Toward the Prosperity of the People

Headshots of people in collage

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 10 No. 5, "Prevailing Voices: Stories of Triumph and Survival." Find more from that issue here.

After about 10 years of organizing among farmers and workers, the National Farmers Alliance and Co-operative Union of America and the National Agricultural Wheel consolidated themselves as the Farmers and Laborers Union and held their first annual meeting at St. Louis on December, 3-7, 1889. In a speech to the delegates, the president, Texas radical Evan Jones, described the causes and consequences of the crises then facing the ordinary people of America - crises that haven't changed much over the years. His speech is excerpted here from the proceedings.


This is certainly an auspicious occasion, it being the first meeting of our organization; an organization that today stands without a peer in its influence for good — not to the farmers and laborers only, but to every legitimate and necessary interest of a free and independent government. . . . An organization whose fundamental principles are founded upon equity and justice and whose cardinal doctrines inspire peace on earth, a love of liberty and good will to all mankind; an organization whose rise and progress is without a parallel and which is destined in no distant day to embrace the entire agriculture and laborers of the world, and whose power and influence shall protect their liberty and interest from the encroachment of rings, trusts and soulless combinations, which are absorbing all of the profits of labor, and thereby paralyzing the industries of our country. . . .

The most, if not every failure of all the various business efforts of our order, is due to a want of a proper understanding and a strict adherence to the business principles of co-operation. . . . I would recommend that you spare no effort in providing the necessary facilities for the better education of the membership in these great principles.

Finance. The monopolization of finance has been, and now is, the foundation from which all monopolies, rings, trusts and oppressive organizations draw their support, strength and power.

Money is shrinking and insufficient volume remits labor to idleness, reduces the price of products, plants mortgages on the homes of our people, bankrupts those who are forced to borrow, paralyzes our industries, and produces hard times and great privations among the masses. . . .

I would therefore recommend that you demand at the hands of the law-making functions of our nation a monetary system that shall conform to the interest of the producing and laboring classes.

Land. There is, perhaps, no question that demands more serious attention at this time than the present condition of our land.

Today we find in America millions of acres of her fertile lands, bought by the fives and efforts of our forefathers, which should have been held sacred for their posterity, squandered upon railroads and other corporations, and millions more are owned and controlled by domestic and foreign syndicates; while a large percent of our homes are hopelessly mortgaged, and about 50 percent of our sons are tenants.

This wholesale absorption of land by aggregated capital must be checked, or it will finally enslave the honest yeomanry of our country. The hope of America depends upon the ownership of the land being vested in those who till the soil. . . .

Transportation. As a means of developing the many natural resources of our great and powerful nation and the distribution of our products for the use and comfort of our people, the railroads take the lead as a benefactor of the human family if properly used; but the avarice and greed manifested on the part of these great corporations have destroyed all competition, and [they have] become oppressors rather than servants of the people for which they were created. . . .

Politics. It is an evident fact that the origin and power to perpetuate the existence of the various rings, trusts and combines that now oppress our people and threaten the overthrow of our free institutions is due to unjust legislation, and the intimacy and influence that still exists between our representatives and these, powerful corporations and combines are such as to give good reason for serious alarm.

We have reached a period in the history of our government when confidence in our political leaders and great political organizations is almost destroyed, and the estrangement between them and the people is becoming more manifest every day.

So long as our people neglect to inform themselves upon the great issues of the hour, and continue to follow blindly machine politicians to the neglect of their own interest, they will continue to lose their individuality, influence and power in our political institutions, and be wholly at the mercy of the soulless corporations that are now wielding such an influence over our Government.

The very existence of our free institutions and republican form of government, the very fife and prosperity of the agricultural and laboring people depend largely if not wholly upon financial, land and transportation reformation.