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Chapter XVII. Making Men

The chief value of any social movement lies perhaps in the influence it exerts upon the minds and hearts of the men and women who engage in it. In selecting my cabinet and in making other appointments I looked about for men who would be efficient and when I found one in whom efficiency and a belief in the fundamental principles of democracy were combined I knew that here was the highest type of public officer possible to get. I have stated that I made a good many mistakes in my first appointments, but it must be remembered that innumerable problems faced us. It was like organizing a new government, but more difficult, for we had the old established order with all its imperfections, its false standards and the results of years of wrong-doing to deal with. We really did not have a fair field in spite of the excellent plan of city government which Cleveland had when I was first elected. Men had become contaminated with the spirit of laxity at best, of exploitation at worst, but I soon learned that at bottom men are all right. They would rather be decent than otherwise, and if they have a chance to do really useful work they want to do it. The greatest thing our Cleveland movement did was to make men. It couldn’t be enjoined from doing that. The questions we raised not only attracted better men – men who couldn’t be interested in politics when it dealt chiefly with spoils, — but it also brought out the very best in men of less exalted ideals.

Many of my appointments gave offense to those within my own party and excited criticism outside. In order to avoid criticism one must follow precedent even when precedent is bad. According to established custom valuable jobs belong by all that is holy in politics to true and tried party workers. They are rewards for the workers. Instead of awarding these jobs as prizes I looked about for men best fitted for specialized public service. The minister of my church, a man of rare spirit and humanitarian impulses, was placed at the head of the charities and corrections, while I chose for city auditor a genial and popular Irishman who had been a liquor dealer. This appointment was offensive to the Puritanical element, while those who insisted on a “business man’s government” disapproved of the appointment of the minister. A College professor whose radicalism had resulted in enforced resignation from several colleges was given charge of the city water works with its hundreds of employees, much to the indignation of the Democratic organization. A delegation from the Buckeye Club, an influential Democratic society, called upon me to protest and ended by saying:

“You’ve got to discharge the professor or we’ll fight the administration.”

When they were all through I asked pleasantly:

“Is that your ultimatum, gentlemen?”

They answered with emphasis that it was. I smiled and said:

“Very well; I think I ought to tell you now that I am not going to discharge the professor.”

A brilliant young college graduate just working his way into practice was made city solicitor, to the amused scorn of some of the wiseacres in the profession. An aggressive Populist, regarded by practically the whole community as a wild-eyed anarchist, was entrusted with the important office of city clerk, a young Republican councilman was selected to take charge of the department of public works and a Republican policeman was raised from the ranks and made chief.

There were plenty of predictions of the disasters sure to follow this unheard-of manner of making appointments, but time justified them so completely that, even my bitterest enemies didn’t charge me with making weak appointments.

As time went on our organization gathered to itself a group of young fellows of a type rarely found in politics – college men with no personal ambitions to serve, students of social problems known to the whole community as disinterested, high-minded, clean-lived individuals. Over and over again the short-sighted majority which cannot recognize a great moral movement when it appears as a political movement, and which knows nothing of the contagion of a great idea attributed the interest and activity of these young fellows to some baneful influence on my part. “Johnson has them hypnotized,” was the usual explanation of their devotion to our common cause.

In selecting its servants Privilege had never cared a straw to which party men belong. It is quite as ready to use those of one political faith as those of another. The people have been slow to profit by the lessons they might have learned from the methods of their exploiters.

Though our work had been hampered by injunctions at every turn and on every possible occasion our political strength was growing and the personnel of the administration improving in every way. More and more the men connected with us were coming to comprehend the economic questions underlying our agitation.

When the time for another mayoralty election came round we had carried four successive elections, had a Democratic administration, a Democratic council, a majority of the county offices, Democrats in the school council and a Democratic school director in the person of Starr Cadwallader, and for the first time in many years there were Cuyahoga county Democrats in the State legislature. Not injunctions, not court decisions, not acts of the State legislature nor all of these agencies combined had been able to prevent the people from expressing their will through their ballots. I was more eager to succeed myself as mayor than I could possibly have been had our plans been permitted to work out without encountering the opposition of Privilege.

If Big Business was somewhat passive in the campaign of 1901, quite the reverse was true in 1903.

I had by this time incurred the enmity of the tax-escaping public service corporations and big landlords and of the low dive-keepers and gamblers, all of whose privileges had suffered under my administration. The opposition of these interests was augmented by various other groups allied with them in greater or less degree. Many of the church and temperance people opposed me because the town was wide open, while some of the saloons opposed me because the night and Sunday closing laws were too rigidly enforced.

