Minneapolis was an example of police corruption; St. Louis of financial
corruption. Pittsburg is an example of both police and financial
corruption. The two other cities have found each an official who has
exposed them. Pittsburg has had no such man and no exposure. The city
has been described physically as “Hell with the lid off”; politically it
is hell with the lid on. I am not going to lift the lid. The exposition
of what the people know and stand is the purpose of these articles, not
the exposure of corruption, and the exposure of Pittsburg is not
necessary. There are earnest men in the town who declare it must blow up
of itself soon. I doubt that; but even if it does burst, the people of
Pittsburg will learn little more than they know now. It is not ignorance
that keeps American citizens subservient; neither is it indifference.
The Pittsburgers know, and a strong minority of them care; they have
risen against their ring and beaten it, only to look about and find
another ring around them. Angry and ashamed, Pittsburg is a type of the
city that has tried to be free and failed.

A sturdy city it is, too, the second in Pennsylvania. Two rivers flow
past it to make a third, the Ohio, in front, and all around and beneath
it are natural gas and coal which feed a thousand furnaces that smoke
all day and flame all night to make Pittsburg the Birmingham of America.
Rich in natural resources, it is richest in the quality of its
population. Six days and six nights these people labor, molding iron and
forging steel, and they are not tired; on the seventh day they rest,
because that is the Sabbath. They are Scotch Presbyterians and
Protestant Irish. This stock had an actual majority not many years ago,
and now, though the population has grown to 354,000 in Pittsburg proper
(counting Allegheny across the river, 130,000, and other communities,
politically separate, but essentially integral parts of the proposed
Greater Pittsburg, the total is 750,000), the Scotch and Scotch-Irish
still predominate, and their clean, strong faces characterize the crowds
in the streets. Canny, busy, and brave, they built up their city almost
in secret, making millions and hardly mentioning it. Not till outsiders
came in to buy some of them out did the world (and Pittsburg and some of
the millionaires in it) discover that the Iron City had been making not
only steel and glass, but multimillionaires. A banker told a business
man as a secret one day about three years ago that within six months a
“bunch of about a hundred new millionaires would be born in Pittsburg,”
and the births happened on time. And more beside. But even the bloom of
millions did not hurt the city. Pittsburg is an unpretentious,
prosperous city of tremendous industry and healthy, steady men.

Superior as it is in some other respects, however, Scotch-Irish
Pittsburg, politically, is no better than Irish New York or Scandinavian
Minneapolis, and little better than German St. Louis. These people, like
any other strain of the free American, have despoiled the
government—despoiled it, let it be despoiled, and bowed to the
despoiling boss. There is nothing in the un-American excuse that this or
that foreign nationality has prostituted “our great and glorious
institutions.” We all do it, all breeds alike. And there is nothing in
the complaint that the lower elements of our city populations are the
source of our disgrace. In St. Louis corruption came from the top, in
Minneapolis from the bottom. In Pittsburg it comes from both
extremities, but it began above.

The railroads began the corruption of this city. There “always was some
dishonesty,” as the oldest public men I talked with said, but it was
occasional and criminal till the first great corporation made it
businesslike and respectable. The municipality issued bonds to help the
infant railroads to develop the city, and, as in so many American
cities, the roads repudiated the debt and interest, and went into
politics. The Pennsylvania Railroad was in the system from the start,
and, as the other roads came in and found the city government bought up
by those before them, they purchased their rights of way by outbribing
the older roads, then joined the ring to acquire more rights for
themselves and to keep belated rivals out. As corporations multiplied
and capital branched out corruption increased naturally, but the notable
characteristic of the “Pittsburg plan” of misgovernment was that it was
not a haphazard growth, but a deliberate, intelligent organization. It
was conceived in one mind, built up by one will, and this master spirit
ruled, not like Croker in New York, a solid majority; nor like Butler in
St. Louis, a bi-partisan minority; but the whole town—financial,
commercial, and political. The boss of Pittsburg was Christopher L.
Magee, a great man, and when he died he was regarded by many of the
strongest men in Pittsburg as their leading citizen.

“Chris,” as he was called, was a charming character. I have seen
Pittsburgers grow black in the face denouncing his ring, but when I
asked, “What kind of a man was Magee?” they would cool and say, “Chris?
Chris was one of the best men God ever made.” If I smiled, they would
say, “That is all right. You smile, and you can go ahead and show up the
ring. You may describe this town as the worst in the country. But you
get Magee wrong and you’ll have all Pittsburg up in arms.” Then they
would tell me that “Magee robbed the town,” or, perhaps, they would
speak of the fund raising to erect a monument to the dead boss.

So I must be careful. And, to begin with, Magee did not, technically
speaking, rob the town. That was not his way, and it would be a
carelessly unnecessary way in Pennsylvania. But surely he does not
deserve a monument.

Magee was an American. His paternal great-grandfather served in the
Revolution, and settled in Pittsburg at the close of the war.
Christopher was born on Good Friday, April 14, 1848. He was sent to
school till he was fifteen years old. Then his father died, and “Squire”
or “Tommy” Steele, his uncle, a boss of that day, gave him his start in
life with a place in the City Treasury. When just twenty-one, he made
him cashier, and two years later Chris had himself elected City
Treasurer by a majority of 1100 on a ticket the head of which was beaten
by 1500 votes.

Such was his popularity; and, though he systematized and capitalized it,
it lasted to the end, for the foundation thereof was goodness of heart
and personal charm. Magee was tall, strong, and gracefully built. His
hair was dark till it turned gray, then his short mustache and his
eyebrows held black, and his face expressed easily sure power and
genial, hearty kindness. But he was ambitious for power, and all his
goodness of heart was directed by a shrewd mind.

