Fellow Citizens: The Illinois State Agricultural Society has been most unjustly arraigned by an anonymous correspondent of The New York Nation, and by the senate of Illinois for publishing a paper of mine on the fraudulent practices of our courts and railroads in reference to railroad transportation and other interests of the producing community. With all due deference we have waited in silence for our assailants to do their best and their worst. We now claim the right before, I trust, a more truly American, if not a more just and sagacious tribunal, to reply to this unseemly, unjust and preposterous assault upon the inherent rights of every free man of the great republic in which we live. The indignity to our great State Agricultural Society, the humiliation of bur beloved state, ever the home of freedom, known wherever human language is spoken as the mother of statesmen, of generals and presidents, the outrage upon all freedom of speech upon this continent, consecrated and habituated to its use, overwhelms and buries all mere local and personal considerations.
That our state legislatures have the right to determine whether they will in future make appropriations for publishing the reports of the state agricultural societies is, perhaps, to be frankly admitted.
That our state legislatures had the right to resolve themselves into a censorship over the past publications of our State Agricultural Society, or to arraign and castigate individual writers in a forum where all personal defense is impossible and protest or reply denied, and without regard to their personal or civil rights, and, by unjust and unscrupulous and infamous criticism, blacken their good name and character before the world, or by virtue of their high prerogative as senators, remove or refuse to confirm honest and capable trustees of our public, charitable and state institutions, in face of a full acknowledgment of faithful and able discharge of their duties, both to these institutions and the state, and with no other charge, personal, public, or private, intimated against them, except the publication of honest individual sentiments, is a proposition we deny.
I assert and maintain the right of the farmers of this state to publish whatever they please in their reports, without asking leave of the politicians.
I assert and maintain my own right in the free state of Illinois, to write, print, publish, or proclaim whatever I please in their behalf. If our legislators will not grant us this right, we must elect those who will. We want no French or Spanish censorship of the press here. The American people prefer to listen, even to me, rather than to institute one. In this they certainly show their forbearance, if not their good sense. The Papal index "Expurgatorius" and "by your Holiness' leave," is well nigh played out, even on the Tiber, and it will hardly work easily on the banks of the Illinois or Mississippi. Illinoisians can bite the dust on the battle field; they cannot kiss great toes in the senate chamber. We might safely drop this whole subject here and leave you to consider it at your hearthstones. If the people of Illinois need any further argument or exhortation on such a subject, I wholly misunderstand them.
It is idle to talk about respect for the arbitrary forms of law. Whenever respect for these forms has died out of the hearts of living men, it is no longer the law that restrains or controls them, but the sense of justice within them. Men may have and do have, in even such cases, faith in the capacities of the law, and may determine to take both law and its administrators into their own hands, through the ballot box or otherwise, and right themselves. This they are now doing, and all attempts to throw dust in their eyes and mud in their faces, to beat them back, will only beckon them on. People will abide by the law in their action, as I do, long years after they have ceased to respect it in their hearts.
But they cannot do it forever. The New York Nation and others of our public press will not always contemptuously sneer at the universal instinct of justice in the human soul, because it is not already embodied into the forms of law.
Grant all the good you please to our lawyers and our courts, both as institutions and as men. It is vain to imagine that we can longer hide from our eyes, or shut out from our ears the many infamies, at least tolerated, in our professed administration of justice in our courts of law. Every paper in the land flaunts them in our faces; every urchin in the street pipes them in our ears; our young men declaim and swear over them; our old men mourn and pray over them. "He has got plenty of money, he will go through all safe." "He is a poor dog; he has got no money, he will go under." To what institutions in the land are these words to-day, in field and shop, by street-side and fireside, most frequently applied, I need not say. And when this legal ostrich attempts to hide her head in the sand, her wings and body only flare abroad in plainer view. Would it have taken as long to bring to trial a dozen barefooted Irishmen in New York city, as it did Boss Tweed and his crew? "Ah!" it is replied, "he was backed with money; and money has inherent power." I answer, where money is used to dethrone justice, the power of numbers must be looked to, to dethrone money; for in a free state, it is justice, not money, that must be enthroned over all.
Is any other relief possible? Search this matter to the bottom — every man of you will find, as I did, that in this country, and in England, and throughout all history, the abuses of rings, corporations, laws and courts, go hand in hand; and you cannot reform the one without the other; and possibly the people of Illinois will allow you to declare your findings, whether the senate will or not. At all events, I advise you to try it and see. I blame no individuals for this condition of things. It is the fault of our system — it is our own fault.
