Mr. Peter Witt Chicago City Club 1907
“My talk is of the administration of Mayor Johnson in Cleveland. That he was born in Kentucky amid luxurious surroundings, that before childhood’s happy days were over he had felt the pangs and privations of poverty, and that before he had reached his majority he had amassed a princely fortune, I hope is something you are not much concerned about. It is not what a man has done, nor what he intends to do, but rather what he is doing, that most counts — especially when his doing deals with a city finding itself.
For the great problems now occupying the people of this country must be solved in the places that we call cities. It is in them that we find the greatest luxury and the bitterest poverty. In them the problems must be solved. It was ‘the United States of America’ ; it is now ‘the United Cities of the World.’ One city above all in the United States is finding itself, and that city I am proud to say is my home.
“Men have long spoken about cities as a stench in the nostrils of decent people on account of the mismanagement of their political affairs.
“I am here merely to give you a recital of the facts that have been worked out and the experiences gone through in Cleveland during the past twelve or fifteen years. When I say I am proud of my city, I am not proud of the few sky-scrapers we have ; I am not proud of the clean streets, of the magnificent sewers, of the beautiful parks.
But I am proud of the men and the women living there., who have made my city a light that the other cities are now looking at, the men and women who are prompted by high ideals and moral impulses, and are carrying their religion into politics. That is all that our politics is, it is religion. I want to say that nowhere in the United States can you find a people living in a community who are as far economically advanced as the people in Cleveland.
We discussed politically twenty-five years ago the questions that now are merely being discussed academically in most communities. We have reared a citizenship that looks upon the city as a different thing from that which most people take their city to be. Our city to us is a large house, and we, the administrators, are merely the municipal housekeepers.
“During the last seven years Cleveland has attracted more attention than usual, but the only difference between now and formerly is that we now have with us a leader who has crystalized the hopes and the sentiments of a struggling people.
“Many years ago the thing that startled the people in Cleveland, as a similar situation has startled people elsewhere, was the influence of the special privilege crowd in corrupting our government. That moved the people to protest emphatically. And while the agitators were sneered at who stood upon soap-boxes and protested, and while we were unable to prevent the corruption of the public officials from the mayor and the judges down to the councilmen, we always were strong enough to prevent the consummation of the desires of the crowd guilty of the corruption.
In some communities the measures we used would, of course, be abhorred, but the thing that kept our city clean, the thing that kept us in possession of our own streets after the privileged crowd had corrupted our government from mayor and judges to councilmen, was the people who would rather string corrupt councilmen to the lamp-post than see the Republican institutions of the city overturned by the mad seekers after privilege and pelf.
I know that is radical, but can you conceive of a crime greater than the crime of corrupting a public official? The inducement to corrupt public officials of course is always here so long as there are gold mines in the streets to be worked by corporations. So long as that condition exists you must expect bad municipal government unless the people themselves are up and doing, and we always were up and doing. While, as I say, we were unable to prevent the corruption of the public ofificials, we were able to prevent the consummation of their schemes.
“About seven years ago, at a Jackson Day banquet in Cleveland, Tom Johnson, then forty-six years of age, said that he was through making dollars, that he had all the money he could use, and, strange to say for a millionaire, more than he wanted. He said that henceforth, instead of working to make dollars, he was going to try to make conditions that would help toward the making of men and the making of women.
Within three months, by the very peculiar operation of political machines and factions, he became Democratic candidate for mayor. He was supported by over six thousand Republicans who believed in him as a man capable of running the administrative affairs of a large city, and was elected. At that time we had in Cleveland what is known as the Federal plan of city government, under which power and responsibility were concentrated in the hands of the Mayor.
He had the appointing of his cabinet, after the analogy of the scheme at Washington, and it was in making his first appointments that Tom Johnson showed to the United States that he stood without an equal in the disposition and ability to secure able helpers. If you met him here a year ago of course you can readily appreciate my saying that he is possessed of a winning personality.
No man can come in contact with Tom Johnson for any length of time and not love the man. You soon become convinced that the man is absolutely honest; that he is an idealist, his head in the clouds and yet his feet standing upon good old, solid earth, and that he possesses great executive ability.
Not only has he the faculty of selecting the right men for the right places, but he can take men who are as wide apart as the poles, men who despise one another, and he can hitch them up in the municipal wagon so that they will draw without looking at one another and will pull hard, while he directs. That is the thing that characterized his first appointments.
“The first principle upon which he was elected as mayor was, that there should be no extension of street-car franchises and no rate of fare higher than three cents. That was the slogan of his contest. The second was that there should be an equalization of taxes.
