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THE LURE OF GRAFT AND THE METTLE OF ITS CURE.
WILLIAM R. CURRAN, OF PEKIN.
Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen and Ladies of the Association: I was somewhat at a loss when the Committee requested me to write a paper on this subject. I supposed that the proper person to write a paper of this kind would be a grafter, who would have a practical acquaintance with the subject. I inferred, after consideration, however, that, as my residence was near the center of the State, and in a locality practically next door to the city which is the home of our honored President, they concluded my opportunty for observation was good and for that reason asked me to write the paper. (Laughter and applause.)
Human language is wonderful in its elasticity, power of growth and adaptation of old forms of expression to new ideas. In the old time it was said, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” The picture may remain unchanged, but the golden apples of yesterday, in the picture, may stand forth today laden with a wider, richer and more complete largeness of meaning.
Slang is one of the formative processes of language, in which new words are formed to express new ideas, or old words broadened in expression to convey new meanings.
No definition of the word “graft,” giving it the meaning that has been generally current for the last half decade, can be
found in any standard authority. Its meaning as it has heretofore been understood in the language has been most harmless and pastoral in its character.
"A small shoot or scion of a tree inserted in another tree as the stock which is to support and nourish it. The graft and stock unite and become one tree, but the graft determines the kind of fruit. The figurative meaning was something inserted in, or incorporated with another thing to which it did not originally belong, an extraneous addition."
A grafter was one who inserts scions of foreign stocks; one who propagates trees, shrubs, vines and fruits by grafting. There was in the meaning of this word the innocence and sweetness of the old orchard with its wealth of bloom and golden fruitage, and the odor of the big red clover that grew between. It bespeaks of the harmless art that wooed the wild olive and the crab-apple from the wilderness, and trained them to yield abundant crops of luscious fruit; blessing the hand that gave and tended, as well as the hand that received.
Who can account for the trick of the mind of men, that almost instantaneously, without preconcerted action or discussion, should add to the meaning of so good and wholesome words such sinister freightage of dark and ominous import, and use them to express crimes and misdemeanors, the just punishment of which rob free men of their liberty and drive honored senators of the republic into obscurity and disgrace? A paragraph here and there, a scare headline in the press, a song in light opera, a sentence on the hustings, the cry of the throng, and the work is done. These new and pregnant meanings to old words are concurred in by all who speak the language, and the phrase that but yesterday may have been a compliment is today ground for an action of libel and a challenge to battle.
In this new sense, that the makers of dictionaries have not yet recognized, which fact is but proof that they do not keep pace with the growth of the language, a grafter is one who
violates a legal or moral duty, public or private, for gain. This may apply with equal force to a United States senator, the governor of the State, a highway commissioner or a petit juror who violates his duty for gain. The consequences in the latter instances may not be so far reaching or important, but the crime is just as vicious; in either instance the offense is rank; it smells to heaven.
Graft is the price or gain received or given for the violation of that public or private duty. It may also express the schemes and methods whereby illicit gain can be had by the violation of duty, and grafting is the act of procuring or inducing one charged with a legal or moral duty to violate that duty to the profit or advantage of the one inducing the improper act or violation of trust; or, on the other hand, it may be the act of one charged with a duty who allows himself to be induced to violate his duty, public or private, for his own illicit gain. So the one violating the duty is a grafter, and the one procuring the duty to be violated is also a grafter, and this is true whether the person involved is a natural or an artificial person; a human being with a soul and conscience, or a corporation without either.
The illicit gains that may be acquired by grafting and which fall within its ban are direct and indirect. They are direct and most palpable when they pass immediately from the hand of one grafter to the hand of another through the graft as the price of violated duty.
They are indirect when they do not pass immediately from one grafter to another, but when a third party, on account of ties of blood, party, church, school, college or social relation, receives the benefits of that violated duty. These gains may consist of cash or its equivalent, stocks in corporations, awarded contracts at either fair or unfair prices, rebates, increased business or employment either professional or commercial, appointment to office, assessments on the salaries of such officers after their appointment, untraveled mileage, the