[Cross-posted from Hellraisers Journal at Daily Kos.]
This diary is dedicated to JayRaye, who has rediscovered so many Hellraisers, including Henry O. Morris, radical labor journalist, see, e.g., Hellraisers Journal: Tear-stained Women…Besieged the Bull Pens in Cripple Creek and Victor. JayRaye wrote me a message about Mr. Morris’s novel. The book is available as a free e-book here, except for missing page 17 and the corresponding illustration, which I will give you down below. She thought that as a socialist and a Christian, I might find Morris and his novel worthy of more detailed study. After I started reading it, I thought it would make a good diary, and JayRaye agreed. JayRaye loves it when her research leads to other research. Morris himself remains something of a mystery, as with many labor heroes. His reporting is an important part of the historical record. But it’s also time we pay attention to his fictional hellraising, which we could use more of if we are to get more of the non-fictional type. Our minds may yet be motivated by creative acts.
This is what the opposite of Atlas Shrugged looked like in the late 1890s:
The winter of 1898-‘9 has passed and May day has come. …
Oh, Mr. Plutocrat, this first day of May has been a long time coming, but it has dawned at last–the day is here.
As people begin to throng the streets their eyes are greeted on every hand with a mystic symbol …
As the morning drags along the Associated Press bureau begins to receive messages asking if New York can explain the meaning of the sign. Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore are among the first to ask for information, their questions mingling with telephone calls from Brooklyn, Jersey City, Hoboken, Harlem–all on the same subject.
As the day grows older queries came in rapid succession from Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Paul, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Denver, New Orleans and all the Southern cities. This announcement comes from San Francisco:
“This city flooded with a peculiar symbol chalked on the sidewalks and printed on billboards. Advices from all over the State say that every town and village is filled with them, every cross-road fence has one or more placards. What do they mean?”
To which New York replies:
“We do not know. New York is also covered with them.” …
[W]hen the grand council of the revolutionists conceived the idea of this symbol, as a means of notifying its members of the day and the hour of the beginning of the conquest, it was considered very improbable that any person outside the revolutionary order could translate the sign, and so far as literal translation went their judgment was correct. But, mingling with this heterogeneous mob of wildly excited people was one who, by a chance begotten of inspiration, solved it. True, only a portion of it, but that portion contained its primary meaning. This individual was not a learned judge, a lynx-eyed detective, nor an alert reporter; but a creature of less than ordinary intelligence–an old woman almost in her dotage. This chance interpreter came shuffling up, elbowing her way to the bulletin board which bore, together with the bulletins, the strange device. Mumbling and grumbling, she wiped her watery eyes with her soiled apron, peered long and earnestly at the inscription, then, turning to the gaping crowd, she burst out into wild shrieks of hysterical laughter:
“Ha! ha! ho! Hooray! The devil fiddles for his imps to dance. It’s sweet music when old Nick plays. Ha, ha! Oho! Hee, hee! Say yer prayers, ye wicked sinners–this means Revolution! Revolution, I say! D’ye hear me?” …
Morris, Henry O. Waiting for the Signal, Ch. XXVI. Chicago: The Schulte Publishing Co. (published 1898, copywright 1897).
Myths can be powerful stuff. During these latest dark days for the worker in the U.S., we logically need to recapture some of the earlier mythic force. But we need to do this mindfully.
The other side is wickedly but brilliantly using populist “outsider” and even anti-banker rhetoric to manipulate fearful “white” workers. They do so to energize their own selfish cause, including right wing GOTV, but also to divert a large segment of the masses from fighting for constructive deep economic change. Although we can debate how to define “the workers,” on some level the true outsiders are everyone who is not part of the 1%. By diverting attention from our commonality as workers, the plutocrats defeat solidarity.