“We in Ohio, I presume, have the worst tax laws of any state in the Union. Our tax laws were made at a time so remote that the children of the men who enacted them have been dead so long that their tombstones have fallen over and ivy merely marks the places where they are buried. Yet those laws govern the living.
We appraise our property once in ten years. This law was wise for the time when it was made, but it is an economic crime now. When Ohio was a howling wilderness, property, after appraisement, would go up or down as a whole. Today the erection of a building, the closing of an alley, the putting down of a rail, the stringing of an electric wire, and a hundred and one things that we do each and every day in municipal life, will change the value of lands over night and also affect the value of the improvements.
But when our figures for property in Ohio are once made up they must remain for ten years. The appraisal of property had been made in 1900 ; it is a state function, delegated to the counties. The city has nothing to do with it.
Johnson said he would use all the power and prestige he had to bring about an equalization, and that year he opened up what has since become known as the Johnson School of Taxation.
“We made an investigation, the most thorough investigation ever made of the appraisal of property in the United States. We found in our search one hundred and one thousand sub-divisions of land varying in size from a small building lot to one thousand acre tracts. This property was appraised all the way from 2 per cent of its cash value to more than 68 per cent above its market price. The entire property was worth in the neighborhood of six hundred millions, and was assessed for one hundred and forty-three millions, so you can readily appreciate the need of equalization.
We found that the railroads, the common carriers of Ohio, were worth seven hundred millions, and that they were on the tax books for one hundred and thirty-two millions — less than 17 per cent of their actual worth. We found the public service corporations stocked and bonded at thirty-two millions, paying taxes on one million, and of course we did not go very far into the personal property tax. As you know, Tom Johnson is a single taxer, and he is convinced, as all people must be convinced, that you cannot raise taxes levied against personal property. Instead of raising revenues you raise liars. (Applause.)
At the present moment we have on the tax books one watch for every fifty-five people — so you can imagine how far you would have to go in Ohio before you could get the time. We have one piano for thirty-eight people, so we have more pianos than watches. While we are not long on time, we are strong on music, and we are so strong on music that we play on common instruments. If you go down where the miners live, who used to play on the old-style accordions, their instruments are on the tax books at $75. If you come to my city and go up Euclid avenue, where there are brown-stone fronts with millionaires living inside, you cannot find a mahogany box at all ; you cannot find a piano worth over thirty-nine dollars.
In the personal property returns you can find the man that hauls ashes with a fifteen-dollar horse, charged with that horse on the tax books, but you can not find the trotters. I presume they are so fast that the assessors can not catch them.
“But the first and greatest principle of Johnson’s platform of course was the one concerning franchises. The old street car companies had been rapping at the door of the council chamber for years and years. They had to get an extension of franchises since the expiration of their grants meant the loss of their taxing power, which was capitalized at twenty-two million three hundred and forty thousand dollars.
When Tom Johnson proposed that we should have a reduction of fares, of course it signified much to them. They were capitalized at one hundred and fifty thousand dollars per mile, one hundred thousand water and fifty thousand property. When they had to earn dividends on one hundred thousand dollars water,of course they could not carry people for three cents. Six months after his election he saw that the only way to get a reduction of fare was to go through the old wasteful scheme of competition.
So, on the 6th day of December, 1901, there was introduced into the city council an ordinance establishing a new line, upon which the rate of fare should not be over three cents. I cannot take the time to go through all of the manipulations of the Ohio law dealing with the location of new street car lines. The legislature, being the property of the privileged crowd in Ohio, has so framed the laws within the last thirty years that it was an easy thing to grant an old company an extension or renewal of its rights, but an extremely hard thing to establish a new company in competition.
Aside from the three-cent lines in Cleveland there has not been granted in the entire State of Ohio, with two exceptions, any line except to the old companies within the past twenty-eight years.
“Within two days after we commenced looking for competition there was begun in the Supreme Court of Ohio, from the Attorney General’s office, a suit challenging the right of Tom Johnson to hold office. For fifty-one years the Supreme Court of Ohio had held that charters based upon the classification of our cities were legal and constitutional and seventy-five different men who constituted the court during all those years reaffirmed that decision so often that the law books were filled with their opinions.
Yet the men who owned the street cars of Cleveland owned the Supreme Court and after fifty-one years of affirmation and re-affirmation that court overruled itself and said that the Cleveland charter was unconstitutional. Then they said, ‘We will prevent you from making, under an unconstitutional charter, any grants to three-cent companies.’
