HILL AND HILLISM

A speech at Cooper Union, New York City, October 29, 1894,
in support of Everett P. Wheeler, the Reform Democratic candidate for governor.


by Carl Schurz

As a private citizen not engaged in active politics, but taking a warm interest in the public welfare, I am here to tell you why I think that David B. Hill should not be elected governor, and that the movement which has put forward Everett P. Wheeler as its standard-bearer deserves support. This being no time for sweet circumlocution, I shall speak to you in plain language and endeavor to call things by their right names. Let me begin with a chapter of contemporaneous history which, although well known, needs constant repetition.

There is in this municipality a great struggle going on which is to decide whether the city of New York shall be owned by the inhabitants thereof or by Tammany Hall. It has long been popularly believed that Tammany Hall is a nest of rapacious freebooters. But recent disclosures of corruption, of blackmail, of robbery, of vice and crime planted and protected for revenue, of terrorism, of cruel oppression practiced upon the poor, the weak and the helpless, have gone far beyond popular expectation. I know Tammany Hall disclaims responsibility for some of these atrocities. But they were inspired by the Tammany spirit; they found in the Tammany "pull" their encouragement and assurance of impunity; they filled Tammany pockets; they helped to keep Tammany in power, and they are properly charged to the Tammany system of government. I have seen something of the world, and affirm that in no civilized country, and hardly in any uncivilized, is there a government which, in foulness of corruption, in insatiable rapacity, in criminal practices, in cruel oppression of the lowly, equals Tammany rule.

The good citizens of New York concluded at last that it was time to make an end of this. They organized a City Club, Good Government clubs, a German-American Reform Union and various other bodies, and from day to day the call grew louder for a union of all honest men without distinction of party -- all against Tammany. The Tammany chiefs became alarmed. They saw a day of judgment coming. Their head chief, Dick Croker, took to his heels. He gathered up the princely fortune he had saved from his revenues as king of New York and retired as a Tammany "sage," complacently conscious of having secured his harvest in season. But the other Tammany chiefs were not so comfortably settled. They had to brave the coming storm. How could they avoid defeat at the municipal election? They found themselves put to their wits, and tried various devices. They sang the song of harmony as sweetly as any sucking dove. They would forswear all selfish designs. They would nominate a high-toned citizen for mayor. They would even endorse a ticket nominated by reform Democrats. They would do anything to make people forget the Tiger's teeth and claws until after election. But it was all in vain.

In their extremity they remembered that in their kind of politics the shortest way from one point to another is a crooked line. The salvation they could not expect to win directly in New York city they might secure by a flank march via Albany. They bethought themselves of their lifelong friend, their trusty confederate, David B. Hill. If they could only make Hill governor again, they need not trouble themselves about a defeat in a mayor's election. As a leading Tammany man said in a reported interview: "Tammany can afford to give up the mayoralty for a couple of years. It would give up a great deal more if it could thereby prevent the election of a Republican governor and legislature." Of course, with Hill in the governor's chair there would be no removals of Tammany heads of departments; no anti-Tammany laws would escape his veto. And with a legislature to match there would be no annoying investigations. Tammany, substantially remaining in possession of all its power, save the mayoralty, would laugh at the impotent wrath of the anti-Tammany mayor, and after two years of fostering care by friend Hill turn up as good as new and get back all it had before. Such was the calculation, and it was excellent. The Tammany mind is eminently practical.