Many of our laws are just and good, and the people love and respect them, because they see and feel them to be just and good; and not simply because they have read a "be it enacted." Some of them are neither just nor good, and the people neither love nor respect them, and cannot be made to do so; they abide by them only with the hope that they will be changed for the better. In these changes they need men whose eyes are not all in the back of their heads; they need men who will lead them to look further ahead, and deeper down, and higher up, than they may be able to climb for a whole generation. They need sometimes to see things stripped bare of all the tinsel, and gewgaws, and trappings the dead ages have hung around them, and look them square in the face, and see them nakedly, as in themselves, they are to-day.
In the paper complained of, I undertook, however unwisely, to thus strip bare for them, "our little heathen Chinee," a very useful little fellow, when we put him in his proper place, and keep him at his proper work; and this is exactly what we propose to do with him. In other words, I neither undertook to form, or even suggest, laws, or methods of any kind, but to show up the SELF-EVIDENTLY FALSE ASSUMPTIONS OF OUR WHOLE ENGLISH RACE, IN REGARD TO THIS MATTER, OF THE EXORBITANT CLAIMS AND PRETENSIONS OF MONIED CORPORATIONS AND PRIVILEGED CLASSES OF ALL SORTS. And I was never gladder that I did it than I am to-day; and am only sorry that I could not do it better.
The man who attempts to read or criticise that paper in any other light than as an effort to show up that one point, to the popular apprehension, shows that he has not got sense enough to read or criticise it at all. I knew it would be to me a thankless job; and that the man who should strike a bottom blow at tens of thousands of millions of incorporated capital, that has for centuries, in one shape or another, held almost unlimited control over all Christendom; and strive, even in this free land, to bring it under the due restraints of law, and hold it steadily subordinate to the just rights of the people, had confronted a power, that in the end would overwhelm and
2crush out his isolated feeble strength. The more I looked into it, the more, I confess, I stood appalled before it; and the more I felt it my duty to strip it bare, if I could. So far as I know, it was a work never before even attempted. Hatchet in hand I was forced to enter this jungle of hoary wrongs, and try to cut my way through, as best I could. I knew very well that my appeal could not lay to the New York Nation, or any of the hereditary and scholastic ideas which it represents. My only hope was with the unsophisticated common sense and common justice of the people, that very people from whom all reforms, civil and religious, that are good for anything, not excepting Christianity itself, have sprung up for the past 2,000 years, in spite of all classes above and over them. I knew if I approached them in the language of the schools, the courts and parlors, my words would fall listlessly on their ears. I chose, therefore, their own rougher language, if you please, of the fields and the shops. They may not read my words, but whenever they do read them, they will understand them, AND THAT IS THE TROUBLE. I have Spoken to them of these things in their own tongue, in a language which they can, and will, understand, and know and feel to be generally true. "This is my whole offense; no more."
My great effort in that paper was not to reason, or advise, or direct, or suggest either causes or remedies; but simply to portray, to excite, and arouse to thought. In my more recent speech at Decatur, I did attempt somewhat to reason; to inquire into causes, results, and remedies.
There is one mystery in human life I never could understand; and that is while all the advocates of our fixed conservatisms, are allowed everywhere, "to roar like bulls of Bashaw" in exciting popular feeling and passion in defense of their interests, if we attempt to stir the same passions against hereditary and hoary wrongs, we at once become the chief of sinners; and that too, when all men perfectly know that the only possible way, in our country at least, to get rid of obnoxious laws and customs, is to arouse the popular indignation against them.
