Re-thinking History

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dissent, Depression and War 1890-1900

Hello History 12~

Hard times in the 1880s & 1990s

Farm prices fell decade after decade as the price of wheat, cotton and corn was significantly lower than in the 1970s.

By 1894, in Kansas alone, nearly 1/2 of the farms had become property of banks by foreclosure.

Banking system was dominated by eastern commercial banks committed to the gold standard.

A railroad rate system that was unfair to the farmer, as the railroads charged higher rates for short term hauls.

In the South, lack of currency and credit drove farmers to the 'crop lien,' and 'furnishing merchants,' which left the farmer with chronic debt due to high interest rates.

1890 McKinley Tariff; (federal tax on imported goods) was particularly high and hurt western and southern farmers who sold their harvests on unprotected markets & forced to buy expensive manufactured goods.

Farmers Alliance

1878 self help organization established in Lampasas County, Texas to fight "land sharks and horse thieves." Support for this alliance spread to Arkansas and the rural parishes of Louisiana.

Reached out to workers as well as farmers, supporting the strike against Jay Gould's Texas & Pacific Railroad in 1886.

More than 30% of Alliance members in Kansas were women, as the political culture of the Alliance encouraged the inclusion of women.

The Northwestern Farmers Alliance: Kansas and Nebraska

The Southern Farmers Alliance: recruited nearly 20,000 members a month and by 1890, this organization counted more than 3 million members.

Colored Farmers Alliance: founded in Texas and worked with the Southern Farmers Alliance for a better cause: the plight of the American farm operation.

Farmer's cooperative: farmers combined their individual product, such as cotton, to sell in bulk, in an effort to negotiate a better price. By setting up exchanges and stores, farmers did not have to deal with merchants and high credit. By 1888, farmers were victorious in their defeat of the "jute bagging" trust and its scheme to double the price of the bags used to bale cotton.

As the cooperative died, Texas farmers turned to direct political action in 1886 and within two years, the Southern Farmer's Alliance demanded railroad regulation, laws against speculation and currency and credit reform.

Populism/Populist Era

The Populist movement emerged as society was rapidly changing, a society that was now influenced by big business and technology. The seeds for Populism, the movement emerged from the small town squares and churches. These same communities became under siege as the spread of railroads brought travelling salesman and rural delivery which threatened many of the rural traditional folkways.

Threats from industrialization, urbanization, influx of immigrants, business consolidations and commercial agriculture created the agrarian protest spirit.

Populism provided a place for women in their movement and supported both temperance and suffrage.

Populism addressed the right of labor to organize and bargain collectively, the role of federal government in regulating business, active government intervention in the economy, the regulation of trusts, and unlimited coinage of silver and opposed the use of troops against striking workers.

The People's Party (Populist Party) & Election of 1892

Party emerged in St. Louis in 1892 and laid out their platform and selected candidates in Omaha, Nebraska.

Did not endorse suffrage of prohibition, which angered women, such as Francis Willard (Woman's Christian Temperance Union)

James B. Weaver, (Iowa) campaigned on a platform of unlimited silver. He was the second choice for Populists, as Leonidis L. Polk, the party's first choice had suddenly died on the even off the convention.

Populists also campaigned for government ownership of all railroad & telephone companies, a graduated income tax, direct election of U.S. senators, one-term limit for presidents, immigration restrictions & shorter workdays.

Republicans nominated Benjamin Harrison.

Democrats nominated Grover Cleveland.

Although Cleveland one, which meant his second inconsecutive term in office, the Populist Party received over 1 million popular votes & 22 electoral votes.

Labor Unrest in the 1890s

The 1890s was the decade of depression, unemployment, widespread poverty & crisis in rural America.

Panic of 1893 was triggered by the failure of a London banking firm & caused many British investors by the failure of a London banking firm & British investors unloaded their American stocks, which in turn caused a stock market crash. The selling of the stock occurred at the same time the McKinley Tariff of 1890 depressed the agricultural export market. The 3 year depression saw soup kitchens, farm foreclosures, high unemployment and desperate strikes.

1892: Carnegie's Homestead Steel Works & the Pinkerton Detective Agency

1894: George Pullman sleeping-car works & Eugene Deb's American Railway union; 8000 federal troops called into quell strike, but it was a court injunction by the Cleveland administration that put down the strike and censored Deb's.

1894: Cripple Creek, Colorado, Western Federation of Miner's went out on stike as the owners desired to increase the workday from 8 hours to ten. What is most distinct about the narrative of Cripple Creek was the relationship of the miners and the town. Although the mine owners controlled the county sheriff, local officials intervened when the sheriff tried to put down the strike. The mayor, city marshal and police magistrate all belonged to the miners union. In addition, Governor Davis H. Wait, a Populist elected in 1892, refused to use the power of the state and send in troops. By May of 1894, the owners gave into the demands of the miners and the union won an eight hour work day.

