“This country doctor is the most singular figure in American politics. A New Englander reared down South, he attended a Friends’ school, and traces of all these influences are marked in his character. A single-taxer, an individualist, an advocate of the “popular initiative for constitutional amendments” – this sweet-tempered radical who has stood for every reform that looked in the direction of democracy, marched, unmoved by ridicule, abuse, or defeat, without a sign of anger or of pain, straight into the confidence of a majority of the voters of this conservative New England community.” – Quote from: Lincoln Steffens’ exposé “Rhode Island: A State for Sale,” which ran in the February 1905 edition of McClure’s Magazine.
Rhode Islanders have good reason not to trust our government, as our corrupt political system remains much the same as it was over a century ago, when my great grandfather, Dr. Lucius F. C. Garvin served as Governor of Rhode Island.
His words written 110 years ago, describe the behavior that is parallel to today in reemphasizing that lack of transparency and accountability are not new issues with RI government; and that favoritism, greed, opportunity, bribery, use and gain of money, and looking the other way when the law is broken, unfortunately continues and exists in all forms of our government presently, just as it did over a century ago as documented in Lincoln Steffens’ ‘1905’ famous article that Gov. Lucius Garvin helped write… “Rhode Island: A State for Sale.”
Steffens’ political history lesson is a powerful tool for Rhode Islanders to have a better understanding of Rhode Island’s political DNA…because nothing has changed in this state!
The following excerpts are a must read… in understanding how the political system in Rhode Island was born and bred on corruption and why the fight against it must continue to this day! Please see: https://www.facebook.com/pages/FED-UP-in-RI
John Garvin ~
great-grandson ∞`Lucius F.C. Garvin`
“Rhode Island: A State for Sale”
By Lincoln Steffens •February 1905
“THE political condition of Rhode Island is notorious, acknowledged, and it is shameful.
It is in Rhode Island. The System of Rhode Island which has produced the man who is at the head of the political System of the United States is grounded on the lowest layer of corruption that I have found thus far – In these States the corruptionists buy the people’s representatives. In Rhode Island they buy the people themselves.
The conditions are peculiar. As the Rhode Islanders say, their State is peculiar in many ways. But it is American. The smallest of the States, it is one of the biggest in our history. One of the “Original Thirteen States,” It was the first (May 4,1776) to declare Its independence of Great Britain, and the last (May 29, 1790) to give allegiance to the United States, So the American spirit of commercial enterprise and political independence has burned high in Rhode Island. There is nothing peculiar about that, and there is nothing peculiar about the general result of the corruption of the State.
“Leading citizens” have made Rhode Island what it is. They always have ruled there. I have called the State an oligarchy. It used to be an aristocracy.
It was a commercial aristocracy that corrupted the American stock in Rhode Island and laid the foundation of the present financial and political System of corruption in the State.
There is no doubt about this. The corruption of the voters of the towns of Rhode Island is so ancient and so common that Governor Lucius F.C. Garvin addressed in March, 1903, a “Special Message concerning Bribery in Elections to the Honorable, the General Assembly,” etc.:
“GENTLEMEN: … That bribery exists to a great extent in the elections of this State is a matter of common knowledge. No general election passes without, in some sections of the State, the purchase of votes by one or both of the great political parties. It is true that the results of the election may not often be changed, so far as the candidates on the State ticket are concerned, but many Assemblymen occupy the seats they do by means of purchased votes.
In a considerable number of our towns bribery is so common and has existed for so many years that the awful nature of the crime has ceased to impress. In some towns the bribery takes place openly; is not called bribery, nor considered a serious matter. The money paid to the voter, whether $2, $5, or $20, is spoken of as “payment for his time.” The claim that the money given to the elector is not for the purpose of influencing his vote, but is compensation for time lost in visiting the polls, is the merest sophistry, and should not deceive any adult citizen of ordinary intelligence. It is well known that in such towns, when one political party is supplied with a corruption fund and the other is without, the party so provided invariably elects its Assembly ticket, thus affording positive proof that the votes are bought and the voters bribed. ….”
Bribery, bribery of the people, is a custom of the country in Rhode Island; it is an institution, and, like the church or property, it is not safe to attack it; they do not dare. This may sound preposterous, and there is a public opinion against it…The Bishop declared that the country clergy could not “speak out without coming to financial grief and ruin,” and he proposed “doing something, so that no one will dare threaten local ministers with the loss of their positions.”
Back of the vote-buyers are the most powerful interests of the State, the friends of “all that is,”… The head men in the churches, the leading citizens in the State, the captains of finance and industry, …
What is this precious System that can compel the respect, of silence at least, even from the Church?
Who are “the party” in Rhode Island? As I have said above, they are and they always have been the “leading business men” of the State.
The cost to the character of the people of the State is heavy, but never mind; Rhode Island has what honest business men of this country have long honestly said we ought to have in all States and all cities in the United States,a business government – of the businessmen, by the business men, and for the business men.
