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Farmers and The Labor Vote

Labor pic. Harper’s Weekly, 9 May, 1896

The 1896 presidential contest was in part a fight for the votes of farmers and industrial workers. While the former were still more numerous, the growing numbers of urban wage-workers were a crucial constituency, especially in the hotly contested Midwest. Many Western and Southern farmers were inclined to identify their interests with those of the poor, since the depression had devastated these regions. On the other hand, it is difficult to ascertain how many farmers and workers considered themselves members--or potential future members--of the middle class. Such designations were partly a matter of material circumstance, but also of a voter's perception of his (or her) interests. The impact of employers is also hard to ascertain: at the end of the campaign, well-documented reports emerged (along with unsubstantiated rumors) that employers were promising workingmen to shut their businesses if the Silver Democrats won, or to fire employees who voted for Bryan.

McKinley advertised himself as 'the Advance Agent of Prosperity' and promised that Republicans' tariff and sound monetary policies would bring about an end to the severe depression. In his ‘Cross of Gold’ speech, Bryan told gold-standard advocates they should not press down this 'crown of thorns' on labor's head. Silver Democrats and Populists warned workers that the party of financiers and industrialists (who were providing Republican campaign funds to Mark Hanna) was unfriendly to the interests of workers. They argued for a looser money supply, beneficial to debtors; lower tariffs, to benefit working-class consumers; an income tax on the wealthy; and a fight against monopolies and trusts. Socialists argued that far more radical reforms were needed.

See also information on the depression, the Pullman and Homestead strikes and the imagery of slavery.

Cartoons on Workingmen and Farmers

  • 27 February, People’s Advocate
  • 25 July, Harper’s Weekly
  • 5 August, Rocky Mountain News
  • 13 August, American Non-Conformist
  • 20 August, Sound Money
  • 22 August, The Ram’s Horn
  • 30 August, St. Louis Globe Democrat
  • 3 September, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • 5 September, Harper’s Weekly
  • 9 September, Rocky Mountain News
  • 12 September, Labor Advocate
  • 12 September, New York Journal
  • 17 September, Rocky Mountain News
  • 19 September, Labor Advocate
  • 19 September, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • 20 September, L.A. Times
  • 20 September, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • 6 October, St. Paul Pioneer Press
  • 8 October, New York Journal
  • 10 October, The Coming Nation
  • 13 October, New York Journal
  • 15 October, Rocky Mountain News
  • 17 October, Coming Nation
  • 21 October, Coming Nation
  • 22 October, Sound Money
  • 22 October, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • 30 October, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • 14 November, Coming Nation

To the Editor of the Globe:

...There is a feeling abroad in this country that the rich and pampered class have got the poor man by the throat, metaphorically speaking. Here is an appalling state of affairs. Let McKinley be elected, and just as sure as the sun is to rise Nov. 6, it will rise on a nation plunged in a moment in all the horrors of civil war. I do not claim that Bryan is right. I do not claim that silver should be coined in unlimited quantities, but I claim to be able to read in the faces of the men on whom this nation depends for its very existence, that England, Morgan, and Hanna will never live to cut up another big dividend obtained from a United States bond deal. In my opinion, the workingmen of this country have made up their minds to die on the battlefield rather than live under the dominion and by the sufferance of Lombard and Wall Sts. There is only one trouble in this country today, although one hears so much about currency, etc., and that is, that the rich have driven the poor to construct the Chicago platform. It is not perfect, but it may have a trial. —Arthur Brown, Somerville, Mass., Boston Globe, 3 September 1896

Here in this country we find in place of an aristocracy of royalty an aristocracy of wealth. Far more dangerous to the race is it than the aristocracy of royalty. It is the aristocracy of gold that disintegrates society, destroys individuals and has ruined the proudest nations. It has called Rothschild's agent here to make the platform of the Republican party.... We have advanced scientifically, ethically and otherwise, but in finance we have followed the barbaric methods of our ancestors and the teachings of college-bred idiots who tell us that gold is the only desirable coin. Mary E. Lease, speech in Cooper Union Hall, New York World, 11 August 1896

Is Capital the Foe of Labor?

... Men who have been taught to believe that capital and labor are irreconciliable foes will go to the polls on Nov. 3 and vote to cut down the wages of their own labor and make it difficult, if not impossible, for their employers to continue business under the disastrous conditions which would be brought about by the election of Bryan, under the singular hallucination that in some way they will be benefited by inflicting an injuring on the men who employ them.

This is not an American spirit. It is not the spirit of the free American citizen. It is a foreign exotic, imported by the anarchists and socialists who have come to this country from Europe, and who have been for years engaged in propagating among the workingmen of America the class hatreds and prejudices which have grown up among the laboring classes of Europe against the aristocratic and ruling classes of those countries. There the laboring man is always a laboring man. He follows naturally the same pursuits as his father and grandfather before him. He is seldom able to leap the social and political barriers which oppose his efforts to rise to a higher rank....

