MANHOOD SUFFRAGE IN NEW YORK.
IF the Tory journals in this country understood their busi- ness, which they do not, never being fairly en rapport with the conservative instincts of those they represent, they would republish as it stands an account of the "Government of the City of New York," which appears in the last number of the North American Review. No attack upon manhood suffrage at once so telling and so practical has ever come under our notice, and written as it is by a Republican, it is free from any suspicion of Tory bias. The whole of the facts indeed have been collected by the Citizens' Association of New York, a body of property-holders, professionals, and men of leisure, recently organized to obtain a thorough reorganization in the administration of the City. Up to 1821 this was, it is said, thoroughly good, at all events it was controlled by the most respectable members of the community, successful Congress- men competing for the Mayoralty, and great merchants and eminent lawyers willingly accepting seats in Council. The election was then by household suffrage, and electors being all tax-payers, claimed their right "as a distinction" and exercised it with some thought. "The particular test selected we do not admire, and all we can say in favour of it is that it was better than none. It did exclude the great mass of ignorance and vice ; it did admit the great mass of intelligence and virtue ; it did answer the purpose in a respectable degree." In that year, however, household suffrage was abolished by a Convention, and replaced by a suffrage which included every male inhabitant not a pauper or a lunatic, whether a native or an alien, whether he paid direct taxes or did not. A lower grade of men instantly began to fill the Common Council and Board of Aldermen, and the alien element became stronger and stronger till it now amounts to 78 out of 133, a clear majority. Gradually it was discovered that the powers of the Corporation could be turned to profit ; the Irish and other needy classes of the popirlation were organized into associations so devoted to their leaders, that Irish voters on one occasion carried a Know- Nothing editor into power—as if Tipperary Catholics should elect an Orangeman ;—and the respectables began to shrink away from polls at which their votes were sure to be useless. Six or seven heads of City departments began to prepare lists which were to be supported by the "Democratic" party en bloc, and the Councillors and Aldermen so elected were com- pelled or agreed to vote as ordered for a consideration. By degrees the system was perfected, till the " Ring " controlled eighteen of the twenty-four seats in Council and a majority of the seventeen Aldermen's chairs, filled them all with young men, barkeepers, butchers' boys, minor tradesmen, and " loafers" about billiard-rooms, and found themselves com- pletely masters of the City. Their men were prepared to vote and do vote like soldiers at a word of command, and it only remained if possible to suppress discussion. Immense advertisements were distributed among the papers, and a vote was passed giving 40/. to each reporter in the City Hall, ostensibly to ensure good reporting, really to ensure almost total silence as to the debates. This money was accepted —reporters being wretchedly paid—and New York was then under the government of an irresponsible secret committee, armed with power to raise taxes limited only by the danger of resistance, which was very slight—the masses having been enlisted in support of the Ring—and to expend them in any mode which could not be demonstrated to be illegal. Very few modes can, all American society being based on the prin- ciple that the representatives of the people can be trusted with the people's money. The Ring used both powers. In twenty-five years they raised the taxation of the City from nine shillings a head to eight pounds, the highest average paid among any civilized people, more than eight times the average of London, three times the average of the new national taxes of the Union. Of this vast sum, 8,000,000/. a year, more than double the revenue of London, it is dis- tinctly asserted that ten shillings in every pound is spent in corruption, in bribes to the Ring, its supporters, its electors, and the very few men who could but don't interfere with its .systematic plunder. Every business of every kind, from the supply of gas to a vote for soldiers' colours, is made to yield its profit to the Ring. No project on which they have re- solved can be defeated, no project has a chance without their sanction, for which in meal or malt, in money or in votes, they are invariably paid. If a salary is to be raised, they must receive what English thieves call their "regulars ;" if a new post is created, the new official pays "the tax ;" if a contract is assigned, the contractor is either themselves over again, or pays over a large portion of his profits. So cynical is the latter part of the system, that a contractor re- cently offered and received a contract for stationery in which he promised "blue post" at a cent a ream, and some kind of pen at a cent a gross, and so on, merely stipulat- ing that articles outside his specification should be paid for at other figures. His was of course the lowest tender, and for the whole term of contract the members and servants of the Council demanded only the articles not in the cheap schedule, and the contractor or his employers made a fortune. The Corporation were accustomed to publish a little Manual or directory of their own employe's, and the Ring swelled it with pictures, lithographs, and needless matter, till in 1865 the bill for its publication was 11,4341., the actual cost being 3,000/., and the necessary cost perhaps 500/. The City pays a contractor to clear away dead animals from the streets, whereas it ought to be paid, and the last contractor gave 12,000/. as a bribe to obtain the privilege. Great sums are " donated " to institutions such as industrial schools, churches, and so on, and after much delay the happy expectants receive just half the vote. Even charitable grants are bought, the jobbery in real estate is astounding, and sometimes the Ring displays a splendid audacity in theft. "Three years ago a contract was awarded for sweeping the streets for ten years, at 495,000 dols. a year. Since the accession to power of the new Board of Health, responsible men have handed in a written offer to buy the remainder of the contract for a quarter of a million dollars, i. e., to clean the City for seven years at 495,000 dollars a year, and give the City a quarter of a million dollars for the privilege. There are those about the City offices who know, or think they know, how the plunder of this contract is divided. We believe we are not violating any confidence, expressed or implied, when we say that it is the conviction of the Board of Health that 100,000 dols. per annum of the proceeds of this contract are divided among cer- tain politicians ; that a certain lawyer, who engineered the project, and stands ready to defend it, receives a salary of 25,000 dols. per annum as counsel to the contract,' and that the men in whose name the contract is held are 'dummies,' who get 6,000 dols. a year for the use of their names and for their labour in superintending the work. The contract is further burdened with the support of several hundred cripples, old men, and idle men, all of whom are voters, who are put in the street-cleaning force by Aldermen and Councilmen who want their votes and the votes of their relatives, thus kindly relieved of maintaining aged grandfathers, lame uncles, and lazy good- for-nothings." The reviewer was present when it was proposed to concede the lighting of the City for twenty years to an association which demanded the prices of to-day, about twice the normal average, and the proposal was carried by acclamation, in spite of the resistance of the six honest Councillors. The Mayor, highly indignant, vetoed the job, and the Ring instantly used its majority to rush it through by a two-thirds' vote over his head. "Sworn testimony (from thirty-six witnesses), taken by a committee of investigation, establishes the appalling fact that appoint- ments to places in the public schools are systematically sold in some of the wards,—the wards where the public schools are almost the sole civilizing power, and where it is of un- speakable importance that the schools should be in the hands of the best men and women." The street spaces in New York have all been "laid out," that is, surveyed and reserved, for years, but whenever a new street is to be opened a Com- missioners' room is hired, and
"The surveyor charges as though he had made original surveys and drawn original maps. The clerk charges as though his report were the result of original searches and researches. The Com- missioners charge as though the opening had been the tardy fruit of actual negotiations. The rent of the room is charged as though it had been occupied wholly by the Commissioners. And all of these charges are the very highest which any one, in his most lavish mood, could even think of in connection with the work supposed to be done. When we add that half a dozen of these openings are frequently going on at the same time, in the same snug upper room, and conducted by the same individuals, the reader will not be surprised to learn that the net result of the business to the master spirit, for the year ending June, 1866, was 25,466 dols. of which sum 4,433 dols. was charged for the rent of the room, which he hires for about 300 dols. per annum, and 950 dots. was charged for 'disbursements and postage- stamps.' One surveyor's bill for the same year was 54,000 dots. It has been ascertained, after a laborious examination of the public records, that the total cost of 'opening' twenty-five streets, or parts of streets, averaging less than half a mile each in length, was 257,192.12 dole. The public is indebted for this information to Mr. William IL Whitbeck, president of an association of property-owners recently formed 40 protect themselves against farther spoliation of the same nature."
