The Treason of the Senate

By David Graham Phillips | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
Aldrich, the Head of It All

BUT Platt and Depew are significant only as showing how New York, foremost state of our forty-five, is represented in the Senate, in the body that is the final arbiter of the distribution of the enormous prosperity annually created by the American people. Long before Platt and Depew were sent to the Senate by and for "the interests," treason had been organized and established there; they simply joined the senatorial rank and file of diligent, faithful servants of the enemies of their country. For the organizer of this treason we must look at Nelson W. Aldrich, senior senator from Rhode Island.

Rhode Island is the smallest of our states in area and thirty-fourth in population-- twelve hundred and fifty square miles, less than half a million people, barely seventy thousand 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 twenty almost vacant rural townships-- their total population is not thirty-seven thousand--where the ignorance is even illiterate, where the superstition is mediæval, 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.

The Aldrich machine controls the legislature, the election boards, the courts--the entire machinery of the "republican form of government." In 1904, when Aldrich needed a legislature to reëlect him for his fifth consecutive term, it is estimated that carrying the state cost about two hundred thousand dollars--a small sum, easily to be got back by a few minutes of industrious pocket-picking in Wall Street; but a very large sum for Rhode Island politics, and a happy augury of a future day, remote, perhaps, but inevitable, when the people shall rule in Rhode Island. Despite the bribery, despite the swindling on registration lists and all the chicane which the statute book of the state makes easy for "the interests," Aldrich elected his governor by a scant eight hundred on the face of the returns. His legislature was, of course, got without the least difficulty

-21-

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