WORLD Magazine / Central Ideas / Chapter Eight
Obstacles to Power


Rise of the Corruption Story

Macrostories in Conflict

Breakthrough of the Oppression Story

The Irrepressible Conflict in the Press
Obstacles to Power
Of Muckrakers and Presidents



Central Ideas cover
In one sense, it is surprising that President Andrew Johnson was treated so poorly in the press; his rise contained the stuff of which memorable human interest stories are made. Orphaned and penniless at the age of 4, Johnson became an unschooled tailor who was taught by his wife to read and write. Hard work and good business sense enabled him to make a success of his small shop. Johnson read and thought about politics and government. He paid a man to read to him throughout the day while he plied his needle. Johnson's opponents would often decry his lack of formal education, but the tailor's desire to study and learn began a lifetime pattern of selfeducation: After Johnson was elected senator from Tennessee, he was one of the leading visitors to and borrowers of books from the Library of Congress.

Johnson's problem as president, however, was that during those years of sewing and listening he developed a fixed set of political principles, at the center of which was opposition to governmental and economic centralization. He worried about states becoming "mere satellites of an inferior character, revolving around the great central power " of Washington. "[1] He opposed "concentration of power in the hands of the few. "[2] He opposed government economic activities such as railroad grants, predicting that they would result in "nothing but a series of endless corrupting legislation."[3] Consequently, Johnson was called callow and callous by Horace Greeley and other journalists who saw the federal government as hero in an upcoming saga of forced social restructuring.

Underlying the battle of Greeley versus Johnson during the 3 years following the Civil War were Greeley's hopes for a final victory that would make up for the failed hopes of the 1840s and 1850s. The war won by the north at immense cost must be followed by the winning of the peace, he wrote.[4] That peace, he hoped, could end not just the antagonism of master and slave, but also that of capitalist and worker. The federal government could move from restructuring the south to restructuring the entire country. Socialism in one commune had not worked, but perhaps a shakeup of the entire country would.

Some writers have seen the Radical Republican program of the late 1860s merely as an attempt to punish the south for seceding and to ensure enfranchisement of Blacks. But Senator Thad Stevens, the leading radical politician, argued for federal confiscation of all southern landholdings larger than 200 acres; historian Gregg Singer has observed that,

The radical element of the [Republican] party was determined to cant' out a reconstruction policy in the South as a prelude to the reconstruction they intended to bring about in the nation as a whole. The southern states were to be used as social science laboratories . . . as a kind of pilot study for reconstructing the whole nation . . . .[5]
Andrew Johnson was certainly aware of the danger: From the first, he spoke of his responsibility to defend the Constitution against radical attempts to establish dictatorship. His message to Congress in December 1865, called the federal government "a limited government " that must remain limited if the Constitution is to endure, for "the destruction of the one is the destruction of the other. " The gauntlet was hurled down.

In February 1866, the Radical Republicans passed a bill (to widespread journal istic applause) that gave the federal government total power in the southern states, with federal agents to act as judge and jury. Johnson vetoed it. He argued that it represented

an absorption and assumption of power by the General Government which, if acquiesced in, must sap and destroy our federative system of limited powers, and break down the barriers which preserve the rights of the States. It is another step, or rather stride, to centralization and the concentration of all legislative power in the National Government.[6]
He pointed out that punishments for arrested southerners would not be defined by law but imposed by court martial, and that there would be no appeal from those decisions, not even to the U.S. Supreme Court. Furthermore, he believed that presidential appointment of those august Federal agents gave himself or other presidents too much power, power "as in time of peace certainly ought never to be entrusted to any one man. "[7] Leading journalists called Johnson a traitor, weakling, coward, bribed drunkard, and murderer: The Milwaukee Sentinel ludicrously charged that "Johnson was privy to Lincoln's assassination.[8]

Johnson also disapproved of the welfare parts of the bill's segment concerning aid to Blacks: "A system for the support of indigent persons . . . was never contemplated by the authors of the Constitution. "[9] Johnson was not a person who lacked compassion for the exslaves: He told a delegation of Black leaders that he wished their goal of full political, social, and economic equality "could be done in the twinkling of an eye, but it is not in the nature of things, and I do not assume or pretend to be wiser than Providence. "[10] Johnson preferred charitable initiatives to federal programs, and personally sent $1,000 to support a school to educate Black children in Charleston. Fundamentally, however, Johnson argued that Black labor power was essential in the south; economic laws of supply and demand would lead to Black economic advancement that would then give exslaves the power to demand full political rights.