Updating myths to grim facts on the ground may need to begin with revisiting key dreams large numbers of workers at one time carried in our hearts and minds, and which some still do. After all, we need to always remember that under capitalism, things have generally been hard times for the workers. Political power always has been more wishful thinking than achieved, even under FDR. All of these earlier myths were imperfect and even the best of our myths are in constant need of improvement. Some of the myths of the past were rough, embarrassing, unwise, or even partly wrong, but they were real too, because they fictionally responded, however imperfectly, to shared tangible material conditions, in a way that the other side can only dream. Real people are not perfect. Sometimes they share poorly in their desperation. Coping strategies are not pretty. It is hard when your family is hungry to be your brother or sister’s keeper, especially when they look differently. Solidarity knows no boundaries, yet it is difficult to rearrange much less overturn capitalist conditions in a single valley much less a nation state or the world. The plutocrats don’t want us to even try. Alas, sadly when we do try we often carry around prejudices that the universal “we” cannot tolerate, but which “we” must acknowledge in order to address the very real faults without losing the potential for solidarity.
The right certainly has mastered wallowing in fiction for purposes of division. annieli recently wrote about Laissez Fairyland, centered on the Reaganist myth. You have probably also heard of Ayn Rand. Just thinking of John Galt makes many a manly Santorum swoon.
The oppression embodied in the Galt myth may nonetheless inadvertently produce its opposite. Sorry to remind you Rick but Man on Dog is … uh … Nam [and other capitalist wars] no God spelled backwards. What I’m trying to suggest is that the upper management of the right, and their elected chicken hawk mercenaries and mega church blowhards, are comprised of hypocritical moralizers with their hands in global society’s cookie jar much more than any fictional welfare queen and with total willingness to see us or our children suffer and die, notwithstanding Paul Rand or his plainly racist “objectivist” father’s posturing to the contrary. The delusional militia bully buddies in the deserts of Nevada and on the Mexican border harassing actual desperate children are their latest poster children for “sovereign” rights, immigrant bashing, and white “supremacy.” Unlike our side in the modern era, they intentionally cause what we now admit were abominable sores sometimes within the ranks of frightened and purposely divided labor. We, on the other hand, always have had within us the capacity to lance our boils in the interests of universal siblinghood.
The late 1890s were a significant transition time for the U.S. labor movement in various ways, but perhaps none more important than the ascension of socialism to the mainstream of worker consciousness–even, for some, to the extent of sophisticated imaging, if not fomenting, of actual armed revolt twenty years before the Bolsheviks did the real deal. At the end of Morris’s revolutionists’ epic mythical struggle would come a better world, not just for themselves but also eventually for much of the then industrialized world:
In foreign lands the miseries co-existent with a plutocratic form of government are yet present; but the signs of the times point to the immediate and certain overthrow of despotism in England, Germany and Russia at least. The shining example of the United States has set the whole planet in a quiver, and the Universal Brotherhood of Man bids fair soon to prove something more than a dream.
So ends Henry O. Morris’s important, forgotten Waiting for the Signal.
The Pullman Strike of 1894 followed by the election of McKinley were the deciding factors for radicalizing many workers to search for a deeper democratic alternative to the AFL’s craft unionism. For some, small scale efforts at slightly better working conditions were no match for the brutality of capitalism as it was being experienced by millions of U.S. workers.
The transition was gradual and often multi-tendency. This did not mean a total lack of dogma, but rather that for many, their dogma was rooted in populism, Williams Jennings Bryant, and progressive Christian religion, as well as Marx and other anti-capitalist theorists. And wherever dogma arises, human biases can arise. With the hindsight of the early 21st century, reading historical historical fiction can be an occasionally cringing experience. But the effort is worthwhile in the case of Henry O. Morris’s novel.
Populism as personified in the 1896 campaign of the Democrat Williams Jennings Bryant had many good aspects. Bryant had Eugene Victor Debs’ support in that campaign, fresh off the Bourbon Democrat Grover Cleveland’s brutal suppression of the Debs-led industrial railroad strike of nationwide solidarity, even after Debs had been led to socialism. Debs by then was, and for the rest of his life stayed, a revolutionary internationalist who nonetheless believed that when democracy was available it should be coupled with industrial action to help bring justice to the world. He vehemently opposed exclusion of African Americans from solidarity and rejected any definition of socialism that did not embrace everyone. He ended up in prison and humbly fought all of his days for the workers of the world with everything that he had. On the other hand, Bryant ended up a southern Florida real estate salesman with prohibition and evolution on his mind. It is both Debs’ hopes and some of Bryant’s defects that are on display in Morris’s novel, and only the former wittingly. But, ironically, this presents us with a better teaching tool than if the novel had been pure unadulterated enlightened Debs–because we are ever facing teachable moments when it comes to the capitalist divide-and-conquer strategy to defeat solidarity.