But would friend Hill be willing to accept the nomination for the governorship? Hardly. Comfortably ensconced for several years in the Senate, he would not like to take unnecessary risks. If asked beforehand, he would refuse. Tammany therefore resolved to nominate without asking, and the game succeeded. It is universally known, and not contradicted, that the stampede in the Democratic State convention, which thrust the nomination upon Hill, was planned and managed by Tammany, and that Hill had been nominated and virtually accepted and found himself harnessed to the Tammany cart ere he had time to rub his eyes. That so sly a fox should be caught by surprise may seem ludicrous. But it is more than a joke. It is the revenge of fate; it is the sin of the evil-doer coming home to roost; it is the devil claiming his own. So often had Hill ridden into place and power on the backs of Tammany and the State machine that Tammany and its allies have a right to jump upon his back and say: "Now we will ride you for our salvation! We have done your work; now you will do ours!" All this is perfectly fit and proper. Hill and Tammany are bound together by natural ties. They are of one flesh and blood. Their principles are the same, their methods the same, their aims the same and they know, as Benjamin Franklin once said, that they will have to hang together, or they will hang separately. As Tammany has always fought Hill's battles, so Hill now fights the battles of Tammany.

Can any sane man doubt it? What does it mean when the Tammany Mayor Gilroy never grows tired of protesting: "The State ticket is paramount! Never mind the city"? What does it mean when Mr. Straus -- altogether too good a man to be seen in such company -- relinquished his candidacy because the city ticket was openly sacrificed to Hill? What does it mean that the shouts for Hill in Tammany meetings are so much louder than those for Grant? It means that the battle against Tammany is really fought in the contest for the governorship. It means that every vote for Hill is a vote for protecting Tammany Hall against any legislation unfavorable to its interests. It means that every vote for Hill is a vote for shielding the Tammany chiefs of the municipal departments from any effective interference by the reform mayor. It means that every vote for Hill is a vote for stripping the reform mayor of the power necessary to clean out the Augean stables of Tammany corruption. It means that every vote for Hill is a vote for enabling Tammany to preserve the substance of its power for a resumption of its nefarious business when the storm of indignant excitement will have blown over. It means that every vote for Hill is a vote for defrauding this patriotic uprising of the good citizens of New York of its most valuable fruit. It means, in one word, that every vote for Hill is a vote for Tammany Hall, and all that it implies.

That a Tammany man should vote for Hill with zest is natural. That an unreasoning, bigoted partisan, or a person ignorant of his record, should vote for him, I can understand. But when I hear professed anti-Tammany Democrats, men who have preached political morality and reform, men who have with burning words held up Hill's villainies to public scorn, men who have denounced him for demoralizing and disgracing his party, men who have called upon their fellow-Democrats to organize against the scandals of his leadership, and who stood at the very head of the organization so formed -- when I hear such men appeal to that very organization, at this solemn crisis, to support him for the governorship -- thus seeking to unsettle the righteous public sentiment they themselves have labored to call forth, and thus putting in wanton jeopardy everything that has been gained and all we are striving for -- when I hear this, then, I must confess, I stand appalled and perplexed. I am far from throwing suspicion upon the motives of any one incurring so fearful a responsibility. But I inquire anxiously into the reasons they can possibly have for such amazing conduct. Permit me to pass in review all that these new converts to Hill may have to say for him. It is with the utmost reluctance that I descend to the discussion of personalities in politics. But in this case where the person forms so important a part of the political issue, I must be pardoned for regarding it as a commanding duty to tear off the mask of the most audacious pretender among living public men.

In the first place it is said that David B. Hill has shown himself an able man. Yes; and how able!

How ably, after he had once risen to political prominence, did he manage to attach to himself the mercenary elements of his party and form out of them the worst political machine this State has ever seen!

How ably he used this machine to undermine Mr. Cleveland in the Democratic organization of this State!

How ably he strove to belittle the tariff issue brought forward by Mr. Cleveland until that issue was generally accepted!

How ably he contrived, when Mr. Cleveland in 1888 was a second time a candidate for the Presidency, to get for himself in this State, as a candidate for governor, a plurality of many thousands, while Mr. Cleveland was sacrificed!

How ably he used his power as governor to nullify the civil service law and to keep in the ballot-reform law openings for corrupt practices!

How ably he took $15,000 out of a public contract, and, therefore, out of the people's pockets, for his campaign expenses!

