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What was the sentiment regarding government control of railroads in Gilded-Age America?

What was the sentiment regarding government control of railroads in Gilded-Age America?

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I know this is a bit of a broad question, but what did leading thinkers and the American public think about government control of railroads as they were coming into widespread use post-Reconstruction?

I've heard two different stories: that there was demand for the government to own railroads and that there was pressure only for regulation of railroads. I'm sure they were both around to some degree, but was one more dominant than the other?

Even if you don't have a definite answer, I'd appreciate any hints as to where I should look. Quick Google searches haven't served me well in this case. My curiosity stems from all the talk of net neutrality and such, with the government regulating the Internet. I'm in a class which is currently studying the Gilded Age and we've talked about the emergence of railroads a great deal. I'm wondering how the public handled a groundbreaking technology like railroads compared to how we're handling the Internet today.

Railroads were considered by economic historians to be central to the development of the United States beginning from the second half of the 19th century.

Despite this obvious benefit, farmers and city dwellers alike feared that the railroads were earn monopoly profits by "charging what the market would bear." Beginning in the 1880s, there were calls for regulation. The earliest issue was one of equal tariffs for everyone (large and small, local and national consumers), and disclosure of the same, because railroads represented interstate commerce. This was equivalent to today's call for "net neutrality."

Later (post Gilded Age, "Progressive") calls for regulation included the rate regulation of railroads almost as if they were utilities, with price caps that would allow a fair rate of return for the railroads, but prevent them from using their (quasi) monopoly powers to maximize profits. This was instituted through the Hepburn Act of 1906 and later legislation.

I think you must study President Grant, the economic depression of his tenure, the Black Hills gold, and the unjust war against the Plains Indians. President Grant facilitated the railroads to bring in settlers, kill all the buffalo to starve the Indians, and take over the Black Hills gold fields to support the country's economy. The Federal government supported the railroad magnates by giving them the land along the railroads, obviously a huge asset for the developing economy.

Political Parties


Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President (1861–1865) / Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons

Republican presidents dominated the White House from the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 until election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. The only two Democrats elected during that interval were former Governor Grover Cleveland of New York, who was conservative enough that Republicans were more or less content with his election, and Woodrow Wilson, elected in 1912 when the Republican Party split between incumbent President William Howard Taft and Progressive candidate Theodore Roosevelt.

The Republican Party held a slight edge in national politics, largely on their repeated claim that it was the Democratic Party that had caused the Civil War. Republicans were noted for waving the “Bloody Shirt,” calling Democrats responsible for the blood that was shed over secession. Starting with General Grant, Republicans nominated former Civil War officers in every election through 1900 except in 1884, again cashing in on the legacy of the war. Union veterans gravitated heavily to the Republican Party in fact, the Grand Army of the Republic was actually an auxiliary of the GOP.

Another part of the Republican base was African-American voters who tended to vote Republican—the party of Lincoln and emancipation—whenever they could. The gradual disenfranchisement of blacks in the South tended to erode the Republican base as the century progressed. Republicans were also known as the party of business, and they supported protective tariffs, transportation improvements and a tight money policy. Their philosophy, derived from the fact that the party was dominated by business, was that what was good for business was good for everyone else, including workers.

The Republican Party consisted heavily of Northern Protestants and Americans descended from older generations. Ethnically they were supported by Scandinavians, German Lutherans, and English Methodists and Anglicans. They were shunned by Catholics because of their opposition to parochial schools, and immigrants sometimes disagreed with their policy that all teaching in schools must be in English. The Republicans divided into two camps, the Stalwarts and the Half Breeds. Although the two groups despised each other they did not differ on issues the goal of each bloc was political power, nothing more. Their bickering had a marked negative impact on the ability of the government to conduct its business.

Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States (1829–1837) and the first Democratic President. / Bureau of Engraving and Printing & Smithsonian Institution, Wikimedia Commons

Before the Civil War the Democratic Party had become a heavily Southern party, and its strong Southern base continued until well into the 20th century. By 1900 the Democrats controlled most of the southern states, but they had difficulty electing a candidate to the White House they could not win national office with a Confederate Civil War veteran. As mentioned above, the only Democratic president elected between 1860 and 1900 was Grover Cleveland, who was elected twice, in 1884 and 1892 he was the only American president with split terms. In the South, however, Confederate veterans had the advantage in most elections. The section was dominated by the so-called Bourbons, conservative old Southern leaders.

A few anti-tariff businessmen were Democrats, along with some merchants and other business people. Democrats were just as conservative on money issues as Republicans: the politics of business was common to both parties. The northern wing of the Democratic Party leaned heavily in favor of the working classes, whose demographic makeup included Roman Catholics of German and Irish descent, white Southern Baptists, and many of the working class immigrants once they became eligible to vote. Democratic machines in the cities such as Tammany Hall in New York worked hard to get them registered and active in politics.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans were willing to take strong stands on issues important to the voters. The sectionalism that had been prevalent prior to the Civil War was still alive and well, and with the evenness of political party affiliations, candidates’ personalities were important. Noted British historian James Bryce, who first visited the United States in 1870, observed firsthand the lack of action on specific issues. He wrote:

Neither party has, as a party, anything definite to say on these issues neither party has any clean-cut principles, any distinctive tenets. Both have traditions. Both claim to have tendencies. Both have certain war cries, organizations, interest and listed in their support. But those interests are in the main interest of getting or keeping the patronage of the government. Distinctive tenets and policies, points of political doctrine and points of political practice, have all but vanished. They have not been thrown away, but have been stripped away by time and the progress of events, fulfilling some policies, blotting out others. All has been lost except office or the hope of it. (James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, 1888, reprint, Indianapolis, 1995, Vol. II, p. 699.)

Neither the Democrats nor Republicans appealed to farmers, which led to the Granger movement, which in turn helped spawn the Populist movement, which eventually became the Populist Party.

Both political parties used machines to mobilize voters and manipulate the system. Shady tactics were openly pursued, and the charge to “vote early and often” started in this era, when political operatives sent their minions all over the cities voting in as many precincts as they could manage. In Philadelphia one ward politician boasted that, “One hundred years ago our forefathers voted for liberty in this city, and they vote here still!” The names of the signers of the Great Declaration had been placed on the voter rolls. One curious journalist noticed that a large number of voters listed the same address as their residence, and upon checking, the journalist discovered that the location was that of a house of ill repute.

Political leaders did not seem particularly embarrassed by the open corruption. Republican Stalwart and machine leader Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York stated: “Parties are not built by deportment, or ladies’ magazines, or gush!” To Benjamin Harrison’s claim that Providence had helped him get elected, Pennsylvania Senator Matthew Quay responded, “Providence didn’t have a damn thing to do with it!” (Harrison later discovered that his support had been bought by the machine: “I could not name my own cabinet. They had sold out every position in the cabinet to pay the expenses.”)

Since neither side wanted to take risks for fear of upsetting the balance of power, complex issues such as the tariff and money bills moved forward slowly. The little people—farmers, laborers, small businessmen—were left out of the political equation except at the local machine level. Journalists tended to oversimplify the issues, and campaigns took on a carnival style, with much sloganeering, booze, bands, girls, and ready cash spread around liberally.

At the city level, although the political machines were known for corruption and shady dealings, there was more to it than met the eye. Machine politicians actually worked very hard for their constituents they would greet immigrants at the dockside, walk the streets in the working districts, and help poor people cut through the red tape generated by the city’s bureaucracy. However, people who were awarded jobs as a result of political activity were obliged to contribute a portion of their wages to the political machines that got them their positions. Those funds, in addition to being used to bribe public officials, also went to provide direct support to those in the greatest need, a kind of ad hoc welfare system. Still, many were concerned about the level of corruption, although the time for full-blown urban reform had not yet arrived.

What were the major issues of the Gilded Age?

Terms in this set (3) *Social issues of the Gilded Age include: *Assimilation for both immigrants and Native Americans was expected by "nativists". Native Americans were often forced off their lands and away from their culture against their will. *Chinese immigrants faced discrimination in education, housing, and jobs.

Beside above, what were the economic issues of the Gilded Age? Rapid economic growth generated vast wealth during the Gilded Age. New products and technologies improved middle-class quality of life. Industrial workers and farmers didn't share in the new prosperity, working long hours in dangerous conditions for low pay. Gilded Age politicians were largely corrupt and ineffective.

Keeping this in consideration, what were the main criticisms of the Gilded Age?

The term refers to the gilding of a cheaper metal with a thin layer of gold. Many critics complained that the era was marked by ostentatious display, crass manners, corruption, and shoddy ethics. Historians view the Gilded Age as a period of rapid economic, technological, political, and social transformation.

How did Labor change during the Gilded Age?

During the Gilded Age, the federal government took significant action to transform the West's social and economic landscape. Much of this had to do with the government's relationship with native peoples. This led to the subjugation of many natives peoples and opened up the region to further white settlement.

Also Know, what was the effect of labor reform movements in the early 1800s? Unions immediately won better working conditions. Child labor was banned, but long workdays continued for older workers. Reformers gradually won better working conditions, but change was slow.

Herein, what impact did the Gilded Age have on America?

Rapid economic growth generated vast wealth during the Gilded Age. New products and technologies improved middle-class quality of life. Industrial workers and farmers didn't share in the new prosperity, working long hours in dangerous conditions for low pay. Gilded Age politicians were largely corrupt and ineffective.

Why did labor unions struggle during the Gilded Age?

The union united skilled and unskilled laborers in the countryside and cities in one group. Although they did win a series of strikes in their fight against long hours and low wages, they generally had difficulty bargaining collectively because they represented such a diverse group of workers.

J.P. Morgan

John Pierpont Morgan was a financier from a wealthy family and is considered by many to have been among the robber barons during America’s Gilded Age.

At face value, Morgan contributed greatly to American industry. He invested in Thomas Edison and the Edison Electricity Company helped to create General Electric and International Harvester formed J.P. Morgan & Company and gained control of half of the country’s railroad mileage. He also created the first billion-dollar company, U.S. Steel. At one point in his life, he was a board member of as many as 48 corporations.

However, Morgan engaged in some unethical and anticompetitive practices to ward off competition. For example, he was believed to head a money trust that controlled the banking industry and was commonly considered a figurehead of Wall Street. He also created a monopoly by slashing the workforce and their pay to maximize profits while eliminating the competition. Workers’ wages were often as low as a dollar a day or less, and conditions for employees were poor, with increased fatalities even as wages grew.

When confronted with the possibility of regulations that could threaten his bottom line, he and other robber barons of the time contributed money to ensure that a business-friendly presidential candidate, William McKinley, was elected in 1896.

Despite the numerous negatives associated with how Morgan built his wealth, some of his actions did benefit the United States and society. For example, his wealth was so vast that he was able to help bail out the federal government twice during an economic crisis, first in 1895 and again in 1907.


Angry at the federal government’s continued unwillingness to substantively address the plight of the average farmer, Charles Macune and the Farmers’ Alliance chose to create a political party whose representatives—if elected—could enact real change. Put simply, if the government would not address the problem, then it was time to change those elected to power.

