The Political Horizon
I. THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR SOCIALISM.
ONE evening in the early summer of 1881, I happened to ride from Philadelphia to Washington in company with a member of Congress. He was one of the most distinguished protectionists of his time. He was always referred to as “ the authority ” by men of his own party. On this evening he was not wholly amiable, but he was confidential, and he told me that he had been to Harrisburg, and was not only hot and fatigued, but greatly annoyed because, as he expressed it, he had been forced to make the journey to explain to “ those people at the capital that they ought not to disturb Mr. Randall’s district, but should leave it to him ; for,” he continued, “ they actually did not know that Mr. Randall in the House is as valuable to us as ten Republicans.” It must be understood, to appreciate the remark, that Mr. Randall’s district in Philadelphia was not normally constructed. It was slightly gerrymandered, its boundaries being drawn so that it would be safely Democratic. The tale reveals no secrets. The Republican leaders of Pennsylvania of twenty years ago were always frankly outspoken as to their relations with Mr. Randall, while he, of course, never concealed his economic prejudices or the requirements of his political necessities. But by the anecdote, and by the important fact which underlies it, hangs a tale.
The story is an additional chapter in the history of partisanship and blind sordidness, and at the end of it we shall find that what some people call Bryanism, and what others call socialism, is the natural result of the party strifes mingled with personal greed of the last thirty years. I take this period, because the rule of the Republican party did not begin to be seriously threatened until 1872. Moreover, between 1870 and 1874 parties might have been re-formed on lines of economic differences, but for irrational partisanship. It was at this time, too, that business interests began again to be felt in federal legislation. A new question was put to the politicians, and the answer was not rational. Instead of re-forming on the questions of immediate concern, the two old parties remained intact, and adopted sides in the new controversy. The Republican party became the party of protection, while most of the Democrats espoused the cause which was then appealing very strongly to the farmers of the West, and to all those who thought that they paid the taxes and reaped no gain from them.
In looking back to the years between 1872 and 1875, and at the consequences of the partisanship which prevented a re-formation of the two political organizations, we must see that this failure to meet new problems intelligently is the cause of many evils existing in our social and economic conditions. It would not be difficult, for example, to prove that the state of mind which has kept in close party association men whose economic and social opinions are opposed to one another is the state of mind which has accelerated, if it does not explain, the perfection of the party machine and the ascendency of the party boss. But it is not with this phase of our political history that I wish to deal. I shall try to show that the present menace of socialism in this country is due to the partisanship, resting on a false issue, which kept free traders in such close association with protectionists within the Republican organization that the party soon became practically unanimous on this issue; to the presence of protectionists within the Democratic party; and to the unbending stiffness of those whose theory has been that government exists for the purpose of creating and maintaining commercial prosperity.
When we realize that the vast business interests which are in partnership with the government have had sufficient influence with the party pledged to economic change, through their agents within the party, to prevent it from keeping its promises, we shall be in a position to understand the reason for the revolt of 1896 in the Democratic party, — a revolt whose extravagance makes it simply a characteristic rising of men whose hopes have been disappointed, and whose rage is therefore excessive. It is, indeed, a rage that blinds, so that some of the very remedies which are professedly sought in order to restore good government and sound legislation are sought in reality for retaliation; while other so-called remedies, if adopted, would be but the more general application of the economic principle which the Democratic party has declared to be false, for the protectionist theory is essentially socialistic, and its natural antagonist is the individualist. The historic differences between the two parties ceased to exist long ago. The doctrine of state sovereignty as a question of constitutional construction fell with the war.
Since the war the doctrine of state rights and state responsibility has been as often advocated and applied by Republicans as by Democrats. The oldtime Democratic position on the question of internal improvements was abandoned when the South came back asking for money with which to deepen its interior streams. But the issues arising out of reconstruction legislation, and from efforts to place the negro on a political and social equality with the white man, stiffened the old line between the parties, transformed past differences into enduring traditions, and established a partisanship on both sides that made impossible the natural realignment which should have followed the war. Then we heard again of the party of centralization, and the party opposed to centralization ; for men seem always to forget that each party has done its best to extend federal power whenever it has had the opportunity. As a matter of fact, the parties remained divided as they were on the questions growing out of the war and out of the granting of the suffrage to the negroes. But these issues also were finally practically set at rest, at least so far as the North was concerned, although now and again there was a threat of intrusion from the North, like that of the so-called Lodge force bill, into Southern domestic affairs, for the purpose of making the negro vote tell as it ought to tell under the law. The Southern debate, however, after its acute stage had been passed, — that is, after President Hayes had withdrawn the troops from the South,—was revived by one side or the other merely for partisan purposes, either to keep the South solid, or to awaken Northern indignation by recitals of the wrongs and injustices done to the black man. While this partisanship was all-powerful, economic questions were pressing upon the minds of the people. Individual politicians really took sides, and the parties assumed 舠 attitudes ” on the tariff. So far as the well-disciplined Republican party was concerned, the attitude soon came to be real and permanent. So far as the undisciplined Democratic party was concerned, there have always been a sufficient number of its representatives in Congress who agreed with the Republican policy to prevent the party’s attitude from having any significance and from attaining its alleged object. On another issue, the money question, each party has suffered from its own civil war.
