Be It Resolved, That a complimentary dinner be given to Colonel Strong at Delmonico's at such time as may best suit his convenience."
At the close of Colonel Strong's presidency of our Society, and as he was about to enter upon his duties as mayor of this great city, a universal desire was expressed that an opportunity should be given for all the members to meet him and take him by the hand; to express to him their gratitutde for his long and manifold services to the Society, their esteem and affection for him as a man, and to declare their faith to the people of this city from their intimate knowledge of the man, that he will resolutely, cleanly and wisely discharge the duties of the important office to which he has been called.
And our Society feels that under the circumstances it has a peculiar and special interest in this job -- this cleaning of the Tammany augean stable, and a good honest business government for our city.
Coming here from our native state of Ohio, becoming citizens of this great city and state, rearing and educating our children under the city's government, its laws and influences, intending to live out our lives and work out our fortunes in your midst, we feel that we have as deep and abiding an interest in the prosperity, the good name, and honor of this great imperial city as any one born within her walls; and is it presumption in us to say that the descendants of the Revolutionary heroes and soldiers who in old Massachusetts formed the first Ohio Society and emigrated to and took up their homes on the banks of the beautiful river, and cared out their fortunes and a great empire there; is it 'cheek' in us, as our friend Mr. Depew or Mr. Choate might say, that we now, having returned and taken up our homes among you, have taken and propose to continue to take actively and earnestly a hand in the job of securing good government for the city of our adoption?
But taking a hand may mean one thing to the average New York politician and a very different thing to a member of the Ohio Society. Touching Colonel Strong's election, one of the first acts of the Society, feeling that we were all personal friends of his, was to pass a resolution unanimously that no personal appeals should be made to him for office or favor by any member; that he should not be burdened or annoyed by applications or importunities by any of his friends of his old Society, that our duty and our work, yea, our pleasure, lay in united with all the good citizens in moral support of his administration, in aiding him to begin and carry through all genuine reforms, to enforce the law, to strengthen and support his arms in bearing high the banner of non-partisan and pure municipal government. We seek no offices, nor solicit them for our friends. Of course, even an Ohio man cannot help taking an office now and then if it is thrust upon him.
But, turning from the Society to our guest, Colonel Strong. He is known well by every member of the Society, and in its nine years of existence no man has been more active or liberal in advancing its welfare, no member so well known and loved by all the 'boys.' We are all his warm friends, not only now that high office has been thrust upon him, but during all the time he has been with us and one of us.
Some of our members have known him intimately since his boyhood out in Ohio, some associated with him for years in business. Those who have known him longest love him best. He has in the Society not one enemy, nor a lukewarm friend.
Colonel Strong has in him good stuff for mayor. The committee of seventy builded wiser than it knew, Mr. Larocque, when it selected him as the standard-bearer of the great army of the people in their attack upon Tammany and storming of their entrenched positions in the offices of this city.
We who know him well know that he is strong and resolute of will and tenacious of purpose. He is essentially honest-minded, honest in thought and action; honest with others, honest with himself; slow and deliberate in his mental operations; a judgment that waits on information, and yet at times astonishing his friends by the quickness and accuracy of his intuitions.
If a question of policy or administration new to him were to be presented, he would probably be slow to answer. He would hear and like to hear from men whose intelligence and character he respected all they had to say upon the subject; and then, well, he'd think it over.
While in quite a large measure he has something of that equable temper and stolid sturdy nature fo Grant, he can and will at times be impatient and say 'no' with vehemence. This will occur when suggestions are made to him of action or administration that violate or run counter to his conviction of right; and on questions of right he will not always agree with the theorists. Like Lincolnk, he is no idealist. "The right which he sees will be a practical right, a right which can be compassed."
He is study, inflexible, honest always.
His active business life of forty years in this great city has made him a good judge of men -- of character. A busy, active hard-working merchant for many years, president of a large bank, director of one of the most important life insurance companies of this country, and director of one of the great trunk line railroads, he has been throughly schooled in the city's commerce, its property interests, its finances, and its transportation. He knows, as few men know, the city's needs and its resources. He is well equipped for the work before him.
Finally, you will find him warm of heart, a "kindly man among his kind," in close touch and sympathy with the plain people and all who toil; and also you will find that in digging out corruption, the vile and vicious from their lurking places, he will have long and sharp nails, but clean hands.
And he has that rare quality most valuable in places of power in public or private life -- uncommon common sense. I introduce Col. Strong."
Gentlemen, I am quite at a loss to know just how to handle myself on this occasion. You 'boys' have got the advantage of me. In the first place, I don't think that I feel in the best humor. I suppose I understand the reason. As soon as my nomination was made for mayor, this Ohio Society had a meeting and elected a nominating committee to name a new president, and no sooner was I elected mayor than they kicked me out.
