies have been created to meet some pressing need for which the organic act of incorporation did not make provision, or whether organized in the hope of rescuing a part of the municipal machinery from the control of the Tweeds and McManes and their disciples and imitators have been alike disastrous: the first, because the imperium in imperio is necessarily self destructive; and the second, because the vultures which prey upon the body politic will as certainly find the means to control these special organizations as they have hitherto found the means of dominating other governmental machinery, will man them with their own agents, and thus make them the subservient tools of a criminal regency.
Chicago struggled along under burdens of this sort for a good many years, but at last in sheer desperation it surrendered its original charter, together with all the ornaments with which subsequent legislation had decorated it, and organized under the general incorporation law of Illinois. So far as it has been tested, this law seems to have been wisely and intelligently framed, and, while it is adapted to the wants of small constituencies, it is sufficiently elastic to meet the demands of large cities. It at least possesses the important feature of making a single body responsible for the municipal government, and the executive becomes personally and directly responsible for the direction and administration of municipal affairs. Under it Chicago has thus far by no means attained to an ideal city government. Indeed, the events of the last year would indicate that it had but illustrated how thoroughly a good agent may become prostituted to evil purposes. Nevertheless, the imperfections of our municipal government (and their name is legion) exist in spite of the character of its organic system, rather than in consequence of it.
It is an important matter to definitely locate responsibility. When the responsibility can be subdivided among several independent bodies, or is shared by the chiefs of various departments, it rests with no special weight upon any individual. But when it can be located, when the people can come to the derelict councilman, or to the chief executive, and say, "Thou art the man," good men will always be more careful, and even bad men will become circumspect.
This principle is constantly attracting more and more attention. Boston has recently made some radical changes in her municipal system, which, while they do not go so far in the direction of localizing responsibility in the person of the chief executive as is now true of the city governments of New York and Brooklyn, still largely increase the power of the mayor, and make him to a greater extent than ever before responsible for the conduct of municipal affairs.
There can be but very little doubt that this will be found to be a change in the right direction, and all students of municipal reform will be interested to note whether, after testing this principle, the Boston constituency will not be inclined to give it even a more emphatic application.
But no system, however good in itself, is self-executing. It is not enough that the government shall be founded on right principles. Its administration must also be in the hands of trained and true men. This is a matter almost lost sight of in municipal affairs. Men are selected for city officers for almost every conceivable reason than that which should outweigh every other consideration, namely, their ability to discharge the duties thus devolved upon them. They are selected because they are Republicans or Democrats or Mugwumps. Perhaps they are politicians, and must be paid for services rendered. It may be that they have influential friends who desire to provide for them in the public service, or for some equally insufficient reason they are placed in charge of interests for the care of which they are utterly incompetent.
A private enterprise conducted on this plan would soon come to a most disastrous result, and every intelligent man would declare that such a result was deserved and inevitable. But seldom is this rule applied in passing judgment on public affairs. There seems to be a kind of undefined belief that public interests can be cared for by almost any persons, or that they can for the most part care for themselves, or that they are in some inscrutable way under the care of that Providence which is said to protect the lives and persons of idiots and inebriates. When the plundering of the public revenue is discovered, when the ballot-boxes are stuffed or stolen, and when by official incompetency or rascality the public safety or the public health is jeopardized, men shake their heads ominously, give a passing moment to reflections on the depraved state of municipal affairs, indulge in a few evil predictions, and pass on to their banks, their factories, or their merchandise, leaving these affairs to drift on to a destruction concerning which the only question is as to whether the dénoûment is more or less remote. Then, when the disaster or evil is upon them, and the effort to provide a remedy can no longer be postponed, relief is sought from some additional legislation or to some new device of administration, rather than by a resort to the simple and common-sense plan of putting municipal affairs in the hands of skilled and honest administrators. As to the methods of securing such officers, I shall have something to say farther on. In the administrations of city governments we find misgovernment manifesting itself in so many forms that it would be impracticable to make note of all its phases. Nor would such an effort prove interesting, even if perhaps it might be instructive.