I am with Debs that Bryant changed and plainly for the worse. But others have a point that Bryant, with his version of Christianity and penchant for blowing religious hot air was in some ways consistent to the end. Certainly he was always accommodating the system rather than seeking to seriously change it. Certainly also the price of his “popular” “progressiveness” was a heavy dose of traditionalism and worse. While he, a northerner, did sometimes meekly stand up to his true base in the Jim Crow south, he was always unwilling to put his popularity fully on the line for African Americans. Thus, as Bryant unintentionally illustrates, undoubtedly traditionalism has an ugly side “we” must own up to so that “we” shall overcome it.
Compromise is not an option when it comes to racism, sexism, and homophobia. But fully ceding traditionalism to the reactionaries never seems to work out well either, including, but not limited to, in most general elections. A lot of workers may want to do things like go to church and/or harbor Archie Bunker attitudes or worse. Best for each of us to try to understand all of us on some level, and where possible love us (like that visionary Meathead) and try to “re-mold” the potentially re-moldable ones of us who need re-molding into better versions of ourselves through the example of folks like Debs, Mother Jones, and other Hellraisers, many atheists or agnostics, but many also believers of various types. We might as well try, consistent with the other demands of good practice.
To attempt to understand this complexity that continues to this day, perhaps there is no better place to start than Morris’s previously hard-to-come-by, moldy but now-digitized book. In years to come Bill Haywood would articulate an authentic, non-scholarly U.S. revolutionary internationalist vision of the general strike that would gradually lose steam, a condition that would be exacerbated by the growing disillusionment spurred by Stalin’s totalitarian state industrial capitalism.
It is terribly sad to think about the losses of the cause of the worker. That is the story of most of the Hellraisers–terribly sad losing. But come let us see that our losses are and always have been the direct result of capitalist oppression. Make no mistake: if the revolutionary potential were not present among U.S. labor even to this day, sympathy strike-killing Taft-Hartley never would have been considered necessary after World War II by the plutocracy, which would not still be attacking severely weakened organized labor at every turn.
Broadly speaking, a “revolutionary” approach was firmly rooted in a far broader swath of U.S. labor than might appear from the later tough times of the overtly revolutionary Wobblies. Much of the incredible energy, and theoretical jumble, of labor in the 1900s and 10s may have creative ties to Morris’s somewhat scholarly perceptions and revolutionary vision, which should be considered valuable if not essential reading by workers of the U.S., if not the world, as it apparently once was. The preface to the third edition claims:
The wide circulation of the first and second editions of “Waiting for the Signal” has caused me to be deluged with letters from all parts of the United States, and certain sections of Europe, asking if I know when the revolution described would begin.
To these inquiries I have answered “No;” and added that, were I possessed of the knowledge of the exact day and hour when the trouble was to commence, under no circumstances would I reveal it.
The revolution is sure to come–it is on the way.–I leave the reader to guess when the storm will burst.
Please follow me below the mystic Kosian symbol so that I can brainwash you with a Manchurian synopsis and analysis of Morris’s novel.
His writing cannot be mistaken for high art but that was not what he was aiming for. As he said in the original preface:
I … launch my ship without worry as to its destination or as to its course. …
The electric telegraph, the locomotive and the thousands of mechanical inventions which have come into use during the last quarter of this century have given dishonest men the opportunity to combine and associate themselves together into vast soulless corporations, or “trusts,” which the laws based on the present Constitution are apparently powerless to control; while the same period of time has witnessed the graduation in the school of knavery and greed of a sordid horde of partisan politicians.
Hence the necessity of a new Constitution under which laws may be enacted that shall be a bar to the continuation of the present evils, and under which the corrupt politician, when disposed to rob his country or its citizens, would be compelled to take the personal risk of a highwayman.
This book is written–it is submitted to the discriminating public without apology.
I launch my diary without apology. Please feel free to comment in the same spirit.
