The Nationals, Their Origin and Their Aims

THE history of the National Party begins with the financial legislation of our civil war. The equipment of the Union soldiery, and other preparations for national defense, required the expenditure of vast sums beyond what the national treasury could supply. The government issued printed notes — promises to pay — to the amount of many millions of dollars, enacting that these notes should be regarded and used as a legal tender in all the ordinary business of the people, but excepting from this provision certain dues and payments of the government for which coin was required. As the war assumed greater proportions the necessary purchases became enormous in extent, and the remarkable discovery was made that everybody might easily become rich by selling goods to the government at prices many times greater than their real value. It was easy to print the paper promises to pay, and the government scattered them with lavish hand among the people. There was an unexampled expansion and activity in all kinds of business. Everybody could obtain employment at high wages. There was a new market for everything, and the demand seemed unlimited. Men counted their new wealth by hundreds of thousands and millions. It consisted of the evidences of the government’s indebtedness; that is, of their

own. The result of the war was for some time uncertain. No day had been fixed for the payment of the legal-tender notes, and their purchasing power declined as the numbers issued were multiplied. The war ended. The government went out of business, that is, it was no longer a purchaser to any great extent; the new market was closed. Most of the people of the country had been really in the employ of the government during the war, nearly all traders and speculators receiving lavish salaries in the excessive profits of their business. Now everybody was discharged. The hasty, desperate, make-shift financial legislation at the beginning of the war had produced a great “expansion of the currency,” filling the hands of the people everywhere with the new paper money. But the vast amount in circulation had to be reduced; some arrangement for complying with the promise to pay (printed on the face of every note) had to be adopted, or the notes would soon be worthless. Then came the contraction of the currency by the retirement of some of the legal-tender notes. The new taxes were a great burden; the best investments produced but small profits; and we were rudely awakened from splendid dreams of increasing prosperity to distasteful economies and comparative poverty. The nation began, in great depression and bewilderment, the payment of its tremendous war debt. The people had generally used the government’s promises to pay as real money, vaguely considering the new paper currency as an addition to the actual wealth of the country, without fully realizing that the people had to pay the debt of the nation. There were multitudes who did not understand why the vast expansion of business and industry should be temporary; why the “prosperity of the war-time ” should not continue forever. There was no adequate effort to teach them. They had been incredulous when the first signs of the inevitable decline and collapse appeared. They had lost the habit of hard labor, and when they found that the days of contracts and jobs, and of easy, profuse living, were past they were profoundly dissatisfied. In that dissatisfaction was the origin of the discontent, the grievances, hopes, and purposes, of the people who constitute the mass of the national party of to-day. The stream has received some important tributaries in later times, but this was its source.

Copyright., 1878, by HOUGHTON, OSGOOD & Co.

It took some little time to formulate the new feeling. But it was soon discovered that when the paper money was abundant the country was prosperous, and that the first contraction of the currency and the decline in business were coincident in time, and were therefore related to each other as cause and effect. It was affirmed that if the paper money had been made a full legal tender, that is, if it had been received by the government for all dues and used in payment of all claims, it would always have been equal to gold in value or purchasing power. The legislation providing that coin should be used in the payment of duties, and of the interest on national bonds, was denounced as injurious to the people, as was also the act establishing national banks. A feeling of opposition to the payment of debts which were incurred during the period of the inflation of the currency became very strong, especially in the West. The continued and increasing depression of business and of industry has deepened and strengthened these tendencies, and the time has been in many ways propitious for their growth.

