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American History
Adam, James N.


READERS of American monthlies may have noticed in a recent number of “Muusey,” an article entitled “The Scot in America.” Amongst those Scotsmen who have made their mark on American life there is included the name of Mr James Noble Adam, Mayor of Buffalo. “The World’s Work” and “The Arena,” a magazine devoted to social and civic advance, have also had articles calling attention to his municipal work. As Mr Adam is a Border man, a short notice of his career in the Border Magazine may not be considered inappropriate.

Mr Adam is the son of the late Rev. Thomas Adam, of Peebles, memories of whose venerable and striking appearance in the pulpit, and vivid and humorous talk in private, are still fresh in many minds. By his mother’s side also, the Mayor of Buffalo is connected with the Border, and his forbears lie in the lonely hillside churchyard by St Mary’s Loch. He himself, however, though born in Peebles, was from early childhood brought up in Edinburgh, and received there his education and business training. While still a very young man, he became partner in a wholesale smallware firm, and scored his first success. But though keen and untiring in his work, his interests were not by any means confined to it. His early friends remember many a ploy in which he was a leader ; they find now, that the music he heard, and the poets he read then, have most power to touch him still. They remember, too, how' on Sundays sometimes he used to wander, and come back to tell them of Walter Smith or Marcus Dods—names better known now than they were then.

Mr Adam’s elder brother, Mr R. B. Adam, had gone out to America some time in the later fifties, and was gaining for himself that position of influence, which he so long exercised for good, in the prosperous and rapidly-increasing City of Buffalo. Moved by his representations and advice, Mr Adam determined to try his fortune in the United States. He and his wife, for he had just married, left early in 1872. His first business venture was in New Haven, Connecticut, where he began and carried on successfully a dry-goods business. New Haven is one of the earliest settled of the cities of New England, and it is certainly one of the most attractive. It is the seat of Yale College, which is second only to Harvard (and a Yale man would perhaps scorn the admission), amongst American Universities, but it is too quiet, too settled, has too much of the character of a University town to afford much scope for large business enterprises. Mr Adam, therefore, determined to follow his brother’s example, and made his home in Buffalo—the “Queen City of the Lakes.” Buffalo, besides being a very pleasant place of residence, almost a garden city in some of its districts, has unique advantages for commerce in its situation at the eastern end of Lake Erie, and its growth and prosperity have been remarkable. Mr Adam established here a department store, one of the best known and most successful in the city.

It is, however, not as a business man, but as a public servant that Mr Adam has of late been brought into prominence. That a Scotsman should have been elected Mayor of Buffalo was not of itself enough to have attracted much notice beyond that city’s bounds, but it is because he has associated himself so enthusiastically with the great wave of Municipal reform which is sweeping away rooted abuses in the larger cities of the Union, and because his election won for the cause one of its notable victories, that he has come of late into the public eye in his adopted State.

About twelve years ago Mr Adam began his Municipal work as a member of the Board, of Councilmen ; later he served for a term of three years as Alderman, and on its completion was again elected Councilman. He took up the work as he had done his own business affairs, and went thoroughly and patiently into all necessary details. The knowledge of these details led him to take a part that was not always easy and pleasant. In some departments he found waste, he found improvidence, he found corruption. Graft, or the making of secret profit on public business, was known to be rife. To drag these unsavoury matters to light was, of course, to make bitter opponents, but at the same time his perseverance in this course wrought gradually in the minds of the people of Buffalo a conviction that J. N. Adam was the man to whom the interests of the city might be most safely entrusted.

Buffalo has long been a stronghold of the Republican party, but Mr Adam’s free trade principles had led him to join the Democrats. He always maintained, however, what seems obvious enough, but what was in direct opposition to common practice, that national politics had nothing to do with city government, and this conviction had, through costly experience, been so far impressed on the people that he gained large majorities amongst a constituency usually strongly Republican. At his last- election as a Councilman, he was the only Democrat on the Board. This independent policy did not always commend itself to the Democratic “machine;” it would have preferred a man who could be reckoned on to reward his supporters, but as the election approached it was felt that J. N. Adam, was the only name to win by, and he was nominated by the Democratic Convention. He intimated that he intended to keep himself untrammelled by his party if elected. He announced his platform to be “Honesty versus Graft,” and, after a stirring contest, was elected by the unprecedented majority of about 10,000.

During the interval between his election and his entering on office, Mr Adam visited New York, Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, in order to study municipal conditions The Mayor did not enter on his work with any startling theories. “I am not a reformer,” he 6aid ; “I am a business man—working.” In the “message” addressed to the Common Council be says: “I desire to make it dear at the outset that as there is no authority in law, so there will be no toleration in practice, for private or political interests to control the transaction of municipal business. The affairs of our city are not a. question of politics, but of business pure and simple. We are employed by the people to work for the public interests.” Or again, “I will do all in my power to put any grafting official not only out of office, but into jail. ” His first act was to appoint to the offices which- were in his power men fitted for the work, though of the opposite party. The opposing candidate in the mayoral election, for example, was asked to serve on an important commission, and the positions of Inspector of Education and Inspector of Health were filled by Republicans. The Mayor believes strongly that city regulations should be strictly enforced, and that useless and obsolete laws should be struck off the Statute-book. He therefore appointed for the revision of the city charters a body of citizens of repute, who undertook the work in a thorough-going manner, collecting and examining the charters of about sixty of the leading cities in the country, that they might benefit by the experience of- others. Meantime he saw to the stringent application of existing regulations. He insisted that the paid officials at the City Hall should do a full day’s work. He demanded the fulfilment of contracts with public companies* such as the Street Car, and Gas Companies, by whose defaulting the city had suffered, and closed a large number of low drinking saloons which had menaced the good order of the city.

Mr Adam has entirely withdrawn from business, and devotes all his energies to public .affairs. If he insists on the full tale of working hours from other officials, he probably has the longest working day of any of them.

Mr Adam has kept up his association with his native land fresh and unbroken. For long his visits occurred every two years, but latterly every summer sees him enjoying his holiday at the foot of the Eildon Hills, and glorying in that prospect over the splendid sweep of rich country, broken by “dark Ruberslaw” and the green Minto Crags, and bounded by the Cheviots—that view which, seen from the hills, the Ettrick Shepherd thought the finest in the South of Scotland. It is the man who works hard who enjoys his holiday most.

A. P.

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