When Chris saw the natural following gathering about him he realized,
young as he was, the use of it, and he retired from office (holding only
a fire commissionership) with the avowed purpose of becoming a boss.
Determined to make his ring perfect, he went to Philadelphia to study
the plan in operation there. Later, when the Tweed ring was broken, he
spent months in New York looking into Tammany’s machine methods and the
mistakes which had led to its exposure and disruption. With that
cheerful candor which softens indignation he told a fellow-townsman (who
told me) what he was doing in New York; and when Magee returned he
reported that a ring could be made as safe as a bank. He had, to start
with, a growing town too busy for self-government; two not very unequal
parties, neither of them well organized; a clear field in his own, the
majority party in the city, county, and State. There was boodle, but it
was loosely shared by too many persons. The governing instrument was the
old charter of 1816, which lodged all the powers—legislative,
administrative, and executive—in the councils, common and select. The
mayor was a peace officer, with no responsible power. Indeed, there was
no responsibility anywhere. There were no departments. Committees of
councils did the work usually done by departments, and the councilmen,
unsalaried and unanswerable individually, were organized into what might
have become a combine had not Magee set about establishing the one-man
power there.

To control councils Magee had to organize the wards, and he was managing
this successfully at the primaries, when a new and an important figure
appeared on the scene—William Flinn. Flinn was Irish, a Protestant of
Catholic stock, a boss contractor, and a natural politician. He beat one
of Magee’s brothers in his ward. Magee laughed, inquired, and, finding
him a man of opposite or complementary disposition and talents, took him
into a partnership. A happy, profitable combination, it lasted for life.
Magee wanted power, Flinn wealth. Each got both these things; but Magee
spent his wealth for more power, and Flinn spent his power for more
wealth. Magee was the sower, Flinn the reaper. In dealing with men they
came to be necessary to each other, these two. Magee attracted
followers, Flinn employed them. The men Magee won Flinn compelled to
obey, and those he lost Magee won back. When the councils were first
under his control Magee stood in the lobby to direct them, always by
suggestions and requests, which sometimes a mean and ungrateful fellow
would say he could not heed. Magee told him it was all right, which
saved the man, but lost the vote. So Flinn took the lobby post, and he
said: “Here, you go and vote aye.” If they disobeyed the plain order
Flinn punished them, and so harshly that they would run to Magee to
complain. He comforted them. “Never mind Flinn,” he would say
sympathetically; “he gives me no end of trouble, too. But I’d like to
have you do what he asked. Go and do it for me, and let me attend to
Flinn. I’ll fix him.”

Magee could command, too, and fight and punish. If he had been alone he
probably would have hardened with years. And so Flinn, after Magee died,
softened with time, but too late. He was useful to Magee, Magee was
indispensable to him. Molasses and vinegar, diplomacy and force, mind
and will, they were well mated. But Magee was the genius. It was Magee
that laid the plans they worked out together.

Boss Magee’s idea was not to corrupt the city government, but to be it;
not to hire votes in councils, but to own councilmen; and so, having
seized control of his organization, he nominated cheap or dependent men
for the select and common councils. Relatives and friends were his first
recourse, then came bartenders, saloon-keepers, liquor dealers, and
others allied to the vices, who were subject to police regulation and
dependent in a business way upon the maladministration of law. For the
rest he preferred men who had no visible means of support, and to
maintain them he used the usual means—patronage. And to make his
dependents secure he took over the county government. Pittsburg is in
Allegheny County, which has always been more strongly Republican than
the city. No matter what happened in the city, the county pay-roll was
always Magee’s, and he made the county part of the city government.

With all this city and county patronage at his command, Magee went
deliberately about undermining the Democratic party. The minority
organization is useful to a majority leader; it saves him trouble and
worry in ordinary times; in party crises he can use it to whip his own
followers into line; and when the people of a city rise in revolt it is
essential for absolute rule that you have the power not only to prevent
the minority leaders from combining with the good citizens, but to unite
the two organizations to whip the community into shape. Moreover, the
existence of a supposed opposition party splits the independent vote and
helps to keep alive that sentiment, “loyalty to party,” which is one of
the best holds the boss has on his unruly subjects. All bosses, as we
have seen in Minneapolis and St. Louis, rise above partisan bias. Magee,
the wisest of them, was also the most generous, and he liked to win over
opponents who were useful to him. Whenever he heard of an able
Democratic worker in a ward, he sent for his own Republican leader.
“So-and-so is a good man, isn’t he?” he would ask. “Going to give you a
run, isn’t he? Find out what he wants, and we’ll see what we can do. We
must have him.” Thus the able Democrat achieved office for himself or
his friend, and the city or the county paid. At one time, I was told,
nearly one-quarter of the places on the pay-roll were held by Democrats,
who were, of course, grateful to Chris Magee, and enabled him in
emergencies to wield their influence against revolting Republicans. Many
a time a subservient Democrat got Republican votes to beat a “dangerous”
Republican, and when Magee, toward the end of his career, wished to go
to the State Senate, both parties united in his nomination and elected
him unanimously.

