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David Graham Phillips and the Political System

John Simkin

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David Graham Phillips once wrote: "Such is the stealthy and treacherous Senate as at present constituted. And such it will continue to be until the people think, instead of shout, about politics; until they judge public men by what they do and are, not by what they say and pretend. However, the fact that the people are themselves responsible for their own betrayal does not mitigate contempt for their hypocritical and cowardly betrayers. A corrupt system explains a corrupt man; it does not excuse him. The stupidity or negligence of the householder in leaving the door unlocked does not lessen the crime of the thief."

Phillips accused both main parties, the Democrats and Republicans, in Congress, of joining together to "advance the industrial and financial interests of the wealthy classes of the country". Phillips wrote this in 1906.

Phillips upset a lot of inportant people with his investigative journalism that it would probably be safer to put his political points in novels. The Plum Tree and Light Fingered Gentry both dealt with political corruption, whereas The Second Generation (1907) looked critical at the issue of inherited wealth. Old Wives for New (1908) was a novel that considered the social and economic position of women. In other novels such as The Conflict (1911), Phillips returned to the subject of political corruption.

As it happens, this was not a safer way of writing about controversial subjects. On 23rd January, 1911, David Graham Phillips was murdered by Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough, a violinist in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Goldsborough believed that the novel, The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig, had libelously portrayed his family.


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