One other note about the preface: Morris admits that he is seeking to arouse “the dormant patriotism of a goodly number of our people … for only through such an awakening may we hope for the emancipation of the masses from the present rule of an arrogant and vicious plutocracy.” Throughout, Morris maintains that it is patriotic to revolt while waxing on about how wonderful the founding fathers generally were. This raises a huge question of contemporary relevance: On what level can we be both “patriotic” and preserve the cause of the workers of the world? With the coming of World War I, many on the left on both sides of the Atlantic and on both sides of the war refused to follow flag over the cause of global justice for labor.
Morris is not helpful in sorting this out, because he admits no contradiction between his idealized view of country and its (hint: racist, genocidal) founders on the one hand, and “the Universal Brotherhood of Man” on the other. It is possible to see how Morris could perceive the U.S. at the time as being slightly less culpable than the European imperial powers, such as Britain, the land of the Tories he repeatedly disparages. It is difficult to sort out how much Morris is in conscious denial, disingenuous in his patriotic rhetoric, or perhaps suffering from a hangover from William Jennings Bryant, who had just lost a presidential election and had every intention of waging other political contests.
Clearly, Morris did not see the plutocracy that ran the U.S. as synonymous with the workers of the U.S. On that we can agree. But this will not bring me to pledge allegiance to any national flag. I pledge my allegiance to the earth and its workers.
But enough about me. Here’s my synopsis and analysis, immediately after the illustration and page 17 missing from the free e-book edition:
The book combines many actual famous persons of the late 1890s, including Debs, with fictional and semi-fictional characters that may represent persons the author personally knew. It is fair to say that the book gives its strongest endorsement of any then living person to Debs. However, the Bryant’s campaign’s emphasis on quirky and now anachronistic populist subjects, including bimetallism, is a constant refrain in the book. More troubling, Bryant’s failure to adequately address the continuing plight of the excluded “other” is not clearly challenged in the author’s presentation. This is in striking contrast to Debs’ actual life.
The author seems to be channeling himself through a world-wise reporter and eventual “revolutionist” named John McDermott. McDermott, however, is not the main character. The main character is a young reporter named Wesley Stearns who loves and deeply admires his mentor McDermott but who comes to his own opinions, which happen to completely coincide with McDermott’s. The author seems to suggest that we all need to come to our own opinions and that if we do so objectively, we too will see the need for revolution.
“A Champion of the Lowly”
The main character, a young reporter named Wesley Stearns, and his mentor, the several years senior McDermott, are introduced. Wesley’s father, John, was a brave clipper ship captain of “Red Jacket,” “a ship built in 1853 in the yards of George Thomas, of Rockland, Me.” In precarious health from the incredible challenges of his voyages, he gives up first the China trade route and then the New York-Cape Horn-California trade route, meets “sweet Minnie Price” in Detroit, and settles down to an only slightly easier life as a Great Lakes captain:
As the result of this union, there was born to Captain Stearns and his loving wife a son, who, in due time, was christened Wesley, after his mother’s father. Wesley made his debut in this world on the 14th day of October, 1870. … About a year after his birth his parents removed to the city of Cleveland, from which port John Stearns still followed his vocation.
As the years passed on Wesley developed into a sturdy lad, brimful of vitality and overflowing with good nature. He inherited from his father a strong frame, muscles and an iron will; and from his mother the two dominant traits in her character, thoughtfulness and kindness.
Both parents decided that Wesley should not be encouraged to adopt the arduous vocation of a seaman, and therefore gave the growing boy every possible advantage in the way of schooling. It was their intention to send him to college, but fate ordained otherwise. And perhaps it was just as well.
Captain Stearns, though at his rank treated relatively well by the vessel-owners, becomes involved with the Seamen’s Union. The ordinary seamen are treated horribly, and he becomes their champion. Mark Hanna, the real life industrial magnate and then U.S. Senator from Ohio who ran the McKinley campaign, has him murdered (on the missing page 17!). The sweet mother is devastated and loses her health. The sweet young man is befriended by a gruff big-hearted reporter, McDermott, who happened to be in town to report on the condition of the seamen and their unionizing. He advises him on journalism as a profession, and Wesley Stearns eventually gets a job with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Finally, McDermott gets him a job with the Biograph in Chicago. Their work for the Biograph and its gradual total merging with the liberation of the workers they are covering is the central plot of the book.