Business men came almost as cheap as politicians, and they came also at
the city’s expense. Magee had control of public funds and the choice of
depositories. That is enough for the average banker—not only for him
that is chosen, but for him also that may some day hope to be chosen—and
Magee dealt with the best of those in Pittsburg. This service, moreover,
not only kept them docile, but gave him and Flinn credit at their banks.
Then, too, Flinn and Magee’s operations soon developed on a scale which
made their business attractive to the largest financial institutions for
the profits on their loans, and thus enabled them to distribute and
share in the golden opportunities of big deals. There are ring banks in
Pittsburg, ring trust companies, and ring brokers. The manufacturers and
the merchants were kept well in hand by many little municipal grants and
privileges, such as switches, wharf rights, and street and alley
vacations. These street vacations are a tremendous power in most cities.
A foundry occupies a block, spreads to the next block, and wants the
street between. In St. Louis the business man boodled for his street. In
Pittsburg he went to Magee, and I have heard such a man praise Chris,
“because when I called on him his outer office was filled with waiting
politicians, but he knew I was a business man and in a hurry; he called
me in first, and he gave me the street without any fuss. I tell you it
was a sad day for Pittsburg when Chris Magee died.” This business man,
the typical American merchant everywhere, cares no more for his city’s
interest than the politician does, and there is more light on American
political corruption in such a speech than in the most sensational
exposure of details. The business men of Pittsburg paid for their little
favors in “contributions to the campaign fund,” plus the loss of their
self-respect, the liberty of the citizens generally, and (this may
appeal to their mean souls) in higher taxes.

As for the railroads, they did not have to be bought or driven in; they
came, and promptly, too. The Pennsylvania appeared early, just behind
Magee, who handled their passes and looked out for their interest in
councils and afterwards at the State Legislature. The Pennsylvania
passes, especially those to Atlantic City and Harrisburg, have always
been a “great graft” in Pittsburg. For the sort of men Magee had to
control a pass had a value above the price of a ticket; to “flash” one
is to show a badge of power and relationship to the ring. The big
ringsters, of course, got from the railroads financial help when
cornered in business deals—stock tips, shares in speculative and other
financial turns, and political support. The Pennsylvania Railroad is a
power in Pennsylvania politics, it is part of the State ring, and part
also of the Pittsburg ring. The city paid in all sorts of rights and
privileges, streets, bridges, etc., and in certain periods the business
interests of the city were sacrificed to leave the Pennsylvania Road in
exclusive control of a freight traffic it could not handle alone.

With the city, the county, the Republican and Democratic organizations,
the railroads and other corporations, the financiers and the business
men, all well under control, Magee needed only the State to make his
rule absolute. And he was entitled to it. In a State like New York,
where one party controls the Legislature and another the city, the
people in the cities may expect some protection from party opposition.
In Pennsylvania, where the Republicans have an overwhelming majority,
the Legislature at Harrisburg is an essential part of the government of
Pennsylvania cities, and that is ruled by a State ring. Magee’s ring was
a link in the State ring, and it was no more than right that the State
ring should become a link in his ring. The arrangement was easily made.
One man, Matthew S. Quay, had received from the people all the power in
the State, and Magee saw Quay. They came to an understanding without the
least trouble. Flinn was to be in the Senate, Magee in the lobby, and
they were to give unto Quay political support for his business in the
State in return for his surrender to them of the State’s functions of
legislation for the city of Pittsburg.

Now such understandings are common in our politics, but they are verbal
usually and pretty well kept, and this of Magee and Quay was also
founded in secret good faith. But Quay, in crises, has a way of
straining points to win, and there were no limits to Magee’s ambition
for power. Quay and Magee quarreled constantly over the division of
powers and spoils, so after a few years of squabbling they reduced their
agreement to writing. This precious instrument has never been published.
But the agreement was broken in a great row once, and when William Flinn
and J. O. Brown undertook to settle the differences and renew the bond,
Flinn wrote out in pencil in his own hand an amended duplicate which he
submitted to Quay, whose son subsequently gave it out for publication. A
facsimile of one page is reproduced in this article. Here is the whole
contract, with all the unconscious humor of the “party of the first
part” and “said party of the second part,” a political-legal-commercial
insult to a people boastful of self-government:



“Memorandum and agreement between M. S. Quay of the first part and
J. O. Brown and William Flinn of the second part, the
consideration of this agreement being the mutual political and
business advantage which may result therefrom.

“First—The said M. S. Quay is to have the benefit of the influence
in all matters in state and national politics of the said parties
of the second part, the said parties agreeing that they will
secure the election of delegates to the state and national
convention, who will be guided in all matters by the wishes of the
said party of the first part, and who will also secure the
election of members of the state senate from the Forty-third,
Forty-fourth, and Forty-fifth senatorial districts, and also
secure the election of members of the house of representatives
south of the Monongahela and Ohio rivers in the county of
Allegheny, who will be guided by the wishes and request of the
said party of the first part during the continuance of this
agreement upon all political matters. The different candidates for
the various positions mentioned shall be selected by the parties
of the second part, and all the positions of state and national
appointments made in this territory mentioned shall be
satisfactory to and secure the indorsement of the party of the
second part, when the appointment is made either by or through the
party of the first part, or his friends or political associates.
All legislation affecting the parties of the second part,
affecting cities of the second class, shall receive the hearty
co-operation and assistance of the party of the first part, and
legislation which may affect their business shall likewise receive
the hearty co-operation and help of the party of the first part.
It bring distinctly understood that at the approaching national
convention, to be held at St. Louis, the delegates front the
Twenty-second congressional district shall neither by voice nor
vote do other than what is satisfactory to the party of the first
part. The party of the first part agrees to use his influence and
secure the support of his friends and political associates to
support the Republican county and city ticket, when nominated,
both in the city of Pittsburg and Allegheny, and the county of
Allegheny, and that he will discountenance the factional fighting
by his friends and associates for county offices during the
continuation of this agreement. This agreement is not to be
binding upon the parties of the second part when a candidate for
any office who [_sic_] shall reside in Allegheny county, and shall
only be binding if the party of the first part is a candidate for
United States senator to succeed himself so far as this office is
concerned. In the Forty-third senatorial district a new senator
shall be elected to succeed Senator Upperman. In the Forty-fifth
senatorial district the party of the first part shall secure the
withdrawal of Dr. A. J. Barchfeld, and the parties of the second
part shall withdraw as a candidate Senator Steel, and the parties
of the second part shall secure the election of some party
satisfactory to themselves. In the Twenty-second congressional
district the candidates for congress shall be selected by the
party of the second part. The term of this agreement to be for ——
years from the signing thereof, and shall be binding upon all
parties when signed by C. L. Magee.”