“The next thing in order was, since the Supreme Court had torn down all the municipal government in Ohio, to convene the legislature for an extra session and give us a code under which the cities could operate legally. The federal plan of city government, to which I have referred, was the one that the people in Ohio favored, and the legislature was importuned by the people from all over the state, with the exception of one city, to embody that plan in the new law. But the same power that owned the street car system in Cleveland, and owned the Supreme Court of the state, of course owned the legislature.
After two months of agitation and after hearing reports of committees and petitions from citizens from all the Ohio cities, they gave us the form of government of boss-ridden Cincinnati. That scheme of government is clever, especially where you have a great influx of foreigners.
In Cleveland forty per cent of our voters are foreigners and seventy-five per cent are foreigners or descendants of foreigners. They look upon the mayor as the burgomaster. In European countries the mayor or burgomaster is the man of power ; he is the director. The new scheme was to have the mayor or burgomaster still, but to strip him of power, and to have the heads of departments elected by the voters — that is, by the party machine.
“But Tom Johnson and the people of Cleveland were greater than the machinations of the Ohio legislature. In the spring of 1903 Tom Johnson placed upon the ticket all the men that he had previously appointed to office and included every Republican who had been killed by his party for standing for decency. Their platform was that, if elected, they would proceed in the spirit of the old law, Tom Johnson being still the responsible head of the house, and the voters gave them six thousand majority.
We then proceeded to put into execution the plan for the three-cent line. In November there were two miles of track down in one street in the southwest part of the city. Then the old company hired lawyers to hire tax payers, who brought suits and commenced getting injunctions. But now I am going to leave the street car proposition for a little, while I tell you of some other things that Tom Johnson, backed by the citizenship we have there, has brought about during the past seven years. Then I will return to the street car question.
“When he came into office of course he recognized the social evil in Cleveland. To our disgrace, we, like other cities, used previously, about twice a year, to raid these houses, bring the fallen women in, and in the guise of regulation, collect revenue. The salaries of the judge and the prosecutor and the cost of the machinery of the police court were taken out of the earnings of women living lives of shame.
Mr. Johnson’s decree was that no longer should the City of Cleveland receive tainted money of that description. He called before him the police chief and said : ‘This won’t do. We know that the evil is here, and we are not going to be blind and say it is not here. We are going to handle it as it has been handled in no community in this country and see what the results will be. Every woman must know that so long as she conducts herself with all the decency that the business permits she is not to be tampered with by the city.’
You know, gentlemen, that all the blackmail of the fallen women in every large city- has its foundation in the power of the police department to arrest them — a power which enabled one police captain in New York to accumulate half a million dollars on a salary of four thousand a year. Mayor Johnson put a stop to this. He also said : ‘There shall be no woman on the streets of Cleveland soliciting, and you can walk the streets of our city for miles and miles and never be accosted. Nor have we dragged those women to the courts and taken from them one dollar.
“In addition to that, we have abolished the bawdy house with the saloon front, where the innocent and unwary may go in and not know where they are going. When we find a place of that kind we do not go through the intricacies of the law, have the people arrested and tried, and have a lawyer interpose as many objections and technicalities as he can. We station a policeman at the door with a book in his hand, and if any one goes in we inquire of him what he wants, and his name and business. If there is anything that hurts a business of that kind it is publicity.
We apply the same method to gambling. We have no gambling in Cleveland, except, of course, stock gambling. We haven’t got to the point where we recognize that or interfere with it. What I mean is poker, roulette, faro, and the various devices that people have for extracting coin from the suckers that infest the cities. We do not just take our gamblers to the court and have them continue their business while their case is pending. When a man opens up a gambling joint in Cleveland the patrol wagon backs up to it and the policeman breaks in the door with an ax and takes the goods and destroys them. They station a man at the door and stop everybody from coming in. You could walk until there would be blisters on your feet and not be able to get into a gambling game unless you had four or five friends and could rent a room at a hotel in which to start a game.
“With our saloon question it is the same. Of course, the people have nothing at all to say as to whether we shall have saloons. The great State of Ohio has made the saloon-keepers the head tax gatherers. They gather two million dollars a year for us. The state will give to any man, no matter how bad he may be, the right to run a saloon in the City of Cleveland, and we have nothing at all to say, but we handle them. We say to every saloon-keeper, ‘We are not going to screw down the lid, but we do not want our front doors open on Sunday ; while the law says you must be closed, we recognize its limitations, but if you do not run your place with a semblance of respectability we will put you out of business.’
