Read CHAPTER XXII. - THE JUDGE PLANS A NEW CAMPAIGN. of A Spoil of Office A Story of the Modern West , free online book, by Hamlin Garland, on

The first three or four weeks of legislative life sickened and depressed Bradley.  He learned in that time, not only to despise, but to loath some of the legislators.  The stench of corruption got into his nostrils, and jovial vice passed before his eyes.  The duplicity, the monumental hypocrisy, of some of the leaders of legislation made him despair of humankind and to doubt the stability of the republic.

He was naturally a pure-minded, simple-hearted man, and when one of the leaders of the moral party of his State was dragged out of a low resort, drunk and disorderly, in company with a leader of the Senate, his heart failed him.  He was ready to resign and go home.

Trades among the committees came obscurely to his ears; hints of jobs, getting each day more definite, reached him.  Railway lobbyists swarmed about and began to lay their cajoling, persuasive hands upon members; and he could not laugh when the newspaper said, for a joke, that the absent-minded speaker called the House to order one morning by saying:  “Agents of the K. C. & Q. will please be in order.”  It seemed too near the simple fact to be funny.  The School Book Lobby, the University Lobby, the Armour Lobby, each had its turn with him, through its smooth, convincing agent.

He reached his lowest deep one night after a conversation with Lloyd Smith, an ex-clerk, and a couple of young fellows who called upon him at his room.  Lloyd noticed his gloomy face, and asked what the trouble was.  He told them frankly that he was disgusted.

“Oh, you’ll get used to it!” the ex-clerk said.  “When I first went into the House, I believed in honesty and sincerity, like yourself; but I came out of my term of office knowing the whole gang to be thieves.  My experience taught me that legislators in America think it’s a Christian virtue to break into the government treasury.”

The others broke out laughing, believing him to be joking; but there was a ferocious look on his face, and Bradley felt that he might be mistaken, but he was not joking.

“They stole stationery, spittoons, waste baskets, by God!  They stole everything that was loose, and at the end of the term, they seemed to be looking around unsatisfied, and I told ’em there was just one thing left ­the gold leaf on the dome.”

The others roared with laughter, and Bradley was forced to join in.  But the face of the ex-clerk did not lose its dark intensity.

“Take salary grabbing.  Why! they wanted me to certify to their demands for Sunday pay for themselves and their clerks, and I refused, and they were wild.  I’m not an angel nor a Christian man, but I won’t sign my name to a lie, and blamed if they didn’t pass the order without my signature!  Yes, sir; it’s there on the record.

“Take nepotism.  The members bring their wives and daughters down here, put them in as pages and clerks, or divide the proceeds when they have no relatives.  Every device, every imaginable chicanery, every possible scheme to break into the State money box, is legitimate in their eyes, and worthy of being patented.  Public money is fair game; and yet,” he said, with a change of manner, “we have the fairest, purest and most honorable legislators, take it as a whole, that there is in the United States, because our State is rural, and we’re comparatively free from liquor.  Our legislature is a Sunday School, compared to the leprous rascals that swarm about the Capitol at Albany or Springfield.”

“What is the cure?” asked Bradley, whose mind had been busy with the problem.

“God Almighty! there is no cure, except the abolition of government.  Government means that kind of thing.  Look at it!  Here we enthrone the hungry, vicious, uneducated mob of incapables, and then wonder why they steal, and gorge and riot like satyrs.  The wonder is they don’t scrape the paint off the walls.”

“Oh, you go too far; a legislator wouldn’t steal a spittoon.”

“No, but the fellow he recommends for clerkship does.”

“My idea is that there are very few men who take money.”

“I admit that, but they’ll all trade their job for another job.  Honesty is impossible.  The Angel Gabriel would become a boodler under our system of government.  The cure is to abolish government.”

This conclusion, impotent to Bradley, was practically all the savage critic had to offer.  Either go back to despotism or go ahead to no government at all.

After they went out, Bradley sat down and wrote a letter to Judge Brown, embodying the main part of this conversation:  “It’s enough to make a man curse his country and his God to see how things run,” he said, at the end of writing out the ex-clerk’s terrible indictment.  “I feel that he is right.  I’m ready to resign, and go home, and never go into politics again.  The whole thing is rotten to the bottom.”

But as the weeks wore on, he found that the indictment was only true of a certain minority, but it was terribly true of them; but down under the half-dozen corruptible agents, under the roar of their voices, there were many others speaking for truth and purity.  The obscure mass meant to be just and honest.  They were good fathers and brothers, and yet they were forced to bear the odium that fell on the whole legislature whenever the miscreant minority rolled in the mire and walked the public streets.

There was one count, however, that remained good against nearly all of the legislators:  they seemed to lack conscience as regards public money.  Bradley remembered that this dishonesty extended down to the matter of working on the roads in the country.  He remembered that every man esteemed it a virtue to be lazy, and to do as little for a day’s pay as possible, because it “came out of the town.”  He was forced to admit that this was the most characteristic American crime.  To rob the commonwealth was a joke.

He ended by philosophizing upon it with the Judge, who came down in late February to attend the session during the great railway fight.

The Judge put his heels on the window sill, and folded his arms over the problem.

“Well, now, this thing must be looked at from another standpoint.  The power of redress is with the voter.  If the voter is a boodler, he will countenance boodling.  Here is the mission of our party,” he said, with the zeal of an old-fashioned Democrat, “to come in here and educate the common man to be an honest man.  We have got a duty to perform.  Now, we mustn’t talk of resigning or going out of politics.  We’ve got to stay right in the lump, and help leaven it.  It will only make things worse if we leave it.”  The Judge had grown into the habit of speaking of Bradley as if he were a partner.