Thus was the city of Pittsburg turned over by the State to an individual
to do with as he pleased. Magee’s ring was complete. He was the city,
Flinn was the councils, the county was theirs, and now they had the
State Legislature so far as Pittsburg was concerned. Magee and Flinn
were the government and the law. How could they commit a crime? If they
wanted something from the city they passed an ordinance granting it, and
if some other ordinance was in conflict it was repealed or amended. If
the laws in the State stood in the way, so much the worse for the laws
of the State; they were amended. If the constitution of the State proved
a barrier, as it did to all special legislation, the Legislature enacted
a law for cities of the second class (which was Pittsburg alone) and the
courts upheld the Legislature. If there were opposition on the side of
public opinion, there was a use for that also.

The new charter which David D. Bruce fought through councils in 1886–87
was an example of the way Magee and, after him, Quay and other
Pennsylvania bosses employed popular movements. As his machine grew
Magee found council committees unwieldy in some respects, and he wanted
a change. He took up Bruce’s charter, which centered all executive and
administrative power and responsibility in the mayor and heads of
departments, passed it through the Legislature, but so amended that the
heads of departments were not to be appointed by the mayor, but elected
by councils. These elections were by expiring councils, so that the
department chiefs held over, and with their patronage insured the
re-election of the councilmen who elected them. The Magee-Flinn machine,
perfect before, was made self-perpetuating. I know of nothing like it in
any other city. Tammany in comparison is a plaything, and in the
management of a city Croker was a child beside Chris Magee.

The graft of Pittsburg falls conveniently into four classes: franchises,
public contracts, vice, and public funds. There was, besides these, a
lot of miscellaneous loot—public supplies, public lighting, and the
water supply. You hear of second-class fire-engines taken at first-class
prices, water rents from the public works kept up because a private
concern that supplied the South Side could charge no more than the city,
a gas contract to supply the city lightly availed of. But I cannot go
into these. Neither can I stop for the details of the system by which
public funds were left at no interest with favored depositories from
which the city borrowed at a high rate, or the removal of funds to a
bank in which the ringsters were shareholders. All these things were
managed well within the law, and that was the great principle underlying
the Pittsburg plan.

The vice graft, for example, was not blackmail as it is in New York and
most other cities. It is a legitimate business, conducted, not by the
police, but in an orderly fashion by syndicates, and the chairman of one
of the parties at the last election said it was worth $250,000 a year. I
saw a man who was laughed at for offering $17,500 for the slot-machine
concession; he was told that it was let for much more. “Speak-easies”
(unlicensed drinking places) pay so well that when they earn $500 or
more in twenty-four hours their proprietors often make a bare living.
Disorderly houses are managed by ward syndicates. Permission is had from
the syndicate real estate agent, who alone can rent them. The syndicate
hires a house from the owners at, say, $35 a month, and he lets it to a
woman at from $35 to $50 a week. For furniture the tenant must go to the
“official furniture man,” who delivers $1000 worth of “fixings” for a
note for $3000, on which high interest must be paid. For beer the tenant
must go to the “official bottler,” and pay $2 for a one-dollar case of
beer; for wines and liquors to the “official liquor commissioner,” who
charges $10 for five dollars’ worth; for clothes to the “official
wrapper maker.” These women may not buy shoes, hats, jewelry, or any
other luxury or necessity except from the official concessionaries, and
then only at the official, monopoly prices. If the victims have anything
left, a police or some other city official is said to call and get it
(there are rich ex-police officials in Pittsburg). But this is blackmail
and outside the system, which is well understood in the community. Many
men, in various walks of life, told me separately the names of the
official bottlers, jewelers, and furnishers; they are notorious, but
they are safe. They do nothing illegal. Oppressive, wretched, what you
please, the Pittsburg system is safe.

That was the keynote of the Flinn-Magee plan, but this vice graft was
not their business. They are credited with the suppression of disorder
and decent superficial regulations of vice, which is a characteristic of
Pittsburg. I know it is said that under the Philadelphia and Pittsburg
plans, which are much alike, “all graft and all patronage go across one
table,” but if any “dirty money” reached the Pittsburg bosses it was, so
far as I could prove, in the form of contributions to the party fund,
and came from the vice dealers only as it did from other business men.

Magee and Flinn, owners of Pittsburg, made Pittsburg their business,
and, monopolists in the technical economic sense of the word, they
prepared to exploit it as if it were their private property. For
convenience they divided it between them. Magee took the financial and
corporate branch, turning the streets to his uses, delivering to himself
franchises, and building and running railways. Flinn went in for public
contracts for his firm, Booth & Flinn, Limited, and his branch boomed.
Old streets were repaved, new ones laid out; whole districts were
improved, parks made, and buildings erected. The improvement of their
city went on at a great rate for years, with only one period of
cessation, and the period of economy was when Magee was building so many
traction lines that Booth & Flinn, Ltd., had all they could do with this
work. It was said that no other contractors had an adequate “plant” to
supplement properly the work of Booth & Flinn, Ltd. Perhaps that was why
this firm had to do such a large proportion of the public work always.
Flinn’s Director of Public Works was E. M. Bigelow, a cousin of Chris
Magee and another nephew of old Squire Steele. Bigelow, called the
Extravagant, drew the specifications; he made the awards to the lowest
_responsible_ bidders, and he inspected and approved the work while in
progress and when done.

