The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, January 10, 2004

Brass Check - not a promising start?

Sinclair has a little story to start the book [1] explaining its title.

The crusading champion of Reform in New York in and around the time of the creation of New York City was, it seems, a rag called
the "New York Evening Post," the beau ideal of a gentleman's newspaper

And the paper was supporting
a candidate for district attorney, William Travers Jerome by name; a man with a typical "Evening Post" mind, making an ideal "Evening Post" candidate.

Jerome's platform Big Finish went something like this:
The orator described the system of prostitution, which was paying its millions every year to the police of the city. He pictured a room in which women displayed their persons, and men walked up and down and inspected them, selecting one as they would select an animal at a fair. The man paid his three dollars, or his five dollars, to a cashier at the window, and received a brass check; then he went upstairs, and paid this check to the woman upon receipt of her favors. And suddenly the orator put his hand into his pocket and drew forth the bit of metal. "Behold!" he cried. "The price of a woman's shame!"

Sinclair, callow youth that he was, was duly enthused. And worked hard for the candidate. In the event, Jerome
was swept into office in a tornado of excitement, and did what all "Evening Post" candidates did and always do--that is, nothing. For four long years the lad waited, in bewilderment and disgust, ending in rage.

The question is, is it true? That Jerome

There is some stuff online about Jerome: but nothing confirming a record of inaction as District Attorney.

A brief bio shows that he held the post of DA of New York County from 1901 to 1909 - in other words, he got reelected. Tammany was defeated in 1901 in the mayoral election [2], the Republican Seth Low running on a Fusion ticket beating the Tammany man Edward Shephard [3].

For reasons as yet unexplained to me, Low's term lasted only two years: he stood again in 1903, and was defeated by Tammany's George McClellan - son of the Civil War general - another bio of Mayor McClellan here.

McClellan was re-elected in 1905, defeatingWilliam Randolph Hearst [4] as Fusion's man, whereupon he served a second term of four years.

Jerome, therefore, would have been up for re-election as DA in a year (1905) in which Tammany triumphed.

As DA, Jerome seems to be best known for his prosecution of the murder of Stanford White [5].

Muckraker Lincoln Steffens, in his Introduction to the 1904 Shame of the Cities calls Jerome

(And there is, mirabili dictu, a Jack the Ripper connection.)

Conclusion? The weight of the evidence, such as it is, is all on the side of Jerome having been an active DA. A tentative strike one against Sinclair...

  1. Thankfully, I find that the text is online.[Only the first nine chapters, dammit!] But - in DOC, one can get the whole thing, saints be praised!

  2. A piece by Henry Ford - Jew Wires Direct Tammany's Gentile Puppets - gives what I suspect would today be viewed as an eccentric reading of New York politics of the period!

    Nothing on Jerome in Political Graveyard.

  3. The first Mayor of New York City was Robert Van Wyck who was elected in 1897. NYC came into existence on January 1 1898: was he elected as Mayor of New York only, or of NYC - which, at the date of the election, did not exist?.

  4. There is a Harper's Weekly cartoon from 1906 featuring Hearst and Jerome: my October 17 2003 piece on Hearst and Al Smith pulls together stuff on Hearst's later career in New York politics.

  5. The piece calls him
    the aggressive District Attorney of New York County
    There is a much lengthier piece on this sensational trial.


Whilst the URL is to hand, there is a piece on a Dutchess County lawyer called John E Mack which namechecks Jerome. It may be interesting from an FDR angle.

Jerome also figures in this snippet on a (the?) Panama Scandal of 1908, from a site plugging a book on the subject.

When I think of Panama Scandal, it's of the French version of the 1890s, involving the evergreen Georges Clemenceau. According to the piece, some chump actually confessed, and found himself in the hoosegow for five years:
Le scandale de Panama se solde le 20 mars 1893 par la condamnation à 5 ans de prison d'un ancien ministre des travaux publics, Baïhaut, qui a eu seul la naïveté d'avouer son implication dans cette gigantesque escroquerie.

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