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Morgan, W. Scott. History of the Wheel and Alliance and the Impending Revolution . Ft. Scott, KS: J.H. Rice & Sons, 1891. [format: book], [genre: history; narrative; proceedings]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
IT is not proposed in this chapter to enter into a detailed discussion of the many ills to which the laborer, and more especially the farmer, has been subjected for many years. The more important among these have received due attention in the second part of this volume. To deny that these evils exist and to an alarming extent is to commit a folly that is nothing less than criminal; and to universally ignore, is a national crime. Whatever may be said of trade and commerce and the professions, it has long been evident to earnest thinkers that the farmers were the most cruelly oppressed class of our community. It is certainly a very unfortunate and unnatural condition of society that dooms the principal and the most useful portion of the producing class to the greatest amount of oppression; but such is the evil that is upon us. For many years the country has been suffering from evils of which all have been conscious, but which it would seem none have had the courage or wisdom to correct. Prominent among these are the burdens that have been fastened upon the people by the reckless and unscrupulous course of the great railroad monopolies that have sprung up in our midst. These vast and powerful corporations have established a series of abuses which have gradually and almost effectually undermined the solid basis upon which our internal commerce was supposed to rest. They have debauched and demoralized our Courts and Legislatures; have bribed and
taken into their pay the high public officials charged with the making and execution of our laws; have robbed the nation of a domain sufficient to constitute an empire; have flooded the land with worthless stocks and other so called securities; have established a system of gambling at our financial centres that has resulted in a financial crisis which covered the whole land with ruin and suffering; have set at defiance the laws of the land and have trampled upon individual and public rights and liberties, openly boasting that they are too powerful to be made amenable to the law; and not content with all this, not satisfied with the ruin they have wrought, they continue to petition the law making power to give them still greater means of robbing and oppressing the people. It is useless to deny the facts. The issue has got to be met. We have had bountiful seasons and our crops have been abundant. Indeed the abundance of the crops has been one of the alleged causes of the present hard times. The farmers have been economical and industrious. They have had the use of improved machinery. Yet in the face of all this, the cold stern fact confronts us that the condition of the American farmer is growing gloomier with each succeeding year. In fact, as has been remarked by the Governor of one of our Western States, and as a matter capable of proof, the railroads have to a considerable extent ceased to figure on rates at which they can afford to carry freight, but have made a calculation of what a thing can be produced at and a bare subsistence obtained by the producers, and they take the difference between this figure and the market price of the article at the point of delivery, for freight charges. Nor is the great railway corporations the only means of oppression with which the farmer has to contend. From the time that his produce leaves him until it reaches the consumer, whether domestic or foreign, it does not move nor go through a single transition that some relentless, grasping
and powerful corporation does not lay a tribute thereon. And this is true, not only for what he sells, but on everything he buys these same exacting corporate monopolies, trusts and combinations which are protected by legal enactment, and their property guarded by armed detectives, have levied their contributions. A few men combine and make the price of beef and pork; of steel and iron; of sugar and salt, nails, earthenware, cotton bagging, binder twine, and of almost every other article of necessity to the farmer. A combination will "bear" the price of wheat down today and the "bulls" will toss it up tomorrow. The dealer or producer ships for the high price and his grain reaches the market after the "bulls" have unloaded and the bottom has gone out of prices. Another serious drawback and heavy tax upon the farmer is the exorbitant prices he is compelled to pay for supplies while raising his crop, and this is more especially true if he buys on a credit, as most farmers do, especially in the Southern States. We do not mean to say that the town or country merchant is making too much money; it is the system that is at fault more than the men. Those merchants do precisely what the farmer would do if he was in the same business; and those of the farmers who think most are beginning to see that they are in a great manner responsible for the system. As has been remarked a majority of the farmers buy their goods of the local traders on credit, paying when they sell their crops. These traders have, therefore, in fixing their prices, to make allowance for bad debts and for interest. But as they do not receive cash, they of course cannot buy for cash, and the wholesale merchants who carry the traders have to be paid for their risks and loss of interest. And besides all this, there is hardly a town in which there is not about twice as many stores as there ought to be. It is a mistake to think, that by overcrowding the business in small towns the people get the benefit of competition. Where
there are two stores and only trade enough for one, their owners combine and arrange the prices, between them, being sure to put them high enough so that both can live.
It is hardly worth while to dwell upon the evils of giving a mortgage on a crop yet to be raised, or upon the farm animals and implements with which it is made, a practice that is very common among Southern farmers. The idea is so repugnant to common sense, and the practice fraught with such far reaching evils, that the only wonder is that such a law is permitted to remain upon the statute book among a civilized people. We do not wish to convey the idea that we are making a wholesale onslaught on the means of transportation and the persons engaged therein, and in the trades of various kinds.