In 1891, the alliance formed the Populist Party , or People’s Party, as it was more widely known. Beginning with nonpresidential-year elections, the Populist Party had modest success, particularly in Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, where they succeeded in electing several state legislators, one governor, and a handful of congressmen. As the 1892 presidential election approached, the Populists chose to model themselves after the Democratic and Republican Parties in the hope that they could shock the country with a “third-party” victory.

At their national convention that summer in Omaha, Nebraska, they wrote the Omaha Platform to more fully explain to all Americans the goals of the new party. Written by Ignatius Donnelly, the platform statement vilified railroad owners, bankers, and big businessmen as all being part of a widespread conspiracy to control farmers. As for policy changes, the platform called for adoption of the subtreasury plan, government control over railroads, an end to the national bank system, the creation of a federal income tax, the direct election of U.S. senators, and several other measures, all of which aimed at a more proactive federal government that would support the economic and social welfare of all Americans. At the close of the convention, the party nominated James B. Weaver as its presidential candidate.

The People’s Party gathered for its nominating convention in Nebraska, where they wrote the Omaha Platform to state their concerns and goals.

In a rematch of the 1888 election, the Democrats again nominated Grover Cleveland, while Republicans went with Benjamin Harrison. Despite the presence of a third-party challenger, Cleveland won another close popular vote to become the first U.S. president to be elected to nonconsecutive terms. Although he finished a distant third, Populist candidate Weaver polled a respectable one million votes. Rather than being disappointed, several Populists applauded their showing—especially for a third party with barely two years of national political experience under its belt. They anxiously awaited the 1896 election, believing that if the rest of the country, in particular industrial workers, experienced hardships similar to those that farmers already faced, a powerful alliance among the two groups could carry the Populists to victory.

San Diego and the Gilded Age

Some three thousand miles from the main theatre of battle, San Diego escaped the bloody impact of the Civil War. With the advent of Reconstruction and the “Great Barbecue” of internal improvements following the war, San Diego saw an opportunity to grow in importance as a city. By becoming the western terminus of a transcontinental rail line, San Diego would be able to break free of the monopoly on transportation held by the Central Pacific Railroad and its owners, Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins. A competing railroad, San Diegans believed, would result in population and commerce rushing to their city. Property values would rise, and untold wealth would accrue to those willing to risk investing in the city. In this, San Diego was no different from a score of other cities across the nation that hoped to cash in on the economic benefits of the Reconstruction era, an era marvelously lampooned in a novel of the time, The Gilded Age by Mark Twain. San Diego had been awaiting a rail connection with the east since the 1850’s, when surveys had indicated the practicality of three routes across the nation for a transcontinental road. The route most valuable to San Diego lay along the 32nd parallel, and it was this route which had been heavily favored by the southern states. The sectionalism of the nation before the Civil War had prevented a road from being built along this route, however. By 1871, though, the arguments of economic justice to the recently defeated south offered San Diego a hope of getting a rail connection. The road being proposed to make the connection was the Texas and Pacific.

The story of the Texas and Pacific and its efforts to come to San Diego reads like a chapter from The Gilded Age. Charges of corruption, ignorance and fraud abounded, from the halls of Congress to the streets of San Diego. The Texas and Pacific railroad was truly a reconstruction era story, a story of local activity impacted by national events. These events included a na­tional economic crisis, and political compromises between the nation’s dominant capitalists and political parties. That San Diego would not get its rail connection for almost two decades more was the result of forces beyond the city’s control. Throughout the decade of the 1870’s, the city would live in hope, a hope that was never to be realized.

The efforts of San Diego to become tied to the rest of the nation began in 1854, with the organization of the San Diego and Gila, Southern Pacific and Atlantic Railway Company. 1 The officers and directors of the company, being among San Diego’s wealthiest individuals, convinced the city to “donate” 8,850 acres of land to be used for railroad purposes. The land included valuable waterfront lands. 2 These lands were to be used in helping the company to get its charter, and to provide land to be used in constructing the road. In 1868 after fourteen years of failing to raise money for construction, the railroad reorganized as the San Diego & Gila Railroad Company. The capital stock of the company was four million dollars, divided into forty thousand shares of $100 each, with San Diegans subscribing liberally. 3

Following the reorganization of the company, Thomas Sedgewick, an agent for the San Diego & Gila, negotiated a contract with the Memphis and El Paso Railroad to sell the franchises and privileges of the San Diego & Gila from the San Diego Bay to the Colorado River. As a part of the agreement, stockholders were to receive stock in the Memphis and El Paso in exchange for their San Diego & Gila stock. 4 Following the collapse of the Memphis and El Paso in 1870, San Diego continued its search for a rail outlet to the east. 5

San Diegans saw their future intertwined with that of a rail connection eastward along the 32nd parallel. An article in the San Diego Union observed:

“Hitherto San Diego has been almost entirely sustained by money brought from abroad for investment in real estate. This money has steadily flowed out to San Francisco in exchange for lumber and other building materials and supplies of all kinds. None of it has remained here. We have really been living on our hopes of the future.” 6

And the future, it was hoped, would include a Pacific Railroad naming San Diego as the western terminus. With bills before Congress to support the construction of a transcontinental line along the 32nd parallel, both San Diego and the southern states held their collective breaths.

The interdependence between San Diego and the south for the grandest in­ternal improvement of them all, a railroad, is an interesting one. San Diego had been blocked from consideration as the terminus of the earlier transcontinental line by sectional prejudice and the Civil War. 7 The south, as well as San Diego, had escaped relatively untouched by the “Great Barbecue” of internal improvements doled out by Congress during and after the war. During the period from 1865 to 1873, the south had received $9,469,363 for internal improvement projects, while the north and west had received a total of $93,825,138. 8 With the return to power in the southern states of the Democratic party during the early 1870s, an increased pressure was placed upon the federal government to spend more on internal improvements in the south. The argument used by southerners was one of economic justice to the south. This view was a prominent feature in newspapers throughout the south and areas which stood to benefit from Pacific railroad legislation. An article in the Washington Chronicle, reprinted in the San Diego Union, typified this view:

“However regarded, this magnificent work [the Texas and Pacific Railroad bill] will become a magical agency in the development of the South. As a measure of reconstruction, it can not be overestimated. . . . Its passage will be hailed with joy North and South, as one of the noblest evidences of generosity of Congress and the Executive to the late insurrectionary States.” 9

And, as the San Diego Union had claimed in 1869,

“It is certainly one of the principal duties of a government to foster and aid those individual enterprises that promote sectional intercourse, enhance commerce and develop the agricultural resources and mineral wealth of the newer section of the national domain.

“Why should not the United States government loan her credit in aid of a national system of interoceanic railways? The public treasury is depleted to improve rivers and harbors, without intention of reimbursement, yet the objectives are identical.” 10

Sentiment in San Diego followed these lines, perhaps partially out of a feeling of justice for the South, but more likely out of a realization of practical benefit for the West in particular and for San Diego specifically. As E.W. Morse wrote:

“. . .public sentiment will in justice demand that the South be treated somewhat like the North, and. . . .that a southern route will prevent a monopoly [by the Central and Union Pacific Railroads] of the business and travel across the continent.” 11

By doing “justice” to the South and constructing a competing transcontinental railroad, San Diego hoped to reap the benefits of an improved real estate market and commercial development.

The efforts of San Diego to become the terminus of a southern transcontinental route were tied in with the desire of the Southern states to have their own rail route. At the National Railroad Convention in St. Louis in November of 1875, the argument which had been made for the preceding four years was advanced yet again. The Chairman of the Convention’s Executive Committee, Col. James O. Broadhead, claimed that construction of the Texas and Pacific through the South would “resurrect and rehabilitate the South” by “passing through that fertile but distracted region of our coun­try a perpetual tide of the world’s commerce, vitalizing its railroad system and revitalizing its paralyzed industries.” 12 The convention continued its sup­port of the Texas and Pacific as a transcontinental railroad for the South by declaring that the road should be constructed:

“As an act of justice and encouragement to the people of the Southern states, who have reason to complain of the partiality of the Government, which since its organization has expended for public improvements in the Northern states and territories $175,000. . .while in the Southern states and territories the public expenditures for similar purposes have been but $19,000,000” 13

The convention also passed a resolution that the rail line should be con­structed from Shreveport, Louisiana to San Diego on or near the 32nd parallel, 14 thus ensuring that the road would maintain a southern orienta­tion. This was a later effort, however, as by the time of the convention the Texas and Pacific was struggling to survive. Its beginnings had been somewhat different.

As Congressional debate over the passage of the Texas and Pacific bill of 1872 lengthened, San Diego became anxious. The efforts of the town to become the western terminus of the proposed road had been great, and the city’s elite were becoming concerned lest they should be passed by again. Wrote E.W. Morse: “. . .the Railroad is our only hope, almost life or death to us, and literally ruin or salvation to many of us.” 15 The city’s anxiety was such that Morse, writing to one of San Diego’s railroad lobbyists in Washington, stated:

“I hoped they (the House of Representatives) would take the bill as it passed the Senate, for we want a railroad and don’t care who builds it.” 16

Two days later, Morse wrote

“We are suffering another drouth this year, but if the railroad bill passes we can stand it, but if that fails God help us. . . .” 17

The mood of the nation was changing, however. National suspicion was being aroused against the generosity of the federal government. “It seems to me” wrote Morse, “this Congress must pass it [the Texas and Pacific bill] or it will never pass. The Democrats will make it a rallying cry in the next campaign ‘No more land grants’ and the feeling of the country is setting strongly against them even though all admit there should be a competing line across the country to keep down the other great monopoly.” 18

The Texas and Pacific Railroad Company was chartered by an act of Congress on March 3rd, 1871. The act empowered the company to construct a road from Marshall, Texas “by the most direct and eligible route to San Diego, California, to ship’s channel in the Bay of San Diego. . . . “ 19 The act required that construction on the road commence simultaneously from San Diego and Marshall. Fifty consecutive miles from the eastern boundary was to be completed and in running order within two years, the entire roadway within ten. 20 The difficulties to be faced by the roadway were soon apparent. Tom Scott, president of the Texas and Pacific, soon realized the impossibility of meeting the construction requirements set by the original act. In 1872, a new Texas and Pacific bill was introduced in Congress. This bill permitted the Texas and Pacific to begin construction eastward from San Diego within one year of the bill’s passage, and required only ten miles of construction eastward by the end of the second year. Following the second year, a minimum of twenty-five miles per year would be required to be constructed between San Diego and the Colorado River, where the connection would be made with the line from the east. Support for the bill was overwhelming, and it passed the House 103 to 23. 21

The Texas and Pacific act marked the end of an era, though no one realiz­ed it at the time. The act included the last federal subsidies, through land grants, for railroad construction. 22 The land grant clauses in the Texas and Pacific’s charter included forty alternate sections of public lands along the route in the territories of Arizona and New Mexico, and ten alternate sec­tions in California. The generosity of the federal government approximated some 16,000,000 acres of land, in addition to lands donated by state and local governments. 23

The beneficence of the grants given to the road was apparent to many, in­cluding the owners of the Central and Southern Pacific Railroads. Califor­nia’s Big Four (Huntington, Stanford, Crocker and Hopkins) were the owners of California’a only rail link with the east, the Central Pacific. They were also owners of a new company, the Southern Pacific, which held a franchise to build to Ft. Yuma to connect with any roads coming into the state. The Big Four jealously guarded their monopoly over the state’s transcontinental rail connections, and saw in efforts to pass the Texas and Pacific act an opportunity to acquire new lands for their road, the Southern Pacific, Wrote Collis Huntington to his partner, Mark Hopkins:

“The Texas Pacific Railroad bill passed the Senate last night, and I am disposed to think that it will pass the House. If it should, it will give us a very large grant of land, and I am having a map made to file as soon as it passes.” 24

Huntington was counting on the fact that the Southern Pacific would be able to construct its line in time to connect with the Texas and Pacific and to keep that road from entering the state. It was in an effort to prevent another company from breaking the Central Pacific monopoly on eastern rail transportation that Huntington acquired the Southern Pacific. 25 Huntington’s hope was that by building the Southern Pacific through to Ft. Yuma the Texas and Pacific would be prevented from running its tracks into California, and the Southern Pacific would be able to apply for their land grants.

