WHAT FARM PROBLEM?
In the vignette below J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska, who served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland between 1893 and 1897, challenged Populist arguments by asserting that there was no farm problem. Here is an excerpt from his report on farm conditions in 1896.
Out of each thousand farms in the United States only 282 are mortgaged, and three-fourths of the money represented by the mortgages upon the 282 farms was for the purchase of those farms or for money borrowed to improve those farms. And the prevalent idea that the West and the South are more heavily burdened with farm mortgages than the East and Northeast sections of the United States is entirely erroneous...
The constant complaint by the alleged friends of farmers, and by some farmers themselves, is that the Government does nothing for agriculture... Largely these declarations are without foundation. Their utterance is a belittlement of agriculture and an indignity to every intelligent and practical farmer of the United States. The free and independent farmers of this country are not impoverished...they are not wards of the Government to be treated to annuities, like Indians upon reservations. They are representatives of the oldest, most honorable, and most essential occupation of the human race. Upon it all other vocations depend for subsistence and prosperity.
Legislation can neither plow nor plant. The intelligent, practical, and successful farmer needs no aid form the Government. The ignorant, impractical, and indolent farmer deserves none. It is not the business of Government to legislate in behalf of any class of citizens because they are engaged in any specific calling, no matter how essential the calling may be to the needs and comforts of civilization. Lawmakers cannot erase natural laws nor restrict or efface the operation of economic laws. It is a beneficent arrangement of the order of thing and the conditions of human life that legislators are not permitted to repeal, amend, or revise the laws of production and distribution.
Source: The Report of Secretary of Agriculture, 1896 (Washington, D.C., 1896, pp. xlv-xlvi.
THOMAS WATSON AND BLACK VOTERS
Thomas Watson, the Georgia Populist leader, symbolized the transformation of the Populist Party on the issue of black voting. In the early 1890s when the party first emerged, Watson and other Populist leaders welcomed black voters as political allies. By 1900, however, Watson called for black disfranchisement. Reprinted below is his appeal to black voters in 1892 and an example of his vitriolic anti black attacks after 1900.
1892: Now the People's Party says to these two men, "You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars you both...
The conclusion, then, seems to me to be this: the crushing burdens which now oppress both races in the South will cause each to make an effort to cast them off. They will see a similarity of cause and a similarity of remedy. They will recognize that each should help the other in the work of repealing bad laws and enacting good ones. They will become political allies, and neither can injure the other without weakening both. It will be to the interest of both that each should have justice. And on these broad lines of mutual interest, mutual forbearance, and mutual support the present will be made the stepping stone to future peace and prosperity.
1909: How silly it is to judge the negro race by a few mulattoes like Dr. Booker Washington or Prof. DuBois. In all the long reach of the ages he [the negro] has not contributed one ray of light to civilization. Creative intellect was not given to him. No original idea of his lives in poetry or song, in stone or upon canvas, in written bork or hieroglyphic. Commerce owes him nothing; the ocean roared at his feet, even as it did at the feet of our ancestors, but he never dared to build ship and brave the deep, as Celt and Teuton, Saxon and Angle did.
...Leave the negro to himself, and cycles sweep by, empires rise and fall, races appear and disappear, the negro undergoes no chance, making no advance, and dreaming of none... He remains, century after century, the neighbor of the gorilla and chimpanzee, making no more effort at civilization than they make...
Sources: John Blum, The National Experience, Part 2 (New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1985),p. 514; Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine Vol. 3, No. 2 (February, 1909), pp. 93, 102.
HENRY CLEWS OPPOSES THE ORGANIZATION OF LABOR
In the vignettes below Henry Clews outlines, in an 1886 article, his opposition to labor organization in an principle and specifically to the Knights of Labor.
The Knights of Labor have undertaken to test, upon a large scale, the application of compulsion as a means of enforcing their demands. The point to be determined is whether capital or labor shall, in future, determine the terms upon which the invested resources of the nation are to be employed. To the employer; it is a question whether his individual rights as to the control of his property’ shall be so far overborne as to not only deprive him of his freedom but also expose him to interferences seriously impairing the value of his capital. To the employees, it is a question whether, by the force of coercion, they can wrest, to their own profit, powers and control which, in every civilized community are secured as the most sacred and inalienable rights of the employer.
The Almighty has made this country for the oppressed of other nations, and therefore this is the land of refuge for the oppressed, and the hand of the laboring man should not be raised against it.
The laboring man in this bounteous and hospitable country has no ground for complaint. His vote is potential and he is elevated thereby to the position of man. Elsewhere he is a creature of circumstance, which is that of abject depression. Under the government of this nation, the effort is to elevate the standard of the human race and not to degrade it. In all other nations it is the reverse. What, therefore, has the laborer to complain of in America? By inciting strikes and encouraging discontent, he stands in the way of the elevation of his race and of mankind.
