- Historic Sites
Plain Words From Truthful George
June 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 4
Now, how did he come to be lying dead with a Spanish uniform on? I found out all about it, and I’ll vouch for the story. Well, in the municipal campaign of 1897, that young man, chockful of patriotism, worked day and night for the Tammany ticket. Tammany won, and the young man determined to devote his life to the service of the city. He picked out a place that would suit him, and sent in his application to the head of department. He got a reply that he must take a civil service examination to get the place. He didn’t know what these examinations were, so he went, all lighthearted, to the Civil Service Board. He read the questions about the mummies, and the bird on the iron, and all the other fool questions—and he left that office an enemy of the country that he had loved so well. The mummies and the bird blasted his patriotism. He went to Cuba, enlisted in the Spanish army at the breakin’ out of the war, and died fightin’ his country. Ah, how many young men have had their patriotism blasted in the same way!
A big city like New York or Philadelphia or Chicago might be compared to a sort of Garden of Eden, from a political point of view. It’s an orchard full of beautiful apple trees. One of them has got a big sign on it, marked: “Penal Code Tree—Poison.” The other trees have lots of apples on them for all. Yet the fools go to the Penal Code Tree. Why? For the reason, I guess, that a cranky child refuses to eat good food and chews up a box of matches with relish. I never had any temptation to touch the Penal Code Tree. The other apples are good enough for me, and O Lord! how many of them there are in a big city!
I acknowledge that you can’t keep an organization together without patronage. Take me, for instance, When [Seth] Low [reform Mayor of New York, 1901–03] came in, some of my men lost public jobs, but I fixed them all right. I don’t know how many jobs I got for them—several hundred.
I placed a lot more on public works done by contractors, and no Tammany man goes hungry in my district.
Let me tell you, too, that I got jobs from Republicans in office—Federal and otherwise. When Tammany’s on top I do good turns for the Republicans. When they’re on top they don’t forget me. The politicians have got to stand together this way or there wouldn’t be any political parties in a short time. Civil service would gobble up everything, politicians would be on the bum, the republic would fall and soon there would be the cry of “Vevey le roi!”
Puttin’ on style don’t pay in politics. The people won’t stand for it. Above all things, avoid a dress suit. You have no idea of the harm that dress suits have done in politics. They are not so fatal to young politicians as civil service reform and drink, but they have scores of victims. I will mention one sad case.
A bright young West Side politician, who held a three-thousand-dollar job in one of the departments, wore a dress suit for the first time in his life. It was his undoin’. He got stuck on himself. He thought he looked too beautiful for anything, and when he came home he was a changed man. As soon as he got to his house every evenin’ he put on that dress suit and set around in it until bedtime. That didn’t satisfy him long. He wanted others to see how beautiful he was in a dress suit; so he joined dancin’ clubs and began goin’ to all the balls that was given in town. Soon he began to neglect his family. Then he took to drinkin’, and didn’t pay any attention to his political work in the district. The end came in less than a year. He was dismissed from the department and went to the dogs. The other day I met him rigged out almost like a hobo, but he still had a dress-suit vest on. When I asked him what he was doin’, he said: “Nothin’ at present, but I got a promise of a job enrollin” voters at Citizens’ Union headquarters.” Yes, a dress suit had brought him that low!
The civil service gang is always howlin’ about candidates and officeholders puttin’ up money for campaigns and about corporations chippin’ in. They might as well howl about givin’ contributions to churches. A political organization has to have money for its business as well as a church, and who has more right to put up than the men who get the good things that are goin’? Take, for instance, a great political concern like Tammany Hall. It does missionary work like a church, it’s got big expenses and it’s got to be supported by the faithful. If a corporation sends in a check to help the good work of the Tammany Society, why shouldn’t we take it like other missionary societies? Of course, the day may come when we’ll reject the money of the rich as tainted, but it hadn’t come when I left Tammany Hall at 11:25 A.M. today.