Following his veto, Johnson warned a crowd assembled on the White House lawn that the Radical Republicans wished "to concentrate all power in the hands of a few. "[11] He argued that some radicals hoped to lead the United States toward a repeat of the French Revolution.[12]Johnson dared his opponents to do their worst: They "may talk about beheading, " he said, "but when I am beheaded, I want the American people to be the witness. "[13] He insisted that Blacks would not be able to gain and maintain voting rights merely through new use of federal bayonets: That would just create a White backlash that could delay permanent enfranchisement for decades. Such statements were treated with scorn in much of the press, which provided the radicals in Congress with fresh ammunition every day: Virtually every afternoon the Clerk of the House would read to the assembled members an antiJohnson newspaper clipping, and the radicals would cheer."[14]

Johnson did not give in. In August 1866, he continued to argue that the radicals had "usurped powers which, if permitted, would result in despotism or monarchy itself."[15] Johnson decided to take his case to the country. Before the speaking tour, Senator Doolittle of Wisconsin warned Johnson not to "allow the excitement of the moment to draw from you any extemporaneous speeches. You are followed by the reporters of a hundred presses who do nothing but misrepresent."[16] Doolittle was right, as historian George Milton has related:

Johnson swayed those who heard him. Time after time he faced a hostile crowd and converted it into a friendly one. But while he was convincing a hundred thousand, the Radical correspondents, in reporting his speeches, so distorted and misrepresented them that they turned three million against him.[17]
Greeley's New York Tribune, instead of printing the substance of Johnson's remarks, portrayed Johnson as a moron who was good only for "gritting his teeth, and accompanying his words with violent gesticulation."[18]

Johnson, in his speeches, repeatedly answered the accusations against him and tried to explain the world view underlying his policies. In New York City on August 29, 1866, in Utica on August 31, and in Buffalo on September 3, he talked about the nature of treason, the wonder of God's mercy, and the threat of dictatorship. Just as journalists who emphasized man's corruption and God's grace had done, he applied the Bible to political events, telling St. Louis residents that "The Saviour of man came on earth and found the human race condemned and sentenced under the law, but when they repented and believed, he said let them live. "1[19] In Cincinnati he proclaimed, "If I have pardoned traitors I have only obeyed the injunction of scripture to forgive the repentant . . . . Hang eight millions of people! Who ever heard of such a thing? Yet because I refuse to do this, I am called a traitor."[20] He told the crowds that because God had been merciful to them, they should be merciful to other offenders. He typically concluded with his desire to have 36 states in the Union, and not to end up with 25, due to the exclusion of the South.

Radical partisans ridiculed Johnson's concerns. Journalist David Ross Locke had his humorous persona, "Petroleum V. Nasby, " give mocking reports of Johnson's supposedly drunken progress:

He wuz fightin traitors on all sides . . . . all he wanted now wuz to heal the wounds uv the nashen . . . he mite hev been Dicktater, but woodent; and ended with a poetickal cotashun which I coodent ketch . . . . He asked em, ef he was Judis Iskariot who wuz the Saviour? . . . The crowd hollered `Grant! Grant!' and the President thanked em for the demonstration. It showed him that the people wuz with him in his efforts to close his eyes on a Union uv 36 States and a flag uv 36 stars onto it.[21]
The Cleveland Leader called Johnson's speech in that city "the most disgraceful ever delivered by any president of the United States. "[22] Greeley's Tribune called Johnson's trip "the stumping tour of an irritated demagogue, " and Lowell in the North American Review labeled it "an indecent orgy. "[23]

Testimony during Johnson's impeachment trial would show that one frequent charge against Johnson that he was a drunkardwas a vicious untruth; the only drunkard during the trip was General Grant, who accompanied Johnson but in Cleveland was put aboard a boat to Detroit so that his condition would not be revealed.[24] The New York Tribune and Joseph Medill's Chicago Tribune were particularly biased.[25] The Independent gave Johnson "lascivious " eyes, "the face of a demagogue " and "the heart of a traitor. "[26] The magazine argued that Johnson was a "trickster . . . touched with insanity, corrupted with lust, stimulated with drink.[27]

Month after month the drumbeat went on: "We have demanded and shall continue to demand that this Aaron Burr, this Benedict Arnold, this Andrew Johnson shall be put out of the way of injuring the government which he first disgraced, then betrayed, and would willingly destroy. "[28] The roughness of some of Johnson's extemporaneous sentences allowed other putdowns: Greeley snorted in one editorial that Johnson's "verbs never agree with their nominatives, or their hearers or anything else."[29] George Milton has correctly described press coverage of Johnson's speaking in this way:

The type of thing that the Radical press had to say about this President of the United States shows to what low estate journalism had fallen. Editorially and in their news columns, such papers as Joseph Medill's Chicago Tribune and Horace Greeley's New York Tribune gave vent to vituperation which a decent man would be asked to apply to a convict.[30]
Johnson had convicted himself in the eyes of many reporters and editors when he refused to support radical demands for governmental centralization and social revolution in the South. There were some limits on Johnson-bashing: A St. Louis reporter was fired after he filed a largely imaginary account of a Johnson speech.[31] But as long as a journalist provided the minimum of fact and contextualized it in a way that heaped ridicule on the President, he was not only safe but often applauded.

