Reminiscences of an octogenarian in the fields of industrial and social reform/09

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Joshua King Ingalls

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[NOTE: 9th chapter, labeled "X" in original]


Immediately on coming to New York, I was associated again with the Land Reformers. In the fall of 1850, I was called upon to preside at a large meeting at Tammany Hall, to listen to addresses by United States Senator Walker of Wisconsin, and a German, whose name I do not now recall, in favor of the proposition to make the public lands, free to actual settlers and at one time it seemed quite possible that St. Tammany would intercede with the "unterrified democracy" to make that a party question. As the reactionary tide of 1849 had reached its culmination, the workingmen began to move again for some amelioration of their condition, in the shortening of the hours of a day's work; by requiring that all public works be carried on by government or corporations direct without contractor or intermediate boss. A confederation of the trades unions was formed, and periodical meetings were held in the old City Hall. A few of the leaders of that movement were land reformers, but they were never able to enlist any considerable number [47] of the union men to listen to the discussion of the land question. K. Arthur Bailey of the Printers Union, Benjamine Price, Andrew Day, Henry Beeny, Wm. Rowe, Robert Blissert, Leander Thomson, and Ira B. Davis were among those whose advocacy of freedom of public lands became outspoken and persistent.[1]

When Kossuth came to this country he gave a reception to a delegation of working men and free land advocates, at the old Irving House parlors. Mr. Bailey was appointed to read the address, which was creditably written. After giving a brief review of the political situation, in this country, and in Europe, and expression of sympathy with Kossuth, and the lost cause in Hungary, the disposition of the public lands was referred to; the landless condition of our workers, and its effect in depressing the wages, and depriving working men of opportunities, and homes, were tersely set forth. In Kossuth's reply, he expressed his appreciation of the good will shown to Hungary's cause, by American working men, but reminded them, they had the franchise, and if anything was wrong in our administration, it was their fault, if they did not right it, at the polls. While thus administering a deserved rebuke to those working men, who were misled by party prejudice, and machine polities, he displayed ignorance of the fact that our evils have their origin in civil, and economic misrule, rather than in the political differences between the Republic, and the Empire or Monarchy.

After the experience of 1848, the Land Reform agitators had abandoned the idea of political organization, but they still kept up, an organization for purposes of propagandism. They questioned candidates for Congress, and quite generally voted for such as gave most favorable replies. They persistently petitioned the President and National Legislature. After the decease of Mr. Evans, and especially after that of Mr. Commerford, the labor of drafting petitions, and addresses fell upon me. From 1852 to the breaking out of the Civil War, no session of Congress, was allowed to pas without large numbers of petitions being pressed upon that body. These bore fruit, after the war had opened, in the passage of the Homestead Law. Benj. Price, Andrew Day, Henry Beeny, Wm. Rowe, and many others jealously gave their time to promote the agitation. The accompanying is a brief form of our petition. [48]

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

The undersigned, citizens of the United States, feeling the urgent necessity of preventing the further absorption of the Public Lands of the United States by Railroads or other Corporations of having the Residue of said public domain forever set apart for the exclusive use of actual settlers, in limited quantities, Do Respectfully Petition Your Honorable Body to take prompt action, to that end.

We urge our appeal on the ground that tens of thousands of the industrial classes of large cities and towns, now unemployed, must geek an outlet and escape from the poverty and distress which surrounds them, or rapidly be driven to pauperism and crime.

We urge our appeal on the ground of simple justice to our children and our children's children, and to the emigrants now seeking our shores, fleeing from the very monopoly of land so alarmingly threatening our Republic from the rapid absorption of the public domain by giant corporations and private monopolists.

We urge our appeal as a measure of justice to the whole American People. These lands are a rich legacy, held in trust by our generation for those who come after us—never to be alienated.

We urge our appeal finally, as one deeply affecting the morals and well being of our people, in that these giant corporations have become the allies of stock gamblers in turning our public domain (the heritage of all) into one vast gambling arena, in which though a few may be gainer and many must be losers.

To put a speedy termination to these threatened evils, and to secure a measure of equity and justice to the American people, we urgently pray the adoption of measures embodying the features herein set forth.