One conservative editor, in this state, of this high moral, reasoning tone, tartly rebuked me, for my conditional and guarded suggestions, that law in its own nature, in the end, always comes to blows somewhere; either against all offenders, or against its administrators; finally winds up by saying, that these ultra agitators of farmers' rights are the abettors of agranarianism, communism, freeloveism, and Mrs. Woodhullism, and "ought to dangle at the end of a rope;" this is all right and proper enough on their side; how would it do on ours? It is but a fair specimen of the whole contest. We have all been dangling at the end of this rope, we are now trying to break for centuries in one shape or another; and now we propose to either change ends, break or slacken it. I have no doubt that my first effort, in this new field, has any amount of faults, both of manner and of style. But is it in the main true? Will it cut its way? Will it do its work? When its trial is through, we shall all know. No doubt my theme brings to view more financial evils than we all together shall be able to practically and thoroughly reform in a whole century. But they all hang together upon one and the same principle, of undue and exorbitant power and privileges, conferred by arbitrary law. I meant in that paper simply to portray the length, breadth and bottom of this slough; and leave you to drive your piles into it, and over it, as fast as you thought proper. I freely grant that it might be impracticable to enact into law all the reforms suggested in that paper at once, but it still remains true that people must think through the year before they can act wisely for to-day. Have any of these frightened critics and declaimers, turned either the right or left, of any fact that I allege or any principle I laid down in either of these discussions? No; and they will not; simply because they cannot. It is said that in this paper I laid myself open to attack; very well, I meant to; a man who plans a raid to draw out the enemy's full force, must not fear being shot at. They say it is idiocy, lunacy, &c., &c. Grave senators ought to be able to refute an idiot and a madman; without attempting to declaim and vote him down without a hearing by sheer force of arbitrary power.
By picking out isolated passages, and exhibiting them wholly out of their connections and limitations, as they did, I could make just as bad work of any speech or writing any one of them ever made, that was good for anything, as they have made of mine.
There is no insult or indignity even intimated toward any decent court or court decision, or legislature, or law, in that whole paper.
All men in position and power naturally hate agitators, if they agitate with any effect.
In the very opening of this offensive article, I was careful to say, "We hear much said against our railroad men, on all sides. I have not a single word to say against them, except that they are as a body of men precisely like all the rest of us; neither particularly better nor worse. Personally, I have never met one single railroad man who was not courteous, gentlemanly, and just to me, under the known rule of the law, which is mutually obligatory on us both. In pressing their legal claims up to the full extent of the law, they do nothing more than most other men do, and always will do. Nay it is best in the long run, for the public good, that they should do so. I most fully admit, in the outset, all the moral, social, and financial benefits of our corporations, and railroad and other companies, that any one, however sanguine, chooses to ascribe to them; while still their pretended vested rights to steal by law, or to get other people's property without their consent, and a just equivalent, call it what name you will, has in no respect increased either their usefulness or power for good. Here, then, in this opening paragraph, I clearly defined in the outset, in what sense I use the term, "stealing," or "stealing by law;" and of course the class, or sort of laws, against which I am objecting, and the real sense in which I use the term law, when offensively spoken of.
But again in the same paragraph, I said: "Injustice is, in fact, equally unprofitable to all parties alike, in the long run, and I admit, most frankly, that we have among our lawyers, law-makers and judges, not a few of our wisest and best men, and if all, or even a large part of them, were of this character, our troubles would soon be over, and we should soon find means of bringing this artificial, as well as the natural man, upon the same common level before the law."
After this full, and frank, and hearty admission, as regards all the classes or persons who can possibly be concerned in the discussion, how infinitely absurd and ridiculous it is to attempt to arraign me as striving to arouse an indiscriminate hostility of either persons or classes, or against our courts or legislatures. Such an open confession in my mouth, at the very start, would render it utterly impossible for me to do it, had I desired it. The severest thing in that whole paper against lawyers, laws, or courts, is a quotation from the world's great English philosopher, Herbert Spencer.
Please notice, however, that I do not deny that there are some men in these classes whom I intended should feel my lash. They do feel it, and they squirm, and I am glad of it. I did not pick them out — they will pick themselves out as fast as we need to know them. Very likely, too, some good men will mis-read or read carelessly, and for a time be led by these malicious critics into a false view of the matter.
Fairly judged, my epithets all spill over on opprobrious laws, usages and customs, and not at all on persons or classes, and any man can, if he will, see that I use the term law only as relates to the subjects on hand. But, read or not read, criticised or not criticised, right or wrong, false or true, good, bad or indifferent, I still maintain my right to write it, and yours to publish it. without asking leave of the Illinois senate, or the New York Nation, or its "much esteemed correspondent from Illinois;" and that is the only real point at issue. No lawyer who is fit to be a lawyer, can think that I even intended to attack him, or the character of his profession as a whole; though I would limit by law some of its unjust perquisites, and rebuke many of its vices. I have spoken of only two classes of lawyers and judges: the one the "wisest and brightest," the other the "meanest of mankind." There may be other classes, but I have not spoken of them; each one must class himself where he belongs. I do not do it. The burden of proof, too, is on him, not on me.