Source: Henry Clews, "The Folly of Organized Labor," North American Review, June 1886, reprinted in Bruno Leone, ed., Opposing Viewpoints in American History (San Diego, 1996), p. 58.
TERENCE V. POWDERLY AND THE KNIGHTS OF LABOR
Terence V. Powderly, the son of Irish immigrants, became a machinist and later joined the secret order of the Knights of Labor. He ultimately became Grand Master of the organization when it reached its maximum strength of 700,000 in the early 1880s. The Knights welcomed virtually all workers and worked for a variety of reforms such as regulation of trusts and monopolies, and government ownership of railroads. Powderly's organization was attacked by conservatives who accused it of advocating communism. But Powderly was also criticized by trade union advocates within the Knights of Labor who wanted wage increases and shorter hours and who often went on strike, despite the organization's prohibition of such action, to gain their objectives. Powderly explains his views in his autobiography published in 1893.
I have held a most anomalous position before the public for the last twenty years. All of this time I have opposed strikes and boycotts. I have contended that the wage question was of secondary consideration; I have contended that the short hour question was not the end but merely the means to an end; I have endeavored to direct the eyes of our members to the principal parts of the preamble of our Order government ownership of land, of railroads, or regulation of railroads, telegraphs, and money. But all of this time I have been fighting for a raise in wages, a reduction in the hours of labor, or some demand of the trade element in our Order, to the exclusion of the very work that I have constantly advocated and which the General Assembly of the Order commanded me to advocate.
Just think of it! Opposing strikes and always striking; battling for short hours for others, obliged to work long hours myself, lacking time to devote to anything else. Battling with my pen in the leading journals and magazines of the day for the great things we are educating the people on, and fighting with might and main for the little things.
Our Order has held me in my present position because of the reputation I have won in the nation at large by taking high ground on important national questions, yet the trade element in our Order has always kept me but at the base of the breastworks throwing up earth which they trample down.
Source: Terence V. Powderly, The Path I Trod, (New York, 1893, reprinted by Columbia University Press, 1940), p. 401.
SAMUEL GOMPERS DESCRIBES TRADE UNIONS
Samuel Gompers, a London-born New York cigar maker, cofounded the American Federation of Labor in 1886, served as the AFL's first president almost until his death in 1924. In the vignette below Gompers explains the need for organization among workers. Unlike the Knights which sought to be one large union, Gompers called for trade or craft unions of skilled workers.
If you wish to improve a people you must improve their habits and customs. The reduction of the hours of labor reaches the very root of society. It gives the workingmen better conditions and better opportunities, and makes of him what has been too long neglected a consumer instead of a mere producer... A man who goes to his work before the dawn of the day requires no clean shirt to go to work in, but is content to go in an old overall or anything that will cover his members; but a man who goes to work at 8 o'clock in the morning wants a clean shirt; he is afraid his friend will see him, so he does not want to be dirty. He also requires a newspaper; while a man who goes to work early in the morning and stays at it late at night does not need a newspaper, for he has no time to read, requiring all the time he has to recuperate his strength sufficiently to get ready for his next day's work...
The general reduction of the hours per day...would create a greater spirit in the working man; it would make him a better citizen, a better father, a better husband, a better man in general... The trade unions are not what too many men have been led to believe they are, importations from Europe... Modern industry evolves these organizations out of the existing conditions where there are two classes in society, one incessantly striving to obtain the labor of the other class for a little as possible..; and the members of the other class being, as individuals, utterly helpless in a contest with their employers, naturally resort to combinations to improve their conditions which surround them to organize for self protection. Hence trade unions... Wherever trades unions have organized and are most firmly organized, there are the rights of the people respected... I believe that the existence of the trades union movement, more especially where the unionists are better organized, has evoked a spirit and a demand for reform, but has held in check the more radical elements in society...
Source: Howard H. Quint, Milton Cantor and Dean Albertson, Main Problems in American History, (Chicago: The Dorsey Press, 1987) p. 52 53.
THE "REAL" JUNGLE
Upton Sinclair's novel, The Jungle, set in the immigrant neighborhoods of Chicago, was intended as a call for socialism among the working classes but instead became popular because of its exposure of the abuses of the meat packing industry. However this report of a 1906 Congressional Committee on conditions in the industry was as telling as the novel.
There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected, and that was mouldy and white it would be doused with borax and glycerine, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home consumption.
There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had trampled and spit uncounted billions of [tuberculosis] germs.
There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it. It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats. These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together.
Source: Congressional Record, 59th Congress, First Session, p. 7801 (June 4, 1906).
