Boss Rule in the Gilded Age: Matt Quay of Pennsylvania

By James A. Kehl | Go to book overview

11
The Sphinx Speaks 1894-1896

AMID a setting similar to that which marked his initial entry into the Senate, Matt Quay took his seat for a second term. Grover Cleveland was again in the White House. The initiative for legislation rested with the Democrats, but they had difficulty in exercising it. With his party divided on both the tariff and monetary issues and further handicapped by the Panic of 1893, the president was unable to move with confidence. He chose to make the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act his highest priority. Revision of the tariff, to which his party had devoted most of its campaign oratory, was temporarily deferred.

This decision worked to the advantage of Quay and the other protectionists. Although the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency simultaneously for the first time since the Civil War, they failed to make the most of this advantage. Since their majority in the Senate was slight, it was imperative that they move at once. If Cleveland had summoned a special session of Congress on March 4, 1893, and insisted upon appropriate adjustments in the tariff schedules before any executive patronage was dispensed, he would have been better able to force all the Democratic senators to adhere to the administration position, but this he did not do. Belatedly aware of this loss of political leverage, Daniel Lamont, Cleveland's most trusted confidant, admitted to Quay that it was a mistake to "distribute your plums before you secure your legislation."1

The special session was not called until early August 1893, when repeal of the silver purchase law was requested. Debate on this issue did not follow party lines in either house. Republicans from silver-producing states in the

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