Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Appeal to Reason

My maternal grandfather, Lloyd McColley, once held me in his arms, I am told, when I was an infant, and when I looked at his somber face in photographs I felt I could remember him. Lloyd and his sons had the somber, sunken look you see in photographs of Lincoln – beyond a weathered look, more as if carved from wood or pieced together from scraps of old leather. My grandfather was a friend and supporter of noted Hoosier socialist, Eugene V. Debs, who visited Lloyd’s farm in northeastern Indiana at least once.

While farmwork was hands-on and hard labor in those days, Lloyd owned a good property, with an orchard, that would sustain him and his wife Mame and their 12 children, the small army who helped maintain the farm, back when people had more than enough children because so many died in childbirth. Then, with a double wound, my grandfather’s brother, who worked for the local bank, foreclosed on Lloyd’s farm. The Great Depression had begun.

“When we lost the farm” was ever after that a refrain during the lifetimes of his children – a tragic demarcation. From that point on, most of them lived with an assumption of defeat that they fulfilled, the Scotch-Irish needing no excuse, of course, for moodiness and gloom (when not delirious with laughter, jokes, singing, and dancing). My mother Ethel Ruth was not one of the strong siblings, but she was taken under the wing of the strongest sister, Elsie Mathilde, and they made it through the Depression and joined the middle class, helped mightily by that injection of jobs FDR made possible, and the cash World War II brought to the U.S.A as Europe endured destruction.

But “back then,” just after they “lost the farm,” Lloyd’s children were scattered to the winds. With little more than one change of clothes, the girls became hired girls on farms, or in the houses in Crown Point, Indiana. I remember in childhood how Elsie Mathilde, whom I knew as Oshy, or Oshy Ma, would teach me the in-town manners she had learned from her employer whom she saw as a “lady.” The three boys of the twelve found odds jobs when and where they could, bearing all in stoic silence, too many children born and left to raise themselves – poorly, of course.

The fate of his beloved children, as much as the loss of the farm, broke Lloyd’s heart and spirit. The string went out of him and out of most of the children who declined into the despair of those who feel they will never escape poverty and defeat. They did not continue their father’s love of education and progressive politics.

One day, the never-smiling, weathered, grey farmer with the tragic sunken face walked into the house of one of his daughters (“Tillie,” Mame having forgotten that she had already named one of her girls “Mathilde”), sat down, and said, “I’m tired. Say good-bye to everyone for me.” His head fell against his chest, and he was dead.

Those days of trouble in themselves might have made Lloyd McColley a socialist but he must have been one before then. While most of his children had no time “after we lost the farm” for the ideas he tried to implant in them, they would remember later how every Sunday morning they gathered around the large table to listen as he read long passages from the Bible, Shakespeare, and other books. When, as a child, I objected to his children’s racist attitudes, objecting especially to their use of the word “nigger,” they would become pensive. Oshy Ma said, “You sound just like your grandfather. He never got angry, but he did once when I used the word ‘nigger.’ He taught us that all humans deserve equal respect, and we could never say anything against the coloreds when he was around.” “When he was around”—As he was dead, I guess that is why they ignored their father’s views, thoughtful for a moment, changed for a moment, and a moment later they conformed to the racism of those around them.

Remarking my resemblance to him, they said he used to contribute writing to a magazine called The Appeal to Reason. As they told me I was like him, and as I like writing, I searched for the magazine, but without luck. I believe even the Library of Congress reported no information on the periodical. Then in the Spring 2008 issue of Ploughshares (at Emerson College), an issue edited by B.H. Fairchild, I read in his introduction,

“Eugene Debs set up The People’s College in Fort Scott. Meridel LeSeuer grew up there. It lasted three years. Imagine: Comrade Debs, Comrade Sheppard, Comrade LeSeuer. In Kansas. … We subscribed to the Haldeman-Julius Appeal to Reason, published out of little Girard, Kansas. Our children grew up on his Little Blue Books. The Federalist Papers, Thoreau, Emerson, Marx, Ingersoll, Upton Sinclair.”