In 1867, the situation of the moderates deteriorated further. Thad Stevens was so confident that he began to proclaim openly his revolutionary intentions: When he pushed forward a bill to divide the south into military districts, with commanders having arbitrary power for an indefinite period of time, he argued baldly that "every government is a despotism, " and that his bill was crucial because it "would assure the ascendancy of the Union [Republican] party. "[32] The radical willingness to use violence had not stopped with John Brown's terrorism and the resultant war: The Independent, which earlier had demanded the execution of southern leaders, screamed in September, 1867, "The People [capital P] are waiting anxiously for the impeachment of the President, " and if Johnson tried to stop the process, "let him be tried by a court martial, and shot by twelve soldiers in a hollow square."[33]

Many newspapers, serving as organs of a dominant party and perhaps propelling that party toward greater extremism, had their greatest power ever. Those radical newspapers, of course, did not have monopoly power at that time, because moderate newspapers existed in most cities. But the influence of the radical press was great, and newspaper vituperation certainly contributed to Johnson's impeachment by the House of Representatives on February 24, 1868.

Greeley and Medill were exultant following the impeachment, as the House began presenting its evidence for the Senate trial. Johnson did not give up. One Sunday after church Johnson read a Bible passage to an attendant:

Behold, here I am: Witness against me before the Lord . . . whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed' or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it to you.[34]
But truth was a porous defense against a furious Greeley, who charged that any senator who sided with Johnson was dishonest.[35] Magazines such as The Nation and newspapers such as the Washington Chronicle and the Philadelphia Press also fought their opponents not with open argument, but by wholesaling words such as "corrupt, " "scoundrel, " "fraudulent, " and "dishonorable."[36]

A two thirds vote of the Senate was needed to convict Johnson, and the pressure on Republican senators to fall in line was enormous. In the end, when one more Senate vote was needed to convict Johnson, his future came down to a decision by a Kansas printerturnedpolitician, Edmund G. Ross. Ross' backgroundantislavery immigrant to Kansas in 1856 and leader of radical forces thereled Greeley to believe that he would vote to convict. Yet, Ross had replied to demands that he prejudge Johnson by writing, "I have taken an oath to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, and trust that I shall have the courage to vote according to the dictates of my judgment . . . . "[37]

Ross displayed that courage and refused to convict Johnson. A Kansas newspaper editorialized that Ross had sold

himself, and betrayed his constituents; stultified his own record . . . and to the utmost of his poor ability signed the death warrant of his country's liberty. This act was done deliberately, because the traitor, like Benedict Arnold, loved money better than he did principle, friends, honor and his country, all combined. Poor, pitiful, shriveled wretch, with a soul so small that a little pelf would outweigh all things else that dignify or ennoble mankind.[38]
Greeley attacked Ross with particular viciousness, calling him "the greatest criminal of the age . . . a miserable poltroon and traitor.[39]

After Johnson's close escape, Greeley kept up his attacks. For the 1868 election he backed U. S. Grant, who had joined the radicals. Greeley told Tribune readers that a Grant triumph would mean great prosperity, but a victory for Democratic candidate Horatio Seymour would begin "the first phase of the counterrevolution . . . Anarchy and strife, terrorism and assassination, will pervade that section where the fires of Rebellion still smolder."[40] Thomas Nast's cartooning in Harper's Weekly was so effective that Grant afterward said he owed his election to "the sword of Sheridan and the pencil of Thomas Nast. "[41] Meanwhile, Grant received adulatory coverage from the New York Tribune and other newspapers; the Philadelphia Enquirer was typical in its depiction of him as "the possessor of those analytical powers which enable men to judge character with close and correct appreciation."[42]

In 1869, with Johnson returning to Tennessee and Grant's analytical powers in the saddle, there was no check on the Washington radical forces and their campaign contributors. One observer, George W. Julian, wrote, "I have never seen such lobbying before as we have had in the last few weeks and such crookedness and complicity among members. "[43] Another, James W. Grimes, complained that "the war has corrupted everybody and everything. "[44] What Leggett had feared was coming true: The federal government now had such power that citizens were becoming "mere puppets of legislative cobbling and tinkering. " Those business leaders who had backed the Radical Republican power grab called in their markers, and the New York Herald was able to observe that "All our railroad legislation is procured by corrupt practices and is formed in the interest of jobbery. "[45]

