United states history


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In the vignette below, author Jacob Riis describes tenement life among the working poor, mostly immigrant families by illustrating the experience of one working woman's family.
In a house around the corner that is not a factory tenement, lives now the cigar maker I spoke of as suffering from consumption which the doctor said was due to the tobacco fumes. Perhaps the lack of healthy exercise had as much to do with it.... Six children sit at his table. By trade a shoemaker, for thirteen years he helped his wife make cigars in the manufacturer's tenement. She was a very good hand, and until his health gave out two years ago they were able to make from $17 to $25 a week, by lengthening the day at both ends. Now that he can work no more, and the family under the doctor's orders has moved away from the smell of tobacco, the burden of its support has fallen upon her alone, for none of the children is old enough to help. She has work in the shop at eight dollars a week, and this must go round; it is all there is. Happily, this being a tenement for revenue only, unmixed with cigars, the rent is cheaper: seven dollars for two bright rooms on the top floor. No housekeeping is attempted. A woman in Seventy second Street supplies their meals, which the wife and mother fetches in a basket, her husband being too weak. Breakfast of coffee and hard tack, or black bread, at twenty cents for the whole eight; a good many, the little woman says with a brave, patient smile, and there is seldom anything to spare, but   . The invalid is listening, and the sentence remains unfinished. What of dinner? One of the children brings it from the cook. Oh! it is a good dinner, meat, soup, greens and bread, all for thirty cents. It is the principal family meal. Does she come home for dinner? No; she cannot leave the shop, but gets a bite at her bench. The question: A bite of what? seems as merciless as the surgeon's knife, and she winces under it as one shrinks from physical pain. Bread, then. But at night they all have supper together- sausage and bread. For ten cents they eat all they want."
Source: Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York reprinted in Pauline Maier, Inventing America: A History of the United States, vol. 2 (New York 2003), p. 613.

In an 1869 speech in Boston, Frederick Douglass challenged most social observers and politicians (including most African Americans) by advocating the acceptance of Chinese immigration. Part of his argument is presented below.
I have said that the Chinese will come... Do you ask, if I favor such immigration, I answer I would. Would you have them naturalized, and have them invested with all the rights of American citizenship? I would. Would you allow them to vote? I would. Would you allow them to hold office? I would.

But are there not reasons against all this? Is there not such a law or principle as that of self-preservation? Does not every race owe something to itself..? Should not a superior race protect itself from contact with inferior ones? Are not the white people the owners of this continent...? Is it best to take on board more passengers than the ship will carry?

To all of this and more I have one among many answers, together satisfactory to me, though I cannot promise that it will be so to you.

I submit that this question of Chinese immigration should be settled upon higher principles than those of a cold and selfish expediency. There are such things in the world as human rights. They rest upon no conventional foundation, but are external, universal, and indestructible. Among these, is the right of...migration; the right which belongs to no particular race, but belongs alike to all and to all alike. It is the right you assert by staying here, and your fathers asserted by coming here. It is this great right that I assert for the Chinese and Japanese, and for all other varieties of men equally with yourselves, now and forever. I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity, and when there is a conflict between human and national rights, it is safe to go to the side of humanity... I reject the arrogant and scornful theory by which they would limit migratory rights, or any other essential human rights to themselves, and which would make them the owners of this great continent to the exclusion of all other races of men.

I want a home here not only for the negro, the mulatto and the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours... If respect is had to majorities, the fact that only one fifth of the population of the globe is white, the other four fifths are colored, ought to have some weight and influence in disposing of this and similar questions... If the white race may exclude all other races from this continent, it may rightfully do the same in respect to all other lands...and thus have all the world to itself...

The apprehension that we shall be swamped or swallowed up by Mongolian civilization...does not seem entitled to much respect. Thought they come as the waves come, we shall be stronger if we receive them as friends and give them a reason for loving our country and our institutions. They will find here a deeply rooted, indigenous, growing civilization, augmented by an ever-increasing stream of immigration from Europe.... They will come as strangers. We are at home. They will come to us, not we to them. They will come in their weakness, we shall meet them in our strength...and with all the advantages of organization. Chinese children are in American schools in San Francisco. None of our children are in Chinese schools, and probably never will be... Contact with these yellow children...would convince us that the points of human difference, great as they, upon first sight, seem, are as nothing compared with the points of human agreement. Such contact would remove mountains of prejudice.

