James A. Kehl. Boss Rule in the Gilded Age: Matt Quay of Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh, Pa.:University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981.
Matthew Quay, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania from 1887 to 1904, believed more in protecting the strength of the Pennsylvania Republican Party than he did on policy ideals. He used patronage and business deals to keep the Republican Party strong. He alleged abused funds, may have used bribery, and often was more involved in party affairs than his Senate duties.
While Quay appeared to care little for policy matters, he did have empathy for people in need, and he helped Civil War widows, Native Americans, African American boys, wives of prisoners, and members of churches that has burned and were destroyed, His critics note he assisted these people in combination with great publicity.
Quay’s organizational skills helped make Pennsylvania the most pro-Republican state during his time. He took care to prevent uprisings and has a business license revoked from an ally who was preparing to challenge his will. Quay decided how the spoils were divided among operative. These spoils once included one million dollars of stock awarded for services that were never recording in print.
Quay seldom gave speeches. He operated mostly in private discussions, usually with alcohol beverages present. He seldom drank and kept his sobriety during discussions. Quay had a residence in St. Lucie, Florida and was often criticized as the “third Senator from Florida.” Quay had a railroad constructed to St. Lucie to enable his many Pennsylvania political guests arrive.
Matt Quay was the son of a prominent minister and marred a woman whose family was well respected in Beaver County. Political leaders recommended Quay be made County Prothonatory, although they did not know him, but they did so out of respect for his wife’s father. Quay managed the Beaver County campaign for the successful election of Andrew Curtin as Governor.
When the Civil War broke out, Quay knew from the Mexican War history that voters chose war experience over incumbency and remaining behind to further a political career. Quay became a Second Lieutenant and was set to be sent to the front on May 22, 1861 only to have preceding orders arrive making him a Lieutenant Colonel in the Commissary. Quay was noted for his efficiency in working in the Commissary and was made the private secretary to Governor Curtin. Quay’s duties included responding to many letters and signing them as Curtin without Curtin ever seeing any of the correspondences. Quay did go to the front but there was no battle. He got typhoid fever and resigned from the Army. He was relieved of duty but chose to stay with his unit as they were ordered to battle. Confusion arose in battle and Quay got the Pennsylvania unit to keep attacking. Quay’s leadership was not at the time. During the 1999 elections, Quay was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Curtin’s Pennsylvania Republican rival was Simon Cameron, the Lincoln’s Secretary of War. They feuded over Pennsylvania troop assignments. Soldiers strongly supported Curtin, who won reelection in 1863. Pennsylvania soldier support was so strong for Republicans that Lincoln allowed 10,000 Pennsylvania soldiers to return home to vote in the 1864 election. About another 10,000 ballots came from soldiers in the field. This helped Lincoln carry by Pennsylvania by 5,712.
Quay was elected to the state legislature in 1863. He continued opposing Cameron but avoided tearing the Republican Party apart. Quay became Ways and Means Committee Chairman which increased his political power. Quay made deals with Cameron as Curtin’s power diminished. Some allege Quay received financial support to switch to Cameron, yet the author believes this is false. Curtin became Minister to Russia and was displaced from Pennsylvania politics.
Pennsylvania voters were less idealistic than seen in other states. Counting the 20,000 Civil War soldiers who were strongly Republican, the civilian population was majority Democratic in 1863. The Republican leadership was more opportunistic for power than for policy. Pennsylvania voters in general favored a more conservative brand of Republicanism. Quay realized eastern Pennsylvanians wanted to protect their business interests. Pennsylvania’s ethnic groups of Scotch-Irish, Quakers, and Germans tended toward seeking compromises in their politics. Pennsylvania overall were less idealistically driven.
In the 1860s and 1870s, the Pennsylvania Railroad employed 150,000 and was also a political power. Cameron owned a competing railroad and was an opponent of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The Republican Party itself achieved a payroll of employees earning $24 million which was comparable to payrolls of smaller railroads. Patronage workers were expected to contribute 2% of their salaries. The Republican Party sought to defend business interests through high tariffs, easy incorporation laws, right of way law favoring businesses, etc. Businesses, though, could not exert extreme influence. The Republican Party also had the power to restrain excesses.
