TWEED DAYS IN ST. LOUIS

St. Louis, the fourth city in size in the United States, is making two
announcements to the world: one that it is the worst-governed city in
the land; the other that it wishes all men to come there (for the
World’s Fair) and see it. It isn’t our worst-governed city; Philadelphia
is that. But St. Louis is worth examining while we have it inside out.

There is a man at work there, one man, working all alone, but he is the
Circuit (district or State) Attorney, and he is “doing his duty.” That
is what thousands of district attorneys and other public officials have
promised to do and boasted of doing. This man has a literal sort of
mind. He is a thin-lipped, firm-mouthed, dark little man, who never
raises his voice, but goes ahead doing, with a smiling eye and a set
jaw, the simple thing he said he would do. The politicians and reputable
citizens who asked him to run urged him when he declined. When he said
that if elected he would have to do his duty, they said, “Of course.” So
he ran, they supported him, and he was elected. Now some of these
politicians are sentenced to the penitentiary, some are in Mexico. The
Circuit Attorney, finding that his “duty” was to catch and convict
criminals, and that the biggest criminals were some of these same
politicians and leading citizens, went after them. It is magnificent,
but the politicians declare it isn’t politics.

The corruption of St. Louis came from the top. The best citizens—the
merchants and big financiers—used to rule the town, and they ruled it
well. They set out to outstrip Chicago. The commercial and industrial
war between these two cities was at one time a picturesque and dramatic
spectacle such as is witnessed only in our country. Business men were
not mere merchants and the politicians were not mere grafters; the two
kinds of citizens got together and wielded the power of banks,
railroads, factories, the prestige of the city, and the spirit of its
citizens to gain business and population. And it was a close race.
Chicago, having the start, always led, but St. Louis had pluck,
intelligence, and tremendous energy. It pressed Chicago hard. It
excelled in a sense of civic beauty and good government; and there are
those who think yet it might have won. But a change occurred. Public
spirit became private spirit, public enterprise became private greed.

Along about 1890, public franchises and privileges were sought, not only
for legitimate profit and common convenience, but for loot. Taking but
slight and always selfish interest in the public councils, the big men
misused politics. The riffraff, catching the smell of corruption, rushed
into the Municipal Assembly, drove out the remaining respectable men,
and sold the city—its streets, its wharves, its markets, and all that it
had—to the now greedy business men and bribers. In other words, when the
leading men began to devour their own city, the herd rushed into the
trough and fed also.

So gradually has this occurred that these same citizens hardly realize
it. Go to St. Louis and you will find the habit of civic pride in them;
they still boast. The visitor is told of the wealth of the residents, of
the financial strength of the banks, and of the growing importance of
the industries, yet he sees poorly paved, refuse-burdened streets, and
dusty or mud-covered alleys; he passes a ramshackle fire-trap crowded
with the sick, and learns that it is the City Hospital; he enters the
“Four Courts,” and his nostrils are greeted by the odor of formaldehyde
used as a disinfectant, and insect powder spread to destroy vermin; he
calls at the new City Hall, and finds half the entrance boarded with
pine planks to cover up the unfinished interior. Finally, he turns a tap
in the hotel, to see liquid mud flow into wash-basin or bath-tub.

The St. Louis charter vests legislative power of great scope in a
Municipal Assembly, which is composed of a council and a House of
Delegates. Here is a description of the latter by one of Mr. Folk’s
grand juries:

“We have had before us many of those who have been, and most of those
who are now, members of the House of Delegates. We found a number of
these utterly illiterate and lacking in ordinary intelligence, unable to
give a better reason for favoring or opposing a measure than a desire to
act with the majority. In some, no trace of mentality or morality could
be found; in others, a low order of training appeared, united with base
cunning, groveling instincts, and sordid desires. Unqualified to respond
to the ordinary requirements of life, they are utterly incapable of
comprehending the significance of an ordinance, and are incapacitated,
both by nature and training, to be the makers of laws. The choosing of
such men to be legislators makes a travesty of justice, sets a premium
on incompetency, and deliberately poisons the very source of the law.”

