« AnteriorContinuar »
Union League of Chicago-Wm. A. Giles.
Civil Service Reform Association of Cambridge, Mass.-George G. Wright.
Advance Club, Providence, R. I.-Joseph A. Miller, Samuel W. Kilvert, Hiram Howard.
Board of Trade, Minneapolis-A. L. Crocker, J. S. McLain.
American Institute of Civics—Dr. H. R. Waite, Rev. M. C. Peters, Walter S. Logan, LaSalle A. Maynard.
Good Government Club, Yonkers, N. Y.-Datus C. Smith, Alex. ander Laird, Frederick Wm. Holls, S. T. Hubbard.
Chadwick Civic Club of New York-Edward King, Charles B. Spahr.
Citizens' League of Camden, N. J.-Col. Samuel Hufty, Dr. Silas H. Quint.
Board of Trade, Reading-Geo. J. Eckert.
Presbyterian Ministers' Association of Philadelphia-Revs. John S. MacIntosh, D. D., William H. Roberts, D. D., William Hutton, D. D., Andrew J. Sullivan, D. D., Robert Hunter, D. D.
Temple Congress, Philadelphia-Evan B. Lewis, Augustus Reimer.
Public Opinion Club, Philadelphia-Wm. C. Davis, Dr. Jump, Frank B. Boon.
In addition to the above delegates, the following invited guests were present at the Conference:
Boston-Sylvester Baxter, of the Herald, Rev. F. B. Allen, Edwin D. Mead, of the New England Magazine, George P. Morris, of the Congregationalist. Baltimore-W. H. W. Kelmen, David Horn, C. Glaser, D. W. Glass. New York-Rev. Leighton Williams, C. W. Watson, Rev. W. S. Ufforel, A. G. Gerring. Brooklyn-Wm. G. Low, Hon. Chas. F. Schieren, Thos. G. Shearman, A. Augustus Healy. Chicago-Franklin McVeagh and F. N. Voorhees. Lafayette College, E. D. Warfield. Albany, N. Y.-Rev. J. H. Ecob. Kansas City, Mo. -T. W. Johnson, Jr. and F. W. MacDonald. Columbus, 0.-Rev. Washington Gladden. Hartford, Conn.-Arthur Perkins. Brown University-Geo. G. Wilson. Cornell University-J. W. Jenks. Montclair, N. J.-Kirk Brown. Millville, N. J.-Jos. A. Haines. Camden, N.J.-F. T. Lloyd.
THE PROBLEMS OF MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT.
I have chosen the subject of the municipal history of New York, because I think that in that history more than in any other source with which I am acquainted, one gets an idea of the true nature of what is called “the municipal problem." New York is not only the largest of American cities, but I think it may fairly be called—with all proper respect to the claim of Chicago--the typical American city; that is, the city in which the tendencies which make the government of American cities difficult, can best be traced. The evils with which reformers have to contend in New York are very much the same as those with which they have to contend everywhere. When we are discussing the municipal problem in New York, therefore, we are discussing the municipal problem of all our large cities. Each is trying experiments in the best manner of meeting these evils, but New York has been trying these experiments longer than any of them, and has tried more experiments. If I said that the modern world in seeking to govern cities by universal suffrage was sailing out into a sea, of whose extent or coasts
nobody knew anything, I should not be very far wrong. But certainly New York has gone further on this voyage of discovery than any other, has made more observations, and reached more conclusions, sorrowful or hopeful as the case may be. When I ask you to follow me down its history since 1821, therefore, I am asking you to assist at one of the most curious spectacles in history, the efforts of a great, prosperous, and Christian community to protect its religion and morality and property from ruin at the hands of a government of its own choice.
