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HIST 1152 American History since 1877 Primary Source Readings 1: Westward Expansion and Indian Removal in the Late Nineteenth Century

HIST 1152 American History since 1877 Primary Source Readings 1: Westward Expansion and Indian Removal in the Late Nineteenth Century

Overview

A collection of primary source readings for American History since 1877.

Wealth by Andrew Carnegie

The primary source readings in this course align with  The American Yawp open textbook by Stanford University Press.  While the original The American Yawp is accompanied by its own primary source reader called The American Yawp Reader, the selection of primary sources you will find in this course differ somewhat in that some of the text excerpts are from the same sources but might feature a different selection from the text. Some of the primary sources in this course are in addition to those found in The American Yawp Reader. 

Microsoft Word and PDF downloads of these readings are available.

To take this course for credit, register at Columbus State Community College.

This work, except where otherwise indicated, by Jennifer Nardone at Columbus State Community College is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

 

Portrait of Andrew Carnegie with white beard, sitting in a chair
Andrew Carnegie

Wealth

Andrew Carnegie

 

At age 13 Andrew Carnegie immigrated with his family from Scotland to Pittsburgh, PA. He arrived in 1848, just in time to watch the city rapidly transfer into a major industrial and railroad center. After briefly working in a textile mill, Carnegie worked as a telegraph messenger in the Pittsburgh office of the Ohio Telegraph Company. In 1853, he went to work for Thomas A. Scott, a General Superintendent for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Both Scott and Carnegie quickly worked their way up the ladder. Scott arranged investment opportunities for Carnegie in industries connected to the expansion of the railroads. For example, Carnegie invested in Theodore Tuttle Woodruff’s train sleeping car company, secured exclusive rights over a major telegraph company, and invested in the Columbia Oil Company in Pennsylvania, all facilitated by Scott and his connections.

 

During the Civil War (1861-65), Scott supervised transportation for the U.S. Military and Carnegie served as his second in command. After the war, Scott secured contracts for Carnegie’s new business ventures in oil and ironworks. At the same time, Carnegie convinced Theodore Woodruff to sell his company to George Pullman, who we will discuss this week. Carnegie and Pullman would join forces again during the Panic of 1873, buying out failing railroads and other industries.

 

Interestingly, Carnegie’s mentor, Thomas Scott, was one of the railroad men who ensured John Rockefeller had a monopoly over oil markets and freight rates. Scott controlled the Pennsylvania Railroad, which Rockefeller needed to transport his oil out of Pittsburgh. When Scott and Rockefeller failed to reach amenable terms, Rockefeller closed his plants in Pittsburgh, forcing Scott to abruptly cut worker’s wages. In response, workers refused to service trains and rioted in the streets. Such began the the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. After the strike, Carnegie, Pullman, and Rockefeller, along with a handful of other wealthy men, controlled the railroads and most of the major industries in the country. They are the men George McNeill criticizes in The Labor Movement, or the Problem of Today. George Rice also discusses the railroad monopoly in his interview with New York World.

 

Rockefeller controlled the oil industry while Carnegie controlled the steel industry. He initially invested in ironworks, and later adopted the Bessemer Process, employing a blast furnish that heated iron to the point where imperfections are eliminated, thus creating the one of the strongest materials on earth – steel. Carnegie Steel Works, centered in Homestead, PA, produced more steel than anywhere else in the world. In 1892, workers at Homestead went on strike after wages were abruptly cut, resulting in one of the bloodiest labor strikes of the nineteenth century. Nine years later, Carnegie sold his steelworks to financier John Pierpont Morgan. Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Morgan competed for wealthiest man in the world throughout the nineteenth century. Morgan’s purchase of Carnegie Steel, known afterward as U.S. Steel, ended the competition.

 

Carnegie retired, and turned his attention to philanthropy, particularly his Carnegie Library program (the main branch of the Columbus Public Library is a Carnegie library). He also founded Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, funded the National Endowment for the Arts, built Carnegie Hall. He gave away 90 percent of his wealth before his death and still managed to leave an incredible amount of generational wealthy for his decedents.

 

After the 1887 Haymarket Riot in Chicago, Carnegie, and every other wealthy industrialist, worried about the growing power of the labor movement, particularly the call for unions. In 1889, Carnegie penned the following essay in support of unregulated capitalism and the danger of labor unions.[1]

 

 

 

The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship. The conditions of human life have not only been changed, but revolutionized, within the past few hundred years. In former days there was little difference between the dwelling, dress, food, and environment of the chief and those of his retainers. The Indians are to-day where civilized man then was. When visiting the Sioux, I was led to the wigwam of the chief. It was just like the others in external appearance, and even within the difference was trifling between it and those of the poorest of his braves. The contrast between the palace of the millionaire and the cottage of the laborer with us to-day measures the change which has come with civilization.

 

This change, however, is not to be deplored, but welcomed as highly beneficial. It is well, nay, essential for the progress of the race, that the houses of some should be homes for all that is highest and best in literature and the arts, and for all the refinements of civilization, rather than that none should be so. Much better this great irregularity than universal squalor. The "good old times " were not good old times. Neither master nor servant was as well situated then as to-day. A relapse to old conditions would be disastrous to both--not the least so to him who serves--and would sweep away civilization with it. But whether the change be for good or ill, it is upon us, beyond our power to alter, and therefore to be accepted and made the best of. It is a waste of time to criticize the inevitable.

 

It is easy to see how the change has come. In the manufacture of products, we have the whole story. Today the world obtains commodities of excellent quality at prices which even the generation preceding this would have deemed incredible. In the commercial world similar causes have produced similar results, and the race is benefited thereby. The poor enjoy what the rich could not before afford. What were the luxuries have become the necessaries of life. The laborer has now more comforts than the landlord had a few generations ago.

 

The price we pay for this salutary change is, no doubt, great. We assemble thousands of operatives in the factory, in the mine, and in the counting-house, of whom the employer can know little or nothing, and to whom the employer is little better than a myth. Under the law of competition, the employer of thousands is forced into the strictest economies, among which the rates paid to labor figure prominently, and often there is friction between the employer and the employed, between capital and labor, between rich and poor. Human society loses homogeneity.

 

The price which society pays for the law of competition, like the price it pays for cheap comforts and luxuries, is also great; but the advantage of this law are also greater still, for it is to this law that we owe our wonderful material development, which brings improved conditions in its train. But, whether the law be benign or not, we must say of it, as we say of the change in the conditions of men to which we have referred: It is here; we cannot evade it; no substitutes for it have been found; and while the law may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it insures the survival of the fittest in every department.

 

We accept and welcome therefore, as conditions to which we must accommodate ourselves, great inequality of environment, the concentration of business, industrial and commercial, in the hands of a few, and the law of competition between these, as being not only beneficial, but essential for the future progress of the race. Having accepted these, it follows that there must be great scope for the exercise of special ability in the merchant and in the manufacturer, who has to conduct affairs upon a great scale. That this talent for organization and management is rare among men is proved by the fact that it invariably secures for its possessor enormous rewards, no matter where or under what laws or conditions. The experienced in affairs always rate the MAN whose services can be obtained as a partner as not only the first consideration, but such as to render the question of his capital scarcely worth considering, for such men soon create capital; while, without the special talent required, capital soon takes wings.

 

Such men become interested in firms or corporations using millions; and estimating only simple interest to be made upon the capital invested, it is inevitable that their income must exceed their expenditures, and that they must accumulate wealth. Nor is there any middle ground which such men can occupy, because the great manufacturing or commercial concern which does not earn at least interest upon its capital soon becomes bankrupt. It, must either go forward or fall behind: to stand still is impossible. It is a condition essential for its successful operation that it should be thus far profitable, and even that, in addition to interest on capital, it should make profit. It is a law, as certain as any of the others named, that men possessed of this peculiar talent for affair, under the free play of economic forces, must, of necessity, soon be in receipt of more revenue than can be judiciously expended upon themselves; and this law is as beneficial for the race as the others[2].

 

Objections to the foundations upon which society is based are not in order, because the condition of the race is better with these than it has been with any others which have been tried. Of the effect of any new substitutes proposed we cannot be sure.

 

The Socialist or Anarchist who seeks to overturn present conditions is to be regarded as attacking the foundation upon which civilization itself rests, for civilization took its start from the day that the capable, industrious workman said to his incompetent and lazy fellow, "If thou dost net sow, thou shalt net reap," and thus ended primitive Communism by separating the drones from the bees. One who studies this subject will soon be brought face to face with the conclusion that upon the sacredness of property civilization itself depends--the right of the laborer to his hundred dollars in the savings bank, and equally the legal right of the millionaire to his millions[3]. To these who propose to substitute Communism for this intense Individualism the answer, therefore, is: The race has tried that. All progress from that barbarous day to the present time has resulted from its displacement. Not evil, but good, has come to the race from the accumulation of wealth by those who have the ability and energy that produce it.

 

We start, then, with a condition of affairs under which the best interests of the race are promoted, but which inevitably gives wealth to the few. Thus far, accepting conditions as they exist, the situation can be surveyed and pronounced good. The question then arises, --and, if the foregoing be correct, it is the only question with which we have to deal, --What is the proper mode of administering wealth after the laws upon which civilization is founded have thrown it into the hands of the few? And it is of this great question that I believe I offer the true solution. It will be understood that fortunes are here spoken of, not moderate sums saved by many years of effort, the returns on which are required for the comfortable maintenance and education of families. This is not wealth, but only competence which it should be the aim of all to acquire…

 

There are but three modes in which surplus wealth can be disposed of. It can be left to the families of the decedents; or it can be bequeathed for public purposes; or, finally, it can be administered during their lives by its possessors. Under the first and second modes most of the wealth of the world that has reached the few has hitherto been applied. Let us in turn consider each of these modes. The first is the most injudicious. In monarchical countries, the estates and the greatest portion of the wealth are left to the first son, that the vanity of the parent may be gratified by the thought that his name and title are to descend to succeeding generations unimpaired. The condition of this class in Europe to-day teaches the futility of such hopes or ambitions. The successors have become impoverished through their follies or from the fall in the value of land…Observation teaches that, generally speaking, it is not well for the children that they should be so burdened. Neither is it well for the state…

 

There remains, then, only one mode of using great fortunes; but in this we have the true antidote for the temporary unequal distribution of wealth, the reconciliation of the rich and the poor--a reign of harmony--another ideal, differing, indeed, from that of the Communist in requiring only the further evolution of existing conditions, not the total overthrow of our civilization. It is founded upon the present most intense individualism, and the race is projected to put it in practice by degree whenever it pleases. Under its sway we shall have an ideal state, in which the surplus wealth of the few will become, in the best sense the property of the many, because administered for the common good, and this wealth, passing through the hands of the few, can be made a much more potent force for the elevation of our race than if it had been distributed in small sums to the people themselves. Even the poorest can be made to see this, and to agree that great sums gathered by some of their fellow-citizens and spent for public purposes, from which the masses reap the principal benefit, are more valuable to them than if scattered among them through the course of many years in trifling amounts.

 

If we consider what results flow from the Cooper Institute, for instance, to the best portion of the race in New York not possessed of means, and compare these with those which would have arisen for the good of the masses from an equal sum distributed by Mr. Cooper in his lifetime in the form of wages, which is the highest form of distribution, being for work done and not for charity, we can form some estimate of the possibilities for the improvement of the race which lie embedded in the present law of the accumulation of wealth. Much of this sum if distributed in small quantities among the people, would have been wasted in the indulgence of appetite, some of it in excess, and it may be doubted whether even the part put to the best use, that of adding to the comforts of the home, would have yielded results for the race, as a race, at all comparable to those which are flowing and are to flow from the Cooper Institute from generation to generation. Let the advocate of violent or radical change ponder well this thought.[4]

 

Poor and restricted are our opportunities in this life; narrow our horizon; our best work most imperfect; but rich men should be thankful for one inestimable boon. They have it in their power during their lives to busy themselves in organizing benefactions from which the masses of their fellows will derive lasting advantage, and thus dignify their own lives…

 

This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and after doing so to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community--the man of wealth thus becoming the mere agent and trustee for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.

 

The best uses to which surplus wealth can be put have already been indicated. These who, would administer wisely must, indeed, be wise, for one of the serious obstacles to the improvement of our race is indiscriminate charity. It were better for mankind that the millions of the rich were thrown in to the sea than so spent as to encourage the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy. Of every thousand dollars spent in so called charity to-day, it is probable that $950 is unwisely spent; so spent, indeed as to produce the very evils which it proposes to mitigate or cure.

 

In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves; to provide part of the means by which those who desire to improve may do so; to give those who desire to use the aids by which they may rise; to assist, but rarely or never to do all. Neither the individual nor the race is improved by alms-giving. Those worthy of assistance, except in rare cases, seldom require assistance. The really valuable men of the race never do, except in cases of accident or sudden change. Everyone has, of course, cases of individuals brought to his own knowledge where temporary assistance can do genuine good, and these he will not overlook. But the amount which can be wisely given by the individual for individuals is necessarily limited by his lack of knowledge of the circumstances connected with each. He is the only true reformer who is as careful and as anxious not to aid the unworthy as he is to aid the worthy, and, perhaps, even more so, for in alms-giving more injury is probably done by rewarding vice than by relieving virtue.