For 15 Congresses of two year sessions, Pennsylvanians elected a majority of Democratic Congressmen only once, for the 1875-77 session. Usually Pennsylvania sent a higher proportion of Republicans to Congress than did most other states. Democrats only won Governorships in 1882 and 1890 and those elections were assisted by Republican factional splits and that Robert Pattison won both elections. Pattison only won by 222 votes the second time.
Quay was a strong advocate in favor of the 15th Amendment for voting rights for African Americans, who also strongly tended then to vote Republican. He faulted other Republicans for their inconsistent support for the amendment. Quay also favored the direct of election of Senators, writing against the problem of funds from railroad interests and business security agent contracts given in return for helping pay, sometimes through bribery, for getting legislators to vote for someone for Senator.
State Treasurer William Irwin, also from Beaver County, emerged as a possible challenger to Quay. Irwin refused to deposit state funds into pro-Cameron banks as Quay requested. Quay persuaded the legislature to replace Irwin with Robert Mackey. Mackey helped Quay align with Cameron. Irwin joined the anti-Cameron Republicans such as Pennsylvania Railroad and Democrats to attempt to defeat Mackey. Mackey with Quay’s help fought and won reelection.
Quay worked on the 1863 successful campaigns to reelect Ulysses Grant as President and John Hartran as Governor. Quay was named Secretary of the Commonwealth.
Ulysses Grant opposed the Republicans nominating James Blaine for President. Grant appointed J. Donald Cameron, Simon’s son, as Secretary of War. The Camerons and Quay became part of efforts to fight Blaine. Governor Hartranft was nominated as a favorite son candidate for President to keep pro-Blaine delegates to instead vote for Hartranft. The national Republican delegates unified anti-Blaine candidates behind Govenor Rutherford Hayes, who won the nomination and was elected President. Hayes barely carried Pennsylvania by about 10,000 votes. Quay impressed on Republican leaders in 3,300 election districts the importance of getting just a few more voters per district. Writing a letter to each leader also allowed him to develop an association with party regulars.
President Hayes refused to put J. Donald Cameron in his Cabinet. Simon Cameron was enraged and resigned his Senate seat after receiving pledges that his son would take his seat. This happened, thus sending a message to Hayes that he could want the Camerons to deal with.
The Camerons were leaders in politics in Harrisburg, Mackey in Pittsburgh, and Quay in Beaver. Noting an absence of leadership in eastern Pennsylvania, the Camerons persuaded Quay to run eastern Pennsylvania. Quay was made Recorder of Philadelphia. Philadelphia Republican Party regulars resisted. Quay resigned after a year and returned to Harrisburg to become Secretary of the Commonwealth, Quay then became Chairman of Republican State Committee.
Quay and Mackey reached an agreement with a third party, the Greenbacks, that Republicans would be sympathetic to their economic positions in erturn for the Greenbacks not merging to help Democrats. Republican Henry Hoyt in 1878 was elected by 22,253 votes with 81,788 votes going to the Greenback candidate. Cameron proclaimed that this strategy that Quay and Mackey used with the Greenbacks had worked. Mackey died in 1879, creating a power gay mostly filled by Quay. J. Donald Cameron was uncomfortable speaking in public and did not asset his influence as forcefully as did his father. More people began looking to Quay for state political leadership.
Cameron wanted to return Grant for a third term. Quay preferred looking forward rather than to the past and unenthusiastically went along. Grant was not nominated but Quay was noted for being a leader of the Grant movement, which was known as the Immortal 306, representing the 306 national convention delegates voting for Grant on the last ballot.
President Garfield was assassinated. A public outrage over patronage resulted as the media focused on the patronage practices that led a patronage seeker to shoot a President. Democrats won Governorships in Pennsylvania and five other states. Quay endorsed an Independent candidate for State Treasurer against a Cameron-supported Republican, which raised Quay’s identification with Independents, a group that was emerging in importance. Quay saw that Independents disliked Democrats and sought to switch them to the Republican side.
Quay won the Republican nomination for Congress but was defeated in the general election.
Quay saw the shift of patronage power from the Federal government, where Civil Service reform was occurring, to the states. Quay also helped business interest and social services interests through the legislative and appropriations processes. Quay helped businesses get franchises, charters amended, legislative funds appropriated, favorable bills passed through the legislature as he could broker with key legislators. Quay helped hospitals, schools, prisons, charities, railroads, steel mills, oil interests, and corporate interests. Quay and his financial resources could guide legislation through the Republican majority machine backed legislature. Legislators who were enemies to Quay were defeated. Legislators who opposed Quay but had no ability to hurt him were ignored so resources could be directed towards defeating those who could hurt Quay.