The Biograph, a mainstream Chicago paper with a daring people-loving editor, becomes extremely popular and successful around the country because it is one of the only newspapers in the U.S. with a viewpoint that cannot be bought. It covers the news from the viewpoint of the worker, as they are seen by populist Democrats with socialist leanings at least. The editor is wonderful and manages to convince his board of directors that being the paper of the people will pay off for them, which it does. He gives carte blanche to McDermott and Stearns to take on the plutocrats, not only in Chicago but in New York and Washington, D.C.
They totally kick ass. They find and in stories variously reveal to their readers that “the times are out of joint.” McDermott, in Howard Zinn fashion, tells Stearns about how things really work: a Sam Walton-like Philadelphia Department-store magnate who puts all the little stores out of business, screws over the artisans, and treats his child laborers like crap, giving them a picture of himself for Christmas; ; crooked government surveyors and Congressmen who steal Western mining claims (one of which had been co-owned by McDermott, which led to part of his anger at the corrupt elite, along with the fact that the crooked Congressman who screwed him over also cruelly tricked his sweetheart back home into marrying said crooked Congressman); the modern Tories of high finance, including bankers who rip the Union off during and after the Civil War by persuading the government to do things that will hugely benefit the bankers to the huge detriment of the populace; and all manner of dirt bag industrialists from pork-packers to railroad magnates to John D. Rockefeller.
In the midst of their reporting, shining stars for the people appear: a leftist minister who is run off from his congregation in Denver by the aristocratic members of his church “because he said Christ was an anarchist” (Chapter VII is really worth reading for his sermon at the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago); Debs; and a mysterious revolutionist general who had resigned from the military and devoted himself to Debs’ cause after the Pullman Strike.
McDermott and Stearns attend balls in NYC and spy on corrupt politicians and Trust titans, including Grover Cleveland and of course Mark Hanna. McDermott becomes a Colonel in the secret revolutionist struggle.
Among it all, Wesley falls in love with Dorothy Clark. And, oh yeh, a nationwide armed but peaceful revolution occurs. The socialist cause has totally infiltrated and effectively controls the regular military and state militias. So when the signal comes, the very government forces supposed to defend the nation’s plutocrats are on the side of the revolution. The only loss of lives occurs in New York City because in desperation the powerful elite hire outright criminals to assist the Pinkerton detectives. Given arms and dynamite, the criminals start fires all over the city so that they can loot and empty all the bank vaults.
As New York City burns down (which after 911 is more than a little difficult to read), McDermott literally saves Saidee from a burning building, and they eventually get back together after her boozing philandering Congressman husband croaks, Hallelujah.
The U.S. becomes a semi-socialist and more truly free country. I will not describe or critique the new regime’s economic arrangements but simply say that although it is not paradise, the material wealth of the land is wisely and widely distributed, people work hard but not too hard, and, although there is some income and wealth disparity, it is tightly controlled and everyone’s equality before the law also reasonably allows for personal development and happiness.
Every one of the good folk in Stearns’ life lives happily ever after. Miss Thackery and Stearns’ elderly mother live across the street from Dorothy and Wesley, who live next to McDermott and Saidee. McDermott’s long lost elderly mining partner, Mr. Dever, is found and lives with the couple on weekends, except during the summer when he lives back in Colorado. He also finds new fulfillment being a sage guru to Dorothy and Wesley’s son. The circle of life is complete, wholesome, and relatively equally available to all, in the U.S. at least.
The book begins with the words of James 5:1-6, which tells “ye rich man, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.” However, the book is definitely not “religious,” per se. In fact, it is rather critical of formalized religion as then practiced in the protestant-dominated U.S., and does not disparage Mr. Dever, the old miner, who became a spiritualist while living by himself in the wild. The author explicitly contends that organized religion in the U.S. generally does not play a positive in people’s economic liberation and even explains why—money, which leads to a breach in solidarity as ministers suppress the message of economic liberation. (Sounds familiar.)
On the other hand, the tenor of the book recognizes that religion does often play a pivotal role in people’s lives—not just where the circuit riders ride but even in the big corrupt cities, which were known for their large fancy celebrity churches. Thus, the book recognizes that, in the typical turn-of-the century Midwestern white working and middle class homes, Christian cultural references and other traditional frames of reference and biases were critical to understanding inner lives and motivations.