Getting ready to pitch the tent in the Public Square, Cleveland, 1902
Getting ready to pitch the tent in the Public Square, Cleveland, 1902

The civil service reformers and the party spoilsmen had their grievances, the former because we had not practiced the merit system with regard to city employees, the latter because we had. The Municipal Association, an organization supposed to be distinctly non-partisan and above the influences of Privilege, having for its object the consideration and recommendation of candidates to voters, issued an eleventh hour manifesto showing that the city administration had been very lax in enforcing some of the laws most necessary to the well-being of the municipality.

Let me repeat what I have previously said, that it isn’t necessary for Privilege to bribe men with money, with promises, or even with the hope of personal reward, if it can succeed in fooling them. It is this insidious power, this intangible thing which is hard to detect and harder to prove, this indirect influence which is the most dangerous factor in politics to-day.

The Republicans nominated Harvey D. Goulder, a leading lawyer, president of the Chamber of Commerce and a prominent member of the Union Club. I conducted my campaign on the lines of my earlier contests and when Mr. Goulder refused to debate the issues – three-cent fare, municipal ownership of street car lines, and just taxation – with me I conceived the idea of sending a stenographer to his meetings to take verbatim reports of his speeches in order that I might reply to them in my own meetings. The nearest we ever came to a personal meeting was at a political gathering to which we had both been invited. When I arrived Mr. Goulder’s haste to get away and his evident ill-nature at being caught in the same room with me caused him to say some unpleasant things about the Jewish club whose guests we were, from which it was inferred that he was accusing someone in the hall of having stolen his overcoat. The coat had simply been mislaid and was soon found. I felt sorry for Mr. Goulder. I didn’t think he really intended to insinuate that the coat had been stolen, but the incident made him a lot of trouble.

In order to curry favor with union labor the Republicans conceived the brilliant idea of nominating for vice mayor Solomon Sontheimer, president of the Central Labor Union. In their speeches some of the Republicans referred to the widely separated interests represented on the ticket by Mr. Goulder and Mr. Sontheimer as a “marriage between capital and labor.” This marriage was doomed to quick divorce, for a on election day, when I was elected over Mr. Goulder by about six thousand votes, Charles W. Lapp, the Democratic candidate for vice mayor, won over the Republican, Mr. Sontheimer, by upwards of ten thousand. It had been a bitter campaign and nothing was left undone by the Interests through the Republican organization, aided by a goodly number of Democrats, to beat us. The enemy had an unlimited purse, but how extensively it was used could only be guessed at. In 1901, it will be remembered, I was the only Democrat elected on the general ticket; in 1903 we carried every office on that ticket. Newton D. Baker was elected city solicitor, Henry D. Coffinberry, city treasurer, J. P. Madigan, city auditor, and for directors of public service, Harris R. Cooley, William J. Springborn and Daniel E. Leslie. With few exceptions these officers were already serving the city as appointees of the mayor under the old plan of city government, and we worked together now as we had then like one harmonious family. Most of these officers cooperated as heartily with me as if they were still subject to appointment and removal by the chief executive.

Mr. Baker, though the youngest of us, was really head of the cabinet and principal adviser to us all. He had been an invaluable public servant and is still city solicitor, having been returned to office in each successive election, even in 1909, when I was defeated with the majority of our ticket. Newton Baker as a lawyer was pitted against the biggest lawyers in the State. No other city solicitor has ever had the same number of cases crowded into his office in the same length of time, nor so large a crop of injunctions to respond to, and in my judgment there isn’t another man in the State who could have done the work so well. He ranks with the best, highest-paid, corporation lawyers in ability and had held his public office at a constant personal sacrifice. This low-paid city official has seen every day in the courtroom lawyers getting often five times the fee for bringing a suit that he got for defending it. He did for the people for love what other lawyers did for the corporations for money.

Mr. Cooley, who had been at the head of the city’s charitable and correctional institutions from the very beginning of my administration, continued in this department, the duties of the new public service board being divided upon lines which assigned to him this field for which he was so admirably adapted. If service of a higher order on humanitarian lines had ever been rendered to any municipality than that rendered by Mr. Cooley to Cleveland, I have yet to hear of it. His convictions as to the causes of poverty and crime coincided with my own. Believing as we did that society was responsible for poverty and that poverty was the cause of much of the crime in the world, we had no enthusiasm for punishing individuals. We were agreed that the root of the evil must be destroyed, and that in the meantime delinquent men, women and children were to be cared for by the society which had wrong them – not as object of charity, but as fellow-beings who had been deprived of the opportunity to get on in the world. With this broad basis on which to build, the structure of this department of Cleveland’s city government has attracted the attention of the whole civilized world. How small the work of philanthropists with their gifts of dollars appears, compared to the work of this man who gave men hope- a man who while doing charitable things never lost sight of the fact that justice and not charity would have to solve the problems with which he was coping.