Flinn had a quarry, the stone of which was specified for public
buildings; he obtained the monopoly of a certain kind of asphalt, and
that kind was specified. Nor was this all. If the official contractor
had done his work well and at reasonable prices the city would not have
suffered directly; but his methods were so oppressive upon property
holders that they caused a scandal. No action was taken, however, till
Oliver McClintock, a merchant, in rare civic wrath, contested the
contracts and fought them through the courts. This single citizen’s
long, brave fight is one of the finest stories in the history of
municipal government. The frowns and warnings of cowardly
fellow-citizens did not move him, nor the boycott of other business men,
the threats of the ring, and the ridicule of ring organs. George W.
Guthrie joined him later, and though they fought on undaunted, they were
beaten again and again. The Director of Public Works controlled the
initiative in court proceedings; he chose the judge who appointed the
Viewers, with the result, Mr. McClintock reported, that the Department
prepared the Viewers’ reports. Knowing no defeat, Mr. McClintock
photographed Flinn’s pavements at places where they were torn up to show
that “large stones, as they were excavated from sewer trenches, brick
bats, and the débris of old coal-tar sidewalks were promiscuously dumped
in to make foundations, with the result of an uneven settling of the
foundation, and the sunken and worn places so conspicuous everywhere in
the pavements of the East End.” One outside asphalt company tried to
break the monopoly, but was easily beaten in 1889, withdrew, and after
that one of its officers said, “We all gave Pittsburg a wide berth,
recognizing the uselessness of offering competition so long as the door
of the Department of Public Works is locked against us, and Booth &
Flinn are permitted to carry the key.” The monopoly caused not only high
prices on short guarantee, but carried with it all the contingent work.
Curbing and grading might have been let separately, but they were not.
In one contract Mr. McClintock cites, Booth & Flinn bid 50 cents for
44,000 yards of grading. E. H. Bochman offered a bid of 15 cents for the
grading as a separate contract, and his bid was rejected. A
property-owner on Shady Lane, who was assessed for curbing at 80 cents a
foot, contracted privately at the same time for 800 feet of the same
standard curbing, from the same quarry, and set in place in the same
manner, at 40 cents a foot!

“During the nine years succeeding the adoption of the charter of 1887,”
says Mr. Oliver McClintock in a report to the National Municipal League,
“one firm [Flinn’s] received practically all the asphalt-paving
contracts at prices ranging from $1 to $1.80 per square yard higher than
the average price paid in neighboring cities. Out of the entire amount
of asphalt pavements laid during these nine years, represented by 193
contracts, and costing $3,551,131, only nine street blocks paved in
1896, and costing $33,400, were not laid by this firm.”

The building of bridges in this city of bridges, the repairing of
pavements, park-making, and real estate deals in anticipation of city
improvements were all causes of scandal to some citizens, sources of
profit to others who were “let in on the ground floor.” There is no
space for these here. Another exposure came in 1897 over the contracts
for a new Public Safety Building. J. O. Brown was Director of Public
Safety. A newspaper, the _Leader_, called attention to a deal for this
work, and George W. Guthrie and William B. Rogers, leading members of
the Pittsburg bar, who followed up the subject, discovered as queer a
set of specifications for the building itself as any city has on record.
Favored contractors were named or their wares described all through, and
a letter to the architect from J. O. Brown contained specifications for
such favoritism, as, for example: “Specify the Westinghouse
electric-light plant and engines straight.” “Describe the Van Horn Iron
Co.’s cells as close as possible.” The stone clause was Flinn’s, and
that is the one that raised the rumpus. Flinn’s quarry produced Ligonier
block, and Ligonier block was specified. There was a letter from Booth &
Flinn, Ltd., telling the architect that the price was to be specified at
$31,500. A local contractor offered to provide Tennessee granite set up,
a more expensive material, on which the freight is higher, at $19,880;
but that did not matter. When another local contracting firm, however,
offered to furnish Ligonier block set up at $18,000, a change was
necessary, and J. O. Brown directed the architect to “specify that the
Ligonier block shall be of a bluish tint rather than a gray variety.”
Flinn’s quarry had the bluish tint, the other people’s “the gray
variety.” It was shown also that Flinn wrote to the architect on June
24, 1895, saying: “I have seen Director Brown and Comptroller Gourley
to-day, and they have agreed to let us start on the working plans and
get some stone out for the new building. Please arrange that we may get
the tracings by Wednesday….” The tracings were furnished him, and thus
before the advertisements for bids were out he began preparing the
bluish tint stone. The charges were heard by a packed committee of
councils, and nothing came of them; and, besides, they were directed
against the Director of Public Works, not William Flinn.

