The Titan

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter LV: Cowperwood and the Governor

A Public-service-commission law might, ipso facto, have been quietly passed at this session, if the arbitrary franchise-extending proviso had not been introduced, and this on the thin excuse that so novel a change in the working scheme of the state government might bring about hardship to some. This redounded too obviously to the benefit of one particular corporation. The newspaper men—as thick as flies about the halls of the state capitol at Springfield, and essentially watchful and loyal to their papers—were quick to sense the true state of affairs. Never were there such hawks as newspapermen. These wretches (employed by sniveling, mud-snouting newspapers of the opposition) were not only in the councils of politicians, in the pay of rival corporations, in the confidence of the governor, in the secrets of the senators and local representatives, but were here and there in one another's confidence. A piece of news—a rumor, a dream, a fancy—whispered by Senator Smith to Senator Jones, or by Representative Smith to Representative Jones, and confided by him in turn to Charlie White, of the Globe, or Eddie Burns, of the Democrat, would in turn be communicated to Robert Hazlitt, of the Press, or Harry Emonds, of the Transcript.

All at once a disturbing announcement in one or other of the papers, no one knowing whence it came. Neither Senator Smith nor Senator Jones had told any one. No word of the confidence imposed in Charlie White or Eddie Burns had ever been breathed. But there you were—the thing was in the papers, the storm of inquiry, opinion, opposition was on. No one knew, no one was to blame, but it was on, and the battle had henceforth to be fought in the open.

Consider also the governor who presided at this time in the executive chamber at Springfield. He was a strange, tall, dark, osseous man who, owing to the brooding, melancholy character of his own disposition, had a checkered and a somewhat sad career behind him. Born in Sweden, he had been brought to America as a child, and allowed or compelled to fight his own way upward under all the grinding aspects of poverty. Owing to an energetic and indomitable temperament, he had through years of law practice and public labors of various kinds built up for himself a following among Chicago Swedes which amounted to adoration. He had been city tax-collector, city surveyor, district attorney, and for six or eight years a state circuit judge. In all these capacities he had manifested a tendency to do the right as he saw it and play fair—qualities which endeared him to the idealistic. Honest, and with a hopeless brooding sympathy for the miseries of the poor, he had as circuit judge, and also as district attorney, rendered various decisions which had made him very unpopular with the rich and powerful—decisions in damage cases, fraud cases, railroad claim cases, where the city or the state was seeking to oust various powerful railway corporations from possession of property—yards, water-frontages, and the like, to which they had no just claim. At the same time the populace, reading the news items of his doings and hearing him speak on various and sundry occasions, conceived a great fancy for him. He was primarily soft-hearted, sweet-minded, fiery, a brilliant orator, a dynamic presence. In addition he was woman-hungry—a phase which homely, sex-starved intellectuals the world over will understand, to the shame of a lying age, that because of quixotic dogma belies its greatest desire, its greatest sorrow, its greatest joy. All these factors turned an ultra-conservative element in the community against him, and he was considered dangerous. At the same time he had by careful economy and investment built up a fair sized fortune. Recently, however, owing to the craze for sky-scrapers, he had placed much of his holdings in a somewhat poorly constructed and therefore unprofitable office building. Because of this error financial wreck was threatening him. Even now he was knocking at the doors of large bonding companies for assistance.

This man, in company with the antagonistic financial element and the newspapers, constituted, as regards Cowperwood's public-service-commission scheme, a triumvirate of difficulties not easy to overcome. The newspapers, in due time, catching wind of the true purport of the plan, ran screaming to their readers with the horrible intelligence. In the offices of Schryhart, Arneel, Hand, and Merrill, as well as in other centers of finance, there was considerable puzzling over the situation, and then a shrewd, intelligent deduction was made.

"Do you see what he's up to, Hosmer?" inquired Schryhart of Hand. "He sees that we have him scotched here in Chicago. As things stand now he can't go into the city council and ask for a franchise for more than twenty years under the state law, and he can't do that for three or four years yet, anyhow. His franchises don't expire soon enough. He knows that by the time they do expire we will have public sentiment aroused to such a point that no council, however crooked it may be, will dare to give him what he asks unless he is willing to make a heavy return to the city. If he does that it will end his scheme of selling any two hundred million dollars of Union Traction at six per cent. The market won't back him up. He can't pay twenty per cent. to the city and give universal transfers and pay six per cent. on two hundred million dollars, and everybody knows it. He has a fine scheme of making a cool hundred million out of this. Well, he can't do it. We must get the newspapers to hammer this legislative scheme of his to death. When he comes into the local council he must pay twenty or thirty per cent. of the gross receipts of his roads to the city. He must give free transfers from every one of his lines to every other one. Then we have him. I dislike to see socialistic ideas fostered, but it can't be helped. We have to do it. If we ever get him out of here we can hush up the newspapers, and the public will forget about it; at least we can hope so."