 

Thus is the problem of Rich and Poor to be solved. The laws of accumulation will be left free; the laws of distribution free. Individualism will continue, but the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor; entrusted for a season with a great part of the increased wealth of the community but administering it for the community far better than it could or would have done for itself. The best minds will thus have reached a stage in the development of the race in which it is clearly seen that there is no mode of disposing of surplus wealth creditable to thoughtful and earnest men into whose hands it flows save by using it year by year for the general good. This day already dawns. Of such as these the public verdict will then be: "The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced." Such, in my opinion, is the true Gospel concerning Wealth, obedience to which is destined someday to solve the problem of the Rich and the Poor, and to bring 'Peace on earth, among men Good-Will."

 

 

[1]Wealth,” originally published in the North American Review, June 1889.

[2] Accumulation of wealth is progress, and wealth equals worth.

[3] John D. Rockefeller used to say, “God gave me my money.”

[4] Peter Cooper was an industrialist who made his money in iron and railroads. In 1859, Cooper founded The Cooper Institute in New York City, now known as Cooper Union. The school initially offered free adult education classes to anyone interested. By the turn of the twentieth century, the school developed into a highly respected college; the school did not charge tuition with the hope of making college available to those without financial means. The school remained tuition free until 2014, when the Board of Trustees voted to charge partial tuition in an effort to offset financial difficulties at the school. In 2018, the Board voted to return to the tuition-free model by 2020, thus returning to Peter Cooper’s original vision of affordable and accessible education.

Image: Andrew Carnegie is believed to be in the public domain.

How I was Ruined by Rockefeller

How I was Ruined by Rockefeller

George Rice

 

George Rice started in the oil business in 1865, the same year as John D. Rockefeller. Rice built an oil refinery in Marietta, Ohio in 1873. In 1883, he was the first person to run a pipeline from the newly discovered oil fields in nearby Macksburg. Rice had a contract with the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad securing him exclusive access to several regional markets at a reduced transport rate. The same year oil was discovered in Macksburg, the Marietta and Cincinnati merged with two other lines to become Marietta, Washington and Cincinnati line. The new railroad company immediately doubled freight charges and cancelled any exclusivity agreements, leaving Rice with little options. Rockefeller orchestrated the merger and raise in freight rates.

 

The Marietta, Washington and Cincinnati line served as a subsidiary of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which crossed with another major line in Strongsville, Ohio. John Rockefeller grew up in Strongsville and opened his first oil refinery in nearby Cleveland in 1865. In 1870, Rockefeller incorporated Standard Oil Company of Ohio, which promptly bought out almost every refinery in Cleveland (the center of the oil business in the late nineteenth century). Critics like George Rice called it “the Cleveland Massacre.” Rockefeller knew all the railroad men (Presidents, Board Members, Managers – the men who signed contracts and made deals) who essentially let Rockefeller determine his own price as well as everyone else’s.

 

The railroads could not exist with the oil industry and vice versa. Often Rockefeller would raise freight rates for smaller refineries, change freight routes away from certain refineries, or lower the price of Standard oil below the market price. Rockefeller was notoriously ruthless in every aspect of his business. By the 1890s, he controlled 90 percent of the oil market and 100 percent of oil transport in the country. Nobody worked in railroads or oil without answering to Rockefeller.

 

George Rice tried for years to beat Rockefeller at his own game. He bought shares in Standard Oil, tried to take over the Board (yes), then sued looking for restitution. So began decades of law suits between Rice and Rockefeller. Rice was an outspoken critic of Rockefeller and Standard Oil, and provided “inside” information to two major journalists – Ida Tarbell and Henry Demerest Lloyd. Both Tarbell and Lloyd published exposes of Rockefeller’s ruthless tactics, which eventually led to the break up of Standard Oil in 1911. After a dramatic encounter with Rockefeller in the lobby of Hotel New Amsterdam in New York City where both were testifying in the latest law suit, a reporter from the New York World interviewed Rice, excerpted below.[1]

 

 

 

NEW YORK WORLD, OCTOBER 16, 1898, p. 25

 

"I have been twenty years fighting John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Trust, and I am not through yet."

 

The man who said this was George Rice, of Marietta, Ohio. He is the man who told John D. Rockefeller to his face last Wednesday in the New Netherland Hotel, where Mr. Rockefeller had been testifying before the State Commission sent from Ohio to get evidence in proceedings intended to prove him guilty of contempt of the Ohio Supreme Court, that his great wealth was built on wrecks of other men's business[2].

 

It was a dramatic scene. Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Rice have known each other well for a generation. In a twenty-year fight, men are apt to get well acquainted. But when the great multi-millionaire walked across the parlor, and, extending his hand-which was not taken-said to George Rice in a suave tenor voice:

 

"HOW ARE YOU, GEORGE! WE ARE GETTING TO BE GRAY- HAIRED MEN NOW, AIN'T WE? DON'T YOU WISH YOU HAD TAKEN MY ADVICE YEARS AGO?"

 

The group of onlookers were not prepared for what followed. George Rice drew himself up to his full height, which is about 6 feet 2 inches, his bright gray eyes flashed fire, and his massive frame visibly vibrated with suppressed anger, as he looked the great oil magnate straight in the face and said:

 

"Perhaps it would have been better for me if I had. YOU HAVE CERTAINLY RUINED MY BUSINESS, AS YOU SAID YOU WOULD."

 

Mr. Rockefeller recoiled and his face showed a shade of pallor. The words of Rice had evidently stung him. Quickly recovering himself he turned from his accuser, saying, "Oh, pshaw, that isn't so, George!"

 

"But I say it is so," was the instant rejoinder of George Rice, and, raising his voice so that everybody in the room could hear him, he pointed his index finger at the Oil King, and added: "You know well that by the power of your great wealth you have ruined my business, and you cannot deny it."

 

MR. RICE TELLS HIS EXPERIENCE TO THE WORLD

 

This ended the episode in the hotel parlor. A few hours later, sitting in his private room, Mr. Rice gave to a World representative the full story of how he was ruined as an oil refiner by the machinations of the great Standard Oil Laocoon[3] in whose coils an uncounted multitude of competitors have been crushed to death.

 

"I am but one of many victims of Rockefeller's colossal combination," said Mr. Rice, "and my story is not essentially different from the rest. You ask me to tell you what I meant by telling Mr. Rockefeller, as I did publicly to-day, that he had ruined my business. The whole story, with all its inside details of intrigue and conspiracy, would require a volume to tell. I will tell you as much of it as you choose to ask me for. What particular phase of my experience do you care to have me relate?"

 

"Give me your personal story, Mr. Rice-just what happened to you in your own business."

 

"Well, I went into the oil-producing business in West Virginia in 1872, and in 1876 I went into the oil-refining business. Immediately I did that my fight with the Standard Oil people began. I established what was known as the Ohio Oil Works, which had a capacity of about 100,000 barrels of crude oil per annum. I found to my surprise at first, though I afterward understood it per-fectly, that the Standard Oil Company was offering the same quality of oil at much lower prices than I could do-from one to three cents a gallon less than I could possibly sell it for."

 

I sought for the reason and found that the railroads were in league with the Standard Oil concern at every point, giving it discriminating rates and privileges of all kinds as against myself and all outside competitors.

 

"For instance, I found that the railroads would not furnish tank-cars to any competitors, while the Standard combination was able by its immense wealth to buy its own cars. It owns from 8,000 to 10,000 tank-cars, and the railroads pay them sufficient mileage on the use of those Standard Oil cars to pay for the first cost of the cars inside of three years. A tank-car, when it comes back empty, cannot bring any goods. The transcontinental lines charge $105 to return an empty cylinder tank-car from the Pacific coast to the Missouri River, while they charge the trust nothing at all for the return of their own exclusive box tank- cars. This gives the trust an advantage of over $100 a car.

 

Again, the independent competitor, like myself, was obliged to ship his oil in box-cars and pay 25 per cent more freight on the weight of the wooden barrels, while no charge at all was made to the Standard Oil Trust on the weight of the iron cylinders. "Again, the railroads deduct 63 gallons (or over 400 pounds) from the filled capacity of each Standard Oil tank-car, which is the same as carrying 1 1/4 per cent of their rail products entirely free of cost. This went on up to March 15, 1890 and was one of the things that helped to wreck my business. Yet another thing helped to ruin me. The railroads allowed the trust to deliver its oils in less than carload quantities at the same rates as for full carloads. They allowed the trust to stop its cars, whether carrying oil in bulk or barrels, at different stations and take it off in small quantities without paying the higher rates which independent competitors were always charged for small quantities thus delivered. Of course, against such discriminations as these the independent competitor of moderate capital could not contend. He was driven to the wall every time, as I was."

 

MIGHT HAVE BEEN WORTH A MILLION

 

"My refinery," continued Mr. Rice, "has been shut down for two years. If I had had a fair and equal show with the railroads my refinery plant to-day would have been easily worth a million dollars and would have been growing all the time. As it is, I am out of the business, my plant is worthless and the men whom it would have employed are either idle or finding other work. These discriminations of which I have spoken are as bad to-day as they have ever been. The public needs to understand that the railroads and Standard Oil monopoly are really one and the same thing. The officers and directors of the Oil Trust are also the presidents and directors of one-fifth of the total railroad mileage of the United States. This is no mere statement of mine. It is proved by Poor's Manual[4]. "The trust was formed in January, 1882, and from that time the lines were drawn tighter and tighter to oppress and strangle every competitor. It was the highwayman's policy of 'stand and deliver.'

 

I had my choice offered me to either give up my business at a price far less than I knew it to be worth, or to be robbed of it under forms of law. I chose not to accept the price and my business destroyed. The threat of the trust was made good, and I suppose that is what John D. Rockefeller must have meant when he asked me if I didn't wish I had been wiser and listened to him years ago."

 

"Well, do you now wish, Mr. Rice, that you had knuckled to the trust and saved your money?"

 

"Not a bit of it," replied the "ruined" but plucky oil refiner of Marietta. "I have made a fight for principle, and I am neither sorry for it nor ashamed of it. I have been before the courts many times; I have been before Congressional committees; and I have appeared time and time again before the Interstate Commerce Commission[5], all the time trying to get relief from these gross discriminations. I confess I have made very little headway as yet. I shall go on with the fight as long as I live, and it may be that I shall never win. But, sooner or later, in my lifetime or afterward, the people of this country will surely take up this fight as their own and settle the question of whether they will rule the rail- roads and the trusts or be ruled by them."

 

LAWS NOT ENFORCED

 

"I have made a mistake, apparently, in supposing that the laws of our country could and would be enforced. I supposed the courts and the other authorities of the land would support me in my right to a free and equal chance in business with all my fellow-citizens, John D. Rockefeller included. But I have learned by long years of conflict and trial and tribulation, which have cost me untold worry and a lot of money, that this is not so; that I have no business rights which the railroads and this great trust can be made to respect.

 

"The Interstate Commerce Commission is all right in theory, but it does not have the courage of its powers; it suffers from the paralysis of political influences. The laws are neither feared nor respected by the men of many millions."

 

"Tell me just how the shoe was made to pinch you personally. How did the trust manage to close your refinery at Marietta?"

 

"Why, that's easy to tell. Every car of oil that I sent into any part of the United States the trust would jump on it and cut the life out of it. I mean to say that as soon as my oil arrived at the point to which it was shipped the trust would cut the price, so that the man who bought my oil lost money on the sale of it. They would not cut the prices to the whole town, but only to my one customer, and the whole town knew of this man's having lost money by trading with me. From that time forward, of course, I could get no orders in that town…

 

"In 1872, the trunk lines of railroads made a contract with a corporation called 'The South Improvement Company,' which was only another name for the Standard Oil Company, under which the Standard Oil Company was al-lowed the most outrageous discriminating freight rates. It seems incredible that these contracts should have been made. They not only gave the Standard Oil Company heavy rebates on their own shipments of oil, but gave them rebates on the shipments of their competitors.

 

At that time the Standard Oil Company only had 10 per cent of the petroleum industry of the country, while their competitors had 90 per cent. The rebates allowed to the Standard people were from 40 cents to $1.06 per barrel on crude petroleum, and from 50 cents to $1.32 per barrel on refined petroleum. Thus the Standard Oil Company received nine times as much for rebates on the shipments of its competitors than it did on its own.

 

"In 1874," continued Mr. Rice, "the railroads forced the independent pipe lines of the country to sell out their plants to the Standard Oil Company at the price of old junk, and gave to the latter, besides, still further discriminating re- bates on freight. A circular was issued on Sept. 9, 1874, known as "The Rutter Circular," from the freight office of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company, establishing new rates on refined and crude oil. Under this circular the Standard Oil Company was given an advantage of 20 cents a barrel in the freight charges on crude oil connected with its pipe-line system, which the independent refineries did not have.

 

 In that same year the Standard company secured the railroad terminal oil facilities of all the trunk lines centering in New York City. Many fortunes invested in the independent pipe lines were wrecked by that move, through no fault of their managers and no lack of business skill, but simply because the Standard Oil officials, acting in collusion with the railroad officials, had established these unfair discriminations in freight rates between the oil that came through the Standard pipes and that which came through other pipes.