But there is no such thing in free America as a distinctive working class.... Talk about classes and masses to free American citizens! Out with this un-American jargon of foreign anarchists! There are no classes in the United States of America, but one. And that is the class of workingmen. For we are all working together for the common welfare of our country and each other--all working in our several occupations for the good of each and all. And all our interests, instead of being in conflict, are reciprocal and interdependent. —St. Paul Pioneer Press, 18 October 1896

Sixteen to One.

A--Do you see those farmers standing over there in front of the Court-House?
B--Yes. What are they all doing there?
A--Why, there are sixteen countrymen discussing politics, to one staying at home and attending to his farm.

—Hugo Platt, Charlotte, N.C., in New York World, 11 October 1896

Mr. Bryan has been going around the country telling the laboring men that they are being "coerced" by their employers... The only proof of coercion he has ever pretended to offer is that he has heard that in some of the cities he has passed through "the employers have notified their employees that they would not open up business if I was elected." From which it appears that the employers referred to have already suspended their business operations on account of the apprehensions excited by the bare possibility of his election. Talk about coercion! Who and what forced them to shut up shop? What is the malignant power that for over two months after Bryan's nomination forced business to a standstill all over the country? ... It was the threat of the party represented by Bryan to drag this country down to the silver standard. —St. Paul Pioneer Press, 9 October 1896

Hanna is an industrial cannibal. He has always been a vindictive foe of organized labor. He has crushed union after union among the thousands of his own employees. He has always oppressed and humbled the laboring man, and taken a delight in doing so. How then can any self-respecting laborer be expected to vote for him? —Raleigh News and Observer, 20 September 1896

There is a studied effort made in some quarters of this country to teach that the employer of labor is attempting to enslave the workingman. I submit to you men of toil all around and about me, who is the better friend of labor, he who gives you work that brings contentment, or he who breathes only words that create discontent? There cannot be, there ought never to be, any enmity between labor and capital. The interest of the one is the interest of the other. —William McKinley in Canton, to a delegation of "railroad men, dock men, farmers, and miners from Ohio," in Cleveland Gazette (African-American), 31 October 1896

© 2010 Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press

click a pic to learn more

Major events of the campaign,
in cartoon and story. (Click date)