Coxey's Army: Masses of unemployed Americans marched to Washington D.C. to bring attention to the plight of poverty and unemployment. Millionaire Jacob S. Coxey of Ohio proposed a scheme to finance public works through non-interest bearing bonds, and his plan won the support of the American Federation of Labor and the Populists. On May 1, Coxey and his army arrived in Washington and marched on capital grounds, where they were immediately met with force by the police. Within four months, Coxey's army was dissolved and although this movement did not bring change to federal legislation, Coxey's army addressed the plight of the impoverished at the highest level.

Election of 1896

By 1896, President Cleveland did not have a good chance of being elected for a third term, as his presidency was marred by multiple issues: he did not assist the American population during the Depression of 1893; he barely managed to keep the U.S. Treasury at a stable level (remember J.P. Morgan); angered middle class constituents by ending the Pullman strike with federal forces and did not make good on his promise to significantly reduce the tariff.

Republicans nominated Senator William McKinley of Ohio, who sponsored the controversial McKinley Tariff, on a pro-business platform. Wealthy Ohio businessman Mark Hanna financed most of McKinley's campaign ($15 million). During the convention, miners and farmers walked out in disgust when it was announced that McKinley would be supporting the gold standard.

Democrats and Populists supported candidate William Jennings Bryan, who delivered his famous "Cross of Gold," speech, seen as one of the finest rally cries in U.S. history. However, Bryan, an adherent of Social Gospel alienated many supporters, such as Catholic immigrants who did not like his 'style or delivery' of the speech.
The election of 1896 became a contest between those who supported Bryan and those who did not.

Some Democrats claimed that McKinley had "bought" the White House and he killed the Populist's dream of free silver when he signed in 1900, the Gold Standard Act. McKinley's win represented a victory for urban middle class Americans over agrarian interests.

The Bryan campaign marked the end of the Populist movement as the People's Party became part of the Democratic Party by throwing its support behind Bryan.

The election of 1896 marked the last time in which a major candidate tried to win by appealing to agricultural interests.

The Wizard of Oz

Written by L. Frank Baum (1900) and historians have suggested that this publication was actually a commentary on the election of 1896 and its aftermath. Emerald City represents the Capital; the Wizard of Oz represented President McKinley; Dorothy wore silver slippers in the book, not red ones in the movie, to representing the money preferred by ordinary people. The Wicked Witches of the East represent oppressive industrialists and mine owners.

The United States & The World

At the turn of the century, American foreign policy consisted of two currents: isolationism and expansionism. In addition, the Monroe Doctrine (1823) is part of U.S. foreign policy. The push towards commercial expansion was an effort to refocus the nation's attention following the Depression of 1893.

  • 1880s: Republican Secretary of State James G. Blaine promote peace and trade through Pan-American cooperation, yet used American troops to intervene in Latin American border disputes.
  • In 1895, President McKinley asserted the right of the U.S. to step in and reduce Venezuela to the role of a mere onlooker in its own affairs. (Venezuela & Germany)
  • United Fruit Company from Britain dominated the Central American nations of Costa Rica & Guatemala. An importer from New Orleans turned Honduras into a 'banana republic.'
  • By 1895, the United States through business as well as diplomacy had successfully achieved hegemony in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Standard Oil & Mei Foo Lamps: Rockefeller sold more than a million lamps in China in the 1890s to promote the sale of kerosene in the Chinese market.
  • Secretary of State John Hay: Open Door Policy becomes international policy by 1900, which secured American access to Chinese markets and expanded economic power while avoiding the problems of maintaining a far-flung colonial empire on the Asian mainland.
  • The Spanish American War: 4 months of fighting; yellow journalism changed public opinion to support the our efforts to aid Cubans against the Spanish. In addition, the Dupuy de Lome letter was intercepted and called McKinley a dimwitted politician. The explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898 killed 267 servicemen. McKinley did not want to go to war but he feared that if he failed to respond to strong public opinion of the war, William Jennings Bryan would win the election of 1900. War was declared on April 1898 and was quick and decisive. Theodore Roosevelt led "the Rough Riders" up the San Juan Hill, but Black U.S. soldiers were already present. The Treaty of Paris ended the war and Spain granted the United States Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guam. Although the Americans did honor the Teller Amendment and withdrew from Cuba in 1902, the U.S. dictated the Cuban constitution which included the Platt Amendment, establishing a permanent U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay. (99 year lease)
  • McKinley also annexed Hawaii in 1898.
  • The Philippines War: Emilio Aguinaldo led a revolt against the U.S.; this war is often called the 'forgotten war." McKinley justified his policies on the grounds that this 2nd war would "uplift, civilize and Christianize."

This period is also the start of the Nadir, intense and violent racial tensions, undoing of everything good that came out of Reconstruction; Plessey v. Ferguson, de jure segregation and disenfranchisement which would end legal segregation with the 1954 Brown v. The Board of Education, Topeka Kansas.