- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Three working printers launched the National Reform Association at New York City in the winter of 1843-44. George Henry Evans, the labor editor, recruited John Windt, a blacklisted union organizer, with whom he had worked for over fifteen years. By late February, the two had enlisted Thomas Ainge Devyr, a veteran of the most insurrectionary faction of the Chartist movement in Britain and an upstate newspaper advocate for the familiar plight of the tenant farmers. Together, they hoped to rebuild a localpolitical labor movement and make it national in scope.
In American history, "agrarianism" emerged among such city dwellers, persons severed from the land by industrial development. Even as economic growth transformed their lives, some postrevolutionary Americans had advocated policies that ultimately became National Reform. Significantly, the effort rose from the bottom up.
The Working-Class Political Experience
Across the eighteenth-century Western world, freethinkers assailed religious and ecclesiastical orthodoxy. Although the process was less important in largely secularized societies such as the United States, the debunking of orthodoxy included an iconoclastic stance toward social and political questions. Thomas Paine's Agrarian Justice, for example, warned that representative politics alone would not prevent social injustice. Such ideas appealed to those working people who believed that human beings had a vast capacity for rational decision making, and saw unaccountable power as an invitation to tyranny and wealth as a form of power.
A distinct social radicalism emerged in the United States after the economic collapse in the Panic of 1819. The already famous English philanthropist Robert Owen attained a respectable hearing in the United States for his proposal to found separate, secular socialist communities. Less prominently, Americans had already formed their own Society for Promoting Communities at New York City and established such communities in the West. After Owen's arrival in America, Cincinnati stove maker Josiah Warren embraced his critique of capitalism but, as a solution, proposed innovative cooperative stores rather than physically distinct communities. Meanwhile, as various American states began eliminating the property requirement for voting, the Philadelphia shoemaker William Heighton persuaded his peers to attempt independent action through a new Workingmen's Party.
At this point, Evans turned up among New York City freethinkers. Few figures in American labor history attained anything like Evans's reputation among his contemporaries as "the indefatigable and tried friend of the working men of our country." A rival labor editor described him as "one of Nature's noblemen-a man of rare foresight and talent, though of unostentatious pretensions." Another remembered his "great evenness of temper, ... mild and courteous in his intercourse with others," a man "patient in argument," who "never allowed himself to arise to a passion." "Honest George!" recalled another, "we can still see him in our mind's eye, in his murky office in Thames street, editor, compiler, printer, &.c." He was "seldom, if ever, inconsistent," being "so naturally imbued with the spirit of democracy that he brought it to bear on every question he discussed." Still a fourth rival thought him as "persevering and disinterested a Reformer as the laboring classes ever had."
Born at Bromyard in Herefordshire, England, on March 25, 1805, Evans had a respectable, if modest, formal schooling. His father, George Evans, had been an officer in the Napoleonic Wars, proprietor of a brickyard and the husband of Sarah White, the daughter in a declining family of the lesser gentry. After her death, he took his sons to join his own brothers at Chenango Point (now Binghamton), New York, in 1820. A year later, George Evans had remarried and soon after moved the family to a farm on the road to Oswego. He placed both sons, George Henry and Frederick William, in apprenticeships at nearby Ithaca, then a town of less than a thousand residents.
Each of the early crafts had their own "art and mystery," but none as distinctively ideological as "the art preservative." The printing office called itself a "chapel," implying a faith in reason and free discourse; Horace Greeley later called it "the poor man's college." If not earlier familiar with the works of Paine, the Evans boys encountered them there, along with the idea of craft self-organization. Despite its distance from a big city, Ithaca printers, like their master Augustus P. Searing, printer-editor of the Ithaca Journal, had been active in early printers' unions at New York City or Albany, and a member of the typographical society in New York having earlier suggested government grants to the landless. Years later, when Democratic editor James Gordon Bennett wrote that George Henry Evans had been "indoctrinated with agrarian principles in the English radical districts," Evans replied that he had "served my time to the printing business on a bucktail paper in this State before Bennett came over, and I afterwards got my agrarian notions from a Native American." Certainly, ideas of land reform were in the air.