In the mean time the governor had heard the whisper of "boodle"—a word of the day expressive of a corrupt legislative fund. Not at all a small-minded man, nor involved in the financial campaign being waged against Cowperwood, nor inclined to be influenced mentally or emotionally by superheated charges against the latter, he nevertheless speculated deeply. In a vague way he sensed the dreams of Cowperwood. The charge of seducing women so frequently made against the street-railway magnate, so shocking to the yoked conventionalists, did not disturb him at all. Back of the onward sweep of the generations he himself sensed the mystic Aphrodite and her magic. He realized that Cowperwood had traveled fast—that he was pressing to the utmost a great advantage in the face of great obstacles. At the same time he knew that the present street-car service of Chicago was by no means bad. Would he be proving unfaithful to the trust imposed on him by the great electorate of Illinois if he were to advantage Cowperwood's cause? Must he not rather in the sight of all men smoke out the animating causes here—greed, over-weening ambition, colossal self-interest as opposed to the selflessness of a Christian ideal and of a democratic theory of government?

Life rises to a high plane of the dramatic, and hence of the artistic, whenever and wherever in the conflict regarding material possession there enters a conception of the ideal. It was this that lit forever the beacon fires of Troy, that thundered eternally in the horses' hoofs at Arbela and in the guns at Waterloo. Ideals were here at stake—the dreams of one man as opposed perhaps to the ultimate dreams of a city or state or nation—the grovelings and wallowings of a democracy slowly, blindly trying to stagger to its feet. In this conflict—taking place in an inland cottage-dotted state where men were clowns and churls, dancing fiddlers at country fairs—were opposed, as the governor saw it, the ideals of one man and the ideals of men.

Governor Swanson decided after mature deliberation to veto the bill. Cowperwood, debonair as ever, faithful as ever to his logic and his conception of individuality, was determined that no stone should be left unturned that would permit him to triumph, that would carry him finally to the gorgeous throne of his own construction. Having first engineered the matter through the legislature by a tortuous process, fired upon at every step by the press, he next sent various individuals—state legislators, representatives of the C. W. & I., members of outside corporations to see the governor, but Swanson was adamant. He did not see how he could conscientiously sanction the bill. Finally, one day, as he was seated in his Chicago business office—a fateful chamber located in the troublesome building which was subsequently to wreck his fortune and which was the raison d'etre of a present period of care and depression—enter the smug, comfortable presence of Judge Nahum Dickensheets, at present senior counsel of the North Chicago Street Railway. He was a very mountain of a man physically—smooth-faced, agreeably clothed, hard and yet ingratiating of eye, a thinker, a reasoner. Swanson knew much of him by reputation and otherwise, although personally they were no more than speaking acquaintances.

"How are you, Governor? I'm glad to see you again. I heard you were back in Chicago. I see by the morning papers that you have that Southack public-service bill up before you. I thought I would come over and have a few words with you about it if you have no objection. I've been trying to get down to Springfield for the last three weeks to have a little chat with you before you reached a conclusion one way or the other. Do you mind if I inquire whether you have decided to veto it?"

The ex-judge, faintly perfumed, clean and agreeable, carried in his hand a large-sized black hand-satchel which he put down beside him on the floor.

"Yes, Judge," replied Swanson, "I've practically decided to veto it. I can see no practical reason for supporting it. As I look at it now, it's specious and special, not particularly called for or necessary at this time."

The governor talked with a slight Swedish accent, intellectual, individual.

A long, placid, philosophic discussion of all the pros and cons of the situation followed. The governor was tired, distrait, but ready to listen in a tolerant way to more argument along a line with which he was already fully familiar. He knew, of course, that Dickensheets was counsel for the North Chicago Street Railway Company.

"I'm very glad to have heard what you have to say, Judge," finally commented the governor. I don't want you to think I haven't given this matter serious thought—I have. I know most of the things that have been done down at Springfield. Mr. Cowperwood is an able man; I don't charge any more against him than I do against twenty other agencies that are operating down there at this very moment. I know what his difficulties are. I can hardly be accused of sympathizing with his enemies, for they certainly do not sympathize with me. I am not even listening to the newspapers. This is a matter of faith in democracy—a difference in ideals between myself and many other men. I haven't vetoed the bill yet. I don't say that something may not arise to make me sign it. My present intention, unless I hear something much more favorable in its behalf than I have already heard, is to veto it.

"Governor," said Dickensheets, rising, "let me thank you for your courtesy. I would be the last person in the world to wish to influence you outside the line of your private convictions and your personal sense of fair play. At the same time I have tried to make plain to you how essential it is, how only fair and right, that this local street-railway-franchise business should be removed out of the realm of sentiment, emotion, public passion, envy, buncombe, and all the other influences that are at work to frustrate and make difficult the work of Mr. Cowperwood. All envy, I tell you. His enemies are willing to sacrifice every principle of justice and fair play to see him eliminated. That sums it up.

