Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr.
Scott and Dorothy Bullitt
Professor of American History
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History 101:
Survey of the History of the United States
Manual - Chapter 6
Industrialization's Critics

Introduction | Chap. 1 | Chap. 2 | Chap. 3 | Chap. 4 | Chap. 5 | Chap. 6 | Chap. 7 | Chap. 8 | Chap. 9 | Appendix

The Conservation Movement, 1850-1920                                                     

Child Labor in America, 1908-1912: Photographs

Readings for Chapter 6 

Terms for Week 6



















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. 


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, 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.



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, 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, 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. 



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).



City Boss Political Party Political Organization
New York  William Tweed 1865-1871   Tammany Hall, 1790
  (Honest) John Kelley 1871-88 Party  
  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    



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.  


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. 



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. 

        Oregon adopted the Initiative, Recall and Referendum

1903 The Elkins Act declared railroad rebates illegal.     

        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 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.   


                  MAJOR U.S. CORPORATIONS, 1917, 2002   


1917 2002
Rank Assets in Millions of Dollars Rank Assets in Millions of Dollars
1. U.S. Steel


1. General Electric


2. Standard Oil of N.J.


2. Microsoft


3. Bethlehem Steel


3. ExxonMobil


4. Armour and Company


4. Wal-Mart


5. Swift and Company


5. Citigroup


6. Midvale Steel


6. Pfizer


7. International Harvester


7. Intel


8. E.I. du Pont


8. Johnson and Johnson


9. U.S. Rubber


9. American Int. Group


10. Phelps Dodge


10. IBM


11. General Electric


11. Coca-Cola


12. Anaconda Copper


12. Merck


13. Am. Smelting


13. Phillip Morris


14. Standard Oil of N.Y.


14. Proctor & Gamble


15. Singer Manufacturing


15. Royal Dutch Petroleum


16. Ford Motor


16. Home Depot


17. Westinghouse Electric


17. Bank of America


18. American Tobacco


18. Cisco


19. Jones & Laughlin Steel


19. Verizon Communications


20. Union Carbine


20. Berkshire Hathaway




                                       WARTIME HYSTERIA 

It has been suggested that World War I destroyed the Progressive Movement by diverting the nation's attention from political and economic reform to winning the conflict with Germany.  Certainly the intense anti‑German wartime propaganda convinced many Americans that the Kaiser was to be feared far more than the trusts.  The passage below is an example of that propaganda. 

        Let us set down sternly that we are at war with the Germans, not the Junkers [German aristocrats], not autocracy, not Prussianism, not the Kaiser...The German people is what we war with.  The German people is committing the unspeakable horrors which set the whole world aghast.  The German people is not and has not been conducting war.  It is and has been conducting murder.  Hold fast to that.  The Supreme Court of New York declared the sinking of the Lusitania an act of piracy.  Piracy is not war.  All decencies, honors, humanities, international agreements, and laws have been smashed by them day and night from the first rape of Belgium to now.  The new atrocity which appeared this week was spraying prisoners with burning oil.  This is Germany's most recent jest.  It makes them laugh so! 

        They have violated every treaty with the United States; they have lied from start to finish and to everybody.  A treaty was a scrap of paper....

        Germany has ravished the women of Belgium, Serbia, Romania, Poland, Armenia.  Germany murdered the passengers of the Lusitania and struck a medal to celebrate that German triumph, dating it two days before the horrible occurrence.  Germany has ruined cathedrals and cities in sheer wanton fury, in such fashion as has not been done in all the wars wages in Europe since the days of the building of the cathedrals.  Germany has poisoned wells, crucified inhabitants and soldiers, burned people in the houses, and this by system.  Germany has denatured men and boys, has wantonly defaced the living and the dying and the dead.  An eye‑witness tells of seeing women dead at a table with their tongues nailed to the table and left to die.

        Germany has disclosed neither decency nor honor from the day it started war, nor has a single voice in Germany to date been lifted up against the orgies of ruthlessness which turn the soul sick and which constitute the chief barbarity of history.  Germany remains unblushing and unconscious of its indecency.  Germany's egotism still struts like a Kaiser.  And to climax its horrid crimes, Germany has inflicted compulsory polygamy on the virgins of its own land. 

Source: Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy, The American Spirit, Vol. II, Boston, Mass.: D. C. Heath and Company, 1984), pp. 663‑665.    


The following vignette describes the role of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer in orchestrating the first Red Scare in 1919 and 1920.  