A history of the paper - money delusion from its origin, through the various stages of its influence upon both the great political parties of the country, with a careful study of their platforms and of the utterances of their leading men upon financial subjects during the last seventeen years, including a review of the development of allied influences and of the effect of all these tendencies upon the national thought and life, would be a most instructive and valuable work, but it must be left to other hands. What is here undertaken is a presentation or report of the specific opinions, grievances, illusions, hopes, and purposes of the people who are identified with the national party. In making this report I have as far as possible used the exact words of my neighbors and fellow-citizens who hold these opinions; and when verbal changes were necessary I have endeavored to preserve their thoughts and ideas with scrupulous accuracy. No part of the materials for this report is taken from newspapers or printed documents, or from public addresses. During the last few weeks I have had very full and satisfactory conversations with thirty-four workingmen who are earnest adherents of the new national party. The number includes residents of three different States, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. I am personally acquainted with all of them. They are natives of this country, and men of good repute for honesty and general morality. Most of them are poor, and they all work with their hands. They have what is usually called in this country a good common-school education, and most of them have more than this. More than half have been teachers. They are of all ages, from thirtytwo to fifty-seven. What is here presented was expressed in answer to my questions on all the subjects brought forward. In every instance I received the utmost courtesy, with permission to communicate to the public the information thus given to me. I used a note-book and pencil as we talked, recording as fully as possible what was said, often repeating the questions and reading my memoranda to my neighbor for his approval. On most essential points there was substantial agreement among all these men, but I have noted some differences of individual opinion and aim. Here are the notes: —


“ The national party is the result of a great uprising of the people. The industrial classes are becoming enlightened. It is a movement from the bottom of society. We have no leaders as yet, and it is probably better so. The movement may develop leaders by and by. It has grown thus far by talks between neighbors, and by the influence of newspapers and printed documents. We have one weekly paper, with a circulation of six hundred and fifty thousand copies, and an increase each week of twenty thousand. We are organizing in every school district in many States, and in every ward of the cities. We wish to abolish the national banks. All the commercial panics in our history have been caused largely by the system of state and national banking. The bankers deposit one hundred thousand dollars at Washington, and the government gives them back ninety thousand dollars in bank-notes for the bare cost of printing, say one per cent. The government pays them six per cent on the one hundred thousand dollars. Then they have ninety thousand dollars to loan at the legal rate of interest, and as much more as they can get. They receive from twenty-five to fifty per cent., and sometimes one hundred per cent., per annum on their original investment. We want absolute money, not a promise to pay; would have gold, silver, and paper all issued directly by the government, without the intervention of any banking corporation; the legend to be, This is a Dollar (or whatever the amount may be), making it a legal tender in payment of all dues and claims whatever. Of course we shall need new legislation for such a currency. This national absolute money would buy anything in any market of the world with one fourth or one half of one per cent. discount in exchange. There are about two thousand national banks, and they now have a surplus fund of sixteen hundred millions of dollars. The bankers have received so much interest that nearly all existing deposits are clear profit; that is, they have cost them nothing. The masses of mankind are trodden under foot and enslaved by a vicious financial system, and we are tending to the low conditions of the older nations. Combinations of capitalists and unfavorable legislation crush the laborer. The beginning of these evils is the fallacy of a gold basis. There is not enough gold for all the world’s money; if there were it would be all right. Banks may have done good in early times in the West, but our advanced civilization requires a currency not based upon coin. We favor the immediate repeal of the resumption act. With national absolute money no resumption of specie payments would be required. The bullionists favor resumption and contraction; they bring gold to par by their designing manipulations. It is no advantage to the people to have gold at par. European capitalists have influenced the financial legislation of our country a great deal. Their design is to break up our republican government. We have positive proof that a man came over from England with half a million of money to oppose the passage of the silver bill; but he found that it would do no good. History shows that no country has ever prospered on a coin basis.”


“ We have some of the most talented men in political economy with us, but not many. Professional men, such as clergymen, are not enough interested in these matters to investigate the real condition of the laboring classes and their needs. The masses are sufficiently intelligent and morally educated to see that class legislation or any injustice would be fatal to themselves. The mass of mankind have common sense. It requires no special talent for investigation to enable men to understand what is necessary for their own interests in such matters. When members of Congress begin to legislate in favor of the moneyed class their constituents ought to be able to say, Stop! that is not what you were employed to do. Legislators should execute the wishes of the people who elect them. We favor shortening the hours of labor. Political economists say that four hours a day would probably be adequate to maintain all mankind in comfort, and give them some of the luxuries of life, providing richly for the helpless.”


