The spring and summer months of 1897 and the late fall of 1898 witnessed the final closing battle between Frank Algernon Cowperwood and the forces inimical to him in so far as the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois, and indeed the United States of America, were concerned. When in 1896 a new governor and a new group of state representatives were installed Cowperwood decided that it would be advisable to continue the struggle at once. By the time this new legislature should convene for its labors a year would have passed since Governor Swanson had vetoed the original public-service-commission bill. By that time public sentiment as aroused by the newspapers would have had time to cool. Already through various favorable financial interests—particularly Haeckelheimer, Gotloeb & Co. and all the subsurface forces they represented—he had attempted to influence the incoming governor, and had in part succeeded.
The new governor in this instance—one Corporal A. E. Archer—or ex-Congressman Archer, as he was sometimes called—was, unlike Swanson, a curious mixture of the commonplace and the ideal—one of those shiftily loyal and loyally shifty who make their upward way by devious, if not too reprehensible methods. He was a little man, stocky, brown-haired, brown-eyed, vigorous, witty, with the ordinary politician's estimate of public morality—namely, that there is no such thing. A drummer-boy at fourteen in the War of the Rebellion, a private at sixteen and eighteen, he had subsequently been breveted for conspicuous military service. At this later time he was head of the Grand Army of the Republic, and conspicuous in various stirring eleemosynary efforts on behalf of the old soldiers, their widows and orphans. A fine American, flag-waving, tobacco-chewing, foul-swearing little man was this—and one with noteworthy political ambitions. Other Grand Army men had been conspicuous in the lists for Presidential nominations. Why not he? An excellent orator in a high falsetto way, and popular because of good-fellowship, presence, force, he was by nature materially and commercially minded—therefore without basic appeal to the higher ranks of intelligence. In seeking the nomination for governorship he had made the usual overtures and had in turn been sounded by Haeckelheimer, Gotloeb, and various other corporate interests who were in league with Cowperwood as to his attitude in regard to a proposed public-service commission. At first he had refused to commit himself. Later, finding that the C. W. & I. and the Chicago & Pacific (very powerful railroads both) were interested, and that other candidates were running him a tight chase in the gubernatorial contest, he succumbed in a measure, declaring privately that in case the legislature proved to be strongly in favor of the idea and the newspapers not too crushingly opposed he might be willing to stand as its advocate. Other candidates expressed similar views, but Corporal Archer proved to have the greater following, and was eventually nominated and comfortably elected.
Shortly after the new legislature had convened, it so chanced that a certain A. S. Rotherhite, publisher of the South Chicago Journal, was one day accidentally sitting as a visitor in the seat of a state representative by the name of Clarence Mulligan. While so occupied Rotherhite was familiarly slapped on the back by a certain Senator Ladrigo, of Menard, and was invited to come out into the rotunda, where, posing as Representative Mulligan, he was introduced by Senator Ladrigo to a stranger by the name of Gerard. The latter, with but few preliminary remarks, began as follows:
"Mr. Mulligan, I want to fix it with you in regard to this Southack bill which is soon to come up in the house. We have seventy votes, but we want ninety. The fact that the bill has gone to a second reading in the senate shows our strength. I am authorized to come to terms with you this morning if you would like. Your vote is worth two thousand dollars to you the moment the bill is signed."
Mr. Rotherhite, who happened to be a newly recruited member of the Opposition press, proved very canny in this situation.
"Excuse me," he stammered, "I did not understand your name?"
"Gerard. G-er-ard. Henry A. Gerard," replied this other.
"Thank you. I will think it over," was the response of the presumed Representative Mulligan.
Strange to state, at this very instant the authentic Mulligan actually appeared—heralded aloud by several of his colleagues who happened to be lingering near by in the lobby. Whereupon the anomalous Mr. Gerard and the crafty Senator Ladrigo discreetly withdrew. Needless to say that Mr. Rotherhite hurried at once to the forces of righteousness. The press should spread this little story broadcast. It was a very meaty incident; and it brought the whole matter once more into the fatal, poisonous field of press discussion.
