This is an excellent excerpt from the book “DOLLAROCRACY: How the MONEY and MEDIA ELECTION COMPLEX Is DESTROYING AMERICA” by John Nichols/ Robert W. McChesney from Chapter 1 on page 17 and I quote: “The American Battle – The tension between democracy and plutocracy from the beginning has revolved around the franchise: who is permitted to vote and who is not. The framers of the constitution—many of whom had considerable property holdings and were upper class—struggled to balance their desire for a republic that could prevent the tyranny of a monarch on the one hand with their concern on the other about excessive popular rule in a society where the poor constituted a majority and would likely challenge the prerogatives of property owners. Although Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine forcefully advocated universal male suffrage, theirs was a minority position. Even for white males alone, James Madison was dubious about universal suffrage, while John Adams was downright hostile. If men without property could vote, Adams states, “an immediate revolution would ensue.”
John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, was hardly outside the mainstream when he stated—in what could be regarded as Dollarocracy’s guiding principle—that “those who own the country ought to govern it.” This was a recurring battle. At the founding of the republic, members of Congress were chosen by a tiny elite of the wealthy, white, and male. An epic contest for Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District seat in the first Congress of the United States pitted the man who would be the fourth president, James Madison, against the man who would be the fifth president, James Monroe. Yet it attracted barely 2,000 voters. The definitional presidential election of 1800, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, was decided by a total of 68,000 voters in a country where the census of that year counted a population of 5.3 million. Even those who voted found themselves frequently disenfranchised, as in 1800 when the legislatures of Georgia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania rejected the popular vote and simply appointed representatives to the Electoral College. And the constrained and convoluted processes of selecting House members and presidents stood out as marvels of democratic enterprise when compared to the selection of senators, which was entirely by legislative fiat in a process defined by bribes, backroom deals, intimidation, and a fair measure of physical violence.
By 1824, for example, nearly fifty years after the Declaration of Independence declared that all men are created equal, only 27 percent of voting-age white males cast ballots in the presidential race. Requirements that white men own property in order to cast ballots remained on the books in many states at that point. The rules would change radically in the subsequent decades, but universal adult suffrage did not become the rule until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Even as the franchise has been extended, however, the nation’s economy increasingly has come to be dominated by large national and multinational corporations and wealthy individuals. Thus, the tension between democracy and plutocracy has continued to be influenced by the power of money. Reform has come in fits and starts. Andrew Jackson broke the patterns of a paternal elite that handed the presidency from one wealthy family to the next: of the first six presidents, three were neighbors from the plantation country around Charlottesville, Virginia (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe), and two were father and son (the Adames of Quincy, Massachusetts), Jackson beat an Adams, John Quincy, in 1828, and then had to battle the Bank of the United States, which spent an unprecedented $40,000 to try to defeat him in 1832. The seventh president beat the latter challenge by establishing a patronage system that filled government posts with political allies, who showed their appreciation by kicking back campaign money.
The wealthy made their comeback in the 1850s, when a Pennsylvania railroad and banking magnate named Simon Cameron came up with the “Pennsylvania Idea,” a model for financing campaigns that encouraged banks and large corporations to steer a portion of their profits toward the project of maintaining Republican control of the state legislature. With that control, Cameron was able to have himself and his son named to the U.S. Senate (in an era when senators were selected by legislators rather than the people), to draw election district lines, to guide the selection of members of the Electoral College, and to eventually position himself to become Lincoln’s first secretary of war. Cameron was so crooked that he was soon bounced from the Lincoln administration, but he quickly engineered his return to the Senate, where he brought a measure of realism to that chamber’s deliberations by suggesting that “an honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.” Cameron and his generation of corporate contributors bought plenty of top-shelf candidates.
In 1873, as the rot of what came to be described as the “Gilded Age” was becoming evident, the incoming chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Edward Ryan, told the graduating class of the University of Wisconsin Law School that “the accumulation of wealth [is] the handmaiden of disaster” for all civilizations. He further asserted that the democratic promise by those who failed to recognize that economic liberty—freedom from want, a level playing field, a fair distribution of the wealth—was the essential underpinning of political freedom.
“There is looming up a new dark power,” Ryan warned. “The accumulation of individual wealth seems to be greater than it has been since the downfall of the Roman Empire. The enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economic conquest only, but for political power,” the aging patriot declared. “For the first time in our politics money is taking the field of organized power. The question will arise, and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine, which shall rule—wealth or man; which shall lead—money or intellect; who shall fill public stations—educated and patriotic free men, or the feudal serfs of corporate wealth?”
