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Monday, September 30, 2002

Have we come full circle? In March 1904 the muckracking magazine McClure's ran an article by investigative reporter Lincoln Steffens that resonates eerily a century later. Steffens focused on incidents in St. Louis to reveal the complex network of corrupt businessmen and politicians who were exploiting their city – and state and country – for their own benefit.

Enemies of the Republic, Part 2

The political leaders who are selling out the state of Missouri, and the leading business men who are buying it - business as treason - corruption as revolution

By Lincoln Steffens

There is nothing partisan about graft. Only the people are loyal to party. The “hated” trusts, all big grafters, go with the majority. In Democratic Missouri, the Democracy is the party of “capital.” The Democratic political leaders, crying down the trusts, corner the voters like wheat, form a political trust, and sell out the sovereignty of the people to the corporation lobby. And the lobby runs the State, not only in the interest of its principals, but against the interest of the people. Once, when an election bill was up – the bill to turn over the cities to the Democrats – citizens of Kansas City, Democrats among them, had to hire a lobbyist to fight it, and when this lobbyist found that the interest of his corporations required the passage of the bill, he sent back his fee with an explanation. And this story was told me as an example of the honesty of that lobbyist! Lieutenant-governor Lee in his confession gave another such example. Public opinion forced out of committee, and was driving through the Senate, a bill to put a just tax on the franchises of public service corporations. The lobby dared not stop it. But Colonel Phelps took one day “his accustomed place” behind a curtain back of the Lieutenant-Governor’s chair, and he wrote out amendment after amendment, passed them to Senator Frank Farris, who introduced them, and the lobby put them through, so that the bill passed, “smothered to death.”

When Lieutenant-Governor Lee drew aside that curtain he revealed the real head of the government of Missouri. I mean this literally. I mean that this System I have been describing is a form of government; it is the government. We must not be confused by constitutions and charters. The constitution of Missouri describes a governor and his duties, a legislature and the powers lodged in a Senate and a House of Representatives, etc., etc. This is the paper government. In Missouri this paper government has been superseded by an actual government, and this government is: – a lobby, with a combine of legislators, the Democratic State committee, and state leaders and city bosses for agents. One bribe, two bribes, a hundred bribes might not be so bad, but what we have seen here is a System of bribery, corruption installed as the motive, the purpose, the spirit of a state government. A revolution has happened. Bribes, not bullets, were spent in it, and the fighting was slow and quiet, but victory seemed sure; the bribe-takers were betraying the government of the people to an oligarchy of bribe-givers, when Joseph Folk realized the truth.

“Bribery,” he declared, “is treason, and a boodler is a traitor.”

“Bosh!” cried the lawyers. “Poppycock,” the cynics sneered, and the courts rule out the cases. “Bribery,” said Judge Priest, at the trial of the banker, Snyder, “is, at the most, a conventional crime.” “Corruption is an occasional offense.” The ring orators proclaim, but they answer themselves, for they say also, “corruption is not a vice only of Missouri, it is everywhere.”

“It is everywhere,” folk answers, and because he has realized that, because he realized that boodling is the custom and that the “occasional” boodler who sell his vote, is selling the state and altering the very form of our government, he has declared boodle to be a political issue. And because the people do not see it so, and because he saw that no matter how many individual boodlers he might catch, he, the Circuit Attorney of St. Louis, could not stop boodling even in St. Louis, Mr. Folk announced himself a candidate for Governor and is now appealing his case to the people, who alone can stop it. His party shrieked and raged, but because it is his party, because he thinks his party is the party of the people, and because his party is the responsible, the boodle, party in his state, he made the issue first in his own party. He has asked his people to take back the control of it and clean it up.

Thus, at last, is raised in St. Louis and Missouri the plain, great question: Do the people rule? Will they, can they rule? And the answer of Missouri will be national, almost racial in importance. Both the Democracy and the democracy are being put to the test out there

But Missouri cannot decide alone. ‘Corruption is everywhere.” The highway of corruption which Folk has taken as the road to political reform, goes far beyond Missouri. When he and Attorney-General Crow lifted the lid off Missouri, they disturbed the lid over the United States, and they saw wiggling among their domestic industries and state officials, three “foreign trusts” – the American Sugar Refining Company, the American Book Company, and the Royal Baking Powder Company. These are national concerns; they operate all over the United States; and they are purely commercial enterprises with probably purely commercial methods. What they do, therefore, is business pure and simple; their way will be the way of business. But off behind them slunk a United States Senator, the Honorable William J. Stone. He was on the same road. So they still run in pairs, and the road to success still lies between the two parallels, and it leads straight to Washington, where, in political infinity, as it were, in that chamber of the bosses, the United States Senate, the parallels seem to meet. Are the corrupt customs of Missouri the custom of the country? Are the methods of its business the method of Business? Isn’t the System of that State the System of the United States? Let us see.