To those pronounced and flagrant forms of misgovernment which arrest the attention of even the casual observer, I shall not at this time allude, except as I may suggest some method of correction. It wil be well, however, to refer to some less obtrusive instances which may not always be suggested to us in our examinations. And first, let us note the liability to mistake in connection with our public charities. The sentiment which pervades every rank and condition of society, demanding that relief be given to the suffering and that the wants of the needy be supplied, is creditable to humanity. It has, too, most abundant opportunities for exercise. No proposition has been more fully confirmed by the experience of mankind than that "the poor ye have always with you." In many of our municipalities the charge for poor-relief is one of the heaviest items of expense. How to render this assistance so as to secure the greatest good, and to do the least harm to those who are aided, is a question very difficult of solution. Public institutions, such as almshouses, hospitals, and infirmaries of various kinds, must of necessity be provided. In no other form can we meet the demands which we have neither the right nor the disposition to ignore. These benevolences, however, are not always managed in the interests of either the inmates or of the municipality. Officers are appointed and dismissed according to their subserviency to the appointing power. Employes who are not utterly incompetent to discharge the duties devolving upon their positions, and others who are not expected to perform any duties, are carried on the pay-roll, and the semi-seclusion and retirement which seems to invest such institutions, to a certain extent protects the details of their operations from public scrutiny. Complaints seldom receive attention, or are regarded as the querulous vagaries of an impaired intellect, and it is only in some of those spasmodic convulsions which occasionally rock to the very center some city government that we obtain an inside view of these affairs. At such times the public sensibility is apt to be shocked at the revelations which are brought to light, and the people wonder that evils of such magnitude could have existed undiscovered in their very midst.
There is another form of public charity which in the West we call "outside relief" — i.e., temporary aid in necessitous cases, which in the aggregate constitutes a very large expense, and the effect of which is not easily ascertained. Charitable aid in substantially this form seems to be a necessity in every community. Just how far it ought to be a gratuity is a matter deserving careful consideration. I am quite sure that this form of poor-relief is frequently so administered as to encourage pauperism. It creates a class of dependents who become imbued with the idea that such support is an inalienable right; all stimulus to industry and thrift is lost, and "pauperism becomes a profession."
I have a friend who, at a time when there was great want and suffering among the poor of Chicago, established a free Kindergarten where, during the day, little children could be left by their mothers, who thus had freedom for any employment which they could secure. This was continued until a change in business affairs seemed to obviate any further necessity for such a charity. The school was then closed, and its patrons became indignant. There seemed to be no gratitude for favors received, but rather a sense of personal wrong in the withdrawal of what had come to be looked upon as a permanent arrangement for their benefit. The effect of this charity was in the direction I have indicated. It begat a spirit of dependence on the part of its beneficiaries, and relaxed their sense of obligation to provide for their own necessities. I believe it to be a typical illustration. It is a difficult thing to bestow a charity in such a way as not to do harm to the beneficiary. In so far as it is practicable, there ought to be some kind of quid pro quo; aid granted should take the form of payment for some kind of service rendered, even if the service be of no value to the donor.
The city of Providence is moving in this direction. No donations are made to transient mendicants. Vagrants, tramps, and beggars are taken in charge by the police. Food and temporary lodging are provided by the city. A certain amount of labor is demanded of each able-bodied recipient of relief in payment of his entertainment, and the result is that that city is shunned by the professional pauper as if it were a pest-house.
Illustrative of another manner in which charities become perverted from their originally beneficent purpose, I would refer briefly to a report as to the London guilds, made by the City Companies Commission, published not long since in the "Pall Mall Gazette." These guilds or societies were originally benefit societies or charitable associations, and were under the care and protection of the city. In process of time they become the trustees of various bequests made for securing an annual income to some charitable institution or purpose. The guilds were simply trustees of this property, never its owners. As years passed by, the operation of natural causes enormously increased the value of the properties under their care, so that they are now estimated to be worth from S75,000,000 to $100,000,000, and the annual profits about 84,000,000. But the guilds as trustees only pay over to the charity funds the income on the original value of the bequests. As, for instance, where the rental of a certain realty was at the time the bequest was taken in charge by the guild $100, it is now $10,000; the guild, however, pays over to the charity the $100 and pockets the $9,900. Not a member of these guilds is entitled to a penny of this money; yet, by a system of "payment of privileges," which is a polite way of saying "the purchase of a right to steal," these guilds, besides spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of these trust-funds in banquetings and entertaining their friends in a sumptuous manner, pocket annually a handsome income for themselves.
The members of the guilds are, by virtue of said membership, invested with the municipal franchise, and are permitted to vote either in person or by proxy, and thus are admitted to the very select number who control the affairs of this immense metropolis. Mr. Gladstone not long ago characterized these guilds as associations for the cultivation of gastronomy, which occasionally gave a five-pound note to charity.
