Thursday, June 27, 2019

Corporations and the People's Party

Isaac's journal kept during the Populist Movement
The early years of what became the United States of America consisted almost entirely of a population of farmers, proprietors of small shops, and independent producers, like blacksmiths and farriers.  Gradually, that began to change from self-employed proprietors to large corporations operated by salaried managers.  The agricultural and small merchant society of community businesses and small towns with citizens having fewer economic differences evolved into larger urban areas with greater distinctions in wealth.

At the beginning of the Civil War, there were 400 millionaires in the United States.  By 1892 there were 4,047.  American society had evolved into a wealthy class, a middle class, and a laboring class.  Key to this evolution was the changing view of incorporation.  Many lawmakers saw the interests of the nation as linked to the growth of large corporations.  With this perspective, lawmakers voted for tax cuts and other benefits, and the old way of life changed forever.

It was during this period of rapidly changing social conditions that Isaac Werner kept his daily journal and farmers and other workers formed the People's Party to come together in their greater numbers to politically confront the smaller number of wealthy voters.  However, the wealthy had greater power, and with many politicians seeing corporations as essential to the economic growth of the nation, even those politicians elected by workers often voted with the wealthy once in office.

Power of Wall Street & Railroads political cartoon
Farmers like Isaac saw the incorporation of America as an unfair misappropriation of the nation's wealth.  The original idea had been that the new nation's greatest wealth was in its vast lands, a wealth that seemed inexhaustible.  Thomas Jefferson and others had predicted that it would take a thousand years for the population to spread to the Pacific, and homestead laws were enacted to encourage that spread.  Instead, only three generations had been needed.  Railroads had played a significant role in that expansion, and railroads had also been key to the economic changes in the nation, including the growth of incorporation.

After the Civil War the 14th Amendment was enacted to provide freed slaves "equal protection of the laws."  However, an aggressive lawyer used it for his railroad client's purposes.  Seeking to avoid a California tax on railroad property, the Southern Pacific Railroad Company owned by Leland Stanford argued that his railroad was a person too.  His lawyer cited the intent of those who drafted the amendment as having been meant to embrace 'artificial persons as well as natural persons."  Years later it was found that the lawyer had fabricated that intention.

By then, as the saying goes, the horse was out of the barn.  A series of cases which have led to the more recent Citizens' United case, have expanded the interpretation to see corporations as people too.

In a speech in 2003 by Bill Moyers, he said:  "They [populists and progressives] were a diverse lot, held together by a common admiration of progress--hence the name--and a shared dismay at the paradox of poverty stubbornly persisting in the midst of progress like an unwanted guest at a wedding.  Of course they welcomed, just as we do, the new marvels in the gift-bag of technology...But they saw the underside, too--the slums lurking in the shadows of the glittering cities, the exploited and unprotected workers whose low-paid labor filled the horn of plenty for others, the misery of those whom age, sickness, accident or hard times condemned to servitude and poverty with no hope of comfort or security. ...This is what's hard to believe--hardly a century had passed since 1776 before the still-young revolution was being strangled in the hard grip of a merciless ruling class."

United States Supreme Court
When America was founded, there was a natural suspicion of corporations, based on abuses known from English law.  The evolution of corporations in American was gradual, recognizing the benefits of people coming together to pool assets for businesses larger than the simple independent producers in the original colony but also realizing the potential for abusive power.  Yet, gradually the benefits began to seem more important than the risks.  Black's Law Dictionary defines a corporation as "An artificial person or legal entity created by or under the authority of the laws of a state or nation... acting as a unit or single individual in matters relating to the common purpose of the association..."

We ordinary humans do not need "the authority of the laws of a state or nation" to define us.  Corporations do.  In the Citizen's United case, the dissent argued that the Founding Fathers disliked corporations and never intended the First Amendment to apply to corporations.  In his concurring opinion with the majority, Justice Scalia wrote that even if that argument were relevant, "the individual person's right to speak includes the right to speak in association with other individual persons."  Scalia seemed to think that because a group of individuals had incorporated to manufacture "something or other," they were entitled to select those to speak for them about their common venture, and those persons, acting within that corporate capacity, are protected under the first amendment. 

For Scalia, the individual shareholder in the corporation has not only his voice but also the voice of the corporation of which he is a part.  One might say such a person has his own tiny voice but also the megaphone volume of his voice amplified by the wealth and influence of the corporation.  Others might see it as unfair for both individual shareholders and the corporation of which they are a part to have the protection of the 1st Amendment's freedom of speech, but the Supreme Court did not.

