From the www.cityethics.org blog:
Henry Adams' 1880 novel Democracy is a must-read for those interested in government ethics. It's also a first-rate novel, full of wit, excellent writing, and a good portrayal of post-Civil War Washington. It's available free from Project Gutenberg, in six e-book formats.
The climax of the novel is an exchange between the Secretary of the Treasury (Ratcliffe, formerly a senator) and the novel's protagonist (Madeleine), a wealthy widow fascinated with politics. The exchange is all about government ethics. Here are a few wonderful quotations from the novel, including from the climax:
"[D]emocracy, rightly understood, is the government of the people, by the people, for the benefit of Senators...
Ratcliffe: [N]o representative government can long be much better or much worse than the society it represents. Purify society and you purify the government. But try to purify the government artificially and you only aggravate failure.
Madeleine on Ratcliffe: The audacity of the man would have seemed sublime if she had felt sure that he knew the difference between good and evil, between a lie and the truth; but the more she saw of him, the surer she was that his courage was mere moral paralysis, and that he talked about virtue and vice as a man who is colour-blind talks about red and green; he did not see them as she saw them; if left to choose for himself he would have nothing to guide him. Was it politics that had caused this atrophy of the moral senses by disuse?
Ratcliffe: If virtue won't answer our purpose, we must use vice, or our opponents will put us out of office, and this was as true in Washington's day as it is now, and always will be.
Mrs. Baker, a lobbyist: "Well! we got our bills through ... Some of them liked suppers and cards and theatres and all sorts of things. Some of them could be led, and some had to be driven like Paddy's pig who thought he was going the other way. Some of them had wives who could talk to them, and some — hadn't," said Mrs. Baker, with a queer intonation in her abrupt ending.
Madeleine: the thought of … the endless succession of moral somersaults she would've had to turn, chilled her with mortal terror.
Ratcliffe: It is the act of my public life which I most regret— not the doing, but the necessity of doing.
Madeleine: Where did the public good enter at all into this maze of personal intrigue, this wilderness of stunted natures where no straight road was to be found, but only the tortuous and aimless tracks of beasts and things that crawl?
Ratcliffe: I might say: Perish the government, perish the Union, perish this people, rather than that I should soil my hands! Or I might say, as I did, and as I would say again: Be my fate what it may, this glorious Union, the last hope of suffering humanity, shall be preserved.
Madeleine (powerful thought about government, but not about government ethics): Had she not penetrated the deepest recesses of politics, and learned how easily the mere possession of power could convert the shadow of a hobby-horse existing only in the brain of a foolish country farmer, into a lurid nightmare that convulsed the sleep of nations?"
*The more things change, the more they stay the same