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Inside Story of the Pendergast Mob
and Their Agent in the White House

(19 July 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 29, 19 July 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The best man the Democratic Party can find to run for President was first hoisted into national political office in 1934 by some 60,000 “ghost” votes. These were the votes of dead and buried citizens, incorporeal residents of vacant lots and other disembodied members of the Kansas City, Missouri, electorate who regularly thronged to the polls on election days at the summons of Boss Thomas Pendergast.

These votes delivered by Pendergast’s machine of racketeers, gunmen, vice-lords, business men and other of the “better class” elements, provided the slim margin of victory for one of the Boss’s “boys,” Harry S. Truman. It propelled “Judge” Truman from an obscure county commissionership to the U.S. Senate in one heave. The momentum carried him within ten years to the Vice Presidency, and thence, by the accident of death, to the White House itself.

Boss Pendergast went to his reward in 1945, attended by all the solemn rites of the Catholic Church. The most distinguished mourner at the funeral services was Vice President Truman, who left his war-time duties and flew via Army bomber to express his undying loyalty to the man – and the machine – that Raised him to power. “He was my friend, and I Was his,” said the sorrowing Truman of the political mobster, ex-convict, grafter, ballotthief, tax-evader and ruthless overlord who made Kansas City and Missouri politics a stench in American nostrils for decades.

Machine Lives On

Boss Pendergast died, but his machine lives on. His mantle fell on the shoulders of his nephew and political heir, James Pendergast, bosom friend of Truman. Once again the odor of wholesale vote frauds is wafted from the Kansas City domain of the Jackson County Democratic Club, the label of the Pendergast mob, whose most famous dues-paying member is Harry S. Truman. For Pendergastism is growing and flourishing like a noxious, hardy weed – nurtured today by the sunshine of patronage, protection and favor beaming from the White House itself.

To know who Truman is and what his politics really mean, you have to know Pendergastism. No man knows Pendergatism better than Maurice M. Milligan, former U.S. District Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, who secured the evidence and carried through the prosecution that sent the Boss “up the river” in 1939 and who helped “put away” 259 of Pendergast’s hirelings and tools for fraudulent election practices. For this blow at his political mentor and crony, Truman, as Vice President, malevolently blocked Milligan’s reappointment.

Inside Story

Milligan has now told the story of the Pendergast-Truman machine in a book, The Inside Story of the Pendergast Machine, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. In this book you will find the most authentic revelations available – based strictly oh government evidence and court records – of that system of political despotism and hoodlumism, spoils and boodlery to which Truman owes his rise and to v-hich he pays first allegiance today.

In February 1934 – the year Pendergast picked Truman for the U.S. Senate – Milligan was appointed by President Roosevelt to his post of U.S. District Attorney of Western Missouri, with Kansas City as his headquarters. It was a time when Pendergast’s city was, in Milligan’s words, the ‘center of a crime corridor” stretching from St. Paul and Chicago down to the Southwest. Pendergast’s realm Was the refuge of gangsters and criminals who holed up there for “protection,” immune to arrest and prosecution.

His Task

Milligan’s assigned task was to break up this alliance of politics, big money and crime, which was so flagrant that it became an embarrassment to Roosevelt. Milligan’s appointment followed the outcry that’ arose after the “Union Station Massacre,” when gangsters tommy-gunned to death an FBI agent and several police officers escorting a prisoner from the Union Station in Kansas City. The threads of the murders led finally to one John Lazia, righthand man of Pendergast and ruler of Kansas City’s notorious underworld.

Lazia organized the bootleg liquor and dope rings, the prostitution and gambling joints that fed the “kitty” of the Jackson County Democratic Club. In 1934 he was found dead in a ditch, riddled with slugs, before the FBI could catch up with him and get the final evidence of the link between the Union Station murderers and the Kansas City police who were run by Lazia.

Before he met his violent end, Lazia did one last big political chore for Pendergast. He furbished the gunmen and autos for the “Bloody Election” of March 1934, when Pendergast snatched Victory from near-defeat in the municipal elections. After Lazia’s hoodlums got through “persuading” the good citizens of Kansas City to “vote right,” four were murdered, hundreds were assaulted and beaten up, and an estimated 100,000 felonies were committed in one day of bloody terror and election fraud.