As public benefactors the railroads take their place first among the great discoveries of the nineteenth century; but they should not be used as a means of oppression. Against Jay Gould, Russell Sage and other great railroad men, who, by the force of their genius have acquired control of thousands of miles of railroad and accumulated millions of dollars of wealth, we have no personal fight to make. They were perhaps only actuated by the instinctive desire possessed by most men to become rich and powerful. They are perhaps no worse than other men would be occupying the same position. But they are the representatives of the worst system of despotism in existence, and they are shrewd enough to regard the interest of their roads as paramount to that of the public. The constitution gives to Congress the power to regulate commerce between the States, but for years the presidents of the trunk lines between the East and West have been exercising that power, and fixing the price that the farmer shall have for the products of his farm. It is certainly inconsistent with free institutions to lodge such power in the hands of a few men who have every incentive to abuse
it, and it remains for the people to say how long such a state of affairs shall continue. This power is used against the interests of the people. This despotism in common with that of other monopolies threatens them in every relation of their national life. It exacts tribute from them with as much authority as the Jack Shephards who meet you upon the highways with the command "stand and deliver." And the great wealth made by the representatives of this imperial despotism is made up of the aggregation of the sums wrung from the people through the instrumentality of these grinding monopolies. Such vast power as these men possess would be a never ceasing source of danger in the hands of disinterested persons. It is doubly so when the insatiate desire to pile up wealth is the incentive to an abuse of that power. The people owe it to themselves to curtail their powers, and to render them harmless by subjecting them to a series of regulations which shall compel them to respect the rights of the community to whom they are indebted for the very existence of the roads. The people have a right to do this and it should be done promptly. There is no necessity for placing burdens on the roads heavier than they can bear. They have a right to a fair return for their investments, but they have no right to plunder the public. A series of wise and liberal regulations will protect the people against railroad tyranny and extortion, and at the same time enable the roads to do a profitable business. The burden of excessive rates is perhaps more keenly felt by the Western and Southern farmers than their brethren in the East. This becomes more apparent when we take into consideration the fact that the entire corn crop of the United States for the year 1887 was 1,456,000,000 bushels; and of wheat 456,000,000 bushels. Of this the States of Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas,
Minnesota, Wisconsin and Dakota raised 1,145,000,000 bushels of corn, and 339,000,000 bushels of wheat; or more than three fourths of the entire product of the United States. All the surplus of this vast area must pass over the rail-roads to find a market. The cost of transportation to the East consumes one half, and in some instances three fourths of the value of the grain products of the farm, and the farmer's profits are made small in order that heavy freights might be paid and large profits gained by the companies. But an unjust tariff rate is not the only evil which the railroad companies impose upon the farmer. They fre-quently by iniquitous combination dictate the dealer to whom he shall sell the products of his farm.
Said an Iowa farmer recently: "The railroads of this State discriminate unjustly against the farmers in the transportation of crops; that is, give other men advantages which they deny to farmers. Let me explain: here is a wheat or corn buyer who makes a living by purchasing grain of the farmers and shipping it to Chicago. Of course he makes a profit on it grows rich in fact. Now the farmers think that if they ship their own grain directly to Chicago they might save the profit that this middleman makes. They engage a lot of cars, load them, and send them forward, but they find when they have paid the freight and the other expenses which the middleman must necessarily also incur, they don't have as much left for their grain as he offered them. Now how is that explained? The railroad company gives the grain trader a drawback on the grain he ships, which it refuses to the farmers; and in some instances, at least, these traders are in partnership with railway officials. I thought when the idea of cooperative shipments was first proposed, that these favors were given solely on account of the amount of business that these men brought to the railroads. I supposed that the deductions were simply those that would
be naturally made to wholesale trade, and in speeches to farmers I told them so. But we have learned differently, for when our farmers have combined and offered freight in large quantities to the railroad companies, they have refused to give us the advantages which they give the favorites.
The terms of these contracts are secret. But we know that they must be considerable, or these men who have them could not make so much money. You see what this kind of railroad management amounts to. The company comes in and says: 'You shall sell your grain to a certain man and for a certain price, which we will fix.' That's one thing we complain of, and we will not long submit to it. But I have not told you all. In certain cases the roads have fixed the rates of freight very high, and then men have appeared among farmers, offering to buy our produce at prices just a shade higher than it would net us to ship it ourselves, but at rates much below what it ought to bring us. We have often supposed that these men were the agents of the railroad companies or of the railroad managers. If our suspicions were correct, you see what an outrage on the farmers it was.
"The railroad people knowing our necessities, and that many of us are obliged to sell, even at a loss, for the purpose of obtaining money, first arbitrarily fix the price of our produce and then force us to sell to them.
"Nor are these discriminations confined to our shipments East. They discriminate in favor of certain men in bringing freight westward, and in that way force us to trade with those men. Take salt, for instance, and let an association of farmers and a local trader purchase the same amount at the same price in Chicago. When that salt is in Iowa, the local trader, if there is strong competition, will retail it to the farmers cheaper than what their own cost them with the freight added. Now there must be some cat in the meal (or salt). It may be that in some
cases the wholesale dealer may give the Iowa trader a drawback; but in others we know that he is favored with special rates by the railroads which they refuse to give to others shipping the same goods in like amount."
