Friday, April 5, 2013
It was the Protestant preachers, in particular the Reverend Charles H. Parkhurst, who first cast the light of general scrutiny on the sin that New York loved: prostitution, drink, and gambling. Parkhurst went out one night with a flash fellow of his acquaintance and took a tour of the low places of the city in order to denounce them from the pulpit. He was so horrified that he went out again the next night, and the night after. He soon roused the respectable people of the city, which is to say, the Republicans, to demand that the city be cleansed of sin. No illegal activity could take place without the complicity of the police. The Lexow commission hearings revealed them to be on the take, a great public scandal.
Roosevelt closed all the bars on Sundays, because that was the law, handed down by the Republican legislators in Albany. Now in those days Sunday was the working man's only day off, his only solace a drink of beer. New Yorkers began to yearn for the return of Tammany. But Theodore Roosevelt was stiff-necked. Political expediency was never a part of his vocabulary. Right was right, and the law was the law. In vain did thirsty newspaper writers point out that the rich folks could drink at home on Sundays, or in their pricey hotels.
Then the wife of a prominent and powerful citizen was robbed of her jewels.
Without a stable of underworld informers to ferret out the thief, the police were helpless. Now it became apparent that virtue didn't work, not in New York City, perhaps not anywhere. Everyone, high and low, benefitted from the slimy network of corruption and bribery that the city ran on in ordinary times, and they wanted it back again. The rest is history. Roosevelt went on to become President of the United States, but that's a story for another day.