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Full Online Book HomeEssaysThe Hon. Bardwell Slote, Of Cohosh
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The Hon. Bardwell Slote, Of Cohosh Post by :Jeremy_Burns Category :Essays Author :William Cowper Brann Date :July 2011 Read :1220

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The Hon. Bardwell Slote, Of Cohosh


The man whom poor dead Billy Florence used to make the dominant, laughter-breeding memory-haunting figure in "The Almighty Dollar," is with us still. He infests Washington for many months of each year. He saves the country with persistency. I purpose to tell of him as I have known him. A residence of three years in the Capital City and a daily converse with its legislators has convinced me that nearly all congressmen are Bardwell Slotes, more or less. It is a fact that to a dweller in the District of Columbia there are no great men. Washington people are valets to these heroes. They get to know them with their rouge and corsets off. The sight is not pretty, but it is instructive. Sometimes it fills a man with despair of the future of this country. It convinces him that the greatest republic of history cannot hold together for another century. It makes him think that statesmanship is dead, never to resurge, and that its place is taken by narrow foul politics. But generally mirth comes as a relief. There is so much of the ridiculous in the modern American Cicero or Catiline that one's visions of his shortcomings is blurred by the tears that laughter brings.

In nine cases out of ten the man sent to Washington to represent his people is uneducated. In the tenth case he is ill-bred. I once showed to twenty congressmen the following stanza, asking them to translate it.

"Le bruit est pour le fat,
La painte est pour le sot,
L'honnete homme s'eloigne trompe,
Et ne dit pas mot."

It is the simplest of French doggerel and means, freely translated, that while the fat-headed and the weakly foolish do a great deal of jawing when mistreated by the powerful, the sensible man picks himself up and totes himself far from the neighborhood wherein he is unwelcome and never says a word. Of my twenty congressmen but one offered a translation. That was the dead William H. Crane, of Texas. The men were taken at random, and I may say that I did not expect any translations when I started out. Most frequently a man gets to congress through a practically acquired knowledge of dirty politics backed by the ability to make a stump speech, to tell a smutty story, and to plead for his job with a slavish lickspittleism that would disgust a Digger Indian. The ordinary congressional candidate when smitten upon one cheek will turn the other, and when smitten upon the other will hoist his coat-tail and request the honor of a kick.

It is but natural that a job which is obtained by eating filth and drinking filth and sleeping in filth is held to with a tenacity that rises superior to all manliness and all decency. The congressman knows but one God--the people who elected him. He has but one object--to pleasure those people and get a renomination. He does not represent the United States of America. He represents his district. His idea of statesmanship is to get as many federal jobs for the voters of his District and as many and large federal appropriations for his District as he can. That is all of it. Any individual Congressman, if he had his way would fill the government places entirely from his District and erect a Federal post-office and custom house at every cross roads in his Districts. If he could do these things, he thinks he would be certain of reelection, and he is right. Federal patronage is a fanged whip that hangs ever above his shoulders and occasionally it falls. The recipient of the blow cringes, cowers and howls like a beaten hound, but he does not resent. When Grover Cleveland called the Fifty-third congress into extraordinary session, the object being to repeal the Sherman act and utterly demonetize silver, thus completing the vast robbery of 1873, he knew that there was a pro-silver majority against him, but he knew also that he held the handle of the patronage whip in his fat beer-swelled hand and that his slaves would troup to do his will at the first crack of its lash. The result justified his confidence. The Democratic party had a majority of nearly 100 in the house of representatives, but that majority voted directly against its convictions. It was told that it would get no jobs for constitutents until it had surrendered its honesty. American history contains no such pitiful instance of cowardice and grovelling meanness. Instead of one Benedict Arnold selling his soul for temporary gain, we had fifty. It did the soul of me good to read the returns of the next Congressional election and to know that the truckling, craven disgusting majority was wiped out as a boy rubs a wet sponge across a slate.

The Hon. Bardwell Slote is a large man at home and a giant to his wife. In his first term he comes to Washington a month ahead of the date set for the assembling of Congress, because he wants the Capital to get used to him gradually. He hires a couple of rooms in a hotel. His wife puts some flowers on the mantel piece in the sitting-room and wears her best dress all the time while she is waiting for the president's consort and the cabinet ladies to call. They do not call. The Hon. Slote is shocked almost to dumbness to discover that the Capital does not know that he is on earth. Beyond a two-line "personal" in the morning paper, jammed among the "hotel arrivals," no mention is made of his coming. He has bills in his trunk providing for a public building at Bungtown and a deep water harbor at Squashville and a light house on Jim Ned creek and the establishment of a federal court at Eden and a governmental survey of the bad lands around Dogtown, and the Bungtown Bazoo and the Squashville Cresset and the Eden Echoe and the Dogtown Democrat have all stated that he intended to make speeches on every one of them, but the general public does not seem to take much interest in these foreshadowed cataclysmal events. Posing on the sidewalk in front of his hotel, with his legs wide apart, his hands behind him and his breast well out, a couple of small boys passing remark that he is "de new jay f'on Injyanny," and that is all the notice he gets. The attitude was very effective at home, but it does not seem to excite awe in the District of Columbia.

