Alexander Robey Shepherd - City Boss

City Boss

By 1870, war and mismanagement had caused the finances and infrastructure of the city to deteriorate so badly that the Mayor of Washington, Sayles J. Bowen, had his furniture seized in an attempt to pay the city's debts; Democrats and Republicans were in a rare agreement that a drastic change was needed from Bowen's regime. As a solution, Shepherd and his allies began agitation for the abolition of the elected governments of Washington City and Georgetown, as well as the appointed justices of the peace for Washington County, to be replaced with a unified territorial government that would administer the entire District of Columbia. The Shepherd machine was easily able to sway popular support in favor of the notion.

In the following year, 1871, Shepherd was able to convince Congress to pass a bill that established the territorial government he desired. The Organic Act of 1871 merged the various governments in the District of Columbia into a single eleven-member legislature, including two representatives for Georgetown and two for the County of Washington, to be presided over by a territorial governor; the legislature and governor would all be appointed by the President. The two front-runners for the governorship were initially Shepherd, from Washington, and Colonel Jason A. Magruder, from Georgetown; although popular support was behind Shepherd, President Grant feared that either appointment would cause a sectional divide that might make governorship of the full district impossible. Thus Grant's inaugural appointment to the governorship was his friend, the financier Henry D. Cooke, "a gentleman of unimpeachable integrity" — and, secretly, a close political ally of Shepherd's.

Shepherd was appointed vice-chair of the city's five-man Board of Public Works. The most powerful public entity in the District of Columbia, the Board of Public Works was actually an independent entity from the territorial government, reporting directly to Congress, but kept within the territory's sphere of influence by making the governor its chairman. Cooke, however, rarely attended the Board's meetings (probably at Shepherd's urging), allowing Vice-Chair Shepherd to preside. He asserted himself as a leader to such an extent that he often did not bother to consult the other members of the Board before making decisions and taking sweeping action. His abilities as a political operator, according to D.C. journalist Sam Smith, were formidable:

Boss Shepherd's persuasive skills were such that upon being called to account by the president of a railroad whose tracks on the Mall had been torn up one night by 200 of Shepherd's men, he left the meeting with an offer to become the line's vice president. His cunning was such that when he heard reports of a planned injunction against the removal of what he called a "wretched old market building" on Mt. Vernon Square, he got a friend to take the one judge currently in the city out for a long ride in the country while the Boss accomplished his mission. ... As the Cincinnati Enquirer of the time put it: "Boss Tweed and his gang, to whom Shepherd's enemies are so given to comparing him, were vulgar villians, stupid sneak thieves, by the side of this remarkable man."

Read more about this topic:  Alexander Robey Shepherd

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Alexander Robey Shepherd - City Boss - Governorship and Fall From Power
... in Congress and a Federal payment to the city." Generally, however, his gubernatorial term was "principally occupied in avoiding embarrassments in the conduct of the District's official business ... Although the Organic Act of 1871 had given the governor power to issue construction bonds in the city, to the consternation of white landowners, Shepherd nonetheless put it to a referendum ... from Congress when the audit was conducted, the legislature discovered that the city was in arrears by $13 million and declared bankruptcy on its behalf ...

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