David Graham Phillips

David Graham Phillips

David Graham Phillips was born in Madison on 31st October, 1867. After studying at Indiana Asbury University, Phillips found work as a reporter with the Cincinnati Times-Star. Later he worked for the New York Sun and the New York World. While with these newspapers Phillips developed a reputation as a fine investigative journalist.

His first novel, The Great God Success (1901), sold well and so Phillips left journalism and concentrated on writing fiction. Most of Phillips's novels employ journalistic techniques and explored a variety of social problems. The Plum Tree (1905) and Light Fingered Gentry (1907) both dealt with political corruption, whereas The Second Generation (1907) looked critical at the issue of inherited wealth.

Phillips was occasionally commissioned to write articles for magazines on political subjects. The Treason of the Senate, a series of articles published in Cosmopolitan in 1906 caused a tremendous stir. Phillips revealed that politicians were receiving huge payments from large corporation to argue their case in the Senate. This included a bitter attack on Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island and Arthur Pue Gorman of Maryland.

Phillips accused both main parties, the Democrats and Republicans, of joining together to "advance the industrial and financial interests of the wealthy classes of the country". Accused of being a muckraker, Phillips returned to fiction and other success included Old Wives for New (1908), 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.

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.

Phillips's best known novel, Susan Lenox, a story about the rise to success of an illegitimate country girl, was published posthumously in 1917.

Primary Sources

(1) David Graham Phillips, Cosmopolitan (March, 1906)

Treason is a strong word, but not too strong, rather too weak, to characterize the situation which the Senate is the eager, resourceful, indefatigable agent of interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be, and vastly more dangerous: interests that manipulate the prosperity produced by all, so that it heaps up riches for the few; interests whose growth and power can only mean the degradation of the people, of the educated into sycophants, of the masses toward serfdom.

The Senators are not elected by the people; they are elected by the "interests". A servant obeys him who can punish and dismiss. Except in extreme and rare and negligible instances can the people either elect or dismiss a senator? The senator, in the dilemma which the careless ignorance of the people thrusts upon him, chooses to be comfortable, placed and honoured, and a traitor to oath and people rather than to be true to his oath and poor and ejected into private life.

(2) David Graham Phillips, Cosmopolitan (March, 1906)

He was born in 1841, is only sixty-four years old, good for another fifteen years, at least, in his present rugged health, before "the interests" will have to select another for his sate seat and treacherous task. He began as a grocery boy, got the beginning of one kind of education in the public schools and in an academy at East Greenwich, Rhode Island. He became clerk in a fish store in Providence, then clerk in a grocery, then bookkeeper, partner, and is still a wholesale grocer. He was elected to the legislature, applied himself so diligently to the work of getting his real education that he soon won the confidence of the boss, then Senator Anthony, and was sent to Congress, where he was Anthony's successor as boss and chief agent of the Rhode Island interests. He entered the United States Senate in 1881.

In 1901 his daughter married the only son and destined successor of John D. Rockefeller. Thus, the chief exploiter of the American people is closely allied by marriage with the chief schemer in the service of their exploiters. This fact no American should ever lose sight of. It is a political fact; it is an economic fact. It places the final and strongest seal upon the bonds uniting Aldrich and "the interests".

Has Aldrich intellect? Perhaps. But he does not show it. He has never in his twenty-five years of service in the Senate introduced or advocated a measure that shows any conception of life above what might be expected in a Hungry Joe. No, intellect is not the characteristic of Aldrich - or of any of these traitors, or of the men they serve. A scurvy lot they are, are they not, with their smirking and cringing and voluble palaver about God and patriotism and their eager offerings of endowments for hospitals and colleges whenever the American people so much as looks hard in their direction!

Aldrich is rich and powerful. Treachery has brought him wealth and rank, if not honor, of a certain sort. He must laugh at us, grown-up fools, permitting a handful to bind the might of our eighty millions and to set us all to work for them.

(3) David Graham Phillips, Cosmopolitan (May, 1906)

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.

(4) In his book, The Era of the Muckrakers, C. C. Regier wrote about Phillips's articles that appeared in Cosmopolitan (1932)

Senator Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island, who was singled out for special attack because of his connection with the Rockefellers and because of his tariff legislation, which, it was charged, favoured the oil and tobacco trusts. Aldrich, a Republican, was called the right arm of the interests, and Senator A. P. Gorman of Maryland, a Democrat, was called the left arm. Phillips, referring to this interest in business affairs which Democrats and Republicans alike displayed, spoke of the Senate "merger".