 

"To show you how the rebate system worked in my own case, let me say that in 1885, I was charged 25 cents a barrel for carrying oil from Macksburg to Marietta, a distance of twenty-five miles, while the Standard Oil Company only paid 10 cents a barrel for the same distance. More than this, out of the 35 cents a barrel that I paid the trust actually received 25 cents. In other words, the trust received about two-thirds of all the money I paid for freight."

 

TRUST "GREATER" THAN THE COURTS OR THE COUNTRY

 

"You spoke of your having fought the trust for twenty years. Give me a general outline of your encounter with it."

 

"Well, about 1879 or 1880, I, with others, brought about a public investigation by the Legislature of Ohio as to the discriminations by the railroads of which I have spoken. Nothing came of that investigation except that we proved any number of facts on which further agitation and action was based. I have gone before the Interstate Commerce Commission in many cases trying to get these discriminations stopped. I brought an action through the Attorney General of Ohio in 1887 to forfeit the charters of two railroads for gross discrimination, and I proved my case. The courts decided, clear up to the highest court, that these two railroads could not make those discriminating charges.

 

I obtained at great cost a decree of the Court to that effect. Apparently, it was a conclusive victory. In reality it was of no account. The discriminating rates went on as before, and they are still going on today. There is no use in trying to stop it. In March, 1892, the Ohio Supreme Court rendered a judgment against the Standard Oil Company, of Ohio, ordering it to discontinue all business relations with the trust.

 

"The company has pretended to comply with the decree. In fact, the trust still exists and the Standard Oil Company of Ohio is still a part of it. The way they have got around it is this: On March 21, 1892, the trust resolved on paper to wind up its affairs, and trustees were appointed for that purpose. Then they issued another kind of trust certificate, called an 'Assignment of Legal Title,' which they made marketable and allowed to be transferred from one holder to another on their trust transfer books, which makes this certificate just as negotiable and salable as the old original trust certificate."

 

$140,060,000 PROFITS IN SIX YEARS

 

"In this way the trust is still kept intact. In proof of this fact the trust is known to have declared and paid since March, 1892, up to September of this year, 26 regular quarterly dividends of 3 per cent, and 59 per cent. besides in special dividends, or a total of 137 per cent dividends, which, based on their reported capitalization of $102,230,700, amounts to $140,060,000 paid in dividends since its pretended dissolution. No more proof is required that the trust has not been dissolved and that the decree of the Supreme Court of Ohio has been treated with contempt."

 

"But while you have been ruined, Mr. Rice, it is said, you know, that the mass of consumers have gained - that the price of oil is cheaper, because of the trust. What do you say to this suggestion that you, and others like you, have been crushed for the general good?"

 

"It is a trust lie," replied Mr. Rice warmly. "There is not the least truth in it. Refined oil for general consumption is as much higher in price as these gross rebates and discriminations amount to, because it is fair to assume, on general principles, that the railroads are making money on the transportation of Standard oil. It only costs three-eighths of a cent a gallon to refine oil. The Standard Oil Trust may possibly save one-eighth of a cent on that, but not more. How much does that amount to in the problem of the cost of oil to the retail consumer? "Refined oil would certainly have been cheaper right along for the last twenty years but for the Standard combination. If the railroad rates had been honest, and the allowances for rebate had been fair and square to all oil producers and refiners, the mass of the people must and would have got the benefit of it. There is no question that the people have paid millions more for oil than they would have done if the laws against conspiracies and combinations in restriction of fair trade could have been enforced. The price of refined oil is notoriously high to-day compared with the low price of crude oil. There is a difference of from 100 to 300 per cent between crude and refined oil prices, when we all know that crude oil can be turned into refined oil and sold all within thirty days." "Do you see no remedy ahead for the condition of things which ruined your business as a refiner?"

 

THE REMEDY-ENFORCE THE LAW

 

"No, I see no remedy, so long as the railroads are under their present management. I have myself tried every known avenue of relief, and my experience has satisfied me that Blackstone did not foresee the conditions of law and justice now prevailing in this country when he wrote his famous maxim, "There is no wrong without a legal remedy." There is no relief for present conditions in this country except by the Government's acquiring ownership of the railroads.

 

There is plenty of law existing now, but it cannot be enforced. It is a dead letter. The Interstate Commerce act has been law for ten years, and the penalty for the violation of it is a fine of $500 and two years in the State prison. It is violated every day, and it has been violated every day for ten years past, but I observe that no one has yet been sent to prison, and I do not believe that any violator of this law ever expects to be."

 

Speaking of Mr. Rockefeller, the man who said to him at the public hearing at the New Netherland Hotel, Thursday: "We are getting to be gray-haired men now, aren't we, George? Don't you wish you had taken my advice years ago?"

 

Mr. Rice said: "There is no doubt whatever that Mr. Rockefeller, through the operations of the Standard Oil Trust, is the richest man in the world today. I know their business, because it is also mine, and I believe that the Rockefellers are now worth $200,000,000.

 

"John D. Rockefeller's personal income from the trust and other sources has for several years exceeded $12,000,000 per annum."

 

[1] Originally published in the New York World, October 16, 1898. Only the first 14 pages are digitized, but they’re pretty interesting pages.

[2] William Waldorf Astor commissioned the Hotel New Netherland in 1892, just six years before the confrontation between Rockefeller and Rice. Two years before that, Astoria built the lavish Waldorf Hotel. A few years later, his cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, build the Astoria Hotel next door as part of an ongoing family feud. The two hotels merged in 1931 to create the legendary Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Astor built the Hotel New Netherland at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, just a few blocks from the Waldorf located at Fifth and 33rd. Hotel New Netherland was demolished in 1929, the same year as the Stock Market Crash that precipitated the Great Depression. If you scroll down the Hotel New Netherland link, you can see a photo of the Empire Parlor, where the confrontation between Rice and Rockefeller took place.

[3] Laocoon was a Trojan priest who was killed, along with his sons, by giant serpents send by the (Greek) Gods.

[4] Poor’s Manual of Railroads was an annual publication that documented equipment summaries, financial data and listing of company officers for each common carrier railroad in the United States.

[5] Federal agency created in 1887 to regulate rates and on railroads and other transnational corporations, although it lacked real regulatory power. In other words, the ICC could find a corporation guilty of a crime, but have no power of prosecution.

The Labor Movement, or the Problem of Today

The Labor Movement, or the Problem of Today

George McNeill

 

When George McNeill was 14-years-old, he led a strike consisting hundreds of mill workers at Woolen Textile Company in Amesbury, Massachusetts (40 miles north of Boston) in support of a “mutual benefit organization” for child workers. During the 1860s, McNeill formed the Eight-Hour-League, working for legislation limiting the average workweek to 40 hours. That would not happen until the New Deal in the 1930s (although several pieces of legislation came before). McNeill was instrumental in the formation of the Knights of Labor, the first national labor union. Like many other workers, George McNeill left the Knights of Labor after the Haymarket Riot in 1886 to join the newly formed American Federation of Labor (AFL).

McNeill spent his life fighting for working conditions still with us today, what he called “economic rights.” Eight-hour workday/40-hour workweek. Overtime pay. Minimum wage. Safer working conditions. Worker’s pension. He would not live to see any of these rights made into law. The year after the Haymarket Riot (1886), McNeill edited a volume of essay,s about the current state of labor and industry in the United States. McNeill wrote the title essay, excerpted below.[1]Carnegie wrote Wealth two years later, in 1889.

 

 

The problem of today, as of yesterday and tomorrow, is how to establish equity between men. The laborer who is forced to sell his day's labor today, or starve tomorrow, is not in equitable relations with the employer, who can wait to buy labor until starvation fixes the rates of wages and hours of time. The labor movement is the natural effort of readjustment, an ever-continued attempt of organized laborers, so that they may withhold their labor until the diminished interest or profit or capital of the employer shall compel him to agree to such terms as shall be for the time measurably equitable. These are the forceful methods of all time and may continue to develop manhood and womanhood by peaceful revolution, as laborers advance their line, or may cause a social earthquake, and become destructive by the organized repression of labor's right. Before the solution of the labor problem can be reached, the nature of the complaint must be understood.

Primarily, the responsibility for strikes and outbreaks rests upon the wage labor system, a system that encourages cunning above conscience; that robs the producer and enriches the speculator; that makes the employer a despot, and the employee a slave, a system that shortens life, engenders disease, enfeebles the mind, corrupts the morals, and thus propagates misery, vice and crime…

Whereas labor produces all the wealth of the world, the laborer receives only as much as will keep him in the poorest condition of life to which he can be crowded down, for the shortest number of years; that he makes civilization possible, and is reduced to barbarism, building houses not to own them, carriages not to ride in them, growing food he may not eat, and weaving raiment he may not wear; that all of the arts and comforts that lift human life above the brute are present to tantalize, and not to encourage him; that steam, electricity, chemistry and productive machinery are competitors, and not co-operators, with him; that the conditions of his employment are debasing, and not elevating, demoralizing, and not self-controlling; and that, whereas he is the most important factor, he is treated as the least; that his home is in the tenement houses, back slums and alleys of the city, or the unhealthy lowlands of the suburbs; that his wife is forced from home, and his children from school; that he cannot, as a laborer, hope for thanks, honors or positions of trust; that he is practically debarred from representation or the public expression of his complaints. When at work, he belongs to the lower orders, and is continually under surveillance; when out of work, he is an outlaw, a tramp, he is a man without the rights of manhood, the pariah of society, homeless, in the deep significance of the term.

 The laborer's complaint is not that brains rule, or that culture leads, but that conscienceless cunning and miserly acquisitiveness are rewarded better than constructive ability or open-hearted integrity. We complain that culture busies itself upon immaterial subjects, conning the olden lore, not delving for the unrevealed treasures that lie embossed in humanity; that learning interests itself with the science of things, and not with the science of men; that philanthropy is the maudlin moan over the needs of the beasts, and a scoffer at the woes of humanity; that cats, dogs and horses are better cared for than the children of the poor. We complain that our rulers, statesmen and orators have not attempted to engraft republican principles into our industrial system and have forgotten or denied its underlying principles.

We complain that statesmanship is narrow and partisan, the pulpit blind and ignorant, and the press the advertising channel of wealth; that the spirit and power of our institutions are being subverted from the high positions, by gradual limitation of the power of the ballot, making elections less frequent, appointments more numerous, terms of office longer, by decrease of opportunity for the intelligent comprehension of the rapidly increasing political duties, by the teachings of a false and pernicious system of political economy, that has no logical rule or law of action, or systematic arrangement of data, a system that, up to this time, has taught that the production, and not the distribution, of wealth was the greatest factor in civilization…

And, while we thus suffer, fortunes are accumulated, wealth and power are centralized. And while our masters are reveling in luxury, excelling the nobility of Europe in extravagant display, aping their manners and imitating their follies we are becoming crowded down to the level of the 'pauper' labor of the monarchical countries. These extremes of wealth and poverty are threatening the existence of the government. In the light of these facts, we declare that there is an inevitable and irresistible conflict between the wage-system of labor and the republican system of government, the wage-laborer attempting to save the government, and the capitalist class ignorantly attempting to subvert it.

The strike of the trainmen on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was the serving of a notice upon the people of this nation that wages could not be further reduced, a protest against robbery, a rebellion against starvation.[2] The trainmen were under despotic control. To leave their employ was to become tramps, outlaws; to submit was to starve in serfdom. They knew that the power of the railroad oligarchy exceeded and superseded that of the national and State governments. The railroad president is a railroad king, whose whim is law.

He collects tithes by reducing wages as remorselessly as the Shah of Persia or the Sultan of Turkey, and, like them, is not amenable to any human power[3]. He can discharge (banish) any employee without cause. He can prevent laborers from following their usual vocations. He can withhold their lawful wages. He can delay trial on a suit at law and postpone judgment indefinitely. He can control legislative bodies, dictate legislation, subsidize the press, and corrupt the moral sense of the community. He can fix the price of freights, and thus command the food and fuel-supplies of the nation. In his right hand he holds the government; in his left hand, the people. And this is called law and order, from which there is no appeal. It is war, war against the divine rights of humanity; war against the principles of our government. There is no mutuality of interests, no co-operative union of labor and capital. It is the iron heel of a soulless monopoly, crushing the manhood out of sovereign citizens…

The crisis that we are rapidly approaching is not local. No Mason and Dixon's line[4], no color tests divide North, South, East, and West; wherever laborers congregate, whether in the factories of New England, or the sunless mines of Pennsylvania, one chord of sympathy unites them all. No demagogue's cant of race or creed will hold them from their purpose to be free. Justice demands that those who earn shall receive; that no one has a right to add cost without adding value.

Recognizing that the steps toward the attaining of the end must be slow, we demand, first, legislative interference between capital and labor; restraining capital in its usurpations and enlarging the boundaries of labor's opportunity. The Constitution of the United States demands that each of the sovereign States shall have a republican form of government. A greater power than that of the State has arisen "a State within a State," a power that is quietly yet quickly sapping the foundations of the majority-rule. The law of self-protection is greater than constitutions, and legislative bodies are bound to interfere to protect the sovereign citizen against the insidious inroads of the usurping power.