The author’s portrayal of the zeitgeist is both traditionalist and transitional in terms of the roles of men and women. Take for instance the words of Debs when he casually speaks in a train car to a handful of allies and interested businessmen. The words also show deep cynicism toward both the capitalist-controlled institutions and, in a non-populist tone, the easily-manipulated public opinion that props them up:
“I would have the people take possession of this country. I don’t know why a few men should hold all the keys to the store-houses of nature. I don’t believe the Almighty placed all the oil in the world for the exclusive use of John D. Rockefeller. The oil king gives money to the Chicago University, but I say, let us take the oil fields ourselves and build our own universities. Some people call me an anarchist, but I have quit caring for public opinion. Public opinion has sanctioned almost every crime in the catalogue. Public opinion put John Brown in his grave; public opinion crucified Christ; public opinion is now crucifying the people. The money power now dominates every department of justice, even to the Supreme bench. It is not possible for a poor man to get into the Supreme Court. It is omnipotent, and answerable to nobody. A short time ago Congress passed a law taxing the rich of the country, and this court adjudged it unconstitutional. If this law had been a tax on the poor, it would have been all right. Under the laws of the land the rich are always right, the poor are always wrong. Every poor man in this nation is a living certificate of a social crime. The cheapest commodity in the world is human flesh and blood. A railroad company would rather kill a brakeman than a hog, because it would have to pay for the hog. I am sure there is enough wealth; the trouble is in its distribution. There is work for every human being.”
“What about the tramps?” asked Mr.Belford. “There are twenty or thirty of them now on this train.”
“The tramp is the most melancholy phase of modern civilization, and I see in him the man and the subject of unfortunate conditions which he did not himself create,” Mr. Debs replied.
“One of the main troubles,” asserted Mr. Belford, “is the decrease in the sum total of American manhood.”
“Right you are,” said Mr. Debs, his eyes snapping. “There is a condition worse than being without work, and that is, as you say, being without manhood. I say to the workingman: ‘Do not desert your self-respect and do not crouch.’ I am always sorry for the man who works for a corporation and trembles when he sees a boss approaching. I would say to that man: ‘Do not doff your hat to any many who does not doff his hat to you.’ This world does not respect those who do not respect themselves. I am also in favor of political equality, and every woman should be allowed to vote. Women have more honor than men. You cannot buy a woman’s vote with a drink of whisky. Some one has said: ‘A magnificent man always has a magnificent mother; but almost anyone would do for a father.’”
This last brought forth a round of applause, started by Mr. Belford. When it subsided, Mr. Debs said:
“I believe with Lowell: ‘He is true to God who is true to man.’ And I also believe a better day is approaching.”
“It is coming through the medium of a revolution, though,” remarked a quiet man who up to this time had said nothing.
“I believe you,” coincided Mr. Belford. “There is an undercurrent of sentiment here which is in favor of it as the only way out of our troubles. Preparations for it are already under way, I hear; people are now almost ready. The newspapers, as usual, are belittling it, but an organization is now forming.”
Because of hard times, women often “had” to work outside the home in the commercial world, but this was presumed by many not to be a positive development. Somewhat relatedly, Wesley Stearn’s wonderful principled girlfriend, under the guardianship of her aunt, Miss Thackery, and the Biograph’s editor, Adam Short, showed a great interest in nature, as evidenced by her work on a book of the plants of Colorado. But the reason she was in Colorado to begin with was because her protectors did not want her to get hurt when things got bad.
The author implied widespread support for women’s right to vote, recognition of the contemporary importance of women in some workplaces, and most definitely a desire to not see poor women sexually exploited. The latter fit naturally with Bryant’s deep skepticism of Northeastern cities, especially New York City, where many poor women were (and are) in fact sexually exploited.