The targets of Ryan’s attack were the robber barons, who ran wild in the Gilded Age and made presidents, senators, governors, and mayors their errand boys. William Vanderbilt famously declared, “The public be damned!” His father, Cornelius, is reputed to have mused, “What do I care about the law? Ain’t I got the power?” The Gilded Age’s political “genius,” the man who connected corporate dollars to political dominance, was Mark Hanna of Ohio. “There are two things that are important in politics,” the legendary Republican kingmaker explained in 1895. “The first is money and I can’t remember what the other one is.” Hanna, a hero of Karl Rove, has come to symbolize the politics of that age. But his abuses were a symptom of the broader disease.
By 1887, the retired nineteenth president of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes, observed:
It is time for the public to hear that the giant evil and danger in this country, the
danger which transcends all others, is the vast wealth owned or controlled by a
few persons. Money is power. In Congress, in state legislatures, in city councils,
in the courts, in the political conventions, in the press, in the pulpit, in the circles
of the educated and the talented, its influence is growing greater and greater. Ex-
cessive wealth in the hands of the few means extreme poverty, ignorance, vice,
and wretchedness as the lot of the many.”
Playing off of Lincoln’s stirring defense in the Gettysburg Address of the Civil War’s appalling carnage as being justifiable only if it protected democracy, Hayes further wrote, “This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government by the corporations, of the corporations, and for the corporations.” Several decades later, as the crisis continued, Justice Louis Brandeis of the Supreme Court argued in a similar vein, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
Over time, the demands that the Money Power placed on America became so great that America pushed back. Edward Ryan’s speech inspired “the righteous reformer,” Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin, to fight as a governor, senator, and founder of the Progressive movement against this power. Alarmed by revelations regarding the human wreckage left in the wake of the Gilded Age—evidence of which was detailed in the pioneering reports of muckraking journalists such as Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, Ida B. Wells, Ida Tarbell, and Jacob Riis—an outcry from a new generation of progressive reformers, socialists, and social-gospel Christians rose against what Theodore Roosevelt described as “every evil man whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, in business, or in social life.” La Follette and Progressives enacted groundbreaking reforms that would for a time make real the promise that “the will of the people shall be the law of the land.”
Historians of the Progressive Era focus much of their attention on the consumer and labor reforms of the time—food and drug protections, regulation of wages and hours, workplace-safety initiatives, and the banning of child labor. But there also was an early and ongoing recognition that the corruption of politics by corporate elites represented the most critical of all threats posed by the “grave evils” that Roosevelt said could be found lurking in “the body politic, economic and social.”
So it was that the reformers focused on electoral reforms—secret ballots, voter registration programs, suffrage for women—and, above all, on getting corporate money out of politics. Roosevelt, who had initially played the political game as it was set up by Hanna and the broad network of corporate donors he used to control elections and elected officials, broke with the Republican machine and announced in his 1905 message to Congress that “contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.” Roosevelt was proposing a sweeping challenge to the Money Power, declaring that “not only should both the National and the several state Legislatures forbid any officer of a corporation from using the money of the corporation in or about any election, but they should also forbid such use of money in connection with any legislation save by the employment of counsel in public manner for distinctly legal services.”
La Follette, now a senator, and Senator Ben Tillman of South Carolina took up the fight, with the Wisconsin legislator traveling across the country to rally the masses in support of legislation that would make it
unlawful for any national bank, or any corporation organized by authority of any
laws of Congress, to make a money contribution in connection with any election
to any political office. It shall also be unlawful for any corporation whatever to
make a money contribution in connection with any election at which Presidential
and Vice-Presidential electors or a Representative in Congress is to be voted for
or any election by any State legislature of a United States Senator. Every corpo-
ration which shall make any contribution in violation of the foregoing provisions
shall be subject to a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, and every officer
or director of any corporation who shall consent to any contribution by the cor-
poration in violation of the foregoing provisions shall upon conviction be punished
by a fine of not exceeding one thousand and not less than two hundred and fifty
dollars, or by imprisonment for a term of not more than one year, or both such
fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the court.”
The resulting Tillman Act was passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by Roosevelt in 1907. Its reach would be extended by the Publicity Act of 1910 and by 1911 amendments to both measures that were intended to address corporate manipulation of party primaries. Unfortunately, the lack of effective enforcement mechanisms and the existence of loopholes meant that corporations merely gamed the system by directing officers and employees to make personal campaign contributions to favored candidates and then providing bonuses to these officers and employees in the amount of their contributions.
The battle against the power of money over elections and politics was carried on by countless Americans across the nation. Consider Burton K. Wheeler, a crusading Montana district attorney and legislator who chased the moneylenders from the temples of American politics a century ago. Wheeler framed his activism as a patriotic and moral crusade. “Gentlemen,” he declared,”We stand only to place humanity above the dollar.”
