Boss Rule in the Gilded Age: Matt Quay of Pennsylvania

By James A. Kehl | Go to book overview

10
The Unmaking of a President 1891-1893

IN late January 1891 the first rumors that Quay would definitely reply to the World's charges began to circulate. For almost a year he had been hounded and maligned by those who suspected his guilt, partly because of this unresponsiveness. His allies had kept the faith by repeatedly justifying his "dignified silence" while vainly scanning the horizon for some evidence that he would refute the charges. After the long silence even the announcement of a forthcoming defense, to be presented on the floor of the Senate, created a sensation. When there was no heated political conflict raging, when he felt that neither hope nor fear could be deemed the inspiration for his revelation, the Beaver boss decided "to confront accusation with truth."1

Late on the afternoon of February 16, he stood at his desk and addressed the Senate for exactly ten minutes on the subject of the celebrated incidents in his Pennsylvania career. In spite of his spectacles, he held his typed manuscript close to his face and read in a low, clear voice distinguishable even in the back rows of the gallery. During this brief rendition there was profound silence. Although he was a veteran of more than four years in the Senate, this was his first real utterance, except to vote, and there was a certain curiosity to see how he would handle himself as a speaker.2' His tone was calm and his style reserved, with less fire and fury than one would expect from one so accused, but his explicitness and apparent frankness overwhelmed many of his colleagues. He answered the charges individually, first by identifying the incident and disclosing hitherto unknown details, and then by denying the specific accusation: it was part of the "mass of direct falsehood, confused statements, innuendo, insinuation, and cunning implication that . . . has

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