And, Morris suggests, some of the exploitation can be faulted indirectly to religion’s failure to play a deeply liberating and prophetic role in the world. In a critical passage, after meeting with white working class destitute people in the slums of New York City, “an agent of Associated Charities” explained to the reporters “the diabolical ways of the big merchants,” many of them prominent churchmen:
how they employ virtuous young women to work for starvation wages, and, when they remonstrate, tell them to make themselves agreeable, not only to the merchants themselves, but to the customers of the house. It is said on good authority that the business men of New York are responsible for the social ruin of twenty thousand female white slaves annually. This awful statement is true in like proportion of every large city. The immorality of black slavery is discounted by the immorality of white slavery in these centers of alleged Christian civilization. The poor creatures have no pulpit orators to eloquently proclaim their wrongs to the church-goers, no able editor to champion their cause. How valuable has grown the dollar, how cheap the human soul!
Now suppose some courageous minister should begin to investigate, what would happen?
The great metropolitan newspapers would call him a meddler and a crank, impugn his motives and harass him, while his congregation would rapidly dwindle away. It is not astonishing, therefore, that no one can be found in clerical circles brave enough to commence an exposé of the wrongs inflicted on helpless women in the great cities.
Argue this question with a business man and he will tell you that he cannot afford to pay good wages; if he did he would become bankrupt. Discuss it with an editor, and he will tell you he cannot interfere without offending the business men who advertise in the columns of his paper. Exposulate with a minister of the gospel and he will tell you he can do nothing; that he doesn’t believe the evils exist; he never ran across an instance, he will say. Each has his excuse; but the love of money, the unholy greed for gold, is to blame for it all.
Church people themselves are largely to blame that such an arraignment is possible, and that social ostracism is not meted out to members who are not moral in their daily lives. But as the nation deteriorates, so, it seems, does the high standing of the church. Ignatius Donnelly has described the church today as “a place where men go to maintain their business prestige, and the women to display their millinery,” and he is about right.
This generally laudable passage failed to mention the continuing harsh oppression of African Americans in the north and the south. It was calculated to not challenge southern readers while preserving the view that chattel slavery was immoral.
This raises a major issue. Any traditionalist popular political movement in the U.S. should be examined for how it treats “the other.” Ironically, popular movements often insure cohesiveness precisely by circling together ethnically-similar people and ignoring, or worse, those outside the circle. Consider for instance the book’s treatment of Jewish people. The book itself does not discuss Jewish people as such. It certainly does not exclude working and middle class Jews from the oppressed classes it seeks to defend. It seems intended to reveal not anti-Semitism but intense distaste for bankers. This raises not so much a slippery slope potential as much as an outright deplorable linguistic decision. The author roots the modern U.S. banking system run by “the American Tories of New York City” to the conniving gold standard-focused European bankers, including the Bank of England and “the Rothschilds.” Regrettably, there are repeated disconcerting references to “Shylock.”
There is also no acknowledgment of the stealing of U.S. land through the decimation of the Native Peoples. The author presumably would not have thought twice about a football team being named “the Washington Redskins.” In fact, through the new post-revolutionary constitution that the book “reports on” in Chapter XXXIII, the specific terms of which are not explained or justified by the author, “the Indian title to land in common” would be extinguished to “place the Indian on exactly the same footing as other citizens with respect to the occupancy and use of land and the enjoyment of public and private rights.” The clear implication is that the Native Peoples are still getting all of this great land that needs to be shared with the white people. While this may have been a view of most white people at the time, it clearly was not just.
And, in another huge flaw of the author’s mindset, while there is a clear endorsement of the abolitionist point of view in the freeing of the slaves, no discussion is had of Jim Crow. This regrettable hands-off approach to ethnic prejudice is why Bryant’s base was in the rural Democratic south and to a lesser extent in the rural Midwest and West. Fortunately for his modern admirers, Debs, unlike Bryant, openly embraced the continuing struggles of the African American and directly confronted bigots with their ugliness even when it had high personal and political costs.
And who had Debs’ back on this or any other of his good stands for humanity? Certainly not much of organized “white” protestant Christianity, to its great shame. While I like to think that activism against race prejudice is consistent with “true” Christianity, during Bryant’s time and to this day, some who claim to be the purist of Christians wear white robes with pointy hats. None of us should wait on “heaven” to make the bigots, like “the rich man,” weep and howl. In addition, “the prophets” need to find “the word” and the courage to speak it, so that some of the bigots may yet repent.