Said another farmer: "The great railroad corporations first extort from us everything they possibly can, and then they turn us over to Chicago to be still further plundered. Why, they don't allow us to say which elevator our grain shall go into when it reaches Chicago; we have no redress if the railroad don't deliver as much grain as we ship from here, and it is utterly impossible for us to have any of our grain passed as ‘No. 1.’ We may ship the best wheat that ever went to Chicago, and the probabilities are that they will mix it up with their ‘imperial’ wheat and make a ‘No. 2’ that will bring a higher price, and the increase that we ought to have goes to the owner of the elevator. We have no particular interest in Chicago's prosperity; indeed, if our grain could go forward without going into Chicago to be taxed for the benefit of her speculators, we should be much better off."
Mr. Stephen Smith, an Illinois farmer, speaking for the men of his calling in his own State, says: "For the past ten or twelve years the conviction has been gradually forcing itself upon us that something was wrong in our affairs; for while every other industry was being fairly remunerated, we have been steadily going behind, until poverty, if not bankruptcy, stared us in the face. We found that, while we labored harder and more hours than the artisan and workman in other pursuits, we were forced to content ourselves with poorer food and clothing, with fewer social privileges, and less opportunities for mental cultivation than they.
"We could not help seeing that if they were as steady and industrious as we, they were able to live in better houses, and had more money to spend in their adornment
than we had; that if they had the taste for such things, as most of them had, they had more pictures, books and newspapers and more leisure to enjoy them, than we, and that they often indulged in such luxuries as lectures, concerts, excursions, and festivals, while it was rare, indeed, that we could afford to give wife and children one of these treats. Then we began to see that the men who did nothing but handle the products of our labor were still better off, and were getting rich while we were growing poor; that those who supplied us with the implements for our work added from twenty to fifty per cent, to the original cost, and charged it over to us; that the merchant and grocer who supplied us with necessaries in their line never forgot their profits; that the lawyer, who spent half an hour in drawing up the mortgage on our farm, charged us what would be equal to four days of our labor; that to the doctor who came five or six miles into the country to cheer the coming or speed the departing member of our family, we paid the price of an acre of corn or five days labor with our team; that the teacher, for whose education we had paid, earned as much in six hours as we could in six days of sixteen hours each; and so on through all the branches of trade, professions or productions, we found all getting a fair, and some an exorbitant, profit on their commodities and services with which our own would bear no comparison."
"Is it any wonder," says the New York Tribune commenting upon this declaration, "that the men who turned from their hard labor and profitless crops to see these features of their surroundings should put up the cry, ‘There's something wrong about all this’? And the story is not much exaggerated; from the farmer's point of view not at all, but on the contrary, very mildly stated. You may say some of these things that seem so unjust are but the natural and inevitable accompaniments of the profession
of agriculture; that men take up and follow farming knowing all its disadvantages and risks of the business; that they go into it with their eyes open, and that even with these drawbacks the business is overdone, and low prices are brought about by over-production. But with all that, you do not remove or explain the patent injustice which always stares the farmer in the face, that all his neighbors in other pursuits and occupations are getting rich and living in comfort upon the profits of his business and his labor. For many of the discomforts and privations of their lot there are compensations, of course. They do not deny this, though they could hardly be expected to enumerate them in the recital of their complaints, for they belong to the other side of the case. On the other side of the case, too, are considerations that pertain to the kind of crops they raise, whether they could not make their business more profitable by the exercise of sounder judgment in the choice of crops to be produced, and other similar suggestions. But underlying all this is a grievance actual and tangible, and that is their present and immediate objective point, to-wit: The absolute power over them and their business of the railroad corporations which have been created by their votes. They have seen the railroads discriminating against them in freight tariffs and paying no heed to remonstrance or protest. They have appealed to Legislatures and Courts, and found themselves met with the money and power of great moneyed corporations; and finally they have betaken themselves to organization and to trying the force of numbers for the acquisition of what they believe to be their rights. They may be striking out in some cases blindly and in a hasty, unreasonable way; but what they mean to do is to agitate the subject until it gets some attention and some thought from men competent to devise a remedy, or at least a relief." The evils complained of by Mr. Smith are not imaginary, as will be seen
by the following statistics given by another Illinois fanner:
"Chas. F. Mills, secretary and statistican for the State Board of Agriculture, is a worker of ability, and in volume 22, page 271, Agricultural Reports, I find a table of figures, headed corn the leading crop in Illinois, containing more bushels, and representing more value than all other tillage crops combined. This table gives the average yield per acre, bushels produced, price per bushel, total value, cost of producing an acre, and then columns for loss or profit on producing cost of crop. The table includes each year from 1860 to 1885. The cost of producing an acre of corn, Mr. Mills gives at $10.50, and this amount, he informs me, includes rental of land and taxes, and I believe this amount to be a fair average cost for producing an acre. We find, then, the corn crop was produced
And two-thirds of the farms that made this loss are mortgaged. Can these mortgages be paid? Does farming in Illinois pay? Turning to page 259, same report, I find corn, wheat, oats and rye were all grown at a loss for the year 1884. Hay, *barley and Irish potatoes alone showing a profit above cost of production. These facts being true, and they are sustained by good authority, is it not true, then, that farming in Illinois does not pay? And in that fact alone we find the reason why people are leaving the farm. "Whither are we drifting," and can we continue to thus blindly drift in safety?