“We would have the government begin immediately the construction of extensive works of internal improvement. The Erie Canal should be enlarged to a ship canal sufficient for vessels of two thousand tons burden. A canal of the same capacity should be constructed across the State of Michigan, and another across Northern Florida.”


“I do not undertake to speak for the national party; there are differences of opinion on many points among those who are working together in this movement. I would not permit individuals or corporations to engage in any kind of banking enterprise; not even for exchange, or to receive deposits. All such business should be conducted by the government. The value of gold and silver coin is in the government stamp upon it, and not in the intrinsic worth of the metal. Money should be made of material which has no intrinsic value. The contraction of the currency is the greatest cause of the prostration of industry. The national bonds are a fraud upon the people, and Rothschild knew it at first. The 5-20 bonds were originally to be paid in greenbacks, and only their interest in coin, but by a change in legislation the principal was afterwards required to be paid in coin. The bonds cost holders thirty-five cents on the dollar in gold, and by laws contracting the currency the bonds have been made worth more than gold. The holders have already received more than the cost of the bonds, and still hold them.”


“ The government is a great commune. All railroads, canals, and means of commercial transportation, and all mines and land, should belong to the government. There should be no individual ownership in land, but only of improvements. There should be no law for the collection of interest. The amount of money in circulation should be increased by the government issuing as much absolute money as is needed by the people, and paying it out for all government expenses, and for the wages of laborers employed on public works. Resumption is a speculation of the capitalists. There is no need of specie payments. The people have not asked for the measure; it is forced upon them. The resumption act should be immediately repealed. All history shows that in order to maintain specie payments we must have more specie than paper money. There should be enough money to give the people a sufficient medium of exchange. We should pay the bonds in greenbacks as far as possible. If the legislation changing the nature of the bonds and requiring their payment in coin were right, then counter-legislation would be.”


“ All officers should be elected by the people directly, and no law should take effect until it has been submitted to the people and been approved by them. We should have whatever legislation is necessary for imposing an income tax graduated so as not to touch small incomes, to grow heavier for larger fortunes, and to be made absolutely prohibitive for accumulations beyond a certain limit. No man should be permitted to hold more land than he uses, and the acquisition of great fortunes should be made impossible. One of our greatest dangers is the power of a landed aristocracy.”


“ All classes should be represented in our national legislature in proportion to their numbers. Legislation by lawyers is always devoted to the interests of their own class. The people of culture in this country underestimate the intelligence of the masses. Capitalists could buy workingmen’s votes as easily as they now buy those of lawyers: we shall have to depend largely upon the effect of the opposition between different classes for checking any tendency to excess, injustice, or corruption. Capitalists feel like kings and aristocrats, and regard the workingmen as their slaves. If these evils cannot be removed by legislation, it will be done in some other way. If people dread war or mob-law, they should help the workingmen overthrow the money power. Capitalists dread nothing so much as the uprising of the masses. We have two thousand bankers representing two billions of capital.”


“ The college men are not in the national movement, and usually misunderstand it entirely. Their education destroys natural perception and judgment; so that cultivated people are one-sided, and their judgment is often inferior to that of the working people. History shows that all through the ages the evolution of new ideas has come from the lower classes, the uneducated. We should naturally look outside of the professions for the leaders of a new movement. Professional men are usually against us. The uneducated are more accessible, more easily influenced, than the educated. Cultured people have made up their minds, and are hard to move. There should be a check upon Chinese immigration. Our civilization cannot maintain itself in contact with Chinese civilization. That will survive where ours cannot, and if we live together we shall have to conform to their civilization.”


“ For three hundred years the progress of civilized nations has been in the direction of absolute money. Money should be composed of some material that is not in itself precious or commercially valuable. Constitutional provisions are of little importance compared with the direct expression of the will of the people. The real law is not written or printed. Popular feeling is really the law rather than any statute.”


“ Happiness is the legal tender of the soul. Four hours a day is enough for anybody to work, but people should work every day. To rest on Sunday, or one day each week, is wrong. Government should own and operate the railroads of the country. We could then recover the value of trunks if they were lost in transportation. Now it is often difficult or impossible. Burning up the money when it was called in to contract the currency, instead of sending it out again to circulate among the people, is the real cause of the distress of the country. No lawyer should be elected to a place in any legislative body.”