Land was an important issue in railroad construction in the nineteenth century. Because building railroads was far too expensive an undertaking for any single individual to fund, governments from the federal to the local level were involved in making grants of land to the roads to help raise money for construction. Roads which received large land grants were able to mortgage those lands at high levels to pay for construction. Land was also used in the early stages to entice railroads to choose a city as a terminus, or to construct the roadway near by. San Diego had done this dur­ing the late 1860s and early 1870s, when discussions about the Texas and Pacific had first begun. Writing to a friend, Morse had observed

“I have just received a telegram from Capt. Sherman at Washington. He says The people of San Diego must be aroused and help pass our bill or we fear defeat, arouse our people to action, send us all the land you can get’. . . .” 26

San Diego’s desires for a railroad are evident from Morse’s letters. That desire was predicated upon the benefits a railroad would bring. As described in H.C. Hopkins’ History of San Diego: Its Pueblo Lands and Water, the city wished the railroad to be built because: 1) it would assist the city trustees in disposing of the Pueblo lands while building up the city’s population 2) city fathers hoped that an influx of population would stimulate business in the community and 3) men like E.W. Morse believed that the road should be built. 27 What Hopkins didn’t mention, however, was that “men like E.W. Morse” would greatly benefit from reasons one and two. Morse’s letters reveal more than an altruistic businessman out for the good of his community. His letters instead reveal a sharp businessman, out to benefit himself while his community grew. As time went on without the beginning of construction on the Texas and Pacific, Morse beseeched his correspondents for news of Scott’s decision on when to begin construction. Writing to Thomas Sedgewick, Morse asked:

“Do you think that there is any danger that Scott will ask Congress to allow the Company to build entirely from the eastern end?

If I could obtain early news, either good or bad, it would be a good deal of information to me pecuniarily . . . . “ 28

By 1875, Morse believed that it would “make more than a hundred thousand dollars difference to me whether the railroad is built or not.” 29 Presumably, this one hundred thousand dollars was to be made in stock speculation on the railroad and on real estate, and it was real estate and its harbor which made San Diego’s being named the western terminus possible.

The reasons for land grants has been described above. San Diego’s practices in acquiring land for railroad construction had been in existence since the San Diego and Gila had been franchised. Efforts to acquire land continued almost incessantly, as long as there was hope for a railroad coming to the city. Acquiring land, however, was not terribly easy. Morse described some of his difficulties in convincing fellow San Diegans to donate land for railroad use in a letter to Mathew Sherman.

“Friend Sherman:

Today I telegraphed you that deeds will be made for fifteen blocks in Horton’s addition, and two hundred acres worth seventy-five thousand dollars [and] probably two hundred acres more. . . . I can say that I raised this amount without help from anyone. . . .

I urged Mannasse & Schiller to canvass Old Town. . . they. . . returned your letter leaving word that no one would give anything. . . . I then went to Old Town and talked with them plainly. . . .

I asked them what the devil (I had to swear some) these lands were worth without a railroad. . . . there was a possibility these lands were necessary to help pass the bill, and if so we had better throw away half what we have than to feel our parsimony had caused a failure of the bill.” 30

Morse’s arguments were effective, apparently. He recorded the following donations: Rose 80 acres Schiller 30 Sloane 20 Crosthwaite 10 Abels 20 Lyons 5 Cleveland 5 Starr 5 Marston 1 Bryant 5 Horton 10 blocks Morse 6 blocks Arnold & Choate 1 block (in Old Town). 31

Getting promises of land were one thing, Morse was to learn. Collecting on the promises was something else. J.S. Mannasse backed out twice before deeding over a promised 30 acres. 32 Some of Morse’s greatest frustrations, however, were with the father of New Town, Alonzo Horton. Morse wrote of the following incident to Sherman, expressing his frustration with “Father” Horton:

“Horton. . . wanted to know how much Sherman was doing, I told him Sherman was spending his time as well as over $200 in money and at least one block, probably more of land, yes he nags, but that was all to get the Collectorship. It made me mad and I told him he had better a d—-d sight be on to Washington spending his money and land as Sherman was, than remain here and do nothing but find fault with those who were doing something.” 33

Morse was able to get Horton’s donation, but apparently not before threatening him with an embarrassing public disclosure. Following Horton’s complaints about Sherman, Morse wrote, “I came very near reading him a lecture on his free love actions. However, I think he is frightened enough to give liberally.” 34 This was in reference to Horton’s dalliance with a Mrs. Dowlin, described by Morse as “the good looking Milliner.” Horton’s interest was sufficient to attract the town’s attention. Some practical joker, Morse reported, had placed a sign over Mrs. Dowlin’s residence proclaiming “Mrs. Horton No. 4.” 35

The issue of raising land to donate to railroads was a divisive one during this period in San Diego’s history. Morse and others accumulated some 848 lots, in addition to 558 acres, for use in the campaign to name San Diego as the western terminus of the Texas and Pacific. A committee made up of Morse, David Felsenheld and Daniel Cleveland, with the assistance of George P. Marston, evaluated the donations and appraised the lots as being worth $126,000, and the acreage at $56,000. The Committee’s estimates were based upon what they believed the property would be worth six months after the Texas and Pacific bill passed Congress. Said Morse, “I think it was a fair estimate, though Horton abused the Committee shamefully for putting so low an estimate upon it.” 36

Horton’s feelings were evidently shared by others in the community. Some confusion arose over to whom the deeds were to be made out when Thomas Sedgewick requested the lands be deeded to him in trust for use in lobbying. When Sherman asked for similar treatment, Morse replied:

“It is impossible to deed them to either Sedgewick or you. . . . the deeds are signed and deposited with the bank. And even if none were signed I would not dare to have gone to the parties and proposed to them to deed to you in the present state of feelings, they would back square out. . . “ 37

In spite of Morse’s fears, contributions of land continued. In addition to the amounts already listed, Morse contributed an additional 20 acres in Pueblo lot 450, and Mannasse and Schiller were so heavily involved in the railroad scheme, wfote Morse, that “only the passage of the bill will save them from ruin.” 38

With legislation before Congress to amend the Texas and Pacific Bill passed in 1871, San Diego decided to take more direct action to protect its status as the western terminus of the road. In March of 1872, a Citizens’ Railroad Committee of Forty was appointed, with Thomas Nesmith as its chairman.” 39 The Committee, which included Horton and Morse, was to serve as arbiter in the negotiations between San Diego and Tom Scott over the right of way for the railroad. The Committee was soon to get a first hand look at San Diego’s saviour, as he was called. Tom Scott was coming to San Diego.

Prior to Scott’s arrival in August of 1872, the city bubbled with speculation regarding where construction would begin, and on the route that the road would take. Morse and others rued the delays in construction particulary, fearing that “the enterprise would fall through and Real Estate values would fall.” 40 San Diego counted heavily upon the quick beginning of construction. Construction, it was believed, would ease the city’s “blues” over the passage of the amended Texas and Pacific bill, which permitted a longer time for the completion of the western end of the road. In spite of their “blues” San Diegans continued to believe in the wisdom of their investments in the city. 41 The city also continued its activities to make itself attractive to railroads. Among these activities were local surveys to establish a practical route for a road. These surveys, however, were not cheap. The citizens of San Diego were investing their fortunes in hopes of larger returns on their business and property interests. Members of the Committee of Forty were assessed the costs of the surveys. Juan Forster and Cave Couts were assessed $600 and $300 respectively to cover their share of the expenses. 42 The assessments, though steep for a cash poor economy, would be a mere pittance in comparision with the returns the citizens were expecting. The Committee of Forty hoped to negotiate a large settlement with Scott in exchange for the franchise of the San Diego and Gila. The settlement would reimburse the stockholders of the San Diego and Gila for their expenses encumbered in lobbying and surveying activities. All that was required was to negotiate a settlement with Scott.

Thomas A. Scott in 1871-1872 was one of America’s most powerful businessmen. Beginning his railroad career “by serving as the Assistant Secretary of War under Lincoln, Scott had been responsible for supervising all government railways and transportation lines during the Civil War. Following the war, he served as Vice President of the nation’s largest railway, the Pennsylvania Central, of which he became President in 1874. Scott’s activities involved other railways as well. He served briefly as President of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1872, before selling out to Jay Gould. From 1872 until 1880, he was President of the Texas and Pacific. A dynamic businessman, Scott was also shrewd, as San Diego found out in August of 1872.

Scott, along with Grenville Dodge (chief engineer of the Texas and Pacific), and J.W. Throckmorton, a U.S. Senator and former governor of Texas, arrived in San Diego on August 26th. Reported the World, “Their landing was greeted with a roar of welcome. . . . “ 43 In his opening speech, Scott received another roar by reminding the audience of the advantages their city held:

“. . .your location south of San Francisco and in a direct line of the Great Orient. . .gives you unrivaled advantages.” 44

With the public greeting out of the way, Scott and party retired to the Horton House. The next day was spent sight-seeing before a meeting with a committee of citizens representing the owners of the San Diego & Gila franchise. The meeting was to negotiate the surrender of the Gila’s franchise to the Texas and Pacific.