By analogy, it might be argued that all of those coming together in the People's Party in the late 1800s to exert more influence through the combined power of their votes were using the power of a political party to magnify their individual votes.  Even so, they didn't get to vote twice. 

Remember, you can click on images to enlarge them.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Isaac Werner Visits Cullison, Part 4

Last week's blog left Isaac Werner on his way to Pratt, leaving Cullison after feeding and resting his horses a bit.  If you have not been following Isaac's potato marketing trips to and through Cullison, Kansas, from July through October of 1887, you may want to scroll back through the previous three blogs.  

D. W. Blain
Having traveled 40-some miles that October 26th day in 1887, Isaac "Staid [sic] over night in Blaine's new built large implement shed.  Pratt quite lively, building large new brick buildings hurried along towards completion."

He awakened to a "fair and pleasant day."  The weather was always important to Isaac, and each day's entry in his journal began with the weather, even when he was not at home, as was the case that morning when he awakened in Blaine's  new shed.  Isaac was a regular customer, and he had business to conduct with them.  "Morning paid Blaine Bros 15.00 cost to apply on my last 25.00 note for Deering mower due November 1st.  Then selected a new Pekin Steel beam stirrig plow at 18.00, due Sept 1st, 1888, interest at 10% after April first & plow returnable if not proving satisfactory."  His overnight stay coincided with  the move-in for Blaine Bros., and they had begun "moving their stock to new building by 8. 

Apparently Isaac was in a visiting mood before colder weather kept him at home, for he traveled "home via Iuka and to dinner at Bob Moore's."  Isaac had built Moore's home for him, and they were well acquainted.  The noon meal was 'dinner,' and the evening meal was 'supper,' terms used in my own family when I was a child.

When he finally reached home, he could hardly wait to try the "new Pekin plow out," plowing out Silver Skin [potatoes], working tolerable well just one round & picked them up by dusk, ground yet nice for potato digging and plowing."

This ends my four-week series on Isaac's potato marketing in 1887.  He did sell potatoes to businesses nearer home, but locally, his profitable potato venture had become keeping potatoes in his cellar through the winter and marketing seed potatoes in the spring.  He knew that selling the seed potatoes reduced potato sales later to those who were growing their own, but it gave him some needed spring revenue.  Most neighbors lacked the space to store potatoes through the winter or only planted what they needed for their own consumption, so his spring seed potato business was active in the community.

This series is an example of the contents of Isaac's journal and how I can develop a narrative about a particular theme, sharing the story accurately without simply transcribing the journal.  My manuscript is not a mere transcription of the journal's text but rather the story of the Populist Movement in Isaac's area and the nation, focusing on historic events from the perspective of a particular Kansas community.  The authentic experiences of Isaac, and the communities near his claim, are integrated with research from many sources--academic books, searches in courthouses, local publications, newspapers, visits to cemeteries and towns in which Isaac lived, and historic sites, interviews of descendants, old letters and photographs, genealogy research on of everyone mentioned in Isaac's journal, and my own experience of having been raised in the area in which Isaac staked his claims, among other extensive research.

Sharing Isaac's 1887 potato marketing in these four posts utilizes more actual quotes from his journal than I use in the manuscript and less narrative with research from other sources, but I hope you enjoyed experiencing how Isaac survived as a potato farmer one particular summer.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Isaac Werner Visits Cullison, Part 3

Wagon displayed in Stafford County (KS) Museum
Having been successful marketing his potatoes further south of his community, Isaac Werner planned his last trip before winter.  The cold weather required special preparations for his trip, which began October 24, 1887.  "By 9 a.m. I got done choring & off with my load of potatoes for Stringfield's [the local blacksmith].  Got mares shod in front & off for Cullison.  There by 2 p.m. & cold raw NE air & cloudy, about bordering on snow.  Disagreeable cold to be out unless extra warm dressed to sit on wagon."

Eager to resume his trip in daylight, before temperatures dropped with the setting sun, " 3 left Cullison & by dusk turned in at J.P. Chinn's ranch 7 miles N. of Sun City.  Chilling night air sure, covered my potatoes some extra."

Isaac "found Chinns a clever family."  In the 1890 Federal Census, it appears that John P. and Joanna Chinn had both been born in Kentucky.  They had four sons--Isaac L. (born about 1853), Garrett C. (born about 1855), John T. (born about 1857), and Eddie D. (born about 1863), all of whom were born in Iowa, indicating that the couple had not come directly from the land of their births to Kansas.  By the 1900 Federal Census, J.P. Chinn is a widower living by himself in Pratt, Kansas.