Leaving the employment of Mr. Keyser, in l852, I engaged with Mr. Thaddeus Hyatt, and in 1853, while he was in Europe, managed his illuminated sidewalk business, then in its infancy. I found in him much sympathy for my social views, and our relations for several years were very pleasant. Business variances, afterwards, at times quite antagonistic, never—however on my part—resulted in unfriendly feeling—though some personal peculiarities rendered him greatly obnoxious to others who had dealings with him. He was generous and chivalrous in his advocacy of principle, and many a [49] squatter in Kansas, and many a working man in New York has occasion to remember the generous Providence he proved to them. His labors and offerings in the free state movement for Kansas, is a matter of history, and also his effort to alleviate the distress, almost famine, they suffered in the winter of 1860 and 61. To illustrate his activity, he obtained from President James Buchanan, a subscription of one hundred dollars for the Kansas Aid Association, after the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency and upon the eve of the Southern Rebellion. About one hundred thousand dollars was collected by the Association in New York of which Mr. Hyatt, John E. Williams, Daniel Lord, Messrs Seth B. Hunt, Mr. Elliot, Mr. McCurdy and others were the Executive Committee—Mr. Williams acting as Treasurer, and myself as Secretary. This money was mainly expended in shipping grain and provisions to Kansas, which were contributed in great abundance by Illinois, Indiana and the North Western States. Prior to this Mr. Hyatt had been through the ordeal of a contest with the United States Senate, on the right of that body to summon citizens to testify in regard to what laws were required to protect the country from occurrences like that of Harper's Ferry in the fall of 1859. He flatly denied the right, and was held as a prisoner of State. But when Congress adjourned, he was set at liberty, neither party wishing to take the responsibility of holding him, through the approaching campaign. The Atlanta Constitution gave the news in this form, "The fight between the United States Senate, and Thad Hyatt, has terminated—Thad whipped."

After the burial of John Brown, Mr. Hyatt conceived the idea of raising a fund for his family by disposing of a photograph of the old hero, of which he had obtained the negative of some photographer. By this means some $3,000 was obtained. When he was incarcerated the labor of this business fell to me. The Brown family w ere greatly relieved for a time by these contributions, and the reflection that this was being done was a satisfaction to him when in prison.

While Mr. Hyatt was in confinement some of the more radical papers had asked why the New York Tribune had said nothing on the subject. At length there appeared an article, half apologetic, and [50] half condemnatory of Mr. Hyatt's course. I immediately addressed to him a letter, saying "The Tribune, has at last spoken, not in your defence, but in its own," and exposing its indecision, and lack of spirit. Mr. Hyatt enclosed this with a personal note to Mr. Greeley, requesting him to publish it, which he did.

While visiting Mr. Hyatt in jail, which I did many times, I often met there Senators Summer and Wilson, besides several other Members of Congress, and was here, let into the ways of politicians, Judging from what I had seen in the Tribune, and other Republican papers, I conceived that the "border ruffians" of Missouri deserved only "shooting on sight," particularly two brothers, whom the Tribune thought, had names suggestive of what their fate should be—Stringfellows. General Pomeroy on the other hand had become particularly odious to the party, who were trying to make Kansas a slave state. One day while I was in conversation with Senator Sumner, and Mr. Hyatt, General Pomeroy was announced and came in followed by a gentlemanly looking, tail westerner, whom he introduced as General or Colonel Stringfellow. Thinking there might arise a question of "coffee and pistols for two," I was somewhat startled. Presently General Pomeroy explained, that there was a land deal premediated, and that by uniting their forces, the leaders of the two warring factions thought they could secure the "appropriate legislation," they needed from Congress. They also wanted Mr. Hyatt to assist them with means necessary to facilitate the transaction.

General Pomeroy was afterward sent to the Senate, from Kansas and came to bear the soubriquet of Subsidy Pomeroy, and of whom the anecdote is told, that on offering a certain bill, he felt called upon, to state, that there was no steal in it. Saulsbury of Delaware immediately sprang to his feet and said "Mister President! I shall vote for that bill, for if anybody knows when there is a steal in bill, it is the Senator from Kansas." Gen. Pomeroy was a man of kindly feeling, sincere anti-slavery man, a friend of Woman's emancipation, but without strength to withstand the corrupting politics of the time. When I remonstrated with Mr. Hyatt, for aiding Pomeroy with money in his political deals, he would say, "well! [51] the other party is using money, and he must, or get left, and the Border Ruffians will get into power."

After his release Mr. Hyatt had prepared, and placed in the hands of Mr. Gray the printer, a book containing an account of the proceedings before the Senate, in his case. And to which I wrote an introduction, taking up the Constitutional bearing of the question, and showing that inasmuch as the power to summon witnesses for the purpose specified in the summons, had mentioned only persons holding office, or employment under the government, it could not have been intended to embrace the ordinary citizen, and thus imperil his sovereignty. That the proceeding could not be regarded as a judicial investigation for no party was impleaded and in any case the Senate's judicial powers were confined by the Constitution to trials for impeachment. This book, although stereotyped, was never published, I think, as the breaking out of the Rebellion, and his appointment as Consul to La Rochelle, drew Mr. Hyatt's attention to more pressing questions.

[1] Day, Rowe, and Beeny are mentioned in Masquerier, Sociology. Beeny contributed to Workingman's Advocate.