As a result of that clue I have found that all, or most of the issues in its span of its publication, 1895-1992 [clearly, the latter must be my typo -- the closing date was probably 1922], are available on microfilm from the Kansas State Historical Society. Little by little, borrowing through the Oakland Library, I will be able to examine the issues of Appeal to Reason. If I find anything written by my grandfather, I suppose it will be some short letter to the editor, but I am fascinated with that era, at the beginning of the 20th Century, when the Midwest was more Left than Right, Debs in one presidential election receiving a huge number of votes even while he was in prison. My grandfather was in the crowd ready to welcome Debs when he was released from prison.

I started at the wrong end – the earliest issues – and spinning through the microform is very tedious. I am more likely to find something by Lloyd McColley if I start from the later issues. But with what I have examined so far, I must hope that someone will create books drawing from the Appeal to Reason. Each weekly issue is big and crammed with information. I once went through the archives of my small town paper in Indiana and found that in the 1800s the papers were a forum for intelligent discourse, whereas in modern times, small town papers are little more than ads – a decline of something essential for civic health: small centers of recognition, without which the intellectual vigor and public awareness of local citizens declines and atrophies. (Is the Internet wresting the power from mass media and once again creating the thousands of small units of recognition and communication?)

The Appeal to Reason was founded by Julius Wayland in 1897, a socialist journal, a forum for contemporary thinking in the general public, but it also extracted from the works of people like Tom Paine, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, John Ruskin. Julius Wayland moved to Girard, Kansas, in 1900. Some of America’s leading progressives contributed to the journal, including Jack London Mary “Mother” Jones, Upton Sinclair, Stephen Crane, Helen Keller, Eugene Debs, etc. In 1904, co-editor Fred Warren commissioned Upton ‘Sinclair, providing him a $500 advance to write a novel about immigrant workers in the Chiciago meat packing houses. The resulting novel, The Jungle, was serialized in the magazine in 1905, and later, was published by Doubleday; it became a world-wide best seller.

The subscription price was 50 cents a year. In its pages, it is sad to read the same kind of common sense questioning that we still hear among ourselves about the same issues. Of course, most U.S.Americans have been indoctrinated to buy into simple-minded definitions and immediately react negatively to anything identified as “socialistic,” as a threat to U.S. democracy. Those involved in the great forum of the Appeal to Reason keep trying to counter this prejudice, while, of course, complaining about a world without socialism (one might as well say, without humane values), as in Issue #166, 4 February 1899: “What is Socialism Anyway?”: Socialism is “a science of reconstructing society on entirely new basis, by substituting the principle of association for that of competition…” “In the midst of plenty you are starving…That class which you have enriched keeps you in poverty. That class, which you have raised to power, keeps you in subjection.”

This echoes what editor Julius Wayland wrote in the 16 May 1896 issue: “In the midst of plenty you are starving. In the midst of natural wealth and mechanical means waiting idly for the hand of Labor many of you are deprived of employment, while those of whom work is given must toil increasingly for a decreasing pittance. The more you produce the less you get. Why? Simply because the plenty of your own creation, those machines of your own make, and nature itself, the common inheritance of men, have been appropriated by a class – the capitalistic class. That class, which you have enriched, keeps you in poverty. That class, which you have raised to power, keeps you in subjection.”

In our time, as we long to see a functioning government that assures that drugs are tested before being used by the citizens, citizens may also be ready for the sane regulation of power, no longer seeing such responsible adulthood as betrayal of some simple-minded definition of freedom. Greenspan awakens, as from a 40-year enchantment that began when he was an adolescent disciple of Ayn Rand, and sees that the notion of a (“Trust me”) self-governing “free market,” embodying Rand’s code of unbridled egotism and greed, ends up sinking everyone. I do proofing/editing of articles for an Internet journal where this month I proofed an article by Peter Fingar, a well respected speaker, author and publisher on business process management. In his article, “The Battleground States,” he welcomes a more progressive business philosophy that one might hope to see take hold. “[There is a need for a] change in business leadership from command-and-control states to sense-and-respond, connect-and-collaborate states, yet the old guard stands fast….As Darwin said, ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.’ [I am] remembering Buchold’s apt description of a curious new world where ‘uncertainty is almost a currency unto itself.’ “ And what holds steady as an essential element – no matter what the subject or question (business, social, psychological)? Relationship.