In the very beginning Mr. Cooley came to me and said, “The immediate problem that is facing me is these men in the workhouse, some three hundred of them. I’ve been preaching the Golden Rule for many years; now I’m literally challenged to put it into practice. I know very well that we shall be misunderstood, criticized and probably severely opposed if we do to these prisoners as we would be done by.”

“Well, if it’s right, go ahead and do it anyhow,” I answered, and that was the beginning of a parole system that pardoned eleven hundred and sixty men and women in the first two years of our administration. To show what an innovation this was it is well to state that in the same length of time the previous administration had pardoned eighty-four. The correctness of the principle on which the parole system is based and the good results of its practice are now so generally accepted that it could not again encounter the opposition it met when Mr. Cooley instituted it in Cleveland. The newspapers and the churches – those two might makers of public opinion – were against it, yet it was successful from the very start.

In his first annual report Mr. Cooley recommended that a farm colony be established in the country within ten or twelve miles of the city, where all the city’s charges, the old, the sick, the young and the delinquent might be cared for. To quote his own words:

“Underneath this movement back to the land are simple fundamental principles. The first is that normal environment has a strong tendency to restore men to normal mental and physical condition. The second is that the land furnishes the largest opportunities for the aged and the defective to use whatever power and the talents they possess. In shop and factory the man who cannot do his full work is crowded out. Upon the land the men past their prime, the crippled, the weak can always find some useful work.

“Before the end of his nine years’ service Mr. Cooley’s hope was in part at least realized. From time to time the city purchased land upon his recommendation until twenty-five farms – nearly two thousand acres in all – had been acquired. The city council voted to name this great acreage the Cooley Farms, and so it is known. It is divided in the Colony Farm, which has taken the place of the old infirmary or city almshouse, the Overlook Farm for tuberculosis patients, the Correction Farm for workhouse prisoners, the Highland Park Farm, the municipal cemetery. Then there is the farm of two hundred and eight-five acres at Hudson, twenty-three miles from the city, which is the Boys’ Home. This farm was the first of the city’s purchases and the land was bought at less than forty-four dollars an acre. Here in eight cottages, each in charge of a master and matron, the boys from the juvenile court find a temporary home. There is no discipline suggesting a reformatory. There are schools with some manual training in addition to the regular school curriculum, and the care of the stock and other farm work to occupy the boys. The principle is the same as that of the George Junior Republic, but adapted to municipal needs. The boys respond wonderfully to the normal environment provided here. The juvenile court, though a state institution, always had the hearty support of the city administration and the court and the Boys’ Home have cooperated most successfully.

The city’s purchase of the first eight hundred and fifty acres of the Cooley Farms, on which the whole magnificent project hinged, was almost prevented by special privilege. Everything the administration attempted had come to be the object of its attack and at the time we no longer had a majority in the council. One Monday afternoon Mr. Cooley took one of our friendly councilmen out to the farm to show it to him. As something of the greatness of the proposed work dawned upon the man he grew enthusiastic and expressed himself most feelingly in favor of it. That night at the council meeting, when the purchase of the land was under consideration, this man got up and denounced the whole plan in a speech so bitterly sarcastic that it was with extreme difficulty that we saved the day. His speech all but defeated the appropriation. Mr. Cooley was so surprised that he could hardly credit the evidence of his own senses. It was perfectly clear that the councilman had “been seen,” between the time he had visited the farm site with Mr. Cooley in the afternoon and the hour of the council meeting at night. Mr. Cooley felt, as I did, that the enemy might at least have spared this project. The appropriation was made, the farm was purchased, but the incident had sad consequences.

The councilman – a young fellow – had undoubtedly gone into his office with the thought of doing good work and making it a stepping-stone to bigger and better service. When he talked with Mr. Cooley in the afternoon it was himself, the real man in him, that spoke. He believed in Mr. Cooley’s work. What happened between that time and the hour of the council meeting we do not know, but that man was never quite the same afterwards. Somehow he had been undone. He has since died. He wasn’t bad, but Privilege came along and laid hands upon him and spoiled his chance. Its path is strewn with tragedies like this.

