Boss Rule in the Gilded Age: Matt Quay of Pennsylvania

By James A. Kehl | Go to book overview

Introduction

0N Saturday morning, May 28, 1904 Agnes Quay opened a telegram from President Theodore Roosevelt imploring, "Pray let me know how he is."1 With these words, the president was inquiring about the failing health of her husband, U.S. Senator Matthew Stanley Quay, the brilliant and resourceful Republican boss from Pennsylvania. Before the end of the day, the president received his reply. The senator was dead.

With Quay's passing, arguments concerning his power, or supposed power, were rekindled nationwide. All of America had come to know his name, but few spoke of him in neutral tones; he was either revered or despised. An able man, full of surprises, his one aim had been success. He believed in doing the sensational. To some, such actions demonstrated courage; to others, they represented arbitrary defiance. His partisans saw only the velvet glove and his enemies only the mailed fist, but the senator's career was far more complex than either of these evaluations implies.

Supporters hailed him as the Napoleon of the political battlefield whose superb organizational skills were reinforced by a charitable concern for the less fortunate in society -- Civil War widows, Indians, Negro boys, congregations of burned-out churches, and the wives of imprisoned criminals. They interpreted his deeds in behalf of such groups as evidence of a genuine humanitarian spirit. His enemies, on the other hand, preferred to reflect on the public relations benefits that accrued from reports of such benevolence. A gift of one hundred dollars to a congregation whose church was destroyed by fire, when reported in fifty to one hundred newspapers, represented inexpensive publicity of the best type. This kind of generosity caused Quay's critics to

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