All this led to the betrayal of man by man—to bribery. It was not of much use for the pulpit to point it out. Men adopted bribery as a means to business activity. It was of no use to recall the brilliant moments of character in history, men would not read them. Their ancestry was a back number, the deeds of their ancestors mere old-fashioned narrowness of business. What if a member of the American Congress, Joseph Reed, during the American Revolution did refuse the 10,000 guineas offered by the foreign commissioners to betray the colonies? What if he did say “Gentlemen, I am a very poor man, but tell your King he is not rich enough to buy me”? The more fool he, not to appreciate his opportunities, not to take advantage of the momentary enterprise of his betters! A bribe offered became a compliment, and a bribe negotiated was a good day’s work. I had not much faith in the people who went about bragging how much they could get if they sold out. I refused to believe the sentiment of men who declared that every man had his price.
Old-fashioned honesty was not the cure either, because old-fashioned honesty, according to history, was not wholly disinterested. There never was a monopoly of righteousness in the world, though there was a coin of fair exchange between men who were intelligent enough to perceive its values, in which there was no alloy of bribery. Bribery was written, however, all over the first chapters of English, Irish, French, German, and American politics; but it was high time that, in America, we had a Court House or a City Hall, or a jail, or a post office, or a railroad, that did not involve a political job. At some time in their lives, every man and woman may be tempted to do wrong for compensation. It may be a bribe of position that is offered instead of money; but it was easy to foresee, in 1886, that there was a time coming when the most secret transaction of private and public life would come up for public scrutiny. Those of us who gave this warning were under suspicion of being harmless lunatics.
Necessarily, the dishonest transactions of the bosses led to discontent among the labouring classes, and a railroad strike came, and went, in the winter of 1886. Its successful adjustment was a credit to capital and labour, to our police competency, and to general municipal common-sense. In Chicago and St. Louis, this strike lasted several days; in Brooklyn, it was settled in a few hours. The deliverance left us facing the problem whether the differences between capital and labour in America would ever be settled. I was convinced that it could never be accomplished by the law of supply and demand, although we were constantly told so. It was a law that had done nothing to settle the feuds of past ages. The fact was that supply and demand had gone into partnership, proposing to swindle the earth. It is a diabolic law which will have to stand aside for a greater law of love, of co-operation, and of kindness. The establishment of a labour exchange, in Brooklyn in 1886, where labourers and capitalists could meet and prepare their plans, was a step in that direction.