Once in his seat on the floor of the House he discovers that he is merely a unit in the majority or the minority. Nobody asks his advice about anything. The tally clerk calls his name in a careless manner. He cannot catch the speaker's eye. He bobs up half a dozen times in the first hour with intent to make a motion about something and sinks back limply. The voice, face and manner that were wont to still the conventions at home are no good. The newspaper men in the gallery over the speaker's head point at him and whisper to each other and then they laugh. It makes him uncomfortable. The next day the clipping bureau sends him thirty or forty paragraphs like this:

"The Hon. Bardwell Slote, of the Cohosh district, Indiana, made his first appearance on the floor yesterday. He experienced some difficulty in delivering his half dozen speeches on the various manuscripts in his trunks. The speaker was savagely oblivious. The Hon. Slote will add much to the gaiety of nations. The distinctive articles of his attire were a red cravat, a coat of the vintage of '49, a tobacco-stained shirt-front and a whisp of oakum- colored chin beard. As a bit of bric-a-brac, or a curio from one of the oldest portions of the unhallowed west, he will be of value in the interior decoration of the Capitol, but it is to be feared that his oratorical vent has been choked up for some time to come."

As time goes on the Hon. Slote finds his uses. He visits the departments with persistency. He is followed by a trail of officeseekers from home. He finds that he must wait like a servant in the ante-rooms of the secretaries. He does not wield much influence. His party leaders realize the value of his vote and order him to cast it when they want it. The qualities of the man bring him forward. He has been a heeler in the small politics of his own county and he becomes a wrestler with two or three hundred heelers from other parts of the republic. The professional widow, clad in the sable habiliments of woe, takes him into a quiet corner and leans against him hard. The Hon. Slote becomes wildly excited and promises to leg for her bill. He legs for it until it passes and goes up to the court of claims. Then the widow knows him no more. A young lady, with freshly colored cheeks and golden hair streaming down her back, looks at him tenderly in the House restaurant. He follows her outside the Capitol and boards a car with her and scrapes acquaintance with her, and goes back to his lean but fiery wife some time that night, looking and feeling like a dissipated tom cat stealing homeward over the roofs in the gray of a chilly morning. He is introduced to the poker game at Chamberlin's and finds that he can hold more big hands and get more of them beaten than in any place he ever saw in his life. He discovers that the whisky sold in the Capitol is sudden death at a distance of 150 yards against the wind. He draws his first month's wage of $416 and finds that his resolution to save $316 of it might as well not have been made. His mileage money has been spent long before. The fact is borne in on him that it is necessary only that he answer to his name at 12 o'clock roll call. He will not be allowed to make speeches anyhow and can, if he chooses, fill in his time talking to the professional widow and the young lady of the restaurant.

At the end of the two years' term he returns to his home a wiser man. He encourages the idea that in order to get good results it is necessary to return a congressman for many sessions. He has had a taste of the fleshpots. He is sent back. At the next session he is an "old member." His capacity for chicanery has been increased by experience. Having little morals to start with, he is now as utterly conscienceless as it is possible for a man to be and keep out of jail. He gets his bills through by "fine work." He prefers to be known as a mole that works under ground. He has formed an ability to add materially to his income. He would get rich, but for the fact that his expenses have increased with his earnings. He has from one to four female employes of the government "on his staff." He seeks constantly for youthful typewriters. He has learned to dress in a manner that does not shock the populace. His voice takes on an unctuous greasy timbre. He has become something of an authority on canvas-back and wines. His head is full of "schemes" and the pre-requisite of them all is governmental appropriation. In return for his vote in favor of several more or less iniquitous measures, grabs and steals, he has obtained appropriations for the federal building at Bungtown and the light house at Jim Ned creek. The money for the deep water harbor at Squashville is carried in the general rivers and harbors bill and he has hopes that the federal court will sit at Eden the next year. He is more solid with his constituents. Many of them have been made postmasters and railway postal clerks and inspectors of various kinds. One of them has even been given a consulate at Demerara and writes many letters home bearing strange looking stamps. The Hon. Slote at this period is puffy under the eyes. Three Turkish baths a week keep him going. His wife has learned not to question him too closely, and, possible, has found consolations of her own.

So he goes on from year to year. He does not sink any lower in the scale of morality, because already he is about as low as he can get. When a man reaches a stage where he depends for his living altogether on public office and to obtain that office is compelled to fight politicians with their own weapons, not much more need be said than a simple statement of the case. When the day of his decapitation arrives--and it comes to him soon or late--he is apt to develop into a lobbyist. Having been a congressman gives him the right to the floor of the House or Senate. He will be found later on championing any bill that has money in it, no matter how patent the steal.

This description of the Hon. Bardwell Slote, of Cohosh, is not in any way overdrawn. It is, in fact, conservative, If an exact portraiture of him were given, the ICONOCLAST would be unmailable. There are some men in the American House of Representatives who are ornaments to the Republic. They are honest, patriotic and intelligent. But they are woefully few. Slote may stand for the ruck of them. They are immoral and pestiferous demagogues, robbing the public whose pay they draw, and willing to go any length to maintain their seats. Washington is notoriously a rotten city, sexually and politically, and the representatives in Congress, more than any other component of the body civic, help to make it so.

This state of affairs will continue until men are chosen by the people distinctly for merit and past services, and for these things only. There are in the state of Texas to-day, and in every other state of the Union, for that matter, a hundred demagogues who are known to be demagogues. They have fed like buzzards upon the rotting offal of politics and the people continue to vote for them. Every now and then the ICONOCLAST reaches out and whacks one of them a fell blow upon his sconce, but, having tied up his head, he once again returns to his business of craving alms at the hands of his fellows.

If I wanted to send a daughter of mine to perdition, I would leave her in Washington dependent upon the influence of some congressman on the wrong side of forty. If I wished to insure for my son a liberal and eternal dose of hell-fire, I would set before him any one of two hundred representatives and tell him to follow their example in all things. The girl might land as a leader in low-necked bare-armed and swell-busted society or in a bagnio and the boy might land in Congress or in the penitentiary. Washington, D. C., November 23, 1897.

(The end)
William Cowper Brann's essay: Hon. Bardwell Slote, Of Cohosh

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