Howard J. Romanek
of urbanization? What will be the ideal American city and the ideal American suburb in the twenty-first century? Are there any difficulties in judging historical figures?
Connections with the Curriculum
Materials for Each Student
• A copy of this article's narrative portion
Objectives for Each Student
• Decide the powers and duties of government.
The students should be given the article several days before any of these activities are done in class. Handouts 1-4 are designed for a single class period. The instructor can decide how much class time will be spent on Handout 5. Many follow-up assignments are possible for each handout.
Opening the Lesson
Developing the Lesson
Concluding the Lesson
Extending the Lesson
Students could interview commuters and city or suburban governmental officials. Many of the questions found in Handout 5 could be used. Students could do an oral presentation or write a report based on the interviews.
Assessing the Lesson
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (Preamble to the U.S. Constitution created in 1787)
When one studies the history of transportation in the United States, one must grapple with the powers and duties of government. The federal government began building the National Road, also called the Cumberland Road, in 1811. New York's state government authorized the building of the Erie Canal in 1817. Were these governments fulfilling their proper responsibilities? Should citizens expect their government to build public transportation systems? Should the government only establish regulations for private transportation systems? Should the government not interfere at all with private transportation systems? These are the questions that the people of the United States have struggled with for decades.
What responsibilities do national, state, and local governments have to the people? What services should national, state, and local governments provide people? What private services or activities should be regulated by national, state, or local governments?
Are there any private services or activities that should not be regulated by national, state, or local governments?
With the tremendous growth of cities in the United States in the late-nineteenth century, urban governments faced many challenges. There was a need to improve the infrastructure of the city. Water, sewer, and gas systems needed to be created or improved. People wanted better streets and transportation and better police and fire protection. Because state governments could limit the power of city governments, and because city governments were often weak due to a weak mayor and strong (but divided) council system, many city governments had difficulty meeting the demands placed upon them. Harper's Weekly noted in 1857 that New York City "had become a huge semi-barbarous metropolis... not well-governed and not ill-governed, but simply not governed at all" (Raymond A. Mohl, The New City: Urban America in the Industrial Age, 1860-1920, p.84). Out of this situation, America witnessed the rise of the city bosses and the political machines, and with their rise, the debate has never ended on how this urban phenomenon should be judged. Critics of the city bosses would agree with the Englishman, James Bryce, who declared in his book The American Commonwealth (1888), that urban government was "one of the conspicuous failures of the United States" (Mohl, p.85). Defenders of the city bosses have argued that they were the only hope for order and growth in the expanding nineteenth-century cities, and that they were the only hope for the needy living in the city. Martin Lomasney, the boss of Boston's South End, told Lincoln Steffens, the reporter whose book on urban corruption, The Shame of the City (1904), "There's got to be in every ward somebody that any bloke can come to—no matter what's he done—and get help. Help, you understand, none of your law and justice, but help" (Howard P. Chudacoff, The Evolution of Urban Society, p.161).
One major criticism of the city bosses was the corruption that came with their rule. Paul Barrett states that "what many council members asked for in the 1880s and 1890s were bribes (either money or jobs for patronage workers). Several alderman made a specialty of 'fixing' bribes for utility franchises. John Powers was probably the most famous of these men." However, George Washington Plunkitt, who worked for late-nineteenth-century New York City Tammany boss Richard Croker believed that there was "honest graft" and "dishonest graft." Plunkitt said that Tammany politicians engaged in "honest graft." They "didn't steal a dollar from the city treasury. They just see their opportunities and took them" (Mohl, p.99). An example of "honest graft" would be if an alderman knew that a street that would be getting cable-car service. Before this would be known to the public, he would buy property on that street. The value of that property would increase once cable-car service began. An example of "dishonest graft" would be city officials demanding payoffs from gamblers or prostitutes with the promise that their operations would not be shut down by the police.
How would George Washington Plunkitt describe the actions of Chicago aldermen such as John Powers? Were they involved in "honest graft" or "dishonest graft"? Explain.
Do the actions of these aldermen deserve condemnation? Some believe that this was a dark period in Chicago's history. Others have argued that there was no harm done. Although businessmen and politicians profited from their "agreements," the important thing to remember was that Chicago needed to expand its transportation system, and that was exactly what happened. Was no harm done? Who is right?
