Prior to the November Elections in 1877, the only cheering phase of politics in Brooklyn and New York was that there were no lower political depths to reach.
There was in New York at that time political infamy greater than the height of Trinity Church steeple, more stupendous in finance than the $10,000,000 spent in building their new Court House. It was a fact that the most notorious gambler in the United States was to get the nomination for the high office of State Senator. Both Democrats and Republicans struggled for his election—John Morrisey, hailed as a reformer! On behalf of all the respectable homes of Brooklyn and New York I protested against his election. He had been indicted for burglary, indicted for assault and battery with intent to kill, indicted eighteen times for maintaining gambling places in different parts of the country. He almost made gambling respectable. Tweed trafficked in contracts, Morrisey in the bodies and souls of young men. The District Attorney of New York advocated him, and prominent Democrats talked themselves hoarse for him. This nomination was a determined effort of the slums of New York to get representation in the State Government. It was argued that he had reformed. The police of New York knew better.
In Brooklyn the highest local offices in 1877, those of the Collector, Police Commissioners, Fire Commission, Treasurer, and the City Works Commissioners, were under the control of one Patrick Shannon, owner of two gin mills. Wearing the mask of reformers the most astute and villainous politicians piloted themselves into power. They were all elected, and it was necessary. It was necessary that New York should elect the foremost gambler of the United States for State Senator, before the people of New York could realise the depths of degradation to which the politics of that time could sink. If Tweed had stolen only half as much as he did, investigation and discovery and reform would have been impossible. The re-election of Morrisey was necessary. He was elected not by the vote of his old partisans alone, but by Republicans. Hamilton Fish, General Grant’s secretary, voted for him. Peter Cooper, the friend of education and the founder of a great institute, voted for him. The brown-stone-fronts voted for him. The Fifth Avenue equipage voted for him. Murray Hill voted for him. Meanwhile gambling was made honourable. And so the law-breaker became the law-maker.
Among a large and genteel community in Brooklyn there was a feeling that they were independent of politics. No one can be so. It was felt in the home and in the business offices. It was an influence that poisoned all the foundations of public and private virtue in Brooklyn and New York. The conditions of municipal immorality and wickedness were the worst at this time that ever confronted the pulpits of the City of Churches, as Brooklyn was called.
There was one bright spot in the dark horizon of life around me then, however, which I greeted with much pleasure and amusement.