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Letter to Ela on Grover Cleveland.
Chicago, March 27, 1895.
Dear Ela: — I am in receipt of a letter purporting to be signed by you as chairman of a committee of the Iroquois Club, stating that the annual banquet of this club, to commemorate the birth of Thomas Jefferson, will be given April 22d, and requesting me to be present and deliver an address of welcome. I also learn that a program has been prepared which will make the entire exercises simply a laudation of the financial policy and of the general course of the present federal administration. In other words, that the program has been so arranged as to convert the whole proceeding into a kind of Cleveland love-feast. As this is simply a repetition of what has been done several times, I take it that you did not prepare this program, but that it was prepared by a few gentlemen who for a number of years have talked reform and then pursued office with the appetite of a wolf. In making this program they remembered the hand that had given the spoils and at the same time they cast a hopeful anchor toward the future.
Last summer one of the great newspapers gave an account of the greatest timber stealing and homestead robbing operations ever carried on in the Northwest, involving even the prostitution of high office. Recently the country was alarmed at seeing in Washington the most powerful and the most corrupt lobby ever known engaged in trying to force the railroad pooling bill through Congress. I notice that two of the men whose names were prominent in connection with one or the other of these scandals have been selected to point out the beauties of Clevelandism, and I will admit that they are the right men for the purpose. Coupled with these is at least one other whose fame in the East is co-extensive only with his ability to injure his party. These three are to discuss the great questions now before the country. All three stand for Clevelandism, but not for the Democracy of the country. They stand in practice for the theory that government is a convenience for the strong, and were it Hamilton's birthday you wished to celebrate this would all be in accordance with the eternal fitness of things. But not even a resolution of Congress, supported by a speech from a Senator and an opinion of the Attorney-General and backed by the federal army, can keep Thomas Jefferson's bones still while you attempt to dump this program into his cradle. These men represent a class which in his day called Jefferson a demagogue, derided his statesmanship and sneered at his patriotism.
Jeffersonism was the first-born of the new age of liberty and human progress, while Clevelandism is the slimy off-spring of that unhallowed
468marriage between Standard Oil and Wall Street. Jeffersonism brought liberty, prosperity and greatness to our country because it gave its benediction to the great toiling and producing masses, while Clevelandism has put its heel upon the neck of our people, has increased the burdens and the sorrows of the men who toil, and has fattened a horde of vultures that are eating the vitals of the nation.
To make a dollar out of paper by a fiat of government may not be wisdom, but to double the purchasing power of a gold dollar by the fiat of a number of governments in striking down the competitor of gold is ruin. To paralyze the energies of a nation by doubling the burden of the debtor is statesmanship under Clevelandism, but a crime under Jeffersonism. The Republican papers praise Clevelandism, but they honor Jefferson by abusing him.
Jefferson's eye took in the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Cleveland is to-day ignorant of the fact that there is a country west of the Alleghenies. Jefferson belonged to the American people; Cleveland to the men who devour widows' houses. Jeffersonism is an illumination in the American firmament; Clevelandism merely a swamp-light floating around in the Standard Oil marsh. To laud Clevelandism on Jefferson's birthday is to sing a Te Deum in honor of Judas Iscariot on a Christmas morning.
You will excuse me, Ela, if I decline to have anything to do with it, and you will also allow me to say that, as I am not conscious of having done you a wrong, I do not understand why you should have asked me to come and bid a welcome after the program had been practically "packed," as to important issues, so as to stand for hostility to all that is Jeffersonian or Democratic, and to favor those measures and acts which tend toward the choking of liberty, the impoverishment of our people and the ultimate destruction of our institutions.
JOHN P. ALTGELD.