We farmers cannot do without lawyers, even in our legislation. They alone can properly revise our laws. We should look and see who among lawyers have ever shown themselves by their well known character, conduct, actions and record (without regard to their mere present professions in view of office,) fit to be trusted, and put them in all positions where we need their services. I have no doubt many of our lawyers could have done this very work for the farmers far better than I have done it. But did they in fact do it? Will they even attempt to perfect it, now it is begun, and put it in terms which all the people can understand?
"The railroad men, "says my old friend, Prof. Grosyenor, in the Atlantic Monthly, "meet in NewYork. They are not called kings, wear no crowns and bear no sceptres. They merely represent trunk lines of railroads from the Mississippi river to New York. Other points settled, one says: ‘as to the grain trade, shall we make it fifty from Chicago?’ ‘Agreed; crops are large and we shall have enough to do.’ Business finished, they then enjoy sundry bottles of good wine. The daily papers presently announce that the trunk lines have agreed upon a new tariff of rates for freight, which is in effect a trifling increase on grain from forty-five to fifty cents from Chicago to New York, with rates to the other points, in the usual proportion. The conversation was insignificant; the increase trifling; but to farmers of the Northwest, it means that the will of these men has taken over thirty millions from the cash values of their products, for that year, and five hundred millions, from the actual value of their farms. This conversation is imaginary; but the startling facts upon which it is based are terribly real, as Western farmers
3have learned. The few men who control great railway lines, have it in their power to strip Western agriculture of all its earnings. Not after the manner of ancient highwaymen, by high-handed defiance of society and law, the rush of swift steeds, the clash of steel, and the stern "stand and deliver!" The bandits of modern civilization, who enrich themselves by the plunder of others, come with chests full of charters. Judges are their friends if not their tools; they wield no weapon more alarming than the little pencil with which they calculate differences of rate, apparently so insignificant that public opinion wonders why the farmer should complain about such trifles; yet the farmers have complained, and complaining in vain, have got angry." So much for Prof.Grosvenor in the Atlantic.
Now for the Nation's first remark in comment. Says the Nation: "Though this description is amusing enough, we have no desire to cast ridicule upon the organization of farmers, designed to protect the interests of their class. "Indeed!!! indeed!!! Is this most just and truthful, as well as eloquent description of the actual facts in your condition, by Prof. Grosvenor, so very amusing to you, my friends? If so, you and the Nation must share in your amusement alone. I cannot join in it. Five hundred millions of cash value taken out of our farms at a single stroke, is a somewhat more costly amusement than I am able to indulge in. How is it with you? I am quite too idiotic to relish such amusements. They lie quite above my poor capacities. I admit that in its own way, the Nation is an able paper. I have read it weekly from the start; but no paper in the land has driven a thriftier business at blackballing worthy men. I admit too, that in this same article, in its own peculiar, half-hearted, frozen way, the Nation has come at last to admit your right to exist in social co-operation, though your action, he says, "produces nothing but confusion and distress in a country which at present peculiarly needs repose," while it would as soon look for wisdom to a herd of horned cattle, as to you, or your leaders.
Whenever and wherever this frozen bundle of supercilious scholastic self-conceit, called the Nation, which always affects, in its tone of criticism, to know more than all presidents, all cabinets, all financiers, bankers, courts, orators, poets, authors, writers, agitators, leaders and legislatures put together, has, at any time, been forced to make a concession in your behalf, it has come like pulling eye teeth; but whenever it can find a chance to strike a blow back in your faces, as by placarding me before the world as a raving fool, "vomiting forth nothing but a tirade of idiocy and malice," it is quite in its kingdom come, and sings its "high-cock-a-lorum" most jubilantly. Well, if you and it can stand it, I can.
There is one kind of ring that I did not speak of in my paper — not moneyed rings. I may do it in the next issue of our Society Transactions. For in some respects they are a little more corrupt and more corrupting than any of our moneyed rings.
Indeed they usually begin, in secret, to plan out and work up public sentiment, to engineer and sustain all the moneyed rings most infamous jobs for them. I mean our scholastic rings of anonymous literary critics, like The Nation, and its esteemed correspondent. In all honorable warfare those miscreants, who shoot poisoned arrows out of ambush, at men struggling in the open field, would be taken and unceremoniously shot, as they deserve to be. But our anonymous newspaper critics and correspondents organize themselves into combined squads, in their secret dens of criticism, and with the utmost safety engineer any job of private interest or social plunder, and shoot their poisoned arrows of malice and detraction at whatever opposers they choose, with entire safety to themselves and their families. I may have something to say of these miscreant rings of combined plunder and defamation, in some future paper.