I was one of the charter members of this Society, and, strange as it may seem, I have been an officer ever since it was formed, until last Friday night, when, on account of having been elected mayor, I was reduced to the ranks. I did not know before that an Ohio man is never allowed to take office without being kicked out of all the societies of which he is a member. I have already left two, I believe -- not left, but quietly been shuffled out just as I have been out of the presidency of this Society. I never did quite know why this dinner was gotten up, unless it was to buy me off! I suspect that one or two of my friends sitting here on my right said, "We will give the Colonel a nice Delmonico banquet, and that will make it all right."
But, gentlemen, the tender recollections that will hove around the Ohio Society while I am in the ranks will not make me any the less zealous for its success. I shall be delighted always to have the pleasure of being with you at your meetings, for I know of no place where a real genuine Buckeye can have quite so good a time as he can at 236 Fifth avenue.
I am rather inclined to think that after the fulsome discourse of your president, my mouth is pretty well sealed. I cannot afford to say much. My own impression is that in about three years from now you gentlemen will be mighty sorry that you gave me this dinner. (Laughter.) In olden times, as you remember, they put laurel wreaths on the brows of their heroes when they returned from battle; and when the statesman had accomplished some great good for the state he was similarly honored. But you have reversed the order. And more than this, you seem determined to dine and wine me until you make me entirely unfit to take the position to which you have elected me. I say 'you,' for I have not seen a man in the Ohio Society who did not vote for me. In fact, I have seen but two men in the city of New York who said they didn't!
Now, your president referred to a resolution gotten up by my friend, Mr. Packard, and unanimously adopted for the purpose of not embarrassing me after I got into the office, saying in substance that no member of the Ohio Society should ask for an appointment either for himself or for another. Well, you will remember there was one gentleman who hurried out before that resolution was read, and came back and voted for it. He had seen me; but as all applications that have been made to me have been made under the sacred seal of confidence, I shall call no names.
During the campaign there was a little thing occurred that I will relate here. I may have mentioned it to some of my friends of the Ohio Society; and I am sorry our friend is not here to testify to its truth. He was making a speech at Cooper Institute, and was describing the immense hospitality of his candidate for mayor, as he had enjoyed it down at the seashore. He said we sat on the piazza with the broad ocean before us and about two fingers of sarsaparilla in our glasses. Well, the next morning, there were four or five gentlemen from the East Side who came to the bank, and one of them said, "Now, look here, Mr. Strong, you must call that man off." 'That man' was Mr. Fred Taylor. "You must call him right off. No more sarsaparilla in this campaign. It may do well enough to run a bank, or a dry goods business, but when you get into the mayor's chair, you must have something a little more tony than sarsaparilla." (Laughter.)
Gentleman, it is useless for me to try to express my feelings on this occasion. I could not do it. The compliment you have paid me is more than I can stand." (Cheers and much applause.)
In the experiment of the government of cities upon business principles, there has been one eminent example in this country. That was Brooklyn, under the administration of a gentleman present with us tonight, and to all students of municipal administration that example has been pointed out as one conspicuous in its success -- as successful as was possible under the great body of law under which that municipality had to be administered, a body of law not formed for independent or business government, but passed by each party when in power more or less in its own interests. Of that administration and the experience of that gentleman, we shall hear tonight. There has been added to the wealth of our hoardings his citizenship -- he has become a part of New York, thank God! (Applause.) He is now at the head of our great institution of learning, Columbia College, and he gives to it the wealth of his knowledge and experience -- not only that, but is training up our young Americans, the heirs presumptive and the heirs apparent of this great republic, who are so soon to enter into their royal inheritance, and teaching them high standards of civic duty.
I have the honor to introduce President Low.
It is very good of you to permit a mere New Yorker to be present on this occasion of your rejoicing, and yet I must remind you that New York, cosmopolitan New York, was true to her best self when she followed the leadership of Colonel Strong to victory a week or two ago. It is at once the strength and the glory of this city that she takes that which is good from all other parts of this Union and makes it a part of her own life and her own power.
I confess, gentleman, to being surprised at one thing that I have heard since being here. I do not know how it may be with college students, but college presidents who are worth anything are always ready to learn. And I have learned with amazement that the Ohio Society has determined that no other Ohio man shall hold office in the city of New York. I had supposed that the Ohio man went into his backyard every day and put his ear to the ground to see if he coud not hear his country calling him. (Great laughter and applause.) But it is evident that we of New York only partially understand the Ohio man, even now. Nevertheless, I knew him well enough, Mr. President, to be confident, when I learned that Colonel Strong was an Ohio man, that he would be elected. A long and careful watchfulness of political events in this country had led me to believe that the ordinary man who faces a man from Ohio, either in battle or in a political contest, deserves the comment of the locomotive engineer who observed a bull charging his engine. He said, "I admire your pluck, but I must condemn your judgment."
But, gentlemen, I have been asked whether it is possible to conduct a city upon business principles. If I shall not discourage the mayor-elect, I should say in some senses yes, and in some senses no. To try to make clear the sense in which other elements come into such a task than those which a man is accustomed to in business, I must recall a conversation that I had with Mr. Beecher after I had sat in the mayor's office of Brooklyn for two or three years. He said, "Well, Mr. Mayor, how are the politicians feeling? "Well," I said, "Mr. Beecher, I do not know that I am very good authority on that point. If I were to make a guess, I should say that those who are in office feel all right, and those who are out are a little discontented." (Laughter.)