These creatures were well organized. They had a “combine”—legislative
institution—which the grand jury described as follows:

“Our investigation, covering more or less fully a period of ten years,
shows that, with few exceptions, no ordinance has been passed wherein
valuable privileges or franchises are granted until those interested
have paid the legislators the money demanded for action in the
particular case. Combines in both branches of the Municipal Assembly are
formed by members sufficient in number to control legislation. To one
member of this combine is delegated the authority to act for the
combine, and to receive and to distribute to each member the money
agreed upon as the price of his vote in support of, or opposition to, a
pending measure. So long has this practice existed that such members
have come to regard the receipt of money for action on pending measures
as a legitimate perquisite of a legislator.”

One legislator consulted a lawyer with the intention of suing a firm to
recover an unpaid balance on a fee for the grant of a switch-way. Such
difficulties rarely occurred, however. In order to insure a regular and
indisputable revenue, the combine of each house drew up a schedule of
bribery prices for all possible sorts of grants, just such a list as a
commercial traveler takes out on the road with him. There was a price
for a grain elevator, a price for a short switch; side tracks were
charged for by the linear foot, but at rates which varied according to
the nature of the ground taken; a street improvement cost so much; wharf
space was classified and precisely rated. As there was a scale for
favorable legislation, so there was one for defeating bills. It made a
difference in the price if there was opposition, and it made a
difference whether the privilege asked was legitimate or not. But
nothing was passed free of charge. Many of the legislators were
saloon-keepers—it was in St. Louis that a practical joker nearly emptied
the House of Delegates by tipping a boy to rush into a session and call
out, “Mister, your saloon is on fire,”—but even the saloon-keepers of a
neighborhood had to pay to keep in their inconvenient locality a market
which public interest would have moved.

From the Assembly, bribery spread into other departments. Men empowered
to issue peddlers’ licenses and permits to citizens who wished to erect
awnings or use a portion of the sidewalk for storage purposes charged an
amount in excess of the prices stipulated by law, and pocketed the
difference. The city’s money was loaned at interest, and the interest
was converted into private bank accounts. City carriages were used by
the wives and children of city officials. Supplies for public
institutions found their way to private tables; one itemized account of
food furnished the poorhouse included California jellies, imported
cheeses, and French wines! A member of the Assembly caused the
incorporation of a grocery company, with his sons and daughters the
ostensible stockholders, and succeeded in having his bid for city
supplies accepted although the figures were in excess of his
competitors’. In return for the favor thus shown, he indorsed a measure
to award the contract for city printing to another member, and these two
voted aye on a bill granting to a third the exclusive right to furnish
city dispensaries with drugs.

Men ran into debt to the extent of thousands of dollars for the sake of
election to either branch of the Assembly. One night, on a street car
going to the City Hall, a new member remarked that the nickel he handed
the conductor was his last. The next day he deposited $5,000 in a
savings bank. A member of the House of Delegates admitted to the Grand
Jury that his dividends from the combine netted $25,000 in one year; a
Councilman stated that he was paid $50,000 for his vote on a single
measure.

Bribery was a joke. A newspaper reporter overheard this conversation one
evening in the corridor of the City Hall:

“Ah there, my boodler!” said Mr. Delegate.

“Stay there, my grafter!” replied Mr. Councilman. “Can you lend me a
hundred for a day or two?”

“Not at present. But I can spare it if the Z—— bill goes through
to-night. Meet me at F——‘s later.”

“All right, my jailbird; I’ll be there.”

The blackest years were 1898, 1899, and 1900. Foreign corporations came
into the city to share in its despoliation, and home industries were
driven out by blackmail. Franchises worth millions were granted without
one cent of cash to the city, and with provision for only the smallest
future payment; several companies which refused to pay blackmail had to
leave; citizens were robbed more and more boldly; pay-rolls were padded
with the names of non-existent persons; work on public improvements was
neglected, while money for them went to the boodlers.