All of the departments under Mr. Cooley were placed on a new basis, each as radical and as rational as the parole system or the method of conducting the Boys’ Home. Over the entrance to the Old Couples’ Cottage is inscribed, “To lose money is better than to lose love,” and the old men and women, instead of being separated as formerly and simply herded until death takes them away, live together now, and useful employment is provided for all who are able to work, for idleness is the great destroyer of happiness. Especial care has been taken to better the surroundings of the crippled and the sick. The buildings on Colony Farm are of marble dust plaster finish with red tile roofs and the Spanish mission style of architecture. Beautifully located on a ridge six hundred feet above the city, they look out onto Lake Erie ten miles away. A complete picture of the buildings, even to the olive trees which are one day to grow in the court and the fountain which is to splash in the center, to the canary birds singing in gilt cages in the windows of the cottages, to the old ladies sitting at their spinning wheels in the sun and to the old men cobbling shoes or working in wood in the shops, existed in Mr. Cooley’s mind when the city bought the first of the land and long before a spadeful of earth had been turned in excavating.

The tuberculosis sanitarium is half a mile from the colony group, protected by a forest of seventy acres on the north and northwest and looking out over open country on the other sides. Here is waged an unequal contest with a disease which science can never eliminate until the social and industrial conditions which are responsible for it are changed. A mile and a half from the Colony Farm is the Correction Farm for the workhouse prisoners. The men come and go as they like from their work on the farm, at excavating for new buildings or quarrying stone. Refractory prisoners, instead of being dealt with by the old brutalizing methods, are bathed and given clean clothes and then sent off by themselves to reflect – not to solitary confinement in dark cells but to one of the “sun dungeons” originated by Mr. Cooley. These rooms – three of them – in one of the towers of the building are painted white, and flooded with light, sunshine and fresh air. It is part of Mr. Cooley’s theory that men need just such surroundings to put them in a normal state of mind when they are feeling ill used or ugly. – “Sending them to the Thinking Tower,” he calls it. – A volume would be inadequate to give even a partial conception of this branch of our administration’s activities.

All of the land in the city farms has increased greatly in value since it was purchased. Purely as a business venture it has been a good investment. Its value as a social investment cannot be estimated.

William J. Springborn, who had been so valuable a member of the city council, proved equal to the duties of his new office. He had charge of all the business department, the engineering contracts, the building of bridges, the paving of streets, etc. He had had experience enough in both business and politics to keep out corruption and prevent grafting. His biggest work was in connection with contractors where the highest degree of watchfulness and efficiency is required. The conduct of Mr. Springborn’s department was always a matter of price with the administration, and great was the consternation of his friends and exceeding great the jubilation of his enemies when the newspapers, in sensational headlines, told a story one morning of how Mr. Springborn had been buncoed. He had been swindled in a most artistic manner, the principal mover in the game being a man whom he had known for many years. A few days before this story came out he had told me he was going out of town on a business errand, and though he explained very little of the contemplated transaction to me it aroused my suspicions. I begged him to take a lawyer with him. He refused. I then threatened to send a detective to watch him but I saw I was hurting his feelings, so I gave it up. I knew I’d have to abandon my plan of helping him and let him go and buy his experience. When he got home from South Bend, Ind., where the swindle was perpetrated, I sent for him. He came to me at once, explained everything fully, freely, and said that he realized that he was deeply disgraced, that he should have to withdraw at once from his church in which he had been a worker for a long time, and from the public service, so that no odium might attach to church or city because of his demoralization. I remember that I asked him just one question – “Will, did you rob anybody?” “No, I was robbed,” was his answer. “Then,” I said, ” I won’t hear to your resigning or in any way showing the white feather. It is no crime to be robbed, the crime is in the robbing. You’ll stay and I’ll stay with you.” His answer to my own question made me understand all I needed to know about the case. His church friends and many of his old admirers were less lenient, but they later saw their error, for Mr. Springborn continued his city work and his efficiency was in no way impaired – if anything, he was better equipped after the unfortunate occurrence than before. Politicians – enemies – made a great deal of the matter and tried to ruin his reputation, but without success. The principal in the bunco game was sent to the penitentiary.

Mr. Leslie had charge of the parks and the market houses. He made the children feel that the parks really belonged to them and continued our policy of summer and winter sports.