The voice of civilization speaks an unmistakable language against the isolation of families, nations and races, and pleads for composite nationality as essential to her triumphs. Those races of men which have... had the least intercourse with other races of men, are a standing confirmation of the folly of isolation. The very soil of the national mind becomes in such cases barren, and can only be resuscitated by assistance from without.
Source: Philip S. Foner and Daniel Rosenberg, eds., Racism, Dissent, and Asian Americans from 1850 to the Present: A Documentary History (Westport, Conn., 1993), pp. 223-226.

The American Protective Association, a secretive, anti Catholic organization, emerged in the 1880s in response to European immigration and the rise of immigrant supported big city machines in the East. In the West it was primarily anti-Asian. By 1896 it claimed one million members. Reprinted below is the oath of membership of the A.P.A.
I do most solemnly promise and swear that I will always, to the utmost of my ability, labor, plead and wage a continuous warfare against ignorance and fanaticism; that I will use my utmost power to strike the shackles and chains of blind obedience to the Roman Catholic Church from the hampered and bound consciences of a priest ridden and church oppressed people; that I will never allow anyone, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, to become a member of this order, I knowing him to be such; that I will use my influence to promote the interest of all Protestants everywhere in the world that I may be; that I will not employ a Roman Catholic in any capacity, if I can procure the services of a Protestant.

I furthermore promise and swear that I will not aid in building or maintaining, by my resources, any Roman Catholic church or institution of their sect or creed whatsoever, but will do all in my power to retard and break down the power of the Pope, in this country or any other; that I will not enter into any controversy with a Roman Catholic upon the subject of this order, nor will I enter into any agreement with a Roman Catholic to strike or create a disturbance whereby the Catholic employees may undermine and substitute their Protestant co workers; that in all grievances I will seek only Protestants, and counsel with them to the exclusion of all Roman Catholics, and will not make known to them anything of any nature matured at such conferences.

I furthermore promise and swear that I will not countenance the nomination, in any caucus or convention, of a Roman Catholic for any office in the gift of the American people, and that I will not vote for, or counsel others to vote for, any Roman Catholic, but will vote only for a Protestant, so far as may lie in my power (should there be two Roman Catholics in opposite tickets, I will erase the name on the ticket I vote); that I will at all times endeavor to place the political positions of this government in the hands of Protestants, to the entire exclusion of the Roman Catholic Church, of the members thereof, and the mandate of the Pope.

To all of which I do most solemnly promise and swear, so help me God. Amen.

Source: Thomas A. Bailey & David M. Kennedy, The American Spirit, Vol. II, (Lexington, Mass: D. C. Heath and Company, 1984), pp. 509 510.

Long before "Ann Landers" and "Dear Abby" Abraham Cahan, editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, a Yiddish-language newspaper for Jewish immigrants in late 19th and early 20th Century New York, provided advice to his readers in a column titled "A Bintel Brief" [bundle of letters]. In the following passage we see a letter from a "Discontented Wife" and Cahan's response.
Dear Editor,
Since I do not want my conscience to bother me, I ask you to decide whether a married woman has the right to go to school two evenings a week. My husband thinks I have no right to do this.

I admit that I cannot be satisfied to be just a wife and mother. I am still young and I want to learn and enjoy life. My children and my house are not neglected, but I go to evening high school twice a week. My husband is not pleased and when I come home at night and ring the bell, he lets me stand outside a long time intentionally, and doesn’t hurry to open the door.

Now he has announced a new decision. Because I send out the laun­dry to be done, it seems to him that I have too much time for myself, even enough to go to school. So from now on he will count out every penny for anything I have to buy for the house, so I will not be able to send out the laundry any more. And when I have to do the work myself there won’t be any time left for such “foolishness” as going to school. I told him that I’m willing to do my own washing but that I would still be able to find time for study.