The Pendergast candidate for Mayor won by 59,368 votes. The total vote cast was 222,866. This was higher than the 219,000 votes cast two years before in the Presidential Election!

Chief Evidence

It took several years for Milligan to uncover the evidence of vote frauds necessary to convict Pendergast’s henchmen. The chief evidence was provided by records rind ballots of the August 1936 primary, when they were finally impounded and studied by experts of the Department of Justice.

Suspicion centered on the “arithmetic” of the vote results which gave Pendergast’s candidate for the State Supreme Court in one Kansas City ward 18,919 votes to his opponent’s 18. In another ward, the vote was 19,201 to 13. The total inhabitants of the two wards – babies, children and adults – were 38,401.

The Kansas City Star, which was in opposition to Pendergast at that time, uncovered evidence showing that election records listed vacant lots as the residences of from ten to thirty “voters,” buildings housing three to five people were given “as the residences of ten or 15 “phantom” voters. The Pendergast machine voted everything from the graves in the cemetery to names of people who had moved thousands of miles away years before.

As the subsequent vote fraud trials disclosed the number of these “ghost” votes was between 50,000 and 60,000. Truman won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senator in 1934 by a margin of 41,000 votes in the state. His Kansas City and Jackson County total was 138,423 – against the combined total of his two opponents of 16,437 (according to the election returns.)

Tax Evasion

Pendergast – who never ran for office himself, but selected those who did – was finally nailed for income tax evasion. He forgot to irtehide in his income tax statements a matter of $430,000 paid him by the insurance companies in Missouri. This sum he received to get his State Superintendent of Insurance to fix up a “compromise” settlement of funds impounded by the previous Superintendent in an illegal premium rate-fixing case.

One thing led to another, and before Pendergast and a number of his business associates were sent to Leavenworth for 13 months it was found he had failed to tell the government of at least $1,010,746.56 in income he had received from his numerous business enterprises. In fact, he had defrauded the government of $551,078.75 in taxes.

In the days when Boss Pendergast’s machine was under fire for vote fraud, his staunchest champion was Truman, who declared in the Senate: “I say to the Senate, Mr. President, that a Jackson County, Mo., Democrat has as much chance of a fair trial in the Federal District Court of Western Missouri as a Jew would have in Hitler’s court or a Trotsky follower before Stalin.”

He forgot to mention that his political buddies were tried before a jury and convicted on the direct evidence of tampered ballots and registry lists. Federal Judge Reeves, who fried the vote fraud cases, replied that Truman’s outburst was “a speech of a man dominated by ‘ghost’ votes, elected by ‘ghost’ votes and whose speech was probably Written by ‘ghost’ writers.”

“Legitimate” Business

Boss Pendergast, while not above yielding to the temptation of bribes, was essentially content to make his money from “legitimate” business. He owned numerous construction companies and other enterprises. He got rich by using his political control to get public contracts. His building inspectors, for instance, saw to it that only his concrete was used in construction around Kansas City rind Jackson County. He ran a liquor business as well. His views oh politics were summed up by him with, “Politics is a business.”

Truman, too, entered politics as a “business.” Unsuccessful as a haberdashery store-keeper arid small farmer, Truman was able to “set himself up” in politics by way of a modest political office in Jackson Country secured through the influence of his army buddy, James Pendergast.

He has not forgotten his benefactor, who is today a frequent guest in the White House. And the prestige of the U.S. President has been used directly to restore tjte political fortunes and rule of the Pendergast machine.

In the 1946 primary campaign for Congress, Truman publicly intervened against the incumbent Congressman Slaughter, who was on the “outs” with the Pendergast mob, and backed a Pendergast-supported candidate.

Out of that election, which Slaughter lost by the margin of the Kansas City vote, came new and convincing charges of vote fraud. But strangely, despite overwhelming evidence of dirty doings at the polls, the Department of Justice under Truman’s regime balked and stalled another prosecution for vote fraud.

On March 28, a Senate sub-committee was questioning Attorney General Tom Clarke in his failure to properly investigate and prosecute the latest ballot steal. The evidence, including ballot boxes and records, in the indictment of 73 persons was impounded in a vault in the Jackson County court house. As the Senate committee was beginning its business, a telegram arrived: “LAST NIGHT PRIMARY BALLOTS STOLEN FROM ELECTION COMMISSIONERS’ VAULT.”

And Truman’s FBI hasn’t found them yet.

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