"The working people, if goaded to desperation, have the strength of a Sampson. The extremely rich, and the extremely poor, are opposing forces the dangerous classes in society, and on the increase. Again I call the Chicago News statistican to the witness stand. Under the heading, "cause of decline," meaning farming, he uses the following language: ‘In the condition of the farming population of Illinois, the richest agricultural State in the Union, there is food for serious thought. Why, with the general increase in wealth, the increase in purchasing power of the wages now paid the trades and professions, the enormous expansion in traffic and business why do we find the condition of the farmer unimproved, or worse even than ten, twenty or thirty years ago; discontented and restless, piling up mortgages, drifting towards peasantry and serfdom?’ ‘Agriculture, more than all else, lies at the basis of our prosperity, and there must be something abnormal in our fundamental conditions when the creative half of the population enjoys less of the fruits of its labors than the dependent industries, trades and professions; when a stupendously increasing aggregation of wealth and population in the cities is attended by a diminution in numbers and a steadily growing impoverishment of the agricultural classes.’
"If a farmer had said so much as this he would be called a grumbler. But be that as it may, I ask, who gets all the profits on farming? It goes mainly to the tax-gatherer, money-loaner and transportation companies. For want of time I will discuss the profits on only one of these transportation companies and see if they be one of the robbers. Here again I submit facts stronger than any words of mine. Here I stop to remark that we are all proud of our railroad system and its management. In it we have a State pride; as a system surpassing that of any other State in the Union. Their management is in the
hands of men of ability, and integrity too. Those men are entrusted with these immense properties to make money for the companies, and in this, are doing only what thousands of good men would do under like circumstances. The wrong is mainly in a system of laws and the administration thereof that permits corporations to take advantage of the people.
"Here, then, is the railroad and warehouse commissioners' report for the year 1884. These reports are made up from the books of the corporations, and are said to be substantially correct. On page 472 is a table giving earnings, expenses and net income for that year from their Illinois business. This table includes all the railroads in the State, or so much of each one as is within the State, and giving their earnings within the State also. I find their total income from all sources for 1884 to be $56,457, 238, and their total operating expenses, repairs and taxes to be $36,473,227, leaving a balance of net profits on that year's business of $20,097,554.
"Pretty good. It is near 36 per cent, of the entire gross receipts. For the year 1886 I find the balance of profit to be some more, but will omit the figures.
"Then what was the difference in profits between the farmers and the railroad companies upon their respective businesses for the year 1884 within the State? The rail-road companies had a net increase of $20,097,554, but how did the account stand with the farmers? Volume 22 of the Agricultural Report shows that on the production of the corn crop in 1884, there was a loss of $11,780,559, and on the wheat crop for the same year there was a loss of $8,897,389, making a total on corn and wheat that year of $20,677,948. This shows a loss of near $600,000 more than the railroad companies' net gain. To meet these losses and pay the tax-gatherer and money-loaner mort-gages had to be made.
"The better to show who gets the money, please note the following: As stated above, the total income for all the roads in the State for 1884 was $56,457,238. Now how much of the farmers' produce would be required to pay this sum? Value of beef cattle sold the same year, $32,251,145; hogs the same year, $24,886,854; surplus wheat sold the same year, $13,199,522 total, $60,505, 623. (Arg. Rep. Vol. 22.)
"Sales from beef cattle, hogs and wheat comprise nearly all of the farmer's income. From these sales we received $60,607,623, and paid to transportation companies in the same time $56,457,238. The tax gatherer and money lender got the balance.
"Who gets the money? Does farming pay? No! It has ceased to pay! And is there not here a reason, a good and sufficient reason, why agricultural districts are being depopulated? If this state of things shall continue, depopulation will go on until the survival of the fittest only will remain.
"We hear people boast of our boundless resources and our vast aggregation of wealth; of our twelve thousand miles of railroad trackage in the State, and making more every day. Of what avails all this, if the workers in the field, toiling twelve hours a day, cannot make both ends meet? They are sinking, sinking, into a state of dependency on those who control the wealth and resources of the State."
Speaking of the mortgaged condition of the farmers of his State the same man says: "McLean county, in the last three years, and the adjacent counties thereto, have been especially blessed with good crops beyond other counties in the State, but I find from a report that is today only partially made up by the board of labor statistics, that the mortgaged indebtedness of these counties are as follows: McLean county, for the year 1887, 1,752 mortgages
are placed on record for a total sum of $1,542,000, and of these 403 are on farms, incumbering 40,763 acres of land; there was 641 mortgages recorded on town lots for the sum of $566,521, incumbering 982 lots; there were 708 chattel mortgages, mostly on live stock and farm implements for a sum of $213,449. this is the record in McLean county for one year. To show the rate of increase there was nearly one-third more mortgages placed on record last year than in 1880. In De Wit county there was placed on record in 1887, 562 mortgages for a total sum of $444,406; of these 218 were on farm lands and for a sum of $303,058, incumbering 19, 922 acres of land; town lots were mortgaged for $62,875. The prevalence of chattel mortgages is much more in DeWitt than in McLean county, 244 chattel mortgages being recorded for the sum of $78,473. Piatt county is much worse off than DeWitt. For the year 1887, 647 mortgages for the sum of $533,633 were recorded, incumbering 22,128 acres of land; 233 were on farm implements and live stock for $108,132. Still worse in Logan county, 1,112 mortgages were recorded last year; the total sum of these mortgages is $783,135. Just one year's tribute to Shylock on the mortgage record of last year. For the same year 457 farmers had to mortgage their farms, stock and implements to raise $153,037, and more had mortgaged their growing crops. These counties comprise the fourteenth Congressional district, one of the richest agricultural districts in Illinois, and the indebtedness last year was $3,987,336, and 127,218 acres of land were incumbered thereby. The total present mortgage indebtedness of the fourteenth Congressional district is $11,500,000, on which is annually paid interest amounting to $787,500."