“We might obtain much help from the spirit world. There is a Congress there of all our great statesmen who have passed away. They see the future and know the motives of men, and they preside over the affairs of our country. They have already had much to do with our national affairs. The spirit of Washington once sent a medium to Lincoln with military plans which the president executed. It would be wise to put the management of the Indians wholly under the direction of the spirits. We might obtain very great aid from the spirit world in regard to all difficult questions connected with the science of government. The national movement is likely to go farther than most people foresee.”


“ The government might loan money to the people to the extent of half the value of goods deposited in government warehouses (appraised by competent men, and to be held until redeemed). We should use gold, silver, and paper, till the metals naturally drop out of circulation. Paper money will soon expel gold and silver money from the country. Government should not require more than three per cent. interest on loans to the people; many of the nationals would have interest prohibited by a provision in the constitution of the country.”


“ The object of the greenback party is to break down the money power, politically, commercially, and industrially. The government should build a railroad from Norfolk, Virginia, to California, and should take possession of all railroads, canals, and telegraphs. All should be operated at cost, — without profit. We make no account of constitutional difficulties in the way of these things, or of what the constitution forbids or allows. It is not best to make many constitutional provisions. Constitutions are things to have discussions about, and to form the subject of points of order in debate, rather than for practical efficiency or obligation. They should be composed, as nearly as may be, of undoubted basic principles. These objects should be attained either by coöperation or by communal organization. The greenback system tends to a national communal organization or association as to banking, railroad transportation, and similar branches of business.”


“ Air, earth, and water should be free to all. A man may own improvements, but not the land. We should make the taxes on large accumulations of landed property so high that the owners cannot pay them, and so cannot keep the land. Land in its natural, original, and unimproved condition is not rightly to be regarded as property. Its use should be subject to control by the government.”


“ The national party includes the greenback movement, which originated in the dissatisfaction of the people with the contraction of the currency after the war, and the other gold-basis legislation of that period; the labor movement is another branch of the party. The growth of our cause has also been largely stimulated and assisted by the influence of the internationals and of the German socialists. Our present programme is not final or complete. The first object is to change the nature of the currency and abolish the banks. Then comes the seizure by labor of its rightful empire, and government ownership of railroads and other means of transportation and commerce; it is not yet certain which of these will come first. The granger movement has done much to prepare material for the national party, and trades-unions and other secret organizations have had a large share in developing it; they are now among the most efficient agencies for the propagation of our principles and the extension of our power. It is believed that fifteen hundred thousand voters belong to secret labor organizations in this country, but it is impossible to be certain of the numbers. In every place in which the nationals have been successful in elections, their strength has come from these secret labor organizations.”


“ Nobody should hold office longer than one year, except the president and members of Congress. They might be elected for two years, and they should all go out together, so as to have all new men after each election.”


“ I would have a continuous election. The polls should be kept open all the time, so that whenever a citizen desires he can go and change his vote and give it to a new man. Then whenever a majority of all the voters of a district or State have pronounced in favor of a new representative, the old one should give place. If the people are dissatisfied with a representative in three weeks after he is chosen, they have a right to dismiss him and elect another.”


“ Whenever the hours of labor have been reduced, or the pay of workingmen increased, there has been an increase of intelligence and morality, and a diminution of intemperance and crime.”


“ The 5-20 bonds, of which seven or eight hundred millions are still out, were originally to be paid in greenbacks; the law requiring their payment in coin should be repealed. We should have legislation making all bonds payable in greenbacks. All bonds that are to be paid in gold were made so by fraud.”


“ An issue of two thousand millions of the new currency (absolute money) would probably not depreciate the currency more than thirty per cent.”


“ We favor education by the state: it should be industrial and compulsory, allowing for differences in character and circumstances. The problems or examples in school-books should be of an industrial and not of a commercial nature.”