Bachelor Isaac, living alone as he did, enjoyed the opportunity to visit with people he found interesting, and after his night's rest, the following morning had "cleared off and moderating into pleasant day," so he lingered for "a lengthy morning talk with Mr. & Mrs. Chinn," delaying his start until "by 10 I got started & by noon down to Sun City, good roads and agreeable weather."  Although Isaac had taken the precaution of covering his potatoes "some extra" the night before, a "few got frost bitten on top layer under 3 thicknesses of wagon cover." 

Slicker Ad from St. John County Capital newspaper
Isaac was disappointed when, unlike the market for his previous marketing trips to Sun City, "potato market somewhat dull--money so scarce.  Finally I sold 5 bushels at Hotel and 16 1/2 to dry goods store (Dougles), all at a dollar a bushel."  He did a "a little trading & by 4 ready to start back, & after dusk & moonlight by 8 to Spring Vale.  Staied [sic] there over night in feed stable.  Thirty-five cents to hay and stable."  As part of my research for the manuscript, my husband and I traced Isaac's route for this trip, but our search for Spring Vale found no remaining trace.  

The next morning dawned "fair & pleasant," and Isaac went to Wellsford to get "some needed harness trimmings & collar."  Unfortunately, Isaac had forgotten his new slicker and had to backtrack to Spring Vale to retrieve it.  That done, Isaac headed to Cullison to feed his team.  After giving his team a short rest, he headed to Pratt, making that day's journey about 40 miles.

Next week's blog will conclude Isaac's potato marketing trip as he does some shopping in Pratt and pauses for a visit with a neighbor before returning home.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Isaac Werner Visits Cullison, Part 2

James B. Cullison moved on to Oklahoma with his family, but the town named for him began to grow.  (You may visit last week's blog to learn about the young family's arrival on the prairie and the roots of Cullison.)  By 1887, the new town was thriving, and Isaac B. Werner  decided to travel south of his claims in search of markets for his potatoes.  On July 21, 1887 he loaded 4 bushels of a neighbor's corn and 9 bushels of his own potatoes "...and by 2 p.m. got started off & by sun down in Cullison, staied [sic] at feed stable."

When Isaac arose the next morning he left Cullison for "...Spring Valley with my potatoes and sold same to Bridge camp at 87 1/2 cents a bushel."  The camp he mentions was an encampment of rail road workers building a bridge for the rails headed west.  He passed through Cullison on his way home, but the next morning he took a load of potatoes north to St. John.

On July 12, 1887, he decided to travel further south in search of potato markets, and although he passed through Cullison, he continued in the dark to stay with Judge Purdy overnight.  He was headed for Sun City, and " 11 got in there, among winding hollows & green trees."  Isaac commented on the corn, only fit for fodder, and the dry crops.  

Isaac's library contained books of all sorts, and his guesses about the terrain he was passing through  suggests his knowledge of geology.  "[C]urious country around there, once a flat country but gullies started and washed by ages & frosts crumpling projecting rock flatten bluff sides down to gentle sloping & now green grass covered."  In Sun City he got a dollar and more for his potatoes and fifty cents for his corn, and with storm clouds coming from the west, he returned to Cullison for the night.

Near the end of August, Isaac made another trip to Cullison, again spending the night in the feed stable.  Given the recent history of severe storms in the Greensburg area, I read this passage written in Isaac's journal on August 30, 1887, with particular interest:  "Trifling shower working from NW against light-sprinkling clouds coming up from S tending to sprinkle from both directions, but the NW movement conquered finally, some lightning & thunder & towards 4 p.m. some of steadiest showering for a good hour's duration seldom witnessed; seemed like 6" of water fell, ground flowing & covered, the upper part of shower going S and lower part blown by on strong wind from S at wind of almost cyclonic for short spell tearing down some buildings and several at Greensburg.  I staied [sic] over night in Metropolitan feed stable, its floor flooded 6".

Despite the conditions and the hard pull for the horses, he went to Greensburg the next morning and "by 4 p.m. soon disposed of my 18 bushel corn at 45 cents and ten and a half bushel potatoes at $1.25," calling Greensburg "a live town, business booming on all sides."  He headed east for 12 miles, spending the night in Haviland to let the roads dry over night for easier travel.

Of particular interest to history is that when he reach Cullison the next morning, the "...Rock Island R.R. track entered town by noon"

Next week I will continue with Isaac's return to Cullison in October.