When I am alone with my thoughts, I feel I may not be right. Per­haps I should not go to school. I want to say that my husband is an intelligent man and he wanted to marry a woman who was educated. The fact that he is intelligent makes me more annoyed with him. He is in favor of the emancipation of women, yet in real life he acts contrary to his beliefs.

Awaiting your opinion on this, I remain,
Your reader,

The Discontented Wife


Since this man is intelligent and an adherent of the women’s emancipa­tion movement, he is scolded severely in the answer for wanting to keep his wife so enslaved. Also the opinion is expressed that the wife abso­lutely has the right to go to school two evenings a week.

Source: Isaac Metzker, A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward (New York, 1971), Reprinted in Robert D. Marcus and David Burner, ed. America Firsthand Vol. 2 (New York: 1989), p. 130.

Terms for Week 6
Populist Party
William Jennings Bryan
Knights of Labor-Terence Powderly
American Federation of Labor (AFL)--Samuel Gompers
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)
eight-hour day
Gentleman's Agreement
Hull House
Muckrakers-Ida Tarbell

Upton Sinclair

Lincoln Steffens
Progressive Reformers:

Jane Addams

Jacob Riis

Progressive Organizations:

Sierra Club

General Federation of Women’s' Clubs

National Civic Federation

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Socialist Party of America
The Oregon System: initiative, recall, referendum
The Square Deal
National American Woman Suffrage Association
The Conservation Movement
A. Mitchell Palmer

Nebraska farmer W. M. Taylor, in a letter dated January 10, 1891, describes the hardship he and other farmers faced, attributing it mostly to man-made conditions rather than more typically weather or insects.
This season is without a parallel in this part of the country. The hot winds burned up the entire crop, leaving thousands of families wholly destitute, many of whom might have been able to run through this crisis had it not been for the galling yoke put on them by the money loaners and sharks—not by charging 7 per cent per annum, which is the lawful rate of interest, or even 10 per cent, but the unlawful and inhuman country destroying rate of 3 per cent, a month, some going still farther and charging 50 per cent per annum. We are cursed, many of us finan­cially, beyond redemption, not by the hot winds so much as by the swindling games of the bankers and money loaners, who have taken the money and now are after the property, leaving the farmer moneyless and homeless... I have borrowed for example $1,000. I pay $25 be­sides to the commission man. I give my note and second mortgage of 3 per cent of the $1,000, which is $30 more. Then I pay 7 per cent on the $1,000 to the actual loaner. Then besides all this I pay for appraising the land, abstract, recording, etc., so when I have secured my loan I am out the first year $150. Yet I am told by the agent who loans me the money, he can’t stand to loan at such low rates. This is on the farm, but now comes the chattel loan. I must have $50 to save myself. I get the money; my note is made payable in thirty or sixty days for $35, secured by chat­tel of two horses, harness and wagon, about five times the value of the note. The time comes to pay, I ask for a few days. No I can’t wait; must have the money. If I can’t get the money, I have the extreme pleasure of seeing my property taken and sold by this iron handed money loaner while my family and I suffer.
Source: W. M. Taylor to editor, Farmer's Alliance (Lincoln, Nebraska), January 10, 1891, Nebraska Historical So­ciety, reprinted in Robert D. Marcus and David Burner, ed. America Firsthand. vol.2 (New York: 1989), p. 99.

In 1892 the Populist Party mounted its first campaign for the Presidency. Part of the Party platform adopted at the Omaha Convention in 1892 is reprinted below.
We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering people. We charge that the controlling influence dominating both these parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop with serious effort to prevent or restrain them...

We believe that the power of government  in other words, of the people  should be expanded...as rapidly and as far as the good sense of an intelligent people and the teachings of experience shall justify, to the end that oppression, injustice, and poverty shall eventually cease in the land.

1. We demand a free ballot and a fair count in all elections, and pledge ourselves to secure it to every legal voter...through the adoption by the States of the Australian or secret ballot system.
2. The revenue derived from a graduated income tax should be applied to the reduction of the burdens of taxation now levied upon the domestic industries of this country.
3. We pledge our support to fair and liberal pensions to ex Union soldiers and sailors.