No newspaper or magazine could have presented more detailed business information than the Appeal to Reason as they were watching capitalism very closely, not only in the U.S. but world-wide. No current periodical reports business and its prime movers with such telling detail. A weekly feature kept track of cities that converted public services from private ownership to city ownership. The news is global, praising systems in New Zealand and Switzerland, recounting the insular excesses of the Czar, etc. They report countless incidents of U.S. poverty, brutality, incidents of the lack of civil rights and abuse of “Negroes,” including lynchings (such as that of a “Negro” in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, in August of 1899). Contributors and the news frequently refer to Marx, Tolstoy, Clarence Darrow, labor leader and lecturer, Mother Jones, Fabian Societies, etc. Some of the issues addressed: “What would the eight hour day accomplish?” “The Effect of Socialism on Personal Character,” “Frauds in Food” (which reports on “the selling of cottonseed oil for olive oil” and “brown sugar and extract of hickory bark sold as ‘Vermont maple syrup’). There is a plenitude of political doggerel, one satirizing Kipling with a verse entitled “The Brown Man’s Burden.” [Too bad the magazine does not still exist -- the only periodical that might have been willing to publish my own political doggerel, "A World-Wide Country Song" (entry below).] Individuals are noted as “Comrade” So-and-So of a particular town, acknowledgd for helping circulation by ordering some large number of the peridical to distribute in their town. Plutocrats become known simply as “the plutes.”

For those in 2008 who are contemplating whether their city should buy and take over public utilities, there is a quotation from James D. Phelan, Mayor of San Francisco, in the 4 February 1899 issue: “Civil service and city ownership are the solutions for the municipal franchise question. Private ownership now involves city control, which is an unfailing cause of corruption. Eliminate patronage and the right to regulate corruption, and the betrayal of public trusts will be practically overcome.”
Issue No. 162, 7 January 1899, quotes MacCauley saying of America in 1858: “Your republic will be more mercilessly plundered in the twentieth century than was Rome by the Huns and Vandals of the fifth century, with this difference: Whlie their Huns and Vandals came from without, your Huns and Vandals will come from within your wn borders, nourished by your own institutions.”

Issue #178, 29 April 189, includes a speech by E.V. Debs on the brutality of “Prison Labor” (at another time, the editors were harassed for reporting on homosexuality in prisons) in New York City, 21 March 1899, where Debs speaks of how he was “initiated into the great brotherhood of labor. The locomotive was my alma mater …. Labor has built this great metropolis of the new world, built it as the coral insects build the foundations of islands – build and die.” Elsewhere, Debs says, “John Brown was the percussion cap of the Civil War.” Debs was on the Social Democats ticket for President in 1900.

At that time, as the U.S. took over countries from Spain, but kept them colonies, would not permit them independence, the magazine reports on this oppression of the efforts of Cubans, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, to now, in turn, win freedom from the U.S. Similar to an incident Mark Twin described about an incident in the Phillipines that was a precise twin to the My Lai atrocity of the American War in Vietnam, a letter from the Philipines, from Timothy Lynch, in the 18 March 1899 issue of the San Francisco Call, is reprinted in the Appeal to Reason:

“When we stopped shelling Santa Ana, the First California Regiment entered, and what we had not burned they finished with a vengeance. Their motto, as well as that of the other regiments is: ‘The only good Fillipino is a dead one: take no prisoners, as lead is cheaper than rice.

“The Tennessee men were on the right, and an orderly came aboard and reported that they were killing every native in sight, whether a soldier or not. The boys were enjoying themselves shooting ‘niggers’ on the run.

“All along the river we could see the corpses of the natives lying on the banks or floating down the river. The Idahoes at once place were burying the natives, and at one hole I saw them throw in sixty-five bodies.

“Our own battery and regiment did not do much Saturday night, but the next morning they made one of the grandest charges of history. They charged a cemetery that was full of natives, and piled them up till you couldn’t count the dead. They say our major has a charmed life. He rode at the head of the column, uging the men forward and telling them to spare not even the wounded, thrusting his own sword through every wounded insurgent he passed.”

More information on The Appeal to Reason at

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