Harper's Weekly Editorials by Carl Schurz/The Blindness of Party Spirit

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Harper's Weekly Editorials by Carl Schurz by Carl Schurz
The Blindness of Party Spirit

From Harper's Weekly, October 30, 1897, p. 1071.


There could hardly be a more striking illustration of the benumbing influence exercised by party spirit upon the reasoning faculty of otherwise sensible minds than is furnished by the municipal campaign at present going on in Greater New York. That Boss Platt on one and Boss Croker on the other side should sternly insist upon the obligation of every party man to vote the straight party ticket from top to bottom, no matter how the nominations were made, and that they should predict dreadful things in case their party tickets were defeated, is perfectly intelligible. The unreasoning obedience of their cohorts is the bulwark of their strength, failing which the dictatorship of the bosses would soon lose its footing. It is equally intelligible that the sworn henchmen of the bosses, who feed at their crib, should insist upon strict party allegiance as the primary virtue of the citizen, for their political, and usually also their material, existence depends upon the favor of the bosses, which, in its turn, depends upon the success with which they keep their subordinate commands in strict discipline. But that party men who, being neither bosses nor heelers, have no other interest in their parties than the accomplishment of certain public objects to be brought about by organized effort should doggedly follow the behests of the party bosses, even when the slightest reflection must convince them that by doing so they not only do not serve the public interest but will hurt the true interests of their respective parties, can be explained only on the ground that the mere name of party exercises upon their minds a dangerously confusing fascination.

The Democratic party is represented in this campaign mainly by Tammany Hall. The thorough-paced Tammany man, who in the event of a Tammany victory expects to have some of the pelf, or, whose moral sense has been utterly blunted by long connection with that organization of political pirates, will follow the drum-beat of Tammany in obedience either to a motive of unscrupulous greed or to the force of brutish habit. But there are to-day thousands of Democrats in New York who would not participate in the robberies and blackmailing operations which a victorious Tammany would be sure to commit; Democrats who were keenly offended in their moral sensibilities as well as in their party pride by such doings of Tammany in the past, and will be equally offended by them in the future; Democrats who sincerely wish their party to be honest and respectable, and guided by high-minded and statesmanlike leadership. Such Democrats know that Tammany Hall has for many years been a stench in the nostrils of the whole nation. They know that the noisome reputation of Tammany Hall, which appeared as the “regular” Democratic organization of New York, has in many elections cost the Democratic party untold thousands of votes. They know that for this reason Tammany has repeatedly been treated with signal contempt by Democratic National Conventions. They know that the disappearance of Tammany Hall from public view, and the substitution for it of a decent organization, would relieve the Democratic party in its national capacity of an almost unbearable burden. They know, finally, that Tammany Hall by its recent nominations has proved itself utterly unregenerate and incorrigible; that if put into power over the municipality of Greater New York, with its enormous expenditures and its almost unlimited opportunities for fraud, peculation, and extortion, Tammany will inevitably give full rein to its unscrupulous rapacity, produce a new and a greater crop of shocking scandals, and furnish an exemplification of boss rule in its most repulsive form.

It would seem that with such a state of things before his eyes every honest and sensible Democrat, having the true interests not only of the city but of his party, at heart, would gladly avail himself of any opportunity to relieve the Democracy of this terrible incubus, or at least to prevent for the future the sickening exhibitions of depravity which, by their reflex upon the party at large, have injured the Democracy so much in the past. It is hardly credible that in spite of all these obvious considerations there should still be self-respecting Democrats, in all other things men of sound sense, now willing to give Tammany for four years free range in Greater New York to do its very worst. And for what reason are they willing to do this incredible thing? Because, as they say, the Mayor of Greater New York should be “a Democrat.” And thus, to do homage to the party name — for they certainly would not admit that Tammany Hall embodies the substance of Democracy — they recklessly sacrifice not only the interest of the city, but the true interest of their party itself. This is party spirit run mad.

On the Republican side we observe similar symptoms of partisan dementia. The Republicans won their majority for McKinley in this city last fall through a combination of forces against Bryanism. As any sane person could have told them, the vote of last fall did not at all mean that the city had become Republican in a party sense. The thought that the allies of the Republicans against Bryanism would permit themselves to be used for Republican partisan ends, and especially for the support of Boss Platt's dictatorship, was simply preposterous. Had the Republicans as such accepted the principle of non-partisanship for the municipal government of Greater New York, the alliance might in a great measure, for this occasion, have been maintained. As soon as the Republican organization refused to do this some of the allies of last year returned to their former party affiliation, while the bulk of them, re-enforced by a large number of the most respectable Republicans of the city and their following, rallied to the non-partisan banner with Seth Low as their leader. The Republican party in this city then relapsed into its old state of a minority again, but now a minority made still smaller in this municipal campaign by the loss of thousands of its most respectable members, who have turned against its narrow-minded partisan course.

But more than in point of numbers it has lost in point of position. It appears no longer as the enemy of Tammany Hall, but as its auxiliary. Weakened as the Republican organization is, there is not a shadow of a hope that its candidate for Mayor, Mr. Tracy, can be elected. Every candid observer will figure that out. Every canvass shows it. Not only has the Republican organization received to accession to its ordinary strength, but that strength is seriously reduced below the ordinary state. Whoever may be elected, the defeat of the Republican candidate is absolutely sure. All the Republican campaign can effect is to keep enough votes away from Mr. Low to secure the success of Tammany Hall. This must be, and undoubtedly is, so clear to the Republican leaders themselves that they have no right to complain if they are charged with a deliberate purpose to being about just that result. In fact, their newspapers as well as their orators direct their main attacks not against Tammany, but against Seth Low. The country knows this. Almost all the Republican papers that have any influence in moulding public opinion are already declaring that the Republican organization of New York will be responsible if Tammany succeeds.

This may be a matter of indifference to Boss Platt, who prefers Tammany to Low, because with Tammany he can trade, while with Low he cannot. But how is it possible that self-respecting Republicans, who care for the interests of the city, and also for the moral standing, the good name, and the future prosperity of their party, should support him in so reckless and nefarious a game? As men of sense they cannot indulge in the delusion that Mr. Tracy has the slightest chance of being elected. They must know that Seth Low is the only candidate by whom Tammany Hall can be defeated, and that by supporting Mr. Tracy they are simply playing into Tammany's hands. They must know, further, that by turning over the city to Tammany on this conspicuous occasion they will disgrace themselves as Republicans in the eyes of the whole nation; that by such conduct they will render combinations of forces like that which last year carried this city for McKinley immeasurably more difficult in the future, and that they will thus blight their prospects for an indefinite time. And what can they hope to accomplish by such a course? To weaken Bryanism or to promote any of the Republican policies? Surely a Tammany victory would do neither one thing nor the other. No, in thus making themselves the auxiliaries of Tammany Hall, the representative of piratical government, they will only have the satisfaction of voting a ticket labelled “Republican.” That is all. They will thus disgrace and weaken their party for party's sake. It is difficult to imagine a blindness of party spirit more dense and mischievous.

Carl Schurz.    

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.