Quay could control legislators and had money from contributors to back his power. Quay set up a hotel office to receive visitors who would generally request help and ten become part of the Quay machine.
Quay’s operation directed which local banks were the ones where state Treasury funds were directed, often with the bank paying no interest. In 1880, securities with no value were deposited. This venture created a financial scandal as the debt that was created was a quarter million dollars more than there were assets. Quay claimed he didn’t know about the scheme but accepted responsibility and personally lost $100,000. An anti-machine candidate, Samuel Butler, was elected State Treasurer in 1880. Quay sought to bolster his falling political support and discovered many Independents favored him. Quay ran for and was elected State Treasurer. Quay was known for saying “I don’t mind losing a Governorship or a legislative now and then, but I always need the State Treasury-ship.”
Quay had banks that receive state funds at no interest to invest half as they wanted and to invest the other half as Quay and political bosses directed. Opponents charged Quay deposited around $5 million annually into banks which yielded $150,000 a year for Quay machine spending.
Philadelphia voters felt they were neglected by the Quay legislative efforts. Philadelphia voters favored more reform minded, anti-Quay candidates. The Philadelphia Republican machine, led by “King James” McManes, controlled Philadelphia patronage and was anti-Quay. McManes has opposed Simon Cameron. Cameron joined forces with anti-McManes reformers who were upset that the city debt increased from $20 million to $50 million with a loss of services during the 20 years McManus’s machine controlled Philadelphia politics. McManes fought back. Quay placed David Martin as Philadelphia boss in a city divided over its Republican leadership. Martin was aligned with Quay until 1895 when he refused to fight Boies Penrose’s campaign for Mayor. Quay replaced Martin with Israel Durham. Durham had 10,000 patronage jobs to distribute in return for his loyalty to Quay. Durham once stated “what do I care who is President, so long as I carry my ward?”
Having settled Philadelphia, Quay turned to put down a challenge to his authority in Pittsburgh from Christopher Magee and William Flynn. Magee was an agent for Pennsylvania Railroad in gaining rights and privileges as well as representing other businesses. Magee and Flynn together had a fortune of $15 million compared to Quay’s value of about $800,000. Lincoln Steffens wrote “Magee spent his wealth for more power, and Flynn spent his power for more wealth.” Magee reported was so concerned about Quay he developed a nervous condition that led to his death at age 53.
Quay established a strong statewide organization. He punished legislators who didn’t act as requested by removing funds to the legislator’s district.
Quay allied with Boies Penrose’s leadership in Philadelphia.
Quay opposed the nomination of Benjamin Harrison for President. Harrison won the nomination. Quay though turned his focus on New York City. Quay had Republican leaders spend $100,000 to create a directory of residents so that illegal Democratic voters could be arrested an announced two weeks before the election.
Anti-Quay John Wanamaker was a major contributor to the Harrison campaign. Quay felt compelled to allow Wanamaker to gain influence, yet Quay lost some power in return. Harrison realized the danger of supporting Wanamaker and offered to Quay he would work with Wanamaker only if Quay insisted. Quay did, but later regretted it.
Quay noted patronage can hurt a political machine, proclaiming “for every single appointment, a dozen or more who have become disappointed become disgruntled and indifferent.”
Quay and the Pennsylvania members of Congress helped elect Thomas Reed House Speaker over William McKinley. Quay’s influenced increased.
The press researched Quay and claimed Quay in 1867 accepted funds from opposing candidates, $20,000 from one and $13,000 from another, to help them. It was also alleged Quay made weekly payments of $1,000 to an Internal Revenue Supervisor to not close an illegal distillery and that Quay received $60,000 from the distillery owners.
Quay in 1890 guided Pennsylvania legislation that paid $4 million to reimburse the Pennsylvania Railroad for property damage from a workers strike. Half the funds were given to the lobbyists with Quay receiving the most money. Additional indemnifications from Civil War damagers were added to broaden the legislation to get more legislators to support the bill. Four legislators later pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to vote for this bill.
The press claimed Quay and a group of other Republicans were attempting to move African American Republicans to Indiana, West Virginia, and Connecticut in sufficient numbers to guarantee these states would vote Republican. Some blamed the Democratic electoral victories in 1890 on the backlash to the negative press generated by Republican National Chairman Quay.