If such is the state of affairs in one of the richest agricultural districts of Illinois, how deplorable it must be in those States that are not blessed with the fertility of
soil, and market facilities which has made that State so famous for her "waving fields of golden grain" and her network of railroads.
A Kansas farmer thus tersely states the condition of the farmers in his State. "I have in sixty acres of grain. It takes twenty-five acres of oats to pay my interest on $1,000, and it takes two-thirds of my thirty-five acres of corn to carry the other third to market, leaving less than twelve acres to pay debts, clothe, educate and feed my family. I have an eighty acre farm, stocked, and all worth $3,000, and no other income."
Nor, are the farmers the only sufferers among the great army of laborers. The greed of capital dominates every class of laborers, and women and children are the victims of this relentless car of juggernaut. The New York Sun, referring to the deplorable condition of the working women of that city, says: "Ann Fullmon lives at 618 East Ninth street, New York City. She finishes pantaloons for a living; sews on buttons, makes button-holes, puts on straps, buckles and presses them for 13 cents a pair; averages $2 a week for self and family.
"Kate Crowley makes men's drawers at 10 cents for a dozen pairs. She can finish two dozen pairs in a day by working from 6 a. m. to 9 p. m., and gets 20 cents for her day's labor."
The recent developments of the condition of the working girls of Chicago made by a brave young lady correspondent of the Times of that city is thus briefly told by the Industrial West. "Nothing has been said or printed this year which has caused a more profound sensation, and aroused the indignation of the people more than the series of articles published in the Chicago Daily Times, entitled "City Slave Girls." The Times' lady reporter, Miss Nell Nelson, took upon herself the embarrassing duties of dressing herself in the attire of a factory
girl, and visited, each day, one or more factories where women are employed, where she secured employment and worked a few hours or managed to stay long enough to learn the condition of the employees, and the Times contained the story of misery as seen by Miss Nelson.
"On July 10, she visited the Western Lane factory, 218 State street. There she found the most wretched conditions of poverty and serfdom. As she entered the office she was followed by a young lady who had been crocheting mats, and as she had come to draw her pay and quit the company's service, it gave the reporter an opportunity to make a note of her earnings, and when the clerk opened the books, it was found the poor girl had worked from the first of last January to July 10, for the princely sum of fifteen dollars, and instead of paying her she was put off in a dark room to wait until the proprietor came in. Miss Nelson then applied for work and learned that for making mats of the size and style made by the poor girl, the company had paid 60 cents per dozen; that a dozen was an ordinary week's work, and that all the other grades of work given out by that company were correspondingly the same price. That company lets its work out by the piece and the employees carry it to their homes. The Times reporter found that to get work one must pay two dollars for the privilege, and deposit one dollar to secure the return of the material. The reporter then visited Rosenthal & Co.'s factory and found that the company only pays 50 cents for making a lady's cloak. It was too much for Miss Nelson and she left without further investigation. Her next visit was to Ludden's, 121 Market street, where she applied for work and got it. Holding up a pair of brown cottonade pants, the foreman said, ‘Here is a sample. The work is cut out but you will have to do everything yourself. I want you to make the fly extra strong and press the buttons. We pay seventy-five
cents per dozen and you furnish your own thread.’
"When the reporter objected to the low price, he told her if she preferred she could have cheviot shirts to make at the same price, but having learned all she cared to, she excused herself and proceeded to Never Rip Jersey Factory, 133 West Washington street, where she arrived too late in the day to secure work, but was told to come in the next morning, which she did and was given work, making jerseys at 60 cents per dozen. On entering the work-room her heart nearly failed as she beheld the wretched serfs and surveyed the low ceiling, with its scanty light, bad ventilation, and inhaled the sickening odors and foul air from the dyed fabrics and a long row of water closets which projected from the wall. In this factory she stayed long enough to earn 25 cents. At noon, she says, the machinery stopped and 120 working women were given 30 minutes in which to eat their dinners.
"The reporter says she counted thirty-seven women who made their dinner on dry bread alone, fifteen with sandwiches; ten ate cold pancakes, and twenty-three had no dinner whatever.
"‘Oh, God! that bread should be so dear, and flesh and blood so cheap.’