The boss was not an official, and not responsible. The only time Flinn
was in danger was on a suit that grew out of the conviction of the City
Attorney, W. C. Moreland, and L. H. House, his assistant, for the
embezzlement of public funds. These officials were found to be short
about $300,000. One of them pleaded guilty, and both went to prison
without telling where the money went, and that information did not
develop till later. J. B. Connelly, of the _Leader_, discovered in the
City Attorney’s office stubs of checks indicating that some $118,000 of
it had gone to Flinn or to Booth & Flinn, Ltd. When Flinn was first
asked about it by a reporter he said that the items were correct, that
he got them, but that he had explained it all to the Comptroller and had
satisfied him. This answer indicated a belief that the money belonged to
the city. When he was sued by the city he said that he did not know it
was city money. He thought it was personal loans from House. Now House
was not a well-to-do man, and his city salary was but $2,500 a year.
Moreover, the checks, two of which are reproduced here, are signed by
the City Attorney, W. C. Moreland, and are for amounts ranging from five
to fifteen thousand dollars. But where was the money? Flinn testified
that he had paid it back to House. Then where were the receipts? Flinn
said they had been burned in a fire that had occurred in Booth & Flinn’s
office. The judge found for Flinn, holding that it had not been proven
that Flinn knew the checks were for public money, nor that he had not
repaid the amount.



As I have said before, however, unlawful acts were exceptional and
unnecessary in Pittsburg. Magee did not steal franchises and sell them.
His councils gave them to him. He and the busy Flinn took them, built
railways, which Magee sold and bought and financed and conducted, like
any other man whose successful career is held up as an example for young
men. His railways, combined into the Consolidated Traction Company, were
capitalized at $30,000,000. The public debt of Pittsburg is about
$18,000,000, and the profit on the railway building of Chris Magee would
have wiped out the debt. “But you must remember,” they say in the
Pittsburg banks, “that Magee took risks, and his profits are the just
reward of enterprise.” This is business. But politically speaking it was
an abuse of the powers of a popular ruler for Boss Magee to give to
Promoter Magee all the streets he wanted in Pittsburg at his own terms:
forever, and nothing to pay. There was scandal in Chicago over the
granting of charters for twenty-eight and fifty years. Magee’s read:
“for 950 years,” “for 999 years,” “said Charter is to exist a thousand
years,” “said Charter is to exist perpetually,” and the councils gave
franchises for the “life of the Charter.” There is a legend that Fred
Magee, a waggish brother of Chris, put these phrases into these grants
for fun, and no doubt the genial Chris saw the fun of it. I asked if the
same joker put in the car tax, which is the only compensation the city
gets for the use forever of its streets; but it was explained that that
was an oversight. The car tax was put upon the old horse-cars, and came
down upon the trolley because, having been left unpaid, it was
forgotten. This car tax on $30,000,000 of property amounts to less than
$15,000 a year, and the companies have until lately been slow about
paying it. During the twelve years succeeding 1885 all the traction
companies together paid the city $60,000. While the horse vehicles in
1897 paid $47,000, and bicycles $7,000, the Consolidated Traction
Company[5] (C. L. Magee, President) paid $9,600. The speed of bicycles
and horse vehicles is limited by law, that of the trolley is
unregulated. The only requirement of the law upon them is that the
traction company shall keep in repair the pavement between and a foot
outside of the tracks. This they don’t do, and they make the city
furnish twenty policemen as guards for crossings of their lines at a
cost of $20,000 a year in wages.

Footnote 5:

All the street railways terminating in the city of Pittsburg were in
1901 consolidated into the Pittsburg Railways Company, operating 404
miles of track, under an approximate capitalization of $84,000,000. In
their statement, issued July 1, 1902, they report gross earnings for
1901 as $7,081,452.82. Out of this they paid a car tax for 1902 to the
city of Pittsburg of $20,099.94. At the ordinary rate of 5 per cent.
on gross earnings the tax would have been $354,072.60.

Not content with the gift of the streets, the ring made the city work
for the railways. The building of bridges is one function of the
municipality as a servant of the traction company. Pittsburg is a city
of many bridges, and many of them were built for ordinary traffic. When
the Magee railways went over them some of them had to be rebuilt. The
company asked the city to do it, and despite the protests of citizens
and newspapers, the city rebuilt iron bridges in good condition and of
recent construction to accommodate the tracks. Once some citizens
applied for a franchise to build a connecting line along what is now
part of the Bloomfield route, and by way of compensation offered to
build a bridge across the Pennsylvania tracks for free city use, they
only to have the right to run their cars on it. They did not get their
franchise. Not long after Chris Magee (and Flinn) got it, and they got
it for nothing; and the city built this bridge, rebuilt three other
bridges over the Pennsylvania tracks, and one over the Junction
Railroad—five bridges in all, at a cost of $160,000!

Canny Scots as they were, the Pittsburgers submitted to all this for a
quarter of a century, and some $34,000 has been subscribed toward the
monument to Chris Magee. This sounds like any other well-broken American
city; but to the credit of Pittsburg be it said that there never was a
time when some few individuals were not fighting the ring. David D.
Bruce was standing for good government way back in the ‘fifties. Oliver
McClintock and George W. Guthrie we have had glimpses of, struggling,
like John Hampden, against their tyrants; but always for mere justice
and in the courts, and all in vain, till in 1895 their exposures began
to bring forth signs of public feeling, and they ventured to appeal to
the voters, the sources of the bosses’ power. They enlisted the
venerable Mr. Bruce and a few other brave men, and together called a
mass-meeting. A crowd gathered. There were not many prominent men there,
but evidently the people were with them, and they then and there formed
the Municipal League, and launched it upon a campaign to beat the ring
at the February election, 1896.