Some of the newspapers protested, disinterested citizens were alarmed,
and the shrewder men gave warnings, but none dared make an effective
stand. Behind the corruptionists were men of wealth and social standing,
who, because of special privileges granted them, felt bound to support
and defend the looters. Independent victims of the far-reaching
conspiracy submitted in silence, through fear of injury to their
business. Men whose integrity was never questioned, who held high
positions of trust, who were church members and teachers of Bible
classes, contributed to the support of the dynasty,—became blackmailers,
in fact,—and their excuse was that others did the same, and that if they
proved the exception it would work their ruin. The system became loose
through license and plenty till it was as wild and weak as that of Tweed
in New York.

Then the unexpected happened—an accident. There was no uprising of the
people, but they were restive; and the Democratic party leaders,
thinking to gain some independent votes, decided to raise the cry
“reform” and put up a ticket of candidates different enough from the
usual offerings of political parties to give color to their platform.
These leaders were not in earnest. There was little difference between
the two parties in the city; but the rascals that were in had been
getting the greater share of the spoils, and the “outs” wanted more than
was given to them. “Boodle” was not the issue, no exposures were made or
threatened, and the bosses expected to control their men if elected.
Simply as part of the game, the Democrats raised the slogan, “reform”
and “no more Ziegenheinism.”

Mayor Ziegenhein, called “Uncle Henry,” was a “good fellow,” “one of the
boys,” and though it was during his administration that the city grew
ripe and went to rot, his opponents talked only of incompetence and
neglect, and repeated such stories as that of his famous reply to some
citizens who complained because certain street lights were put out: “You
have the moon yet—ain’t it?”

When somebody mentioned Joseph W. Folk for Circuit Attorney the leaders
were ready to accept him. They didn’t know much about him. He was a
young man from Tennessee; had been President of the Jefferson Club, and
arbitrated the railroad strike of 1898. But Folk did not want the place.
He was a civil lawyer, had had no practice at the criminal bar, cared
little about it, and a lucrative business as counsel for corporations
was interesting him. He rejected the invitation. The committee called
again and again, urging his duty to his party, and the city, etc.

“Very well,” he said, at last, “I will accept the nomination, but if
elected I will do my duty. There must be no attempt to influence my
actions when I am called upon to punish lawbreakers.”

The committeemen took such statements as the conventional platitudes of
candidates. They nominated him, the Democratic ticket was elected, and
Folk became Circuit Attorney for the Eighth Missouri District.

Three weeks after taking the oath of office his campaign pledges were
put to the test. A number of arrests had been made in connection with
the recent election, and charges of illegal registration were preferred
against men of both parties. Mr. Folk took them up like routine cases of
ordinary crime. Political bosses rushed to the rescue. Mr. Folk was
reminded of his duty to his party, and told that he was expected to
construe the law in such a manner that repeaters and other election
criminals who had hoisted Democracy’s flag and helped elect him might be
either discharged or receive the minimum punishment. The nature of the
young lawyer’s reply can best be inferred from the words of that veteran
political leader, Colonel Ed Butler, who, after a visit to Mr. Folk,
wrathfully exclaimed, “D—n Joe! he thinks he’s the whole thing as
Circuit Attorney.”

The election cases were passed through the courts with astonishing
rapidity; no more mercy was shown Democrats than Republicans, and before
winter came a number of ward heelers and old-time party workers were
behind the bars in Jefferson City. He next turned his attention to
grafters and straw bondsmen with whom the courts were infested, and
several of these leeches are in the penitentiary to-day. The business
was broken up because of his activity. But Mr. Folk had made little more
than the beginning.

One afternoon, late in January, 1903, a newspaper reporter, known as
“Red” Galvin, called Mr. Folk’s attention to a ten-line newspaper item
to the effect that a large sum of money had been placed in a bank for
the purpose of bribing certain Assemblymen to secure the passage of a
street railroad ordinance. No names were mentioned, but Mr. Galvin
surmised that the bill referred to was one introduced on behalf of the
Suburban Railway Company. An hour later Mr. Folk sent the names of
nearly one hundred persons to the sheriff, with instructions to subpœna
them before the grand jury at once. The list included Councilmen,
members of the House of Delegates, officers and directors of the
Suburban Railway, bank presidents and cashiers. In three days the
investigation was being pushed with vigor, but St. Louis was laughing at
the “huge joke.” Such things had been attempted before. The men who had
been ordered to appear before the grand jury jested as they chatted in
the anterooms, and newspaper accounts of these preliminary examinations
were written in the spirit of burlesque.