Bradley, going about with him on the street, suddenly discovered that the Judge’s hat was just a shade too wide in the brim, and his coat a little bit frayed around the button-holes.  He had never noticed before that the Judge was a little old-fashioned in his manners.  No thought of being ashamed of him came into his mind, but it gave him a curious sensation when they entered a car together for the first time, and he discovered that the Judge was a type.

When Bradley made his great speech on the railroad question, arraigning monopoly, the Judge had a special arrangement with a stenographer.  He was going to have that speech in pamphlet form to distribute, if it took a leg.  He was already planning a congressional campaign.

Ida sat in the balcony on the day he spoke for woman’s suffrage, and he could not resist the temptation of looking up there as he spoke.  Everything combined to give great effect to his speech.  It was late in the afternoon and the western sun thrust bars of light across the dim chamber which the fresh young voice of the speaker had hushed into silence.  Ida had sent a bunch of flowers to his desk and upon that bouquet the intrusive sun-ray fell, like something wild that loved the rose, but as the speaker went on it clambered up his stalwart side and rested at last upon his head as though to crown him with victory.

But defeat came as usual.  The legislators saw nothing in the sun-ray except a result of negligence on the part of the door-keeper.  They all cheered the speech, but a majority tabled the matter as usual.  The galleries cheered and the women swarmed about the young champion, Ida among them.  Her hand-shake and smile was his greatest reward.

“Come and see me,” she said.  “I want to thank you.”

The Judge was immensely proud of him.  “A great speech, Brad; if I wasn’t so old-fashioned and set ­you’d have converted me.  In private I admit all you say, but it ain’t policy for me to advocate it just now.”

“Policy!  I’m sick of policy!” cried Bradley.  “Let’s try being right awhile.”

The Judge changed the subject.  He told the members at the boarding-house that it wouldn’t hurt Bradley’s chances.  “People won’t down a man on that point any more.”

“Perhaps not in your county, but I don’t want to experiment down in my county,” said Major Root, of MacIntosh.

“I don’t believe the people of Iowa will down any man for stating what he believes is right.”

“Don’t bet too high on that,” said the Major in final reply.

The Judge dined with Bradley at the dining-room in the little cottage, and it gave Bradley great satisfaction to see that he used his fork more gracefully than the Supreme judge, who sat beside him, and better than the senator, who sat opposite.  They had a most delightful time in talking over old legal friends, and the Judge was beaming as he came to pudding.  He assured them all that the Honorable Talcott would be heard on the floor of Congress.

“We’re the winning party now,” he said.  “We’re the party of the future.”

The others laughed good naturedly.  “Don’t be too certain of that.”  They all rose.  “You surprised us sleeping on our arms,” the general said, “but we’re awake now, and we’ve got pickets out.”

The Judge enjoyed his visit very much, and only once did he present himself to Bradley with a suspicious heaviness in his speech.  He had reformed entirely since he had adopted a son, he explained to his old cronies.

On the day when the Judge was to return, as they walked down to the train together, he said, “Well, Brad, we’ll go right into the congressional campaign.”

“I don’t believe we’d better do that, Judge.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I could not be elected ­that’s one thing.”

The Judge allowed an impressive silence to intervene.

“Why not?  I tell you, young man, they’re on the run.  We can put you through.  You’ve made a strong impression down here.”

“I don’t believe I want to be put through.  I’m sick of it.  I don’t believe I’m a politician.  I’m sick all through with the whole cursed business.  I never’d be here only for you, pulling wires.  I can’t pull wires.”

“You needn’t pull wires.  I’ll do that.  You talk, and that’s what put you here, and it’ll put you in Congress.”

Bradley was in a bad mood.

“What’s the good of my going there?  I can’t do anything.  I’ve done nothing here.”

“Yes, y’ have.  You’ve been right on the railroad question, on the oleo question, and the bank question.  It’s going to count.  That speech of yours, yesterday, I’m going to send broadcast in Rock County.  The district convention will meet in June early.  Foster will pave the way for your nomination, by saying Rock County should have a congressman.  We’ll go into the convention with a clear two-thirds majority, and then declare your nomination unanimous.  You see, your youth will be in your favor.  Your election will follow, sure.  The only fight will be in the convention.”

“Looks like spring, to-day,” Bradley said.  It was his way of closing an argument.

“Well, good-by.  You’ll find the whole pot boiling when you come home,” the Judge said, as the train started.

As February drew on and the snow fled, the earth-longing got hold upon Bradley.  It was almost seed time, with its warm, mellow soil, its sweeping flights of prairie pigeons, its innumerable swarms of tiny clamorous sparrows, its whistling plovers, and its passing wild fowl.  The thought came to him there, for the first time, that nature was not malignant nor hard; that life on a farm might be the most beautiful and joyous life in the world.  The meaning of Ida’s words at last took definite and individual shape in his mind.  He had assimilated them now.

Bradley gave himself up to the Judge’s plans.  He went home in April with eagerness and with reluctance.  He was eager to escape the smoke of the city and reluctant to leave behind him all chance to see Ida.  This feeling of hungry disappointment dominated him during his day’s ride.  He had seen her but twice during his stay in Des Moines, and now ­when would he see her again?

This terrible depression and sharp pain wore away a little by the time he reached home, and the active campaign which followed helped him to bear it.  He still wrote to her, and she replied without either encouragement and without explicit displeasure.  The campaign was really the Judge’s fight.  Bradley was his field officer.  Victory in the convention only foreshadowed the sweeping victory in October.  He resigned as legislator, to become a congressman.