“ The government should establish a labor bureau in each State, and one for the nation, to collect industrial statistics, and, in time, to regulate the agricultural production of the country, — to determine, for instance, how many sweet potatoes would probably be needed each year, so that the market might not be oversupplied. ”


“ The people will form associations everywhere. When we have an international government or superintendency, as we must have with international money, this will lead to the gradual disuse or comparative abolition of nationalities, and the association of the people of the whole world for the government of the whole world.”


“ We think the national movement, so far as it tends to association, is opposed to the influence of the clergy. We have a strong following among the Catholics, and thousands of them are in the secret labor societies.”


“ United States bonds were at first to be paid in legal-tender notes; a clique of the moneyed men got together and changed the language so as to require coin, and then demonetized silver. After that the bankers got control of Congress, and enacted that the legal-tender notes should not be received for duties. If the government had received the paper money for all dues it would always have been equal to gold. It is said that absolute money would not be received in Europe; we are not making a currency for Europe, but for our own country. Gold and silver for money are relics of heathenism. Paper money would naturally expel coin from circulation. We should repeal all laws requiring bonds to be paid in gold. The bonds were all bought at greenback values. One thousand dollars in gold bought two thousand five hundred dollars in greenbacks, and that bought two thousand five hundred dollars in United States bonds.”


“ The government should employ many of the tramps, and should engage in the construction of extensive public works for the relief of the unemployed. All wages should be paid by the hour.”


“The government should establish post-office savings banks, and should pay interest at a rate not above that of the annual increase of the wealth of the country, now about three and a half per cent. per annum. The government ought to be the employer of the people if the government is honestly and judiciously administered; and it is more likely to be so administered under this system than any other. Of course, if the government takes possession of the railroads it would naturally manufacture its own engines, cars, rails, and equipments generally, and the nation would become a vast coöperative association.”


“The selfishness of the people will teach them to be just and wise. They are too intelligent to commit any excesses. They will lay politicians on the shelf, and take new men. No capitalist or banker should be nominated for any office whatever by the nationals.”

“No doubt there will be excesses of various kinds, and measures of retaliation, when the workingmen obtain control of the government. That will be only human nature. There is a considerable proportion of low and brutal material in the national party, but we are not responsible for that. The same men belonged to the other two parties before they joined us, and they are no worse now than when they voted with our opponents.”


“ None of us can speak for the party. We can only tell you what we think would be best, what we believe in, and what we would do if we could. If we succeed, the general structure of society will be modified in important respects, and religion and morality will no doubt be affected by changes so vital, but in what way, or to what extent, nobody can now foresee.”


“ It is not likely that the organization of society will be affected in any serious way by the changes we propose to make. Morality and religion under the new order of things will be about what they are now.”


“ We favor protection and oppose free trade. We would admit raw materials (such as are not produced in this country) free of duty, but would tax imported manufactured goods.”


“ The workingmen should direct their efforts to securing an adequate representation, by members of their own class, in the national house of representatives. The senate is of little consequence, and might well be abolished.”

It remains for me to add a few facts not included in the conversations thus reported. It was made plain to each of these workingmen that it was not confidential information in regard to the plans of the national party which I sought, but his own estimate of the causes of the movement and of the grievances of the people, and his own opinions and hopes in regard to desirable changes; and that I sought such information with the purpose to make it public, and thus report as accurately as possible the thought, sentiment, and aims of the masses, the working people.

More than two thirds of the whole number of these workingmen favor protection in some form for American industry; but some half dozen believe in free trade.

None of these men are Catholics. All of them hold what are called advanced or liberal views of religious or theological subjects, and a few are atheists. Eighteen of the number believe that the spirit world has inspired the new political discontent, and that the national party is constantly aided and reinforced from “the superior spheres.” I have myself observed that many mediums and trance-speakers are among the most popular and influential orators now employed in propagating the sentiments of the new party.

In connection with this movement women are engaging in politics more directly and effectively than ever before. Many of them are traveling through the country, speaking on political and social subjects, and their oratory often influences voters as much as that of the men on the same platform. The women have political clubs which meet regularly for discussing the questions of the time.