Before he turned twenty, Evans had made a reputation as an editor. In April 1824, Evans and L. B. Butler-another former member of the New York union-arranged with Searing to use his shop and equipment to publish the Museum and Independent Corrector while both continued to perform wage labor at Searing's shop. At least into July, they issued what one scholar described as a "chatty free thought paper" twice a week. In its columns, short, sharp philosophical and political jabs punctuated the usual matter of a small-town newspaper. An unusually long piece riddled with the puns so popular among printers reported the unionization of London tailors. Another recounted a "dialogue" among merchants who discussed the fine points of watering rum, putting sand into sugar, wetting tobacco for weight, adding chemicals to freshen stale beer, and ending with one businessman's suggestion: "Then let's go to prayers!" The Independent Corrector caught the collective eye of the New York City freethinkers.
At their invitation, Evans came to New York, where he spent "about eleven months of a rather irregular bachelor's life in an attic up some half a dozen flight of stairs" while tirelessly encouraging the interest of freethinkers in social reform. Evans published the arguments of a materialist and a deist over the immortality of the soul but editorially suggested that the immediate social and political tasks should have more importance than speculative and insoluble debates. Thereafter, "George H. Evans Printing Co." published the Correspondent. By the 1828 collapse of that paper, Evans issued the Free Enquirer on behalf of the Owenites Frances Wright and Robert Dale Owen, the son of the British communitarian; he became one of the mainstays at their "Hall of Science" on the Bowery. The following year, freethinkers sympathetic to Owen helped lead the first political labor movements in world history, and Evans launched his weekly Workingman's Advocate.
A workingmen's party at New York formed in 1829 around "Agrarian" concerns. That spring, employers in the building trades proposed extending the ten-hour workday (won over twenty years earlier), and the city's other organized trades rallied to their support. Thomas Skidmore, a Connecticut inventor-and-sometimes-carpenter, persuaded a citywide mass meeting to adopt his "Agrarian Resolves," warning that those with power and wealth held them at the sufferance of the community, most of which had little of either and would, in self-protection, be justified in redistributing that power and wealth. The approach won the active support of Paine's old friend Alexander Ming, whose son Alexander Ming Jr. printed Skidmore's book The Rights of Man to Property! Encouraged by the showing of the Philadelphia Workies, the New York Workingmen's Party and did quite well in the fall elections. However, the party soon destroyed itself in a series of major splits. The pressures of the 1832 presidential election devastated the remnants, subsuming into the Democratic Party the largest surviving faction, around Evans's Daily Sentinel.
Thereafter, workingmen mingled trade unionism with their politics. Evans's friend John Windt-with the help of Samuel Huestis of the old Society for Promoting Communities-established a new printers' union, which called the 1833 citywide convention of the crafts that launched a new General Trades' Union (GTU). Under the presidency of another printer, Ely Moore, it grew to some twenty-one societies with over four thousand members in the city, Brooklyn, and Newark. With Moore publicly associated with the Democratic club at Tammany Hall, the hostile Courier and Enquirer suggested that employers dismiss workers favorable to Jackson, and Windt was one of those who lost his job. Democratic defeat in the spring 1834 municipal elections left the party's hopes dependent on its ability to mobilize working-class voters.
However, trade unionists and former "Workies" had formulated a peculiarly antimonopolist version of Democratic politics. For them, Jackson's veto of the Second Bank of the United States did not merely cancel privileges granted a specific business but mandated a general opposition to all chartered monopolies, including those in New York regularly supported by Democrats. In response, Tammany ran Moore for Congress and fielded an assembly ticket pledged to oppose further monopolies if sent to Albany. In Moore's absence, leadership of the GTU fell to John Commerford, the New York-born leader of both the cabinet and chairmakers union, the Brooklyn Workies. Although Commerford claimed to be a loyal Jacksonian like Moore, his partisan loyalty depended entirely on what he perceived to be best for his labor constituency. Under Commerford, New York's GTU pursued joint action with the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics, and Other Workingmen under freethinkers and labor reformers such as Josiah Mendum and Horace Seaver of Massachusetts, Dr. Charles Douglas of Connecticut, and Seth Luther of Rhode Island. Their short-lived National Trades' Union represented the first such venture on such a scale.