With the rise of the city bosses, the cities also witnessed fairly quickly the rise of the city reformers. Alexander B. Callow, Jr. who edited The City Boss in America: An Interpretive Reader, states: "The boss and the reformer are inseparable.... Their confrontation exposed the raw sores of urban problems, Together they solved some of those problems as each sought the advantage over the other. Together they learned from each other.... In the war of words and the thunder of campaigns, the
quality of urban government improved, the number of municipal services increased, and the question of how best to govern was revived. Together they helped build the city" (p. 173). Paul Barrett discusses the reformers in his narrative. He states that reformers such as Mayor Carter Henry Harrison II were part of a movement that would later be called "Progressive Reform." Urban historian Melvin Holli examines the reformers during the Progressive period and divides them into camps: structural reformers and social reformers. What divided these reformers were their responses to two questions: What is the proper role of government? and, Whose interests shall it serve? Holli argues that structural reformers believed that to serve business was the proper role of government, and that government should serve the middle and upper classes. The best way to do that was by making structural changes in city government, and by having a city government that was clean, responsible, efficient, and economical. On the other hand, Holli says that social reformers believed that to serve the people was the business of government. A clean and efficient government was not enough. City government needed to improve the quality of urban life by providing parks and public baths, and it also needed to help the poor by better regulating the services provided them (Callow, pp. 178-180).
Does the narrative portion of the article give evidence of structural reformers or social reformers during the period 1896 to 1902? Explain.
What did Chicago most need in this period—structural reformers or social reformers? Explain.
Who should a city boss fear more—structural reformers or social reformers? Explain. Many political machines and city bosses did survive the efforts of the reformers to "put them out of business." The machines were able to count on getting the majority of the citizens to keep them in power. Why did many people choose the bosses over the reformers?
How should Yerkes be remembered? Many years after he had left office, former Mayor Carter Harrison II wrote the following about Yerkes: "Trained in the public utility school he (Yerkes) saw a roseate future ahead for the first man who would apply eastern methods of official corruption to the crude halfway measures so far practiced by the novices in Chicago's best financial circles" (David M. Young, Chicago Transit: An Illustrated History, p. 47). Harrison also said, "He (Yerkes) was really a gallant though perverted soul that looked danger in the face unflinchingly He was the stuff great war heroes are made of; with the right moral fiber he would have been a truly superb character"(p. 53). The journalist David M. Young wrote, "Charles Tyson Yerkes was the single most influential developer of Chicago's transit system in the nineteenth century" (p. 47). He also stated, "Toward the end of the twentieth century, as the city prepared to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its Loop elevated structure, the tarnish on Yerkes' reputation started to fade as Chicagoans began to appreciate the role he had played in creating that remarkable structure" (p. 53).
What if, one day, some descendants of Charles Tyson Yerkes come to see the mayor of Chicago? They tell the mayor that they believe that there has been an injustice done to their ancestor, Charles Tyson Yerkes. They want to know why the city has never commemorated him for his major contributions to the city of Chicago. The mayor promises the descendants that he would have his top aide investigate this, and that if an injustice has been done, he would propose to the city council some commemoration for Charles Tyson Yerkes. After the group leaves, the mayor tells his top aide that he wants reasons for and against honoring Yerkes, and that he wants the aide's recommendation.
Make an oral presentation or write a report to answer the following questions:
Is it fair to make judgments about people who are no longer living and who cannot defend themselves? Some people believe that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson should not be honored because they were slave owners. Others say that it is not fair to apply contemporary moral standards to an earlier period of history. Slavery was still an accepted institution during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Do people today have the right to judge aldermen such as John Powers or businessmen such as Charles Tyson Yerkes? Explain.
You will pretend that you are a resident of Chicago and the year is 1910. You were ten years old when you moved to Chicago in 1837, the year Chicago became incorporated as a city. List four changes you have witnessed in urban transportation during these past seventy-three years. Every new invention or innovation can improve the daily life of people; it also can present new challenges or problems. It also can produce winners and losers. (How many people are employed making manual typewriters today?) Some people welcome change; others are threatened by it. Is this true for each change in urban transportation that you listed?
Improvement In Daily Life Problems Winners Losers
At the end of the narrative portion of the article the following is stated: "But the strange formula created by Chicago's Progressive Era reformers and used around the country did not work. Instead it may have contributed to the decline of public transportation and to the triumph of the automobile."
The following headlines are a representation of many that have appeared in newspapers and magazines the last few years:
"Burbsprawl: Room To Be Free" (Eli Lehrer, Insight, November 23,1998)
What is the ideal city? What is the ideal suburb? What is the ideal metropolitan area? Is sprawl a major problem confronting the United States as it enters the twenty-first century? Is there a major need to "reverse the decline of public transportation and the triumph of the automobile"? To answer these big questions, answers to the following questions are needed:
How much land is being consumed by sprawl every year?
Does sprawl harm or help the environment?
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