Presidential Election, 1892
Benjamin Harrison, the sitting president, did not enjoy the Republican Party’s unified backing at the convention in 1892. The president had offended the political bosses by his forays into civil service reform as well as a large segment of the general public by his staunch support of the McKinley Tariff. Even Harrison’s cabinet found his personality icy and unappealing. Despite support for rivals James G. Blaine and William McKinley, Harrison managed to secure renomination on the first ballot.
The Democrats turned again to Grover Cleveland, victor in 1884 and loser in 1888. The nominee, like his opponent, did not lead a unified party; southern and western elements agitated for support of silver programs, but did not prevail. The primary plank in the democratic platform called for the enactment of a tariff for revenue only—an obvious reaction to the McKinley Tariff.
A third party, the Populists (or People’s) Party, gave its nomination to General James B. Weaver. Its platform called for free and unlimited coinage of silver and government ownership of the railroads. Both of those positions were crafted to appeal to the miners and farmers.
Cleveland ran on a platform of lowering tariffs (especially the McKinley Tariff), supporting the gold standard (something which he made his VP nominee Adlai Stevenson do as well) and on opposing the Republican-backed Force Bill. In addition, the Democrats criticized the Republicans for causing the Homestead Strike to occur due to their protectionist policies.
Cleveland defeated Harrison, thus becoming the only person in US history to be elected to a second, non-consecutive presidential term. Cleveland, who had won the popular vote against Harrison in 1888, lost the electoral vote which cost him re-election. He won both the popular and electoral vote in the rematch election.
Populist Party Platform (1892)
The People’s Party, more commonly known as the Populist Party, was organized in St. Louis in 1892 to represent the common folk—especially farmers—against the entrenched interests of railroads, bankers, processors, corporations, and the politicians in league with such interests. At its first national convention in Omaha in July 1892, the party nominated James K. Weaver for president and ratified the so-called Omaha Platform, drafted by Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota. The Populist Party was highly critical of capitalism, especially banks and railroads, and allied itself with the labor movement.
The party’s platform, commonly known as the Omaha Platform, called for the abolition of national banks, a graduated income tax, direct election of Senators, civil service reform, a working day of eight hours and Government control of all railroads, telegraphs, and telephones. In the 1892 Presidential election, James B. Weaver received 1,027,329 votes. Weaver carried four states (Colorado, Kansas, Idaho, and Nevada) and received electoral votes from Oregon and North Dakota as well.
One of the most intriguing stories in American Flag lore is that of Henry Bowman. The date of 1892 is significant with regards to zig-zag stitching and American flags in that on February 23, 1892, Mr. Henry A. Bowman, an African American, was awarded patent #469,395, Device for Making Flags, in which he patented the use of zig-zag stitching specifically for sewing stars onto American flags. Henry’s flag company began producing flags and marking the hoist of the flag with the date and patent number. Unfortunately, he was unable to protect his patent, and others also made flags using this technique. On March 26, 1894, Bowman brought the case of Bowman v. De Grauw, et. al. to the Circuit Court of New York. He lost the case, with the judge ruling that the technique was not sufficiently novel to warrant a patent, and soon the Bowman company went out of business. The flag above is a very scarce example made by Henry Bowman’s flag company. The signature sign that this is a Bowman flag is the stenciled patent marking on the hoist, which reads “Patented Feb. 23, 1892.” The flag is very small, marked “2×3” on the hoist to represent 2 feet x 3 feet in size. The stars on the flag, zig-zag stitched using Bowman’s patented stitching method, are small and scattered on their axis. Each star is hand cut and they vary in size, some being noticeably smaller than their neighbors, resulting in a charming and folksy presentation of the 45 star flag.
Immigration restrictions were the headlines in 1892, just as they are today.
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
HOLY TRINITY CHURCH v. THE UNITED STATES
February 29, 1892
This case involved the Church of the Holy Trinity, which hired a pastor from England. Federal immigration officials attempted to block the hiring of the pastor based on a federal statute which prohibited importing foreign laborers. The court reversed the judgment of the lower court and held that petitioner did not violate federal law since the law only applied to cheap unskilled foreign workers, and not to professional occupations, such as ministers and pastors. The court remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.