The corruption of many Radical Republican state governments in the South during Reconstruction is legendary. With radical newspapers-42 in Georgia alone-supported by government revenues, the press often tried to cover up scandals. Newspapers received contracts for public printing at high rates and then received more money than even those contracts allowed. In South Carolina, for example, the Charleston Republican was supposed to receive $24,538 but received $60,982 instead; the Columbia Daily Record, after contracting at unusually high rates that would have yielded $17,174, was paid $59,988. Bribes and payoffs were so common that one South Carolina senator, C. P. Leslie, was able to produce a classic line in their defense: "The State has no right to be a State until she can afford to take care of her statesmen. "[46] The most famous episode of the day came when the Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives lost a $1,000 bet on a horse and, 3 days later was voted a gratuity to cover his loss, in tribute to "the dignity and ability with which he has presided. "[47]

Ironically, with all this press concern for the character of President Johnson and certain senators, scandals involving Radical Republican leaders at first were downplayed. When radical leader Schuyler Colfax, accused of receiving a bribe, took 10 days to produce a weak defensehe talked about a $1,000 bill arriving unsolicited in the mailmost radical newspapers rushed to his defense. The Boston Advertiser was typical when it called the charge "all fuss and parade."[48] Cartoonist Nast, scourge of Tweed Ring politicians and other nonradical miscreants, was told by a friend, "The whole subject offers a rich theme for your pencil, but I doubt the wisdom of availing yourself of it. "[49] Nast did not.

Eventually, however, some editors became cranky about covering up ever more scandals. Leading Republican editors such as Greeley, Horace White (who had assumed editorship of the Chicago Tribune), and Samuel Bowles of the Springfield Republican, joined with moderates such as Murat Halstead of the Cincinnati Daily Commercial and Henry Watterson of the Louisville CourierJournal, in a search for an alternative to Grant. At a confused "Liberal Republican " convention in 1872, Greeley fulfilled part of his lifelong ambition by snatching the nomination from Charles Francis Adams, son and grandson of presidents. However, Greeley missed the great prize as he was smashed by Grant's popularity; given the Tribune's earlier boosting of Grant, in one sense the Greeley defeat was a story of Frankenstein's monster turning on Frankenstein.

Greeley, heartbroken, died 3 weeks after his electoral defeat. At the funeral, liberal minister Henry Ward Beecher was upbeat: "Today, between the two oceans, there is hardly an intelligent man or child that does not feel the influence of Horace Greeley. "[50] But Greeley had a different summingup. As he was dying, perhaps speaking wildly, he said, "My life has been a fevered march, " and he

had been tempted by the glittering bait of the Presidency .... And now, having done wrong to millions while intending only good to hundreds, I pray God that he may quickly take me from a world where all I have done seems to have turned to evil, and wherein each hour has long been and henceforth must be one of agony, remorse, and shame.[51]
In one of his last statements Greeley wrote:
I stand naked before my God, the most utterly, hopelessly wretched and undone of all who ever lived. I have done more harm and wrong than any man who ever saw the light of day. And yet I take God to witness that I have never intended to injure or harm anyone. But this is no excuse.[52]
Senator Ross of Kansas, who in Greeley's words deserved "everlasting infamy" for refusing to convict Andrew Johnson, had a happier ending, after much suffering. In the short run Ross was infamous: He was burned in effigy many times, and a justice of the Supreme Court of Kansas suggested that he commit suicide. At a mass meeting in Lawrence led by a man named Hugh Cameron, Ross was warned not to return to Kansas; when he did so, a local tough invaded his print shop and beat Ross so thoroughly that the exsenator never completely recovered his health. Years later, however, Grover Cleveland appointed Ross governor of the Territory of New Mexico, and one day Ross was amazed to see Hugh Cameron. Cameron had walked all the way from Kansas to New Mexico to apologize for his leadership of that mass meeting.

During Grant's second term, public opinion turned against the Radical Republicans. In the 1876 election, Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden gained 250,000 more votes than the Republican candidate, Rutherford Hayes, and piled up safe majorities in all the states he needed to win the Electoral College except for three (Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana) where he had narrower leads. Only some Electoral College chicanery allowed Hayes to assume officebut on condition that the radical program for the south be abandoned.