4. We condemn the fallacy of protecting American labor...which opens our ports to the pauper and criminal classes of the world and crowds our wage  earners; and we denounce the present ineffective laws against contract labor, and demand the further restriction of undesirable emigration.

5. We cordially sympathize with the efforts of organized workingmen to shorten the hours of labor, and demand a rigid enforcement of the existing eight hour law on Government work, and ask that a penalty clause be added to the said law.
6. We regard the maintenance of a large standing army of mercenaries, known as the Pinkerton system, as a menace to our liberties, and we demand its abolition...
7. We commend...the legislative system known as the initiative and referendum.
8. We favor a constitutional provision limiting the office of President and Vice President to one term, and providing for the election of Senators of the United States by a direct vote of the people.
9. We oppose any subsidy or national aid to any private corporation for any purpose.
Source: Richard N. Current and John A. Garraty, ed., Words that Made American History Since The Civil War, (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1965), pp. 223, 226 227.

In the early 1890s Mary Ellen Lease became one of the leading Populist Party spokespersons. This Kansas housewife was best known for her demand that farmers "raise less corn and more hell" to address their grievances. In this speech in 1890 she explains the plight of the farmers.
This is a nation of inconsistencies. The Puritans fleeing from oppres­sion became oppressors. We fought England for our liberty and put chains on four million of blacks. We wiped out slavery and by our tariff laws and national banks began a system of white wage slavery worse than the first.

Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street.

The great common people of this country are slaves, and monopoly is the master. The West and South are bound and prostrate before the manufacturing East.

Money rules, and our Vice President is a London banker. Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags.

The parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us. We were told two years ago to go to work and raise a big crop, that was all we needed. We went to work and plowed and planted; the rains fell, the sun shone, nature smiled, and we raised the big crop that they told us to; and what came of it? Eight cent corn, ten cent oats, two cent beef, and no price at all for butter and eggs  that's what came of it.

Then the politicians said we suffered from overproduction. Overproduc­tion, when 10,000 little children, so statistics tell us, starve to death every year in the United States, and over 100,000 shop girls in New York are forced to sell their virtue for the bread their niggardly wages deny them.

Tariff is not the paramount question. The main question is the money question... Kansas suffers from two great robbers, the Santa Fe Railroad and the loan companies. The common people are robbed to enrich their masters...

We want money, land, and transportation. We want the abolition of the national banks, and we want the power to make loans direct from the govern­ment. We want the accursed foreclosure system wiped out. Land equal to a tract thirty miles wide and ninety miles long has been foreclosed and bought in by loan companies of Kansas in a year.

We will stand by our homes and stay by our fireside by force if neces­sary, and will not pay our debts to the loan shark companies until the government pays its debts to us. The people are at bay; let the bloodhounds of money who have dogged us thus far beware.
Source: Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy, The American Spirit, Vol. II (Lexington, Massachu­setts, 1984), pp. 547 548.

William Jennings Bryan, a 36 year old Congressman from Nebraska, electrified the Democrat­ic Party Convention in Chicago in 1896 with his "Cross of Gold Speech in which he advanced the position of the Free Silver advocates before the 15,000 people in the Convention hall. The next day Bryan was nominated for President on the Democratic Party ticket. Part of his speech is reprinted below.
I would be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distin­guished gentlemen to whom you have listened if this were a mere measuring of abilities. But this is not a contest between persons. The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty  the cause of humanity....

We [silverites] do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest. We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!...

Mr. Carlisle [John G. Carlisle of Kentucky, formerly a distinguished member of Congress, was Cleveland's Secretary of Treasury in 1896] said in 1878 that this was a struggle between "the idle holders of idle capital" and "the struggling masses, who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country"; and, my friends, the question we are to decide is: upon which side will the Democratic Party fight  upon the side of "the idle holders of idle capital" or upon the side of "the struggling masses"? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic Party.

There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you will only legislate to make the well to do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.

You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard. We reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms, and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.

Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

Source: Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy, The American Spirit, Vol. II (Lexington, Massachu­setts, 1984), pp. 563 565.

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