It has developed since that Circuit Attorney Folk knew nothing, and was
not able to learn much more during the first few days; but he says he
saw here and there puffs of smoke and he determined to find the fire. It
was not an easy job. The first break into such a system is always
difficult. Mr. Folk began with nothing but courage and a strong personal
conviction. He caused peremptory summons to be issued, for the immediate
attendance in the grand jury room of Charles H. Turner, president of the
Suburban Railway, and Philip Stock, a representative of brewers’
interests, who, he had reason to believe, was the legislative agent in
this deal.

“Gentlemen,” said Mr. Folk, “I have secured sufficient evidence to
warrant the return of indictments against you for bribery, and I shall
prosecute you to the full extent of the law and send you to the
penitentiary unless you tell to this grand jury the complete history of
the corruptionist methods employed by you to secure the passage of
Ordinance No. 44. I shall give you three days to consider the matter. At
the end of that time, if you have not returned here and given us the
information demanded, warrants will be issued for your arrest.”

They looked at the audacious young prosecutor and left the Four Courts
building without uttering a word. He waited. Two days later,
ex-Lieutenant Governor Charles P. Johnson, the veteran criminal lawyer,
called, and said that his client, Mr. Stock, was in such poor health
that he would be unable to appear before the grand jury.

“I am truly sorry that Mr. Stock is ill,” replied Mr. Folk, “for his
presence here is imperative, and if he fails to appear he will be
arrested before sundown.”

That evening a conference was held in Governor Johnson’s office, and the
next day this story was told in the grand jury room by Charles H.
Turner, millionaire president of the Suburban Railway, and corroborated
by Philip Stock, man-about-town and a good fellow: The Suburban, anxious
to sell out at a large profit to its only competitor, the St. Louis
Transit Co., caused to be drafted the measure known as House Bill No.
44. So sweeping were its grants that Mr. Turner, who planned and
executed the document, told the directors in his confidence that its
enactment into law would enhance the value of the property from three to
six million dollars. The bill introduced, Mr. Turner visited Colonel
Butler, who had long been known as a legislative agent, and asked his
price for securing the passage of the measure. “One hundred and
forty-five thousand dollars will be my fee,” was the reply. The railway
president demurred. He would think the matter over, he said, and he
hired a cheaper man, Mr. Stock. Stock conferred with the representative
of the combine in the House of Delegates and reported that $75,000 would
be necessary in this branch of the Assembly. Mr. Turner presented a note
indorsed by two of the directors whom he could trust, and secured a loan
from the German American Savings Bank.

Bribe funds in pocket, the legislative agent telephoned John Murrell, at
that time a representative of the House combine, to meet him in the
office of the Lincoln Trust Company. There the two rented a safe-deposit
box. Mr. Stock placed in the drawer the roll of $75,000, and each
subscribed to an agreement that the box should not be opened unless both
were present. Of course the conditions spread upon the bank’s daybook
made no reference to the purpose for which this fund had been deposited,
but an agreement entered into by Messrs. Stock and Murrell was to the
effect that the $75,000 should be given Mr. Murrell as soon as the bill
became an ordinance, and by him distributed to the members of the
combine. Stock turned to the Council, and upon his report a further sum
of $60,000 was secured. These bills were placed in a safe-deposit box of
the Mississippi Valley Trust Co., and the man who held the key as
representative of the Council combine was Charles H. Kratz.

All seemed well, but a few weeks after placing these funds in escrow,
Mr. Stock reported to his employer that there was an unexpected hitch
due to the action of Emil Meysenburg, who, as a member of the Council
Committee on Railroads, was holding up the report on the bill. Mr. Stock
said that Mr. Meysenburg held some worthless shares in a defunct
corporation and wanted Mr. Stock to purchase this paper at its par value
of $9,000. Mr. Turner gave Mr. Stock the money with which to buy the
shares.