During these thirty years, the Democratic party has consisted of a body of voters bound together by reminiscence and tradition, cultivating or opposing a false political issue which has been projected into the contests of the day almost invariably for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the unnatural conglomerate called “ the organization.” United by these artificial ties were, at the outset and until a few years ago, leading bankers of Wall Street, the old aristocracies of New York and the South, on the one hand, and, on the other, the masses of the great cities of the East, excepting Philadelphia, and the discontented of the agricultural communities. The character of the composition has varied from time to time ; still at the beginning of the era much the larger number of members of the organization were in favor of reducing tariff taxation to a revenue basis. While in this majority were included the stanchest and ablest advocates of the single gold standard, the natural successors of the hard-money Democrats of Benton’s day, with them were the men who afterward became the leaders in the silver movement, — Bayard and Belmont at one end of the scale, Bland and William Allen at the other end. In the same company, defeating finally the accomplishment of the cherished object on which the extremes were united, were Randall and his protectionist Democrats. Their political fortunes were carefully fostered by the manufacturing interests whose hold upon the Republican party soon became absolute. At last the war on the tariff was abandoned. The little knot of Democratic protectionists won the day for the manufacturers. The revolt against the Republican party and its tariff policy, which had been growing steadily both in the old free-trade states of the middle West and in the newer agricultural states, was turned into a war against the banks, against the railroads, against corporations, against trusts, against wealth, against property: and with the war against those who have came a demand upon the government for bounties to the sugar grower, loans of money by the treasury on gathered crops and real estate, cheap money, the abolition of national bank notes, the inflation of the greenbacks, free silver, government ownership and operation of railroads, the employment of labor on public works, necessary or unnecessary, in “ times of great industrial depression.”
It is not possible in a magazine article to do more than indicate the leading events in the political history of the last thirty years that mark the movement which, in its present stage, is formulated in the Chicago platform of 1896, and is represented by Mr. Bryan. In 1870, there was general a sentiment among the politicians that the tariff taxes ought to be reduced. Many of the internal revenue taxes on manufactured products had been abolished, and there was a demand, especially in the West, that the compensatory tariff taxes should be removed also. This demand reached Congress, and several leading Republicans, including Senator Morrill, Mr. Garfield, and Mr. Allison, favored a reduction of rates of duty. Mr. Garfield said : —
“ After studying the whole subject as carefully as I am able, I am firmly of the opinion that the wisest thing that the protectionists in this House can do is to unite on a moderate reduction of duties on imported articles. If I do not misunderstand the signs of the times, unless we do this ourselves, prudently and wisely, we shall before long be compelled to submit to a violent reduction, made rudely and without discrimination, which will shock, if not shatter, all our protected industries.”
This was not the first warning that Garfield had uttered against the extravagances of protection. The movement for a reform of the tariff had begun in 1867, and he had then urged concessions. The House of Representatives had passed a measure materially increasing tariff taxes. Mr. David A. Wells, special commissioner of the revenue, then a protectionist, prepared a substitute for the bill, the chief feature of which was a reduction of duties on raw material. The bill was supported by the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. McCulloch, and was passed by the Senate as an amendment to the House bill. When the measure reached the House again, it was necessary, in order to act on it, to suspend the rules, and for this purpose a twothirds vote was required. The bill received 106 votes to 64 against it, and the necessary two thirds not having voted in its favor the bill failed. By 1870 the protectionists had gained in astuteness, if not in numbers. As I have said, it was generally admitted that some concession ought to be made to those who had determined that they were taxed unjustly, and in behalf of private interests, but the character of the concession was a subject for management. Already in 1867 the protected interests had successfully influenced Congress. In the tariff bill which failed of enactment, the provisions respecting wools and woolens were those which had been prepared by the convention of wool growers and woolen manufacturers which met at Syracuse in 1865. The scale of duties suggested by these interests was practically adopted by Congress in a special bill. It is impossible in this article to examine in detail the effect of this complicated wool and woolens schedule. A very clear and satisfactory statement of the movement and its consequences is given in Taussig’s Tariff History of the United States. Suffice it to say that taxes on wools and on woolen goods were greatly increased, and that, in consequence, the prices of necessary articles of wearing apparel, especially of the cheaper grades, became much higher. The success of the wool growers and woolen manufacturers stimulated other protected industries to endeavor to secure more assistance from the taxing power of the government, while the complaints aroused by increases in the cost of clothes, blankets, and woolen hats gave an impetus to the movement for lower duties. So in 1870 a bill was passed which pretended to reduce taxes, and which did actually lower the rates of duty on tea and coffee, and on pig iron, although it materially increased the rates on many manufactured articles.
