Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Union Labor Party in Kansas

Because so many Union Soldiers claimed homesteads and began farming in Kansas, the party of their old commander, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, led many of them to adhere strictly to the Republican political party.  However, in the late 1800s laborers, including farmers, began to feel that the wealthy exerted more power in Washington.  They felt that too much legislation favored the wealthy and neglected or took unfair advantage of working class people.  

Laborers began forming political organizations, and the activity was initially stronger among employed laborers, such as factory workers and railroad workers.  Farmers tended to come together to find non-political ways to better their situation, their perspective as land owners working for themselves seeming to distinguish their issues from hired laborers.

Some of the early organizations attempted to influence government through lobbying rather than by forming political parties.  However, eventually political parties were organized.  The Prohibition Party chose candidates at the national level, but had greater success electing their candidates at local levels.  The Greenback Party also chose candidates at all levels, their focus being on the economy.  Yet, the Republicans and the Democrats remained the dominant political parties.

The Union Labor Party was originally organized by non-farming laborers, but in the 1880s they began to organize farmers as well.  Briefly, they recruited many voters from central Kansas.  However, it was about that time that the membership of the Union Labor Party nationally began to decline.  The Populist Movement in which Kansas and Texas played such important roles joined with other states, largely agricultural and ranching areas but not exclusively so, and created the People's Party, which reached its peak in the late 1880s and early to mid-1890s.

Union Labor Temple in Hutchinson, KS
When I saw the Union Labor Temple in Hutchinson, KS, I naturally but wrongly jumped to the conclusion that it might have been some early structure having to do with the Union Labor Party.  A little research informed me otherwise!

The old Union Labor Party that enjoyed a very brief popularity in Kansas among farmers prior to the creation of the People's Party was only one among many "Labor Parties."  Among them were the United Labor Party, the Industrial Labor Party, the Labor Reform Party, and even a coalition called the Greenback Labor Party. 

Among the books in Isaac's library were two by Henry George, including the one for which he was most famous, Progress and Poverty.  Georgisms were highly regarded, and his book sold around the world.  In 1886 he ran for mayor of New York City on the United Labor Party ticket.  He received 68,000 votes, primarily votes against corporate capitalism as much as for a particular party.

None of these Labor Parties survived as separate parties.  Their members were swept up into the other parties, either the two major parties, or in the case of many in our central Kansas region who briefly voted Union Labor, into the People's Party.

Yet, for one brief voting season, many of the male voters of this region turned away from the two old parties to vote the Union Labor ticket.  (Women did not yet have the vote.)  That is just a bit of our generally forgotten history.

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