150 Philadelphia business leader and professionals led by Rudolph Blankenburg issued public criticism of Quay and Cameron. Quay resigned from the Republican National Committee in 1891.
Independents, who were planning to attack Quay, endorsed Louis Watras to lead the Pennsylvania delegates to the 1892 Republican National Convention. Quay did not oppose them. Watros, though, was later pressured to resign and a machine loyalist, Frank Reed, became convention chairman. An effort to stop Harrison’s nomination in 1892 drew several Senators and leaders to a meeting in Pennsylvania. J. Donald Cameron declared “I’m afraid that if we nominate Harrison we couldn’t’ elect him” to which Quay replied “My only fear is if he’s nominated, he will be elected.” Harrison was re-nominated but was defeated.
Quay was elected to the Senate. In his first two year session, he missed 108 roll call votes while making 36. His attendance improved slightly to 37% in his second Congressional session. He was challenged for reelection to the Senator by John Dalzell. Quay met Dalzell in several Republican country primaries which Quay won easily. The Republican legislative caucus voted 146 for Quay to 14 for Dalzell. The full legislature elected Quay by 165 to 80 for a Democrat.
Quay ran as a favorite son candidate for President in 1896. Some African American groups, noting Quay had appointed the first Black to serve on the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee, endorsed Quay. Yet this support was not very influential outside Pennsylvania. McKinley was easily nominated and elected.
Quay made a deal with previous rival, John Wanamaker in supporting Wanamaker for the U.S. Senate. For reasons never disclosed, Quay and Wanamaker feuded over candidates in other races and their agreement fell apart. Quay informed his preferred choice, Boies Penrose, that election the U.S. Senate would require $200,000. Penrose met with business leaders and raised that amount in two days. In the Republican legislative caucus, Penrose received 133 votes to 76 for Wanamaker. Many of the pro-Wanamaker Republican legislators remained anti-Quay during the legislative session.
Quay’s candidate for Governor in 1898, Charles W. Stone, was nominated over opposition from Wanamaker. Quay kept the Democrats and Independents divided which allowed Stone to receive a plurality against Democrat George Jenks and Prohibition and Honest Government nominee Silas Swallow.
In 1898, Quay was indicted for abuse of public funds in a bank failure case that los state funds. Quay insisted he was only a bank customer who also lost money. The prosecution could not find evidence to prove Quay had inappropriately directed the funds by using his political influence. Quay was found innocent. Quay resigned from the Senate during the scandal and after the trial Governor Stone reappointed Quay to his own vacant seat. Several state legislators protested the appointment. The U.S. Senate voted not to re-seat Quay.
In1900, Quay considered the choice of Vice President to be the least important aspect of the Republican National Convention voting. Quay helped his friend Thomas Platt, New York Republican leader, to remove Platt’s enemy, Governor Theodore Roosevelt, from New York politics. Knowing McKinley’s nomination was secure, Quay floated the idea of Roosevelt for President to draw attention to Roosevelt for Vice President.
Quay also voted to reduce the power of Southern states at the Republican conventions. He proposed changing the allocation of Delegates according to the states’ Republican Presidential votes. Quay offered to delay the vote for a day which allowed Mark Hanna, a source of patronage for many Southern delegates, to support Roosevelt for Vice President in exchange for withdrawing Quay’s resolution.
McKinley was elected. Quay was elected to the U.S. Senate by 130 to 124. Quay bought nine votes just before the vote.
Roosevelt became President when McKinley was assassinated. Roosevelt acknowledge Quay’s support and saw that patronage to Pennsylvania ran through Quay. Roosevelt failed to follow through on a recommended appointment and apologized to Quay for his error. Quay and the Republican State Convention endorsed Roosevelt for President in 1904.
Quay, as Republican State Chairman, sent a letter requesting political contributions from Civil Service employees. Roosevelt was understanding that this could have been a mistake yet stated it was illegal and asked Quay to retract the letter. Instead, a second letter seeking funds was sent with Quay’s name on the letterhead and the letter was signed by the Secretary of the Republican State Committee. Quay refused to retract the letters. Attorney General Philander Knox investigated the matter but determined that was not enough evidence that Quay was involved in the writing of the letters.
Quay defended Native Americans in the Senate. He called them the “forgotten face” and called to increase their welfare.
Quay died in 1904.