Representing the owners of the San Diego & Gila were Morse, Horton, C.L. Carr, and Jeff Gatewood. This committee’s purpose was to report back to the San Diego and Gila’s board of directors Scott’s proposal for acquiring their franchise. Scott’s propositions, as reported by the San Diego Union, were that the franchise and lands given to the San Diego and Gila be transferred to the Texas and Pacific that the Texas and Pacific be given a right of way 100 feet wide through the city and county of San Diego that the tract of land (located at the foot of Spring Street) lying west of the Courthouse and measuring 1500 feet in length by 600 feet in width and fronting the bay be given for use as a depot and that the city give 100 acres of tide lands, or the same amount within Horton’s addition joining the shore.” 45 Wrote Morse of the meeting and Scott’s propositions:

“He [Scott] would make no arrangement with us, said he did not come here to purchase anything, thought the citizens should obtain the lands [and donate them]. . . ,” 46

A dispute arose briefly over 160 acres of lands which had been included in the San Diego & Gila’s franchise. The lands were in the area east of Mannasse’s Addition, and were known as the “railroad lands.” 47 During the meeting with Scott, Horton asked if he would be willing to take the San Diego & Gila’s franchise, and let the committee keep the 160 acres. When Scott refused, Horton offered $100,000 for the tract. 48 Scott again refused, and Morse told him that “the Central Pacific would give more to keep him out.” 49 Scott ignored this insinuation, and gave the committee one hour to decide whether or not to accept his offer. Members of the committee were nervous. Scott had spent a part of the day at National City, visiting with Frank Kimball. He had also had discussions with Louis Rose about locating the terminus of the road at Roseville. Wrote Morse, “It was said Kimball had offered Scott 20,000 acres for the terminus and. . .Rose had offered Scott in writing all the land he wanted at Roseville. . . . “ 50 Spencer Menzel later disputed the amount of land Kimball had offered, claiming the figure was “only” 11,000 acres. 51

The committee recognized the futility of further argument, and recommended that the San Diego & Gila company accept Scott’s proposals. The citizens of San Diego were required to pay the San Diego & Gila for its franchise, and then to donate the franchise to the Texas and Pacific. As Morse observed, “he (Scott) knew the citizens could buy our franchise cheaper than he could.” 52 Reporting to Charles Poole, a fellow stockholder in the San Diego & Gila, Morse wrote:

“The Committee. . . agreed to pay us our expenditures with a fair interest on them and our liabilities, the whole sum not to exceed one hundred thousand dollars.

The net amount for us to divide will be about. . .ten dollars per share.” 53

The only remaining issue was the amount to be paid for the franchise. The committee representing the San Diego & Gila, led by Jeff Gatewood, demanded $100,000 to surrender the road’s franchise. 54 Morse was in an unenviable position, being a member of both the San Diego & Gila negotiation committee and the city’s railroad Committee of Forty. Being on both sides of the issue, Morse could understand the reluctance of the city to pay such a large sum. He did not, however, feel the city’s feelings were entirely justified. Morse felt that the city was “trying to cut us down to the lowest possible figure, without regard to justice or fairness.” 55 Negotiations were finally concluded with the city paying $58,000 for the franchise, in addition to $4,000 in taxes owed by the corporation. 56 The lands and the franchise of the San Diego and Gila were finally turned over to the Texas and Pacific on December 11th, 1872, with the final transfer of subsidy lands being completed January 14th, 1873. All told, some 9,000 acres of land, in addition to 51 lots in San Diego and vicinity were given to the Texas and Pacific to assist in the construction of the road. 57

As 1872 advanced, San Diegans began to become impatient. While negotiations for the release of the San Diego and Gila’s franchise remained, the basic issues of the road coming to the city seemed settled. All that remained was for the beginning of construction. Short on money and lacking the Gila franchise, the Texas and Pacific was in no hurry to begin construction on the western end of the line. The interests of the company required that the utmost effort be placed on construction in Texas, where the state had offered a large land grant to the road provided target dates in construction were met. Before construction could begin, however, the issue of the route for the road had to be settled.

Surveyors for the Texas and Pacific had been engaged in San Diego since July of 1872 in surveying potential routes for the road. 58 Earlier surveys conducted for the San Diego and Gila had chosen the route preferred by most San Diegans, a direct route east from the city to Ft. Yuma. Led by James Evans, the surveying crews of the Texas and Pacific examined four routes, only one leading directly east. While not pleased at the possibility of another route being adopted, San Diego continued to support the work of the Texas and Pacific. “Gen. Evans, resident engineer of the Texas and Pacific Railway,” wrote The World, “lost a pair of gold eye glasses the other day. We insist that they. . .be hunted up and restored to him. It won’t do to have the Texas and Pacific people disabled.” 59

Surveys for the road ran from National City, beginning at what is now the foot of G street in Chula Vista, north through Old Town, up the coast through Rancho Santa Margarita, turning east to Temecula and then on to the San Gorgonio Pass. From the pass, the survey line turned southeast to Ft. Yuma. According to Spencer Menzel, routes were also surveyed via the Sweetwater River, Campo, Jacumba, and Poway. 60 Disputes over survey routes were frequent, because so much was at stake. The selection of a route for the Texas and Pacific would mean a financial windfall for those whose property bordered the railroads. The selection of a route would also mean great fortunes for those building the road.

To construct the Texas and Pacific, Tom Scott and Grenville Dodge, president and chief engineer of the road, organized the California and Texas Railway Construction Company. The stockholders of the company included Scott, Dodge, J. Edgar Thompson, president of the Pennsylvania Central, and Senator Throckmorton, among others. 61 The construction company was to be paid $35,000 per mile to construct the road in California. As designed, the company became the owner of the railroad’s capital. 62 As the owners of both railroad and the construction company, Scott and friends had a great deal to gain from the construction of the road along the northern route, through the San Gorgonio pass. Roughly, $100,000 more, according to estimates by Morse. 63

Morse was suspicious about the surveyors of the Texas and Pacific, feeling that they were more interested in their own benefit than that of San Diego. “Maj. Evans, Chief engineer, California Division, Texas & Pacific Railway, came in yesterday. . .from the Railroad camp at Jamul [on the line directly east from San Diego] and pronounces ‘Sedgewick line impracticable'” wrote Morse. 64 In a letter to Thomas Sedgewick dated August 20th, 1872, Morse’s cynicism of the capabilities and integrity of the surveying parties came through:

“General (so called) Butler. . .came here drunk, remained so several weeks til his wife was sent for and arrived, claimed great ability and experience in Railroad building and even after he became sober, telegraphed Scott that ‘he had run a line over the mountains finding a better route than Sedgewick and shorter. . . saving. . . several millions of dollars’ while Butler himself had not been five miles from town, nor his surveying party twenty.” 65

Surveyors, of course, had their own reasons for laying out their survey lines. Butler’s survey line ran south through National City before turning east. According to Morse, when asked why he ran the survey so far south, Butler replied, “we ran this course to go through National City, if we had run east from San Diego we could not have gone through National City.” Morse dutifully recorded the rumor that Butler owned “several blocks in Kimballville.” The implication was that if the route chosen for the road ran through National City, both Butler and Frank Kimball would make a tidy profit from the increased value of their property.

While the surveys dragged on, San Diego became impatient, awaiting the beginning of construction. Some thoughts were given to transferring the franchise of the San Diego & Gila to the Central (Southern) Pacific in hopes of seeing construction begin sooner. Wrote Morse:

“We can undoubtedly sell our franchise to the Central Pacific, and some of our directors would prefer to do so rather than be humbugged longer by the Texas & Pacific.” 66

The Central Pacific’s interest in San Diego was slight, however. The road maintained a perfunctory interest, but really had no desire to build to San Diego, in part, perhaps, because it could not get the donations of land that it wanted. Frank Kimball had met with Charles Crocker in San Francisco in August of 1871 to discuss the possibility of the Central Pacific’s building to San Diego. Reported Kimball:

“He told me, when I refused to sell to the Central Pacific 6 miles of water­front which we own, that I should never live to see a railroad laid to the Bay of San Diego nor in the states east of California, which they did not lay and that no competition should come into the state. ‘Further’ he said, ‘We have our foot on the neck of San Diego and shall keep it there.’ “ 67

Negotiations with the Central Pacific had been going on since the late 1860s, 68 and would continue as long as the Texas and Pacific remained a threat to the monopoly of the Central Pacific. The reluctance of the Central to build to San Diego did not mean that the road completely ignored the city, particularly after the passage of the Texas and Pacific bill and the elec­tions of 1872 and 1876. In 1872, in an effort to prevent San Diego from join­ing with Tom Scott, the Central Pacific offered to examine plans for con­structing a San Diego and Los Angeles Railway. Wrote Morse:

“. . . Stanford is coming down here in April. . . and while here we propose to talk to him about the San Diego & Gila franchise and. . . if Scott refuses to act honestly by us to make an alliance with the Central Pacific.” 69

Opinion remained divided over such a prospect, however. “Southern California must have railroads” proclaimed an editorial in the San Diego Union, “but not built by the people to be run by the Central Pacific monopoly.” 70 Nothing was settled, however, and the city continued to await the selection of a route and the beginning of construction by the Texas and Pacific.

In early 1873, Scott formally announced that the northern route through Temecula had been selected. 71 Construction on the roadway began on April 21st, 1873. Ground was broken for the grading of the road on the company’s lands a quarter of a mile southeast of Mannasse’s Addition. Alonzo Horton was chosen to break ground for construction, and proclaimed it “the greatest honor the people of San Diego. . . could confer” on him. 72 Construction was not brisk, however, as only eleven men were employed in grading the roadway. Work continued slowly throughout the year, as both money and materials were in short supply. Because of the lack of money, Tom Scott sailed for Europe in an effort to attract investors in the railroad. While Scott was overseas, a total of ten miles of roadway were graded in San Diego, with the road running through Old Town. Tracks were being readied for laying when the financial panic of 1873 struck, dampening construction activities. 73

The panic of 1873 signified the end of the “Great Barbecue.” The panic was caused by the failure of a number of business firms, the most notable of which was Jay Cooke and Company, the nation’s premier banking house. The shock of the closure of Cooke and Co. on September 18th was nearly complete. As a result of Cooke’s failure, the New York Stock Exchange closed for ten days, and the ensuing depression was one of the severest experienced by the country up to that time. By 1875, over 500,000 men were unemployed. 74 The economic crisis was worldwide, and resulted in Scott being unable to attract European investors for the Texas and Pacific.

With the panic, the Texas and Pacific owed over a million dollars in Texas and the South alone. Its debts in California were somewhat smaller because of the delays in beginning construction. By January of 1874, Morse reported that the Texas and Pacific owed the California and Texas Construction Company over seven million dollars. In San Diego, the construction company owed $13,000 to San Diego businesses for labor and supplies. 75 The road’s chief engineer in San Diego, James Evans, tried to get permission to sell off the piles, ties and lumber in order to pay off the debts to local merchants. Permission was refused. 76 Efforts were made to continue construction. A Mr. Wood, superintendent on the construction line, proposed to continue work on the road if local merchants would furnish funds to pay the hands and to purchase provisions. The merchants agreed, and through January, 1874, twelve men were kept employed grading the road bed. 77 Construction on the road ceased at the end of the month, while Scott searched for means to extricate the company from its financial difficulties. 78

“. . .the future looked bright and promising when the eastern panic fell. . . .” wrote Morse. “It was like a clap of thunder from a clear sky to the people of San Diego.” 79 It was like a clap of thunder to Tom Scott as well. The Texas and Pacific was in a quandary. In all, only 445 miles of roadway in Texas had been completed. 80 Because enough of the road had not been constructed the company had not earned any of its state or federal land grants. Lacking land, the company had nothing to mortgage to raise funds to pay its debts or to continue construction. Its only hope lay in receiving additional federal subsidies. The new battleground for San Diego’s hopes shifted eastward, to the halls of the 45th Congress.