Johnson's predictions of a southern White backlash proved accurate, and southern Blacks were left free but still in chains for several generations. Their erstwhile allies in the northern press moved on to other concerns; the New York Tribune justified its malign neglect by declaring that "after ample opportunity to develop their own latent capacities " the exslaves had proven that "as a race they are idle, ignorant, and vicious."[53] A prediction of The Nation proved accurate for several generations: "The negro will disappear from the field of national politics. Henceforth the nation, as a nation, will have nothing more to do with him. "[54]

The end of reconstruction in the South also signalled the complete failure of attempts to reconstruct economically the north. With the Christian ideas of the early 19th century largely abandoned, but no ideology yet dominant enough to take its place, some reporters in large cities embraced a total cynicism; others, seeing death and destruction occurring apparently at random, embraced a Social Darwinist faith in natural determinism. The chief spokesman of the latter was Yale professor William Graham Sumner, who believed that blind evolutionary forces had created man, and argued that all life is a struggle against the forces of nature, with some surviving and other proving inadequate.[55] Tooth-and-claw was the way the world worked and the way any society had to work:

Nothing but might has ever made right . . . . If a thing has been done and is established by force (that is no force can reverse it), it is right in the only sense we can know and rights will follow from it which are not vitiated at all by the forces in it.[56]
Reporters who applied that thinking often became ruthless in their invasion of privacy to get a story. For example, the New York Tribune, which maintained its materialism following Greeley's death and shifted easily toward Sumner's views, treated suicide as a helpful selfselection of the unfit and cheered for the stronger side in international conflicts, regardless of justifications.[57]

Small town newspapers, however, often showed a less strained quality of mercy. Typical news reports showed crime as affecting not only the criminal and his victims, but family members of all involved; one poignant story told of an old outlaw who resisted arrest and was killed, along with his 10yearold grandson.[58] Concern for family also was evident in a story of a man unable or unwilling to support his wife and two small children, who were housed temporarily in the city hospital: "Mrs. Dongan is hardly thirty, but her sorrows and heartaches have changed her features so that she appears to be fifty years old. Her children are aged 8 and 4. "[59] An article headlined "A WIFE BEATER ARRESTED " told how a man

had tanked up on mean whiskey and went home and lit into his wife, who was dreaming on her pillow. The woman was badly bruised up, and the husband will get his reward in the county court.[60]
When smalltown newspaper editors assembled at press association conventions, they frequently spoke about the obligations they felt in protecting "the sacredness of home and private affairs. "[61] These beliefs influenced reporting methodology as well as results. For example, a Dallas reporter was interviewing a woman who had abandoned her husband to run away with another man. The new man proved to be a bum. The woman was thinking of returning to her husband. The husband was coming to talk with her. The story of the interview continued as follows:
Just at this point of the conversation the door of the room in which Mrs. Finnegan and the reporter were in opened and a clean shaved gentleman, neatly dressed, and who looked to be about 30 years old, entered. He glanced from the reporter to Mrs. Finnegan and stretching out his hand appealingly, said, "Jennie. . . "

The reporter, recognizing in the gentleman by his actions Mrs. Finnegan's husband and feeling the weight of his presence, retired from the room into another where he thought to wait for an interview with Finnegan, but owing to the fact that the husband and wife in their excitement raised their voices so that almost every word they spoke could be heard by the reporter, he left the house not caring to be a listener to their conversation.[62]

Some regional newspapers during this period showed an impressive willingness to take stands against expansion of centralized government power, and to stick to that policy even when it hurt. For example, in 1886 and 1887 West Texas faced an enormous drought, and Congress passed a bill appropriating $10,000 for the distribution of seeds to farmers in that area. When President Grover Cleveland vetoed the bill, arguing that it was wrong "to indulge a benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public funds for that purpose, " the Dallas News supported the veto, even though the appropriation would have benefited some of its own readers.[63]

The Dallas News did not stop there, however. It noted that Cleveland's message "recalled Congress more strictly to constitutional lines of thought " and served an additional purpose: The message "advertised in a special manner to the whole country the deplorable fact of the suffering, " and proposed private and church philanthropy.[64] The News established a relief fund, and so did some newspapers from other states; for example, the Louisville CourierJournal announced plans for raising and forwarding aid to West Texas, and editorialized that

We believe Kentucky alone will send $10,000 in seed or in money. She will do it because those men are bone of our bone, and to justify the President's confidence that the people will do what is right. "[65]
Reporters emphasized the words of Clara Barton, president of the American Red Cross, after she toured the troubled areas: "The counties which have suffered from drought need help, without doubt, but not help from Congress. " Private sources could do the job, she added, and she was right. Contributions arrived from all over Texas; the people of Kentucky and other states responded also. West Texas eventually received not $10,000 of Federal funding, but over $100,000 in private aid.

