A Lesson In Civics—but not what they teach in school


So the town had two chairmen of selectmen and two chiefs of police. Somehow—I never found out how—O’Brien got hold of the keys to the chief’s office in Town Hall and set up shop there. Moloney moved in next door, into the office of the overseers of the poor.

Well, that was the situation in Milford in 1925, and it went on for months before the supreme court of Massachusetts decided that it was the first chairman (Higgiston) and the first chief of police (Moloney) who were legal, even though the electing board was partly illegal. The state legislature, dissatisfied with the court’s decision, insured against future confusion by changing the law the way the Good Government group thought it should be changed. But that didn’t help my father, who was no longer chairman.

To a thirteen-year-old boy it was not the court decision that was disenchanting—or my father’s sudden slip from power. It was the fact that for my elders, stopping on the Main Street sidewalk to pass the time of day with members of the opposition, the political battle seemed just a pleasant memory, like the memory of last football season. I didn’t think that was right. I thought people should crusade against evil three hundred and sixty-five days a year.

I remember very well what my father said the day he came home to announce that it was all over, that the court had dismissed the Good Government party’s claims, a decision which in effect bound the town to appointments made by vote of an official who had never really been elected.

I burned with the injustice of this, but my father just smiled.

“Well,” he said, “it’s been a lot of fun.”

That’s what I learned in Massachusetts in 1925. Politicians in a democracy have too much fun. They don’t seem to think that evil is really evil at all, except at election time.

I don’t think it would be good to let that get around.