Monarchal governments rest upon the ability of the ruler to maintain order by physical force. Republican institutions are sustained by the ability of the people to rule. The government has the right, and is bound in self-defense, to protect the ability of the people to rule. It has the right to interfere against any organized or unorganized power that imperils or impairs this ability. Upon no other argument can the free school system be maintained, institutions of learning, of science, and art be endowed by the State or exempt from taxation. It is the policy of the government to protect, not only her domain from monarchal interference, as set forth in the Monroe doctrine[5], but to protect her citizens from the influence of cheap labor and overwork. For cheap labor means a cheap people, and dear labor a dear people. The foundation of the Republic is equality.

The cheap laborer is an irresponsible agent; the dear laborer, an independent citizen. The Mason and Dixon line was the attempted wall of defense against the cheapest laborer in the world (the chattel slave). The protective tariff was the pretended wall of defense against the competition of the monarchal serf (European wage-slave). The cotton oligarchy South, and their tools, defied the theory and policy of the government, by making the boundary line of slavery (cheap labor) of no effect. The cotton oligarchy north (lords of the loom) defeated the purpose of the Government to protect the laborers and made the tariff a wall of protection for invested wealth, without giving ample protection to invested time and skill.

Chattel slavery died at its own hand, the suicide of secession. The cotton lords and their tools have increased productive capacity, and decreased distributive ability, until it has met with the natural stagnation that foreshadows death. The equilibrium between production and consumption must be adjusted; and that can only be attained by the better distribution of wealth in the process of production. The demand of labor is for more wages and more time, more wages to obtain more comforts, and more time wherein to enjoy them. The measure that will soonest lift the laborer to a higher level of manhood and will at the same time tend to the employment of more laborers, will inaugurate a less spasmodic system of industry, and will set more "idlers to working, and more workers to thinking," is a reduction of the hours of labor, a measure that is based on sound economic principles, as well as sustained by the most humane considerations.

The labor movement appeals to the learned and powerful to waste no further time in the conceits of an unwieldy culture. Take lessons in humility and be wise in time. Civilization, in its onward march, forces concessions from those who have. The Magna Carta[6] was the concession of the power that made all powerful. Art, science and machinery, when made to serve all the people, will accomplish miracles that the power of kings cannot evoke. The movement pleads for the protection of all the past achievements of labor. Through the system of wage-labor, humanity is marching from villain age toward cooperation. If its progress is aided by timely concession, its steps shall keep time with law and order. But if stubborn power resists its progress, history will repeat itself. The product of the world is man, not classes, humanity, not race. Civilization is measured, not by the wealth, power or culture of the few, but by the quantity and quality of the opportunities possessed by the many. Civilization is common property. The institutions that enable the many to read and write and speak their native language amply and correctly are communistic institutions, inasmuch as the results are common property, even when the buildings are under private ownership.

 

 

[2] The Great Railroad Strike began in Pittsburgh after Carnegie’s mentor, Thomas Scott dramatically cut wages because John Rockefeller wasn’t happy with the rate Scott offered Standard Oil to transport oil on the Baltimore and Ohio.

[3] Before the twentieth century, Europeans referred to Iran as “Persia.” The “Shah of Persia” and the “Shah of Iran” were the same person. Much like an Emperor, the Shah wielded total authority over his domain and lived a notoriously lavish life (much like European Monarchy). The Sultan of Turkey wielded similar power over his Empire.

[4] The Mason-Dixon line refers to the border line between Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware during the 1760s. It quickly denoted the line between the free state of Pennsylvania and the slave states of Maryland and Virginia.

[5] President James Monroe presented the first comprehensive foreign policy statement in his 1823 State of the Union address (written by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams). The Monroe Doctrine, as it came to be called, warned European Empires not to interfere with countries in South and Central America who recently declared their independence from European colonialism. In other words, the U.S. supported self-rule.

[6] The Magna Carta was an agreement signed between King John of England and his barons in 1215. The charter (carta) secured several important rights for the barons, including due process under the law, freedom of religion, right to legal representation, and a limit on land taxes. While both sides signed the agreement, neither upheld it very long

Report of the California State Legislature Joint Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration

A man holding gold-mining pan squatting next to small watercourse, rocks piled in foreground, rock dam in distance. Man wears wide hat and has long pipe in mouth.
A Chinese gold prospector

Report of the California State Legislature Joint Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration

 

During the Gold Rush (1848-1854), about 24,000 Chinese immigrants came to California. Racial discrimination forced most to leave the gold mining camps in search of other work. Some became launders, cooks, gardeners, farmers, and domestic servants. Others gravitated to dangerous jobs in railroad construction and mining. Although the Chinese immigrants proved tireless workers, many white laborers resented their willingness to work for low wages and refusal to abandon their language or cultural traditions. By the 1870s, California in general - San Francisco in particular – became increasingly dangerous for Chinese and other Asian immigrants. Democrats controlled California state politics during Reconstruction and voted with the Southern Democrats on most issues. Cities like San Francisco passed ordinances and codes aimed at the Chinese population similar to the Black Codes in the South. Chinese people were segregated from whites, restricted in their employment options, subject to additional taxes, and targeted by law enforcement and armed vigilante bands of white men.

 

Despite the fact that the federal government facilitated Chinese immigration at the behest of business and political interests in California looking for cheap, controllable labor, as soon as the economy stabilized, white Californians increasingly resented Chinese workers. The massive economic collapse in 1873 exacerbated nativist sentiment and violence, leading to several anti-Chinese riots in San Francisco between 1873 and 1877. While city and state political leadership enforced racist policies, it was working class white men initiating the violence and rioting. The Chinese were invited to California when there were not

enough white laborers to build infrastructure and work in the gold mines and on the railroads. Less than 20 years later, white men claimed Chinese workers undersold white laborers and therefore Chinese workers were the reason they could earn a living wage.

 

The largest nativist riot happened over the course of two days in July, 1877 in San Francisco. What started as a labor rally in support of a living wage quickly turned into a violent mob who set out to destroy Chinatown and terrorize the Chinese people living there (Chinatown denoted the segregated neighborhood outside of the city limits). Following the riot, the state legislature held hearings to determine the causes of the riot. An excerpt from the Committee Report is excerpted below[1].

 

 

The Chinese have now lived among us, in considerable numbers, for a quarter of a century, and yet they remain separate, distinct from, and antagonistic to our people in thinking, mode of life, in tasted and principles, and are as far from assimilation as when they first arrived.[2]

 

They fail to comprehend our system of government; they perform no duties of citizenship, they are not available as jurymen; cannot be called upon as a posse comitatus[3] to preserve order, nor be relied upon as soldiers.

 

They do not comprehend or appreciate our social ideas, and they contribute but little to the support of any of our institutions, public or private.

 

They bring no children with them, and there is, therefore, no possibility of influencing them by our ordinary educational appliances. There is, indeed no point of contract between the Chinese and our people through which we can Americanize them. The rigidity which characterizes these people forbids the hope of any essential change in their relations to our own people or our government.

 

We respectfully submit admitted proposition that no nation, much less a republic, can safely permit the presence of a large and increasing element among its people which cannot be assimilated or made to comprehend the responsibilities of citizenship. The great mass of the Chinese residents of California are not amenable to our laws. It is almost impossible to procure the conviction of Chinese criminals, and we are never sure that a conviction, even when obtained, is in accordance with justice.

 

This difficulty arises from of our ignorance of the Chinese language and the fact that their moral ideas are wholly distinct from our own. They do not recognize the sanctity of an oath, and utterly fail to comprehend the crime of perjury. Bribery, intimidation, and other methods of baffling judicial action, are considered by them as perfectly legitimate. It is an established fact that the administration of justice among the Chinese is almost impossible, and we are, therefore, unable to protect offenses against our own people. This anomalous condition, in which the authority of law is so generally vacated, imperils the existence of our republican institutions to a degree hitherto unknow among us…

 

We are of the opinion that the evidence quoted fairly represents the situation from a humanitarian standpoint.[4] That it shows how great the effort has bene to civilize and covert these people – how wholly that effort has failed. We find that even here the Chinaman, true to his instinct, and in violation of our laws, resorts to force to resist the influences that true men and good women in their devotion would throw around him….

 

We now come to an aspect of the question more revolting still. We would shrink form the disgusting details did not a sense of duty demand that they be presented. Their lewd women induce, by the cheapness of their offers, thousands of boys and young men to enter their dens, very many of whom are inoculated with venereal disease, and some of our physicians treat a half dozen cases daily. The fact that these diseases have their origin chiefly among the Chinese is well established…

 

But we desire to call your attention to the sanitary aspect of the subject. The Chinese herd together in one spot, whether in a city or village, until they transform the vicinage in to a perfect hive – there they live in a space that would be insufficient for an average American family.

 

Their place of domicile is filthy in the extreme, and to a degree that cleansing is impossible except by the absolute destruction of the dwellings they occupy. But for the healthfulness of our climate, our city populations would have long since been decimated by pestilence from these causes. And we do not know how long this natural protection will suffice us. In almost every house is found a room devoted to opium smoking, and these places are visited by white boys and women, so that the deadly opium habit is being introduced among our people…

 

We now call attention to an aspect of the subject of such huge proportions, and such practical and pressing importance, that we almost dread to enter upon its consideration, namely, the effect of Chinese labor upon our industrial classes. We admit that the Chinese were, in the earlier history of the state, when white labor was not attainable, very useful in the development of our peculiar industries; that they were of great service in railroad building, in mining, gardening, general agriculture, and as domestic servants.

 

We admit that the Chinese are exceedingly expert in all kinds of labor and manufacturing; that they are easily and inexpensively handled in large numbers.

 

We recognize the right of all men to better their condition when they can, and deeply sympathize with the overcrowded population of China.

 

But our own people are the original settlers of California, their children, and recent immigrants from the East and Europe. They cannot compete with Chinese labor, and are now suffering because of this inability. This inability does not arise out of any deficiency of skill or will, but out of a mode of life hitherto considered essential to our American civilization.

 

Our people have families, and condition considered of vast importance to our civilization, while the Chinese have not, or if they have families they need but little to support them in their native land.

 

Our laborers cannot be induced to live like vermin, as the Chinese, and these habits of individual and family life have ever been encouraged by our statemen as essential to good morals.

 

Our laborers require meat and bread, which have been considered by us as necessary to that mental and bodily strength which is thought to be important in the citizens of a Republic which depends upon the strength of its people, while the Chinese require only rice, dried fish, tea, and a few simple vegetables. The cost of sustenance to the whites if four-fold greater than that of the Chinese, and the wages of the whites must of necessity be greater than the wages required by the Chinese. The Chinese are, therefore, able to underbid the whites in every kind of labor. They can be hired in masses; they can be managed and controlled like unthinking slaves. But our laborer has an individual life, cannot be controlled as a slave by brutal masters, and this individuality has been required of him by the genius of our institutions, and upon these elements of character the state depends for defense and growth.

 

To complete with the Chinese, our laborer must be entirely changed in character, in habits of life, in everything that the Republic has hitherto required of him to be.

 

As a natural consequence the white laborer is out of employment, and misery and want are fast taking the places of comfort and plenty.

 

Now to consider and weigh the benefits returned to us by the Chinese for these privileges and for these wrongs to our laboring class. They buy little or nothing from our own people, but import both their food and clothing from China; they send their wages home; they have not introduced a single industry peculiar to their own country; they contribute nothing to the support of our institutions; can never be relied upon as defenders of the State; they have no intention of becoming citizens, and are a constant tax upon the public treasury…

 

In considering the Chinese question it is necessary to remember that however true economic axioms are, their applicability depends upon the character of the convictions held by those who are to exercise final judgement regarding them. Thus, it may be perfectly true, in an economic point of view, that capital ought to be free to employ the cheapest labor it can procure. It may also be perfectly true that the employment of cheap labor stimulates manufactures and quickens the creation of capital. But it does not at all necessarily follow that the effects of an unlimited supply of cheap labor are beneficial to the majority, and in a country where the majority rule it must be ultimately impossible to gain consent to economic systems which cannot be shown to produce this general satisfactory result….

 

But in truth there are two distinct theories of political economy at present in conflict…(one) theory may be said to leave the personal equation out of consideration altogether. It assumes at the outset that the production of capital is the alpha and omega of industry and commerce, and it takes for granted that wealth means success. Cheap labor, according to this theory, is always acceptable, and competition should be left free to regulate wages. If the workingman cannot earn more than bread and water because of the fierceness of competition, he must accept his meager fare cheerfully, and console himself with the reflection that the laws of supply and demand have settled his lot for him, and that complaint is useless. In countries where the voice of labor is powerless, and where the usage of centuries has accustomed men to this lifelong struggle for the bare necessaries of life, this theory is endured.