Thus the passage of House Bill 44 promised to cost the Suburban Railway
Co. $144,000, only one thousand dollars less than that originally named
by the political boss to whom Mr. Turner had first applied. The bill,
however, passed both houses of the Assembly. The sworn servants of the
city had done their work and held out their hands for the bribe money.

Then came a court mandate which prevented the Suburban Railway Co. from
reaping the benefit of the vote-buying, and Charles H. Turner, angered
at the check, issued orders that the money in safe-deposit boxes should
not be touched. War was declared between bribe-givers and bribe-takers,
and the latter resorted to tactics which they hoped would frighten the
Suburban people into submission—such as making enough of the story
public to cause rumors of impending prosecution. It was that first item
which Mr. Folk saw and acted upon.

When Messrs. Turner and Stock unfolded in the grand jury room the
details of their bribery plot, Circuit Attorney Folk found himself in
possession of verbal evidence of a great crime; he needed as material
exhibits the two large sums of money in safe-deposit vaults of two of
the largest banking institutions of the West. Had this money been
withdrawn? Could he get it if it was there? Lock-boxes had always been
considered sacred and beyond the power of the law to open. “I’ve always
held,” said Mr. Folk, “that the fact that a thing never had been done
was no reason for thinking it couldn’t be done.” He decided in this case
that the magnitude of the interests involved warranted unusual action,
so he selected a committee of grand jurors and visited one of the banks.
He told the president, a personal friend, the facts that had come into
his possession, and asked permission to search for the fund.

“Impossible,” was the reply. “Our rules deny anyone the right.”

“Mr.——,” said Mr. Folk, “a crime has been committed, and you hold
concealed the principal evidence thereto. In the name of the State of
Missouri I demand that you cause the box to be opened. If you refuse, I
shall cause a warrant to be issued, charging you as an accessory.”

For a minute not a word was spoken by anyone in the room; then the
banker said in almost inaudible tones:

“Give me a little time, gentlemen. I must consult with our legal adviser
before taking such a step.”

“We will wait ten minutes,” said the Circuit Attorney. “By that time we
must have access to the vault or a warrant will be applied for.”

At the expiration of that time a solemn procession wended its way from
the president’s office to the vaults in the sub-cellar—the president,
the cashier, and the corporation’s lawyer, the grand jurors, and the
Circuit Attorney. All bent eagerly forward as the key was inserted in
the lock. The iron drawer yielded, and a roll of something wrapped in
brown paper was brought to light. The Circuit Attorney removed the
rubber bands, and national bank notes of large denomination spread out
flat before them. The money was counted, and the sum was $75,000!

The boodle fund was returned to its repository, officers of the bank
were told they would be held responsible for it until the courts could
act. The investigators visited the other financial institution. They met
with more resistance there. The threat to procure a warrant had no
effect until Mr. Folk left the building and set off in the direction of
the Four Courts. Then a messenger called him back, and the second box
was opened. In this was found $60,000. The chain of evidence was
complete.




From that moment events moved rapidly. Charles Kratz and John K.
Murrell, alleged representatives of Council and House combines, were
arrested on bench warrants and placed under heavy bonds. Kratz was
brought into court from a meeting at which plans were being formed for
his election to the National Congress. Murrell was taken from his
undertaking establishment. Emil Meysenburg, millionaire broker, was
seated in his office when a sheriff’s deputy entered and read a document
that charged him with bribery. The summons reached Henry Nicolaus while
he was seated at his desk, and the wealthy brewer was compelled to send
for a bondsman to avoid passing a night in jail. The cable flashed the
news to Cairo, Egypt, that Ellis Wainwright, many times a millionaire,
proprietor of the St. Louis brewery that bears this name, had been
indicted. Julius Lehmann, one of the members of the House of Delegates,
who had joked while waiting in the grand jury’s anteroom, had his
laughter cut short by the hand of a deputy sheriff on his shoulder and
the words, “You are charged with perjury.” He was joined at the bar of
the criminal court by Harry Faulkner, another jolly good fellow.