The waterworks had long since been placed in charge of Professor Bemis, who kept politics out and business in, in the conduct of this department, better than it had ever been done before. Formerly the waterworks department had provided places for lots of good party workers. Professor Bemis did away with all that. He was invaluable also in our State taxation fights, and our local street railway contests, for he was the expert on valuations of public service corporations.

Peter Witt was elected city clerk in May, 1903, and held that office as long as I was mayor, though a hostile council once elected in his place someone who never succeeded in getting possession of the office, the supreme court holding that the other man had not been legally chosen.

No the least notable of the men associated with my administration was Fred Kohler, whom I appointed chief of police at the beginning of my second term. Kohler had been on the police force since 1889. He was a patrolman at first, later a sergeant, then a lieutenant, and for the first five months of my administration a captain in charge of the first police district with headquarters at the central station. Kohler seems to have shown unusual ability almost from the beginning of his connection with the police department and for that reason he was more or less unpopular, arousing the jealousy of the less efficient. Only strong men make enemies and if Kohler’s strength is to be measured by the enemies he has made he deserves to rank with the strongest. Some of our partisan party workers brought tales about Kohler to me. I had no reason to suspect these persons of ulterior motives, and thinking I was acting in the best interests of the city I caused him to be removed from the down town district and stationed in an outlying section of the city. Being “sent to the woods,” as this was called, was very inconvenient for Kohler as it made his headquarters some six miles from his home. But he went without protest and continued to do good work. After a while I began to suspect that I had been fooled about Kohler and one day I sent for him to come to my house to see me. He came. I liked his looks and I liked his manner. He inspired me with confidence at once. I was sure now that he had been maligned and I told him so.

“I have done you an injustice,” I said, ” and I’ve just found it out. How would you like to be chief?”

“I haven’t asked for it,” he answered. “I’m a Republican.”

“I don’t care anything about your politics and I know you haven’t asked for anything.”

As soon as the way was clear, then, that is, May 1, 1903, Fred Kohler was appointed chief of police of the city of Cleveland and he is still serving in that capacity. While I was mayor I had more complaints on account of him than on account of any other city official, but I found that the chief was almost invariably in the right.

I couldn’t hold men responsible for their work unless I backed them in what they did, and a man I wasn’t willing to back I felt ought not to hold the office. I demanded and expected the best. My fellow-workers knew this and it was not often that they failed to come up to my expectations.

Nobody connected with the administration originated more improvements in his department than Kohler did. I was frequently given personal credit for innovations which properly belonged to the chief. After we got to working together he never worried me with details. He had that judgment so rare in executive officers which made him rely on himself. He discourages indiscriminate arrests; he gave orders that men merely drunk should be taken home instead of dragged into police court and made to suffer the humiliation of a fine and branded with a police court record. The greatest efficiency was no longer measured by the number of arrests an officer made.

FRED KOHLER, CHIEF OF POLICE "He got results and on these results he built what has come to be known as the Golden Rule policy."
“He got results and on these results he built what has come to be known as the Golden Rule policy.”
HARRIS R. COOLEY "If service of a higher order on humanitarian lines has ever been rendered to any city than that rendered by Mr. Cooley to Cleveland I have yet to hear of it."
“If service of a higher order on humanitarian lines has ever been rendered to any city than that rendered by Mr. Cooley to Cleveland I have yet to hear of it.”

Kohler’s practices coincided well with the policy of our charities and corrections department. But he arrived at his conclusions from an entirely different line of reasoning than Mr. Cooley had arrived at his. Cooley was an idealist, the gentlest of men, the son of a minister, himself a minister who applied Christianity. To him the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount were personal commands. He never asked whether a thing was expedient, but always whether it was right. Now Kohler had been brought up in a different school. Police service isn’t especially calculated to develop the softer virtues. Kohler is German, with the masterful race characteristics strong in him. He is a martinet with his men, — his discipline almost military. He arrived at his conclusions after the most thorough tests of his various methods. He got results and on these results he built what has come to be known as the Golden Rule policy – a name Kohler never applied to it. He called it common sense and so it was, but then so is the Golden Rule for that matter.

Kohler always had enemies. Whether he kept the same ones or raised a new lot annually does not matter. They were always there. These enemies had their best chance after I left the City Hall and their terrific attack on his personal character and his official record culminated, in the summer of 1910, in his suspension as chief and in his trials before what was considered an inimical tribunal – the civil service commission – with the result that though all the years of his record were searched in the hope of finding something which would reflect unfavorably upon him, he was completely exonerated and immediately restored to office.


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