Address to the National Grange, Delivered at Springfield, Nov. 15, 1884.
Gentlemen: As the executive of one of the greatest agricultural States in the world, I welcome you into the State of Illinois, and I trust you will find our people as hospitable and as cordial as our fields are broad and our prairies are fertile. It is fitting that the representatives of agriculture should hold a convention in a State that stretches from the great lakes to the two great rivers of the continent stretches through 400 miles of latitude, and that produces almost everything that is grown in the temperate zone.
I trust that your meeting here may be a profitable one, that the great interests you represent may be advanced and that the millions of our people who cultivate the earth may be helped onto a happier plane by your deliberations. The condition of the men who till the soil has always determined the condition of the nation. When the farmers prosper the nation is happy. When the farming classes suffer, then there is distress in both city and country. You represent the oldest industry known to civilized man, an industry upon which rests to-day the entire fabric of human institutions. Not only does the world depend on your industry in a physical sense, but men have always regarded the husbandman as a most important pillar in the structure of all governments. As a rule he stands for industry, sobriety and patriotism. Certainly, in our country, have the agricultural classes been the main stay of the republic. Cities may breed riots and manufacturing centers may breed disturbances, but love of order and devotion to the flag is characteristic of farming communities. The most powerful citizens of Rome were landed proprietors. In England it was the land barons who extorted from King John the Magna Charta which is to-day the foundation of England's liberties. In the great countries of the European continent the land proprietors are powerful and influential. In our own great country the farmers shaped almost every policy of the government for three-quarters of a century. During our Civil war the southern armies came entirely from the country, while in the north it was the agricultural States that furnished most of those great armies that put down the rebellion. Being used to the hardships of the country life of that day, these men brought the highest physical development, great powers of endurance, and, what was still more important, they brought a lofty patriotism and love of country. But, during the last twenty-five years the influence of the farmer has waned in this country. Other interests have grown up which, by reason of their being more concentrated, have been able
451not only to control legislation, but have been able in many cases to control the construction of the law in their interest; and the power of construing the law is more important than that of making the laws. Selfishness is a rule of human action, and moving in harmony with a law that is universal and eternal the powerful corporations and other interests have steadily sought to gain the advantage, both in legislation and in the courts. In all ages government has been a kind of compromise between selfish and conflicting interests. The point at which these neutralize or check each other marks the level of the law. The Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest, that is of the strongest, is found to prevail in governmental affairs as well as in the realm of nature. Those interests which take care of themselves survive and those which can not do so soon go to the wall. To be sure, the theory of government in our day and country is that it shall do exact justice in all cases, and that no one interest shall have any advantage over another. But bear in mind, that is the ideal government and has never yet been found among men. Government must be administered through human agencies and men carry with them into the Legislature and on to the bench and into other offices whatever bias or prejudice they have as private individuals. Personal interest affects the judgment, while environment and surrounding influences shape the convictions. Consequently, men of equal ability and integrity, but who have been subject to different influences, will hold opposite views on many questions. A man who has been a corporation lawyer for years, or who is constantly surrounded by that influence, socially, or in business, will pursue a different course when sent to the Legislature, or elevated to the bench, than will the man who did not have these surroundings, though both may be equally honest. The great concentrations of capital long ago recognized this fact and have taken advantage of it and greatly profited thereby. They have been able in many cases to use the government as a convenience or as an instrument with which to get an advantage over others. For this purpose, they not only contributed money to elect some men and to defeat others, but they keep their hired agents in attendance on Legislatures, lobbying to secure the passage of such measures as they desire and to defeat such as they do not like. These lobbyists very often get the votes of the country members by using arguments that have length, breadth and thickness, consequently when you glance over the legislation for a number of years you find that special interests have gained great advantage, and where one interest gains an advantage through legislation others must suffer. Again, they know how to escape paying their full share of taxes — they know
452how to fix the assessor where they have to deal with him, and they know what kind of arguments will control a board of equalization where they have to deal with it. In Illinois the state board of equalization assesses corporations and we find that, while most of the corporations of the State may pay their share of taxes, there are $200,000,000 worth of property belonging to a few corporations that escapes all taxation of every kind. This necessarily increases the burden of those who do pay taxes, and I have yet to learn of a single farm in the State that is not taxed. But, more important than all this: The representatives of special interests long ago learned the importance of selecting their friends to construe the law. They saw that every important question has two sides and that generally a strong argument can be made on either side. They saw that simply elevating a man to the bench does not make him over, does not make him any broader or wiser or stronger, that he will have the same prejudices and the same leanings on the bench that he had before, that his mind will run in the same channel that it did before and be influenced by the same arguments that it was before, and that one man would be perfectly honest in deciding one way, while another would be equally honest in deciding the opposite way; that it all depended on mental organization, on education, on interest, and on social, political and business environment. They therefore looked after both the election and the appointment of judges. They made themselves felt in the election of judges for the higher courts, and in the appointment of federal judges they wielded such an influence that no man was appointed who was unsatisfactory to them. As a consequence, the federal courts for a quarter of a century have been almost the guardians of corporations. Their decisions paved the way for the formation of the great trusts and combinations of the country. Wherever a corporation was sued in a State court it at once tried to remove the case to the federal court, because it expected to fare better there.