 

But the United States represents a different form of government; a form of government which begins by recognizing popular rights and goes on recognizing them to the end. Here the people are the government, and as in all nations, the majority must work for a subsistence, the question whether the majority shall work for starvation wages, or shall insist upon reasonable remuneration, can only be answered in one way. And thus, out of this more popular form of government, has arisen what may be called the new political economy. This is the theory that takes largest account of the personal equation, instead of ignoring it; which lays down the proposition that the greatest happiness to the greatest number is the true end and aim of all legislation and government, and which holds that great aggregate wealth is a far inferior desideratum to general moderate prosperity[5]. It is from this especially American standpoint that the Chinese question must be discussed, for assuredly it will at last be settled in accordance with these views.

 

Let it be shown that without the Chinaman our local industries would be paralyzed; that our manufacturers could not compete with Eastern rivals; that a great many undertakings involving much capital would fail – all this may be granted, and yet all this is insignificant when the broader aspect of the question comes to be considered. For after all, what is it that we are doing here upon the Pacific Coast?


Are we engaged in building up a civilized empire, founded upon and permeated with the myriad influences of Caucasian culture; or are we merely planted here for the purpose of fighting greedily, each for his own hand, and of spoiling a country for whose future we have no care? If the latter, then indeed we should welcome Chinese labor, and should encourage its advent, until it has driven white labor out of the field.

 

But if we have higher duties; if we owe obligations to our race, to our civilization, to our kindred blood, to all that proclaims our common origin and testified to the harmony and consistence of our aims – then assuredly we must decide that the Chinaman is a factor hostile to the prosperity, the progress and the civilization of the American people. And be observed that however broad our philosophy, it must necessarily be limited by race, nationality, and kindred civilization. We owe allegiance to those ancestry of literature, of progress in all its forms and phases. Europe, not Asia, appeals to us, and we should be recreant to those instincts which are often the safest guides if we imperiled the future of our own race by subjecting them to a competition for which they are unfitted, and the only effect of which could be to brutalize and deteriorate them. There are some very “advanced” thinkers who maintain that competition is the truest test of superiority, and who even go so far as to assert that if American labor cannot compete with Chinese labor the fact proves its essential inferiority and indicates the Chinese as the coming race…

 

…We willingly admit that (the Chinaman) offers a tremendous temptation to capitalists, and to all other who need work done at low rates. But when all is said that can be said in his favor we still fall back upon the consideration that it is American and not Chinese civilization that we are trying to build up, and that since Chinese labor means American destitution we must rid ourselves of it.

 

[2] In 1878, the Chinese comprised 1 percent of the California population, and a miniscule 0.002 percent of the nation's population.

[3] Posse comitatus refers to the common-law or statute law that allowed a county sheriff (or other law officer), to conscript any “able-bodied man” (meaning: white man) to assist in “keeping the peace” or to pursue and arrest a felon. This reference has specific context as well; during the height of the Gold Rush (1848 until about 1852), white men in San Francisco formed posses to harass and terrorize the Chinese, Latino, and Indian communities within the city as well as the mining camps outside of the city. These civic/mob leaders took inspiration from the growing white supremacist rhetoric of pro-slavery Americans during the decade leading up to the Civil War (1861-1865). After the War ended, California Democrats fervently supported their fellow Democrats in the southern states called the Redeemers.

[4] The “evidence” presented consisted of testimony from police officers, business leaders, and Protestant clergy – all testified that the Chinese were dangerous and uncivilized. See the full report for details.

[5] Desideratum is Latin for something wanted or needed, i.e., desire. This is an interesting point – better to have more people with modest wealth than a small group of people controlling most of the wealth. Please keep this in mind when you read Andrew Carnegie’s Wealth in a few weeks.

Image:  The "Heathen Chinee" prospecting Calif year 1852 from the California State Library is believed to be in the public domain.
 

The Chinese Must Stay by Yan Phou Lee

Portrait of Yan Phou Lee wearing round spectacles and a moustache.
Yan Phou Lee

The Chinese Must Stay

Yan Phou Lee

 

 

The Chinese American population was growing at its fastest pace during the 1860s, just as the federal government was debating the definition of a “citizen” and the relationship of the citizen to the state. The Fourteenth Amendment established “birthright citizenship” with no racial restrictions. Accordingly, any children of Chinese immigrants were equal citizens under the law. Most white Americans, especially Californians, were appalled by the idea of racial equality under the law. Moreover, nativist sentiment grew exponentially during the 1870s. Anti-Chinese violence escalated, particularly after the economic collapse of 1873. As the Report from the Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration illustrates, as white men increasingly could not earn a living wage in the middle of an economic collapse, they blamed Chinese laborers for their struggles. The political leadership agreed. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first significant law restricting immigration into the United States of a racial/ethnic group. It was the first law in a series of legislative, executive, and judicial acts by the U.S. government in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries excluding immigrants based on race, religion, or ethnicity.

 

The Chinese Exclusion Act ended general immigration from Chinese, although “merchants, teachers, and students” were given special dispensation. As a result, Yan Phou Lee, born in China in 1861, was allowed to immigrate to the United States to attend Yale University. Lee prided himself on his assimilation to American society. He converted to Christianity, married a white American woman (two actually, his first marriage ended in divorce), and wrote many articles and essays arguing that the Chinese can and will assimilate if given the chance. Lee wrote his essay, The Chinese Must Stay, in response to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Lee published his autobiography, When I was a Boy in China, in 1887, two years before he published the essay below[1].

 

 

 

No nation can afford to let go its high ideals. The founders of the American Republic asserted the principle that all men are created equal, and made this fair land a refuge for the whole world. Its manifest destiny, therefore, is to be the teacher and leader of nations in liberty. Its supremacy should be maintained by good faith and righteous dealing, and not by the display of selfishness and greed. But now, looking at the actions of this generation of Americans in their treatment of other races, who can get rid of the idea that the Nation, which Abraham Lincoln said was conceived in liberty, waxed great through oppression, and was really dedicated to the proposition that all men are created to prey on one another?

 

How far this Republic has departed from its high ideal and reversed its traditionary policy may be seen in the laws passed against the Chinese[2].

 

Chinese immigrants never claimed to be any better than farmers, traders, and artisans. If, on the one hand, they are not princes and nobles, on the other hand, they are not coolies and slaves. They all came voluntarily, as their consular papers certified, and their purpose in leaving their home and friends was to get honest work. They were told that they could obtain higher wages in America than elsewhere, and that Americans were friendly to the Chinese and invited them to come. In this they were confirmed by certain provisions in the treaties made between China and the United States, by which rights and privileges were mutually guaranteed to the citizens of either country residing in the other[3]. No one can deny that the United States made all the advances, and that China came forth from her seclusion because she trusted in American honor and good faith.

 

So long as the Chinese served their purposes and did not come into collision with the hoodlum element afterwards imported to California, the people of that State had nothing to complain of regarding them. Why should they, when, at one time, half the revenue of the State was raised out of the Chinese miners? But the time came when wages fell with the cost of living. The loafers became strong enough to have their votes sought after[4]. Their wants were attended to. Their complaints became the motive power of political activity. So many took up the cry against the Chinese that it was declared that no party could succeed on the Pacific coast which did not adopt the hoodlums' cause as its own[5]

 

Those who remember events of some thirty-five years ago will see nothing strange in the antagonism of one class of laborers to another. Opposition to the Chinese is identical with the opposition to the free immigration of Europeans, and especially of the Irish; for it was once urged against the trans-Atlantic immigrants that their cheap labor "would degrade, demoralize, and pauperize American labor, and displace intelligent Americans in many branches of employment." There was a bitter conflict, but the sensible view prevailed. For it was found that a greater supply of unskilled labor made it possible for skilled laborers to command higher wages and more regular employment.

 

Why is it that the American laborer was soon raised to a higher social and industrial plane, and ceased to fear Irish competition, while the Irish still dread the competition of the Chinese? It is simply because the Irish are industrially inferior to their competitors. They have not the ability to get above competition, like the Americans, and so, perforce, they must dispute with the Chinese for the chance to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.

 

Such industrial conflicts occur every day, as, for instance, between trade-unionists and scabs, Irish and Germans, Italians who came yesterday and Italians who came today. Let them fight it out by lawful means, and let the fittest survive; but you do not take the side of one against the other – least of all, the side of the strong against the weak. Why, then, take the side of the European immigrants against the Chinese?  But you say are many objections against the latter which cannot be made against the former, and the Chinese stand charged with too many things to make them desirable. Ah, yes! I see. But it is only fair to look into these charges before we pass our judgment. It has been urged:

 

  1. That the influx of Chinese is a standing menace to Republican institutions upon the Pacific coast and the existence there of Christian civilization.

 

That is what I call a severe reflection on Republican institutions and Christian civilization. Republican institutions have withstood the strain of 13,000,000 of the lower classes of Europe, among whom may be found Anarchists, Socialists, Communists, Nihilists, political assassins, and cut-throats; but they cannot endure the assaults of a few hundred thousands of the most peaceable and most easily governed people in the world!

 

Christianity must have lost its pristine power, for, having subdued and civilized one-half the world, it is now powerless before the resistance of a handful of Chinese! Surely the Chinese must be angels or devils! If angels, they would go without your bidding. If devils, you would not be able to drive them out. . .

 

  1. That the Chinese race seems to have no desire for progress.

 

In the last fifteen years the Chinese Government has educated upwards of two hundred students in Europe and America, has built arsenals and navy-yards, established schools and colleges on Western models, disciplined an army that whipped the Russians, created a navy that would put the American navy to shame, put up thousands of miles of telegraph wires; and it is now busily opening up mines, building railroads, and availing itself of American capital and experience to put up telephones and establish a national bank. The Chinese are not ashamed to own that they appreciate the Americans.

 

  1. That the Chinese have displaced white laborers by low wages and cheap living, and that their presence discourages and retards white immigration to the Pacific States.

 

This charge displays so little regard for truth and the principles of political economy that it seems like folly to attempt an answer. But please to remember that it was by the application of Chinese "cheap labor" to the building of railroads, the reclamation of swamp-lands, to mining, fruit-culture, and manufacturing, that an immense vista of employment was opened up for Caucasians, and that millions now are enabled to live in comfort and luxury where formerly adventurers and desperadoes disputed with wild beasts and wilder men for the possession of the land. Even when the Chinaman's work is menial (and he does it because he must live, and is too honest to steal and too proud to go to the almshouse[6]), he is employed because of the scarcity of such laborers. It is proved that his work enables many to turn their whole attention to something else, so that even the hoodlum may don a clean shirt at least once a month. You may as well run-down machinery as to sneer at Chinese cheap labor. Machines live on nothing at all; they have displaced millions of laborers; why not do away with machines?

 

Besides, are you sure that Chinese laborers would not ask more if they dared, or take more if they could get it? It is the Chinese who are constantly displaced by Caucasians. As soon as an industry gets on its feet by the help of Chinese “cheap labor,” Chinese workmen are discharged to make room for others.

 

  1. That the Chinese do not desire to become citizens of this country.

 

Why should they? Where is the inducement? Let me recite briefly a few of the laws and ordinances which, though couched in general terms, were made for their special benefit:

 

The Foreign-Miners' License Law, which forced every Chinese miner, during a period of twenty years, to pay from $4 to $20 per month for the privilege of working claims which others had abandoned.

 

An act of the California Legislature, 1885, laid a tax of $55 on each Chinese immigrant. Another, 1862, provided (with a few exceptions) that every Chinaman over eighteen years of age should pay a capitation-tax of $2.50.

 

A San Francisco city ordinance, passed March 15, 1876, provided that all laundries should pay licenses as follows: those using a one-horse vehicle, $2 per quarter; two horses, $4; no vehicle, $15. This is discrimination with a vengeance!

 

I maintain that a sober, industrious, and peaceable people, like the Chinese, who mind their own business and let others do the same, are as fit to be voters as the quarrelsome, ignorant, besotted, and priest-ridden hordes of Europe[7]. Are you sure the Chinese have no desire for the franchise? Some years ago, a number of those living in California, thinking that the reason why they were persecuted was because it was believed they cared nothing about American citizenship, made application for papers of naturalization. Their persecutors were alarmed and applied to Congress for assistance, and the California Constitution was amended so as to exclude them.

 

In view of the above-mentioned evidences of the fostering care of the State of California, you will not be surprised that very few venture to bring their families to America. Many would have brought their families over, if they could have been assured of protection.

 

  1. That the Chinese live in filthy dwellings, upon poor food, crowded together in narrow quarters, disregarding health and fire ordinances.