What have the Rhode Island business men done with it? They made these fortunes out of their political power, but, as one of their defenders said, they did it without breaking a law or committing a crime. But how could they commit a crime? They were above the law. It was their law; they made it.
Of course, they abused the law; they abused their legislative powers in the General Assembly, but they did this in the interest of business. “This is a business country, and the government is there to help business.” Is it? But is that what “the government is there for”? I think not. I think that it is this legitimate, business graft, not police blackmail, which is the chief cause of our political corruption, but this is no place for “academic” reflections.
The next question is, what did they do with the rest of their power? They ruled; how did they rule? Suppose that it was right for them to rule and, ruling, to grant themselves extraordinary privileges. We hear that we cannot have the services in politics and government of able business men without paying for it. We hear that we cannot have the services in politics and government of able business men without paying for it. What have the business rulers of Rhode Island given in return?
Both parties betrayed the common interests of this State. Generally speaking, the people of Rhode Island are represented only by individuals and they can do nothing but protest. One of these protestants was Dr. Garvin, but he was Governor of the State and powerless.
This country doctor is the most singular figure in American politics. A New Englander reared down South, he attended a Friends’ school, and traces of all these influences are marked in his character. A single-taxer, an individualist, an advocate of the “popular initiative for constitutional amendments” – this sweet-tempered radical who has stood for every reform that looked in the direction of democracy, marched, unmoved by ridicule, abuse, or defeat, without a sign of anger or of pain, straight into the confidence of a majority of the voters of this conservative New England community.
When the slowly rising discontent in the State approached the height of a majority, the Democratic party nominated Dr. Garvin, and his party, with help from independent Republicans, Prohibitionists, Socialists — all the opposition to the System that usually scatters, voted for him. He was elected in 1902 and again in 1903. He was elected as a protest, however, and that is all he has been.
A Governor like Dr. Garvin would have made his own appointments, but Brayton and the System had seen Governor Garvin coming. They stifled the office before he got into it.
When this Aldrich-Perry-Brayton company foresaw that the people might elect a Governor to represent the common interests of the State, they had the appointive power transferred to the Senate. They left it so that a “safe” Republican Governor, obedient to them, might seem to appoint, but not a “dangerous” Democrat like Dr. Garvin.
Such, then, is the government of Rhode Island. What is the matter? What is the cure? The local reformers think that these very features which other reformers yearn for are the cause of the Rhode Island troubles, and that the constitution, “which did it,” must be changed.
Other States, with constitutions as ingenious as the best that the reformers in Rhode Island can hope for, have developed essentially the same System. The Enemies of the Republic will overcome any obstacle that is merely constitutional, legal, or mechanical.
The trouble lies deeper, and the cure must cut deeper. We have blamed our laws and our constitution long enough, and in turn we have charged our disgrace to our foreign population, to the riffraff of the cities, to our politicians, to our business men.
Are they alone at fault? I cannot see it so. It seems to me that, in one way or another, we all are at fault.
The best hope of Rhode Island, for example, should be in the leadership of the old manufacturing families, and the best of this aristocratic class have voted for Dr. Garvin.
They told me, these gentlemen, that Aldrich did not represent them or their State. “He may represent our corrupt towns and your own New York,” they said, “but he doesn’t represent Rhode Island!” Yet Governor Garvin was defeated this year (by some 500 votes) because a Republican President had to be elected, and a Legislature to return to the United States Senate the arch-representative of protected, privileged business. (Dr. Garvin was renominated for Governor in 1905 at the head of a fusion ticket, and he and his ticket were defeated by an increased majority for the System’s ticket.)
Rhode Island will have reform when we all have reform; when we are all willing to make sacrifices for the sake of our country and our self-respect;
the notion of those of its leaders who think to restore pure, representative democracy by buying up the people for a year or two, is American corruption carried to the limit of Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy. There is no reform but reform, and reform begins at home — with all of us.”
HON. LUCIUS FAYETTE CLARK GARVIN, M. D., (November 13, 1841 – October 2, 1922) , he was elected Governor of the State of Rhode Island, in November, 1902, reelected in 1903, 1904, 1905, thirteen times elected to the General Assembly as representative, and three times as State Senator. He was the Democratic candidate for Congress from the Second Rhode Island district, in 1894, 1896, 1898, 1900 and 1906, defeated each time, but always polling a large vote in excess of the normal Democratic number. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~rigenweb/articles/133.html
Florence Garvin (February 27, 1876—July 10, 1968), the daughter of former Rhode Island Governor Lucius F. C. Garvin, was a women’s rights activist and a candidate for United States Vice President in the 1932 and 1936 presidential elections. She was a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the head of the Rhode Island College Equal Suffrage League and Third Vice-President of the Women’s National Single Tax League.