Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Weaver, J. B. (1892). Pp 1-9. In The People's cause. Boston, MA: Arena Pub.
There are three fundamental questions pressing for a solution in America. Indeed, they today challenge the attention of the whole civilized world. They are distinct and yet cognate, segregated though inseparable, and seem destined to advance pari passu, and to conquer together. United they form the triple issue of organized labor, which for magnitude and importance has never been equalled since man became the subject of civil government. They are the wheat which has been winnowed from the chaff on the thi-eshing-floor of the century.
The patient, long-suffering people are at last aroused, and there is hurrying to and fro. They seem to have received marching orders from some mysterious source, and are moving out against the strongholds of oppression on three distinct lines of attack, but within supporting distance of each other. It is evident that a general engagement is but a short march ahead.
One army corps proposes to give battle for our firesides; for a foothold and for standing-room upon the earth. It has inscribed upon its banner, " This planet is the common inheritance of all the people! All men have a natural right to a portion of the soil! Down with monopoly and speculation in land! "
The second is marching to deliver those who sit in darkness, — the needy who cry, the poor also, and him that hath no helper. They seek to open wide the door of opportunity, and to throw back the iron gates which shut out from the bounties of nature the miserably clad, wretchedly housed, shivering, haggard, care-worn victims of adversity and slaves of debt. Upon its guidon is the tracing of a whip of cords, upraised by the hand of Justice above the heads of the money changers. The legend underneath reads, ''Money is the creature of human law ! We will issue it for ourselves! Down with usury! Liberty for the captives!"
The third is leading an attack to get possession of the highways and lines of communication which have been wrenched from the people, and which connect cities, distant communities and States with their base of supplies. This corps has inscribed upon its flag the battle cry, " Restoration of the public highways ! They belong to the people, and shall not be controlled by private speculators!"
When Barak, after he and his people had suffered twenty years of oppression, overthrew Jabin and the captain of his Host, Deborah declared that the battle was from heaven ; that "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera." And may we not reverently believe that the struggle of the oppressed people of our day, to reinvest themselves in their lands, their money, and their highways, is from heaven also?
The Constitution provides that "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican form of government." This language implies a permanent contract —a joint pledge on the part of the Federal and State governments united, to maintain Democratic institutions throughout all the States; the general government pledging its great power that the people shall not be deprived of the form, and the States undertaking, as to all matters within their jurisdiction, to make their local institutions Republican in spirit, substance, and administration. In other words, we have here a solemn declaration of purpose: a guaranty to all the people that government, both State and national, shall be held strictly to its original and lofty function, that of securing to the citizen" certain inalienable rights," which he received at the generous hand of his Creator, and which no government has the right to impair or permit to be impaired or taken away. The ledge is that this obligation shall never be departed from, not even in form.
These " inalienable rights " are, first, such as grow out of the relation of man to his Creator, and second, those which spring from his relation to organized society or government. The land question comes under the first subdivision.
Can it be denied that all men have a natural right to a position of the soil? Is not the use of the soil indispensable to life? If so, is not the right of all men to the soil as sacred as their right to life itself? These propositions are so manifestly true as to lie beyond the domain of controversy. To deny them is to call in question the right of man to inhabit the earth.
Tested by those axioms, the startling wickedness of our whole land system, —which operates to deprive the weakest members, and even a vast majority of community, of the power to secure homes for themselves and families, rendering them fugitives and outcasts, and forcing them to pay tribute to others for the right to live; that murderous system which permits the rich and powerful to reach out and wrench from the unfortunate their resting-place upon the planet, and to acquire title to unlimited areas of the earth, — is at once revealed in all its hideous and monstrous outlines. It also discloses to us the unwelcome truth that our government, which was instituted to secure to man the unmolested enjoyment of his inalienable rights, has been transformed into an organized force for the destruction of those rights. Ordained to protect life, it proclaims death; undertaking to insure liberty to the citizen, it decrees bondage; and having encouraged its confiding subjects to start in pursuit of happiness, it presses to their famished lips the bitter cup of disappointment.
Society may, in some respects, be compared to a great forest. We can no more construct a secure and flourishing commonwealth amidst a community of tenants than you can grow a thrifty forest disconnected from the soil. Both men and trees receive their strength and growth from the earth. One tree cannot gather food for another. Each takes from the earth its own nourishment. When it ceases to do so it must perish. And the moment you sever man from the soil and deprive him of the power to return and till the earth in his own right, the love of home perishes within him. He comes as a freeman, and is transformed into a predial slave. And hence, concerning the absorbing question of land reform, we contend that the child who is born while we are penning these thoughts, comes into the world clothed with all the natural rights which Adam possessed when he was the sole inhabitant of the earth. Liberty to occupy the soil in his own right, to till it unmolested, as soon as he has the strength to do so, and to live upon the fruits of his toil without paying tribute to any other creature, are among the most sacred and essential of these rights. Any state of society which deprives him of these natural and inalienable safeguards, is an organized rebellion against the providence of God, a conspiracy against human life, and a menace to the peace of community. When complete readjustment shall come, as come it must quickly, it will proceed in accordance with this fundamental truth. The stone which the builders rejected will then become the head of tlie corner.
