Remembering the reign of GOP bosses
HBO’s Boardwalk Empire brings to life a bygone period in American history — the time when Republican bosses held sway over their personal fiefdoms and even influenced presidential politics. Boardwalk Empire focuses on the times of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, based on a real-life New Jersey political boss, Enoch Johnson.
Rhode Island had its own Republican counterparts to Johnson back in the day.
Foster native Nelson Aldrich [left] became a senator known as “general manager of the United States” because of his dominance of tariff and monetary policies.
Brayton controlled the selection of Republican legislative candidates because he controlled the campaign money, and later, could reward the faithful with positions in state service, judgeships or other benefits. Control of the Assembly meant control of the Grand Committee and its appointive powers. [Lincoln] Steffens sums up the resulting situation neatly:
Brayton has great person power; he organized the Republican Party; he systematized the corruption of voters; he chose legislators; he organized the General Assembly and ran it; he has gradually altered the government of the State.
As a result, the government (again meaning effectively the Assembly) was at the beck and call of the important business interests in the state and those outside the state on Wall Street and elsewhere. The bills that Brayton wanted passed were enacted expeditiously, and those he opposed died. He was legislator – THE legislator in fact – but not in name. He ran things from the High Sheriff of Providence County’s office in the State House.
In Boardwalk Empire, Nucky Thompson travels to a national GOP meeting in Chicago to back Warren Harding for president. According to Wikipedia, Brayton was part of the 1896 Republican National Convention that nominated William McKinley.
Photo credit: NNDB