His words exploded in the consciousness and conversation of the country and the series fueled the growing drive by reformers to confront the power of large corporations and financial interests on Wall Street that practically owned the United States Congress. President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been a supporter of muckraking – the muckraker of Christian allegory was so focused on the muck at his feet that he never looked up to the heavens – thought Phillips and others were cutting too close to the bone, especially TR’s friends in the Senate, and put them on notice. Phillips was accused of “sensationalist journalism” – sound familiar? – but his investigation was a major force in breaking resistance to the direct election of senators.
Below is an excerpt focusing on one of the most powerful men in America at the time, Senator Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island, whom Phillips portrayed as the center of a machine that controlled the state and the US Senate.
Rhode Island is the smallest of our states in area and 34th in population — 1,250 square miles, less than half a million people, barely 70,000 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 20 almost vacant rural townships − their total population is not 37,000 — where the ignorance is even illiterate, where the superstition is medieval, 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.
But, as a rule, Aldrich no longer concerns himself with Rhode Island’s petty local affairs. “Not until about a year or so before it comes time for him to be elected again, does he get active,” says his chief henchman, Gen. Charles R. Brayton, the state’s boss. “He doesn’t pay much attention to details.” Why should he? Politically, the state is securely “the interests'” and his; financially, “the interests” and he have incorporated and assured to themselves in perpetuity about all the graft − the Rhode Island Securities Company, capitalized at and paying excellent dividends upon $39 million, representing an actual value of less than $9 million, owns, thanks to the munificence of the legislature, the state’s street and trolley lines, gas and electric franchises, etc., etc. It began in a street railway company of Providence in which Aldrich, president of the Providence council and afterwards member of the legislature, acquired an interest. The sugar trust’s Searles put in a million and a half shortly after the sugar trust got its license to loot through Aldrich at Washington; the legislature passed the necessary laws and gave the necessary franchises; Senator Steve Elkins and his crowd were invited in; more legislation; more franchises, more stocks and bonds, the right to loot the people of the state in perpetuity. Yes, Aldrich is rich, enormously rich, and his mind is wholly free for the schemes he plots and executes at Washington. And, like all the other senators who own large blocks of stocks and bonds in the great drainage companies fastened upon America’s prosperity, his service is not the less diligent or adroit because he himself draws huge dividends from the people.
Early Training of Aldrich
He was born in 1841, is only 64 years old, good for another 15 years, at least, in his present rugged health before “the interests” will have to select another for his safe seat and treacherous task. He began as a grocery boy, got the beginning of one kind of education in the public schools and in an academy at East Greenwich, Rhode Island. He became clerk in a fish store in Providence, then clerk in a grocery, then bookkeeper, partner and is still a wholesale grocer. He was elected to the legislature, applied himself so diligently to the work of getting his real education that he soon won the confidence of the boss, then Senator Anthony, and was sent to Congress, where he was Anthony’s successor as boss and chief agent of the Rhode Island interests. He entered the United States Senate in 1881.
In 1901 his daughter married the only son and destined successor of John D. Rockefeller. Thus, the chief exploiter of the American people is closely allied by marriage with the chief schemer in the service of their exploiters. This fact no American should ever lose sight of. It is a political fact, it is an economic fact. It places the final and strongest seal upon the bonds uniting Aldrich and “the interests.”
When Aldrich entered the Senate, 25 years ago, at the splendid full age of 40, the world was just beginning to feel the effects of the principles of concentration and combination, which were inexorably and permanently established with the discoveries in steam and electricity that make the whole human race more and more like one community of interdependent neighbors. It was a moment of opportunity, an unprecedented chance for Congress, especially its deliberate and supposedly sagacious senators, to “promote the general welfare” by giving those principles free and just play in securing the benefits of expanding prosperity to all, by seeing that the profits from the cooperation of all the people went to the people. Aldrich and the traitor Senate saw the opportunity. But they saw in it only a chance to enable a class to despoil the masses.