Among the letters of the confessed boodler, Lieutenant-Governor Lee, to his friend Daniel J. Kelly, are many references to his ambition to be Governor of the State. When Folk decided to run for that office, the politicians were shocked at his “ambition”; he had not served the party, only the people. But Lee, whom they knew to be a boodler, was not regarded as presumptuous. He was a “possibility.” And, in his first letter on the subject to Kelly, he asks how he can sell himself out in advance to two trusts. “Of course you can help me get a campaign fund together,” he says, “and I will be grateful to you…. How would you tackle sugar-tobacco if you were me in the campaign-fund matter?” Kelly must have advised Lee to write direct, for the next letter is from H. O. Havermeyer, expressing “my hopes that your political aspirations will be realized,” and adding suggestively, “If I can be of any service I presume your representative will appear. (Signed) H. O. Havermeyer.” Lee wanted Kelly to “appear,” and there was some correspondence over a proposition to have the contribution made in the form of advertisements in Lee’s two trade journals. But Lee “needed help badly, as the country papers must be taken care of,” so he asks Kelly “to so present the case to Mr. H. that he will do some business with the papers and help me out personally besides. Do your best, old man,” he pleads, “and ask Mr. H. to do his best. A lift in time is always the best.” And Mr. H. did his best. Lee had arranged that Kelly was to see Havermeyer on both personal and business accounts, but the “personal” came by mail, and Lee wires Kelly to “drop personal matter and confine to advertising. Personal arranged by mail.” And then we have this note of explanation to “friend Kelly”:

“The party sent me $1,000 personally by mail. If you do anything now it will be on the advertising basis. Truly and heartily, Lee.”

Here we have a captain of industry taking a “little flyer” in a prospective governor of a state. Mr. Havermeyer probably despises Lee, but Mr. Havermeyer himself is not ashamed. Business men will understand that this is business. It may be bad in politics but such an investment is “good business.” And there is my point ready made; this “bad” politics of ours is “good” business.

A longer trail is that of William Ziegler; his business, the Royal Baking Powder company; and the company’s agent, Daniel J. Kelly. In Missouri they said Crow was “after” United States Senator Stone, but “they travel in pairs,” so he had to begin with the business men, as Folk did. He indicted first Kelly, then Ziegler, for bribery. Lee, whose confession caused the indictment of Kelly, wired this warning: “D. J. Kelly: Your health being poor brief recreation trip if taken would be greatly beneficial. James Sargent.” Kelly took the recreation trip to Canada, and Ziegler, in New York, resisted extradition to Missouri for trial. The prospect was of a long lawyers’ fight, the result of which need not be anticipated here. Our interest is in the business methods of this great commercial concern, the Royal Baking Powder “trust,” and the secrets of the success of this captain of the baking-powder industry. And this, mind you, as a key to the understanding of “politics.”

We have been getting into business by following politics. Now, for a change, we will follow a strictly business career and see that the accepted methods of business are the despised methods of politics, and that just as the trail of the successful politician leads us into business, so the trail of the successful business man leads us into politics.

Ziegler’s “success story” is that of the typical poor boy who began with nothing, and carved out a fortune of many, many millions. He was not handicapped by a college education and ethical theories. He went straight into business, as a drug-clerk, and he learned his morals from business. And he is a “good business man.” This is no sneer. He told me the story of his life one night, not all, of course, for he knew what the purpose of my article was to be; but he told me enough so that I could see that if the story were set down – the daring enterprise, the patient study of details, and the work, the work, the terrible, killing work – if this all were related, as well as “the things a business man has to do,” then, I say, the story of William Ziegler might do him, on the whole, honor as well as dishonor. But this, the inspiring side, of such stories, has been told again and again, and it does not give “our boys” all the secrets of success, and it does not explain the state either of our business or of our politics. I have no malice against Mr. Ziegler; I have a kind of liking for him, but so have I a liking for a lot of those find, good fellows, the low-down politicians who sell us out to the Zieglers. They, too, are human, so much more human than many a “better man.” How often they have helped me to get the truth! But they do sell us out, and the “good business men” do buy us out. So William Ziegler, who also helped me, he, to me here, is only a type.

