Matthew Josephson

State - Capitalism connection





A clear exposition of the strong connection between state and capitalism, both working in agreement for their reciprocal prosperity and permanence.

Source: Matthew Josephson, The Politicos 1865-1896, Book one, Chapter 3: The Spoilsmen in Power.



It is high time that we cease to think of the spoliation of the general Grant as "accidental" phenomena, as regrettable lapses into moral frailty, arising in an age of transition, of emotional release after war. We must turn rather to examine the systematic, rational, organized nature of the plundering which was carried on at this time.

Have not men always been frail, and quick to embrace temptation? Why then do periods of governmental sobriety, marked only with petty official venalities, alternate with periods in which "corruption" takes on a vast scope?

The Grant terms recall the epoch of Walpole's ministry in England, when a tumultuous economic expansion and revolution and "corrupt" patronage politics developed simultaneously. In contemporary France it was paralleled almost exactly by an industrial and real-estate boom, by scandalous “excesses” in administration and public-works programs — like that of Baron Haussmann in rebuilding Paris. Likewise in Bismarck’s Germany, after the Franco-Prussian War (of 1870-71), in spite of a long-established, trained bureaucracy, there were not a few sensational administrative and financial frauds.

In all these great nations of the capitalist era, war, in itself a social-economic symptom, was followed by disordered, heightened economic expansion, and strain upon the apparatus of political government. But in the decade after the Civil War in America, the process assumed Brobdingnagian proportions which were connected with the special tribal character of our political institutions and which earned for the period a historical reputation as “the nadir of national disgrace”.

Here there is more resolution than "laxity." In the United States the very nature of the traditional political organization, its inveterate patronage character, which demanded public office for purposes not explicitly stated — that is, for keeping the party Organization itself entrenched in power — left a shadow ground, a no man's land, between legitimate and illegitimate, legal and lawless action, where the professional soldiers of politics were used to act, to move warily, keeping ever to shelter, yet with no want of firmness and determination. Swallowing whatever Sunday-school qualms they might have known, they performed tasks of the highest utility. These professionals. usually politicians of the second rank, when placed in actual charge of government departments. became experts in their threefold tasks of: first, facilitating (for all the cumbersome process of democracy) the plans of large private enterprisers where they required government aid; second, gathering a share of the proceeds from such services for themselves, their friends and collegues; and finally, the business of diverting a heavy portion of these extraofficial honoraria to furthering the continued power and prosperity of the common party organization. Such were the men who sat at the elbow of the President; and by 1871, they formed a majority at his very cabinet table.

The very presence of an honest, intelligent official seemed to give rise to the most absurd difficulties.The dismissal of Jacob Cox from his office of Secretary of the Interior in the autumn of 1870 was a case in point. In his department great land claims, railroad grants, cessions of Indian territory, were reviewed, validated, or nullified; and Cox, committed to civil-service reform — a dawning idea — had exercised an unpleasant surveillance over the minor officials in his department. Cox's gravest sin had been that of opposing a certain very dubious claim known as the McGarrahan Claim, based on an alleged Mexican grant of 1844, and covering many leagues of California soil now known to hold a goodly store of silver. Federal officers had often ruled against it; courts had repudiated it; yet in the winter of 1869-70 it showed amazing vitality under the proddings of two great Republican chieftains, Ben Butler and Zach Chandler. Defying the secret manoeuvres of these gentlemen, Cox had actually taken steps to patent the land in question in the name of other, more valid claimants. Promptly steps were taken by the party managers to push the old McGarrahan Claim in Congress, while Grant was pressed to undo his Secretary's order. According to recently published evidence which entirely verifies rumors in the press of the time, Grant was furious with Cox, saying, "I shall have a new Secretary of the Interior." Grant ordered that Cox should issue no patent in the matter and leave the whole affair to Congress, though it lay under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. Cox protested vehemently, saying that he had labored faithfully to keep his department "free from fraud and corruption," and that if his efforts in that direction were not sustained, he would desire to be relieved from his office. The President related to Fish that Cox's remark had "cut him severely." Cox letter of resignation thereafter contained an allusion more cutting still to the fact that his handling of the Indian Service patronage had been "peculiarly distasteful to many influential gentlemen in both houses."

Garfield, a friend and admirer of his fellow Ohioan Cox, wrote him at once: "The worst fears of the country are realized .... It is a clear case of surrender on the part of the President to the political vermin which infest the government."

In the House, sometime later, the case of Cox and the McGarrahan Claim was aired, with high words from Garfield defending his friend and even the cause of civil-service reform. Ben Butler, Logan, and Bingham of Ohio, the party "regulars," however responded with most violent language which bespoke the real temper of the House. While charges of forgery, swindling, and perjury were flung about, the House members with equanimity voted 110 to 92 to sustain the McGarrahan Claim as "perfect." Garfield, commenting upon the horde of Carpetbaggers in Congress who rode in the “McGarrahan train," avowed to Cox that he "was never more disheartened, never more disgusted with the course of legislation."

There is evidence that a handful of leading politicians in Washington, among them Garfield, seeing men like Cox defeated and driven from public life, suffered periodic distress of conscience and considered keeping their skirts clean by quitting politics. What was most painful now was that the great majority of party men showed themselves as absolutely one with the spoilsman leaders.


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