The thirty - four workingmen with whom I thus conversed are, I think, quite as intelligent as the better class of voters in either of the other two parties. They are well-educated men, according to the popular American standard and idea of education: that is, they are all ready talkers; most of them could make nearly as good speeches as an average congressman; and they have a great deal of such information as is to be obtained from scraps and items in newspapers. They are “ up with the times,“ to use a phrase now very common among the people of this country, and know what is said pro and con regarding the questions of the day. There is probably a larger proportion of the members of the national party than of either of the other political parties who are able to “ make a good speech,” and who are now engaged in writing for the newspapers of the country. They have incessant drill and practice in talking, and the fondness of the masses for oratory gives these propagandists a great opportunity. They are all aggressive and confident, and most of them manifest a degree of exultation in prospect of speedy success. As I have been familiar with their views from the first in the Northwestern States, and for many years past in the three States mentioned above, I have heard little that is new in these recent conversations. Perhaps the chief change is that our friends of the new party now talk a great deal about history, and constantly appeal to its lessons, whereas they formerly derided scornfully the notion of assistance for us from the experience of other nations. A great deal of the history brought forward I confess I never heard of before. It is true that these thirty-four men are much superior to the majority of the national party, but they, and such as they, are the true representatives of the masses who have neither opinions nor power of expression, and who are as clay in the hands of the potter under the influence of these workers and organizers. Precisely the same thing is true of the other parties. What these active, capable workingmen think and say is what their silent brethren are acting upon and supporting with their votes.

All these men are very much in earnest, but I could discover no sign of that sense of responsibility which all men of insight feel in undertaking movements which must seriously affect the welfare of many millions of human beings. It seemed to me that they had no adequate conception of the real nature or magnitude of the changes in our national life and society which they were trying to accomplish. Most of them seemed somewhat reckless in regard to possible consequences of those changes. None of them, I think, are acquainted with the later conceptions of history, and its value as a record of the experience of society, of its efforts, illusions, gains, and failures during the ages which have been necessary to develop and establish such civilization and political and social organization as we have attained.

There were differences of opinion among these workingmen upon some points, but it is to be observed that they agree in their belief in “absolute money,”— money that is not a promise to pay, nor composed of any material having intrinsic value; in desiring the government to become the employer of the people by constructing public works of enormous extent, and in thinking that it should own and operate railroads, canals, and telegraphs for the benefit of the people; in favoring government ownership of land, legal prohibition of large accumulations of wealth by individuals, and the substitution, to a great extent, of the will of the people, as expressed each year (or each day), for fixed constitutional provisions and limitations. They agree in thinking lightly of culture, and in the purpose to legislate and tax “ the money power ” out of existence. But none of them spoke of the need of industry, economy, or wise self-direction on the part of their own class, though they were confident of their ability to reorganize and direct society. If their undertaking could succeed, we should have wealth without labor, and a system of morals without selfrestraint; and instead of the orderly empire of law we should have “ mob-voiced lawlessness,” anarchy uttered or ordained by the people. I have seen no reason for thinking we are near the end of this conflict.

I observed another trait in intellectual character. It appeared to me that very few of these men had received any education in regard to the laws, methods, and difficulties of clear and trustworthy thinking. They seemed unconscious of the danger from illusions, and of the necessity for testing and verifying opinions and theories by patient analysis and comparison. Many of them indeed professed the belief that the direct mental vision or intuition of uneducated men is more valuable, in determining matters connected with legislation and the organization and progress of society, than the trained and disciplined faculties of students or men of culture. They esteem very lightly the judgment or authority of scholars, and believe that American workingmen are entirely competent to understand and decide rightly the problems which have perplexed thoughtful statesmen and patriots for ages. Their faculties have not been trained to analysis or comparison, or to the study, by trustworthy methods, of the relations between causes and effects. They still use very largely the methods of thought of uncivilized or prehistoric men. At every step they are the unconscious prey of illusion, and they are to a great extent incapable of receiving guidance or assistance from anybody wiser than themselves. Their intellectual character is a matter of profound interest to me, because I believe it to be very nearly that of a vast majority of the voters of our country; and almost precisely that which our existing methods of education are fitted to produce.