The Texas and Pacific’s efforts to acquire a subsidy suffered from two elements: 1) the public’s general attitude against more land grants to railroads, particularly in a stagnant economy, and 2) Collis Huntington and the Central/Southern Pacific’s opposition to the Texas and Pacific’s construction into California, along with a desire for that road’s land grants. Scott’s efforts to gain congressional support for a subsidy centered on support in the southern states. Agents of the Texas and Pacific implored the legislatures of these states to pass resolutions and endorsements in favor of the railroad. The allies of the Texas and Pacific depicted their efforts as an attempt to break free of a northern transportation monopoly. 81 While Scott was involved in garnering support for his road, Huntington and the Southern Pacific sought to defeat Scott’s efforts to obtain a federal subsidy. Without a subsidy, Scott would be unable to complete his road. Huntington planned to continue construction of the Southern Pacific during the struggle over a subsidy.

Huntington’s thoughts on how to defeat any bill Scott proposed involving a subsidy were clearly defined. Explaining how Scott’s proposals could be defeated, Huntington wrote to Charles Crocker saying “we. . . should say we would build this road, and did not want any aid. . . . “ 82 The grading of the Southern Pacific crews had not been halted by the panic, and the road was rapidly building towards the San Gorgonio Pass. From there, it would be on to Ft. Yuma. “I propose to say to Congress” wrote Huntington, “that we will build east of the Colorado to meet the Texas P. without aid, and then see how many members will dare to give him aid to do what we offer to do without.” 83 By completing construction to Ft. Yuma, and then continuing eastward through Arizona without a subsidy, Huntington would prevent a challenge to the monopoly his company held in California. In addition, he hoped to acquire the land grants the Texas and Pacific had received, but had not yet earned. 84 The conflict between Scott and Huntington would assume greater proportions over the next three years, with each side wooing congressional representatives. San Diego’s interest in the legislative battles was keen, yet the city realized its isolation. Emotions alternated between hope and despair as the city awaited the verdict on its fate. Would Congress grant the Texas and Pacific a subsidy, or would the Southern Pacific cut off any hope of its reaching San Diego?

Throughout 1874, efforts were made by Scott and Huntington to pass legislation that would benefit both of their roads. With each side blocking the efforts of the other, no railroad aid bill was passed in Congress. Realizing the pressing need for money and the lack of time available to him, Scott determined to try compromising with Huntington. Direct negotiations be­tween the two appear to have begun on September 17th, 1874. Following their first meeting, Huntington wrote to Leland Stanford:

“Tom Scott called yesterday and wanted to know if I would help him on his Texas and Pacific. . .bill in Congress next winter. I told him no, unless he changed it. . . . I said that if he would strike out all [of the Texas and Pacific’s line] west of the Colorado I would help him. He said no, that he would build to San Diego. . . .” 85

Scott declined Huntington’s offer of “help” and continued with his efforts to obtain a subsidy from the House Railroad Committee. Scott’s goal was to get from Congress a 5 % interest guarantee on the railroad bonds, with all land grants and dividend liens as security for the guarantee. 86 An additional element of Scott’s proposal was that $5,000 worth of bonds per mile, with interest guaranteed by the government, were to be deposited in the Federal Treasury pending the construction of the road. Scott’s proposal contained a unique element in that the government was

“asked to create a property of liability of its own, then accept what it created as security against its liability, but without requiring any definite amount of capital stock to be furnished by the subsidized corporations to contribute to the security of the government. 87

The proposed bill Scott was attempting to push through Congress also did not include the completed and most profitable portions of the road, which had been constructed in eastern Texas. 88

Scott’s efforts to pass his bill were defeated by Huntington’s determined opposition, and by northern Democrats. The Democratic party had regained control of the House of Representatives in the 1874 elections, marking the first time the party had been in control of a branch of Congress since before the Civil War. L.Q.C. Lamar, a Democrat from Mississippi, rose to report Scott’s Texas and Pacific Bill from the House Committee on the Pacific Railroad. Upon reporting the bill, William Holman, a Democrat from Indiana and chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations objected. The bill as reported removed the penalty forfeiting the Texas and Pacific’s land grants for failure to complete construction within the specified time frame. The bill also divided the construction of the road with the Southern Pacific, permitting that road to construct the western portion of the road. Holman’s objections were that the bill, by removing the penalty of forfeiture, resulted in an appropriation of government property. Such an appropriation required a hearing of a committee of the entire House. Following Holman’s objection, a substitute bill was offered pruning all of the branch roads from the Texas and Pacific, eliminating the subsidies to Huntington, and providing additional security for the government. The bill was placed on the calendar to be heard by the Committee of the whole House. With thirty-four bills ahead of it, the bill was not brought up again during the session. 89 Lacking subsidies beneficial to the Southern Pacific, Huntington’s lobbyists prevented the bill from being brought up for a vote.

In addition to his efforts to influence individual members of Congress, Huntington also attempted to subvert local support for the Texas and Pacific. San Diego’s congressional representative, Peter D. Wigginton (R.,Merced), was told that the Southern Pacific would build east from the city in return for San Diego’s aid in Congress. Huntington’s orders to his associates in California, however, were that they should sound San Diego out, but make no definite promises. 90 This they did.

In letters written in late 1874, Huntington acknowledged the necessity of maintaining San Diego’s interest in the possibility of the Southern Pacific building there. Writing to David Colton, Huntington announced he was sending an amended copy of Scott’s bill (which he was trying to get the Texas and Pacific chief to accept). “Of course,” wrote Huntington, “the San Diego people will not like it, unless you agree to build a road from their place up to connect with our road, and you may think best to do that.” 91 San Diego’s concern over its fate was ever present. Writing to Charles Crocker, Huntington recalled

“A Mr. Wetmore, a newspaper correspondent from S.F. (or possibly he calls San Diego home), has been into the office here several times. . . and said there must be a branch to San Diego. . .” 92

Huntington offered to permit Wetmore to amend the bill he was proposing to include San Diego as a branch of the Southern Pacific. Wetmore did so. The bill also included a section transferring all rights and privileges of the Texas and Pacific acquired in San Diego to the Southern Pacific. 93 The result of this bill was to offer San Diego a position as the terminus of a branch road to the Southern Pacific should one be constructed. No requirement for the Southern Pacific to build to San Diego was included. In spite of the lack of guarantee for construction, the proposal aroused the interest of some San Diegans, especially as it became apparent by 1875 that the Southern Pacific would control the river crossing at Ft. Yuma. Throughout the year, rumors circulated regarding the possibility of the Southern Pacific coming to San Diego. “I myself. . .met and talked with Huntington, Crocker, and Col. Gray of the Southern and Central Pacific. …” wrote Morse. “Their talk with us was not very satisfactory, they. . .didn’t think it would pay for them to build their road down. . . unless we could make it for their interest. . . . “ 94 After hearing an offer by the Southern Pacific’s directors to pick up their tracks running through the San Gorgonio Pass and to build directly from San Diego to Ft. Yuma, Morse dismissed the offer as an electioneering attempt by the railroad to defeat San Diego’s congressional candidate, Sherman Houghton, a strong supporter of the Texas and Pacific. 95

Morse’s distrust of Huntington and the Southern Pacific remained strong. Others, however, were not as supportive of the Texas and Pacific. In July of 1875, Alonzo Horton left for San Francisco in an effort to convince the Southern Pacific to build its road to San Diego. Horton was offering $50,000 for the road to be built to San Diego. 96 His efforts were unsuccessful. The teasing of San Diego by the railroad continued, however. Morse reported that he was told that if San Diego “would throw off Scott, Stanford would agree to build the. . .road from San Gorgonio to San Diego.” 97 Stanford and the Southern Pacific, however, were continuing to construct their road to Ft. Yuma. By November of 1876, the Southern Pacific had built as far as Indian Wells. 98 The nearest rail construction on the Texas Pacific was occurring in Texas. The big question was whether the Southern Pacific would build eastward once it reached the Colorado River.

By the end of 1876, word was spreading that Scott and Huntington had reached a compromise on legislation that would benefit both of their roads. In a series of conferences held in late November and early December, Scott and Huntington had moved closer to a consensus. Following the failure to get two bills assisting the Texas and Pacific through Congress, Scott suc­cumbed. An agreement was reached with Huntington which provided that 1) Huntington would cease opposing the subsidy for the Texas and Pacific 2) that the Texas and Pacific would concede the building of the western end of the rail line in California to the Southern Pacific 3) that the new railway would be an “open highway” for each road to transport their goods over the other’s tracks and 4) that Scott would use his influence to support a federal subsidy for the Southern Pacific.” 99 The second element in the agreement is an important one. By the agreement, Scott conceded not only the construc­tion of the western portion of the line to the Southern Pacific, but also the land grants in California given to the Texas and Pacific. 100

The news of the compromise between Scott and Huntington greatly dismayed San Diego. The Citizens’ Railroad Committee telegraphed Scott, reminding him of his promise to build to San Diego. Scott’s reply to the Committee offered them no hope:

“Phila. Dec. 18th. Trustees & R.R. Committee. Have used my utmost ef­forts to secure San Diego a railroad line on such route as can best effect the ob­ject and if you can effect it in any better shape than I can, I should be very glad to have you take it up and adjust it with any party or on any terms that you may think best, but in taking these steps I shall expect you to relieve me of all possible obligations.” 101

The failure of the Texas and Pacific to construct the road was no fault of the company’s, reported the road’s Vice President Frank Bond, “unless poverty is a crime.” 102

By May of 1877, the possibility of constructing the Texas and Pacific to San Diego was completely ended when the Southern Pacific reached Ft. Yuma. 104 Following the inauguration of Rutherford Hayes as president, Huntington’s Southern Pacific began constructing their rail line into Arizona by bridging the Colorado River and beginning construction across the Indian reservation at Ft. Yuma. As a counter measure, the Texas and Pacific rushed a surveying crew to Ft. Yuma to survey a line for that road. This was in an attempt to preserve the right of the Texas and Pacific to construct its line through Arizona. With the two roads heading for conflict, the Secretary of War issued an order for both to cease construction in the reservation until a decision could be reached on who had the right to construct a roadway. Scott believed that Congress, when it met again, would uphold the right of the Texas and Pacific to construct the roadway. Huntington, ever the realist, took a more direct approach. Defying the War Department’s orders, Huntington ordered the Southern Pacific to continue construction, which they did at night after the soldiers on the reservation withdrew from the area. Traveling to Washington and meeting with President Hayes, Huntington received an executive order permitting the Southern Pacific to build through the reservation. 104 Building the road into Arizona, Huntington ensured that the Texas and Pacific would not receive a subsidy to continue construction to California. Nor would private investors provide the necessary capital to continue construction on a road that would parallel the tracks of an existing and operating railroad. By 1881, the Southern Pacific would join tracks with the Texas and Pacific at Sierra Blanca, ninety-one miles east of El Paso. 105 The requiem for San Diego’s hopes for the Texas and Pacific were recorded by Herbert Crouch in his recollections:

“The Texas and Pacific R.R. Co. had busted up and the piles and lumber they began with were lying all along the track from San Diego to Selwin Canyon.” 106

Along with the lumber and the ties lay the dreams of the city. In an era of large plans, San Diego had dreamed boldly, but had been outmaneuvered by fortune. Another decade would go by before the city would receive a rail connection.

