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Shapley, Rufus Edmonds.

Solid for Mulhooly; a Political Satire.

Philadelphia: Gebbie & Co., 1889.

Rufus Shapley was a well-respected corporate lawyer in Philadelphia who became known for his writings on political humor. He published his Solid for Mulhooly first in 1881, and then again in 1889 with a new preface and new illustrations from the famous political cartoonist Thomas Nast. The new edition is reproduced here.

Nast was the perfect choice to illustrate this particular book since he was the cartoonist for Harper's Weekly who had contributed so much to the downfall of William Marcy Tweed, the "Boss" Tweed whose corruption controlled New York Democratic politics. (Tweed, in fact, was so desperate to have Nast out of the way that he offered him a huge sum of money to "tour Europe.") The Bavarian born Nast, undeniably the most famous cartoonist of his day despite not being able to read or write adequately, was also responsible for the invention of the twin caricatures of the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey. In the end, though, Nast had not been able to break the grip of Tammany Hall on New York politics, however, where essential control remained until the election of Fiorello La Guardia in 1934. In fact, big city control and corruption was fairly common across the United States in the later nineteenth century. New York, Kansas City, and Baltimore were under the control of Democratic supporting "rings," while Pittsburgh and Shapley's own Philadelphia were firmly in the hands of Republican supporting interests known as the "Gas Ring," led from the shadows by James McManus. Both Shapley and Nast had a history of supporting Republican politics, and in his preface Shapley warns the public not to allow the fall of Tweed to lull them into a false security. He also appends in his new edition a long Baltimore newspaper report from September 1888 that explains how a convicted felon became deputy warden of the Baltimore City Jail through influence and corruption in that Democratic city.

With a mix of comic lightness and harsh anti-Irish opinion, Shapley lays out a particularly Democratic model for big city political corruption in Solid for Mulhooly. Born in a hovel in Ireland, his satirical hero comes to the New World and as a child continues his schooling while working as a sweeper in a "grog-shop" in an unnamed big city. He is naturalized after only two years, instead of the legal five, and gains the attention of the local ward bosses through his willingness to use his fists. In droll description, Shapley chronicles his hero's rise from the Ward Committee to the City Committee, and on to the Municipal Legislature, with increased income all the way. Shapley explains carefully how the system of patronage and bribery reaches its almost unassailable position. Under the careful grooming of the prosaically named under-boss, Blossom Brick, whose personal rules include statements such as "only make them believe they rule and they are happy," Mulhooly is selected as the Ring's candidate for the U.S. Congress. The remainder of the story explains how influence, crooked judges - especially useful in a mid-campaign libel trial - and dirty tricks are used to beat back the substantial challenge of the "Reform Candidate."

Clearly, Shapley reflects the frustration of many of the time at the choking control of political corruption in several American cities. But he also strikes very hard at the role of immigration in continued urban boss control; indeed, many New York immigrants did not have to wait even as long as Mulhooly for the accelerated right to vote. In his preface to the new edition Shapley complains that the "newly naturalized foreigner" has the same vote for President that anyone does. He goes on to say that "unintelligent and irresponsible voters" - who he says outnumber the rest by five to one - coupled with the election fraud that "so nearly precipitated the country into open revolution" in the presidential elections of 1876 and 1884 are the two greatest problems facing the Republic. The clear corruption of the patronage system among newly arrived citizens notwithstanding, Shapley also represents a native resentment towards immigration that was to grow as the nineteenth century drew on. His satire mentions nothing of other methods of control, like the alliance of big business and politics, or the manipulation of local voting practices.

The story goes that while Shapley himself was giving a speech in support of the re-election of Republican Mayor William S. Stokley in 1881, his own satire was being read aloud at a mass meeting for the "reform" opponent, Samuel King, who was ultimately victorious. "Reform" in Philadelphia lasted only one term, however; Republican control was broken only three times between 1860 and 1952. Finally, one must reflect on the irony that Nast himself, Shapley's illustrator, was a first generation American who could hardly read and yet was rewarded by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 with the post of consul-general to Ecuador, where unfortunately he soon died of yellow fever.

Researched and authored by John Osborne, Ph. D.

Page created: July 2, 2003                                            close window