Well, he laughed and said it reminded him of what he used to see in Indiana when he was located there. In those days large droves of hogs wandered around, and in wintertime ate the mast, the acorns that fell from the trees; and when cold weather came they all gathered up into a bunch. "Now," he said, "Mr. Low, it is most singular, but I never saw such a bunch of those interesting animals where the inside hog did not appear to be perfectly quiescent and satisfied, while the whole outer ring was in a state of discontent." Of course, if I had not heard of the resolution passed by the Ohio Society, I should not have ventured to tell the anecdote in this presence. (Renewed laughter.) That is to say, gentlemen, that in the government of a city elements do enter -- whether they should or not, they do enter -- into the problem that do not attach themselves to the conduct of a private business.
What seems to me to differentiate public life from private in any capacity is this, that in public life there exists an organized opposition that tries to make you fail just as much when you ought to succeed as when you deserve to fail. It does not want you to succeed, because if you succeed you gather prestige and power that may be dangerous to the opposition. Now a business man has competition to face, but he does not differentiate it in some respects from any private occupation. I found that public life was a life of Rembrandt effects. The lights are very strong and bright. What can be more stirring to the heart of a man competent to feel it than the applause of a great metropolis like this?
On the other hand, what is more trying than the ciriticism of your neighbors; the falsehoods that often circulate about men charged with difficult and responsible duties? One has to steel himself against it, to bear himself as though he were absolutely unconscious of all these false effects that are being said, and that is why I say that it is a life of Rembrandt effects. The shadows are dark because the light that casts them is very bright. But there is a sense, gentlemen, in which a city can be administered on business principles, I am sure.
But before I approach that let me try to make clear to you by a historical survey what I conceive to be the overwhelming significance of the election of our friend. In 1814 the mayor of the city of New York was not an elective officer. He was appointed by the State Council of Appointment, a body that consisted of the governor of the state and of four senators chosen by the lower house of the legislature. A body so composed removed from the mayor's office of New York city in 1814 so considerable a man as De Witt Clinton, who a few years later constructed the Erie Canal. They put into his place the then president of the Tammany Society, under an arrangement by which that gentleman was to receive in a few weeks from the national government the appointment of surveyor of the port of New York, where he was to be succeeded by still a different man.
I am sorry to find that President Low, like many Eastern people, has not yet quite comprehended an Ohio man. While it is true we have passed a resolution that we will neither for ourselves nor our friends add to the burden of our friend and late president by soliciting favors from him, we have not passed on to that point where we have said that when the good people of New York come in a body and "snatch an Ohio man by the scruff of his neck" as it were from hiis retirement, and say, "You must serve us," that he will refuse. Oh, no that's not the kind of patriots we are.
In the great powers of government the second, if not the first, power in the state is the press. We little, perhaps, comprehend how much our daily action is governed by what we read in our daily papers, how much our actions are based and our ideas formed upon what we there read, and I am sorry to say that the editors of papers -- papers are not turned out merely by machinery, but with some great informing mind behind each sheet -- do not comprehend the power they wield or the duty that rests upon their shoulders. In modern days, I am glad to say, many of the great papers of the country are rising to the occasion and are independently and honestly trying to lead and inform the people.
Conspicuous among those editors, it is honor due to state, there has been one independent editor in Brooklyn who has independently voiced the demands of the people. That editor is with us tonight, and from him we would like to hear upon one special subject, and a little upon the subject I have just spoken of. We have thought here in New York that New York ought to be before the world as great as she is in fact, one of the great imperial cities of the world. We have held out the hand to Brooklyn to come in and be a part of the Greater New York. Brooklyn, for some reason which we have not quite comprehended, has been coy in this mating. Why this has been so we do not quite understand, and our friend and great editor, St. Clair McKelway, will tell us something about it." (Much applause.)
When Mr. Packard, the man with the marble brow and the glad hand, summoned me to this duty, and when I read that General Burnett was to preside on this occasion, I said, "I have always been able to deal with my traducers, but for once I will be at the mercy of my introducers." The tribute which the General pays to the editor of the morning newspaper can be endorsed by me because I am the editor of an evening newspaper. He says very truly that the newspapers are not brought out merely by machinery. In truth, if machines had their way newspapers would not be brought out at all. (Laughter.)
There is one great force and factor in the victory that has not been mentioned tonight. Emotion and sentiment, it is said, play always a very important part in every great revolution. In that part of our revolution there was an element that has not been brought to your attention -- the ladies of New York. (Applause.) When they threw themselves upon the side of truth and purity, the chivalry of native-born Americans was aroused, and they poised their lances for the fray. I propose the toast of the evening, "The Ladies of New York." To the Ladies, God bless them. And God bless all of you, and goodnight.
Night Before Xmas
Bradley Van Deusen
Jean Van Deusen
|Copyright © 1998, Mary S. Van Deusen|