If society ever becomes civilized, it will compel writers, as well as other men, to take the full responsibility of their own acts, and all men to sign their own full names to whatever they write for the public, affecting either the personal interests or character of their fellows, or take a term in the state prison with other felons.
Had it not been for this malign Jesuitical, anonymous, mischievous, and totally irrepressible power, everywhere ambushed and tolerated in the land, our senators would not thus have fallen. So here, I for one, grant them full pardon for all personal offenses. And if I could as easily wipe out the disgrace of our state, I should be content.
At Decatur, I opposed throughout, all attempts to turn the Farmers' Convention into a political party; and even went against the resolution declaring off from the old parties, and openly avowed that I should in the future, as in the past, vote with, and act with any party whatever, which I found doing good and true work, whatever that convention or any other might decree. As I have ever conceived this the only safe ground on which a true freeman can stand.
I have always been a Republican. I am so still; and so far as their great and glorious fundamental principles are concerned, I hope ever to remain so. I cannot compel the leaders of the Republican party to take up this cause with their whole hearts as I do; but I can say to them if they do not do it, they will have one less follower, and there may be more of them. I have no hostility toward any of the members of the Democratic party.
Through my whole life, although always outside of their nominal party, I have always contended that it was only because I was a more utter and thoroughgoing democrat than they as yet dare to be, and every new shufflle in the political cards only tends to prove it. In this cause, at least, we of all parties alike, can all act together, for all our interests are one. How childish to be wrangling over old issues that died out when this new risen power is putting our very homesteads in peril? I do not ask any party to complete this work in one, two or in three or even ten years — for I do not believe it to be possible — but I do ask all parties not to flaunt at the men who honestly attempt to show the people its full magnitude and peril? Do I ask too much?
The day of shifts and make-believes is past. The hour of united action has come. I do not ask even this generation to set to rights all the wrongs alluded to in my paper, and bring all corporate power under the full restraints of just and salutary laws — for I know they cannot do it — but I do ask them to begin the work in earnest, of restraining this power, and all other power, within limits compatible with the continued existence and dignity of the state and the Republic, and the freedom and rights of its people. I care not what party, or what men do it, if only the work be done.
With such vast tracts of land in all the older states, already sold out under mortgages, both North and South, and the same fate awaiting the newer ones, there is no time for delay. It is by far, the greatest practical issue before the country, or the world. If allowed full swing and scope, this new power of unscrupulous monied corporation and combination, will one day be seen to be no less potent and disastrous over all men, than was the old slave combination over colored men. Ponder and remember this, my friends. If you do not, your children will.
They say I am rough and strike hard blows; strike back, then; but hear, for I strike not for myself, but for your cause. I have neither sought nor desired office or reward. I have sought only, and simply your hearing; and that only at your request, will you hear me. Strike if you please, but hear: And if he, whose life, your own hearts tell you, has been freely given to your gratuitous service, at last through the blindness and feebleness of age, should stumble and fall beneath a load that already staggers the civilized world, remember him without hatred, if you cannot do it without reproach.
The speaker was frequently applauded during his address, and at its close, Senator Whiting, after a brilliant eulogy on the Professor, offered the following resolutions, which were adopted:
Resolved, That the speech of Professor J. B. Turner, to which we have just listened, in reply to the assaults of The Nation (a newspaper published in New York city) and of other parties, in defense of the position assumed by him in his essay entitled Railroad Corporations; the Natural vs. the Artificial Man, embodied in the 10th volume Transactians of the State Board of Agriculture, be published in the agricultural journals, and as far as practicable, be distributed to the Farmers' Clubs and Granges of this country.
Resolved, That Prof. J. B. Turner, for his long and useful labors in the cause of education and industry, of equal rights and human progress; for his heroic and disinterested labors for reform; for his self-sacrificing labors for the elevation of the masses and a nobler and better civilization, is entitled to our profound respect and warmest gratitude; and we greet him as a leader among the noblest champions of labor, and are proud our own State can claim him among her distinguished citizens; and we fondly cherish the conviction that the name of Jno. B. Turner will go down the ages, adding honor and lustre to the history of our State.
Prof. Turner expressed his thanks for the compliment, after which the meeting adjourned.