In a number of instances like provision was made for the support of churches and schools in particular localities. The changes caused by the demands of trade long ago deprived both churches and schools of their constituency. But the farce of maintaining religious worship in one place and a form of instruction in the other is maintained in order that the incomes appropriated to their support may not be sacrificed. The clergyman lives ten, fifteen, or twenty miles distant. He has no parish, and in some instances no congregation, but he comes to the church and goes through a form of religious service once or twice on Sunday. In one instance it was discovered that one man constituted the entire audience, and that he was paid a certain sum each week for playing congregation while the clergyman conducted the service!
In the city of London there are several parishes whose limits do not extend beyond the walls of the church-building—but which are in receipt of very generous incomes. In an article on the Bank of England, by Henry May, in the "Fortnightly Review," we are told that "this edifice" (the Bank) "was greatly enlarged between the years 1770 and 1786, and was completed pretty much as it now stands in 1786; an act having been procured in 1780 to enable the directors to buy the adjoining church, land, and parsonage—in fact, the whole parish of Christopher Le Stock—to the rector of which non-existent parish the bank pays four hundred pounds sterling per year to this day."
I am not aware of anything in America which parallels this condition of affairs. Our country is not as yet old enough for this; our conservatism is not of the right type, nor our veneration for such a class of "vested rights" sufficiently pronounced to afford favorable conditions for the existence of such abuses. I do not think it probable that they could maintain an assured footing among us. But we may be well warned against a system which tends in this direction, which is in itself vicious, and which must ultimately involve us in greater embarrassments.
The efficiency and success of a municipal government depend in a great measure upon its police establishment. The protection of life and property, the security of peace and good order, the suppression of crime and the arrest of criminals, are the special care of this department. Failure in these particulars is a fatal defect. Success in this branch of the government would palliate and atone for many shortcomings elsewhere. So far as I am able to learn, our American cities have no well-organized and well-sustained police force. Almost everywhere the police organization is used as a partisan political machine. If we recall the events of the past eighteen months, the statement will be confirmed, and we will find that the Republicans of Cincinnati and the Democrats of Chicago seem to vie with each other for an unenviable supremacy in this direction, and that each seems likely enough in its turn to surpass the other. The difficulty is fundamental, and relates to the theory of organization. Appointments to the police force, and promotions in the service, are made at the dictation of professional politicians, and as a reward for partisan services. A failure to perform these services is equivalent to an application for discharge. Efficiency in the line of duty will not atone for a lack of zeal in elections, and skill in detecting crime is of less moment or value than skill in managing primaries or conventions. Thus, the morale of the force is constantly being depreciated. It is impossible to appeal to its professional pride, its enthusiasm, or its professional esprit de corps. And the members of the organization, instead of constituting a dignified and respectable department of the municipal government, degenerate into time-serving placemen.
As a matter of experience, we have learned to expect, at the end of a newspaper paragraph announcing the perpetration of a crime, the assurance that no arrests have been made; and the comparative immunity of the criminal classes among us is a continual disgrace to our civilization.
The police system of some European cities is far more efficient than anything of the same sort in this country. Especially is this true of Paris. It may be objected that in the latter city the system is too efficient, and partakes too largely of a method of espionage and surveillance. I think that this objection would be valid. The Parisian police force would not be, and ought not to be, tolerated in any American city; but the reasons for this apply to some of the inquisitorial and detective purposes for which the force is used, and do not apply to the plan on which it is organized.
I would make the police service a profession in the same sense that the army is now a profession. Let its rank and file be composed of enlisted men who would be subject to discipline and dishonorable dismission for proper cause, in accordance with appropriate regulations adopted for the government of the force, but who could not be otherwise discharged. Let the officers be gentlemen trained to their profession, men holding a commission as honorable and desirable as that held by a military officer and subject to similar conditions. Let promotions be made for faithful and efficient service, and in recognition of exceptional ability.
Let the service be organized on the theory that it is a worthy profession for men of high character and ability. Let it be lifted out of the domain of politics and take its proper position as a department of the city government—a department which can in no way be affected by the mutations which attend the annual elections—and we would have as a result a police force which, either as to its personnel or the character of the work which it would perform, would be unexcelled.
The best method of raising the revenue necessary for carrying on the municipal government is an intricate problem, and one which, at one time or another, has received a great deal of attention. The systems in operation in different localities are widely different, and the proper discussion of any of them would not be practicable at this time. There are, however, two features of this subject which I am not willing to pass in silence:
1. As to that class of quasi public corporations, such as street and elevated railways, ferries, gas companies, and the like, which derive all their privileges from the municipal government and are subject to its control. From modest beginnings these organizations frequently grow to vast proportions, and their plant and franchise become a most valuable property.