“All the slot machines were destroyed within thirty days after Johnson became mayor. His action received the hearty approbation of thousands. But it is the big man, as a general thing, that Tom Johnson is after, not the petty thief. He could not see a difference between the slot machine and the race track, so he stopped pool selling at the race track. Then there was a mighty protest that he was ruining the town ; that it meant the loss of thousands and thousands of dollars to the merchants of the city, since a man winning might buy a thousand-dollar dress for his wife. But the mayor persisted, and we have demonstrated in Cleveland that you can have horse racing without betting. We have a fine track and have the circuit races there, but there is no betting, no pool selling.
“The thing that has made Tom Johnson’s administration a success has been that we are doing for ourselves those things that most communities hire done. We believe absolutely in public ownership of public property. The municipal ownership idea is pursued with us and I am going to give you a few facts as to how it succeeds.
We have our water-works department plant, worth eleven millions. It had for years been the spoils dumping ground of both political politics. Tom Johnson, strange as it may seem to you, hired a pedagogue to run the water-works department and said to him : ‘I want you to run this department as if it was your property or my property, on business principles. Professor Bemis put the water-works department on a merit basis. We were pumping one hundred sixty-eight million gallons per day for four hundred thousand people and supplying them through fifty-seven thousand taps.
We metered the city, so that every consumer should pay for the water he was getting, no more and no less. That is the only just way of selling water. The result of merit and meters in the department for seven years is that while we today have sixty-five thousand taps, an increase of eight thousand, and have added one hundred and twenty-five thousand to the population, we are pumping seven million gallons less every day than formerly ; we are selling the people seventy gallons for half a cent, and we have one hundred thousand dollars a year as a surplus. Of course, we are going to cut that down, because we believe the water should be supplied at cost.
“Now, about garbage. At one time we contracted for the care of our garbage, and it cost us sixty-nine thousand dollars a year, with a maximum handled of twenty thousand tons. When that contract was terminated we paid the contractor eighty-seven thousand dollars for his reduction plant and his horses and wagons, and we commenced operating. The first year we collected thirty-four thousand tons, an increase of 66 per cent, and the service cost the people of Cleveland less money than it had under the contract system, although we had reduced the hours of labor and had raised the wages from $1.25 to $2 a day in the collection branch and from $2.50 to $4 in the reduction branch.
Last year we collected still more, at a greater decrease in the cost to the municipality, and when this year closes we are going to send out the message to the people of the United States that Cleveland has been able to collect and reduce the waste from five hundred thousand people without the cost of a dollar to the tax payers. We have closed a contract for the sale of three million pounds of grease at four cents a pound to the Ivory Soap Company at Ivorydale, and when you wash your face next year you can say, I am doing it with Cleveland grease.’ (Laughter.)
“I might show you how we are building a large intercepting sewer. We are a little in advance of you here. Of course, you are getting pure water yourselves, but you are polluting the water supply of your neighbors. We are building a sewer to take every bit of sewage in the City of Cleveland to one place, and there we are going to make fertilizer out of it and send the clear water into Lake Erie. We are going to make several thousand dollars a year out of the sewage of the City of Cleveland.
“I might talk about our clean streets that are flushed. We don’t use the dry process. We flush all our streets fresh and clean and nice.
But we are most concerned with men and with women. When Tom Johnson became mayor he appointed a preacher as director of Charities and Corrections. Of course people smiled and said Tom Johnson was a fool to appoint a preacher for a business position, but he said, I don’t want a man that can make dollars and cents. I want a man that can make men and women.’
We have long ago come to the conclusion that the people who go to the workhouse are the poor and unfortunate, rather than the vicious and criminal. When Tom Johnson and Dr. Cooley came to the workhouse they found five hundred men and women, who had been there not only once, but two, three, ten, or twenty times, and one man was serving his ninety-fourth term. Think of the stupidity of sending” a man back to the workhouse the ninety-fourth time when ninety-three times did not cure. Of all the figures that I can think of, there are no figures equal to our statistics on crime.
“Every time we spend a dollar to educate a child, for the church to make a man moral, or for charity to take care of the unfortunate, we in this country are spending $2.00 to run down the supposed criminal. They also found men in the workhouse who had already served their time, but could not come out because they could not pay their fine, so that they were really imprisoned for debt.
Tom Johnson and Dr. Cooley said, ‘that is not the way to reform men,’ and they pardoned and paroled 1,409 of the inmates. For many of them it was the first time that somebody had stretched out the right hand of fellowship and told them that somebody had an interest in them. Of the 1.409 so given their liberty, less than 8 per cent found their way back into the Cleveland workhouse. (Applause.)