The money and transportation problems relate to the second class of inalienable rights above mentioned. But in our day they are so directly related to those conferred by the Creator as to be practically inseparable from them. They are the instrumentalities through which the natural rights of man are rendered available in organized society. Such it is clear, was the conclusion of the Fathers when they incorporated into the Constitution the following among other far-reaching and sweeping provisions.
“Congress shall have power to regulate commerce With foreign nations and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes." .
Whatever may be the meaning of this provision, it is certain that the framers of the Constitution regarded the power to be exercised as too important to be confided to the discretion of individuals or left to the control of the States. It is taken away from both, and grouped with those matters which are of national concern — things which require the united wisdom of the country to solve, and the constant exercise of its combined power to sustain and enforce. When this clause was incorporated into the Constitution, the Union was composed of only thirteen States, grouped together along the Atlantic seaboard; and at that time our internal commerce was but trifling. To-day forty-four fixed stars and four minor planets shine out from our galaxy. Interstate commerce has become annually so vast as to baffle computation. Then we had but three million souls. We now number more than sixty-three millions. We have crowded the nineteenth century full of marvellous achievements ; but during the last quarter of that time there seems to have been a studied effort in certain powerful circles to discredit our Declaration of Independence, and to circumvent all that was accomplished for individual rights by our war for self-government and our later struggle for emancipation. We have been vigilant concerning everything except human rights and constitutional safeguards, and have suffered injuries to be inflicted upon the great body of the people which a century of the wisest legislation possible cannot fully efface.
We will first consider this provision of the Constitution negatively, and point out some things which Congress may not do under this grant of power.
First, Congress cannot disavow the obligation which this provision imposes, retrocede it to the States, or surrender it to the various traffic associations. It cannot grant to individuals or corporations such control over the instruments of commerce as will place the great body of the people at the mercy of those individuals or corporations. It cannot so regulate commerce among the States as to compel the farmers of the Northwest to ship their produce to Chicago and New York when they wish to transport it to St. Louis and New Orleans. The Congress could not prescribe such discriminations in freight rates as would compel Western merchants and jobbers to purchase their supplies in Chicago or Philadelphia when they desire to buy at Des Moines or Omaha. Congress may not prescribe rules for the control of commerce among the States which are designed to bankrupt the merchants and manufacturers of one locality and to enrich those of another. It could not scheme to stimulate the growth of trade in one city or manufacturing centre and to destroy it in another. Congress cannot rightfully grant to individuals and syndicates such control over the public highways and facilities for interstate traffic as will enable them to concentrate the entire cattle trade of the continent into a single city, or number of cities, dominated by a combination of harpies and commercial bandits. It could not conspire with individuals to grant to them such rates of transportation as would build up a gigantic oil monopoly, and enable them to crush out all competing producers and refiners. It could not enter into a conspiracy with the great antlu-acite coal companies to afford them ample facilities to transport their product, and refuse like favors to competing companies.
If Congress should openly attempt to commit such outrages as these, an indignant people would sweep them from place and power like a torrent. If persisted in despite public sentiment, it would be regarded as a declaration that government had been dissolved, and the people would fly to arms as the only refuge from the atrocity.
The Fathers evidently foresaw that evils of this character would arise if the power to regulate commerce were left to individuals or to the States, and hence took it away and vested it exclusively in Congress. aprehending that at some time localities might still attempt to levy tribute upon others, and that Congress itself might not always be disposed to act with fairness, the framers of the Constitution were careful to expressly declare that " No preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce or revenue to the ports of one State over those of another."
We will now consider the powers and corresponding duties which this provision confers and enjoins upon Congress. Commerce among the States consists in the interchange of merchandise or other movable property on an extended scale between the people of the different States. It finds its chief expression in the instruments used in the exchange and transshipment of the same. These are three in number.
2. Facilities for transportation.
3. Facilities for the transmission of intelligence.
It will be readily seen that these instrumentalities are the indispensable factors in modern civilization, and relate directly to the acquisition and distribution of wealth, and hence to the tranquillity of society and the maintenance of personal rights. Faithfully wielded by the general government, they constitute triple-plated armor, capable, if held steadily toward the foe, of turning aside the heaviest projectiles of tyranny, and broad enough to shield at all times the whole body of the people. With this view of the subject before our minds, the wisdom of the provision which vests this power exclusively in Congress, and which excludes the insatiable passion of avarice from any share in its exercise, becomes apparent to all.