When first introduced the popular demand for this class of improvements ordinarily enables these companies to secure specially favorable terms from the municipality. As time passes they become thoroughly established and wealthy, even if they do not become arrogant and defiant. Their contributions to the revenues of the city, however, continue to be based on the favorable conditions under which they were first brought into existence, and in no sense amount to a fair return for the privileges and immunities granted to them. In all such cases the city might be protected by reserving to itself a fair proportion of the receipts of these companies, which should be in lieu of all other forms of taxation.
Under such an arrangement the tax on the corporations would be determined by their own prosperity, being light when their earnings were small, and larger with their increased ability to pay, and the city would receive a just return for the benefits it conferred.
2. I would call attention to the exemption of certain property from the payment of its share of the public burdens, I refer to the elaborate and costly church edifices which are so prominent a feature of every large city. Though I do not believe that the position is logically sound, nevertheless it is in accordance with the traditions of this people, and in harmony with the principles on which our State and national governments are founded, that buildings used for public worship should be exempted from taxation, and to this practice, as applied to modest structures of reasonable value, I do not offer any opposition. But it seems to me to be clear that the magnificent structures which abound in all our large cities can not claim a place in this category.
It is scarcely a proper use of language to denominate them houses of public worship. Though they are nominally open to the public, still their appointments, their furnishings, the style of their services, their practically reserved seats, the restrictions as to the time of admission of any except pew-holders, and the accommodations provided for the public, all warrant the statement that they are really the private religious club-houses of wealthy parishioners, whose right to erect and maintain and enjoy them is unquestionable, but whose right to do all this at the public expense is by no means so apparent.
These institutions share in all the benefits of the city government, are guarded by its police, are protected by its fire department, are approached by streets lighted, cleaned, and paved at its expense, and, in the event of their unlawful destruction, the municipality would be liable to respond in damages for their full value—all this for the accommodation of a small fraction of the people. It seems to me that the value of these structures, at least so much of it as exceeds a certain reasonable limit, should be taxable. No principle is more firmly imbedded in our political system than that the support of religious worship and institutions shall be entirely voluntary. The exemption of this class of property from taxation violates the principle, in that it is a forced contribution on the entire community to the extent of the exemption; and it is the less defensible, in that the exemption is in favor of that portion of the community that could with the least difficulty meet its obligations.
If the matter were presented in the form of a proposition for a direct tax for the maintenance of the churches, it could not find support in any quarter. No community in our land would consent that either the State or the municipality should levy any direct tax to be appropriated for the support of religious services or institutions. Why it is the less objectionable, because it takes the form of special exemption from a common liability, I am utterly unable to understand.
Another instance of the abuse of municipal authority (and the last to which I shall refer at this time) may be found in the legislation affecting railway corporations. The constantly increasing volume of railway traffic demands almost daily increasing facilities for its accommodation. New railways are constantly seeking entrance into or a right of way through all our large cities. The granting of new franchises as well as the regulation of the train-service on all lines; the protection of those streets which are either crossed or traversed by railway-tracks; the construction of viaducts and bridges, are matters in which the municipality and the railway corporations are mutually interested, and which ought all to be considered and decided simply in accordance with their relation to the public interests. As a matter of fact, the public interests have very little to do with such decisions. The railway companies have learned that any legislation which they may want, however necessary and proper it may be, and however much it may promote the general welfare, must be well paid for; that any privileges, however legitimate, which affect either their own interests or the interests of their patrons, can only be had by the payment of a price to the city government.
Within a few years a certain railway corporation applied for a right of way into Chicago, on a route by which a great deal of the most valuable property of the city was seriously damaged. At first no one seemed to think that the project could be bona fide. When it became apparent that the corporation was in earnest, it was still felt that it would be utterly impracticable for the company to secure from the City Council such an ordinance as would enable it to carry out its plans. But the matter was in the hands of able attorneys and shrewd business managers. Step by step it progressed, and finally became a consummated fact. It was freely charged and is universally believed that the ordinance cost the railway company half a million dollars! So far as I can learn, the charge has never been denied.