How ably he instigated and directed the crime of abstracting an election return, falsifying an election and stealing the Senate!

How ably he championed the crime, advocated the elevation of the criminal to the highest tribunal of the State "as an act of simple justice" and set down our foremost lawyers, who had some respect for the honor of the judicial ermine, as a "brainless set of namby-pambys"!

How ably he led his party, after having insulted the people of the State with such a nomination, into a humiliation and defeat by more than a hundred thousand votes!

How ably he got up his famous snap convention, thus stealing for himself the Democratic delegation of the State and falsifying the public sentiment of its people!

How ably he managed, at Mr. Cleveland's second election in 1892, to make the Cleveland vote fall behind the ordinary party strength in almost all the counties in which Hill's personal influence was especially strong!

How ably he afterwards claimed for himself the honors of the campaign!

How ably he labored as a member of the Senate to baffle the Democratic Administration in every public measure in which it took a special interest!

How ably he coupled with his vote for the repeal of the silver-purchase law a speech enabling him to slide easily down on the free-coinage side of the fence!

How ably he managed to defeat in the Senate the nominations for the Federal Supreme bench of some of the best jurists of his own State and robbed New York of the honor of a seat on the highest Federal tribunal!

How ably he fought day in and day out to keep the McKinley tariff on the statute book as the law of the land under the pretext of demanding an amendment to the Wilson tariff bill which he knew would not be adopted!

How ably is he now playing himself off as the champion of the self-same tariff act which he struggled to the last by hook or crook to defeat, and which he was the only Democrat in the Senate to vote against!

Able! I should say so. There is no abler genius of mischief in the Democratic ranks. There is no abler traitor to Democratic principles and policies, no abler demoralizer of Democratic virtue, no abler enemy of the Democratic Administration. There are few rogues in politics whom David B. Hill cannot easily beat at their trade. And he is still able to pull the wool over the eyes of lots of credulous citizens.

I leave it to you to think out what will become of the country and of your party, if such ability is to rule their destinies!

It is said that of late David B. Hill has much "broadened." To be sure he has. He is broad enough to be for good money and for the free coinage of silver at the same time. He is broad enough to fight bitterly against the tariff bill and then to extol it as a beneficent Democratic measure. If he goes on "broadening," he will soon be broad enough to be on every side of every public question, always with the keen eye of the statesman firmly fixed upon the interests of David B. Hill.

And he is broadly generous too. He even went so far at one time in the Senate as to defend the hated Cleveland -- when he thought he could thereby most effectually kill the tariff bill. And he was hot for killing the tariff bill because he thought he could thereby most effectually kill Mr. Cleveland.

He is, indeed, generous to us all. He tells us that if he had had his way he would have admitted the delegates of the State Democracy and of the Brooklyn reform Democrats to the late State convention. I should not wonder, for, being sure of an immense machine majority in that convention anyhow, which would have made the reformers absolutely powerless and at the same time harmless, the spider could generously invite the fly into his net. And now he is so generous as to permit all his opponents to vote for him. What more can you ask for?

It is said that he is courageous. No more courageous man in his circumstances than he. Only think of it: After all he has done, he still has the courage to call himself a Democrat! He still has the courage to show his face among decent people and actually to ask for the suffrages of patriotic and self-respecting men. Human intrepidity can hardly rise higher.