A committee of five was put in charge—Bruce, McClintock, George K.
Stevenson, Dr. Pollock, and Otto Heeren—who combined with Mr. Guthrie’s
sterling remnant of the Democratic party on an independent ticket, with
Mr. Guthrie at the head for mayor. It was a daring thing to do, and they
discovered then what we have discovered in St. Louis and Minneapolis.
Mr. Bruce told me that, after their mass-meeting, men who should have
come out openly for the movement approached him by stealth and whispered
that he could count on them for money if he would keep secret their
names. “Outside of those at the meeting,” he said, “but one man of all
those that subscribed would let his name appear. And men who gave me
information to use against the ring spoke themselves for the ring on the
platform.” Mr. McClintock in a paper read before a committee of the
National Municipal League says: “By far the most disheartening
discovery, however, was that of the apathetic indifference of many
representative citizens—men who from every other point of view are
deservedly looked upon as model members of society. We found that
prominent merchants and contractors who were ‘on the inside,’
manufacturers enjoying special municipal privileges, wealthy
capitalists, brokers, and others who were holders of the securities of
traction and other corporations, had their mouths stopped, their
convictions of duty strangled, and their influence before and votes on
election day preempted against us. In still another direction we found
that the financial and political support of the great steam railroads
and largest manufacturing corporations, controlling as far as they were
able the suffrages of their thousands of employees, were thrown against
us, for the simple reason, as was frankly explained by one of them, that
it was much easier to deal with a boss in promoting their corporate
interests than to deal directly with the people’s representatives in the
municipal legislature. We even found the directors of many banks in an
attitude of cold neutrality, if not of active hostility, toward any
movement for municipal reform. As one of them put it, ‘if you want to be
anybody, or make money in Pittsburg, it is necessary to be in the
political swim and on the side of the city ring.’”

This is corruption, but it is called “good business,” and it is worse
than politics.

It was a quarrel among the grafters of Minneapolis that gave the grand
jury a chance there. It was a low row among the grafters of St. Louis
that gave Joseph W. Folk his opening. And so in Pittsburg it was in a
fight between Quay and Magee that the Municipal League saw its

To Quay it was the other way around. The rising of the people of
Pittsburg was an opportunity for him. He and Magee had never got along
well together, and they were falling out and having their differences
adjusted by Flinn and others every few years. The “mutual business
advantage” agreement was to have closed one of these rows. The fight of
1895–96 was an especially bitter one, and it did not close with the
“harmony” that was patched up. Magee and Flinn and Boss Martin of
Philadelphia set out to kill Quay politically, and he, driven thus into
one of those “fights for his life” which make his career so interesting,
hearing the grumbling in Philadelphia and seeing the revolt of the
citizens of Pittsburg, stepped boldly forth upon a platform for reform,
especially to stop the “use of money for the corruption of our cities.”
From Quay this was comical, but the Pittsburgers were too serious to
laugh. They were fighting for their life, too, so to speak, and the
sight of a boss on their side must have encouraged those business men
who “found it easier to deal with a boss than with the people’s
representatives.” However that may be, a majority of the ballots cast in
the municipal election of Pittsburg in February, 1896, were against the

This isn’t history. According to the records the reform ticket was
defeated by about 1000 votes. The returns up to one o’clock on the
morning after election showed George W. Guthrie far ahead for mayor;
then all returns ceased suddenly, and when the count came in officially,
a few days later, the ring had won. But besides the _prima facie_
evidence of fraud, the ringsters afterward told in confidence not only
that Mr. Guthrie was counted out, but how it was done. Mr. Guthrie’s
appeal to the courts, however, for a recount was denied. The courts held
that the secret ballot law forbade the opening of the ballot boxes.

Thus the ring held Pittsburg—but not the Pittsburgers. They saw Quay in
control of the Legislature, Quay the reformer, who would help them. So
they drew a charter for Pittsburg which would restore the city to the
people. Quay saw the instrument, and he approved it; he promised to have
it passed. The League, the Chamber of Commerce, and other representative
bodies, all encouraged by the outlook for victory, sent to Harrisburg
committees to urge their charter, and their orators poured forth upon
the Magee-Flinn ring a flood of, not invective, but facts,
specifications of outrage, and the abuse of absolute power. Their
charter went booming along through its first and second readings, Quay
and the Magee-Flinn crowd fighting inch by inch. All looked well, when
suddenly there was silence. Quay was dealing with his enemies, and the
charter was his club. He wanted to go back to the Senate, and he went.
The Pittsburgers saw him elected, saw him go, but their charter they saw
no more. And such is the State of Pennsylvania that this man who did
this thing to Pittsburg, and has done the like again and again to all
cities and all interests—even politicians—he is the boss of Pennsylvania

The good men of Pittsburg gave up, and for four years the essential
story of the government of the city is a mere thread in the personal
history of the quarrels of the bosses in State politics. Magee wanted to
go to the United States Senate, and he had with him Boss Martin and John
Wanamaker of Philadelphia, as well as his own Flinn. Quay turned on the
city bosses, and, undermining their power, soon had Martin beaten in
Philadelphia. To overthrow Magee was a harder task, and Quay might never
have accomplished it had not Magee’s health failed, causing him to be
much away. Pittsburg was left to Flinn, and his masterfulness,
unmitigated by Magee, made trouble. The crisis came out of a row Flinn
had with his Director of Public Works, E. M. Bigelow, a man as
dictatorial as Flinn himself. Bigelow threw open to competition certain
contracts. Flinn, in exasperation, had the councils throw out the
director and put in his place a man who restored the old specifications.

