A Forgotten Hack

Those who travel I-95 through Maryland may notice an overpass sign for Gorman Road. Baltimore City has street names that could be the basis for a fascinating historical essay. Key Highway is no mystery. Broening highway is named for long-dead Mayor. Barney and McComas streets honor heroes. There is even a Bonaparte Alley that is named for Jerome rather than Napoleon. Walther Boulevard has a family connection that remains a personal mystery.

Yet who remembers Arthur Pue Gorman, once one of the two most powerful men in Maryland politics. Gorman was once attacked in an editorial as: “A man who knows no trade nor profession save politics but who has grown rich in the practice”.

Maryland Politics in the latter part of the 19th century was dominated by Democrats and the American (aka Know-Nothing) Party. Republicans were active only in black precincts in Baltimore City and in Western and Southern Maryland. Two men ruled the state politically, I. Freeman Raisin in Baltimore and Gorman in rural Maryland. Raisin was the ‘Boss’ of Baltimore City Democrats and had made massive vote fraud a finely-honed political tool. Freeman sought no high office for himself and was content with the post of Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. His lieutenants could turn out a hundred votes or more from a single rowhouse that was not populated by more than two families. On
election day, the practice known as ‘cooping’ would see stumblebums herded from polling place to polling place to vote in the names of registered phantom voters. A swig of Maryland rye whiskey was the reward for voting the ticket. The technique continues in a refined form.

Arthur Pue Gorman began his career as a political hack as a congressional page. He became linked with Senator Douglas and moved to the Senate. Gorman rose in the political structure and had some plums of lucrative patronage thrown his way. He was elected to the Maryland General Assembly and appointed to the United States Senate. While a Democrat, Gorman pushed for protectionism while President Cleveland championed free trade. Gorman enjoyed a substantial income from a corporate directorship and a CEO post.

Gorman rose in the ranks of his party and had visions of taking the presidential nomination to run against Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. The plan failed and there are apocryphal tales of a box of gold Gorman for President pins being dumped into a lake.

Gorman is the prototypical political hack. His type has generally replaced the citizen-legislator.

There was a political revolution in Maryland in the 1898 election in which the issue of vote fraud was paramount. A lot of rascals were voted out but there was a return to politics as usual. There would never be another monolithic machine in Baltimore City as ‘bosslets’ ruled their fiefdoms at substantial personal profits. A few cooperative nominal Republicans could cut deals with the bosses and get elected mayor and even governor. The last was Spiro T. Agnew (a former Democrat who made the most of a tactical party switch).

The most recent Republican Governor of the (once) Free State was Robert Ehrlich, the real thing and a man who lived up to the German meaning of his name

2 Comments

  1. Maryland, My Maryland. Long shall her corruption reign!

    Maryland is a relative piker in the corruption game and Baltimore never came to the level of New York or Chicago.

    It was known as the Free State because it never passed a state Prohibition law. Thank the great Albert C. Ritchie for that. He was the first governor to be re-elected and the only one to serve four terms. He was a conservative democrat who was replaced by a ‘New Deal Republican’ who was one of the worst governors on record in spite of having the name of “Nice”.

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