Another thing, we don’t lock our prisoners up at seven o’clock and let them while away their time in pretended reading until nine, when they go to bed. We bring them out and put them in school rooms. The crook or the nifty fingered one that goes through your pockets we make a school teacher, under the direction of one that we employ. We set the prisoners studying, and many men and many women who had reached the age of three score and ten unable to read and write have come out of the Cleveland workhouse after six months, with a new world opened up to them, and able to sit down and enjoy the companionship of a book. When you make men acquainted with the literature of the world, you make good citizens, who won’t find their way to the workhouse. (Applause.)
“But it was quite impossible to accomplish satisfactory results with these men where they were — engaged in the manufacture of brushes. This preacher had a dream, and the people of Cleveland brought about its realization in the purchase of 1,900 acres of farm land nine miles from the city, where we are to group many institutions, and our workhouse is the first to go out there. The present workhouse will become a storage house for the water department. Last year, at this ‘Cooley farm’, nine miles from Cleveland, we had 300 workhouse prisoners, sixty at a time. As one man’s time expired another came, so that during the five months there were always sixty men.
There was not a guard over them. In the morning the men were called at the tap of the bell to go a mile or a mile and a half from the administration building to work in the quarry and bring forth the stone to make the foundations for the new building of various kinds that we are going to erect there. Of the 300 men there, under sentences of thirty, sixty, ninety days or six months, without a guard over them, responding to the tap of the bell, only four ran away. These men, who were looked upon as criminal and vicious, still had within them the honor of a man, and they stayed to work out their time. It all demonstrates that the entire scheme of punishment and imprisonment as practiced has been absolutely wrong.
“We have our old poorhouse, a large building like other poorhouses. with four or five hundred men and women. They started life strong, hale and hearty, with strong hearts and hands. When they had proceeded along life’s stony pathway for thirty or forty years conditions overcame them, and they wended their way to the poorhouse. We are not going to have a poorhouse of that old type on this large farm that I have told you of. We are still going to buy more and more land. Dr. Cooley says he will not be satisfied until he has all the land there and every piece adjacent to it. (Laughter.)
Instead of a large building we are going to have cottages, with gardens where the residents can plant and raise things and we will call them the residents of the farm colony. They will no longer spend their idle time in a large building where they commiserate one another, idle in body and mind and disgusted with all their surroundings. (Applause.)
“For years consumption was thought to be hereditary, but we now think tuberculoses a social disease, and every man in Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Chicago who has tuberculosis — the white plague — ought to indict the community for the disease he has got. Tuberculosis comes from bad sanitation and ventilation, and these go with the slums. I thank God you cannot confine the tuberculosis germ to the place where you breed it. It will go up on Prairie avenue and rap at the door with the same ease that it presents itself on Halsted street, and that fact is going to save the American people from the plague. of this horrible disease. At home we have started a municipal sanitarium for those afflicted with tuberculosis. We recognize that there is but one cure for tuberculosis, that is. normal conditions. Give the patient God’s air and sunshine, and you will cure him. We do that ; we get them weighing 110 to 120 pounds and send them away weighing 170 and 180, cured. Every community has got to come to that, even though it may be expensive.
“We have our Boys’ Home, twenty-three miles from Cleveland — 285 acres of land, and 180 boys, some of them little fellows six or seven years old. Many have had bad parents or no parents and were allowed to grow up like weeds in a vacant lot. “We have, not one large building, but cottages, and in every cottage there is a man and a woman, the master and matron, whom the boys call ‘Pa’ and ‘Ma.” If you go there at night, between seven and half past nine, you will see the boys getting that which they needed most but got least, the beneficent influence of home life. They are sitting in the large living room, where the Master and Matron are telling them the many stories that you heard in childhood days. It costs us money, but we are making citizens, and even if you apply the low, mean test of commercialism, we will still give you figures on the right side of the ledger, because we are saving both the direct and -indirect cost of criminal life.
“We have a new way of dealing with the people who commit misdemeanors in our city. Last year we arrested 32,000, of whom 27.000 were arrested because they had violated city ordinances. They got drunk, or expectorated on the sidewalk, or fell into neighborhood quarrels, or did something of that kind. Only 5,000 were really guilty of offenses against the state.
We have a fine police force, free of partisan politics. The Mayor appointed a Republican chief, and gave him the responsibility absolutely without interference. He runs his department, and go where you will in Cleveland, you will find able-bodied, fine-looking men in policemen’s uniform, their clothes blue, their linen white, and their shoes black. You will find them doing their duty always. These men have been given these directions : ‘Do not arrest people unless it is really necessary. If you find a drunken man it is far better that he spend the night with his wife and children at home than in the city’s bastile, with the people at home harassed over his absence. If there is a neighborhood row go in and talk to them ; tell them where they are wrong, and be a peacemaker.’