"While there, the reporter gives an account of one poor exhausted slave, who went into the water closet and was found asleep in the sickening stench. She was carried out and when a breath of fresh air was given her, her wasted energies revived, and she told how, six months before she came from England with every hope of bettering her condition, only to plunge deeper into the jaws of slavery. In the evening the reporter went to the sale room to price a jersey and was asked $2.50 for the identical jersey she had finished for five cents.
"The invincible reporter finds herself next day, in the foul and murky confines of Ellinger's cloak factory,
282 Madison street. There she found the usual price for making a cloak was 50 cents, and but few could make a cloak in a day; but for cloaks above a certain grade, the company paid 65 cents, which was divided, the stitcher getting 20 cents, the binder 15 cents, and the maker 30 cents; providing the workmanship withstood the closest inspection; if not it was condemned and no credit given for the work, or the girls compelled to make it over. The reporter undertook the job of making one at 65 cents, or rather at 30 cents; after paying the stitcher and binder. It was a lady's long cloak, trimmed down the back goar, around the collar and cuffs and pockets with mohair plush, and all the seams faced with black muslin. She could not make a cloak in one day and another woman helped, and it was finished a few minutes before quitting time. The plucky little woman took her time and demanded her 30 cents, which was refused until pay day. She seized the cloak and refused to surrender it until paid for. A struggle ensued which ended in paying her 30 cents, and she threw the cloak in the proprietor's face and went to the work room and gave the 30 cents to the woman who had instructed her how to make the cloak. The price of the cloak at the salesroom of the company was $35. At 7:30 the next morning she went to the workroom of Wetleer's factory on Wabash Avenue, where corsets, bustles, skirts, jerseys, cloaks, etc., are made. Here she found the average wages paid to be $1.50 per week. She applied for work on bustles, but was told she could not live on the wages paid, but if she would call Monday she might get work where she could earn 20 cents per day.
"Her next visit was to one of the dark and most degraded holes of American serfdom, Julius Stein & Co., 132 Market street. There she found a girl who had worked three days for 65 cents. Another, two and a half days on a cloak for 45 cents; another earned $4.20 in two weeks,
and the highest earned was reported by a woman who said she had earned $6.10 in two weeks. According to Miss Nelson's report, the Julius Stein & Co. factory is presided over by the most heartless, cruel, insulting tyrants, who are only prevented from using the lash by the civil law. Like the other factories she visited, the work-room is dark and poorly ventilated, and the poor slaves suffering not only from starvation, but are slowly dying by inches from foul air and malarial poison, which comes from badly constructed closets, and other impurities. So great is the strain upon the poor wretches that if one happens to get a few cents ahead, her very nature demands a trip to Lincoln park or some other place where she can receive a few breaths of fresh air.
"The Times next reports the visit of its lady reporter to the Excelsior Underwear works, 192-202 Fifth Avenue. There she found the same condition of serfdom. There she found women's drawers made at 20 cents per dozen, shirts at 80 cents per dozen. The reporter secured work making chemises at 80 cents per dozen, but had to pay 50 cents per month for the use of a machine."
In order to more clearly show the tendency and drift of our own system towards that of the low condition of labor in Great Britian, we publish the following article from that able and efficient farmer's journal, the Southwest:
"While the papers of Chicago, and the country in general, were describing the poverty, misery and helpless dependence in which the working girls of Chicago lived, and the systematic ill-treatment to which they were subjected, the papers of London, England, were teeming with the detailed horrors of match factory life in that city. The exposure incident to the investigation of the strike in
Bryant & May's match factory, had aroused public indignation. About 1,400 women and girls went out on a strike. The wages paid were wretchedly low and the hours of labor degradingly long. Besides, they were fined on the slightest provocation or shortcoming. The women averaged, according to the comparative statement, $2.80 per week, and the girls from 75 cents to $1.10 per week. Many of the little girls were found to be bald on account of carrying boxes on their heads. They were compelled to eat their meals in the factory in the fumes of the phosphorus, which resulted in many cases in ulceration of the jaw bone. But the profits of the company were magnificent even if it was made out of the souls and bodies of the girls. Last year the dividend was 23 per cent. And among the stockholders are three members of Parliament, and fifty-five members of the Church of England. All good people, of course. And other highly respected stockholders were found to be pocketing the profits of the unpaid factory girls. No doubt those highly respected owners of the match factory thought they were doing those women and girls quite a favor in furnishing them with good steady employment. What if the hair is rubbed off the heads of the little girls? What does a factory girl, who has to work from half-past six in the morning until eight at night, want with hair on her head? She has no time to get sun struck, even if she is bald. What if the jaw bone of the women ulcerate and drop out? What does a woman earning from $1.25 to $2.50 per week, want with either teeth or a jaw bone? And besides, she is forbidden to talk in the factory. This decay of the jaw bone is only the natural adaptation to environments, as Darwin would testify. See how strongly developed and how strong are the jaws of the members of Parliament and of our Congressmen. Hence the principal product of the London law factory, as well as of our National
Jaw-Gymnasium at Washington, is talk. It is because both the British and American legislators use their jaw so much and their brains so little that the workingmen of London and Chicago have little use for teeth or jaw bones. And this is the outcome of the long boasted British and American civilization! This is the result of the long lauded British and American statesmanship! Women and children worked, starved and tortured to death almost on the eve of the twentieth century! Such civilization! Such statesmanship!