"That may all be true," replied Swanson. "Just the same, there is another principle involved here which you do not seem to see or do not care to consider—the right of the people under the state constitution to a consideration, a revaluation, of their contracts at the time and in the manner agreed upon under the original franchise. What you propose is sumptuary legislation; it makes null and void an agreement between the people and the street-railway companies at a time when the people have a right to expect a full and free consideration of this matter aside from state legislative influence and control. To persuade the state legislature, by influence or by any other means, to step in at this time and interfere is unfair. The propositions involved in those bills should be referred to the people at the next election for approval or not, just as they see fit. That is the way this matter should be arranged. It will not do to come into the legislature and influence or buy votes, and then expect me to write my signature under the whole matter as satisfactory."

Swanson was not heated or antipathetic. He was cool, firm, well-intentioned.

Dickensheets passed his hand over a wide, high temple. He seemed to be meditating something—some hitherto untried statement or course of action.

"Well, Governor," he repeated, "I want to thank you, anyhow. You have been exceedingly kind. By the way, I see you have a large, roomy safe here." He had picked up the bag he was carrying. "I wonder if I might leave this here for a day or two in your care? It contains some papers that I do not wish to carry into the country with me. Would you mind locking it up in your safe and letting me have it when I send for it?"

"With pleasure," replied the governor.

He took it, placed it in lower storage space, and closed and locked the door. The two men parted with a genial hand-shake. The governor returned to his meditations, the judge hurried to catch a car.

About eleven o'clock the next morning Swanson was still working in his office, worrying greatly over some method whereby he could raise one hundred thousand dollars to defray interest charges, repairs, and other payments, on a structure that was by no means meeting expenses and was hence a drain. At this juncture his office door opened, and his very youthful office-boy presented him the card of F. A. Cowperwood. The governor had never seen him before. Cowperwood entered brisk, fresh, forceful. He was as crisp as a new dollar bill—as clean, sharp, firmly limned.

"Governor Swanson, I believe?"

"Yes, sir."

The two were scrutinizing each other defensively.

"I am Mr. Cowperwood. I come to have a very few words with you. I will take very little of your time. I do not wish to go over any of the arguments that have been gone over before. I am satisfied that you know all about them."

"Yes, I had a talk with Judge Dickensheets yesterday."

"Just so, Governor. Knowing all that you do, permit me to put one more matter before you. I know that you are, comparatively, a poor man—that every dollar you have is at present practically tied in this building. I know of two places where you have applied for a loan of one hundred thousand dollars and have been refused because you haven't sufficient security to offer outside of this building, which is mortgaged up to its limit as it stands. The men, as you must know, who are fighting you are fighting me. I am a scoundrel because I am selfish and ambitious—a materialist. You are not a scoundrel, but a dangerous person because you are an idealist. Whether you veto this bill or not, you will never again be elected Governor of Illinois if the people who are fighting me succeed, as they will succeed, in fighting you."

Swanson's dark eyes burned illuminatively. He nodded his head in assent.

"Governor, I have come here this morning to bribe you, if I can. I do not agree with your ideals; in the last analysis I do not believe that they will work. I am sure I do not believe in most of the things that you believe in. Life is different at bottom perhaps from what either you or I may think. Just the same, as compared with other men, I sympathize with you. I will loan you that one hundred thousand dollars and two or three or four hundred thousand dollars more besides if you wish. You need never pay me a dollar—or you can if you wish. Suit yourself. In that black bag which Judge Dickensheets brought here yesterday, and which is in your safe, is three hundred thousand dollars in cash. He did not have the courage to mention it. Sign the bill and let me beat the men who are trying to beat me. I will support you in the future with any amount of money or influence that I can bring to bear in any political contest you may choose to enter, state or national."

Cowperwood's eyes glowed like a large, genial collie's. There was a suggestion of sympathetic appeal in them, rich and deep, and, even more than that, a philosophic perception of ineffable things. Swanson arose. "You really don't mean to say that you are trying to bribe me openly, do you?" he inquired. In spite of a conventional impulse to burst forth in moralistic denunciation, solemnly phrased, he was compelled for the moment to see the other man's viewpoint. They were working in different directions, going different ways, to what ultimate end?

"Mr. Cowperwood," continued the governor, his face a physiognomy out of Goya, his eye alight with a kind of understanding sympathy, "I suppose I ought to resent this, but I can't. I see your point of view. I'm sorry, but I can't help you nor myself. My political belief, my ideals, compel me to veto this bill; when I forsake these I am done politically with myself. I may not be elected governor again, but that does not matter, either. I could use your money, but I won't. I shall have to bid you good morning."

He moved toward the safe, slowly, opened it, took out the bag and brought it over.

"You must take that with you," he added.

The two men looked at each other a moment curiously, sadly—the one with a burden of financial, political, and moral worry on his spirit, the other with an unconquerable determination not to be worsted even in defeat.

"Governor," concluded Cowperwood, in the most genial, contented, undisturbed voice, "you will live to see another legislature pass and another governor sign some such bill. It will not be done this session, apparently, but it will be done. I am not through, because my case is right and fair. Just the same, after you have vetoed the bill, come and see me, and I will loan you that one hundred thousand if you want it."

Cowperwood went out. Swanson vetoed the bill. It is on record that subsequently he borrowed one hundred thousand dollars from Cowperwood to stay him from ruin.

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