BOSSES AND POLITICAL MACHINES
City Boss Party Organization
New York William Tweed 1865 1871 Democratic Tammany Hall, 1790
(Honest)John Kelley 1871 88 Democratic
Richard Crocker 1888 1894 Democratic
Charles Murphy 1902 1904 Democratic
Chicago Michael Kenna 1900 1910 Democratic Cook Co. Democratic Organization, 1900
William Thompson 1916 31 Republican
Patrick A. Nash 1931 1936 Democratic
Edward Kelley 1936 1951 Democratic
Richard J. Daley 1953 1976 Democratic
Boston Martin Lomasney 1880 1890 Democratic Southend Democratic Club, 1800-1954
James Michael Curley 1890 1920 Democratic
Philadelphia James McManes 1868 1881 Republican Philadelphia Republican Club,1860 1932
New Orleans Martin Behrman 1900 1920 Democratic Democratic Choctaw Club, 1895 1948
San Francisco Abraham Ruef 1892 1910 Union Labor
Omaha Tom Dennison 1901 1929 Democratic Omaha Democratic Club, 1894 1936
Jersey City Frank J. Hague 1917 1947 Democratic
Memphis Edward Crump 1911 1948 Democratic Shelby County Democratic Org., 1898 1965
Cincinnati George B. Cox 1885 1911 Republican
Baltimore Harvey Wheeler 1899 1910 Democratic Treaton Democratic Club, 1888 1934
Kansas City James Pendergast 1881 1892 Democratic West End Democratic Org., 1881-1949
Tom Pendergast 1892 1932
BOSS RULE IN PHILADELPHIA
In 1904 Lincoln Steffens, a California born journalist, had emerged as one of the leading muckrakers in the country with the publication of his book, The Shame of the Cities. In this passage he explains the operation of the Philadelphia political machine.
Other American cities, no matter how bad their own condition may be, all point with scorn to Philadelphia as worse "the worst governed city in the country." This is not fair. Philadelphia is, indeed, corrupt; but it is not without significance. Every city and town in the country can learn something from the typical political experience of this great representative city. New York is excused for many of its ills because it is the metropolis; Chicago, because of its forced development; Philadelphia is our third largest city and its growth has been gradual and natural.
Immigration has been blamed for our municipal conditions. Philadelphia with 47 percent of its population native born or native born parents, is the most American of our greater cities.
It is good, too, and intelligent. I don't know just who to measure the intelligence of a community, but a Pennsylvania college professor who declared to me his belief in education for the masses as a way out of political corruption, himself justified the "rake off" of preferred contractors on public works on the ground of a "fair business profit."
Philadelphia is a city that has had its reforms... The present condition of Philadelphia, therefore, is not that which precedes but that which follows reform... What has happened in Philadelphia may happen in any American city "after the reform is over."
...The Philadelphia machine isn't the best. It isn't sound, and I doubt if it would stand in New York or Chicago... The New Yorkers vote for Tammany Hall. The Philadelphians do not vote; they are disfranchised, and their disfranchisement is one anchor of the foundation of the Philadelphia organization... The honest citizens of Philadelphia have no more rights at the polls than the Negroes down South. Nor do they fight very hard for this basic privilege. You can arouse their Republican ire by talking about the black Republican votes lost in the Southern states by white Democratic intimidation, but if you remind the average Philadelphian that he is in the same position, he will look startled, then say, "That's so, that's literally true, only I never thought of it in just that way."
The machine controls the whole process of voting, and practices fraud at every stage. The [tax] assessor's list is the voting list, and the assessor is the machine's man... The assessor pads the list with the names of dead dogs, children, and non existent person. One newspaper printed the picture of a dog, another that of a little four year old Negro boy, down on such a list. A [machine politician] in a speech resenting sneers at his ward as "low down," reminds his hearers that was the word of Independence Hall, and, naming the signers of the Declaration of Independence, he closed his highest flight of eloquence with the statement that "these men, the fathers of American liberty, voted down here once. "And," he added with a catching grin, "they vote here yet."
Source: Lincoln Steffens, The Shame of the Cities, (New York: Macmillan, 1904), pp. 193 194.
BOSS PLUNKITT DEFENDS HONEST GRAFT
In 1905 New York City political boss, George Washington Plunkitt, explained the process by which he became a multi millionaire while controlling the Tammany Hall political machine. In the process Plunkitt explained the distinction between "honest" graft and "dishonest" graft.
Everybody is talkin' these days about Tammany men growin' rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin' the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There's all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I've made a big fortune out of the game, and I'm gettin' richer every day, but I've not gone in for dishonest graft blackmailin' gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc. and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.
There's an honest graft, and I'm an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by saying': "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em." Just let me explain by examples. My party's in power in the city, and it's goin' to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I'm tipped off, say, that they're goin' to lay out a new park at a certain place.