Within the last few months another railway project was inaugurated. Application was made to the Chicago City Council in its behalf for an ordinance granting the right of way into the city, and for the right to lay its tracks in certain streets. The application was powerfully supported by one of the great railway organizations of the West, and was as vigorously opposed by a rival company of equal wealth and influence. As the contest proceeded it attracted very general attention and interest. In the discussions had in reference to the matter it came to be openly asserted, both in private conversation and in the public press, that those members of the Council who favored the proposed ordinance were in the pay of one corporation, while those who opposed it were classed as the paid agents of the rival company!
In the discussions to which the matter gave rise, the idea that any member of the Council advocated or opposed the ordinance on its merits did not seem to present itself to any one. I do not mean to affirm that the facts were in harmony with this theory. Indeed, it is very certain that the City Council of Chicago is in part composed of gentlemen of the highest integrity and character. But I noticed these expressed opinions as indicating the standard of public sentiment. People have become so accustomed to venality on the part of municipal legislators, that the first impulse is to interpret their official actions as the quid pro quo of money considerations, and experience proves that as a rule the theory is correct.
In support of my conclusions let me quote a single paragraph from a pamphlet entitled "Problems of Municipal Government for Chicago," by Hon. D. L, Shorey, who has for many years been a member of the City Council of that city, and who deservedly ranks among Chicago's best and ablest citizens. He says: "There is a wide-spread impression that a majority of the Council is venal. Assuming that this is true, it certainly shows a very bad state of affairs, and that there is imperative need for reform in that body. The evil is even more dangerous than is generally supposed. The disease really exists elsewhere, and is only manifested in the Council. There is an outside purchaser for every venal vote. In this case the purchaser is the more dangerous man of the two. He is probably an officer in some moneyed, corporation; is sometimes a member of some fashionable church, stands high in financial and social circles, and is an influential factor in controlling public opinion. On the other hand, the Council is largely composed of young and untried men of moderate social distinctions. Such men have neither the social nor intellectual fiber to resist a moneyed temptation, and it is no marvel if three out of four of them are not able to resist such temptation."
Mr. Shorey here admits judgment by confession, and his opportunities for knowing whereof he affirms are especially favorable. Without waiting to determine whether, as Mr. Shorey says, the man who makes merchandise of a public trust is less culpable than the other man who purchases what the trustee offers for sale, we will at least agree that we have fallen upon evil times, if the public interests are to be subordinated to the office-holder's cupidity.
It is not strange if private corporations, finding that they can only obtain legitimate privileges and authority by the payment of a certain largess or bounty, attempt to secure, perhaps, by the payment of an additional fee, perquisites and privileges which a proper regard for the public interests would deny them.
The magnitude of this danger can not be exaggerated. Private rights and interests are jeopardized, and, if maintained at all, are only so maintained at the price of an expensive litigation, which is a substantial denial of justice. Competition is prevented or crushed out by the potent agency of gold, and the public, bound band and foot by its own trusted agents, is surrendered to the greed and avarice of private corporations.
The practice of purchasing municipal legislation is not peculiar to American cities. Thomas Hare, in "Macmillan's Magazine," says, as to London: "The ascertained cost of legislation, to the companies who are forced to seek it, is enormous. Railway bills have cost from £650 to £1,000 per mile. Power to make twenty-nine miles of railroad cost the Hereford Company £250,000, equal to $1,250,000; and, before a spade was put in the ground, the Great Northern Railway had paid £420,000, or $2,100,000, in parliamentary costs!"
Is it not reasonable to expect that companies paying such enormous charges will attempt to obtain privileges and concessions somewhat commensurate with the outlay involved; and that they will endeavor to recoup from the public the money which they have paid in securing their charter privileges?
No opposition will be offered to this proposition:
"It should be practicable for any corporation to obtain a legitimate and proper franchise without the payment of fees for legislative favors. It ought always to be understood that illegitimate privileges or concessions prejudicial to the interests of the community could not be obtained at any price."
The recent developments in the matter of the Broadway Surface Railroad disclose a condition of affairs not only disgraceful to the venal participants in the infamy, but perilous to the community. It does not seem too much to demand that the municipal government be placed on a basis which will protect the public against such a prostitution of municipal powers.
The security of the public in all these cases is in the personnel of the city government. If it is practicable to put into that government men of character and integrity, and only such men, the problem is solved. If this be not practicable, it would seem as if the only alternative is to go on from bad to worse, until the whole municipal system breaks down under the weight of evils which are inseparably connected with its present organic form, and makes way for some new system of governmental control.
And this brings us to the consideration of the ways and means of correcting and preventing the evils which have been referred to, as well as the long, long list of other evils which from time to time force themselves upon the attention of the public.
[To be continued.]