At once the Chicago papers flew to arms. The cry was raised that the same old sinister Cowperwoodian forces were at work. The members of the senate and the house were solemnly warned. The sterling attitude of ex-Governor Swanson was held up as an example to the present Governor Archer. "The whole idea," observed an editorial in Truman Leslie MacDonald's Inquirer, "smacks of chicane, political subtlety, and political jugglery. Well do the citizens of Chicago and the people of Illinois know who and what particular organization would prove the true beneficiaries. We do not want a public-service commission at the behest of a private street-railway corporation. Are the tentacles of Frank A. Cowperwood to envelop this legislature as they did the last?"
This broadside, coming in conjunction with various hostile rumblings in other papers, aroused Cowperwood to emphatic language.
"They can all go to the devil," he said to Addison, one day at lunch. "I have a right to an extension of my franchises for fifty years, and I am going to get it. Look at New York and Philadelphia. Why, the Eastern houses laugh. They don't understand such a situation. It's all the inside work of this Hand-Schryhart crowd. I know what they're doing and who's pulling the strings. The newspapers yap-yap every time they give an order. Hyssop waltzes every time Arneel moves. Little MacDonald is a stool-pigeon for Hand. It's got down so low now that it's anything to beat Cowperwood. Well, they won't beat me. I'll find a way out. The legislature will pass a bill allowing for a fifty-year franchise, and the governor will sign it. I'll see to that personally. I have at least eighteen thousand stockholders who want a decent run for their money, and I propose to give it to them. Aren't other men getting rich? Aren't other corporations earning ten and twelve per cent? Why shouldn't I? Is Chicago any the worse? Don't I employ twenty thousand men and pay them well? All this palaver about the rights of the people and the duty to the public—rats! Does Mr. Hand acknowledge any duty to the public where his special interests are concerned? Or Mr. Schryhart? Or Mr. Arneel? The newspapers be damned! I know my rights. An honest legislature will give me a decent franchise to save me from the local political sharks."
By this time, however, the newspapers had become as subtle and powerful as the politicians themselves. Under the great dome of the capitol at Springfield, in the halls and conference chambers of the senate and house, in the hotels, and in the rural districts wherever any least information was to be gathered, were their representatives—to see, to listen, to pry. Out of this contest they were gaining prestige and cash. By them were the reform aldermen persuaded to call mass-meetings in their respective districts. Property-owners were urged to organize; a committee of one hundred prominent citizens led by Hand and Schryhart was formed. It was not long before the halls, chambers, and committee-rooms of the capitol at Springfield and the corridors of the one principal hotel were being tramped over almost daily by rampant delegations of ministers, reform aldermen, and civil committeemen, who arrived speechifying, threatening, and haranguing, and departed, only to make room for another relay.
"Say, what do you think of these delegations, Senator?" inquired a certain Representative Greenough of Senator George Christian, of Grundy, one morning, the while a group of Chicago clergymen accompanied by the mayor and several distinguished private citizens passed through the rotunda on their way to the committee on railroads, where the house bill was privily being discussed. "Don't you think they speak well for our civic pride and moral upbringing?" He raised his eyes and crossed his fingers over his waistcoat in the most sanctimonious and reverential attitude.
"Yes, dear Pastor," replied the irreverent Christian, without the shadow of a smile. He was a little sallow, wiry man with eyes like a ferret, a small mustache and goatee ornamenting his face. "But do not forget that the Lord has called us also to this work."
"Even so," acquiesced Greenough. "We must not weary in well doing. The harvest is truly plenteous and the laborers are few."
"Tut, tut, Pastor. Don't overdo it. You might make me larf," replied Christian; and the twain parted with knowing and yet weary smiles.
Yet how little did the accommodating attitude of these gentlemen avail in silencing the newspapers. The damnable newspapers! They were here, there, and everywhere reporting each least fragment of rumor, conversation, or imaginary programme. Never did the citizens of Chicago receive so keen a drilling in statecraft—its subtleties and ramifications. The president of the senate and the speaker of the house were singled out and warned separately as to their duty. A page a day devoted to legislative proceeding in this quarter was practically the custom of the situation. Cowperwood was here personally on the scene, brazen, defiant, logical, the courage of his convictions in his eyes, the power of his magnetism fairly enslaving men. Throwing off the mask of disinterestedness—if any might be said to have covered him—he now frankly came out in the open and, journeying to Springfield, took quarters at the principal hotel. Like a general in time of battle, he marshaled his forces about him. In the warm, moonlit atmosphere of June nights when the streets of Springfield were quiet, the great plain of Illinois bathed for hundreds of miles from north to south in a sweet effulgence and the rurals slumbering in their simple homes, he sat conferring with his lawyers and legislative agents.