Ziegler went into the baking-powder business way back in 1868 with the Hoaglands, a firm of druggists at Fort Wayne, Indiana. The young man mastered the business, technically as a pharmacist, commercially as a salesman. He fought for his share in the profit; he left them and established a competitive business to force his point, and in 1873 they let him in. So you see, Young Man, it isn’t alone sobriety, industry, and honesty that make success, but battle, too. Ziegler organized the Royal Baking Powder Company in 1873, with himself as treasurer.

The Business grew for three or four years, when it was discovered that alum and soda made a stronger leaven, and cheaper. Worse still, alum was plentiful. Anybody could go into its manufacture, and many did. The Royal, to control the cream of tartar industry, had contracted to take from European countries immense quantities of argol, the wine-lees from which cream of tartar is made. They had to go on making the more expensive baking-powder or break a contract. That would be “bad business.”

So Ziegler was for war. His plan was to “fight alum.” His associates, less daring than he, objected, but Ziegler won them over, and thus was begun the “Alum War,” famous in chemistry, journalism, and legislation. Outsiders knew little about it, but they can find the spoils of Ziegler’s battle in the bosom of their own family. Let any man in the North, East, and West, ask himself if he does not think “alum in food is bad”; if he can’t answer, let him ask his wife. She will not know exactly why, but she is pretty sure to have a “general impression” that it is injurious in some way and that “the Royal is pure,” “the best.” This general impression was capitalized by Ziegler in 1898, at a valuation of many millions of dollars. He combined, in a trust, the Cleveland, Price, and Royal cream of tartar companies; their separate capitalization amounted to something over one million. The trust was capitalized at $20,000.000.

Now, how did Ziegler plant this general impression, which was sold as so much preferred and common stock? He began the war by hiring chemists to give “expert opinions” against alum and for cream of tartar. The alum people, in alarm, had to hire chemists to give opposite opinions for alum and against cream of tartar. What the merits of the chemical controversy are, no man can decide now. Hundreds of “eminent scientific men,” chemists, physiologists, and doctors of medicine, have taken part in it, and there are respectable authorities on both sides. The Royal’s array of experts, who say “alum is bad,” is the greater, and they are right as to “alum in food.” But that is a trick phrase. The alum people say, and truly, that the alum in baking-powder disappears in the bread, just as cream of tartar does, and that the whole question resolves itself into the effects on the human system of what is left. In the case of the alum, the residuum is hydrate of aluminum, of which Dr. Austin Flint, who experimented with Prof. Peter F. Austin and Dr. E. E. Smith, says that it “is inert; has no effect upon the secretion of gastric juice, nor does it interfere with digestion; and it has no medicinal effects.” On the other hand, the alum party say that the residuum of cream of tartar powder is “Rochelle salts, an irritant drug with purgative qualities.” This the Royal overwhelmed with testimony, but Ziegler does not believe much in defense. He attacks. His was a war on “impure food,” and his slogan was short and sharp: “alum, a poison.” That was all.

And that is enough for us. Our war is on “impure business,” and, whatever the truth is about alum and cream of tartar, the truth about Ziegler and the Royal Baking Powder is this: they were making alum baking-powders themselves. All the while Ziegler was buying those expert testimonials against it, he was manufacturing and selling alum baking-powder.

This, on his own testimony. He brought a suit once against the Hoaglands, his associates, and he wanted to show that he, not they, had made the business what it was; so he went upon the stand and swore that he not they, had made the business what it was; he hired Dr. Mott, the first chemist, etc., etc. Listen, then, to this captain of industry confessing himself:

“I have heard the testimony about what is called the ‘alum war,’” he says. “I instituted it upon the part of the company. I employed Dr. Mott personally – it is possible that Mr. Hoagland may have made the money arrangement with him; I also visited other chemists and got certificates; I did all that business connected with the chemical part of the investigation, preparing the matter; I originated that matter; Mr. Joseph C. Hoagland bitterly opposed sale of all baking-powders; that it would bring all baking-powders into disrepute, and it was difficult for the public to tell an alum baking-powder from a cream of tartar powder.

“We had also as a company been manufacturing alum baking-powder, which was in the market, not under our brand ‘Royal,' but competitors might get hold of some of that, analyze it, and show that we also manufactured alum baking-powder.”