How has Congress discharged this important trust, and with what effect upon Democratic institutions ? It will be readily seen that within the limits of this paper we can only treat the subject suggestively. But the mere interrogation foreshadows the startling outlines of our national dilemma, and the prodigious growth of corporate power at once rises like an impassable mountain barrier before the mind. The whole trinity of commercial instruments have been seized by corporations, wrenched from Federal control, and are being used to crush out the inalienable rights of the people. They are interlocked by mutual interests, and advance together in their work of plunder and subjugation. They constantly do all those things which Congress could not do without exciting insurrection. They make war upon organized labor, and annually lay tribute upon a subjugated people greater than was ever exacted by any conqueror or military chieftain since man has engaged in the brutalities of war. They corrupt our elections, contaminate our legislatures, and pollute our courts of justice. They have grown to be stronger than the government; and the army of Pinkertons, which is ever at their bidding, is greater by several thousand than the standing army of the United States. Instead of the government controlling the corporations, the latter dominate every department of State. We may no longer look to Congress, as at present dominated, for the regulation of these facilities. That body is bent on farming out its sovereign power to individuals and corporations, to be used for personal gain.
Our national banking system is the result of a compact between Congress and certain speculative syndicates. Congress agreeing to exercise the power to create the money, to bestow it as a gift, and to enforce its circulation; while the syndicates are to determine the quantity, and say when it shall be issued and retired. No currency whatsoever can be issued under this law unless it is first called for by associated usurers, and then they may retire it again at pleasure. If they decline to call for its issue, the affliction must be borne. If issued, and speculators desire to destroy it, the disastrous sacrifice must be endured. The power of the government to issue lies dormant until evoked by a private syndicate. Then the money flows into their hands, not to be expended in business or paid out for labor, but to be loaned at usury on private account. It cannot be reached by any other citizen of the republic except as it may be borrowed of those favorites, who arbitrarily dispense it solely for personal gain. To obtain it, the borrower must pay to these dispensers of sovereign favor from six to twenty times as much (according to locality) as was paid by the first recipient. It is a fine exhibition of Democratic government to see our Treasury Department create the currency, bestow it as a gift upon money lenders, and then stand by with cruel indifference and witness the misfortunes, the sharp competition, and the afflictions of life drive the rest of its devoted subjects to the feet of these purse-proud barons as suppliants and beggars for extortionate, second-hand favors. This system was borrowed from the mother country, where it was planned to foster established nobility, distinctions of caste, and imperial and dynastic pretensions; and those who planned it have always been satisfied with its operation. This, then, is our situation: —
For a home upon the earth, the poor must sue at the feet of the land speculator.
For our currency, we are remanded to the mercies of a gigantic money trust.
For terms upon which we may use the highways, we must consult the kings of the rail and their private traffic associations.
For rapid transit of information, we bow obligingly to a telegraph monopoly dominated by a single mind.
Our money, our facilities for rapid interstate traffic, the telegraph, —the three subtle messengers of our intensified and advanced civilization, —all appropriated and dominated by private greed; wage labor superseded by the invention of machinery, and the cast-off laborer forbidden to return to the earth and cultivate it in its own right; population rapidly increasing; highways lined with tramps; cities over-crowded and congested; rural districts mortgaged to the utmost limit, and largely cultivated by tenants; crime extending its cancerous roots into the very vitals of society; colossal fortunes rising like Alpine ranges alongside of an ever widening and deepening abyss of poverty; usury respectable, and God's law contemned; corporations formed by thousands to crowd out individuals in the sharp competition for money, and the trust to drive weak corporations to the wall.
Such are some of the evils which have given rise to the discontent now so universal throughout the Union. From the investigations which this unrest has awakened has been evolved the " Threefold Contention of Industry," covering the great questions of Land, Money, and Transportation. Should it be the subject of criticism or matter of astonishment that our industrial people feel compelled to organize for mutual and peaceful defence? That they are actuated by the purest motives and the highest behests of judgment and conscience in making their demands, cannot for one moment be called in question. They are conscious, also, that their contention is based upon the impregnable rock of the Constitution and entrenched in the decisions of our Court of Last Resort. They do not seek to interfere with the rights of others, but to protect their own; to rebuild constitutional safeguards which have been thrown down; to restore to the people their lawful control over the essential instruments of commerce, and to give vitality to those portions of our Great Charter which were framed for the common good of all. Let it be understood that organized labor demands at the bar of public opinion a respectful hearing. It will ask for nothing which it does not believe to be right, and with less than justice it will not be content. Conscious that it hath its quarrel just, in the struggle to obtain its demands it will employ and it invites the use of only such weapons as are proper in the highest type of manly intellectual combat.