Before he reached the Senate, Aldrich had had 15 years of training in how to legislate the proceeds of the labor of the many into the pockets of the few. He entered it as the representative of local interests engaged in robbing by means of slyly worded tariff schedules that changed protection against the foreigner into plunder of the native. His demonstrated excellent talents for sly, slippery work in legislative chambers and committee rooms and his security in his seat against popular revulsions and outbursts together marked him for the position of chief agent of the predatory band which was rapidly forming to take care of the prosperity of the American people. Various senators represent various divisions and subdivisions of this colossus. But Aldrich, rich through franchise grabbing, the intimate of Wall Street’s great robber barons, the father-in-law of the only son of the Rockefeller-Aldrich represents the colossus. Your first impression of many and conflicting interests has disappeared. You now see a single interest, with a single agent-in-chief to execute its single purpose — getting rich at the expense of the labor and the independence of the American people. And the largest head among the many heads of this monster is that of Rockefeller, father of the only son-in-law of Aldrich and his intimate in all the relations of life!There are many passages in the Constitution in which a Senate, true to its oath and mindful of the welfare of the people and of the nation, could find mandates to stop wholesale robbery, and similar practices.And yet, what has the Senate done − the Senate, with its high-flown pretenses of reverence for the Constitution? It has so legislated and so refrained from legislating that more than half of all the wealth created by the American people belongs to less than one per cent of them; that the income of the average American family has sunk to less than $600 a year; that of our more than 27 million children of school age, less than 12 millions go to school, and more than two millions work in mines, shops and factories.
And the leader, the boss of the Senate for the past 20 years has been − Aldrich!
In vain would “the interests” have stolen franchises, in vain would they have corrupted the public officials of states and cities, if they had not got absolute and unshakable control of the Senate. But, with the Senate theirs, how secure, how easy and how rich the loot!
Source of his Power
The sole source of Aldrich’s power over the senators is “the interests” − the sole source, but quite sufficient to make him permanent and undisputed boss. Many of the senators, as we shall in due time and in detail note, are, like Depew and Platt, the direct agents of the various state or sectional subdivisions of “the interests,” and these senators constitute about two-thirds of the entire Senate. Of the remainder several know that if they should oppose “the interests” they would lose their seats; several others are silent because they feel that to speak out would be useless; a few do speak out, but are careful not to infringe upon the rigid rule of “senatorial courtesy,” which thus effectually protects the unblushing corruptionists, the obsequious servants of corruption, and likewise the many traitors to party as well as the people, from having disagreeable truths dinged into their ears. Tillman will “pitchfork” a president, but not a senator, and not the Senate in any but the most useless, futile way — this, though none knows better than he how the rights and the property of the people are trafficked in by his colleagues of both parties, with a few exceptions. There are a few other honest men from the South and from the West, as many of the few honest Republicans as honest Democrats. Yet party allegiance and “senatorial courtesy” make them abettors of treason, allies of Aldrich and Gorman.
“Senatorial courtesy!” We shall have to return to it, as it is the hypocritical mask behind which the few senators who pose as real representatives of the people hide in silence and inaction.
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.”
To relate the treason in detail would mean taking up bill after bill and going through it, line by line, word by word, and showing how this interpolation there or that excision yonder meant millions on millions more to this or that interest, millions on millions less for the people as merchants, wage or salary earners, consumers; how the killing of this measure meant immunity to looters all along the line; how the alteration of the wording of that other “trifling” resolution gave a quarter of a cent a pound on every one of hundreds of millions of pounds of some necessary of life to a certain small group of men; how this innocent looking little measure safeguarded the railway barons in looting the whole American people by excessive charges and rebates. Few among the masses have the patience to listen to these dull matters − and, so, the interests” and their agents have prosperity and honor instead of justice and jail.
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 class − the old-fashioned Americans, the people with the incomes of from 2,000 to 15,000 a year − is being swiftly crushed into dependence and the repulsive miseries of “genteel poverty.” The heavy and ever heavier taxes of “the interests” are swelling rents, swelling the prices of food, clothing, fuel, all the necessities and all the necessary comforts. And the Senate both forbids the lifting of those taxes and levies fresh taxes for its master.