Nor is that all. Ziegler says he “got” the chemists. How he “got” them I don’t know, but the company had at one time an ammonia skirmish. They were making ammonia baking-powder, and the alum people “showed them up,” so Ziegler had to have ammonia testimonials from leading chemists, and he sent out for them.

“I got some myself,” he testifies. “I went over and saw Professor Norton who had given an adverse opinion. I got him to change his mind. He did not deny what he had said before, but he gave us something that answered our purpose.”

“Answered our purpose!” There you have the equivalent in business of the political platform. The purpose answered in the alum war was advertisement. Having “got” the chemists’ opinion, he had to turn that into public opinion, so he had to “get” the press. And he got the press, and his method of advertising fixed public opinion. How?

The Chamber of Commerce of Richmond, Va., recently “in seeking the source of a prejudice which once existed in the state (against alum baking-powder, which is a staple in the South) believes,” it says, “that it is to be found in a comprehensive system of what may be called ‘blind advertising’ or ‘written notices’ inaugurated years ago in the newspapers of the country by the Royal.” The Chamber printed a sample contract:

Please publish articles as below, each one time, in Daily and Weekly, as pure, straight reading, on top half of fifth page, set in the same size and style of type, and with the same style of heading as the pure reading adjoining, leaded or solid to correspond with such pure reading, to be surrounded by pure reading, and without date, mark or anything to designate them as paid matter; and with the express understanding that they are not at date of publication or afterward to be designated or classed by any article or advertisement in your paper as advertisements, or as paid for, or as emanating from us. Start with top one on list and publish, in same order, Daily two days apart and Weekly one week apart.


This step paved the way to the publication of anything the Royal might want to say as news or as the disinterested opinion of the paper. They would get a case of poisoning, for example, have it investigated and reported in a newspaper, then they would send the clipping for publication to their newspapers. Here is one:

From the Commercial-Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., Jan. 2, 1900.



Johnstown (Pa.) Tribune.

The poisoning of the Thomas family, of Thomas Mill, Somerset county, four members of which were reported to have been made dangerously ill by impure baking powder used in making buckwheat cakes, has been further investigated.

The original can, with the remainder of the baking powder left over after mixing the cakes, was secured by Dr. Critchfield. The powder had been bought at a neighboring country store, and was one of the low-priced brands.

Dr. Critchfield said that the patients had the symptoms of alum poisoning. As the same kind of baking powder is sold in many city groceries as well as country stores, Dr. Critchfield thought it important that a chemical examination should be made to determine its ingredients. He therefore transferred the package of powder to Dr. Schill, of this city, for analysis. Dr. Schill’s report is as follows:

“I certify that I have examined chemically the sample of… baking powder forwarded to me by Dr. Critchfield. The specimen contained alum”                       

Dr. Francis Schill, Jr. Analyst.

Alum is used in the manufacture of the lower-priced baking powders. It is a mineral poison, and for this reason the sale of baking powders containing it is in many cities prohibited.

The Thomas family tried to answer this “news item.” Six of them signed a statement that they were sickened not by alum baking-powder, but by arsenical poisoning from a newly-painted sausage machine; that “the doctors did not tell us that the symptoms was alum poisoning, but arsenical poisoning”; that they were “using alum baking-powder then and are yet, as Dr. Schill and Dr. Critchfield said it was all right.” And the physicians made affidavits to the same effect, one of which, Dr. Critchfield’s, covers both:

Personally appeared before me J. B. Critchfield, who deposes and says as follows:

That I am the doctor who attended the Thomas family who were poisoned some time ago.

The statements and advertisements of the Royal Baking Powder Company that I stated that they (the Thomas family) were poisoned by alum in baking powder is false. I never made any such statement. Mr. La Fetra, the agent of the Royal Baking Powder Company, called on me and asked me if I would state that the poisoning was alum poisoning, and I told him I would not.

They have in their advertisement misquoted me and have made false statements in regard to the matter, as the symptoms were arsenical poisoning and not alum 


April 20, 1900.

Such lying was not so common as a more subtle deception. A typical form of “reading notice" was to speak of alum as a poison, and then add suggestively: “Recently in New York two deaths occurred from poisoning by the use of powders sent to victims in samples.” This does not say that the powders were alum, and, so far as I can learn, the only two deaths that occurred in this way at about that time were those of Barnett and Mrs. Adams, for whose murder Molineux was tried and acquitted; and Kutnow and bromo-seltzer were the powders alleged to have been used on them.