"At the recent annual meeting of the Land Nationalization Society of great Britain, the president, Alfred Russell Wallace, epitomized the British industrial situation
"‘It is about fifty years since Hood's famous ‘Song of the Shirt’ startled the world with its revelation of hopeless misery. But what would Hood have said if he could have heard the revelations now being made of shirts made at id. each, the worker, by continuous hard work, making twelve shirts a day, earning 6s. a week, and with the rent of an attic at least double what it was in his time!
"Year after year farmers, under the pressure of the exorbitant rents, are becoming first impoverished, then bankrupt; and landlords are turning their arable lands into pasture, so as to get the maximum of profit with the minimum of outlay and risk, and thus a constant stream of laborers, and with them village mechanics and shopkeepers, are forced to migrate to the towns. The consequence is that we have at this moment two-thirds of our whole population more than 20,000,000 people concentrated in the great cities and towns, while millions of acres of our land all over the country are less populated and less effectively cultivated than fifty years ago.’"
The striking girls of Minneapolis recently held a mass meeting, which was presided over by Mrs. E. S. Marble, president of the local suffrage society. About 2,000 people were in attendance. On the back part of the stage hung several garments made by the girls and the prices paid for the same in St. Paul and by the firm for which they had been working in Minneapolis, as follows:
The condition of the miners in some of the mines, if possible, is more deplorable than that of the farmers. Harper's Weekly of June 16, 1888, in describing the coal mines of Pennsylvania, has this to say about wages and life of the miners:
"Wages are very low in the coal regions. Laborers receive from 60 to 80 cents per day. Year in and year out for the last ten years, during which time the cheap foreigners have been coming to this country in great numbers, the average daily wages for a common laborer has probably not been more than 70 cents per day. With the stopping of work very few laborers make more than $12 per month, the year round, and a third of this must go as rent for the shanty. Eight dollars a month is very little in the expensive coal regions for food, clothes and medicines.
"There is many a miner who goes without dinner day after day, and who tightens his belt when noon comes.
"A piece of fresh meat is a luxury for holidays, and
two or three cold potatoes are the usual contents of the dinner pail. There is no allowance made by the employers for accidents or illness. When the doctor is needed, each visit must be paid for when it is made. When the rent day comes, the rent is taken from the month's earnings, and if the head of the family can work no more, the family is turned out with all the bitter cruelty of ‘business.’"
Men and women of America! Has every feeling of humanity fled from your hearts? Has every spark of patriotism died within your bosoms? Will you stand idly by and see the very life-blood crushed from the bodies of your countrymen from your own brothers and sisters? Will you sit with folded hands and look complacently on the agonies of the dying Republic? That Republic which is the heirloom of the Fathers of the Revolution established through their unselfish patriotism and bought with their blood?
Chancellor Kent, the great American jurist and lawgiver, once said: "When the spirit of liberty has fled and truth and justice are disregarded, private rights can easily be sacrificed under the forms of law." Is it possible that the "spirit of liberty has fled?" And that "truth and justice are disregarded" in this broad land of God's giving? Oh, America! Where is thy proud boast of protection to thy citizens? Where is the freedom that rang out from the hills in glad song in thy early days? Millions would be spent to protect an adventurer who had slandered a foreigner and was detained in a foreign dungeon. But the women and girls of our country are permitted to writhe in the grasp of a heartless, relentless, scheming, grasping and hell-born set of moneyed aristocrats who worship at the shrine of Mammon, and would sacrifice the flesh and blood of their own country-people with less pangs of con-science than the Hindoo mother who yields her child to
the crocodiles of the Ganges. A leading journal has said that "fifty cents per day for the labor of a woman is her only barrier between a life of virtue and a life of shame." What a terrible admission! Thousands of women yearly go down to lives of shame driven by want and poverty to desperation and dazzled and charmed by the glitter and display which the money of Mammon and his satellites shower upon the hell holes of sin and their occupants. Man neglects her, woman ignores her, the world passes her by without notice while she remains virtuous; she sees her sinful sister feted by the elite dressed in gorgeous apparel set off in brilliant jewels; she loses confidence in humanity becomes exasperated at the heartlessness of her own sex chides the charity of the world doubts falters falls.
Of Christian charity
Under the sun."
If poverty hardens the heart unto desperation, and riches maketh it haughty unto wickedness, how great the sin of the nation that has adopted a system of laws that leads to these two extremes! We are pleased to know that one religious paper has taken up the cause of the oppressed. We clip the following from the St. Louis Christian Advocate
"In the further consideration of this subject, it is well to inquire whether the present condition of the masses denotes advancement and prosperity, or a tendency to poverty and demoralization. It is doubtful if any period of our history has been marked by a more general dissatisfaction than at the present. Undeniably there is a widespread spirit of discontent. Many laborers are idle, others working on short time and what they regard as low pay. Many factories are silent, furnaces are either not worked or yielding no profits. Strikes on the part of
workmen, or ‘lockouts’ on the part of employers, are things of almost daily occurrence; while combinations, ‘trusts’ and monopolies of various kinds, affecting almost all the necessaries and comforts of life, multiply in number and increase in power, when a fair competition, which is the life of trade, would enable the consumer to purchase his supplies at a rate much lower than the monopolists demand.