Consternation spread among the boodle gang. Some of the men took night
trains for other States and foreign countries; the majority remained and
counseled together. Within twenty-four hours after the first indictments
were returned, a meeting of bribe-givers and bribe-takers was held in
South St. Louis. The total wealth of those in attendance was
$30,000,000, and their combined political influence sufficient to carry
any municipal election under normal conditions.

This great power was aligned in opposition to one man, who still was
alone. It was not until many indictments had been returned that a
citizens’ committee was formed to furnish funds, and even then most of
the contributors concealed their identity. Mr. James L. Blair, the
treasurer, testified in court that they were afraid to be known lest “it
ruin their business.”

At the meeting of corruptionists three courses were decided upon.
Political leaders were to work on the Circuit Attorney by promise of
future reward, or by threats. Detectives were to ferret out of the young
lawyer’s past anything that could be used against him. Witnesses would
be sent out of town and provided with money to remain away until the
adjournment of the grand jury.

Mr. Folk at once felt the pressure, and it was of a character to startle
one. Statesmen, lawyers, merchants, clubmen, churchmen—in fact, men
prominent in all walks of life—visited him at his office and at his
home, and urged that he cease such activity against his
fellow-townspeople. Political preferment was promised if he would yield;
a political grave if he persisted. Threatening letters came, warning him
of plots to murder, to disfigure, and to blackguard. Word came from
Tennessee that detectives were investigating every act of his life. Mr.
Folk told the politicians that he was not seeking political favors, and
not looking forward to another office; the others he defied. Meantime he
probed the deeper into the municipal sore. With his first successes for
prestige and aided by the panic among the boodlers, he soon had them
suspicious of one another, exchanging charges of betrayal, and ready to
“squeal” or run at the slightest sign of danger. One member of the House
of Delegates became so frightened while under the inquisitorial
cross-fire that he was seized with a nervous chill; his false teeth fell
to the floor, and the rattle so increased his alarm that he rushed from
the room without stopping to pick up his teeth, and boarded the next
train.

It was not long before Mr. Folk had dug up the intimate history of ten
years of corruption, especially of the business of the North and South
and the Central Traction franchise grants, the last-named being even
more iniquitous than the Suburban.

Early in 1898 a “promoter” rented a bridal suite at the Planters’ Hotel,
and having stocked the rooms with wines, liquors, and cigars until they
resembled a candidate’s headquarters during a convention, sought
introduction to members of the Assembly and to such political bosses as
had influence with the city fathers. Two weeks after his arrival the
Central Traction bill was introduced “by request” in the Council. The
measure was a blanket franchise, granting rights of way which had not
been given to old-established companies, and permitting the
beneficiaries to parallel any track in the city. It passed both Houses
despite the protests of every newspaper in the city, save one, and was
vetoed by the mayor. The cost to the promoter was $145,000.

Preparations were made to pass the bill over the executive’s veto. The
bridal suite was restocked, larger sums of money were placed on deposit
in the banks, and the services of three legislative agents were engaged.
Evidence now in the possession of the St. Louis courts tells in detail
the disposition of $250,000 of bribe money. Sworn statements prove that
$75,000 was spent in the House of Delegates. The remainder of the
$250,000 was distributed in the Council, whose members, though few in
number, appraised their honor at a higher figure on account of their
higher positions in the business and social world. Finally, but one vote
was needed to complete the necessary two-thirds in the upper Chamber. To
secure this a councilman of reputed integrity was paid $50,000 in
consideration that he vote aye when the ordinance should come up for
final passage. But the promoter did not dare risk all upon the vote of
one man, and he made this novel proposition to another honored member,
who accepted it:

“You will vote on roll call after Mr. ——. I will place $45,000 in the
hands of your son, which amount will become yours, if you have to vote
for the measure because of Mr. ——‘s not keeping his promise. But if he
stands out for it you can vote against it, and the money shall revert to
me.”