The Geary Act of 1892
The Law: Federal legislation designed to limit Chinese immigration to the United States
Date: Became law on May 5, 1892
Significance: Enacted to reinforce and extend provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Geary Act prevented further immigration from China and required established Chinese residents of the United States to carry certificates of residence. The act grew out of an assumption that low-wage Chinese laborers were responsible for the economic downturn in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed in 1882, put a ten-year federal moratorium on the immigration of Chinese laborers, and increased restrictions on Chinese immigrants already living in the United States.
When the act expired in 1892, a new bill was proposed by California Democratic congressman Thomas J. Geary. Geary’s bill extended the immigration moratorium for ten additional years and required existing Chinese immigrants to obtain official certificates of residence from the Internal Revenue Service.
Immigrants found without these certificates faced up to one year of hard labor followed by deportation. Bail was not permitted for immigrants arrested for being in the country illegally, and only a “credible white witness” could testify on behalf of an accused Chinese immigrant.
The Geary Act was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893, in Fong Yue Ting v. United States. In 1902, the act was extended indefinitely, but Congress eased restrictions during the 1920’s and finally removed them in 1943.
The Columbian Exposition and the Race to Light the World
If you wanted to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America, wouldn’t you want to do it in 1892? Well, that was the plan, but there was a slight delay in 1892 – and another Situation of America!
The promoters in Chicago were determined to highlight the new emergence of electric lighting to the nation in a big way. They wanted to create a “City of Lights” to dazzle the world. Most thought that the newly formed General Electric Company would lead the way, but a little thing like AC versus DC got in the way. Thomas Edison had developed the use of Direct Current to light streets and homes, but that process required generators on-site in homes and factories and every several blocks in the city to accomplish the lighting. Alternating Current, with the Nikolai Tesla invention of the transformer in 1883, was much more efficient in getting electricity to further distances without the need of many generators. The fact that Tesla was a former employee of Edison, and was now working for George Westinghouse in Pittsburgh, only added fuel to the fire of rivalries.
General Electric, just formed in 1892 by banker J.P. Morgan, put in their bid of $1.8 million to light the fair, but that did not go over well, so they did a second bid worth $554,000. Surprising to General Electric, George Westinghouse, armed with Tesla’s new induction motor, proposed to light the fair for $399,000. Westinghouse and Tesla won the contract. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The City of Lights became a spectacular display of the use of electricity, and from that point forward more than 80 percent of all the electrical devices ordered in the United States were for alternating current.
Bitter in defeat, Morgan and Edison would regroup and move on to the Holy Grail of harnessing the power of Niagara Falls to produce electricity, only to lose out to Tesla and Westinghouse, again. But this was the era of the “Robber Barons” and John Pierpont Morgan wasn’t done with Westinghouse and Tesla or another target, Andrew Carnegie, just yet. And Edison was tired of electricity and moved on to other things, including processing and selling iron ore to the steel mills of Pittsburgh. More of that in Part Two!
The Negotiations Begin in Homestead
Eight Lodges of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers
The “Association” was a national organization in the iron and steel industry. Its membership was restricted to skilled workers in the rolling mills and puddling furnaces. The union’s membership did not include the laborers (who were an important part of the labor force.) At the beginning of the 1890s, the AAISW was the largest trade union in the United States, claiming 290 lodges and 24,068 members.
At the beginning of 1892, the workers at Homestead were still operating under an agreement signed by the Carnegie Company and the Amalgamated Association in 1889. (It was due to expire on June 30, 1892.) While Carnegie tried to portray himself as a friend of his employees, he was, in fact, determined to break the union. Carnegie had placed the rabid anti-unionist Henry Clay Frick in charge of his company’s operations in 1881. Carnegie ordered the Homestead plant to manufacture large amounts of inventory so that the plant could survive a strike.
- Henry Clay Frick developed a “hard-nose” reputation through his labor experiences in the coke business. Famously quoted: “There can only be one boss. There can only be one manager.”
