- Historic Sites
The Forty-year Run
November 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 7
Hearst had thirty liberal fortunes, and they helped buy 263 votes at the Democratic convention in St. Louis in 1904—the closest he ever got to his obsession. In the end, however, Judge Alton Brooks Parker won the nomination, and Henry G. Davis was picked as his running mate. The rumors of Hearst’s profligate purchasing of delegates played a role in his defeat, but what hurt him most was his reputation as a womanizer. It cost him Bryan’s support, which was essential.
It was also a turning point for Hearst. From this time hence he saw his newspapers not as a voice to plead the cause of the common man but as tools to secure the Presidency.
Hearst supported Parker in 1904, and although the judge lost, Hearst was re-elected to Congress. But he began to move away from the Democrats and would soon start his own party of real “Jeffersonian Democrats”—the Independence League (later party). In his second term in Congress, he became a little more effective. He developed the “Hearst Brigade” of loyal congressmen—the most important for Hearst, as it turned out, being John Nance “Jack” Garner of Texas, who saw in him presidential timber.
At the same time, Hearst’s men in New York were playine out another journalistic story that would reveal as much about Hearst’s political passions as any single thing he did. Two young men, James Wilkins and Charles Stump, had stolen some letters from John D. Archbold, a vice president of Standard Oil and close associate of John D. Rockefeller. They thought the letters might bring some money, considering how often Standard Oil was in the newspapers, and contacted an American editor. He said he was not interested in these letters but would be interested in any between Archbold and a public official—and even supplied Wilkins and Stump with a list of two hundred public officials whose correspondence with Archbold he would like to see. Eventually the two men stole enough letters and sold them to Hearst to enable them to open a saloon on Seventh Avenue. And the letters were worth it because they revealed that Archbold was indeed Standard Oil’s chief political operative and had made payments in cash to legislators in return for favorable legislation.
Any real journalist, having rationalized the use of stolen letters for the good of the commonweal, would rush his scoop into print. But politics was Hearst’s game, not journalism; some of the politicians implicated were Democrats, and he would need their support in 1906 and 1908; others were critics of Roosevelt whom he did not wish to silence. So he decided to keep the letters under wraps until they would do him the most good—which turned out to be three years later, when a presidential campaign was beginning.
In 1906 Hearst was ready to run for governor of New York—which is where Lincoln Steffens enters the picture, because everyone knew Hearst’s race for the governorship was but a step toward the White House.
The thing that impressed Steffens most in his American article, “Hearst the Man of Mystery,” was his subject’s total self-reliance and indifference to what others thought or did or said about him: “He counts on himself and his own. Have your baseball nine, run your own publications, organize your own political party. That’s the way to get done the things that you want to have done. Do it yourself.”
And how did he do it? With his money and his newspapers, said Steffens, maintaining that Hearst had admitted “he wanted circulation not for the profit but for the power. He regards his newspapers as a means to that end.” And what was that end? “I mean to restore democracy in the United States.”
But, reported Steffens, “Mr. Hearst said ‘I’ and he means ‘I.’” He wanted to give the people democracy the way other rich men give them schools, libraries, hospitals. Hearst would “do things.” But Steffens stressed that “the things he says he would do are not bad, they are right. If democracy in the United States is to be restored, they are absolutely necessary.”
However, Steffens concluded that “Mr. Hearst does not personify the new American spirit.” Hearst was a boss—a “boss who would like to give us democratic government.… But we don’t want Mr. Hearst to give us ‘democratic government.’… We want to get that for ourselves.”