Three Acts of Treason
Let us concentrate on three signal acts of treachery which Aldrich had to perpetrate publicly and which are typical and all-embracing in effect.
There are, of course, two honestly tenable views of the tariff question. But both the honest advocates of high tariff and the honest advocates of low tariff are agreed in opposition to tariff for plunder only. And we are noting there only that last kind of tariff, which is as hateful to protectionist as to free trader because it is in truth a treason.
Two years after Aldrich came to the Senate there was a revision of the tariff law enacted during the Civil War. In that revision Aldrich took an active part, and laid the foundations of his power with “the interests,” then in their early formative period. But it was not until 1890 that he had an opportunity to make his first large contribution toward the firm establishment of conditions of unequal division of prosperity which have now resulted in expropriating the American people from the ownership of their own country. In 1890 the House of Representatives passed the so-called McKinley bill. As it left the House it was, on the whole, a fairly honest protective-tariff measure, extreme, in the opinion of some Republicans and of many Democrats, but on the whole an attempt to raise revenue and to protect all American industries. “The interests” had their representatives in the House by the score; but the House is so directly responsible to the people that it dared not originate and utter a measure of frank treason. The bill went to the Senate, was there handed to Aldrich and his committee for examination in the secrecy of the committee room. When Aldrich reported the bill, there was a wild outcry from the House − largely for political effect upon the astonished people, who almost awakened to the enormity of the treason. The McKinley bill had been killed; for it Aldrich had substituted a bill to enrich “the interests” with the earnings and savings of the masses. The sugar trust’s schedule, for example, was so scandalous that even the mild and devotedly partisan McKinley exclaimed publicly that it was far too high. It gave the trust a loot of 60 cents the hundred pounds, of $3 million a year over and above the high protection it already had, when sugar can be refined more cheaply in this country than anywhere else in the world, the labor cost being insignificant.
But the traitor Senate stood firm for its masters; and the House, in terror of Aldrich and his “campaign contributors” accepted what it knew meant temporary political ruin − better offend the short-memoried people than “the interests” that forgive and forget nothing and never. The Aldrich bill was passed and was signed by the president. The party and the president, and Congressman McKinley and all who had had anything to do with the bill went down in defeat — but not Aldrich, secure in his Rhode Island seat, and not any of the senators who were needed by “the interests.” And “the interests” got their loot − literally, hundreds of millions a year, every penny of it coming out of the pockets of the people.
The Democrats came in, and in 1894 the Wilson bill passed the House — a fairly honest and really moderate expression of the low-tariff view of the tariff question. The Senate had a small Democratic majority, nominally. So, Aldrich was pretending to take a back seat; and his right bower, Gorman, was posing as leader of the Senate, that is, of its traitorous band of servants of “the interests” − more than half of all the senators. The Wilson bill reappeared from the secrecy of the Aldrich-Gorman committee so absolutely transformed from a thing of decency to a thing of shame that the whole country was convulsed Again “the interests” had been looked after; there had been injected into the bill provisions for loot for each and every one of Aldrich’s powerful clients, the electors of senators, Democratic and Republican, the suppliers of campaign funds and tips on stocks and shares in “good things,” and of funds to be lost at poker to congressmen too “honest” and too “proud” to accept a direct bribe. The scandal was enormous − so enormous that there had to be a farcical investigation at which Havemeyer, the sugar king, and Chapman, the agent of the brokers through whom the senators and representatives gambled in stocks, refused to tell what they knew of the utter rottenness of the leaders of Senate and House. Chapman got a few days in jail for contempt; Havemeyer, tried for the same offense, and whistling softly all through this farcical trial, was acquitted. But the scandal did not stagger Aldrich and Gorman and their band. They, more than a majority of the Senate, most of them traitors to the people wearing the Republican disguise, enough of them from among the Democrats — Gorman, Jim Smith of New Jersey, Brice of Ohio, Ed Murphy of New York — formed a solid, brazen phalanx and forced the House — again in terror of the “campaign contributors” — to accept the Aldrich bill or nothing. The president denounced it, refused to sign it — he almost took the advice of Tom Johnson to veto it. But the “Aldrich-Gorman political trust” had been shrewd enough to leave in the bill some features popularly attractive that happened not to injure any of the interests, some features that made it seem less predatory than the Aldrich bill of 1890; and the president let it become a law without his signature. In action, it soon demonstrated that as a whole it was quite as effective as the Aldrich bill of 1890 in doing all that a tariff law could to accelerate the expropriation of the people from ownership of any property whatever.