        ...The spotlight suddenly shifted to Attorney‑General A. Mitchell Palmer.  A Quaker with a long record of support for progressive legislation, Palmer had been [President Woodrow] Wilson's floor manager in 1912.  Regarded by many as the father of women's suffrage and the child labor law a strong advocate of the League of Nations, Palmer was the prototype of the Wilsonian liberal.  The Democratic party's contact man with labor in the 1916 campaign, Palmer was appointed Attorney‑General partly because of his popularity with labor and the foreign‑born.  Yet no sooner had he been sworn into office in March, 1919, he started a campaign against enemy aliens.  After the June 2 [Wall Street] bombings he hired William J. Flynn, reputedly an expert on anarchism, and asked for and received a $500,000 increase in his budget in order to combat radicalism.  In August he set up an antiradical division in the Department of Justice under J. Edgar Hoover.

        On November 7 the first of the Palmer raids began, with the arrest of 250 members of the Union of Russian Workers in a dozen cities; many were roughly handled, particularly in New York City, where they were beaten by the police.  Most of the prisoners were released with "blackened eyes and lacerated scalps," the New York Times reported.  Only 39 men were recommended for deportation.  On December 21, 1919, 249 aliens, most of whom had no criminal record and had committed no criminal offense, were deported to Russia on an army transport, the "Buford."  Although the country was worried about a Bolshevik conspiracy, few of the people de­ported were Communists; most of them were anarchists, including Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman...who had no intention of ever using violence.

        Palmer turned next to the Communists.  Working with an agent in the Labor Department, which had authority over de­portations, Palmer in the last week of 1919 secured warrants for the arrest of more than 3,000 aliens who were members ei­ther of the Communist party or the Communist Labor party.  On a single night in January, 1920, more than 4,000 alleged Communists were arrested in a dramatic coast‑to‑coast raid in 33 cities.  If the persons arrested were citizens they were turned over to state authorities for prosecution under antisyndicalist laws; if they were aliens, they were held for deportation.

        Palmer invaded private homes, union headquarters, and meeting halls.  People were held incommunicado, denied counsel, and subjected to kangaroo trials.  In one city, prisoners were handcuffed, chained together, and marched through the streets.  In New England, hundreds of people were arrested who had no connection with radicalism of any kind.  In Detroit, 300 people were arrested on false charges, held for a week in jail, forced to sleep on the bare floor of a corridor, and denied food for 24 hours, only to be found innocent of any involvement in a revolutionary movement.  Not for at least half a century, perhaps at no time in our history, had there been such a wholesale violation of civil liberties.  The raids yielded almost nothing in the way of arms and small results in the way of dangerous revolutionaries.  Although a few individuals (the steel baron Charles M. Schwab was one) protested against the raids, Palmer emerged from the episode a national hero.

        The Red Scare ended almost as quickly as it began.  The beginning of the end came in New York State.  Directed by the irresponsible Lusk Committee, the antiradical campaign in New York reached its climax when the state legislature expelled five Socialist members of the Assembly, although the Socialist party was a legally recognized party and the members were innocent of any offense.  Throughout the country, newspapers and public figures, including the Chicago Tribune and Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio, denounced the action of the legislature.  Most effective was Charles Evans Hughes, who not only reproached the legislature but offered the Socialists legal counsel.  Although members of the legislature condemned Hughes as "disloyal" and "pro‑German," the campaign against the radicals was dealt a heavy blow.  Not only had a firm stand been taken on democratic principle, but the idea that the New York legislature felt threatened by five Socialists made the Red Scare appear more than a little ridiculous.

        Early in 1920 an insurrection against Palmer in the Labor Department, led by Secretary of Labor Wilson and Assistant Secretary Louis Post, turned deportation proceedings in a saner direction. Aided by court decisions which held that men could not be deported on evidence illegally obtained, Post insisted on giving aliens proper counsel and the right to fair hearings.  Convinced that Palmer had been violating civil liberties, Post cancelled action. against dozens of aliens and by spring released nearly half of the men arrested in Palmer's January raids.  Palmer demanded that Post be fired for his "tender solicitude for social revolution," but when Post was hauled before a congressional committee, he made such an excellent presentation of his case that his critics were forced to back down.  In the end, although 5,000 arrest warrants had been sworn out in late 1919, only a few more than 600 aliens were actually deported.

        Finally, Palmer, seeking the 1920 presidential nomination, let his attempts to capitalize on the Red Scare get out of hand.  In April he issued a series of warnings of a revolutionary plot which would be launched on May 1, 1920, as a step toward overthrowing the U.S. government. Buildings were placed under guard, public leaders were given police protection, state militias were called to the colors, and in New York City the entire police force of 11,000 men was put on 24‑hour duty.  May Day passed without a single outbreak of any kind.  Not a shot was fired.  Not a bomb exploded. As a result, the country, vexed at Palmer, concluded he had cried wolf once too often. Congress now turned to an investigation not of the radicals but of Palmer. 

Source: William E. Leuchtenburg, The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-32 (Chicago, 1973), 77-80. 




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