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The Race of the Aldermen by Jonathan F. Kelley


In 183-, it chanced in the big city of New York, that the aldermen elect were a sort of tie; that is, so many whigs and so many democrats. Such a thing did not occur often, the democracy usually having the supremacy. They generally had things pretty much all their own way, and distributed their favors among their partizans accordingly. The whigs at length tied them, and the locos, beholding with horror and misgivings, the new order of things which was destined to turn out many a holder of fat office, many a pat-riot overflowing with democratic patriotism, whose devotion to the cause of the country was manifest in the tenacity with which he clung to his place, were extremely anxious to devise ways and means to keep the whigs at bay; and as the day drew near, when the assembled Board of Aldermen should have their sitting at the City Hall, various dodges were proposed by the locos to out-vote the whigs, in questions or decisions touching the distribution of places, and appointment of men to fill the various stations of the new municipal government.

“I have it—I've got it!” exclaimed a round and jolly alderman of a democratic ward. “To-night the Board meets—we stand about eight and eight—this afternoon, let two of us invite two of the whigs, Alderman H——and Alderman J——, out to a dinner at Harlem, get H——and J—— tight as wax, and then we can slip off, take our conveyance, come in, and vote the infernal whigs just where we want them!”

“Capital! prime! Ha, ha, ha!” says one.

“First rate! elegant! ha, ha, ha!” shouts another.

“Ha, ha! haw! haw! he, he, he!” roared all the locys.

“Well, gentlemen, let's all throw in a V apiece, to defray expenses; we, you know, of course, must put the whigs through, and we must give them a rouse they won't forget soon. Champagne and turtle, that's the ticket; coach for four out and two in. Ha, ha!—The whigs shall see the elephant!”

Well, the purse was made up, the coach hired, and the two victims, the poor whigs, were carted out under the pretence of a grand aldermanic feast to Harlem, the scene of many a spree and jollification with the city fathers, and other bon vivants and gourmands of Gotham.

Dinner fit for an emperor being discussed, sundry bottles of “Sham” were uncorked, and their effervescing contents decanted into the well-fed bodies of the four aldermen. Toasts and songs, wit and humor, filled up the time, until the democrats began to think it was time that one of them slipped out, took the carriage back to the city, leaving the other to fuddle the two whigs, and detain them until affairs at “the Tea Room,” City Hall, were settled to the entire satisfaction of the democrats.

“Landlord,” says one of the democrats, whom we will call Brown, “landlord, have you any conveyance, horses, wagons, carriages or carts, by which any of my friends could go back to town to-night, if they wish?”

“Oh, yes,” says the landlord, “certainly—I can send the gentlemen in if they wish.”

“Very well, sir,—they may get very tight before they desire to return—they are men of families, respectable citizens, and I do not wish them, under any circumstances, to leave your house until morning. Whatever the bill is I will foot, provided you deny them any of your means to go in to-night. You understand!”

“Oh! yes, sir—if you request it as a matter of favor, that I shall keep your friends here, I will endeavor to do so—but hadn't you better attend to them yourself?”

“Well, you see,” says Brown, “I have business of importance to transact—must be in town this evening. Give the party all they wish—put that in your fob—(handing the host an X)—post up your bill in the morning, and I'll be out bright and early to make all square. Do you hark?” says Brown.

“Oh, yes, sir—all right,” responded the landlord.

Brown gave his confederate the cue, stepped out, promising to “be in in a minute,” and then, getting into a carriage, he drove back to the city, almost tickled to death with the idea of how nicely the whigs would be “dished” when they all met at the City Hall, and came up minus two!

Smith, Brown's loco friend, did his best to keep the thing up, by calling in the New Jersey thunder and lightning—vulgarly known as Champagne—and even walked into the aforesaid t. and l. so deeply himself, that a man with half an eye might see Smith would be as blind as an owl in the course of the evening. But Smith was bound to do the thing up brown, and thought no sacrifice too great or too expensive to preserve the loaves and fishes of his party. All of a sudden, however, night was drawing on a pace, the whigs began to smell a mice. The absence of Brown, and the excessive politeness and liberality of Smith, in hurrying up the bottles, settled it in the minds of the whigs, that something was going on dangerous to the whig cause, and that they had better look out—and so they did.

“Jones,” says one of the whigs, sotto voce, to the other, “Brown has cleared; it is evident he and Smith calculate to corner us here, prevent your presence in 'the Tea Room' to-night, and thus defeat your vote.”

“The deuce! You don't think that, Hall, do you?”

“Faith, I do; but we won't be caught napping. Waiter, bring in a bottle of brandy.”

“Brandy?” said Smith, in astonishment. “Why, you ain't going to dive right into it, in that way, are you?”

“Why not?” says Hall. “Brandy's the best thing in the world to settle your nerves after getting half fuddled on Champagne, my boy; just you try it—take a good stiff horn. Brown, you see, has cut, we must follow; so let's straighten up and get ready for a start. Here's to 'the loaves and fishes.'“ Jones and Hall took their horns of Cogniac, which does really make some men sober as judges after they are very drunk on real or spurious Champagne.

“Well,” says Smith, “it's my opinion we'll all be very tight going in this way, brandy on Champagne; but here goes to the fishes and loaves—the loaves and fishes, I mean.”

The brandy had a rather contrary effect from what it does usually; it did settle Smith—in five minutes he was so very “boozy” that his chin bore down upon his breast, he became as “limber as a rag,” and snored like a pair of bagpipes.

“Now, Jones,” says Hall, “let's be off. Landlord, get us a gig, wagon, carriage, cart, any thing, and let's be off; we must be in town immediately.”

“Sorry, gentlemen, but can't oblige you—haven't a vehicle on the premises!”

“Why, confound it, you don't pretend to say you can't send us into town to-night, do you?” says Jones, waxing uneasy.

“Haven't you a horse, jackass, mule or a wheelbarrow—any thing, so we can be carted in, right off, too?” says Hall.

“Can't help it, gentlemen.”

“What time do the cars come along?” eagerly inquires Jones.

“About nine o'clock,” coolly replies the host.

“Nine fools!” shouted the discomfited alderman. “But this won't do; come, Jones, no help for it—can't fool us in that way—eight miles to the City Hall—two hours to do it in; off coat and let's foot it!

       * * * * *

The City Hall clock had just struck 7 P. M., the Tea Room was lighted up, the assembled wisdom of the municipal government had their toadies, and reporters and lookers-on were there; the room was quite full. Brown was there, in the best of spirits, and the locos all fairly snorted with glee at the scientific manner in which Brown had “done” Jones and Hall out of their votes! The business of the evening was climaxing: the whigs missing two of their number, were in quite a spasm of doubt and fear. The chairman called the meeting to order. The roll was called: seven “good and true” locos answered the call. Six whigs had answered: the seventh was being called: the locos were grinning, and twisting their fingers at the apex of their noses!

“Alderman Jones! Alderman Jones!” bawled the roll-caller.

“Here!” roared the missing individual, bursting into the room.

“Alderman Hall!” continued the roll.

“Here!” responded that notable worthy, rushing in, entirely blowed out.

“Beat, by thunder!” roared the locos, in grand chorus; and in the modern classics of the Bowery, “they wasn't any thing else.” The whigs not only had the cut but the entire deal in the appointments that time, and Alderman Brown had a bill at Harlem, a little more serious to foot than the racing of the aldermen to get a chance to vote.


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