On the evening when the bill was read for final passage the City Hall
was crowded with ward heelers and lesser politicians. These men had been
engaged by the promoter, at five and ten dollars a head, to cheer on the
boodling Assemblymen. The bill passed the House with a rush, and all
crowded into the Council Chamber. While the roll was being called the
silence was profound, for all knew that some men in the Chamber whose
reputations had been free from blemish, were under promise and pay to
part with honor that night. When the clerk was two-thirds down the list
those who had kept count knew that but one vote was needed. One more
name was called. The man addressed turned red, then white, and after a
moment’s hesitation he whispered “aye”! The silence was so death-like
that his vote was heard throughout the room, and those near enough heard
also the sigh of relief that escaped from the member who could now vote
“no” and save his reputation.

The Central Franchise bill was a law, passed over the mayor’s veto. The
promoter had expended nearly $300,000 in securing the legislation, but
within a week he sold his rights of way to “Eastern capitalists” for
$1,250,000. The United Railways Company was formed, and without owning
an inch of steel rail, or a plank in a car, was able to compel every
street railroad in St. Louis, with the exception of the Suburban, to
part with stock and right of way and agree to a merger. Out of this grew
the St. Louis Transit Company of to-day.

Several incidents followed this legislative session. After the Assembly
had adjourned, a promoter entertained the $50,000 councilman at a
downtown restaurant. During the supper the host remarked to his guest,
“I wish you would lend me that $50,000 until to-morrow. There are some
of the boys outside whom I haven’t paid.” The money changed hands. The
next day, having waited in vain for the promoter, Mr. Councilman armed
himself with a revolver and began a search of the hotels. The hunt in
St. Louis proved fruitless, but the irate legislator kept on the trail
until he came face to face with the lobbyist in the corridor of the
Waldorf-Astoria. The New Yorker, seeing the danger, seized the St.
Louisan by the arm and said soothingly, “There, there; don’t take on so.
I was called away suddenly. Come to supper with me; I will give you the
money.”

The invitation was accepted, and champagne soon was flowing. When the
man from the West had become sufficiently maudlin the promoter passed
over to him a letter, which he had dictated to a typewriter while away
from the table for a few minutes. The statement denied all knowledge of
bribery.

“You sign that and I will pay you $5,000. Refuse, and you don’t get a
cent,” said the promoter. The St. Louisan returned home carrying the
$5,000, and that was all.

Meanwhile the promoter had not fared so well with other spoilsmen. By
the terms of the ante-legislation agreement referred to above, the son
of one councilman was pledged to return $45,000 if his father was saved
the necessity of voting for the bill. The next day the New Yorker sought
out this young man and asked for the money.

“I am not going to give it to you,” was the cool rejoinder. “My mamma
says that it is bribe money and that it would be wrong to give it to
either you or father, so I shall keep it myself.” And he did. When
summoned before the grand jury this young man asked to be relieved from
answering questions. “I am afraid I might commit perjury,” he said. He
was advised to “Tell the truth and there will be no risk.”

“It would be all right,” said the son, “if Mr. Folk would tell me what
the other fellows have testified to. Please have him do that.”

Two indictments were found as the result of this Central Traction bill,
and bench warrants were served on Robert M. Snyder and George J.
Kobusch. The State charged the former with being one of the promoters of
the bill, the definite allegation being bribery. Mr. Kobusch, who is
president of a street car manufacturing company, was charged with
perjury.

The first case tried was that of Emil Meysenburg, the millionaire who
compelled the Suburban people to purchase his worthless stock. He was
defended by three attorneys of high repute in criminal jurisprudence,
but the young Circuit Attorney proved equal to the emergency, and a
conviction was secured. Three years in the penitentiary was the
sentence. Charles Kratz, the Congressional candidate, forfeited $40,000
by flight, and John K. Murrell also disappeared. Mr. Folk traced Murrell
to Mexico, caused his arrest in Guadalajara, negotiated with the
authorities for his surrender, and when this failed, arranged for his
return home to confess, and his evidence brought about the indictment,
on September 8, of eighteen members of the municipal legislature. The
second case was that of Julius Lehmann. Two years at hard labor was the
sentence, and the man who had led the jokers in the grand jury anteroom
would have fallen when he heard it, had not a friend been standing near.