Pity in such a crisis the poor country-jake legislator torn between his desire for a justifiable and expedient gain and his fear lest he should be assailed as a betrayer of the people's interests. To some of these small-town legislators, who had never seen as much as two thousand dollars in cash in all their days, the problem was soul-racking. Men gathered in private rooms and hotel parlors to discuss it. They stood in their rooms at night and thought about it alone. The sight of big business compelling its desires the while the people went begging was destructive. Many a romantic, illusioned, idealistic young country editor, lawyer, or statesman was here made over into a minor cynic or bribe-taker. Men were robbed of every vestige of faith or even of charity; they came to feel, perforce, that there was nothing outside the capacity for taking and keeping. The surface might appear commonplace—ordinary men of the state of Illinois going here and there—simple farmers and small-town senators and representatives conferring and meditating and wondering what they could do—yet a jungle-like complexity was present, a dark, rank growth of horrific but avid life—life at the full, life knife in hand, life blazing with courage and dripping at the jaws with hunger.
However, because of the terrific uproar the more cautious legislators were by degrees becoming fearful. Friends in their home towns, at the instigation of the papers, were beginning to write them. Political enemies were taking heart. It meant too much of a sacrifice on the part of everybody. In spite of the fact that the bait was apparently within easy reach, many became evasive and disturbed. When a certain Representative Sparks, cocked and primed, with the bill in his pocket, arose upon the floor of the house, asking leave to have it spread upon the minutes, there was an instant explosion. The privilege of the floor was requested by a hundred. Another representative, Disback, being in charge of the opposition to Cowperwood, had made a count of noses and was satisfied in spite of all subtlety on the part of the enemy that he had at least one hundred and two votes, the necessary two-thirds wherewith to crush any measure which might originate on the floor. Nevertheless, his followers, because of caution, voted it to a second and a third reading. All sorts of amendments were made—one for a three-cent fare during the rush-hours, another for a 20 per cent. tax on gross receipts. In amended form the measure was sent to the senate, where the changes were stricken out and the bill once more returned to the house. Here, to Cowperwood's chagrin, signs were made manifest that it could not be passed. "It can't be done, Frank," said Judge Dickensheets. "It's too grilling a game. Their home papers are after them. They can't live."
Consequently a second measure was devised—more soothing and lulling to the newspapers, but far less satisfactory to Cowperwood. It conferred upon the Chicago City Council, by a trick of revising the old Horse and Dummy Act of 1865, the right to grant a franchise for fifty instead of for twenty years. This meant that Cowperwood would have to return to Chicago and fight out his battle there. It was a severe blow, yet better than nothing. Providing that he could win one more franchise battle within the walls of the city council in Chicago, it would give him all that he desired. But could he? Had he not come here to the legislature especially to evade such a risk? His motives were enduring such a blistering exposure. Yet perhaps, after all, if the price were large enough the Chicago councilmen would have more real courage than these country legislators—would dare more. They would have to.
So, after Heaven knows what desperate whisperings, conferences, arguments, and heartening of members, there was originated a second measure which—after the defeat of the first bill, 104 to 49—was introduced, by way of a very complicated path, through the judiciary committee. It was passed; and Governor Archer, after heavy hours of contemplation and self-examination, signed it. A little man mentally, he failed to estimate an aroused popular fury at its true import to him. At his elbow was Cowperwood in the clear light of day, snapping his fingers in the face of his enemies, showing by the hard, cheerful glint in his eye that he was still master of the situation, giving all assurance that he would yet live to whip the Chicago papers into submission. Besides, in the event of the passage of the bill, Cowperwood had promised to make Archer independently rich—a cash reward of five hundred thousand dollars.