 

The Chinaman does not object to dainty food and luxurious lodgings. But the paternal government of California taxed him as soon as he came ashore; permitted its agents to blackmail him at intervals; made him pay $15 a month for carrying his customers’ washing in his hand; levied a progressive poll-tax without providing a school for him; a road-tax before he began to travel, and, when he went to the mines, collected a water-rent of thirty cents a day, and a progressive license-tax from $4 to $20 per month. Even if he earned five dollars a day, he could not have fifteen cents to live on.[8]

 

  1. The Chinese neither have intercourse with the Caucasians nor will assimilate with them.

 

Yes, just think of it! As soon as the ship comes into harbor, a committee of the citizens get on board to present the Chinaman with the freedom of the city (valued at $5). A big crowd gathers at the wharf to receive him with shouts of joy (and showers of stones). The aristocrats of the place flock to his hotel to pay their respects (and to take away things to remember him by). He is so feted and caressed by Caucasian society that it is a wonder his head is not turned (or twisted off)…

 

  1. The Chinese come and go as pagans.

 

Mr. Beecher said in reference to this charge: “We have clubbed them, stoned them, burned their houses, and murdered some of them; yet they refuse to be converted I do not know any way, except to blow them up with nitro-glycerine, if we are ever to get them to heaven.” In spite of these doubtful inducements to become Christians, more than 500 have been admitted to the church.[9]

 

  1. That the Chinese immigrants are mostly criminals.

 

While the Chinese population was one in ten, their quota of criminals was only one in eighteen; and that, too, when judges and juries were more or less prejudiced against them. Every fair-minded man can testify that the Chinese are the most law-abiding people in the community, that they are not easily provoked, but are patient (oh, too patient!) under insult and injury. They seldom appear in court-rooms in the character of prisoners. You have never seen one drunk in your life. But, you say, he smokes opium. That, I answer, is his own affair. The law provides no penalties against private vices. You have never heard of Chinamen who organized strikes, stuffed ballot-boxes, and corrupted legislation at the fountain-head. Why, then, are they not as desirable as other immigrants? Is it a crime to be industrious, faithful, law-abiding? Wrong to coin one's honest toil into gold, and, instead of wasting one's earnings in drink and debauchery, to support wife and children therewith?...

 

  1. That the Chinese bring women of bad character to San Francisco, and that their vices are corrupting the morals of the city.

 

How serious a charge this is we cannot realize until we get at all the facts. Just imagine California, the most virtuous of States, and San Francisco, the most immaculate of cities, lying helpless under...Chinese immorality! Have you ever been to San Francisco? Unless you can endure paradise and Eden-like purity, you would better not go there. Why, the Sabbath stillness in that city is simply appalling. The people all go to church, and if you suggest whiskey toddy or a base-ball game on Sunday, they will turn up their eyes, throw up their hands, and pray the Lord to have mercy on you. There are no drunken brawls at any time (except in Chinatown), and it is the policeman's picnic-ground (except in Chinatown)[10].

 

Californians are pure, moral, and religious, in all that they do. As for having disreputable houses, or women with loose morals about them, I tell you they are as innocent as lambs. Indeed, Satan could not have made a greater commotion in Eden than the Chinese in California. One would suppose that such a model community would ‘clean out” those bad Chinese women. But it did not. It deputed a number of special policemen to watch them and arrest them, but it seems that these specials had the marvelous power of transmuting their brass into pure gold, and that, in the exercise of that power, they were as blind as bats. If the virtuous community of San Francisco permitted their morals to be corrupted, it is their own fault.

 

Such are the charges made against the Chinese. Such were the reasons for legislating against them – and they still have their influence, as shown by utterances of labor organs; by the unreasoning prejudice against the Chinese which finds lodgment in the minds of the people; and by the periodical outbreaks and outrages perpetrated against them without arousing the public conscience.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Full source here: Yan Phou Lee, The Chinese Must Stay. Original essay published in the North American Review Vol. 48, No. 389 (April 1889).

[3] The 1868 Treaty of Burlingame should be in your notes (if not before you read this, then after).

[4] Serious shade. What does he mean here?

[5] The Workingman’s Party of California formed in the 1870s; their primary issue (only issue, really) was ridding the state of Chinese immigrants and punishing the railroad corporations for hiring Chinese labor. The Party gained control of the California state legislature in 1877, and promptly held hearings about the threat of Chinese immigrants. The record of those proceedings is the Report of the Special Committee on Chinese Immigration. California representatives, mostly Workingman’s Party, lobbied for the 1882 Chinese Exclusion act, using the Report as evidence of why the Chinese were a threat. The Workingman’s Party legislature also rewrote the California state constitution in 1878 denying Chinese people the right to vote.

[6] Poor house.

[7] Lee deploys anti-Catholic sentiment to offset anti-Chinese sentiment.

[8] From 1873 to 1883, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed more than a dozen ordinances directly specifically at Chinese laundries. The ordinances targeted the laundries in various ways, such as by imposing a maximum hour rule so that different laundry owners could not share one laundry space, zoning rules to push laundries from white neighborhoods to the outskirts of town or to toxic industrial areas, taxes on laundries with horse-drawn vehicles, prohibiting drying racks on roofs, and banning the use of a mouth tube to squirt starch on clothes, a common practice in Chinese laundries.

[9] Henry Ward Beecher was a well-known and influential Congregationalist clergyman and social reformer during the nineteenth century. The Beecher family was influential – Henry’s father Lyman Beecher was also a well-known (Presbyterian) minister and reformer, and served as President of Lane Theological Academy in Cincinnati (Henry graduated from Lane). Two of his sisters were also famous: Harriet Ward Beecher, abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Catherine Beecher, educator and reformer, best known for her book, A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School. The Beecher family lived in Cincinnati from the 1930s-50s.

[10] Note his tone here. More shade.  

Image: Yan Phou Lee is believed to be in the public domain.

Land of the Spotted Eagle

Land of the Spotted Eagle[1]

Luther Standing Bear

 

Luther Standing Bear was born Ota K’Te (Plenty Kill) in 1868, the same year the Federal Government forced the Navajo and Sioux onto formal reservations. Luther was raised in traditional Lakota (Sioux) culture until the age of 11, when his father, Oglala (Lakota) Lakota Chief George Standing Bear sent Luther to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

 

The Sioux engaged in several major battles with the US Army during the 1870s, culminating in the Black Hills War of 1876. While the Lakota Sioux experienced a military victory at the Battle of Greasy Grass (also called the Battle of Little Bighorn), the Army immediately tightened military control of Pine Ridge, seizing horses and weapons belonging to friendly bands of Lakota Sioux. They doubled troop numbers on the reservation and imprisoned several Chiefs for no reason. George Standing Bear knew resistance to the US military would not save traditional Indian culture. He believed education was the only way Luther would survive removal and assimilation.

 

Luther Standing Bear arrived at Carlisle as part of the first class of students in 1879 where he quickly became a favorite of Carlisle founder Captain Richard Henry Pratt. Standing Bear returned to Pine Ridge each summer and help recruit students for Carlisle. After running a dry good store on the reservation, Standing Bear joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as an interpreter and performer. After a brief return to Pine Ridge (where he was chosen as Chief of his Tribe), he left for Hollywood in 1912 to work in early (very early) motion pictures where he found employment as both a consultant on westerners and an actor. Standing Bear also published several books recounting his childhood experiences at Pine Ridge, including Land of the Spotted Eagle, excerpted below.

 

 

 

…At the age of eleven years, ancestral life for me and my people was most abruptly ended without regard for our wishes, comforts, or rights in the matter. At once I was thrust into an alien world, into an environment as different from the one into which I had been born as it is possible to imagine, to remake myself if I could, into the likeness of the invader. By 1879, my people were no longer free, but were subjects confined on reservations under the rule of agents. One day there came to the agency a party of white people from the East. Their presence aroused considerable excitement when it became known that these people were school teachers who wanted some Indian boys and girls to take away with them to train as were white boys and girls.

 

Now, Father was a ‘blanket Indian,” but he was wise.[2] He listened to the white strangers, their offers and promises that if they took his son they would care well for him, teach him how to read and write, and how to wear a white man’s clothes.

 

I could think of no reason why white people wanted Indian boys and girls except to kill them, and not having the remotest idea of what a school was, I thought we were going East to die. But so well had courage and bravery been trained into us that it became a part of our unconscious thinking and acting, and personal life was nothing when it came time to do something for the tribe. Even in our play and games we voluntarily put ourselves to various tests in the effort to grow brave and fearless, for it was most discrediting to called can’l wanka, or a coward. Accordingly, there were few cowards, most Lakota men preferring to die in the performance of some act of bravery than to die of old age. Thus, in giving myself up to go East I was proving to my father that he was honored with a brave son. In my decision to go, I gave up many things dear to the heart of an Indian boy, and one of the things over which my child mind grieved most was the thought of saying good-bye to my pony. I rode him as far as I could on the journey, which was to the Missouri River, where we took the boat. There we parted from our parents, and it was a heart-breaking scene, women and children weeping. Some of the children changed their minds and were unable to go on the boat, but for many, it was a final parting. 

 

On our way to school we saw many white people and the manner in which they acted when they saw us quite indicated their opinion of us. It was only about three years after the Custer battle, and the general opinion was that the Plains people merely infested the earth as nuisance.[3] Whenever our train stopped at the railway stations, it was met by great numbers of white people who came to gaze upon the little Indian ‘savages.’ The shy little ones sat quietly at the car windows looking at the people who swarmed on the platform.   Some of the children wrapped themselves in their blankets, covering all but their eyes.

 

At one place we were taken off the train and marched a distance down the street to a restaurant. We walked down the street between two rows of uniformed men whom we called soldiers, though I suppose they were policemen. This must have been done to protect us, for it was surely known that we boys and girls could do no harm. Back of the rows of uniformed men stood the white people craning their necks, talking, laughing, and making a great noise. They yelled and tried to mimic us by giving what they thought were war-whoops. We did not like this, and some of the children were naturally very much frightened. I remember how I tried to crowd into the protecting midst of jostling boys and girls. But we were all trying to be brave yet going to what we thought would end in death at the hands of the white people who we knew had no love for us. Back on the train the older boys sang brave songs in an effort to keep up their spirits and ours too.  In my mind, I often recall that scene—eighty-odd blanketed boys and girls surrounded by a jeering, unsympathetic people whose only emotions were those of hate and fear; the conquerors looking upon the conquered.  And no more understanding us than if we had suddenly been dropped from the moon.

 

At last, at Carlisle the transforming - the ‘civilizing’ process - began. It began with clothes. Never, no matter what our philosophy or spiritual quality, could we be civilized while wearing the moccasin and blanket. The task before us was not only that of accepting new ideas and adopting new manners, but actual physical changes and discomfort had to be borne uncomplainingly until the body adjusted itself to new tastes and habits. Our accustomed dress was taken and replaced with clothing that felt cumbersome and awkward. Against trousers and handkerchiefs, we had a distinct feeling – they were unsanitary and the trousers kept us from breathing well. High collars, stiff-bosomed shirts, and suspenders fully three inches in width were uncomfortable, while leather boots caused actual suffering. We longed to go barefoot but were told that the dew on the grass would give us colds. That was a new warning for us, for our mothers had never told us to beware of colds, and I remember as a child coming into the tipi with moccasins full of snow. Unconcernedly I would take them off my feet, pour out the snow, and put them back on my feet again without any thought of sickness, for in that time colds, catarrh, bronchitis, and la grippe, were unknown. But we were soon to know them.

 

Then, red flannel undergarments were given us for winter wear, and for me, at least, discomfort grew into actual torture. I used to endure it as long as possible, then run upstairs and quickly take off the flannel garments and hide them. When inspection time came, I ran and put them on again, for I knew that if I were found disobeying the orders of the school I should be punished. My niece once asked me what it was that I disliked the most during those first bewildering days and I said “red flannel.” Not knowing what I meant, she laughed, but I still remember those horrid, sticky garments which we had to wear next to the skin, and I squirm and itch when I think of them.

 

Of course, our hair was cut and there was much disapproval. But that was part of the transformation process and in some mysterious way long hair stood in the path of our development.  For all the grumbling among the older boys, we soon had our heads shaven. How strange I felt! Involuntarily, time and time again, my hands went to my head, and that night it was a long time before I went to sleep. If we did not learn much at first, it will not be wondered at, I think. Everything was queer, and it took a few months to get adjusted to the new surroundings.

 

Almost immediately our names were changed to those in common use in the English language. Instead of translating our names into English and calling Zinkcazimwin, Yellow Bird, and Wanbli K’leska, Spotted Eagle, we were just John, Henry or Maggie as the case may be. I was told to take a pointer and select a name for myself from the list written on the blackboard.  I did, and since one was just as good as another, and as I could not distinguish any difference in them, I placed the pointer on the name Luther. I then learned to call myself by that name and got used to hearing others call me by it, too. By that time, we had been forbidden to speak our mother tongue, which is the rule in all boarding schools. This rule is uncalled for, and today is not only robbing the Indian, but America, of a rich heritage. The language of a people is part of their history. Today we should be perpetuating history instead of destroying it, and this can only be effectively done by allowing and encouraging the young to keep it alive. A language unused, embalmed, and reposing only in a book, is a dead language. Only the people themselves, and never the scholars, can nourish it into life.

 

Of all the changes we were forced to make, that of diet was doubtless the most injurious, for it was immediate and drastic. White bread we had for the first meal and thereafter, as well as coffee and sugar. Had we been allowed our own simple diet of meat and fruit, with perhaps a few vegetables, we should have thrived. But the change in clothing, housing, food and confinement, combined with loneliness was too much, and in three years, nearly one half of the children from the Plains were dead. In the graveyard at Carlisle, most of the graves are those of little ones. 