The year 1872 came, and the agitators in behalf of tariff reform grew more exacting. The Senators and Representatives from the West were almost unanimous in favor of lower duties. The country was beginning to feel the drain of overtaxation. For several years the receipts of the government had been in excess of its expenditures. The prices of agricultural products were falling. Relief was insisted upon, and it was through a reform of the tariff that it was generally expected. But relief was not to be had. The protected interests had now assumed the management of tariff legislation, and Republican leaders like Henry L. Dawes, of Massachusetts, and William D. Kelley, of Pennsylvania, deferred to them as to those who knew what would be best for themselves. It was not necessarily a corrupt combination. So far as the men whom I have named are concerned, they were convinced that to promote the protected interests by tariff taxation was to further the well-being of the country. The storm was approaching, however, and it had to be met. The Ways and Means Committee prepared a bill materially reducing rates of duty on nearly all protected articles. The protectionists were alarmed, and while the measure was under discussion a bill was framed in the Senate making a horizontal reduction in duties of ten per cent. Eventually this bill was adopted, and became a law after provision had been made to reduce the revenues by abolishing the duties on tea and coffee, and by lowering the taxes on tobacco and spirits.
Up to this time, the two parties had not formally assumed attitudes on the tariff question, nor upon any economic or financial issue. The Republican national platform of 1868 had not a word concerning the tariff ; the Democratic platform of the same year contained a feeble suggestion in favor of a “ tariff for revenue.” There was no stated difference of opinion between the organizations, but there was a radical difference between individuals. The tariff reformers of the House who had desired the passage of the bill prepared by the Ways and Means Committee, but who finally accepted the Senate bill of 1872, realized that their movement had received a check, and that the hopes of the country had been thwarted by the protected interests and their representatives in the two houses of Congress. If the industrial and economic conditions which then occupied the minds of the voters had continued to furnish the issues of politics, there might then have been a transfer of party allegiance ; at least many Republicans who remained in the old organization might have joined the Liberal Republican movement which was defeated by party politics.
Many causes led up to this movement whose convention at Cincinnati was captured by the politicians who nominated Horace Greeley, the prophet of protection. It was primarily a movement against the corruption of the “carpet bag ” governments in the South, and the scandals that were issuing from Washington. It was a protest against the force bill legislation of 1871, and the conduct of the party in power which kept open the sore of the sectional issue. There was an actuality in that issue beyond peradventure, but it was not an actuality arising from natural conditions in the South. It was created and kept alive for party purposes. At the same time, the Liberal Republican movement possessed an economic character. The delegations were not chosen by organized constituencies, but delegates were sent from various clubs or bodies of citizens, many of whom had been Republicans, but who wished to join a movement that was supposed to be in the interest of good government. The Free Trade League of New York, for example, sent to Cincinnati a delegation whose candidate was Charles Francis Adams. If it had not been for the intensity of the partisanship growing out of the sequelæ of the war, there would probably have been a healthy movement for tariff reform in the Republican convention of 1872. As it was, the Republican platform declared that the revenue obtained by the government should be sufficient to pay “ current expenses, pensions [then $30,500,000], and the interest on the public debt,” also to furnish “ a moderate balance for the reduction of the public debt; ” and that it should be raised, except for the taxes on tobacco and liquors, “ by duties upon importations, the details of which should be so adjusted as to aid in securing remunerative wages to labor, and promote the industries, prosperity, and growth of the whole country.”
Here, with the exception of the proposed end to be accomplished by the mere arrangement of the details of the tariff schedules, we have a declaration by the Republican convention in favor of a tariff for revenue, differing in no respect in principle from the Democratic platform of 1868. The Democratic platform of 1872, on the other hand, was written, so far as the tariff question was concerned, in deference to the economic opinions of its candidate for the presidency. The plank is interesting not only on account of its stupid cowardliness, but because its adoption furnishes the first instance of the suppression of the free-trade Democratic masses by leaders acting under protection influence. Realizing that Greeley on a tariff reform platform would make the campaign a farce from the outset, the Democratic leaders, after stating the same objects for which a revenue ought to be raised as had been set forth in the Republican platform, declared as follows : “ And recognizing that there are in our midst [sic] honest but irreconcilable differences of opinion with regard to the respective systems of protection and free trade, we remit the discussion of the subject to the people in their congressional districts, and to the decision of the Congress thereon, wholly free from executive interference or dictation.” It was, as will be seen, only a partial surrender. Mr. Greeley was notified by the platform that, although the Democratic party might suppress its principles for his sake so long as he was its candidate, he must not interfere with those principles if, in the event of his election as President, they should be presented to him in the form of a tariff bill passed by a Democratic Congress. Nevertheless, free-trade Democracy was compelled to halt by the pressure of protection exerted within the Democratic organization. The Democratic party, as an organization, was then, as it has been ever since, perfectly willing to forego any expressed principle, for the sake of defeating the Republican party at the polls, and of thereby gaining control of the government.
