The Public Interest

Corruption: the shame of the states

James Q. Wilson

Winter 1966

The best state legislatures, observed Lord Bryce over half a century ago, are those of the New England states, “particularly Massachusetts.” Because of the “venerable traditions surrounding [this] ancient commonwealth” which “sustain the dignity” of its legislature and “induce good men to enter it,” this body– called the General Court – is “according to the best authorities, substantially pure.” About the time that Bryce was congratulating the representatives in the Massachusetts State House, these men were engaged in a partially successful effort to regulate the government of the city of Boston on the grounds that City Hall was becoming a cesspool of corruption owing, in no small part, to the fact that the Irish, led by Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, had taken over. The chief instrument of state supervision over the suspect affairs of the city was to be the Boston Finance Commission, appointed by the Governor to investigate any and all aspects of municipal affairs in the capital.

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