- Started the H.C. Frick Coke Company, half of which was later bought by Carnegie, in late 1870 and experienced some strikes under his management
- Broke these strike using Pinkerton Detectives, militiamen, and non-union workers
- His hostility towards unions was a key component to the Homestead Strike
- Was appointed Chairman of the Homestead mill in early 1892
In February 1892, Frick and leaders of the Amalgamated Association began negotiations. The Amalgamated Association’s contract was set to expire on June 30, 1892. The union expected a pay raise in their next contract. But, Frick had other plans.
Frick had three demands:
- That the minimum sliding scale wage threshold for skilled workers be reduced from $25 to $22 per ton. (later settled at $23, a reduction of 8%).
- A 15% reduction of tonnage wages in those departments in the mills where the improvements have been made and which enable the workingmen to increase the output and consequently their earnings.
- That the Amalgamated contract expire December 31st, 1893 instead of June 30th, 1894.
While the first two clauses were purely monetary, the last was critical. The union was strongest during the summer since it was so hot in the mills that not many non-union workers would work there. But in the colder months the warm mills attracted many which gave Carnegie Steel the advantage in negotiations.
The President of the Amalgamated Association, Hugh O’Donnell, expressed the union’s position in the negotiations:
“Moreover, I told them, you can tell your people we are willing to make any reductions where [the Carnegie Company] can show any reductions are necessary. We want to settle it without trouble; don’t want a strike.”
125 years ago, the story begins, January 1, 1892
When Ellis Island officially opened on January 1, 1892, the first passenger registered through the now world-famous immigration station was a young Irish girl named Annie Moore. Hustled ahead of a burly German by her two younger brothers and by an Irish longshoreman who shouted “Ladies first,” Annie, from County Cork set foot on Ellis Island ahead of the other passengers from the steamship S.S. Nevada. Annie departed from Queenstown (now known as Cobh, County Cork, Ireland) on December 20, 1891, one of 148 steerage passengers. The trio would spend 12 days at sea (including Christmas Day), arriving in New York on Thursday evening, December 31. They were processed through Ellis Island the following morning, New Year’s Day. The Nevada had arrived too late on New Year’s Eve to be processed, which meant its third-class passengers would be the first to pass through the newly built federal immigration station on Ellis Island, which had previously been used as a gunpowder storage facility for the U.S. Navy.
At 10:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day, a flag on Ellis Island was dipped three times as a signal to transport the first boatload of immigrants. A chorus of foghorns, clanging bells, steam whistles and cheers serenaded a barge adorned with red, white and blue bunting as it ferried Nevada’s steerage passengers to the dock at Ellis Island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.
The brown-haired Irish teenager was the first to bound down the gangplank with her brothers in tow. She entered through the enormous double doors of the cavernous three-story wooden building, described as “little more than a big business shed” by the New York Tribune, and skipped two steps at a time up the main staircase. Turning to her left, the girl was ushered into one of 10 aisles and up to a tall lectern-like registry desk.
“What is your name, my girl?” asked Charles Hendley, a former Treasury Department official who had requested the honor of registering the new station’s first immigrant.
“Annie Moore, sir,” replied the Irish girl.
Wielding his pen over a fresh piece of paper, Hendley inked Moore’s name and those of her brothers, Anthony and Philip, along with their ages, last place of residence and intended destination on the first page of the first registry book. Annie was then escorted into the next room where former congressman John B. Weber, federal superintendent of immigration for the port of New York, gave her a ten-dollar gold piece and wishes for a Happy New Year. A Catholic chaplain blessed her and gave her a silver coin, while another bystander slipped her a five-dollar gold piece before she passed into the waiting room and the arms of her parents.
Over the course of the next 62 years, more than 12 million immigrants would follow in the teenager’s footsteps through Ellis Island, and it’s estimated that 40 percent of the country can trace its origins back to the immigration station in New York Harbor. The Great Hall of Ellis Island was peppered with hiring agents, recruiting workers for factories in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit, among other cities, as the work was plentiful. The slip of paper could say, “Carnegie Steel, Braddock or Homestead” depending on the need back at the plants. Those who might be heading to Homestead and seek work at the massive plant there were about to face a rendezvous with destiny.
And that was the Situation of America, January 1, 1892.