While San Diego had invested thousands of dollars on behalf of the Texas and Pacific, they had also donated 9,000 acres of valuable real estate. With the failure of the road, the most important issue immediately before the city was whether it could reacquire the land. By 1876, lawsuits had been filed against the Texas and Pacific demanding the return of the land grants. Unfortunately, the city had made no agreement with the company requiring the return of the land should the road not be built. Suits over the grant would continue until a settlement was reached in 1880. According to this settlement, San Diego and the Texas and Pacific each split the land grant by alternately selecting lots in the “railroad” lands lying between Mannasse & Schiller’s Addition and National City. 107 The portion of the grant falling to the Texas and Pacific was sold, along with the railroad, to Jay Gould in 1880. Gould, in turn, sold the land to the Southern Pacific. 108

The Texas and Pacific story in San Diego resulted in some benefits and some losses for San Diego. The decade from 1871 to 1881 saw a slight increase in the city’s population and, in spite of some serious economic problems in the nation, an overall growth in the area’s economy. 109 The losses included the fact that the city did not enjoy as great a level of prosperity as it had originality hoped. Morse was unable to realize his one hundred thousand dollars from the construction of a rail line. And, what Morse had decried all along, Huntington and the Southern Pacific had gained a foothold in San Diego, and would continue their monopoly over California transportation for another decade. Had not the economic collapse of 1873 occurred, San Diego would have received its rail connection with the east a decade sooner. This change might conceivably have changed the history of the state. With a direct connection by rail to the east, San Diego might have controlled the shipping traffic which went to Los Angeles with the construction of the harbor at Wilmington. In turn, San Diego might have become the major city of Southern California. But this, like the dreams for the Texas and Pacific, is mere speculation, worthy of Beriah Sellers. Or E.W. Morse.

1. Lewis B. Lesley, “The Struggle of San Diego for a Southern Transcontinental Rail Road Connection, 1854-1891” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1933), p. ii.

2. San Diego Herald, 27 January, 1855.

3. Earl Samuel McGhee, “E.W. Morse, Pioneer Merchant and Co-founder of San Diego” (M.A. Thesis, San Diego State University, 1950), pp. 89-94.

4. McGhee, “Morse, Pioneer Merchant,” pp. 90-96.

5. Lewis B. Lesley, “A Southern Transcontinental Railroad into California: Texas and Pacific versus Southern Pacific, 1865-1885,” Pacific Historical Review, (March 1936): p. 53.

6. San Diego Union, 28 July, 1870.

7. Lesley, “A Southern Transcontinental Railroad into California,” p. 52.

8. U.S. Treasury Department. Report on Public Works in States and Territories, Senate Executive Documents, 43rd. Cong., I Sess., No. 12 p. 59.

9. The Washington Chronicle, 5 March, 1871, reprinted in The San Diego Union, 30 March, 1871. Vertical File 625.2, Transportation. Railroads. San Diego History Center Research Archives

10. San Diego Union, 13 October, 1869.

11. E.W. Morse to George P. Marston, 8 August, 1870. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

12. National Railroad Convention, St. Louis, 1875, Proceedings of the National Railroad Convention at St. Louis, Mo., Nov. 23rd and 24th, 1875, p. ix.

13. National Railroad Convention, Proceedings, p. 14.

14. National Railroad Convention, Proceedings, p. 16.

15. Unaddressed letter from Morse, 17 January, 1871. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

16. Morse to Mathew Sherman, 19 January, 1871. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

17. Morse to J.R. Bleeker, 6 February, 1871. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

18. Morse to Sherman, 1 February, 1871. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

19. U.S. Statutes at Large, XVI, 1871, p. 574.

20. U.S. Statutes at Large, XVI, 1871, p. 578.

21.Congressional Globe, 29 April, 1872, p. 2889 see also U.S. Statutes at Large, XVII, 1872, p. 60.

22. Ralph N. Traxler, “Collis P. Huntington and the Texas and Pacific Railroad Land Grant” New Mexico Historical Review (April 1959), p. 117.

23. U.S. Statutes at Large, XVI, 1871, pp. 576-578 Traxler, “Collis P. Huntington. . .,” p. 119 and C. Vann Woodward, Reunion & Reaction (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1966), p. 72.

24. Collis P. Huntington to Mark Hopkins, 7 June, 1870. Collis P. Huntington Letters, on Microfilm, Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

25. Paul V. DeFord, Jr. “In Defense of Empire” (M.A. Thesis, University of California at Berkeley, c 1948), p. 7.

26. Morse to Frank Frary, 20 January, 1870, Morse Letterpress Books. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

27. H.C. Hopkins, History of San Diego: Its Pueblo Lands and Water (San Diego: City Printing Co., 1929), p. 200.

28. Morse to Thomas Sedgewick, 17 January, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

29. Morse to J.L. Pearson, 4 March, 1875, Morse Letterpress Books. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

30. Morse to Sherman, 19 January, 1871, Morse Letterpress Books. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

32. Morse to Sherman, 25 January 1871. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

33. Morse to Sherman, 29 January 1871. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

35. Morse to Sherman, 15 December [1871?]. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

36. Morse to Sherman, 31 January 1871. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

37. Morse to Sherman, 1 February 1871. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

38. Morse to Sherman, 7 February 1871. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

39. McGhee, “E.W. Morse, Pioneer Merchant,” p. 128.

40. Morse to Thomas R. Darnell, February, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

41. Morse to J.R, Bleeker, 19 February, 1871. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

42. From a note in Morse Letterpress Book for 1872, p. 556, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

43. The World, 27 August, 1872.

44. The World, 27 August, 1872.

45. San Diego Daily Union, 28 August, 1872 see also San Diego Union, San Diego: The California Terminus of the Texas and Pacific Railway, p. 18, in Ms. Collection 260, Railroads, Texas and Pacific File. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

46. Morse to Sedgewick, 1 September, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diggo Historical Society Research Archives.

48. Morse to Bleecker, 16 October, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

49.Morse to Sedgewick, 1 September, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

51. Spencer Menzel, “Paper Railroads of the 1890s” (s.l. : s.n., 1943), p. 13.

52. Morse to Col. Ferrel, c. 9 September, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

53. Morse to Charles Poole, 7 September, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

54. Morse to Ferrel, 12 October, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

55. Morse to Pool, 11 November, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

56. Morse to Sedgewick, 3 December, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

58. The World, 28 July, 1872.

59. The World, 15 January, 1872.

60. Menzel, “Paper Railroads of the 1890s,” p. 16.

61. J.R. Perkins, Trails, Rails and War: The Life of General G.M. Dodge (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, c1929), pp. 247-248.

62. Woodward, Reunion & Reaction, pp. 73-74 also, Morse to Whaley, 31 January, 1874. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

63. Morse to Bowers, 10 March, 1874. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

64. Morse to Sedgewick, 15 August, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

65. Morse to Sedgewick, 20 August, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

66. Morse to Sedgewick, 16 March, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

67. Irene Philips, The Railroad Story of San Diego County (National City: South Bay Press, 1956), pp. 12-13.

68. Huntington to Charles Crocker, 28 April, 1868. Huntington Letters, on Microfilm, Ban­croft Library, University of California Berkeley.

69. Morse to Sedgewick, 26 March, 1872. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

70. San Diego Union clipping in Vertical File 625.2, Transportation. Railroads. San Diego History Center Research Archives.

71. Richard V. Dodge, “The California Southern Railroad: A Rail Drama of the Southwest” reprinted from Bulletin No. 80, The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, p. 15.

72. The World, 22 April, 1873.

73. Morse to Brown & Brown, 23 April, 1875. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

74. Dictionary of American History, Revised Edition, v. 5 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976), p. 207.

75. Morse to Whaley, 31 January, 1874 and Morse to Howard, 22 April, 1874. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

76. Morse to Howard, 3 May, 1874. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

77. Morse to Howard, 9 January, 1874. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

78. Texas and Pacific Annual Report, August 10, 1875 p. 11.

79.Morse to Mrs. M. L. Clarke, 10 January, 1874. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

80. Texas and Pacific Annual Report, August 10, 1875, p. 11.

81. Woodward, Reunion & Reaction, pp. 79-81.

82. Huntington to Crocker, 11 November, 1874. Huntington Letters, Microfilm, Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

83. Huntington to D.D. Colton, 8 December, 1874. Huntington Letters, Microfilm, Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

84. Woodward, Reunion & Reaction, pp. 82-83 see also Lesley, “A Southern Transcontinental Railroad into California:” pp. 52-60.

85. Huntington to Leland Stanford, 18 September, 1874. Huntington Letters, Microfilm, Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

86. DeFord, “In Defense of Empire,” p. 10.

87. Woodward, Reunion & Reaction, p. 130.

88. Woodward, Reunion & Reaction, pp. 130-131.

89. Woodward, Reunion & Reaction, pp. 127-133.

90. DeFord, “In Defense of Empire,” p. 16.

91. Huntington to Colton, 8 December, 1874. Huntington Letters, Microfilm, Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

92. Huntington to Crocker, 11 December, 1874. Huntington Letters, Microfilm, Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley.

94. Morse to Hollister, 19 August, 1875. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

95. Morse to Henry Swyerkamp, c. August, 1875, p. 161. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

96. Morse to Howard, 31 July, 1875 and Morse to Nash, 13 August, 1875. Morse Letter­press Books, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

97. Morse to Pierce, 25 September, 1876. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

98. Morse to David Felsenheld, 28 November, 1876. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

99. Woodward, Reunion & Reaction, pp. 113-116.

100. Morse to Howard, 29 January, 1877. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

101. Morse to Pierce, 24 December, 1876. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

102. Morse to Bryant Howard, 28 April, 1877. Morse Letterpress Books, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

103. McGhee, “E.W. Morse, Pioneer Merchant,” p. 189.

104. Woodward, Reunion & Reaction, pp. 235-236.

105. McGhee, “E.W. Morse, Pioneer Merchant,” pp. 189-190 see also Lesley, “The Struggle of San Diego for a Transcontinental Rail Road Connection,” pp. 509-510.

106. Herbert Crouch, “Recollections-Biographical Notes” (s.l.: s.m., n.d.), p. 64. San Diego History Center Research Archives.

107. Memorandum of Agreement between the City of San Diego and the Texas and Pacific Railway Company, Ms. Collection 260, file 63. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

108. Mrs. Joseph Weidel, comp., “Fragments of San Diego, California Railroad History: Excerpts from the San Diego Union, 1871-1875,” scrapbook, p. 3. San Diego History Center Research Archives.