The editorial power of other regional leaders, such as the Kansas City Star, was also in line with the wellknown passage from Edmund Burke:

To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed toward a love to our country, and to mankind. [66]
Star editor William Rockhill Nelson made a success of the newspaper by emphasizing community news and encouraging selfhelp. He publicized and praised those who grew better corn or cattle, or baked better cakes. Improvements in local buttermaking were not seen as of secondary importance to national political developments.[67]

Nelson, like Horace Greeley a generation earlier, promised readers rapid coverage of local events:

news will be furnished of fires before the smoke has cleared; murders, before the body of the victim is cold in death; and weddings, before the happy bride can collect her senses or the groom put on his traveling duster. The Evening Star proposes in brief to give all the news with lightninglike rapidity and deadly precision.[68]
But Nelson differed from Greeley by emphasizing personal rather than societal change; Nelson, uninterested in the oppression story, emphasized examination of the ethical conduct (or corruption) of individuals. At a time when the James gang was praised by some for its vaunted (and exaggerated) policy of income redistribution, the Star offered a large reward for the arrest of Jesse James and others, and editorialized that
Few perhaps realize how much damage Missouri has sustained from the exploits of the James and Younger gang. The failure to bring justice on any of those desperadoes has produced a general impression throughout the country that the majority of Missourians are in sympathy with lawlessness and violence.[69]
The Star also fought for restrictions on governmental power and on governmental provision of monopolies to favored groups. Eight Kansas City aldermen in 1882 were under the thumb of the Corrigan streetrailway monopoly and its muledrawn cars; the Star termed them the "Shameless Eight " and, in a 2-year battle, stopped the franchise monopoly. Nelson wrote,
If I owned the Metropolitan Street Railway, I would run it just as I try to run the Star. I wouldn't ask for a franchise. I would simply furnish such good service that the people would always be scared to death for fear I would go out of business.[70]
The Star constantly emphasized individual initiative, not government action. Nelson urged backyard vegetable gardens, conducted an experiment on a trial acre to show that good profits could be realized from intense cultivation of a small tract of land, and distributed free pamphlets giving the results of the experiment. Seeing alcoholism as destructive of character and not wanting to be compromised in his fight against it, Nelson gave up $50,000 in whiskey advertising. He saw the little platoons of the small town that Kansas City still was a crucial force in avoiding the problems beginning to plague eastern and midwestern urban areas: "The fact that local politics in large cities is generally corrupt is no reason why Kansas City should consider gang rule an essential part of its metropolitan government. "[71] This type of local emphasis, and interest in rooting out corruption rather than declaiming about oppression, was a serious obstacle to fulfillment of the old, Greeleyite dreams during the last quarter of the century. This became particularly evident as the debate about income inequality and social reform that had led to the commune movement of the 1840s and 1850s broke out anew during the 1880s and 1890s. Emphasis on limiting governmental power could be found not only on the pages of newspapers in Kansas City and Texas but in the columns of the New York Times, edited by the successors of Henry Raymond (who had died in 1869, 3 years before Greeley).

The Times became known for publicizing and editorially backing the conclusions of New York's most famous social worker of the 1880s, Josephine Shaw Lowell, when she warned that even temporary governmental relief of the poor "has the tendency to become regular and permanent . . . when it has once been accepted, the barrier is broken down . . . . "[72] She argued that guaranteed income "tends to break down character, " and added that "it is the greatest wrong that can be done to him to undermine the character of a poor man. "[73] Intrinsic in the writing of both Mrs. Lowell and the Times was the belief that man is naturally corrupt, and that changes in material are second in importance to changes in worldview.[74]

That understanding was increasingly opposed during the last two decades of the century by some popular journalists who saw natural goodness ruined by an oppressive environment. Edward Bellamy was only one of hundreds who emerged from newspaper work to write "social problem " novels such as Dr. Heidenhoff' s Process (1879), which enthusiastically forecast modern `shock' treatments for neurosis. Bellamy hit it big nearly a decade later with Looking Backward, 20001887. In that novel, a man through a curious mishap found himself alive, without having aged, 100 years in the future. The world was radically transformed, with peace and abundance for alland the secret was merely "cooperation. " Folks could get all they wanted from cooperative stores. Folks also attained oneness with the universe. Freedom was nonexistentpeople were members of an industrial armybut this minor flaw was largely ignored.