It is said -- Mr. Coudert says so -- that David B. Hill "represents in this contest everything we have fought for these last ten years." I do not know whom Mr. Coudert means by "we." For his own sake I hope he does not include himself. If he means by "we" such men as Dick Croker and Bill Sheehan and Barney Martin and Paddy Diwer, and that ilk of patriots, then I agree. What they have fought for these last ten years could indeed find no more brilliant representative than Dave Hill. To represent political methods which resulted in the building up of the most corrupt and despotic machine this State has ever known, and in such audacious frauds as the famous snap convention; to represent a political morality which flowered in the falsification of an election and a theft of the Senate majority, and in an attempt to seat a criminal on the highest State tribunal; to represent a Democratic partisanship which consists in systematic treachery to Democratic principles and measures, and in malignant attempts to break down a Democratic Administration all this to further the most selfish and devouring of personal ambitions -- to represent such things David B. Hill, of all others, is your man. But to say that David B. Hill truly represents what the Democratic party has fought for these last ten years, is far worse than anything the bitterest enemies of the Democratic party can say against it. The Democratic party may be able to endure much obloquy. But as soon as the people generally believe that, good Heavens! what will become of the Democracy then? And David B. Hill's election now would go very far to make the people believe it.

Look the situation squarely in the face. There is an anti-Democratic current sweeping over the land. We all know it. Democratic defeats crowd one another. What is the trouble? No doubt the hard times have something to do with it. But in spite of the hard times the Democracy would have a good fighting chance did it stand before the country with a character commanding respect and confidence. Why does it not? Because of its professed principles and its leading measure? No. If the choice between the McKinley tariff and the Wilson tariff were, purely on their merits, submitted to a popular vote, I am confident the McKinley tariff would be voted down by a decisive majority. Even thousands of Republicans would vote against it. What, then, is the trouble? It is corrupt and treacherous leadership. It is your Tammany, your Hills, your Gormans, your Murphys, your Brices, your Smiths, that have disgusted decent men and made them doubtful whether the Democratic party is capable of conducting the Government honestly and for the general good. This is the trouble.

What, then, would David B. Hill's defeat in this election signify? He himself tries to frighten Democratic children with the pretense that it would mean the adoption of the apportionment amendment to the State constitution, and the disfranchisement of Democrats. Nonsense. I shall vote, and so will you, against that amendment, and with entire consistency we can put him and it into the same grave.

He pretends also that his defeat will mean a victory of the American Protective Association. Nonsense again. That proscriptive secret society is a waning power already, and we shall all co÷perate to put it into the same grave as a good third. He further pretends that a defeat of the regular Democratic organization in New York State this year will necessarily draw after it defeat in the Presidential election two years hence. More nonsense. It is history that several times the party defeated in New York one year was victorious in the National field one or two years afterwards.

This is Hill's cry, and it is Tammany's cry likewise. Being one and the same, they have an equal right to it. They cannot be expected to remember that the numerical strength of a party always depends in the long run upon its moral strength. It is, nevertheless, an overruling truth. And in order to recover the necessary moral strength, the Democratic party needs not more Tammany and more Hill, but a good deal less of them. To make the Democratic ship swim again, the party must throw its Jonahs overboard. It must bury them in the waves, out of sight, and, if that be possible, out of memory. This is what Hill's defeat will mean.

Now let us see what his victory would signify. Listen to me a moment, Democrats, who constantly affirm their zeal for reform, clean politics and good government, but now tell us that the good of the Democratic party requires Hill's election. Have you considered what the consequences would be if you succeeded in seducing a sufficient number of anti-Tammany and anti-Hill Democrats to give him a majority? As to our municipal struggle, do you really mean merely to hit Tammany without hurting it? Or to hurt it only a little, and at the same time to furnish the surgeon who will surely set it upon its legs again, and restore its power for mischief? And this at the very moment when by thorough action that hideous nest of corruption and despotism may be stamped out! Have you considered what an awful responsibility you take in trying to deprive the present great uprising of good citizenship of its ultimate and most valuable fruit, to frustrate this rare opportunity and to discredit non-partisan reform movements for years to come? Have you considered what curses will follow you, curses of the betrayed and the robbed and the oppressed, if you succeed?