 

I am now going to confess that I had been at Carlisle a full year before I decided to learn all I could of the white man’s ways.  The inspiration was furnished by my father, the man who has been the greatest influence in all my life. When I had been in school a year, father made his first trip to see me. He told me that on his journey he had seen that the land was full of ‘Long Knives.’[4] “They greatly outnumber us and are here to stay,” he said, and advised me, “Son, learn all you can of the white man’s ways and try to be like him. “From that day on, I tried. Within three years, I had been ‘made over’.  I was Luther Standing Bear. I was now ‘civilized’ enough to go to work in John Wanamaker’s fine store in Philadelphia.[5] 

 

I returned from the East at about the age of sixteen, after five years’ contact with the white people, to resume life upon the reservation. But I returned, to spend some thirty years before again leaving, just as I had gone – a Lakota. Outwardly I lived the life of the white man, yet all the while I kept in direct contact with tribal life. While I had learned all that I could of the white man’s culture, I never forgot that of my people. I kept the language, tribal manners and usages, sang the songs and danced the dances. I still listened to and respected the advice of the older people of the tribe. I did not come home so ‘progressive’ that I could not speak the language of my father and mother. 

 

But I soon began to see the sad sight, so common today, of returned students who could not speak their native tongue or worse yet, some who pretended they could no longer converse in the mother tongue. They had become ashamed and this led them into deception and trickery. The boys came home wearing stiff paper collars, tight patent-leather boots and derby hats on heads that were meant to be clothed in the long hair of the Lakota brave. The girls came home wearing muslin dresses and long ribbon sashes with their feet squeezed into heeled shoes of factory make and their waists into binding apparatuses that were not garments-at least they served no purpose of a garment but bordered on some mechanical device. However, the wearing of them was part of the ‘civilization’ received from those who were doing the same thing.

 

So, we had gone to school to copy, to imitate, not to exchange languages and ideas, and not to develop the best traits that had come out of uncountable experiences of hundreds and thousands of years living upon this continent. Our annals, all happenings of human import, were stored in our song and dance rituals, our history differing in that it was not stored in books, but in the living memory. So, while the white people had much to teach us, we had much to teach them, and what a school could have been established upon that idea! However, this was not the attitude of the day, though the teachers were sympathetic and kind, and some came to be my lifelong friends. But in the main, Indian qualities were undivined and Indian virtues not conceded.[6] And I can well remember when Indians in those days were stoned upon the streets as were the dogs that roamed them. We were “savages,” and all who had not come under the influence of the missionary were “heathen,” and Wakan Tanka[7], who had in the beginning watched over Lakota and his land, was denied by these men of “God.” Should we not have been justified in thinking them heathen? And so the “civilizing” process went on, killing as it went.

 

When I came back to the reservation to resume life there, it was too late to go on the warpath to prove, as I had always hoped to prove to my people, that I was a real brave. However, there came the battle of my life – the battle with agents to retain my individuality and my life as a Lakota. I wanted to take place in the tribal dances, since the songs I had heard since I was born and repeat and cherish the tales that had been the delight of my boyhood. It was in these things and through these things that my people lived and could continue to live, as it was up to me to keep them alive in my mind.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Excerpt from Land of the Spotted Eagle, by Luther Standing Bear, published in 1933. Standing Bear was part of the first class to enter Carlisle in 1879, graduating in 1885. Full source: Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle.

[2] “Blanket Indian” was a term for Native Americans who retained traditional dress and culture.

[3] The Battle of Little Big Horn – called the Battle of Greasy Grass by the Plains Indians – took place in 1876. Lt. Colonel George Custer led US Army forces in an attack on Sioux forces, resulting in one of the few military victories for the Native Americans during the late nineteenth century.

[4] Long knives or big knives was a term used by the Iroquois and other Native Americans of the Ohio Territory to designate colonists of Virginia (British colonists) as opposed to those of New York (Dutch colonists). In other words, Standing Bear’s father saw a lot of white colonizers.

[5] Wannamaker’s was the first department store in Philadelphia. It opened in 1876, the same year as the Battle of Little Bighorn/Greasy Grass. Standing Bear interned for founder and owner, John Wannamaker after graduating from Carlisle.

Carlisle, PA is about 125 miles west of Philadelphia.

[6] To “divine” means to find meaning and/or value in something that cannot be seen.

[7] Lakota term for “the sacred,” “the divine,” or “the great spirit.”

Life in Log Cabins and Allotments

Life in Log Cabins and Allotments

Ella Deloria

 

Ella Deloria was born Aŋpétu Wašté Wiŋ (Beautiful Day Woman), on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, about 300 miles east of Pine Ridge Reservation where Luther Standing Bear grew up. Deloria and Standing Bear were both Lakota Sioux, although members of different tribes – Deloria from the Yankton tribe, Standing Bear from the Oglala tribe. Deloria was born in 1889, a year before the Wounded Knee Massacre at Pine Ridge, and grew up under armed military guard on the Yankton Reservation. Deloria’s parents were of mixed-race heritage – primarily French and Sioux. Her father was an Episcopal minister and supported Indian assimilation. When Ella was 10-years-old, she moved with her family to Standing Rock Reservation where her father established a mission/assimilation school for Lakota children[1].

 

In 1910, Ella Deloria earned a scholarship to Oberlin College. After two years at Oberlin, she transferred to Columbia Teacher’s College where she graduated with a bachelor’s of science in 1915. Columbia University Teacher’s College remains one of the most prestigious Education programs in the country, in large part because students at the Teacher’s College are effectively also students at Columbia University. Deloria took classes with Franz Boas, one of the first researchers to establish modern anthropological study. You simply cannot study the American School of Anthropology without reckoning with Boaz and his work. At Columbia, Boaz organized the Anthropology Department (a relatively new academic field in the 1890s), and supervised the first class of students in the country to earn a PhD in Anthropology. In addition to Deloria, Boaz’s students included Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Zora Neale Hurston.

 

As part of Boaz’s research team, Deloria translated texts and documents from Lakota (she spoke multiple Lakota languages as well as French) to English. She conducted interviews with dozens of Native Americans, translating and cataloguing her interviews so other scholars could access her research. She worked with Boaz for the next 40 years. At the same time, she worked various other jobs, including museum director, librarian and archivist, and teacher, all related to Indian culture in some aspect. For several years, she taught at Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kansas.

 

Deloria wrote many books about her ethnographic work with the Lakota Sioux. Despite her 40-year research career, most of Deloria’s papers and notes were lost or, just as likely, taken by another researcher/academic. Either way, most of her work stayed with Boaz and the Columbia Anthropology Department, who moved her papers from one archive to another for decades. Deloria struggled to find a publisher for her work and family obligations forced her to pause her research for long periods of time throughout her career. She died in 1971, just as a new generation of anthropologists and scholars rediscovered her incredible body of research[2].

 

 

 

It must be understood that all these customs and rites did not vanish overnight, but they (the Dakota Sioux) were disappearing steadily under the pressure forcing the people into a sedentary life. For that was how they must live now, and it was a radical change indeed and far from easy. For unknown generations, they had been on the move, and they liked it. They were deep in that groove, both physically and spiritually.

 

They made a brave, and, on the whole, a cheerful try at adapting themselves to the new ways, haphazard as their methods were. Being naturally stoical and realistic, they saw that since there were no more buffalo it was nonsensical to continue hunting; and that since free food was proffered them, they might as well sit down and eat it.[3]

 

So they settled here and there, in tiyospaye[4] clusters along the wooded streams – with nothing to do. Literally that, because they could not see what there was to do nor that any regular work was necessary. It was a devastation for a whole people. Why didn’t they turn immediately to farming? Well, why should they do that, any more than anything else outside of hunting? Of necessity they were over-trained specialists in that one thing, without time or chance for sidelines or vocations. Their habits as roaming hunters were almost unalterably fixed. It would take the most painstaking, patient, and understanding reeducation to change their reflexes – a fact not always recognized by the sincere friends who wanted to save them; who naively imagined that a change of costume, and plough handles in the grasp, would turn the trick. But I no more blame these friends than I do the people themselves for not realizing what they were up against. Without perspective, how could they?

 

Eventually, with pathetic optimism, the Dakotas started putting up their first log houses, patterned after those of the white man. They moved in and set up housekeeping, supposing it would be just that easy. They had not begun to understand all that goes with the new way of living they had adopted.

 

The houses were small, one-room affairs, low and dark – and dank, because of the dirt floors. Compared with the well-constructed tipis with their manageable windflaps for ample ventilating, the cabins were hot and stuffy. Germs lurked everywhere, causing general sickness, and the death rate increased. Even if the hygiene necessary for controlling the spread of sickness had been explained to them, a conflict would have arisen between its demands and the ancient concern for kinship. “What? Am I to shun my dear ones just because they are ill, in order to save my own self?” It was unthinkable. And so, for many years it seemed as if this were the finish. But the Dakotas were not panicky. At the same time that they loved life passionately, ending many ancient prayers with, “Wise Grandfather, may I live long!” a defiance of death to the point of flippancy was also in their code.

 

At length there came the time when individual allotments of land were made. Families were encouraged to live out on them and start to be farmers forth- with. Equipment for this, as well as some essential furniture, was given the most docile ones by way of inducement. But again, it wasn't easy to make the spiritual and social adjustment. The people were too used to living in large family groups, cooperatively and happily. Now, here they were in little father- mother-child units (with an occasional grandparent, to be sure), often miles from their other relatives, trying to farm an arid land-the very same land from which, later on, white farmers of Old World tradition and training could not exact even a subsistence living.

 

Enduring frightful loneliness and working at unfamiliar tasks just to put himself ahead financially were outside the average Dakota's ken[5]. For him there were other values. The people naturally loved to foregather; and now the merest excuse for doing so became doubly precious. For any sort of gathering it was the easiest thing to abandon the garden, leave the stock to fend for themselves, and go away for one to four weeks. On returning, they might find the place a wreck. That was too bad; but to miss getting together with other Dakotas was far worse…

 

It was (the men) who suffered the most from the enforced change, whether they realized it or not. It was their life that was primarily wrecked; it was their exclusive occupation that was abruptly ended. The women could go right on bearing children and rearing them. They could cook, feed their families, set up and strike camp unaided, pack and unpack when on a trip. Even embroidery, exclusively a woman’s art, was not cut off suddenly. It tapered away as the buffalo and deer skins on which the work was done became more and more scarce. By slow degrees, meanwhile, they could learn other work and were able to make the shift more easily.

 

The man was the tragic figure. Frustrated, with his age-old occupation suddenly gone, he was left in a daze, unable to overcome the strange and passively powerful inertia that stayed him from doing anything else. And so he sat by the hour, indifferent and inactive, watching - perhaps envying - his wife, as she went right on working at the same essential role of woman that had been hers since time immemorial.

 

In such a mental state, what did he care that unsympathetic onlookers called him "lazy Indian" and accused him of driving his wife, like a slave, while "he took his ease"! As though he enjoyed it! If, as he sat there, someone had called, "Hey! There's a herd of buffalo beyond that hill! Come quick!" he would have sprung into life instantly again. But, alas, no such thing would ever happen now. All he could do, or thought he could do, on his "farm" was to water the horses mechanically, bring in fuel and water, cut a little hay, tend a little garden. He did it listlessly, almost glad when the garden died on his hands for lack of rain. His heart was not in what he was doing anyway – until something human came up; a gathering of the people, where he could be with many relatives again; or a death, when he must go to help with the mourning; or a cow to be butchered, reminiscent of the hunt; or time to go to the agency for the biweekly issue of rations That he must not miss. For him and his family, that was what still gave meaning to life.

 

[1] Ella Deloria’s family is really interesting. Her mother was the daughter of US Army General Alfred Sully and a French-Yankton Sioux woman. Despite marrying a Sioux woman, Alfred Sully’s career in the West consisted primarily of putting down the Sioux. He commanded one of the Army Cavalry units tasked with enforcing the removal and containment of the Lakota Sioux following the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. Alfred Sully’s father – Ella Deloria’s great-grandfather – was painter Thomas Sully, one of the most important early American artists. He helped establish an American style of portraiture with his paintings of American politicians like George Washington and Andrew Jackson. My favorite Sully painting is of early stage actress Charlotte Cushman. Look at that moxie.

Ella Deloria’s nephew, Vine Deloria, Jr., followed in his aunt’s footsteps. He earned multiple degrees, including a law degree, worked as a researcher and academic at several institutions, and spearheaded the American Indian Movement during the late 1960s and 70s. His 1969 book, Custer Died for your Sins, inspired a group of 89 young Native Americans to occupy Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco Bay from November 1969-June 1971 in protest of broken treaties dating back to the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. Vine Deloria’s great-grandfather, US General Alfred Sully spent the last decade of his life enforcing the Treaty of Fort Laramie. A century later, Sully’s great-grandson Vine Deloria inspired a new generation of Native Americans to protest the conditions of that treaty. Vine Deloria also coined the term “Red Power,” to describe the resurgence of Indian activism and pride during the 1970s.

Vine Deloria’s son (and Ella’s great-nephew), Philip Deloria, is a Professor of History at Harvard University where he teaches American History Since 1877 to undergraduates such as yourself.

But I digress.

[2] “Life in Log Cabins and Allotments” is a chapter in DeLoria’s book, Speaking of Indians, originally published in 1944, republished by the University of Nebraska Press in 1998. Google Books has some of the book digitized, including our chapter.