Hundreds of newspapers serialized and distributed the writings of Bellamy, Henry George, and other radicals.[75] The set speeches of Looking Backward and its followup tract, Equality, were learned by a generation of future social reformers:

How can men be free who must ask the right to labor and to live from their fellowmen and seek their bread from the hands of others? How else can any government guarantee liberty to men save by providing them a means of labor and of life coupled with independence; and how could that be done unless the government conducted the economic system upon which employment and maintenance depend?[76]

Underlying this appealing doctrine was a view of man's nature completely opposite to that imbedded within corruptionstory journalism:

Soon was fully revealed what the divines and philosophers of the old world never would have believed, that human nature in its essential qualities is good, not bad, that men by their natural intention and structure are generous, not selfish, pitiful, not cruel, sympathetic, not arrogant . . . [77]
In short, men were "godlike . . . images of God indeed."[78]

In the early 1890s some newspapers and magazines also began giving favorable publicity to the work of early "Christian socialists " such as Professor Richard Ely. Ely founded the American Economic Association "to strive to find out the underlying principles of industrial society ";[79] his goal was to apply principles enunciated by Brisbane and Greeley to all of American society, and he demanded that all unite behind the "coercive philanthropy . . . of governments, either local, state, or national."[80] Journalists fulsomely praised the gospel of salvationthroughgovernment that was promoted by books such as William H. Fremantle's The World as the Subject of Redemption."[81] Government alone, Fremantle asserted, "can embrace all the wants of its members and afford them the universal instruction and elevation which they need. "[82]

Much of the new doctrine was cloaked within older theological robes. Fremantle, for example, praised the worship of governmental power as a mere furtherance of Christian worship of God: "When we think of it [the Nation] as becoming, as it must do more and more, the object of mental regard, of admiration, of love, even of worship (for in it preeminently God dwells) we shall recognize to the fullest extent its religious character and functions. "[83] He saw the Nation as the new Church, and as such obligated to take on the church's traditional functions of charity:

We find the Nation alone fully organized, sovereign, independent, universal, capable of giving full expression to the Christian principle. We ought, therefore, to regard the Nation as the Church, its rulers as ministers of Christ, its whole body as a Christian brotherhood, its public assemblies as amongst the highest modes of universal Christian fellowship, its dealing with material interests as Sacraments, its progressive development, especially in raising the weak, as the fullest service rendered on earth to God, the nearest thing as yet within our reach to the kingdom of heaven.[84]
It is hard to know how much of this many journalists absorbed and believedbut, as the next chapter shows, the notions of Bellamy, Ely, Fremantle, and others began to receive wide press support in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It was easier to attribute problems to social maladjustment than to innate sinfulness; if personality was a social product, individuals were not responsible for their vices. Crime reporting began to change as journalists began to attribute "antisocial action " to the stress of social factors beyond an individual's control. Editorial pages began calling for new governmental action as that action was seen not merely as a way of dividing up spoils but as a means to achieve a cooperative commonwealth, in which men and women could become godlike. Not just at populist meetings and granger halls, but in newspaper offices as well,
thoughts and theories sprouted like weeds after a May shower . . . . They discussed income tax and single tax; they talked of government ownership and the abolition of private property; fiat money, and the unity of labor, . . . and a thousand conflicting theories.[85]

To summarize: During the 30 years after the civil war the oppression story, although not apparent on most newspaper front pages, was putting down deep roots. Greeleyite ideas were slowly triumphing over those of Raymond; Greeleyite beliefs in man's natural goodness, and their typical political manifestation in an attack on individual property and a call for federal power, were becoming marketable commodities. Ideologies contending that the problem was not individual corruption but systemic oppression were becoming more acceptable, but they still needed the right press packaging.

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CHAPTER 8 Obstacles to Power Notes

1. Frank Moore, Life and Speeches of Andrew Johnson (Boston, 1865), p. 471.

2. Ibid., p. 484.

3. Johnson quoted in Claude G. Bowers, The Tragic Era (New York, 1929), p. 41.

4. See William Harlan Hale, Horace Greeley, Voice of the People (New York, 1950), and Glynden Garlock Van Deusen, Horace Greeley: Nineteenth Century Crusader (Philadelphia, 1953).

5. C. Gregg Singer, A Theological Interpretation of American History, rev. ed. (Phillipsburgh, NJ, 1964), pp. 88-89.

6. Bowers, p. 109.

7. Ibid., loc. cit.

8. George Milton, The Age of Hate (New York, 1930), p. 357.

9. Ibid, p. 287.

10. Ibid., loc. cit.

11. National Intelligencer, February 23, 1866.

12. Gideon Welles, Diary (Boston, 1911), II, 432.

13. Ibid., loc. cit.

14. David Miller DeWitt, The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson (New York, 1903), p. 62.

15. Milton, p. 354.

16. Ibid., p. 359.

17. Ibid., loc. cit.

18. New York Tribune, February 26, 1866.

19. New York Herald, September 10, 1866.

20. Ibid., September 13, 1866.

21. David Ross Locke, Swingin Round the Circle (Boston, 1867), pp. 210-217.

22. Cleveland Leader, September 4, 1866.

23. Sarah Watts, The Press and the Presidency (New York, 1985), p. 211.

24. Ibid., loc. cit.

25. New York Tribune, September 6, 1866, and subsequent days.

26. The Independent, September 6, 1866.


28. Ibid., August 15, 1867.

29. New York Tribune, October 25, 1869.

30. Watts, p. 212.

31. Ibid., loc. cit.

32. Congressional Globe, January 3, 1867.

33."The Public Situation," The Independent, September 19, 1867.