After Greeley’s signal defeat, the panic of 1873 occurred. The financial and economic disturbance was very great, and the country suffered intensely. Among other results the imports fell off, and the revenues of the government were greatly diminished. As Professor Taussig says, “ No further thought of tax reduction was entertained, and soon a need of increasing the revenue was felt.” So in 1875 we had the repeal of the ten per cent reduction of 1872. But in 1874 the Democrats carried the country by a very large majority in the congressional elections. Various reasons may be given for this political revolution, but it is mainly interesting for our present purpose, because the first result of the victory was a battle on the tariff issue, in the campaign for the speakership, between Mr. Morrison and Mr. Randall. The opposition in the House numbered 174, and the Republicans 103. Naturally, the changes in the South were the greatest. South Carolina and Florida still returned solid Republican delegations, but from all the Southern states only 17 Republicans were returned, while 85 Democrats were chosen. In Massachusetts only 5 of the 11 Representatives were Republicans ; of the other 6, 4 were Democrats, and 2 — General Banks and President Seelye — were elected as Independents. In the West, Ohio returned 13 Democrats and 7 Republicans ; Indiana, 6 Democrats and 7 Republicans ; Illinois, 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans. Democrats came from Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Kansas. The twelve Western and Pacific Coast states returned, together, 48 Republican and 42 Democratic Representatives.
There was a contest at once over the speakership. Mr. William R. Morrison was the leader of the free-trade forces, and Mr. Randall of the protective forces. Mr. Morrison selected Michael C. Kerr, of Indiana, as his candidate for Speaker, and Mr. Randall was defeated. The freetrade element had won, and the tariff struggle inside the Democratic party had begun. The struggle lasted for twenty years, until the destruction of the Wilson bill in the Senate in 1894. During the first session of this Forty-Fourth Congress Speaker Kerr was seriously ill. Mr. S. S. Cox was chosen temporary Speaker because he belonged to the free-trade wing of the party. He was followed by Mr. Milton Sayler, of Ohio, for the same reason. When the Congress met in its second session Mr. Kerr was dead, and the party displayed its lack of principle by choosing Mr. Randall to be Speaker. In the meantime, Mr. Morrison, whom Mr. Kerr had appointed chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, had brought in a bill revising the tariff, which, after amendment in committee, was reported back to the House, and discussed ; but, after Mr. Randall was elected Speaker, there was no opportunity to bring up the measure for final action, so that the effort to secure a vote on tariff reform, by the House in which the Democratic party had a majority of more than seventy votes, failed. In the Forty-Fifth Congress the Democratic majority was much less than it had been in the Forty-Fourth Congress, and Mr. Randall was again elected to the speakership. He appointed Fernando Wood chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and punished Mr. Morrison by leaving him off the committee entirely. Mr. Wood’s committee reported a tariff bill, which was languidly debated, and died without action. It was the general understanding that Mr. Randall had composed the Ways and Means Committee in the interest of the protectionists, and the result was what he had intended.
It was impossible for Mr. Randall to believe in the reality of an economic issue in politics. To his mind, a man belonged to this party, or to that, by reason of inherited political affinities or traditions or present association. He saw that the tariff and money questions were dividing the members of his party, and that men who, from his point of view, should have acted together for the purpose of driving the Republican party out of power were wrangling over an issue which seemed to him, who had been brought up in the atmosphere of the war and of reconstruction days, to lie quite outside of the domain of politics. He did not read the signs of the times, nor recognize the growing dissatisfaction of the West with prevailing economic and financial conditions. In 1876 the Republican platform repeated substantially the tariff plank of 1872, but the Democratic platform denounced the tariff, which it said yielded a dwindling revenue, degraded commerce, “ cut down the sales of American manufactures at home and abroad, and depleted the returns of American agriculture,— an industry followed by half our people. It costs,” it continued, “ the people five times more than it produces to the treasury, obstructs the processes of production, and wastes the fruits of labor. It promotes fraud, fosters smuggling, enriches dishonest officials, and bankrupts honest merchants.” The plank concluded with the phrase, afterwards so often repeated, with sneers by its enemies, and apologies by its pretended friends : “ We demand that all custom-house taxation shall be only for revenue.”