Besides the convictions of these and other men of good standing in the
community, and the flight of many more, partnerships were dissolved,
companies had to be reorganized, business houses were closed because
their proprietors were absent, but Mr. Folk, deterred as little by
success as by failure, moved right on; he was not elated; he was not
sorrowful. The man proceeded with his work quickly, surely, smilingly,
without fear or pity. The terror spread, and the rout was complete.

When another grand jury was sworn and proceeded to take testimony there
were scores of men who threw up their hands and crying “_Mea culpa!_”
begged to be permitted to tell all they knew and not be prosecuted. The
inquiry broadened. The son of a former mayor was indicted for misconduct
in office while serving as his father’s private secretary, and the grand
jury recommended that the ex-mayor be sued in the civil courts, to
recover interests on public money which he had placed in his own pocket.
A true bill fell on a former City Register, and more Assemblymen were
arrested, charged with making illegal contracts with the city. At last
the ax struck upon the trunk of the greatest oak of the forest. Colonel
Butler, the boss who has controlled elections in St. Louis for many
years, the millionaire who had risen from bellows-boy in a blacksmith’s
shop to be the maker and guide of the Governors of Missouri, one of the
men who helped nominate and elect Folk—he also was indicted on two
counts charging attempted bribery. That Butler has controlled
legislation in St. Louis had long been known. It was generally
understood that he owned Assemblymen before they ever took the oath of
office, and that he did not have to pay for votes. And yet open bribery
was the allegation now. Two members of the Board of Health stood ready
to swear that he offered them $2,500 for their approval of a garbage
contract.

Pitiful? Yes, but typical. Other cities are to-day in the same condition
as St. Louis before Mr. Folk was invited in to see its rottenness.
Chicago is cleaning itself up just now, so is Minneapolis, and Pittsburg
recently had a bribery scandal; Boston is at peace, Cincinnati and St.
Paul are satisfied, while Philadelphia is happy with the worst
government in the world. As for the small towns and the villages, many
of these are busy as bees at the loot.

St. Louis, indeed, in its disgrace, has a great advantage. It was
exposed late; it has not been reformed and caught again and again, until
its citizens are reconciled to corruption. But, best of all, the man who
has turned St. Louis inside out, turned it, as it were, upside down,
too. In all cities, the better classes—the business men—are the sources
of corruption; but they are so rarely pursued and caught that we do not
fully realize whence the trouble comes. Thus most cities blame the
politicians and the ignorant and vicious poor.

Mr. Folk has shown St. Louis that its bankers, brokers, corporation
officers,—its business men are the sources of evil, so that from the
start it will know the municipal problem in its true light. With a
tradition for public spirit, it may drop Butler and its runaway bankers,
brokers, and brewers, and pushing aside the scruples of the hundreds of
men down in blue book, and red book, and church register, who are lying
hidden behind the statutes of limitations, the city may restore good
government. Otherwise the exposures by Mr. Folk will result only in the
perfection of the corrupt system. For the corrupt can learn a lesson
when the good citizens cannot. The Tweed régime in New York taught
Tammany to organize its boodle business; the police exposure taught it
to improve its method of collecting blackmail. And both now are almost
perfect and safe. The rascals of St. Louis will learn in like manner;
they will concentrate the control of their bribery system, excluding
from the profit-sharing the great mass of weak rascals, and carrying on
the business as a business in the interest of a trustworthy few.
District Attorney Jerome cannot catch the Tammany men, and Circuit
Attorney Folk will not be able another time to break the St. Louis ring.
This is St. Louis’ one great chance.

But, for the rest of us, it does not matter about St. Louis any more
than it matters about Colonel Butler _et al._ The point is, that what
went on in St. Louis is going on in most of our cities, towns, and
villages. The problem of municipal government in America has not been
solved. The people may be tired of it, but they cannot give it up—not
yet.