34. 1 Samuel 12:3.

35. New York Tribune, May 14, 18, 23, 1868.

36. The Nation, May 21, 1868.

37. Quoted in John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (New York, 1963), p. 143.

38. Ibid., p. 148.

39. New York Tribune, May 14, 18, 23, 1868.

40. Ibid., September 2, 1868.

41. Albert Bigelow Paine, Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures (New York, 1904), p. 129.

42. Quoted in New York World, March 6, 1869.

43. Bowers, p. 284.

44. Ibid., loc. cit.

45. New York Herald, April 19, 1870.

46. Bowers, p. 355.

47. Ibid., loc. cit.

48. Quoted in New York World, February 8, 1873.

49. Paine, p. 270.

50. New York Tribune, December 5, 1872.

51. Hale, pp. 351-352.

52. November 13 statement quoted in Van Deusen, p. 423.

53. New York Tribune, April 7, 1877.

54. The Nation, April 5, 1877, p. 202.

55. Sumner said, "If we do not like the survival of the fittest, we have only one possible alternative, and that is the survival of the unfittest. The former is the law of civilization; the latter is the law of anticivilization. We have our choice between the two, or we can go on, as in the past, vacillating between the two, but a third plan, the social desideratuma plan for nourishing the unfittest and yet advancing civilization, no man will ever find." Christianity was that third plan, but Summer found it wanting.

56. William Graham Sumner, Folkways (Boston, 1906), p. 65.

57. See Marvin Olasky, "Social Darwinism on the Editorial Page," Journalism Quarterly, Fall, 1988, pp. 420-424.

58. Dallas Morning News, November 15, 1887.

59. Dallas Daily Times Herald, January 29, 1891.

60. Ibid., January 17, 1891.

61. See Proceedings of the Texas Press Association from 1880 to 1900.

62. Dallas Daily Times Herald, January 30, 1891.

63. See Marvin Olasky, "Lenin, Grover Cleveland and Election Year Economics," Countywide, November 1, 1984.

64. Ibid.

65. Ibid.

66. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (London, 1960), p. 44.

67. Icie F. Johnson, William Rockhill Nelson and the Kansas City Star (Kansas City, 1935), p. 81.

68. Kansas City Star, September 20, 1880.

69. Johnson, p. 61.

70. Ibid., p. 80.

71. "Where the Responsibility Rests," Kansas City Star, October 24, 1892.

72. Josephine Shaw Lowell, Public Relief and Private Charity (New York, 1884), p. 66.

73. Ibid., loc. cit.

74. Lowell's worldview also led her to emphasize effect on character: the problem with "outdoor relief," she wrote, is that "It fails to save the recipient of relief and community from moral harm, because human nature is so constituted that no man can receive as a gift what he should earn by his own labor without a moral deterioration. . ."

75. Many small newspapers came and went as the Greenback movement, along with political elements of the Granger and National Alliance farm movements, had their days in the sun. Most during the 1870-1900 period concentrated on useful ways to improve business and perhaps buy and sell in bulk to attain better prices; there may have been a thousand such newspapers, with circulation in the hundreds of thousands. Others appealed to envy and hatred.

76. Edward Bellamy, Equality (New York, 1897), p. 17.

77. Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (Chicago, 1890), p. 276.

78. Ibid., loc. cit.

79. Richard Ely, Social Aspects of Christianity (New York, Thomas Crowell, 1895), pp. 2425. This quotation is from Ely's second edition; the first edition was published in 1889.

80. Ibid., p. 92.

81. The book, published in a second edition in New York by Longmans, Green in 1895, was based on a series of eight lectures Fremantle delivered at Oxford in 1883. The lectures by Freeman, who was Canon of Canterbury and Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, excited little attention either then or immediately upon their initial publication in 1885, but during the 1890s Ely's promotion of the book was extremely successful. By the middle of the decade, as Fremantle proudly noted, his work was "placed in the line of succession, reaching down from Aristotle's Politics . . ." (p. x)

82. Ibid, pp. 278-280.

83. Ibid., pp. 278-279.

84. Ibid., p. 281.

85. See Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West (New York, 1902).