109. U.S. Census Abstracts 9, (1870) & 10, (1880), Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

THE PHOTOGRAPHS are courtesy of the San Diego History Center’s Title Insurance and Trust Collection. The map on pages 264-265 is from the SDHC Research Archives.

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Ignatius Donnelly and the 1892 Populist Platform

Use this Narrative with the Populists and Socialists in the Gilded Age Lesson and the William Jennings Bryan, “Cross of Gold” speech, 1896 Primary Source to give students a deeper understanding of Gilded Age political platforms.

During the 1890s, a powerful social and political coalition of farmers briefly challenged not only the supremacy of the two major parties but also the very assumptions behind the emerging system of industrial capitalism in the United States. Under the banner of the People’s Party, or Populists, this mass movement sought to unite farmers and workers in a cross-regional alliance to reform American democracy and curb the influence of big business. Although they failed to win the presidency or control Congress, the Populists forged a grassroots political insurgency and won a place for farmers as a powerful lobbying group with the federal government. Some of their ideas became reality in later decades, and populist rhetoric remains a hallmark of modern American politics.

Populism was rooted in the struggles of farmers during the post-Civil War period. As the nation rapidly industrialized and urbanized, the American agricultural sector underwent dramatic transformations that affected the lives of millions. Across the South and West, expanding railroads drew formerly isolated rural communities into a web of commercial relationships that both enticed and entrapped farmers. The opportunity to participate in national and international markets required them to deal with bankers, commodities brokers, freight agents, insurance companies, equipment wholesalers, warehouse operators, and merchants, all of whom appeared to profit at their expense.

Farmers faced significant challenges in the late nineteenth century, such as rising costs and railroad rates, while prices were falling and credit was difficult to obtain. Many lost their land and were forced to become laborers. In the South especially, the shortage of credit and the unstable price of cotton fostered an exploitive crop lien system in which black farmers and white farmers borrowed against the future, only to fall deeper in debt to the “furnishing merchant.”

Farmers responded to these difficulties by forming organizations that tried to stop the slide into what some called “modern feudalism.” During the 1870s and 1880s, groups such as the Farmers’ Mutual Benefit Association (FMBA) and the Patrons of Husbandry (the Grange) experimented with cooperative stores, machine shops, warehouses, and marketing exchanges to relieve the difficulties facing their members. Midwestern grangers also successfully pushed for state regulation of the grain elevators and railroads that controlled access to markets. Legal challenges soon struck down these “granger laws” while economic depressions wiped out most of their cooperative enterprises, but a spirit of solidarity survived in the Northwestern Farmers’ Alliance.

In the meantime, the Southern Farmers’ Alliance roared to life in Texas, then swept across the South and into the West. Led by Charles Macune, it united small land-owning farmers in a campaign to break the grip of creditors. By the end of the decade, gifted Alliance speakers and sympathetic newspaper editors had sparked a mass movement for economic reform. Together, the Northern and Southern Alliances represented more than a million white families, with a separate Colored Farmers’ Alliance counting some 250,000 black members.

The first banner of the Southern Farmer’s Alliance, which was established in Texas in 1878 and promoted itself as a way for farmers to unite and protect each other.

Mutual enemies and common demands encouraged steps toward concerted political action. In 1889, the national conventions of the three alliances met jointly with the FMBA and the Knights of Labor to discuss shared principles and possible unification of the Northern and Southern organizations. A formal merger never took place, due to disagreements rooted in the divergent interests and opinions of farmers from different sections of the country, particularly regarding the membership of nonwhites. The St. Louis Conference did produce a political platform, however, on which the National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union (the renamed Southern Alliance) began running candidates for office in 1890.

Initially working through the Democratic Party in the South and independent parties in the West, Alliance politicians won impressive victories at the state and national levels. Flush with success, the National Alliance and the Colored Alliance convened in December to draft a strident reform program called the Ocala Demands. The Northern Alliance quickly followed suit, announcing a similar platform at its meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. Upon its adoption by a unified convention in 1892, that document became the blueprint for a national third party – the People’s Party.

The Omaha Platform brought together ideas that had been circulating among agrarian radicals, labor organizers, and monetary reformers since the 1870s. To expand opportunity and eliminate corruption, the Populists demanded a flexible currency independent of private banks, a graduated federal income tax, government ownership of the railroads, immigration restrictions, the eight-hour work day, the secret ballot, the direct election of U. S. senators, a constitutional amendment to limit the presidency to one term, and the prohibition of foreign land ownership. It was noticeably silent on the issues of racial segregation and women’s suffrage, though Populist speakers such as Tom Watson and Mary Elizabeth Lease had called for cooperation across lines of race and sex.

For farmers, the most important planks were those in support of the subtreasury system and the free coinage of silver. First proposed by the Southern Alliance, the subtreasury would allow farmers to store their crops in government-funded warehouses until prices were favorable for market. Until then, they could draw U.S. Treasury notes for up to 80 percent of the value of their crops, to be repaid at the time of sale. To further assist farmers, the Treasury would return to a bimetallic monetary standard through the free and unlimited coinage of silver at a ratio of 16 silver dollars to one gold dollar. By inflating the money supply and decreasing its value, silver coinage would increase crop prices, loosen credit, and enable debtors to pay back their loans more easily. It also had the benefit of attracting votes from silver-producing states in the western United States, thus expanding the Populist coalition, although the hoped-for increase in farm prices ran up against the interests of consumers and those who advocated the gold standard as the basis of financial soundness.

The man chosen to give this radical platform a fitting preamble was Ignatius Donnelly. A lawyer by training, Donnelly had served Minnesota as a lieutenant governor, state legislator, and Republican congressional representative before becoming an organizer for the Northern Alliance. He had also published a popular utopian novel, Caesar’s Column, about a working-class revolution against supposedly greedy capitalists. With dramatic flair, the opening words of Donnelly’s preamble painted a stark picture of America in the Gilded Age: “The conditions which surround us best justify our co-operation we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin.” Donnelly went on to condemn political corruption, the suppression of organized labor, and the widening gap between rich and poor:

The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes, unprecedented in the history of the world, while their possessors despise the republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes tramps and millionaires.

The delegates in St. Louis greeted the platform enthusiastically. That enthusiasm produced results at the ballot box, but it also provoked criticism and countermeasures from the two major parties. In the 1892 election, the Populist candidate for president, James B. Weaver, won more than a million popular votes (8.5 percent) and 22 electoral votes the first time since 1860 that a third party had made a mark in the Electoral College. The People’s Party performed best in the West, where Weaver carried five states and Populists elected more than a dozen governors, congressmen, and senators. In the South, however, they struggled to break the hold of the Democratic Party, which used the threat of “Negro domination” to keep white voters in line.

The People’s Party promoted “equal rights to all special privileges to none” in its1892 presidential campaign.

The Democrats also took the free-silver issue as their own after Populist gains in the 1894 midterms demonstrated its mass appeal. At their convention in 1896, the Democrats picked the fiery Silverite William Jennings Bryan to head their presidential ticket. That maneuver presented the Populists with a dilemma: Either choose a different candidate and split the silver vote, or nominate Bryan and fuse with the Democrats on the presidential ballot. They chose fusion in the hope that free silver would carry them to the White House and open the door to additional reforms.

The 1896 election proved them wrong. Bryan was a strong candidate, inspiring millions with his famous “Cross of Gold” speech, which matched Donnelly’s passionate description of a nation divided. In choosing to support him, however, the Populists had to compromise most of their platform and their distinctive identity. Meanwhile, the Republicans intensified their criticism of “Popocrats” as a pack of fanatical hayseeds bent on wrecking the economy and evading their debt obligations. The Republican candidate, William McKinley, stood for “sound money” and moral order. Bryan won the South and most of the West, but free silver failed to inspire the labor vote in the more populous Northeast and Midwest. McKinley’s victory ushered in 16 years of Republican rule, during which the Populists faded away as an independent political force.

Most of the reforms sought by the Populists were not immediately achieved. Even so, economic growth in the first decade greatly improved the condition of farmers, allowed them to participate in the consumer culture (through popular mail-order catalogs), and increased the prices for their crops. Populists gained a voice in state and national politics to lobby for their interests alongside big business and labor unions. Some of their reforms a graduated income tax, direct election of senators, closer government regulation of commerce and finance – were later realized during the Progressive Era and the New Deal.

Review Questions

1. The Southern Farmers’ Alliance was the first organization to propose the idea of

  1. monetary inflation through the free coinage of silver
  2. African American sharecroppers joining the National Alliance
  3. a subtreasury system to store crops in taxpayer-funded government warehouses
  4. an eight-hour day for industrial workers

2. The Omaha Platform proposed all the following ideas except

  1. government ownership of railroads
  2. equal tax rates for all wage earners
  3. free coinage of silver
  4. a subtreasury system to help farmers

3. Ignatius Donnelly, the author of the preamble to the Omaha Platform, inspired Populist voters with his

  1. call for racial unity to break the dominance of the Democratic Party in the South
  2. embrace of “sound money” as the key to prosperity for all
  3. dramatic imagery of a nation divided between rich and poor
  4. criticism of immigrants as the source of America’s problems

4. Those who favored free coinage of silver at a ratio of 16 silver dollars to one gold dollar argued it would

  1. inflate money and raise prices for goods
  2. create more jobs for miners
  3. benefit banks and stockbrokers
  4. finance railroad expansion and, therefore, competition

5. In the 1896 election, the Democratic Party effectively neutralized the Populist challenge to the traditional two-party system by

  1. endorsing the subtreasury system
  2. criticizing Jim Crow laws and the disfranchisement of black voters
  3. portraying the Populists as anarchists and hicks
  4. nominating pro-silver politician William Jennings Bryan for president

6. The People’s (or Populist) Party was most successful in what region of the United States?

  1. The agricultural Midwest
  2. The “redeemed” South
  3. Northeastern cities with many union members
  4. The West

7. The 1890s political label “silverite” refers to a person who

  1. was against the circulation of silver as money
  2. wanted to maintain strict adherence to the gold standard
  3. supported a 16-to-1 ratio of silver to gold as currency
  4. stood for “sound money”

Free Response Questions

  1. Explain how the challenges faced by farmers in the late nineteenth century contributed to the Populist movement.
  2. Explain the downfall of the Populists movement.
  3. Evaluate the success of Populism as a movement for significant social, economic, and political change.

AP Practice Questions

“Expression of Sentiments: . . .

1. RESOLVED, That we demand a free ballot and a fair count in all elections and pledge ourselves to secure it to every legal voter without Federal Intervention, through the adoption by the States of the unperverted Australian or secret ballot system.

2. RESOLVED, That the revenue derived from a graduated income tax should be applied to the reduction of the burden of taxation now levied upon the domestic industries of this country. . . .

4. RESOLVED, That we condemn the fallacy of protecting American labor under the present system, which opens our ports to the pauper and criminal classes of the world and crowds out our wage-earners and we denounce the present ineffective laws against contract labor, and demand the further restriction of undesirable emigration.

