Boss Rule in the Gilded Age: Matt Quay of Pennsylvania

By James A. Kehl | Go to book overview

9
Trial by Newspaper 1889-1890

THE 1889-1890 session of Congress had been a shaky introduction for Harrison and a personally troubled one for Quay. They had problems and differences in the legislative field and were bombarded by journalistic outbursts that reflected unfavorably on both. The attack was leveled at the senator, but the president also suffered, partially by association.

As early as 1885, when Quay was a candidate for state treasurer, the Philadelphia Press predicted that incidents from his past would become a Republican liability. Editor Charles Emory Smith expected every Democratic stump and newspaper across the Commonwealth to ring with echoes of riots, bribery, and other scandals if Quay persisted in extending his personal domination. At first the state's newspapers stood docile before this kind of evidence; there were many murmurs, but few fights. Those who fought came to an early grief. Quay rose from state treasurer to U. S. senator and to national chairman within three years without serious threat of an exposé. He grabbed patronage in Washington with one hand and dispersed it in the Keystone State with the other. This audacity caught his enemies off guard and enthroned him as the absolute proprietor of Pennsylvania before resistance could be organized. But after his success in the campaign of 1888, the Press's prediction began to materialize. Newspapers soon caricatured him as a sinister power behind Harrison's throne. In fact, this picture was false: the national chairman was forced to scramble for all the executive patronage he received and to endure an uncertain relationship with the president, although both kept their attitudes moderately quiet.1

Captivated partially by Quay partisans hailing him as the century's "greatest political general" and partially by their own words, the journalists

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