This enraged Thomas Steele Bigelow, E. M. Bigelow’s brother, and another
nephew of old Squire Steele. Tom had an old grudge against Magee, dating
from the early days of traction deals. He was rich, he knew something of
politics, and he believed in the power of money in the game. Going
straight to Harrisburg, he took charge of Quay’s fight for Senator,
spent his own money and won; and he beat Magee, which was his first

But he was not satisfied yet. The Pittsburgers, aroused to fresh hope by
the new fight of the bosses, were encouraged also by the news that the
census of 1900 put a second city, Scranton, into “cities of the second
class.” New laws had to be drawn for both. Pittsburg saw a chance for a
good charter. Tom Bigelow saw a chance to finish the Magee-Flinn ring,
and he had William B. Rogers, a man whom the city trusted, draw the
famous “Ripper Bill”! This was originally a good charter, concentrating
power in the mayor, but changes were introduced into it to enable the
Governor to remove and appoint mayors, or recorders, as they were to be
called, at will until April, 1903, when the first elected recorder was
to take office. This was Bigelow’s device to rid Pittsburg of the ring
office holders. But Magee was not dead yet. He and Flinn saw Governor
Stone, and when the Governor ripped out the ring mayor, he appointed as
recorder Major A. M. Brown, a lawyer well thought of in Pittsburg.

Major Brown, however, kept all but one of the ring heads of the
departments. This disappointed the people; it was a defeat for Bigelow;
for the ring it was a triumph. Without Magee, however, Flinn could not
hold his fellows in their joy, and they went to excesses which
exasperated Major Brown and gave Bigelow an excuse for urging him to
action. Major Brown suddenly removed the heads of the ring and began a
thorough reorganization of the government. This reversed emotions, but
not for long. The ring leaders saw Governor Stone again, and he ripped
out Bigelow’s Brown and appointed in his place a ring Brown. Thus the
ring was restored to full control under a charter which increased their

But the outrageous abuse of the Governor’s unusual power over the city
incensed the people of Pittsburg. A postscript which Governor Stone
added to his announcement of the appointment of the new recorder did not
help matters; it was a denial that he had been bribed. The Pittsburgers
had not heard of any bribery, but the postscript gave currency to a
definite report that the ring—its banks, its corporations, and its
bosses—had raised an enormous fund to pay the Governor for his
interference in the city, and this pointed the intense feelings of the
citizens. They prepared to beat the ring at an election to be held in
February, 1902, for Comptroller and half of the councils. A Citizens’
party was organized. The campaign was an excited one; both sides did
their best, and the vote polled was the largest ever known in Pittsburg.
Even the ring made a record. The citizens won, however, and by a
majority of 8,000.

This showed the people what they could do when they tried, and they were
so elated that they went into the next election and carried the
county—the stronghold of the ring. But they now had a party to look out
for, and they did not look out for it. They neglected it just as they
had the city. Tom Bigelow knew the value of a majority party; he had
appreciated the Citizens’ from the start. Indeed he may have started it.
All the reformers know is that the committee which called the Citizens’
Party into existence was made up of twenty-five men—five old Municipal
Leaguers, the rest a “miscellaneous lot.” They did not bother then about
that. They knew Tom Bigelow, but he did not show himself, and the new
party went on confidently with its passionate work.

When the time came for the great election, that for recorder this year
(1903), the citizens woke up one day and found Tom Bigelow the boss of
their party. How he came there they did not exactly know; but there he
was in full possession, and there with him was the “miscellaneous lot”
on the committee. Moreover, Bigelow was applying with vigor regular
machine methods. It was all very astonishing, but very significant.
Magee was dead; Flinn’s end was in sight; but there was the Boss, the
everlasting American Boss, as large as life. The good citizens were
shocked; their dilemma was ridiculous, but it was serious too. Helpless,
they watched. Bigelow nominated for recorder a man they never would have
chosen. Flinn put up a better man, hoping to catch the citizens, and
when these said they could see Flinn behind his candidate, he said, “No;
I am out of politics. When Magee died I died politically, too.” Nobody
would believe him. The decent Democrats hoped to retrieve their party
and offer a way out, but Bigelow went into their convention with his
money and the wretched old organization sold out. The smell of money on
the Citizens’ side attracted to it the grafters, the rats from Flinn’s
sinking ship; many of the corporations went over, and pretty soon it was
understood that the railroads had come to a settlement among themselves
and with the new boss, on the basis of an agreement said to contain five
specifications of grants from the city. The temptation to vote for
Flinn’s man was strong, but the old reformers seemed to feel that the
only thing to do was to finish Flinn now and take care of Tom Bigelow
later. This view prevailed and Tom Bigelow won. This is the way the best
men in Pittsburg put it: “We have smashed a ring and we have wound
another around us. Now we have got to smash that.”

There is the spirit of this city as I understand it. Craven as it was
for years, corrupted high and low, Pittsburg did rise; it shook off the
superstition of partisanship in municipal politics; beaten, it rose
again; and now, when it might have boasted of a triumph, it saw
straight: a defeat. The old fighters, undeceived and undeceiving,
humiliated but undaunted, said simply: “All we have got to do is to
begin all over again.” Meanwhile, however, Pittsburg has developed some
young men, and with an inheritance of this same spirit, they are going
to try out in their own way. The older men undertook to save the city
with a majority party and they lost the party. The younger men have
formed a Voters’ Civic League, which proposes to swing from one party to
another that minority of disinterested citizens which is always willing
to be led, and thus raise the standard of candidates and improve the
character of regular party government. Tom Bigelow intended to capture
the old Flinn organization, combine it with his Citizens’ party, and
rule as Magee did with one party, a union of all parties. If he should
do this, the young reformers would have no two parties to choose
between; but there stand the old fighters ready to rebuild a Citizens’
party under that or any other name. Whatever course is taken, however,
something will be done in Pittsburg, or tried, at least, for good
government, and after the cowardice and corruption shamelessly displayed
in other cities, the effort of Pittsburg, pitiful as it is, is a
spectacle good for American self-respect, and its sturdiness is a
promise for poor old Pennsylvania.