This utterance on the tariff undoubtedly expressed the sentiments of the West, where the Democratic strength was growing. The presidential contest was not carried on in every part of the country, on the tariff question. The money question was a very important element in the controversy, but the movement for unsound currency was rapidly coming to be part of a more general and older movement in which, eventually, the discontented people of the agricultural states confounded, in their enmity, all capitalists, including especially manufacturers and bankers. The first expression of the money question was in a demand for more greenbacks. The money legislation of the country, after the war, had been, on the whole, wise, until the Western Senators, under the lead of Oliver P. Morton, John A. Logan, and Thomas W. Ferry, began to urge inflation. They talked of the “ blood-stained ” greenback, and from one end to the other of the middle West there were loud protests against the “ injustice to the debtor class.” The greenback cause was greatly aided by the decision of the Supreme Court, and by the conduct of the Treasury Department under President Grant’s Secretaries of the Treasury, Boutwell and Richardson, while the two parties were almost equally guilty of encouraging the movement in the West. The Republican Senators whom I have named had for coadjutors such Democrats as William Allen, of Ohio, and his nephew, Allen G. Thurman. And yet each of the party platforms in 1876 committed the organization and its candidates to favor the resumption of specie payments. The Republican party, however, was soon to undergo a change of heart, on what we may call the inflation phase of the money question. The inflation bill of 1874, a Republican measure, had been vetoed by President Grant, largely by the advice of Secretary Fish, who more than once saved the President and the country from evil counsels ; and Mr. Hayes had been chosen governor of Ohio distinctly as a champion of sound money.
The day of Republican coquetting with paper money was almost come to an end, although the party was far from being pledged to a sound policy ; for it soon consented to the repeal of the clause of the resumption act which directed the destruction — in other words, the actual redemption — of the greenback, while its experiences and its vacillations on the silver question were still in the future. By 1876, however, it was no longer part of the Republican creed that the amount of greenbacks should be increased. Nevertheless, the number of people who thought that “ more money ” would help them out of the difficulties pressing upon them was growing, and the vote against the Republican party greatly increased ; the tariff, nevertheless, remaining the principal object of the assault of those who saw the necessity of giving relief to the people who were complaining of their burdens. The Democratic party was still under the leadership of men who believed in sound money, and who now, in the presidential election of 1876, had made the first explicit declaration, since the close of the war, in favor of lower rates of duty. The result of the voting in the West, where the tariff continued to be the important issue, is interesting and significant. In Illinois the Republican plurality, compared with that of the presidential election in 1872, fell from 56,000 to 19,500 ; in Indiana, the former Republican plurality of 22,500 was turned into a Democratic plurality of 5500; in Iowa the Republican majority of 60,000 became a Republican plurality of 50,000; in Michigan the change was from 60,000 to 25,000 ; in Wisconsin the Republican plurality fell from 18,500 to 6000. It was in spite of the developing free-trade sentiment of the West, and in the very year when the Democratic National Convention declared explicitly in favor of tariff reform in a phrase which has been more frequently quoted than any other platform utterance of the generation, that Mr. Randall was chosen Speaker ; moreover he was reelected by the Congress chosen in the presidential year, on the platform from which I have quoted, on which Mr. Tilden also stood as candidate for President. It was also after his second election to the speakership that he made up a Ways and Means Committee, with Mr. Wood as chairman, with the purpose of defeating the expressed promise of the party of which he was the official representative in Congress.
The restlessness and discontent of the people, especially of the people of the West, now manifested itself by the formation of a new party. In 1876 Peter Cooper was the Greenback candidate for the presidency. This Greenback party was not organized purely on the financial issue. It is true that to many minds the need of more money was the pressing issue, but Greenbackism was the beginning of complete political socialism. The movement against high tariff taxation for the promotion of private interests had not succeeded, and the dominance of Mr. Randall in the Democratic party seemed to doom it to failure for years to come. Hard times, low prices, scarcity of employment, drastic industrial and social conditions, operated to intensify the feeling against wealth and capital which had been shown for several years by the poor and the discontented, who were encouraged and stimulated by the speculator ready to reap from the woes of the country, — the speculator who persuaded all the unfortunates that they belonged to the “debtor class.” These all believed that they were the victims of the “ money power ” which was intrenched in both of the old parties, preventing the reduction of tariff taxation which had been foreshadowed in 1870, and actually promised in 1872. Besides, they expected to be still more grievously wronged by those who insisted on reducing the supply of money by redeeming and retiring the greenbacks. Peter Cooper received many votes in the West from men who simply wanted a change. But the danger that was to come from the rapidly rising tide of financial heresy did not awaken the fears of the politicians of the Republican party, and actually obtained the support of those Democratic politicians, who, as I have said already, had no object except to defeat their opponents and to secure the power and profit of government for themselves.
In 1876 there were in the Republican and Democratic parties men who held the same economic and financial opinions, and who were kept apart by meaningless partisanship. There were men in the Republican party who, if they had kept to their honestly expressed sentiments of six years before, would have accepted the tariff plank of the Democratic platform of 1876, But their party was now actually under the control of the protected interests. In the other party, the real leaders of 1876 were men of high character, of great ability, believing that a tariff tax should be “ only for revenue,” and not only that the money standard should be the gold dollar, but that all the money of the country should be gold ; at the same time there was coming into the party a passion of communism, stimulated by greed and want and by false reasoning, that in the end was to drive these leaders, and men like them, entirely out of politics.