...I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes it plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before.
Ain't it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course it is. Well, that's honest graft.
...I've told you how I got rich by honest graft. Now, let me tell you that most politicians who are accused of robbin' the city get rich the same way. They didn't steal a dollar from the city treasury. They just seen their opportunities and took them. That is why, when a reform administration comes in and spends a half million dollars in tryin' to find the public robberies they talked about in the campaign, they don't find them.
The books are always all right. The money in the city treasury is all right. Everything is all right. All they can show is that the Tammany heads of departments looked after their friends, within the law, and gave them what opportunities they could to make honest graft. Now, let me tell you that's never goin' to hurt Tammany with the people. Every good man looks after his friends, and any man who doesn't isn't likely to be popular...
Tammany was beat in 1901 because the people were deceived into believin' that it worked dishonest graft. They didn't draw a distinction between dishonest and honest graft, but they saw that some Tammany men grew rich, and supposed they and been robbin' the city treasury or levyin' blackmail on disorderly houses, or workin' in with the gamblers and lawbreakers.
As a matter of policy, if nothing else, why should the Tammany leaders go into such dirty business when there is so much honest graft lyin' around when they are in power? Did you ever consider that?
Source: William A. Riordan, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), pp. 3 4.
MAJOR PROGRESSIVE ACHIEVEMENTS, 1900-1920
1901 Acting under the Forest Reserve Act, President Theodore Roosevelt withdrew 150,000,000 acres of public timber land for sale in six western states and created the first National Forests.
1902 Maryland passed the first workmen's compensation law. It made the employer liable for injuries suffered by employees.
1903 The Elkins Act declared railroad rebates illegal.
Oregon adopted the Initiative, Recall, and Referendum.
Wisconsin adopted the direct primary.
1904 U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Northern Securities Company v. United States that the Northern Securities Trust is a combination in restraint of trade. President Theodore Roosevelt initiated the suit, the first under the provisions of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
New York limited child labor and enacted the first statues to limit hours and insure safe working conditions for women.
1906 The Hepburn Act enlarged the Interstate Commerce Commission and gave it the power to reduce unreasonable or discriminatory railroad rates.
The Meat Inspection Act passed.
The Pure Food and Drug Act passed, creating the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
1910 The Mann-Elkins Act abolished long and short haul railroad rates.
1911 President William Howard Taft brought suit against the Standard Oil Trust and the American Tobacco Trust. Both were declared illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court.
1913 Sixteenth Amendment authorized a federal income tax.
Seventeenth Amendment allowed the direct election of U.S. Senators by popular vote.
Federal Reserve Act created the Federal Reserve Banking System.
1914 The Clayton Act established a Federal Trade Commission to prevent unfair methods of competition including interlocking directorates, price fixing, and pooling arrangements. It also made corporate officers liable for illegal acts.
1920 Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote.
LOUIS BRANDEIS INDICTS INTERLOCKING DIRECTORATES
Louis D. Brandeis, who in 1914 was an attorney for the Pujo Committee which investigated the "money trust" and who would later become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, describes the interlocking banking directorates which controlled the largest American corporations.
The practice of interlocking directorates is the root of many evils. It offends laws human and divine. Applied to rival corporations, it tends to the suppression of competition and to violation of the Sherman [anti trust] laws. Applied to corporations which deal with each other, it tends to disloyalty and to violation of the fundamental law that no man can serve two masters. In either event it tends to inefficiency; for it removes incentive and destroys soundness of judgment. It is undemocratic, for rejects the platform: "A fair field and no favors," substituting the pull of privilege for the push of manhood. It is the most potent instrument bankers over railroads, public service and industrial corporations, over banks, life insurance and trust companies, and long step will have been taken toward attainment of the New Freedom.
A single example will illustrate the vicious circle of control the endless chain through which our financial oligarchy now operates:
J. P. Morgan (or a partner), a director of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, causes that company to sell to J. P. Morgan & Co. an issue of bonds. J. P. Morgan & Co. borrow the money with which to pay for the bonds from the Guaranty Trust Company, of which Mr. Morgan (or a partner) is director. J.P. Morgan & Co. sell the bonds to the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, of which Mr. Morgan (or a partner) is director. The New Haven spends the proceeds of the bonds in purchasing steel rails from the United States Steel Corporation, of which Mr. Morgan (or a partner) is a director. The United States Steel Corporation spends the proceeds of the rails in purchasing electrical supplies from the General Electric Company, of which Mr. Morgan (or a partner) is a director. The General Electric sells supplies to the Western Union Telegraph Company, a subsidiary of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company; and in both Mr. Morgan (or a partner) is a director.
Source: Louis D. Brandeis, Other People's Money, (New York: Harper and Row, 1914), pp. 51 53.