But more. Only recently the rascally and tyrannical methods of the Democratic State machine excited you to righteous indignation. You declared that the Democratic party could not live under it; you declared it incompatible with your character as gentlemen to submit to it. You protested; you got up the anti-snapper movement; you organized the State Democracy -- all against the machine. Well, who is the State machine? David B. Hill. And if you make him governor again -- what then? Why, the machine will be stronger, and, after having victoriously passed through such a crisis, more arbitrary and despotic than ever. And will you then organize other anti-machine movements? Oh, no; for after this year's pro-Hill performance no self-respecting man will again trust the sincerity of your leadership. You will be what David B. Hill wishes his Democratic opponents to be: impotent and despised.

But still more. You call yourselves Cleveland Democrats and supporters of his patriotic purposes. Consider what you are now about to do for him and for the aims he represents. You elect Hill and you give him a prestige of personal strength and success such as he never had before, and as is enjoyed at present by no other Democrat. It has been said that the election to the governorship of New York this year will be the sure stepping-stone to the nomination for the Presidency two years hence. Whether this be so in fact or not, it will certainly be believed by the crowd of those who are always inclined to turn their faces towards the rising sun; and their number is legion in every party. Hill's election now against unusual odds would make him the most unprincipled and most dangerous politician brought forth by New York politics since the days of Aaron Burr, the most powerful personal force in the Democratic organization. He would, by all the pushing ambitions in the Democratic camp in Congress as well as outside of it, be looked upon as the man of the future, and Cleveland as the man of the past. They would court the coming man's favor and go to him for orders. From that moment on Mr. Cleveland will, in the pursuit of his principles and policies, find himself confronted by an insidious power which, added to the opposition he has already to meet, may be strong enough to turn the second half of his Administration into a slow funeral of laudable endeavors. This is what, by electing Hill, you will do for our National politics; but, pray, call yourselves Cleveland Democrats no longer.

We are told that Mr. Cleveland himself may support Hill. I trust not. I should greatly deplore it if President Cleveland were weak enough to consider it his duty, as head of the party, to support every tainted character regularly nominated. But it would not alter the situation. If Mr. Cleveland asked me personally to deliver him bound hand and foot into the hands of his worst enemy, I would answer: "I will not do it!" As a true friend I would consider it my duty to defend him against himself.

This is not all. When last year the moral sense of the people rose in revolt against the nomination of Maynard for the court of appeals, we heard it commonly said that the proper place for such a criminal was the penitentiary and not the judicial bench. You said so yourselves. And in your righteous wrath you buried Maynard under a majority of over 100,000 votes. But let me ask you, if Maynard, the tool, deserved such a crushing condemnation, what does Hill deserve, who, as the principal, employed the tool in the execution of the crime instigated by himself? Will you virtuous men of last year make that principal this year governor of the State? If you find it in your consciences to do this, then you must admit that you have grievously wronged Maynard and owe him apology and reparation. You are in duty bound to go to him and say: "Worthy sir, we have done you injustice. Pardon us, for we repent. What we called a crime we have since discovered to have been a commendable deed. We have expressed our appreciation of it by rewarding its instigator with the highest office in the State. And you, in bravely helping him to perform the meritorious act of abstracting an election return, falsifying an election and stealing the Senate majority, deserved honor instead of punishment. We come to put a civic crown upon your head, and shall be happy to carry you at the earliest opportunity in triumph to a seat in our highest tribunal, that you may sit as a judge over us, to support and strengthen by your decisions, if you can, the patriotic efforts of our great and virtuous governor!" When this interesting ceremony takes place, will Mr. Ellery Anderson marshal the procession, and will Mr. Coudert pronounce the eulogy? For my part, if I did such a thing as support Hill after having condemned Maynard, I would feel as if I could no longer look straight into the eyes of my children. I certainly should not wish my sons to follow my example. Do you feel differently, my anti-Maynard, pro-Hill friends?

And now I ask you to open your eyes and look, as sensible, self-respecting and patriotic men, at the miserable plight of your party. What has brought it to this? What a wicked fraud it is, this vaunted political smartness of the Hill school, which pretends to strengthen a party by organizing machines that would rather fit a band of marauders than an association of honest men, and must inevitably provoke the indignation of the public conscience; which will steal a Senate one year only to lose a whole legislature the next; which seeks party victory with political sharpers at its head, and runs the good aims of the party, and with it the party itself, into certain ruin and disgrace!