The greenbackers appeared in the Forty-Sixth Congress, and with William D. Kelley, who would not vote for Garfield, the Republican candidate for Speaker, voted for Hendrick B. Wright. These greenbackers were objects of great curiosity. They were regarded generally as the temporary spume of a disordered time. No one dreamed that their successors would control the Democratic party and nominate its candidate for President. Among the thirteen who voted for Wright were G. W. Jones, of Texas ; De La Matyr, of Indiana ; Adlai E. Stevenson, of Illinois ; Ford, of Missouri ; Weaver, of Iowa, Bryan’s immediate predecessor ; and March, the stonecutter, from Maine. The Democrats still controlled the House. Randall was again chosen Speaker. For two years there was also a Democratic majority in the Senate. Not an effort was made, however, to reform the tariff in accordance with the promise of the Democratic platform of 1876. Randall stood in the way.
The agitation for the free coinage of silver had begun, and both parties, believing that it would be safer to evade than to meet the issue, compromised with it, and the silver act of 1878—known as the Bland-Allison act — was passed. The real Bland act, which was passed by the House of Representatives, was a complete free coinage act. It provided for the free and unlimited coinage of the silver dollar at the ratio of 16 to 1. Here was formulated the principal issue on which Mr. Bryan ran for President eighteen years afterwards. The bill was amended in the Senate, and the compromise provided for the monthly purchase of $2,000,000 worth of silver. The silver agitation almost at once occasioned much bitterness and disturbance in the Democratic party. The Eastern Democrats, and especially Mix Bayard, found themselves deserted by their old-time fellow partisans. Many of the Democratic politicians dreamed that the issue had been framed on which they were at last to return to power. The masses of the West who had been insisting on relief of some kind — first from tariff taxation, and then through the increase of the amount of paper currency — now seized upon the scheme for “rehabilitating” silver as the club with which to break down the rule of their old enemy, the “ money power.” And the old enemy refused to yield an inch. It would not consent to any reduction of the tariff; it did not dream of any reform of the banking system in order to provide a more elastic currency. The successful opposition to any relief whatever increased, by the addition of discontented Republicans, the number of those who kept on crying out for “ more money.” Finally some of the politicians of the Republican party again expressed fear of the evil fate that might befall the protected interests if the tariff were not reformed, and President Arthur, in his annual message of 1881, recommended a revision of the laws, the recommendation being a consequence of the warning of the coming Democratic victory in the congressional elections of the next year.
The pretended reform, however, was a delusion. The bill framed by the revision commission proposed reductions of duty, but neither that measure nor the high protection bills which were passed by the House and the Senate became the law. The law of 1883 was the work of a conference committee whose members were chosen with a view to the formation of a body that would give to certain interests what they demanded. So confident of this were the revenue reformers of the House that it was only after several had declined to accept an appointment on the conference committee that Mr. Carlisle consented to serve for the purpose of preparing himself to contest the final passage of the projected measure. The committee did not set itself to the usual task of composing differences between the two houses ; it took the measures into its own hands, and in many instances raised duties to higher rates than had been determined on by either house. The bill thus composed was passed in the last minutes of the session, so hastily that the engrossed law differed in some respects from the printed copy on which Congress had voted.
In the Forty-Eighth Congress, which was elected before this bill had passed, the Democrats had a majority of about ninety. The struggle for the speakership was again on the tariff question. The candidates were Mr. Randall and Mr. Carlisle. Again Mr. Morrison led the anti - protection wing of his party. The feeling between the factions had become intense, and the issue was even more definitely made than in 1875. Mr. Carlisle defeated Mr. Randall in the party caucus by a very great majority, and appointed Mr. Morrison as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which was organized for the purpose of bringing in a bill reducing tariff taxation. Mr. Morrison introduced his measure, making a horizontal cut of rates of duty, as had been done by the Republican measure of 1872. His contention was that if the Republicans had, as they asserted, really arranged the law of 1883 so that its various schedules were in proper relation to one another, then a horizontal reduction would not disturb the harmony thus established. Mr. Morrison’s bill was defeated by the Randall Democrats, who numbered about forty. The vote was 159 to 155. Three Republicans only, from Minnesota, voted against the motion to strike out the enacting clause, which was made by Converse, a Democrat from Ohio, who was a follower of Randall, and who was not elected to the next Congress, Mr. Outhwaite, a tariff reformer, succeeding him.