The result is we are going to reduce our arrests by nearly half. In January, instead of arresting 3,200 as we did in January, 1907, we arrested something like 1,700. The chief says to his men: ‘I do not want you to use your time running down the people who are merely violating city ordinances, but I want you to put in your time going after the people that are burglars and holdup men,’ and we think we are going to have good results from this.
“To go back to the traction problem, which now is attracting so much attention because we are at the beginning of the end of the settlement, we are going to settle it not only for the people of Cleveland, but for every city in the United States. I left you with two miles of railway buried in the streets of Cleveland, and with many injunctions on top preventing the completion of the property. During the entire year of 1904 nothing could be done, neither could there be anything done in 1905, because, as the court would decide one injunction — the Supreme Court of the United States — there would still be a dozen others unsettled. So the injunctions restrained the company and the city from completing the work.
In 1905 Tom Johnson came before the people a third time as a candidate for Mayor. He ran on the Democratic ticket, but we do not recognize party politics. We are merely using the Democratic party as a vehicle. Of all the things that Tom Johnson should be praised for, the greatest is the fact that he had the audacity to clean out every sneak thief within his own organization. He has simply gone after every man of the Democratic party that is bad. He has time and again gone out in the wards and restored republicans to office on the Democratic ticket. There was a republican in the Twenty-third Ward who was turned down by his party for his good record. Tom Johnson asked this Republican to stand as the Democratic candidate for the council from that ward.
A Democrat, against whom there was nothing, appeared as his opponent. Tom Johnson went before the Democrats of that ward and said: ‘Here is a Republican who has been two years in the city council, and his record is that of an honorable man. We are fighting for men and measures, not for party, and I ask every man that votes the democratic ticket to come forward to the democratic caucus and vote for the republican as the Democratic nominee. The Democrat went down to defeat four to one. (Applause.)
The result of his work has been the absolute annihilation and ruination of partisanship in our city. The Democrats in Cleveland can not muster 6,000 who would vote the ticket straight, and the republicans could not muster 20.000. So, out of the 100,000 voters of the city, thousands belong to themselves instead of to their political party. (Applause.) As I said, he was in 1905 a candidate for the third time. The traction problem was tied up. The rails were buried in the streets, the injunctions were on top of them. But the people believed that he was fighting their fight on the traction problem, and above all he had given them such a practical demonstration in administration as no community in the United States had ever had, and they re-elected him by 12,000 majority.
“I will now jump to July, 1906. The Supreme Court had adjudicated the last lawsuit brought against the construction of the new line and they were ready to build. But the old street car company in 1906 found Tom Johnson and the people of Cleveland different from what they found them in 1901. The people had grown under the leadership of Tom Johnson. He said ‘This fight, of course, is greater than a mere scramble between two companies, even though one company would be willing to make a reduction of 40 per cent in fares.’ Every one knew that the city lacked the legal power to build and operate a street car line.
Tom Johnson therefore applied an old corporation principle to a municipal function. The three-cent fare, or Forest City Railway Company, is merely a constructing company. Its franchise authorizes the city to buy the property, when the legislature delegates the power to do so, by paying the par value of the stock, plus 10 per cent. Tom Johnson organized a second company, which he called the Municipal Traction Company, composed of five men, acting as Trustees for the people. These men so fixed up affairs that, in case one died, their estates would have no claim. They are simply acting for the benefit of the people, in the absence of a law authorizing the city to operate directly. The Forest City Company leases its property to the Municipal Traction Company, the latter agreeing to pay the stockholders of the former 6 per cent on their investment. Those stockholders can never get more than 6 per cent income on their stock, nor more than $110 a share.
“That being the condition of affairs in July, 1906, Tom Johnson called upon the people to subscribe for stock. The people of Cleveland came forward with their thousands, and with their two hundred and three hundred dollars. They financed that property to the tune of $20,000, with the exception of a quarter of a million put in by a citizen of Illinois to help along the matter. On the first day of November this line went into operation. It operated from the southwest portion of the city to a mile and a quarter from the heart of the city. The terminal area in the heart of the city was what is called free territory.