Poor Wilson! Had he been a “practical” tariff expert like Aldrich, how he would have cried out against that law which bore his name as a cover for Aldrich’s treachery!
Aldrich’s next great positive tariff opportunity came in 1897. The Dingley tariff bill left the House more satisfactory to “the interests” than any that had preceded it. The House had been gradually passing into the control of “the interests” and the doctrine that to serve “the interests” which financed the party and acted as fatherly guardians of the poor, helpless and so mysteriously impoverishing American people was to serve God and country, had gained ground, had become almost as axiomatic as it now is. Still, the leaders of the House had not dared wholly to lose their point of view — or, rather, to pretend to lose it. The Dingley bill entered the Senate, almost perfect from the standpoint of the agents of the enemies of the people there enthroned. But not quite perfect. The defects were all speedily remedied, however, in the secrecy of Aldrich’s committee room. And the third Aldrich tariff bill became a law. Like the Aldrich-emasculated anti-trust legislation, like the Aldrich-manipulated laws for the regulation of railways, this law is, in its main schedules — those dealing with the fundamental necessaries of civilized life used by all the people, a stupendous robbery, taking cognizance of the huge developments of American resources to arrange that all but a scanty share of them shall become profit for the plunderers. And since 1897 the uppiling of huge fortunes, the reduction of the American people toward wage and salary slavery has gone forward with amazing rapidity. The thieves use each year’s rich haul to make larger nets for larger hauls the next.
The abounding prosperity, the immense amount of work to do, has caused the paying of salaries and wages that, as the reports of the commercial agencies show, are in money almost as high as they were 15 years ago and about where they were in purchasing power 30 years ago. But the cost of living is going up, up, faster than incomes; and the number of tenant farmers, of renters, of paupers, of unemployed has increased as never before, even in straightened times. In place of the old proportion in the lot of the American people, there is gross disproportion. How Aldrich must laugh as he watches the American people meekly submitting to this plundering through tariff and railway rates and hugely overcapitalized corporations! And what, think you, must be his opinion of the man who in all seriousness attributes the astounding contrasts between the mountainous fortunes of the few and the ant-hill hoardings of the many to the superior intelligence of the few? Yet, Aldrich’s contempt for the mentality of the masses is not unjustified, is it?
Juggler of Legislation
How does Aldrich work? Obviously, not much steering is necessary, when the time comes to vote. “The interests” have a majority and to spare. The only questions are such as permitting a senator to vote and at times to speak against “the interests” when the particular measure is mortally offensive to the people of his particular state or section. Those daily sham battles in the Senate! Those paradings of sham virtue! Is it not strange that the other senators, instead of merely busying themselves at writing letters or combing their whiskers, do not break into shouts of laughter?
Aldrich’s real work — getting the wishes of his principals, directly or through their lawyers, and putting these wishes into proper form if they are orders for legislation or into the proper channels if they are orders to kill or emasculate legislation — this work is all done, of course, behind the scenes. When Aldrich is getting orders, there is of course never any witness. The second part of his task — execution — is in part a matter of whispering with his chief lieutenants, in part a matter of consultation in the secure secrecy of the Senate committee rooms. Aldrich is in person chairman of the chief Senate committee — finance. There he labors, assisted by Gorman, his right bower, who takes his place as chairman when the Democrats are in power; by Spooner, his left bower and public mouthpiece; by Allison, that Nestor of craft; by the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Penrose; by Tom Platt of New York, corruptionist and lifelong agent of corruptionists; by Joe Bailey of Texas, and several other sympathetic or silent spirits. Together they concoct and sugar-coat the bitter doses for the people — the loot measures and the suffocating of the measures in restraint of loot. In the unofficial but powerful steering committee — which receives from him the will of “the interests” and translates it into “party policy” — he works through Allison as chairman — but Allison’s position is recognized as purely honorary.