"This the great mass of people are beginning to learn. They feel it. They writhe under and despise it. This monopolizing spirit has extended to the lands of the country, and millions of acres have been bought by companies, some at home, and some from abroad, or granted to railroad companies; and, in either case, the price has been raised to double, or five times, or ten times that at which it could have been procured from the government. Consequently the poor man's chances for obtaining a home are lessened in proportion to this advance of price. All of which is ‘a sore evil under the sun.’ By such means the poor man has been more and more embarrassed in his affairs, and finds it more and more difficult to meet the demands for the necessaries and comforts of life. All the while, the earth ‘yields her kindly fruits for the sustenance of man and beast,’ the Father of all deals bountifully with us, nor pestilence nor famine abounds; and yet, because of the combinations referred to, the fruits of the earth are grasped and monopolized, and dealt out to the laboring man at extravagant prices. The flour, the sugar, the butter, and almost everything else that supplies the table come to the consumer with high prices, fixed by the monopolists. So seriously have these things affected the interests of the laboring class that the excitement caused bodes no good, but only evil to the public welfare, and the indications point to the worse rather than the better.
"But how did all this come about? To tell all would require much space. It is a long story, and, in many of its aspects, as discreditable, to some of the parties concerned, as it is long."
But it is useless to continue to multiply evidence of the sad and deplorable condition of the American laborer. It might be continued indefinitely, but it seems so apparent and "plain that a wayfaring man, though a fool, cannot err therein." In vain has the farmer pleaded; in vain has he sought that relief which his common sense convinces him he is justly entitled to. He has been put off, on one pretense and another until "forbearance has ceased to be a virtue;" and having learned, to his sorrow, that in combination there is strength, he is seeking through a counter combination of his fellow laborers to consummate that which he knows can never be accomplished in any other manner. Their appeals to the Legislatures and to the Courts have been met with the corrupt use of the money of corporations. The farmers are calling a halt. Hereto-fore they have asked for that which they should have had without the asking. It is a peculiar condition of affairs that the most important class of society the producers have received less consideration at the hands of the Legislative and Judicial departments of the government than any other. "They have asked for a fish and been given a serpent, for bread and been given a stone." "Woe unto him that buildeth a city in blood!" "Whosoever soweth to the wind shall reap the whirlwind." The prayers of the oppressed have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabbaoth." The farmer and the laborer are marching on to victory. A great general was once asked why he did not at once move upon the enemy. He answered: "I am organizing for victory." The farmers and laborers of the United States are "organizing for victory." They are preparing to move upon the enemy.
Not in the gaudy trappings of war, with flying banners and martial music, and amid the boom of artillery, the rattle of musketry and the clash of swords, accompanied with all the horrors of physical contest; but silently, peaceably, and by force of reason and the potent influence of the ballot do they expect to accomplish this mighty revolution in behalf of oppressed labor.
It is useless for men to call attention to the many railroads that have passed into the hands of receivers, or been sold under mortgages, as evidence that the railroads do not pay good dividends on the capital invested. If it proves anything, it is the utter recklessness and incapacity of some of those who engage in railroad enterprises, and the criminal profligacy of their management. If a wildcat railroad scheme is conceived and a road built through a country where it is evident the traffic will not support it, a business blunder has been committed or a swindle perpetrated; either of which is no evidence that railroads do not pay. The same failure might, and does occur in all kinds of business. It would be unfair to take such failures as evidence that the railroads of the United States do not pay. A much graver question, however, is the inevitable tendency of these grasping monopolies that are springing up around and among us, and the inexorable law which punishes corporate greed with confiscation. No student of history, especially of the history of the great corporations of the century, can fail to discern the fate of many of our great railway companies. One set of men after another growls and submits. One Legislature after another threatens and is cajoled or bought off. But the intolerable oppression continues to grow worse, and year by year the instinct of rebellion grows stronger and stronger, and it is to be hoped that the day is not far distant, when it will have coherence enough to make its demands with an emphasis that will brook no
delay. Then no man can stem the tide of popular indignation or set a limit to party fury or the popular will.
The mutterings of the coming storm are already heard in the many labor organizations that have sprang up in our midst within the past few years. It is worse than idle to talk about measures being unconstitutional. Constitutions may be changed as well as laws, and if the policy of the gigantic corporations is to utterly ignore the popular will, setting every principle of justice at defiance, until the indignation of the people is wrought to such a pitch that the day of spoliation of railways will come, and neither vested rights nor common honesty is likely to obtain a hearing, they may console themselves with the reflection that they were the transgressors.
Morgan, W. Scott. History of the Wheel and Alliance and the Impending Revolution . Ft. Scott, KS: J.H. Rice & Sons, 1891. [format: book], [genre: history; narrative; proceedings]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=morgan.html