For this is the great peculiarity of our municipal problem to-day. As you know, the enemies which the cities of modern world hitherto have had to fear, have been enemies from the outside—the monarch, the nobles, or other cities, or the domestic rabble. The enemy which the American city has to contend with are the officers whom it elects itself, whom it could avoid electing, and to whom, as a general rule, the majority of its voters are opposed. Consider for a moment what a point this peculiarity has reached in New York. That city is governed to-day by three or four men of foreign birth, who are very illiterate, are sprung from the dregs of the foreign population, have never pursued any regular calling, were entirely unknown to the bulk of the residents only five years ago, and who now set the criticism of the intelligent and educated classes at defiance. I might multiply illustrations of ostentatious indifference of this ruling class to the opinions and feelings of the better informed. The point to which I wish to draw your attention is, however, that these rulers, such as you see them, enjoy their power through the votes of a minority of the population, and in order to secure and maintain it, have never had to resort to any species of violence. We have had no tumults, riots, coups d'etat, or armed seizures of power. Everything has been done decently, peaceably and in order, under the forms of law, and under the eyes of the freest and most inquisitorial press in the world,
Now, this is our municipal problem, or municipal puzzle I should rather call it. How does this state of things come about, and is it remediable? Is there any permanent solution of it for American cities, or for any of the cities of the world-for I suppose every one of them is destined at no distant date to be ruled, as some are now, by universal suffrage. I say permanent,” because of course we are all familiar with the fact that temporary reforms are, and have been, achieved by what are called "popular risings," suci as occurred in New York in Tweed's day, and in Brooklyn last fall. They consist in an outbreak of popular indignation caused by the increasing audacity of the wrong-doers, making abuses for the moment unbearable. But there are two objections to this method of reform. One is that all great outbursts of popular feeling are apt to be followed by a period of reaction, or apathy, during which the old evils resume their sway. The other is that you cannot follow the plan of letting things reach their worst before you seek to cure them, without making a whole generation so familiar with abuses that they seem to it part of the natural order of things, and when you ask for another indignant rising, you find your preachings fall on dulled ears.
What we are seeking is some legal enactment, or state of public feeling, which the mere appearance of an abuse will at once bring into action and correct it, at the only time when the destruction of an abuse is easy-the time when it first makes its appearance.
One of the most interesting things in the history of New York, to the student of municipal government, is that when the Constitutional Convention met in 1821, to take stock, as it were, of the condition of the State after thirty years of independence, the idea that there was ever going to be a municipal problem does not seem to have occurred to any one, meaning by municipal problem, the difficulty of governing the city itself. In the report of the convention I can find only one mention made by any one of the possibility of trouble arising out of the growth of New York, and that was by Mr. Kent, afterward the famous Chancellor, when arguing against the extension of the franchise which was then limited. But what troubled him about New York, was not any difficulty in governing the city itself, but the danger that it would eventually become the leading power in the State, and would use the power against the farmer or the "landed interest," as it used then to be called. Said he :
“What has been the progress of the city of New York? In 1773 it contained only 21,000 inhabitants; in 1821, 123,000 souls! It is evidently destined to become the London of America; and it is no hazardous prophecy to foretell that in less than a century that city will govern the State. And can gentlemen seriously and honestly say that no danger is to be apprehended from those combustible materials which such a city must ever enclose ? Shall every department of the government be at the disposal of those who are often ignorant of the importance and nature of the right they are authorized to assume? The poor man's interest is always in opposition to his duty; and it is too much to expect of human nature, that interest will not be consulted.”
This prevision has not proved literally true, but it has come very near the truth. After another apportionment, the cities of New York and Brooklyn, which are governed in much the same way, and complain of the same rule, and send the same class of men to the legislature, will in all probability have a majority in both houses, and thus literally rule the State. They have now nearly a majority. But as I have said, nobody at that time seemed troubled by the difficulties of city government except on one point-the exposure of private property to reckless appropriation at the hands of speculators in city improvements. Precautions against this were taken in the Constitution of 1821, which this convention drew up, and the Convention of 1846 followed its example. But in the Convention of 1846 there was the same indifference to the question of city government in general. One member only, Mr. Murphy, seemed to have made it a specialty, and he fought valiantly for a general act