And, also, Aldrich sits in the powerful interstate commerce committee; there, he has his “pal,” the brazen Elkins of West Virginia, as chairman he is not on the committee on appropriations; but Allison is, is its chairman, and Cullom of Illinois is there — and in due time we shall endeavor to get better acquainted with both of them. In the commerce committee, he has Frye of Maine, to look after such matters as the projected, often postponed, but never abandoned, loot through ship subsidy; in the Pacific Railroad committee he has the valiant soldier, the honest lumber and railway multi-millionaire, the embalmed-beef hero, Alger, as chairman; in the post-office and post-roads committee, which looks after the railways’ postal graft, a clean steal from the Treasury of upward of 10 millions a year — some put it as high as 30 million — he has Penrose as chairman. In that highly important committee, the one on rules, he himself sits; but mouthpiece Spooner is naturally chairman. Their associates are Elkins and Lodge − another pair that need to be better known to the American people. Bailey is the chief “Democratic” member. What a sardonic jest to speak of these men as Republicans and Democrats!
When the Curtain was Lifted
These committees carry on their colorless routine and also their real work — promoting thievish legislation, preventing decent legislation, devising ways and means of making rottenest dishonesty look like honesty and patriotism − these committees carry on their work in secrecy. Public business in profound privacy! Once Vest, angered by some misrepresentation made by Aldrich, had part of the minutes of a meeting of the finance committee read in open Senate — a gross breach of “senatorial courtesy!” Before the rudely lifted curtain was dropped, the country had a rare, illuminatory view of Aldrich. Here is this official minute:
At a meeting of the Committee on Finance on March 17, 1894, on motion of Mr. Aldrich, the committee proceeded to a consideration of the provisions (of the Wilson bill) in regard to an income tax. Mr. Aldrich moved that the whole provision be stricken out of the bill.
He and Allison, that lifelong professional friend of the “plain people,” had both voted aye. A pitiful sight he and Allison were, flustering and red, as this damning fact was read in open Senate, with the galleries full and all the reporters in their places! It is the only time the people have ever had a look at Aldrich in his shirt sleeves and hard at his repulsive but remunerative trade. But the people do not need to see the processes. They see, they feel, they suffer from the finished result — the bad law enacted, the good law killed.
The Man Who Laughs
Such is Aldrich, the senator. At the second session of the last Congress his main achievements, so far as the surface shows, were smothering all inquiry into the tariff and the freight-rate robberies, helping Elkins and the group of traitors in the service of the thieves who control the railway corporations to emasculate railway legislation, helping Allison and Bailey to smother the bill against the food poisoners for dividends. During the past winter he has been concentrating on the “defense of the railways” — which means not the railways nor yet the railway corporations, but simply the Rockefeller-Morgan looting of the people by means of their control of the corporations that own the railways.
Has Aldrich intellect? Perhaps. But he does not show it. He has never in his 25 years of service in the Senate introduced or advocated a measure that shows any conception of life above what might be expected in a Hungry Joe. No, intellect is not the characteristic of Aldrich — or of any of these traitors, or of the men they serve. A scurvy lot they are, are they not, with their smirking and cringing and voluble palaver about God and patriotism and their eager offerings of endowments for hospitals and colleges whenever the American people so much as looks hard in their direction!
Aldrich is rich and powerful. Treachery has brought him wealth and rank, if not honor, of a certain sort. He must laugh at us, grown-up fools, permitting a handful to bind the might of our 80 million and to set us all to work for them.
Excerpt from Starkman.com.