5. RESOLVED, That we cordially sympathize with the efforts of organized workingmen to shorten the hours of labor, and demand a rigid enforcement of the existing eight-hour law on Government work, and ask that a penalty clause be added to the said law.”

People’s Party Platform, July 5, 1892

1. Resolution 4 in the excerpt has most in common with what other political movement?

  1. Antebellum reforms of the 1840s
  2. Jacksonian Democrats’ platform of the 1820s and 1830s
  3. Know Nothings of the 1850s
  4. Anti-Masonic Party of the 1830s

2. What was a major impetus for the social and political movement that inspired the excerpt?

  1. Unlimited development of the steel industry in the East
  2. Unfair treatment of farmers by the railroad companies
  3. Unfair treatment of factory workers by the owner class
  4. Unlimited immigration to the United States by southern and eastern Europeans

3. Several ideas for reform expressed by the Populist Party were

  1. later incorporated into U.S. policy as constitutional amendments or laws
  2. rejected by the American people until the economic emergency created by the Great Depression
  3. too unrealistic to attract political support
  4. responsible for rejection of the “Popocrats” agenda

Primary Sources

Bryan, William Jennings. “Bryan’s ‘Cross of Gold’ Speech: Mesmerizing the Masses.”http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5354/

Lease, Mary Elizabeth. “A Woman’s Work: Mary Lease Celebrates Women Populists.”http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5303/

Pollack, Norman, ed.The Populist Mind. New York, NY: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1967.

Suggested Resources

Ayers, Edward L. The Promise of the New South: Life after Reconstruction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Edmonds, Helen. The Negro and Fusion Politics in North Carolina 1894-1901. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1951.

Goodwyn, Lawrence. The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Hicks, John. The Populist Revolt. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1931.

Hild, Matthew. Greenbackers, Knights of Labor, and Populists. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2007.

Hofstadter, Richard. The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955.

Holmes, William, ed. American Populism. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.

Kazin, Michael. The Populist Persuasion: An American History. New York: Basic Books, 1995.

Lasch, Christopher. The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics. New York: Norton, 1991.

McMath, Robert C. Jr. American Populism: A Social History 1877-1898. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

Mihm, Stephen. A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Nugent, Walter T.K. Money and American Society,1865-1880. New York: Free Press, 1968.

Ostler, Jeffrey.Prairie Populism: The Fate of Agrarian Radicalism in Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa, 1880-1892. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1993.

Postel, Charles. The Populist Vision. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Ridge, Martin. Ignatius Donnelly. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1962.

Ritter, Gretchen. Goldbugs and Greenbacks: The Antimonopoly Tradition and the Politics of Finance in America, 1865-1896. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Trachtenberg, Alan. The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age. New York: Hill and Wang, 1982.

Woodward, C. Vann. Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel. New York: University of Oxford Press, 1938.


1 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “2016 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics” (https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2016/table1, accessed Sept. 19, 2019) “Number of Immigrants and Their Share of the Total U.S. Population, 1850–2017” (chart), Migration Policy Institute (https://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/charts/immigrant-population-over-time?width=1000&height=850&iframe=true, accessed Sept. 19, 2019).

2 Cannato , Vincent J. , American Passage: The History of Ellis Island ( New York : Harper , 2009 ), 13 Google Scholar .

3 Higham's full definition of “nativism” was an “intense opposition to an internal minority on the ground of its foreign (i.e., “un-American”) connections.” Higham , John , Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 , 2nd ed. , ( New Brunswick, NJ : Rutgers University Press , 1963 ), 4 Google Scholar .

4 Higham , , Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 , rev. ed., ( New Brunswick, NJ : Rutgers University Press , 2002 ), 337 Google Scholar .

5 Daniels , Roger , Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life ( New York : Harper Collins , 1990 ), 338 Google Scholar .

6 Chin , Gabriel J. , “ The Civil Rights Revolution Comes to Immigration Law: A New Look at the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ,” North Carolina Law Review (University of North Carolina School of Law) 75 : 1 (November 1, 1996 ): 274 Google Scholar .

7 Glazer , Nathan , “ The Emergence of an American Ethnic Pattern ,” in From Different Shores: Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America, ed. Takaki , Ronald ( New York : Oxford University Press , 1987 ), 13 Google Scholar Luibheid , Eithne , “ The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act: An ‘End’ to Exclusion? ,” positions 5 : 2 ( 1997 ): 502 CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

8 Higham , John , “ Instead of a Sequel, or How I Lost My Subject ,” Reviews in American History 28 : 2 ( 2000 ): 327 –39CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

9 Higham, Strangers in the Land, 340–41, 344.

10 Some recent and helpful scholarly definitions of xenophobia include Fernandez , Lilia , “ Nativism and Xenophobia ,” in The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration , ed. Ness , Immanuel ( Hoboken, NJ : Wiley-Blackwell , 2013 )Google Scholar Hervik , Peter , “ Xenophobia and Nativism ,” in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences , 2nd ed. , ed. Wright , James D. ( Oxford : Elsevier , 2015 ), 796 – 801 CrossRefGoogle Scholar Jones , Paul R. , “ Xenophobia ,” in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology , ed. Ritzer , George ( Hoboken, NJ : Wiley-Blackwell , 2007 ), 5, 299 – 300 Google Scholar Yakushko , Oksana , “ Xenophobia: Understanding the Roots and Consequences of Negative Attitudes Toward Immigrants ,” The Counseling Psychologist 37 : 1 ( 2009 ): 36 – 66 CrossRefGoogle Scholar Achiume , Tendayi , “ Beyond Prejudice: Structural Xenophobic Discrimination Against Refugees ,” Georgetown Journal of International Law 45 : 3 ( 2014 ): 325 Google Scholar .

11 Achiume, “Beyond Prejudice,” 331.

12 The work of scholars of settler colonialism has been most helpful in my reconceptualization of nativism. See, for example, Wolfe , Patrick , “ Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native ,” Journal of Genocide Research 8 : 4 ( 2006 ): 387 – 409 CrossRefGoogle Scholar Kauanui , J. Kēhaulani , “ ‘A Structure, Not an Event’: Settler Colonialism and Enduring Indigeneity ,” Lateral 5 : 1 ( 2016 )CrossRefGoogle Scholar Volpp , Leti , “ The Indigenous as Alien ,” UC Irvine Law Review 5 : 289 ( 2015 ): 324 Google Scholar Veracini , Lorenzo , Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview ( London : Palgrave Macmillan , 2010 ): 16 – 17 CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

13 I draw from the United Nations definition of xenophobia and its impact. See Jean Pierre Misago, Iriann Freemantle, and Loren B. Landau, “Protection from Xenophobia: An Evaluation of UNHCR's Regional Office for Southern Africa's Xenophobia Related Programmes,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 2015, 10 (http://www.unhcr.org/research/evalreports/55cb153f9/protection-xenophobia-evaluation-unhcrs-regional-office-southern-africas.html, accessed Sept. 19, 2019).

14 Grant , Madison , The Passing of the Great Race or The Racial Basis of European History, 4th revised ed. , ( New York : Charles Scribner's Sons , 1921 ), xxix Google Scholar .

15 Henry Fairchild Osborne, “Introduction to the Fourth Revised Edition,” The Passing of the Great Race, xxviii–ix.

16 Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, 20, 298.

17 Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, 229, 20–21.

18 Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, xxviii, 32.

19 Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, 91 Osborne, Preface to Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, ix, 92.

20 Strong , Josiah , Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis ( New York : The Baker & Taylor Co. , 1885 )Google Scholar .

21 Immigration Restriction League, “The Present Aspect of the Immigration Problem,” Boston, 1894, Immigration Restriction League Records, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

22 U.S. Immigration Commission, 61st Cong., Sess. III, “Dictionary of Races or Peoples,” no. 602, Congressional Record, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1911 Gjelten , Tom , A Nation of Nations: A Great Immigration Story ( New York : Simon & Schuster , 2015 ), 85 Google Scholar Benton-Cohen , Katherine , Inventing the Immigration Problem: The Dillingham Commission and Its Legacy ( Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press , 2018 ), 1, 6CrossRefGoogle Scholar U.S. Immigration Commission, 61st Cong., Sess. III, “Reports of the Immigration Commission,” vol. 1, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1911, 45–48 Spickard , Paul , Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race, and Colonialism in American History and Identity ( New York : Routledge , 2007 ), 278 Google Scholar .

23 Spiro , Jonathan , Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant ( Burlington : University of Vermont Press , 2008 ), 163 –67Google Scholar .

24 Immigration Act of 1917, 64th Cong., Sess. II, Pub. L., No. 301, 39 Stat. 874 (Feb. 5, 1917).

25 Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, xxviii.

27 Immigration Act of 1924, 68th Cong., Sess. I, Pub. L., No. 68–139, 43 Stat. 153 (May 26, 1924) Hernández , Kelly Lytle , Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol ( Berkeley : University of California Press , 2010 ), 33 – 35 Google Scholar .

28 Zolberg , Aristide , A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America ( Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press , 2006 )Google Scholar Hirota , Hidetaka , Expelling the Poor: Atlantic Seaboard States and the Nineteenth-Century Origins of American Immigration Policy ( New York : Oxford University Press , 2017 )CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

29 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, 47th Cong., Sess. I, Chap. 126, 22 Stat. 58 (May 6, 1882) Chae Chan Ping v. United States, 130 U.S. 581 (May 13, 1889).

30 An Act to Regulate Immigration, 47th Cong., Sess. I, Chap. 376, 22 Stat. 214 (August 3, 1882) 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, 47th Cong., Sess. I, Chap. 126, 22 Stat. 58 (May 6, 1882).

31 Prior to the passage of the 1875 Page Law (43rd Cong., Sess. II, Chap. 141, 18 Stat. 477, Mar. 3, 1875) and the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, there was neither a trained force of government officials and interpreters nor the bureaucratic machinery with which to enforce U.S. immigration policy. The Immigration Act of 1891 (51st Cong., Sess. II, Chap. 551, 26 Stat. 1084, Mar. 3, 1891) established the Superintendent of Immigration. As George Anthony Peffer has illustrated, enforcement of the Page Law first established the role of the U.S. collector of customs as examiner of Chinese female passengers and their documents, an important prototype for immigration legislation and inspection. The Page Law was also enforced by U.S. consuls in Hong Kong. Peffer , George Anthony , If They Don't Bring Their Women Here: Chinese Female Immigration Before Exclusion ( Urbana : University of Illinois Press , 1999 ), 58 – 59 Google Scholar Wen-hsien Chen, “Chinese Immigration Under Both Exclusion and Immigration Laws” (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1940), 91. Sections 4 and 8 of the Chinese Exclusion Act extended the duties of these officials to include the examination of all arriving Chinese. Inspectors were also required to examine and clear Chinese laborers departing the United States. The Bureau of Immigration was established in an 1894 amendment of the Chinese Exclusion Act (53rd Cong., Sess. II, Chap. 301, 28 Stat. 390, Aug. 18, 1894).

32 The Immigration Act of 1924, 68th Cong., Sess. I, Pub. L., No. 68–139, 43 Stat. 153 (May 26, 1924).


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