Of course, all work under such circumstances is badly done, and New York, with an expenditure of eight millions sterling a year, is one of the worst paved, worst lighted, and worst ordered cities in the world.
But it will be asked, why do not the citizens thus fearfully taxed and conscious of these frauds vote and protect themselves? Because the property-holders of New York are only fifteen thousand in number, and consequently powerless at the ballot- box. They do carry their own wards, but they are obliged to -do it by putting up men -who do not excite Democratic jealousy, and who cannot either browbeat or outvote the "insolent" nominees of the "Ring." The best of them is one Christopher Pullman, a perfeoty honest man, who does all a small cabinetmaker can to stem the current, but who is silenced either by an explosion of "ayes," or by the "previous question." In the remaining wards the respectable are power- less. Thenworkmen will not turn out, the Irish are as faithful to the Ring as clansmen to their chief, the Germans are-savage with the respectables for some Sabbatarian laws, and laws to restrain- a partieular form of brothel—for which, by the way, the great German paper fought openly with extraordinary power—and the Ring has made itself necessary to the political Democrats, ,and it is impossible, with the existing suffrage, to prevent the plunderers seating a majority. All the true citizens can do is to seat the Mayor sometimes. He is not elected by wards, but by the whole people, and when the respectables and the American artizans turn out together they can 'still defeat the Ring, only to see the bigger jobs carried, as in the instance we have -given, over the Mayor's head. The -property-holders, therefore, have been driven to the State Legislature, which, though very corrupt, is not yet wholly lost to-shame, and which acts as an appellate authority in such eireumstanees is sure to act—it corrects the vagaries of the House of Commons by strengthening the Crown. Two- thirds of the City patronage have been taken away from the City and vested in the Mayor or the Governor of the State, the latter, for instance, appointing the Commissioners of Police, with- an eight years' tenure of office. This arrangement, however, does not give satisfaction—the Council still control- ling the till—and if it did, would be equivalent to a formal confession that New York was unfit for ordinary municipal freedom. It is, therefore, proposed next year to alter the con- stitution ,once more and fall back on household -suffrage, mot, indeed, inso runny words, but under cover of two new provi- sions. First, that no man shall vote who cannot read English, a provision levelled at the Irish and Germans ; and secondly, who does not pay direct taxes, — who has not, that is, a direct interest in preventing extravagance and waste. If this is granted, it is believed all may yet be reformed, though the reporters' gallery must be thrown open ; but if not, then the alternative is "a bloody war," or, in plainer words, the creation of a Vigilance Committee such as purified San Francisco. Such a Committee is sure to win the game, for the propertied class will be supported by the freeholders, and find it cheaper to maintain an armed police than to be plundered by roughs ; but in New York the price to be paid will be thousands of lives, and a terrible blow to Republican institutions. Should the Committee ever be formed, New York will be said to have passed through the regular stages of restricted freedom, com- plete freedom, anarchy, and military rule. None of these statements are, be it remembered, ours. We have quoted every one from the soberest of American quar- terlies, and have not only not exaggerated, but have omitted hints of much more terrible things—the robbery of the poor, the lunatics, and the charities—and the story may be read with some profit in this country and at this time. It signifies that muses of men, particularly ignorant masses, will post- pone future policy to present advantage, that the Have-note, if they do not rob the Haves, will not take any trouble to guard their substance, and that it is not safe to deposit all power in the hands of a single class. It would be still less safe to con- fine it to the fifteen thousand property-holders, for then the legal power and the physical power would be, as they still are inEngland, estranged from one another, and the true compro- mise, the basis of a strong and yet upright organization, in which intelligence tells but cannot oppress, is a union be- tween the property-owners and so many of the proletaires as are interested-in upholding property,—say for a rough but, as in New York, a sufficient dividing line,,ao,many.as have houses and families and liability to taxation.