The struggle over the tariff was not directly continued in the next Congress. In consequence of the dissatisfied elements the Republican party was losing strength in the middle West. In 1880, the Greenback candidate for President was James B. Weaver, and while the popular vote for Peter Cooper, in 1876, had been only 82,000, that for Weaver, in 1880, was 307,000. The Greenback party flourished until 1886, drawing votes from both parties, but materially injuring the Republican party in its old strongholds. In 1882, in Kansas, it and the Democratic party together cast 28,000 more votes than the Republicans did. After 1880, the Prohibition party assumed a larger importance than its leading article of faith warranted. It ceased, however, for the time to be chiefly a party of cold water, and became one of the factions of discontent, demanding “ more money,” favoring government ownership and operation of railroads, telegraph and telephone lines, and tariff tax reduction. Its membership was made up largely of Republicans, and it began to grow rapidly after 1883, its vote in Ohio, for example, increasing from about 4000 in 1879 to 29,000 in 1886, and remaining above 20,000 until 1896.
The various factions of discontent began to draw together after 1886. At first we had the United Labor party, and then the Populist party, which was stronger than any of its predecessors. All the agitation, the restlessness, the efforts for change, which found form in the Grange and other farmers’ associations, and expression in the Ocala and other socialistic platforms, obtained their being and gained their strength from the prevailing financial and commercial distress, but they got the fuel for their fury in the attitude of those who were receiving pecuniary benefits from the public treasury, and who steadfastly refused any relief. So long as Mr. Carlisle was Speaker, the Democratic party remained under the leadership of conservative men whose principles were finally expressed in the Indianapolis platform of 1896. Some of them treated the free silver movement too carelessly, but it was for the purpose of holding the silver Democrats true to the party’s effort to secure a reduction of tariff taxes. On the other hand, some of the Republican leaders were equally guilty of compromising with the silver men, and in leading them to believe that eventually “ something would be done for silver.” The result was that the continuance of the strife over the tariff gave a good deal of factitious strength to the free coinage cause, and this was true especially in the Democratic party, because there the silver men found allies among the exasperated tariff reformers, many of these having come to regard the East as synonymous with the “ money power.” “Wall Street ” was the region east of the Alleghanies, and it was the home of the common enemy. The Democrats who struck out the enacting clause of the Morrison bill came from Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. To these were added four votes from the iron mines and furnaces of Ohio; three from the fruit growers and wine makers of California; one vote from the sugar planters of Louisiana, and a few others.
It was clear to the excited imaginations in the West, soon to be joined by the unprosperous agriculturists of the South, that the Democrats of the East had come under the power of “ Wall Street,” which stood for high tariff taxes, for restricted banking privileges, for high rates of interest, for tight money markets, for land grant railroads whose freight charges rendered it impossible for the farmers to earn enough to pay the interest on the mortgages often held by the railroads themselves. The tide of discontent was rising in 1886, and the Democrats continued to control the House. It was then that Mr. Randall undertook to prevail upon his party to reduce revenue by abolishing the remaining internal revenue taxes. He was defeated, and the quarrel between him and the free traders was intensified. They saw in his internal revenue bill a sham device which pretended to provide for lower taxes, the chief purpose of its author being, however, to reduce revenues, and thus remove from the arsenal of free-trade arguments the danger from a redundant public income.
Again, in 1886, the Democrats carried the elections for members of the House of Representatives, and in this Congress reform of the tariff was made a strict party question. Mr. Carlisle was once more Speaker, and Mr. Mills was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. His tariff bill was passed by the House July 21, 1888, by a vote of 162 to 149. Three Democrats from New York voted against it, but Mr. Randall did not vote at all. His strength in the party had disappeared. The time had come when protectionist Democrats feared the result of a popular vote, and their field of activity was to be transferred to the Senate.
The Republicans had a majority in the Fifty-First Congress. Mr. Reed was chosen Speaker, and appointed Mr. McKinley chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. In 1890 Congress passed the McKinley tariff bill, and the bill subsequently known as the Sherman silver bill. At the elections in the autumn of the same year, 233 Democrats, 88 Republicans, and 9 Populists were chosen members of the House of Representatives. The result was generally regarded as a stunning blow for the tariff law of 1890. Mr. McKinley was not reëlected, but his friends declare that this was not on account of his tariff act, but because the Democrats had so rearranged his district that it was almost inevitably Democratic. However, the mandate to the majority in the popular branch of the Fifty-First Congress was supposed to be that tariff taxes must be reduced. Unfortunately, Mr. Crisp, formerly a timid follower of Mr. Randall, was chosen Speaker, and Mr. Springer was made chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. No comprehensive scheme of tariff reform was proposed, but a number of measures placing raw materials on the free list were defeated.