When the companies were granted their franchises it was provided that any competitor desiring to use the center of the city for terminal facilities should have every right to use their rails and consume their power, paying, of course, a rental for both. We expected that our line would cut their rails and so go through to the heart of the town. But we were then met by the contention that the Forest City Railway Company, whose property was being operated by the Municipal Traction Company, had no
They alleged that Tom Johnson had a financial interest in the ordinance of that company when he signed it and that it was therefore void. We then learned for the first time that Tom Johnson had interested himself financially in the matter, and this was the nature of his interest: He had guaranteed to pay for the rails and the cars if the company did not. . He had also undertaken in behalf of the people of Cleveland who bought the stock that if in two years it didn’t pay he would take the stock off their hands and pay them 6 per cent on it for the interim. He stood to lose $400,000, but not to make one penny.
“The case went to court on a demurrer, the mayor admitting these guarantees. Then that great advertiser of the fraudulent news which you and I must read, the Associated Press, heralded over the country that Tom Johnson was a fake, and that this man, instead of working for the people’s interest, was using the power of his office to secure for himself the franchise of the Forest City Railway Company. Then the judge, a man placed on the bench by the power of the lawyers employed by the Cleveland Electric Railway Company, rendered an opinion against Tom Johnson. They then put the case through the courts, and for the eleven months before it could be heard on its merits the wires every two or three weeks tingled with the news that Tom Johnson had a financial interest. But when it finally came on its merits before a judge whose skirts were clean Tom Johnson was not only held to be blameless, but was praised by the court for risking $400,000 to carry out to actual success the issue upon which the people had given him their votes. (Applause.)
“In January, 1907, three months after we commenced operating the lines, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that the franchises for two streets upon which the old company had rails had expired two years previously. The council in the meantime had granted to the new company the right to operate upon these streets. Before you can operate a street railroad in Cleveland, however, you must get the consent of abutting property owners. The old company thereupon said to the new company: ‘If you will let us alone on these two streets and not carry out your work there we will let you run over our tracks there. Accordingly, at the request of the old company, the court found it possible to place that injunction on the shelf for a period, and the new company’s cars commenced operating over the old company’s property. The old company furthermore professed itself ready at last to settle under a plan whereby a holding company should take charge of its property, and an investigation was commenced to ascertain the value of the property.
On the first day of April, 1907, the companies were before the council urging settlement on the holding company scheme. On the second day of April, however, Mayor Dunne went down in defeat in Chicago, and on the fifth day of April the old company said: We will have no more to do with you ; your holding company plan don’t amount to anything, and we won’t stand for it.’ Of course, what they really said was that the people of Chicago had gone back on a principle that they had laid down two years before.
“Let me digress to say that the people of Cleveland were different from the people in Chicago regarding this question of policy. I believe the majority of the people in Chicago did not go over to municipal ownership when they elected Mayor Dunne. I think their action was instead a display of revulsion against the horrible coups you were riding in. But the thing that moved the people in Cleveland, and had moved them on for years, was the fact that they were standing for a moral principle, for a question of right against wrong, not merely for a question of better cars, and that is what made the difference between the people of Chicago and the people of Cleveland. (Applause.)
“So negotiations were off. And without delaying on the next three or four months of war, I come to the election last fall. The old companies realized that Tom Johnson could not be defeated on the pretense that he had not given the people of Cleveland a good administration, but they hoped that they had a proposition which would appeal to the cupidity of the people to such an extent that it would be endorsed at the polls as against Tom Johnson’s proposition. His proposition was that all franchises granted in future to the old company should provide for leasing the property to the Municipal Traction Company. The Cleveland Electric Railroad Company, on the other hand, proposed a twenty year extension of franchises at seven tickets for a quarter and a five-cent cash fare. The backers of that company then looked around for a candidate, and as the mayor had defeated all candidates brought up before, they decided on Mr. Burton.
Then Mr. Burton brought forward a letter from President Roosevelt, and you people heard more about that, about the interference of the President in municipal affairs, than we did. I say to you frankly the Democrats of Cleveland never mentioned the letter twenty-four hours after it was read by the balance of the country. Of course, President Roosevelt was interfering in municipal politics. Of course he might have been a little extreme in the letter, but it was not a great endorsement for Mr. Burton.
“There was a man in the President’s cabinet, however, who placed the stamp of approval upon the candidacy of Honorable Theodore Burton, and that was James Garfield. He was a member of the State Senate of Ohio at the time Joseph Foraker was whipping through the legislature the most damnable piece of legislation that ever disgraced the statute books of the state. Our law on street car matters is that a council cannot grant a street car franchise for a longer period than twenty-five years. But in 1896, when Joseph Foraker had been elevated to the high position of a United States Senator, he used the power of his place and all the dirty lucre that the corporation furnished, in the effort to whip through the Ohio legislature a bill permitting cities to give fifty-year grants instead of twenty-five, and prices for votes were quoted on the board the same as you did in Springfield when the Allen bill was passed.