Democratic success sowed discord. Democratic legislators who were pledged to oppose monopolies simply went to Albany and continued to charter them. In 1835, the radicals mobilized to block the renomination by party managers of the five most objectionable "monopoly Democrats." Before the October 29 Democratic convention, Tammany officers, as expected, slipped into the meeting hall early and occupied the platform, but they faced such overwhelming opposition from the floor that they resorted to a standard machine practice, turning off the gas and leaving the gathering to dissolve in darkness. The well-prepared antimonopolists produced candles and hundreds of the new "Lucifer" or "Locofoco" matches, and held their own Democratic nominating convention. When amused observers dubbed them Locofocos, the name stuck.
Reorganized as the independent Equal Rights Party, the Locofocos won a balance of power between Tammany and Whigs. The group not only included many future National Reformers but occupied much of the same ground as the Workies, not only ideologically but literally, in that they rented the same meeting place on Broome Street and appealed to the same artisan base in the Lower East Side. Ming, their 1836 mayoral candidate, had even been Skidmore's printer, but the Locofocos hoped to avoid a repeat of how the presidential election had caused the Workies to implode. They held an ongoing country convention from May into July and a September state convention at Utica that nominated the radical Dr. Moses Jaques for lieutenant governor. However, astute Whigs endorsed two Locofoco assembly candidates, including Robert Townsend Jr., a long-term leader of the carpenters' union. In 1836, as in 1832, presidential politics pulled the third-party movement to pieces.
An economic depression in 1837 devastated the entire insurgency. As the cost of living spiraled, a February protest meeting in City Hall Park detonated an old-fashioned Flour Riot and an investigation by the state assembly. When Jaques got four thousand votes for mayor anyway, the Democrats opened talks with the Locofocos. By October, only a "rump faction" of insurgents refused to rejoin the Democrats.
Formulating a National Reform
As the editor of various movement newspapers, Evans had been at the center of these experiences. At different points, representatives of both parties offered him money and patronage but found him "not purchasable, although at the time he was not only poor, but considerably involved," persuading some who knew him to doubt whether there lived "a more unpretending incorruptible man." Nevertheless, after four years of constant newspaper work, he had $1,500 of pressing debts with $6,000 owed him, mostly for Democratic campaign printing. Fortunately, Evans had taken advantage of the brief but lucrative cooperation with the Democrats by investing $500 in some land along the Waycake Creek in Monmouth County, New Jersey. When the Democrats declined to pay their bill, Evans and his wife, Laura, retreated to the farm, where he "had to get my living by 'regenerating' a poor worn out soil."
After the collapse of the Locofocos in the city, the yet unrepentant radicals struggled to sustain their independent efforts. On the fringe of the Democratic Party, a young Walt Whitman encountered such "Moral Philanthropists" as John Fellows and Gilbert Vale and others of Evans's old comrades. Militant leaders like Commerford turned to a new secret society, the Mechanics Mutual Protection Association, which harkened back to the old days when "mechanics" of all sorts-employer as well as worker-combined for common purposes of mutual aid. Evans publicized such efforts but had long decided that serious change required political action.
As "hard times" grew worse, two new labor reform currents emerged.
Excerpted from Young America by Mark A. Lause Copyright © 2005 by Mark A. Lause. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|Pt. 1||A workers' movement|
|1||National reform : agrarianism and the origins of the American workers' movement||9|
|2||Working-class antimonopoly and land monopoly : building a national reform association||21|
|3||A John-the-Baptist work : the agrarian politicalization of American socialism||35|
|Pt. 2||The agrarian persuasion|
|4||The social critique : individual liberty in a class society||49|
|5||Means and ends : pure democracy, self-organization, and the revolution||60|
|6||Race and solidarity : the test of rhetoric and ideology||72|
|Pt. 3||The impact of national reform|
|7||Free labor : the coalition with the abolitionists||87|
|8||Free soil and cheap land : national reform and the struggle for radical agrarianism||99|
|9||The Republican revolution : victories beyond and by the ballot||112|
|App. A||Land reform, cooperationist, and socialist activities, 1844-52||139|
|App. B||The national industrial congresses||156|
|App. C||New England regional associations||158|
|App. D||National Reform songs and poems||159|
Posted March 13, 2010
No text was provided for this review.
Posted March 13, 2010
No text was provided for this review.