Years ago hundreds of the counties and cities of the west issued bonds to assist in building railroads. In many cases the roads were not built, there was not even a shovel stuck into the earth toward building them, yet the people were asked to pay the bonds. It was a glaring fraud and the State courts held the bonds to be void, but they were carried into the federal courts and these courts compelled the people to pay these bonds in spite of the fraud, and the farmers of many a county for years found their burdens increased in consequence of these decisions. Some years ago Congress passed the Inter-State Commerce Law. Its purpose was to protect the public and especially the shippers against unjust charges and against ruinous discriminations.
453The corporations refused to comply with its provisions. They carried it into the federal courts and first one federal judge and then another proceeded to hold section after section of this law to be unconstitutional until they had rendered it harmless for the corporations. Then after having thus destroyed an act of Congress that was intended for the protection of the people, these same judges turned around and made of this law an instrument of oppression against the men who toil with their hands, they made of it a club with which to pound the back of labor. According to reports in financial circles, the officers of the Northern Pacific Railroad defrauded that road out of nearly sixty millions of dollars. Knowing that this would bankrupt the road they then went into the federal court of Milwaukee and had three of their personal friends appointed receivers, and these receivers at once proceeded to reduce the wages of the men who worked on and operated the road. And that federal judge did nothing towards bringing the scoundrels who had robbed the road to justice. He not only refused to remove their friendly receivers, but he issued an injunction restraining the men who worked on the road from stopping work because of the reduction in wages and threatened them with imprisonment if they did so.
I do not refer to these things for the purpose of criticism, that is not my province. I refer to them simply to show the results that follow when a few special interests are on the alert to gain an advantage, while the great producing classes are napping. Do not condemn corporations for reaching out after everything in sight. They are acting in accordance with a law that is eternal, and if they get more than they are entitled to you have yourselves to blame. The people who toil with their hands constitute the overwhelming majority in this country. They have the power in their own hands, and if they will not protect themselves, they should not complain when they suffer at the hands of others. Do not forget that there are two great laws constantly at work throughout all human affairs, one drawing together and the other tearing to pieces. Competition between the various interests is fierce and only those interests survive which can maintain themselves. The others go down. Everywhere there is concentration and combination and the exercise of that power which comes from combining and concentrating. The men who till the soil and the men who toil with their hands have to face combined forces everywhere, and I can see only one way open for them; they must either meet combined force with combined force, or else they and their children must consent to permanently be the under dogs in the fight. We may talk against combinations as much as we will,
454they have become established facts in this country. All of the great manufacturing, railroads and commercial interests of this country are controlled by combinations. A corporation is in itself a combination. There is no power under the heavens that can change these conditions. They are the peculiarity of the age and the only way to prevent these great combinations of capital from oppressing the people is to meet them with a force strong enough to check them. Be as wide-awake as they are. If they try to shape legislation, be on the ground and prevent it. If they try to name the federal judges, be on hand and recommend your man. I will venture that during our entire history no farmers' organization has tried to secure the appointment of a single federal judge, and no farmer ever visited the White House for such a purpose, and yet, the interests of the farming classes were greater than those of all the corporations combined. Again, when concentrated capital sends a man to the Legislature or to Congress, it keeps an eye on him, and when he ceases to obey its wishes, it retires him. The farmers have not yet learned to do that. If they ever learn a lesson in this regard there will not be so many men who smile on the farmer at home, and then sell him out at Washington or at his State capital.
Let me say in conclusion that our country is young yet; it is already the richest and grandest on earth. All we need to do is to keep our face towards the sun and everything will be well. The condition of the farmers of this country will be just what they make it themselves. They can have a voice in all of the affairs of government and see to it that they are not made the victims of injustice, or they can allow others to sit on the seat of power and dole out such crumbs as they please. The great toiling masses of this country made it; they saved it from destruction; they built our cities and developed the continent. They have made it great and glorious in the eyes of the world and they can rule it if they will but stand together.