[3] Indians were forced onto reservations and denied the right to hunt as part of the “agreements” between the US government and Indian nations, which included the promise of provisions for those living on the reservations for 10 years.

[4] Lakota term for extended family or clan.

[5] Ken - a person’s range of knowledge or vision.

Land and Law as Agents in Educating Indians by Merrill Gates

Profile of Merrill Gates, with mustache and spectacles.
Merrill Gates

Land and Law as Agents in Educating Indians

Merrill Gates

 

The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie formalized the Indian Reservation system, starting with the Navajo in Arizona and the Lakota Sioux in the Dakota Territory. The treaty agreement required Indian Nations to relocate to designated reserves of land where they lived under the supervision of Bureau of Indian Affairs(BIA)  agents and armed soldiers. Under President Ulysses S. Grant’s “Peace Policy” of 1872, the Bureau of Indian Affairs divided the newly created Indian reservations to religious organizations as exclusive “religious domains.” For example: the Methodist Church received 14 reservations; the Presbyterians nine; the Episcopal Church got eight; the Roman Catholic Church seven; Baptists five; Dutch Reform Church five; Congregationalists two; Congregationalists three; Unitarians two; and even the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission got one reservation.

 

Missionaries from the various churches fanned out among their designated reservations where they worked closely with BIA agents. The Peace Policy also created the Board of Indian Commissioners, which sent another group of supervisors to the reservations to implement the new policies. Once the military forced Indians onto reservations, the commissioners, BIA agents, and missionaries supervised every aspect of Native Americans life – distribution of food, medicine, and other necessities, land allotment to each family, and ensuring children attended an assimilation school. Commissioners, missionaries, and other reformers believed it was their responsibility to provide Indians with training for “civilized society.”

 

Merrill Gates was a well-known academic who served on the Board of Indian Commissioners for over a decade before becoming President of the Board in 1899. During the 1880s, he served as President of Rutgers University (formal name: The State University of New Jersey) and Amherst College in Massachusetts. All the while, he also served as an Indian Commissioner, making him one of the small group of white, male Protestants who crafted and enforced Indian policy during the late nineteenth century. The Board of Commissioners and other Indian “reformers” held an annual meeting called the “Lake Monhonk Annual Conference of the Friends of the Indian.” At the 1885 meeting, Gates gave a speech outlining what the “civilizing process” would entail. His speech is excerpted below[1].

 

 

 

 

Two peculiarities which mark the Indian life, if retained, will render his progress slow, uncertain and difficult. These are:

 

(1) The tribal organization.

(2) The Indian reservation.

 

THE TRIBAL ORGANIZATION MUST BE BROKEN UP.

 

I am satisfied that no man can carefully study the Indian question without the deepening conviction that these institutions must go if we would save the Indian from himself. And first, the tribe. Politically it is an anomaly an imperium in imperio[2]. Early in our history, when whites were few and Indians were relatively numerous and were grouped in tribes with something approaching to a rude form of government, it was natural, it was inevitable, that we should treat them as tribes. It would have been hopeless for us to attempt to modify their tribal relations. But now the case is entirely different. There is hardly one tribe outside the five civilized tribes[3] of the Indian Territory which can merit the name of an organized society or which discharges the simplest functions of government. Dis-integration has long been the rule. Individualism, the key-note of our socio-political ideas in this century, makes itself felt by sympathetic vibrations even in the rude society of the Indian tribes. There is little of the old loyalty to a personal chief as representing a governing authority from the Great Spirit. Perhaps there never was so much of this as some have fancied among the Indians[4]

 

Indian chiefs are never law-makers, seldom even in the rudest sense law-enforcers. The councils where the chief is chosen are too often blast-furnaces of anarchy, liquefying whatever forms of order may have established themselves under a predecessor. The Indians feel the animus of

the century. As personal allegiance to a chieftain and the sense of tribal unity wanes, what is taking its place! Literally, nothing. In some cases, educated but immoral and selfish leaders take advantage of the old traditions to acquire influence which they abuse. On the whole, how-

ever, a rude, savage individuality is developing itself, but not under the guidance of law, moral, civil, or religious.

 

Surely the intelligence of our nation should devise and enforce a remedy for this state of affairs.

 

THE SENTIMENTAL VIEW OF THE TRIBE.

 

A false sentimental view of the tribal organization commonly presents itself to those who look at this question casually. It takes form in such objections as this: The Indians have a perfect right to bring up their children in the old devotion to the tribe and their chief. To require anything else of them is unreasonable. These are their ancestral institutions. We have no right to meddle with them.

 

The correction for this false view seems to me to come from the study of the tribe and its actual effects upon the family and upon the manhood of the individual.

 

The highest right of man is the right to be a man, with all that this involves. The tendency of the tribal organization is constantly to interfere with and frustrate the attainment of this highest manhood. The question whether parents have a right to educate their children to regard the tribal organization as supreme, brings us at once to the consideration of the family.

 

And here I find the key to the Indian problem[5]. More than any other idea, this consideration of the family and its proper sphere in the civilizing of races and in the development of the individual, serves to unlock the difficulties which surround legislation for the Indian.

 

THE TRIBE DWARFS AND BLIGHTS THE FAMILY.

 

The family is God's unit of society. On the integrity of the family depends that of the State. There is no civilization deserving of the name where the family is not the unit in civil government. Even the extreme advocates of individualism must admit that the highest and

most perfect personality is developed through those relations which the family renders possible and fosters. And from the point of view of land and law…I believe I state the inference suggested by all known legal history when I say there can be no material advance in civilization unless landed property is held by groups at least as small as families.

 

IT GUTS THE NERVE OF EFFORT.

 

The tribal organization, with its tenure of land in common, with its constant divisions of goods and rations per capita without regard to service rendered, cuts the nerve of all that manful effort which political economy teaches us proceeds from the desire for wealth. True ideas of

property with all the civilizing influences that such ideas excite are formed only as the tribal relation is outgrown.

 

LABOR MAKES MEN MANLY.

 

The fact that robbery is said to be almost unknown among Indians within the tribe is largely explained by the fact that property, too, in the true sense of the word, is almost unknown[6]. There is an utter barbarism in which property has almost no existence. The tribal organization tends to retain men in such barbarism. It is a great step gained when you awaken in an Indian the desire for the acquisition of property of his own, by his own honest labor. Every honest day's work done and paid for is a stroke of missionary work. It not only puts the Indian under silent but powerful pledges to preserve the peace and respect law, that so his own property may be safe. It does what is still more important. It cultivates in him those qualities the absence of which

most sadly marks the savage. It cultivates the habit of looking to the future and of seeking to modify the future for one's self by one's own efforts. And this habit persevered in develops, along a low plane of action perhaps, but effectively develops that power which is the highest

prerogative of man as it is the distinctive mark which sets off man from the animals he governs will power intelligently and voluntarily exercised in subjection to law.

 

The desire for the acquisition of property is not, as some writers on political economy have represented it to be, the sole motive that sways society or governs the development of mankind. But it is on the whole the mainspring that daily keeps in motion the mechanism of the world's

daily routine. It is chiefly the affections and interests of family life that take out of this desire for gain its debasing element, its utter selfishness.

 

THE TRIBAL SYSTEM PARALYZES LABOR.

 

But the tribal system paralyzes at once the desire for property and the family life that ennobles that desire. Where the annuities and rations that support a tribe are distributed to the industrious and the lazy alike, while almost all property is held in common, there cannot be any true stimulus to industry. And where the property which a deceased father has called his own is at the funeral feast distributed to his adult relatives, or squandered in prolonged feasting, while no provision whatever is made for the widow or the children, how can the family be perpetuated, or the ideal of the permanence and the preciousness of thus relation become clear and powerful. Yet this is the custom in by far the greater number of the Indian tribes.

 

IT PREVENTS ALL ACCUMULATION OF PROPERTY FOR THE BENEFIT OF CHILDREN.

 

Observation has shown that there is a direct proportion between the length of time during which infancy and immaturity are protected, trained and cared for by the parents, and the capacity of the race for education and advancement on the part of the individual. This law holds good among animals and among men…

 

Apply this principle to the tribal law which enforces a division of the father's property at his decease among his adult relatives. How sadly it shortens the period of protected childhood, already too brief! Homer's picture of the unfriended, hungry, fatherless child, the sport of the rude, neglected of all, is before the eyes constantly on our reservations[7]. Children weakened, prematurely aged, taught by grim necessity to shift for themselves with fox-like craft, are even more common on the reservation than they are in the worst quarters of our great cities. That prolonged fostering care of children which is essential to civilization can be secured only as the family and the home are held sacred.

 

A series of questions was propounded in a circular recently issued by the Indian Rights Association[8], for the purpose of taking soundings along a course of proposed legislation. While opinions as to many points suggested are widely divergent, even diametrically opposed to one another, the agents and missionaries who reply are almost unanimous in recommending at once legislation to secure the descent of property to children, to prevent polygamy, and to provide homesteads. You see how these points concerning which there is substantial unity, are

the three points which determine the circle. The family circle should be the controlling idea of all legislation and all administrative reform in Indian affairs.

 

The gravest charge against the tribal organization, then, is that it tends to dwarf and blight the family. Tribal relations interfere with family grouping, and there is no sound progress in civilization until land begins to be held and property to be accumulated by groups at least as small as the family.

 

Character, too, is worked out in the relations of the family, first; then in the relations of the larger society, the State.

 

THE REIGN OF LAW.

 

The problem before us is, how shall we educate these men-children into that great conception of the reign of law, moral, civil, and political, to which they are now strangers! Moral convictions are theirs, of course. "A good Indian " one whom his fellow tribes-men call good "would be recognized as a good man anywhere," says one who has passed years among them. But the conception of that reign of law which constantly presides over all our thinking and doing, for the most part silent, felt only when we attempt to break with it, the growth of centuries coloring all our conceptions and conditioning our life like the atmosphere we breathe how utterly foreign is all this to the tribal and reservation life of the Indian!

 

We seek to give them this idea, believing that the idea of law, clearly apprehended and intelligently and voluntarily obeyed, will work a marvelous transformation in them. It is hoped that we may thus do for them in two generations what some other barbaric races have been centuries in accomplishing. How are we to accustom them to a difference as great as that between obeying the order of a chieftain, seen, known, perhaps regarded with affection, or blindly conforming to tribal customs they have never seen broken, and obedience rendered to an impersonal law, emanating from a source thousands of miles away and from an order of things unknown to them?

 

As the allegiance to tribe and chieftain is weakened, its place should be taken by the sanctities of family life, and an allegiance to the laws which grow naturally out of the family! Lessons in law for the Indian should begin with the developing and the preservation, by law, of those

relations of property and of social intercourse which spring out of and protect the family. First of all, he must have

 

LAND IN SEVERALTY.

 

Land in severalty, on which to make a home for his family. This land the Government should, where necessary, for a few years hold in trust for him or his heirs, inalienable and unchargeable. But it shall be his. It shall be patented to him as an individual. He shall hold it by what the Indians who have been hunted from reservation to reservation pathetically call, in their requests for justice, "a paper-talk from Washington, which tells the Indian what land is his so that a white man cannot get it away from him."

 

There is no way of reaching the Indian so good as to show him that he is working for a home. Experience shows that there is no incentive so strong as the confidence that by long, untiring labor, a man may secure a home for himself and his family. The Indians are no exception to this rule. There is in this consciousness of a family-hearth, of land and a home in prospect as permanently their own, an educating force which at once begins to lift these savages out of barbarism and sends them up the steep toward civilization, as rapidly as easy divorce laws are sending some sections of our country down the slope toward barbaric heathenism.

 

 

 

 

[1] Seventeenth Annual Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners for the Year 1885. The full report is quite lengthy. A text search for “Merrill Gates” will bring you to his full speech.

[2] Sovereign government.

[3]The “Five Civilized Tribes” was term used by white Americans, particularly political leaders, during the early nineteenth century in reference to southeastern Indian nations: Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole. Despite their efforts to adopt American culture and politics (hence the implication that they were “civilized” Indians), these Indian nations were forcibly removed from the southern states during the 1830s by the military, per the requirements of President Andrew Johnson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. Southeastern Indians were marched by armed soldiers to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) throughout the 1830s. The death toll and violence of removal led Native Americans to call this phase of removal The Trail of Tears.

[4] Gates basically says Indians don’t care – or perhaps, understand – their own system of governance or their own  religious practices.

[5] “The Indian Problem,” was a common term used by white Americans in reference to the existence of Native Americans, or rather, the desire to eliminate the existence of Native Americans in white society. This phrasing – the “whatever” problem - was common parlance in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. See “the Negro problem,” “the servant problem,” (referring to Irish women), the “labor problem” (referring to Unions), and so on.

[6] This is a myth perpetuated by white Americans like Gates who saw any economic system other than unregulated capitalism as uncivilized and evil.

[7] Reference to the Greek epic poem, The Odyssey, attributed to Homer and probably first recorded in the eighth century BCE. The first four books of The Odyssey follow Telemachus, son of Odysseus (King of Ithaca), as he searches for his father after the Trojan War ends.

[8] Another group of white reformers who worked with the Commission on Indian Affairs.

Image: Merrill Edwards Gates circa 1920 is believed to be in the public domain.