  • Feb 27: People’s Advocate: Reading Tillman's Speech
  • Mar 19: People’s Advocate: Pitchfork
  • Apr 4: The Ram’s Horn: Rescued
  • Apr 15: Sound Money: History Repeats Itself
  • Apr 25: The Ram’s Horn: The Stranger at Our Gate
  • May 28: Prohibitionist’s convention, Pittsburgh, PA
  • June 16: Republican convention, St. Louis, MO
  • June 21: Denver New Road: Cleveland's Romance
  • June 28: L.A. Times: Bucking a Wall
  • July 4: Socialist convention, New York, NY
  • July 11: Democratic convention, Chicago, Illinois
  • July 9: Rocky Mountain News: A Soliloquy
  • July 11: Harper’s Weekly: Gold Bugs
  • July 12: L.A. Times: The Old Lady and Her New Wheel
  • July 16: People’s Advocate: McKinley's Evil Sprit
  • July 18: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Bryan
  • July 22: Silver convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 25: People’s Party convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 22: Rocky Mountain News: Wall Street's Private Studio
  • July 25: Harper’s Weekly: Farmer McKinley
  • July 25: Judge: The Silver Candle
  • July 27: Chicago Record: Bryan's Tightrope
  • Aug 5: Rocky Mountain News: The Plain English of It
  • Aug 6: Sound Money: Spain and Rothschilds
  • Aug 8: McKinley accepts Republican nomination
  • Aug 9: Denver New Road: Bryan's Romance
  • Aug 12: Bryan accepts Democratic nomination
  • Aug 13: American Non-Conformist: Farmer Hanna
  • Aug 15: Rocky Mountain News: Bryan the Lion
  • Aug 16: L.A. Times: Aesop's Fox
  • Aug 18: Rocky Mountain News: Hanna the Wizard
  • Aug 20: Sound Money: The Cross of Gold
  • Aug 20: L.A. Times: Popocratic Witches
  • Aug 22: The Ram’s Horn: A Double Burden
  • Aug 29: Harper’s Weekly: McKinley the Veteran
  • Aug 29: Labor Advocate: Look at This
  • Aug 30: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Dime Museum
  • Sept 2: National (Gold) Democratic convention, Indianapolis, IN
  • Sept to Nov 1: McKinley front-porch campaign, Canton, OH
  • Sept 3: New York Journal: Li Hung Chang
  • Sept 5: Harper’s Weekly: The Crown of Thorns
  • Sept 5: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Just the Bare Facts
  • Sept 6: L.A. Times: Comrades in Arms
  • Sept 6: St. Paul Pioneer Press: A Bryan Dollar
  • Sept 8: Early election day in Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 9: Rocky Mountain News: John Bull
  • Sept 10: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 11 to Nov 1: Bryan travels 13,000 miles by train, stump-speaking around the nation.
  • Sept 11: St. Paul Pioneer Press: The Divorcee
  • Sept 11: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Uncle Sam Diagnoses
  • Sept 12: Labor Advocate: Their Argument Misses Fire
  • Sept 12: The Ram’s Horn: Building Up His Business
  • Sept 12: Harper’s Weekly: Populist Supreme Court
  • Sept 12: New York Journal: Hanna's Funds
  • Sept 13: Boston Globe: The Silver Dog
  • Sept 13: L.A. Times: Uncle Sam's Circus
  • Sept 14: L.A. Times: Populist Pandora
  • Sept 14: Rocky Mountain News: Playing Upon a Single String
  • Sept 17: Rocky Mountain News: Chinese Immigration
  • Sept 18: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Against Turkey
  • Sept 18: Rocky Mountain News: A Horrible Suspicion
  • Sept 19: Judge: Bryan's Cross
  • Sept 19: Labor Advocate: How They Love The Farmers
  • Sept 19: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Election-Year Friend
  • Sept 20: Boston Globe: Writ of Replevin'
  • Sept 20: L.A. Times: Populist Delilah
  • Sept 20: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: The Sultan Laughs
  • Sept 20: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: John Bull's Theft
  • Sept 21: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Robber And His Victim
  • Sept 24: L.A. Times: Resurrecting Secession
  • Sept 24: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Treachery
  • Sept 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Democratic Jonah
  • Sept 26: Harper’s Weekly: Silver Bullfight
  • Sept 26: L.A. Times: For Sale
  • Sept 26: National Reflector: Rings On The Hog
  • Sept 26: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Bicyclist Bryan
  • Sept 29: L.A. Times: Poor Circulation
  • Oct 1: Pioneer Press: Silver Trust Hog
  • Oct 3: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Workingman's Friend
  • Oct 4: Raleigh New and Observer: Hanna and Dixon
  • Oct 6: Election Day in the state of Florida (not all states voted on the first Tuesday in Nov).
  • Oct 6: Chicago Times: X-Ray of Bryan's Brain
  • Oct 6: Pioneer Press: Silver Conversation
  • Oct 6: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Florida's Lifeline
  • Oct 8: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Democratic Florida
  • Oct 8: New York Journal: Confident Hanna
  • Oct 10: Harper’s Weekly: Three Witches
  • Oct 10: The Coming Nation: The Worker's Treadmill
  • Oct 11: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Resurrection
  • Oct 13: New York Journal: Hanna and Workers
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Bryan as Jack Cade
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Gold Balloon
  • Oct 15: Coxey's Sound Money: Uncle Sam Enslaved
  • Oct 15: Rocky Mountain News: Elected McKinley
  • Oct 16: Boston Globe: Bryan the Salesman
  • Oct 17: Coming Nation: Labor Exploitation
  • Oct 20: L.A. Times: Burning Cross of Gold
  • Oct 21: The Coming Nation: Socialism
  • Oct 22: Sound Money: The Old Party Scale
  • Oct 22: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna's Crown of Thorns
  • Oct 24: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Guiteau
  • Oct 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Bryan's Balloon
  • Oct 25: Omaha World Herald: Getting Women to Register
  • Oct 27: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna, Trusts, and Morgan
  • Oct 28: Puck: A New Civil War
  • Oct 30: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna in Lehigh Valley
  • Oct 31: Republicans announce “Flag Day,” then argue with Democrats and Populists over meaning of the flag
  • Oct 31: Harper’s Weekly: Democratic Wind-Up Toys
  • Oct 31: New York Journal: Buncombe Brigade
  • Oct 31: The Ram’s Horn: Ignorance, Stupidity, and Fraud
  • Nov 2: McKinley wins presidential election
  • Nov 2: L.A. Times: Clown Bryan
  • Nov 4: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: Knock-Out Punch
  • Nov 4: St. Paul Pioneer Press: Elephant on the Silver Pillow
  • Nov 5: Sound Money: Prediction for 1900
  • Nov 14: Judge: Republican Tam O'Shanter
  • Nov 14: Coming Nation: Our Farmers Situation
  • Dec: Overland Monthly: Uncle Sam Looks Abroad
New Spirits
New Spirits
Perceptions and Realities: The Victorian Age Inventions of the era Tramps and Millionaires Yellowstone Park Journals of the era White City/1893 Worlds Fair The Civil War President McKinley