Dictator – American Style
The political boss who is convinced that his own righteousness places him above the law
Condensed from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1938
By Marquis W. Childs, Author of “Sweden – The Middle Way”
Originally appeared in The Reader’s Digest of August 1938
WHAT HAS happened in Jersey City may be dictatorship. There is considerable proof that Mayor Frank Hague rules his community of 350,000 with a tyrant’s disregard for the law. But one thing is certain: the circum stances that created Hague, the boss, could hardly have occurred any where else in the world. If this is Fascism, it’s the American brand.
Hague himself is as American as a hot-dog stand. This comes out in his talk about his city, and the picture he has of himself in relation to it.
“I made the city,” he says. “Nobody cared a damn about it before I came along.” He tells you about the free service in the Jersey City Medical Center, the psychiatric clinic for maladjusted children, the abolition of prostitution. He has taken care of his people, after his fashion.
“You take that time of the big coal strike,” he says. “Why, the Chief of Police came to me and said people can’t get coal, schools are shutting down. I said to him, I said, `You go and find out whether there’s any coal in town.’
“Well, he came back and said Burns Brothers had some coal, but they were shipping it to New England. I said to him, `You go down to the ferries and stop that coal.’ Then I told the head man at Burns, `You’re going to sell us coal.’ He didn’t like it but finally agreed. Say, we sold 5000 tons to the people for five cents a scuttle.”
Aggressiveness marks Hague’s manner. Holding an ordinary conversation, he thumps his listener’s chest for vigorous emphasis. No orator, he roars through a speech. Hague didn’t go much beyond the sixth grade in school; his speech, except when polished for state occasions, is devoid of grammatical pretensions.
There is little sham about the man. In his own eyes he is armored in righteousness – no drinking, no smoking; a sound family man. A devout churchman, he gave a resplendent $50,000 altar to St. Aedan’s Church in Jersey City.
And what of all this money which his critics intimate he has taken from somewhere? They say he lives like a millionaire, and owns a summer home for which he paid $125,000. He goes to Europe in de luxe suites on de luxe liners. For years this has been going on, while Hague has never made more than $8000 annually in public office. Hague frankly admits he has made money, although he refuses to go into details. A successful man, he says, is always in a position to make money, he is put in the way of making money
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