In every city the people were up protesting. The protests from the good people living in the cities of Ohio reverberated all over the state from the lake to the river and from Pennsylvania to Indiana. Of course those things cannot stand the searchlight, and we were commencing to gain, when Joseph Foraker put forward this young man, who had the record of a father ahead of him, and James Garfield, the son of his father, not only voted for this most corrupt act ever passed in the Ohio legislature, but stood upon the floor and advocated its passage, and it did pass. Well, when he placed the stamp of approval upon Theodore Burton, you can imagine how the people took to that approval.
“Then Mr. Burton for seven years had not been in Cleveland. He knew less about the street car proposition than the humblest voter. He commenced saying things, and when he said things people laughed. I have not the shadow of a doubt as to the honesty and integrity of Mr. Burton, but the desire for political power got the best of his judgment, and the people considered him as representing the political aims of the traction crowd. We spent less than $10,000 in the contest, for two tents that we moved around in which we held the gospel meetings. And if you could witness a political contest in my city you would agree with me that our fight is not politics, but religion, the religion of great moral reforms.
We went before the people and said : ‘Here is the old company offering seven tickets for a quarter and five-cent cash fares. The company had actually introduced seven tickets for a quarter in order to tickle the voter. We said: ‘We want three-cent fares and the leasing of this property, the nearest thing we can get to municipal ownership.’ I want to say that every man, especially every man working for wages, who saw he could save four cents each day and have immediate settlement, but who was willing to pay for his family perhaps twenty cents more every day for the indefinite proposition of Tom Johnson, so that the mayor might not be defeated in the fight he was making, that man, morally speaking, was a patriot. (Applause.)
From all over this country, while the contest was on, came letters of anxious inquiry. ‘What is going to happen? Chicago, that great city, went down in defeat. Are you in Cleveland, whither the sons and daughters of liberty all over these United States are looking are you, too, in this decisive battle, going down?’ But we knew that on one side was the crowd playing for special privileges in our streets and trying to appeal to the cupidity of the voter, while on the other side was the patriotic citizen. We knew that the citizenship of Cleveland would stand true to Tom Johnson once more, and they did so by a majority of 9,300 strong.
“Three days after the election the old companies came in capitulating. They said : ‘We now appreciate the fact that in the absence of a law permitting public ownership the people of Cleveland want the holding company proposition, which will reserve to themselves all further rights.’ Accordingly we are going on in Cleveland toward such a settlement of the traction problem as has never been had before. When I left they had estimated the value of the physical property, and this week they are figuring on the value of the unexpired franchises. Of course, we shall be buying back our own property, but our forefathers gave it to the companies and they are entitled to it. We are going to give them every dollar, and on top of that Tom Johnson proposes to give them something for good will. They will lease their property to the Municipal Traction Company, and it will be operated for a three-cent fare. It will be operated for the people instead of for private profit.
“They say the three-cent fare will not pay. I say it will. We have three lines, but the two three-cent lines we had first are producing $1,000 a day, of which $600 a day will pay the entire cost of operation, including interest on the cost. Of course, at the present time we are using up the profits for paying lawyers. We had to spend $55,000 for legal expenses. But when the litigation is over and things get to moving along nicely, then this $400 a day surplus will be used to purchase Forest City Railway Company stock. At the end of ten or twelve years, if we still continue the three-cent fare, the Municipal Traction Company will have retired all its stock, and when the legislature gives Cleveland the right to own and operate directly, these five trustees of the holding company will make over the property to us without the issuance of a dollar’s worth- of bonds or the payment of one penny for the stock. The property will be ours.
“Let me say this closing word: In the Cleveland Electric Company there are good citizens, just as there are stockholders in the Chicago railroad companies that are good, but their interests as the owners of a privileged corporation interfere with the exercise of their good citizenship. We have many people at home who would not think of bribing the council or tampering with the mayor, but in their corporate capacity they do tamper with the legislature and interfere with the mayor. Once their financial interest is removed they will be able to give to the people the benefit of their talents in making Cleveland the banner city to live in. And that is the aim of Tom Johnson’s fight. If you should ask him today why he quit the pursuit of wealth, he would tell you: ‘Because I am engaged in something far better and greater than accumulation of dollars. I would make conditions favorable to the making of men and women, and I would have their children say to my children after I am gone that their father was a strong worker after municipal righteousness and a free city.” (Applause.)