In the Fifty-Third Congress, the Democrats were in the majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and William L. Wilson was made chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Now occurred the final act in the play, in which tariff reform was indefinitely postponed, while, as a consequence of its defeat, all rational and conservative Democrats were deposed from leadership, and even driven out of the organization. The Wilson bill itself, in its income tax provision, bore evidence of the increased strength of an element that would no longer be satisfied by the reduction of tariff taxation. The Fifty-Third Congress had been called to sit in special session in the summer and fall of 1893, for the purpose of repealing the purchase clause of the so-called Sherman act. The commercial interests of the country demanded the repeal. Speaking generally, the far West and the South opposed it. The contest in the Senate was long and bitter, and the majority of the silver Senators were Democrats. The struggle was continued in order to force a compromise ; and here again party politics intruded, for Mr. Gorman, who ostensibly favored the unconditional repeal of the silver law, secretly encouraged the silver Democrats to continue to filibuster to prevent a vote, assuring them that in the end Mr. Cleveland would assent to a compromise. This hope was blasted, for the unconditional repeal bill became a law, and, in the regular session, the men who had stood for free silver challenged the sound-money Democrats to fulfill the promise of the party made by Mr. Cleveland in his famous message, and repeated in the party platforms.
The Democrats in the House of Representatives did their best, and soon the tariff bill was passed by a vote of 204 to 140. But the Eastern Democrats in the Senate, under the leadership of Mr. Gorman, transformed the measure into one more obnoxious to the free traders than any Republican bill had ever been, for it was the work of pretended co-partisans. In the sugar schedule, especially, the angry Democrats from the West and the South, thought that they saw the corrupting work of the sugar “ trust.” They felt that they had been betrayed in their own house. They had seen “ Wall Street,” in one form, striking silver from the coinage of the country, and now, in another form, they fancied that it was once more successful in preventing a reduction of tariff taxes. In the House of Representatives itself the Democratic leaders seemed to fail them. But the drama of the closing scene should have taught them better. The Representatives yielded to the Senators only when the Speaker himself abandoned Mr. Wilson, whose valedictory, — for so it turned out to be, — not only on surrendering the bill, but on quitting public life, contained this pregnant sentence and question : —
“We have realized, if nothing else, the warning lesson of the intrenchment of the protective system in this country, under thirty years of class legislation, until the mere matter of tariff schedules is a matter of insignificance, and the great question presents itself, Is this to be a government of a self-taxing people, or a government of taxation by trusts and monopolies ? ”
This question had long been in the minds of those who had asked for lower tariff taxes, and had been denied because of the stiffness of Republican partisanship and the presence of protectionists in the Democratic party. It was the issue of those who had turned their backs upon their own party and had demanded “ more money.” Now more than ever “ Wall Street,” capital, property, were massed in a single body, at which the disappointed and the discontented aimed their blow. The consolidation of the factions had been going on, and both the old parties were losing. Comparing 1892 with 1888 the regular Democratic vote increased only 18,685, the Republican vote fell off 264,108, while the greenback, prohibition, and labor vote increased from 400,820 to 1,326,325. The socialistic party was growing with great rapidity. Its argument was that it is quite as much the duty of the government to enrich the farmers as to enrich the manufacturers, and arrayed with those who insisted that any grant of public money to a private enterprise is a form of socialism especially obnoxious because it includes favoritism were those who insisted on extending socialism to all the interests of the community. By 1896 these had gained possession of the Democratic party, and had united with it most of the irregular parties. The old Democratic leaders went out of politics. The result of the thirty years’ war is that men like Cleveland, Carlisle, Olney, Fairchild, Wilson, and hundreds of thousands of other Democrats are out of public life and have no party. But there still remain within the party men like Gorman, Murphy, Smith, and the Tammany leaders, who were the chief instruments of the party’s betrayal in 1894. The results of the rage and rebellion are 6,500,000 votes for Mr. Bryan, and a large body of voters who demand free coinage of silver, government loans on farm produce, government currency to the amount of fifty dollars per capita, government ownership of railroads, telegraphs, telephones, gasworks, and electric plants, and finally the abolition of the Executive and the Senate, and the substitution of an Executive Board chosen by the House of Representatives from its own members. We have won a great victory against what we call the “ forces of disorder,” but we have done very little to repair the mistakes of thirty years. The vote for Mr. Bryan was not large enough to elect its candidate in 1896, but it exceeded by nearly 1,000,000 the vote of any previous Democratic candidate and by nearly 1,100,000 that of any Republican candidate except the vote cast for Mr. McKinley. It is large enough to threaten and injure the prosperity of the country in any time of depression, yet those who taught this great host of voters that the treasury is a reservoir for the increase of private gain, and therefore for the relief of private need, make no concession, unless a few feeble reciprocity bills, which also consult the interests of favored classes, can be called concessions, while they even threaten an increase of taxation for the profit of the shipping interests. Meantime the welfare of the country depends upon a body of voters who are merely choosing between what they regard as evils. When will the weight of evil shift ? In twenty years the federal expenditures have increased nearly fourfold, from $167,000,000 to $605,000,000, from $5.46 to $7.97 per capita. When will this burden accentuate too sharply a pinching financial depression brought on perhaps by the inability of the banks to respond to the demand upon them for currency ? It may be that the extravagant socialism led by Bryan will never carry a presidential election. But so long as it exists in anywhere near its present importance, it can be counted on to increase distrust, to prolong panics, and to make their misery more acute.
Henry Loomis Nelson.