Wheeler, an epic political figure of twentieth-century public life, was a senator, as well as a vice presidential candidate and seriously considered presidential prospect, who wrangled mightily with Republican and Democratic presidents, battled corporate titans, and defended the constitution across the most difficult decades of the century. As La Follette’s running mate on the independent Progressive presidential ticket of 1924, he helped to shape the outlines of the New Deal. He went on to work with, and sometimes battle with, FDR through the entirety of its implementation. But Wheeler’s defining moment came decades earlier, in the mining country of Montana, where he risked his life, his fortune, and his political prospects to join in organizing a victorious initiative in 1912 that forever banned corporate contributions to Montana candidates and political parties, thereby breaking the stranglehold of corporate cash on the government of a western state that had been ceded to the copper barons.
“We are opposed to private ownership of public officials,” announced Wheeler and the reformers who ended the dictatorial reign of the Anaconda Copper Mining (ACM) Company over Montana politics. “If elected, I will not put the ACM out of business. But I will put it out of politics.” Wheeler and his compatriots, battling across decades and against the threat of violence in a region where labor leaders and Progressives were jailed, assaulted, and lynched for their activism, finally pr4evailed. They did not completely close the spigots of the Money Power. But they tightened them enough to open a new era of clean government in Montana.
By the time La Follette and Wheeler ran on the Progressive Party ticket in 1924, the party’s platform announced:
The great issue before the American people today is the control of government
and industry by private monopoly. For a generation the people have struggled
patiently, in the face of repeated betrayals by successive administrations, to free
themselves from this intolerable power which has been undermining represen-
Through control of government, monopoly has steadily extended its absolute
dominion to every basic industry.
In violation of law, monopoly has crushed competition, stifled private initiative
and independent enterprise, and without fear of punishment now exacts extor-
tionate profits upon every necessity of life consumed by the public. The equality
of opportunity proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence and asserted and
defended by Jefferson and Lincoln as the heritage of every American citizen has
been displaced by special privilege for the few, wrested from the government of
La Follette’s was the most successful third-party run against the Money Power in American history. It certainly contributed to slowing the march of the plutocrats, but it did not prevail. Over the next fifty years, lawmakers, jurists, and presidents would wrestle with this power. They could briefly gain the political advantage, as when Franklin Roosevelt denounced the “economic royalists” and pledged to do battle with “the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, [who have] reached out for control over government itself.””
(EARLY FRAMERS OF OUR GOVERNMENT AND IT STILL PREVAILS TODAY, BELIEVED THAT “THOSE WHO OWN THE COUNTRY OUGHT TO GOVERN IT.” THAT’S WHY THE VOTING PROCEDURES IN THE 1800s WERE SO IMPORTANT AS THEY ARE TODAY. THAT’S EXACTLY WHY PRESIDENT OBAMA IS HAVING HIS ATTORNEY GENERAL CHALLENGE DOWN IN TEXAS, CONCERNING VOTING RIGHTS, AS WELL AS THE GERRYMANDERING THE REPUBLICANS DID TO CUT OUT ANY POSSIBILITY OF THE DEMOCRATS GAINING POWER EVEN THOUGH THE DEMOCRATS STATE-WIDE HAD MORE VOTES THAN THE REPUBLICANS. THE SAME THING HAPPENED IN WISCONSIN AND THE MAP LOOKED TOTALLY RIDICULOUS. THE REPUBLICANS HAD IT LOOKING LIKE A PIECE OF SWISS CHEESE. I UNDERSTAND THAT THE PEOPLE OF IOWA HAVE A NON-POLITICAL GROUP DRAW THE BOUNDARIES, FOR THE BENEFIT OF ALL THE PEOPLE, NOT JUST THE POLITICAL PARTIES. SO THINGS REALLY HAVEN’T CHANGED OVER THE YEARS. PEOPLE WITH MONEY WANT TOTAL CONTROL SO THEY CAN KEEP MAKING MORE MONEY. WHILE THE 1 PERCENT PROSPERS THROUGH A CORRUPT VOTING PRACTICE, THE 99 PERCENT KEEP ON SUFFERING MORE AND MORE, ALONG WITH THEIR UNION FRIENDS, WHICH HELPED ESTABLISH A MINIMUM WAGE AND PENSIONS FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS, WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY WITH THE 1 PERCENT MAKING RIDICULOUS PROFITS AND HIDING the AMOUNTS OFFSHORE.
LaVern Isely, Overtaxed Independent Middle Class Taxpayer & Public Citizen & AARP Members