What a contemptible humbug it is, this so-called statesmanship which equivocates and shifts and dodges and squirms about every principle and public policy, and schemes and plots and intrigues for no higher object than personal advancement and power and plunder!

What a farcical spectacle it is, this so-called heroic campaign, Hill himself, the Great Mogul of the machine, with the brand of fate already upon his forehead, a sick devil in the monk's cowl, rushing from place to place, praising the tariff act he voted against, fawning upon Cleveland, whom he has been constantly stabbing in the back, whining about his self-sacrifice in taking the nomination, peddling around his canting promise as to what a good boy he will be, with the impudent assumption that, if he is defeated, the party will die!

And what a calamitous weakness it is, this so-called party loyalty of respectable men, which, when the party is led into iniquity and dishonor, indulges itself in highly moral protests; but then, when the test comes, supports, "for the good of the party," the very leader in iniquity, and thus serves to nurse and encourage and propagate the very wickedness protested against!

Gentlemen of the Reform Organization of the Democratic party, I turn to you with a feeling of relief and hope. It is a joy to meet once more with men who dare to look the truth squarely in the face, and to call their souls their own. Your clearness of mind amid so much mental confusion, your firmness amid so much wavering, your courage amid so much pusillanimity, entitle you to the respect of friend and foe. You have manfully declined to kneel before the idol of a party organization serving bad ends. You have scorned to stultify and disgrace yourselves by honoring to-day what you denounced as a crime yesterday. You have justly repelled the leadership of the evil genius of the party nominated by Tammany Hall for its purposes. You have done more. You have shown the Democratic party in its distress the way of salvation. You have proclaimed the principle that, if it is to be the party of tariff reform, it must be led by tariff reformers, and that if it is to be the party of good government, it must be led by honest men.

Your acts have been as good as your words. Your platform is the model Democratic platform, indeed the model platform of the day. And your standard-bearer, Everett P. Wheeler, is by his principles and his public and private virtues the model candidate of whom any party might be proud.

I invite the Democrats of this State and of the whole country to look at this. What would the position of your party be to-day, what its power and its prestige, if it had constantly stood true to such a platform with such leaders at its head? It would be irresistible in the confidence of the people. Well, what has not been may be. Before us is a great opportunity. Now is the time, in this State at least, to crush the powers of evil and to clear the field for a power of good. Boldly plant your flag as the flag of true Democracy. Around it will rally not only hosts of true Democrats, but, after this election, thousands of Republicans too, who are impatient with the tendencies and abuses of their own party, but were kept in it because Tammany and Hillism disgusted and repelled them. An organization like this, with such principles and such men, will solve their doubts. It will be a gathering of new forces.

It is objected that this will not be the regular organization of the State. The answer is that the true Democracy must not rest until it becomes the regular Democracy. It is objected also that this will involve Democratic defeat. The answer is that great reforms are never accomplished by those whom the thought of defeat can frighten from their purpose. Besides, there will, in all likelihood, be Democratic defeat anyhow. The question is only what kind of defeat. The worst defeat of Democratic principles, Democratic morals and Democratic prospects would be David B. Hill's election. This, however, I am glad to say, is hardly to be apprehended. But the defeat of a bad Democratic leader may be turned into a triumph of good Democratic principles if emphasized by Democratic votes. And here is the great duty the true Democrats of New York have to perform. Every vote for Hill is a vote for corruption and machine politics and for the demoralization and decay of the Democratic party. Every vote for Everett P. Wheeler is a vote for fidelity to the principles of good government and for party purification and rejuvenation.

May the citizens of New York when they go to the ballot-box not forget the true saying which has passed into a proverb: He serves his party most who serves his country best.