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A History of Trade Unionism in the United States

Tammany was quick to start the bidding


Evans would go still further in assuring equality of opportunity. He would make the individual's right to the resources of nature safe against the creditors through a law exempting homesteads from attachment for debts and even against himself by making the homestead inalienable. Moreover to assure that right to the American people _in perpetuo_ he would prohibit future disposal of the public land in large blocks to moneyed purchasers as practiced by the government heretofore. Thus the program of the new agrarianism: free homesteads, homestead exemption, and land limitation.

Evans had a plan of political action, which was as unique as his economic program. His previous political experiences with the New York Workingmen's party had taught him that a minority party could not hope to win by its own votes and that the politicians cared more for offices than for measures. They would endorse any measure which was supported by voters who held the balance of power. His plan of action was, therefore, to ask all candidates to pledge their support to his measures. In exchange for such a pledge, the candidates would receive the votes of the workingmen. In case neither candidate would sign the pledge, it might be necessary to nominate an independent as a warning to future candidates; but not as an indication of a new party organization.

Evans' ideas quickly won the adherence of the few labor papers then existing. Horace Greeley's

New York Tribune endorsed the homestead movement as early as 1845. The next five years witnessed a remarkable spread of the ideas of the free homestead movement in the press of the country. It was estimated in 1845 that 2000 papers were published in the United States and that in 1850, 600 of these supported land reform.

Petitions and memorials having proved of little avail, the land reformers tried Evans' pet plan of bargaining votes for the support of their principles. Tammany was quick to start the bidding. In May, 1851, a mass-meeting was held at Tammany Hall "of all those in favor of land and other industrial reform, to be made elements in the Presidential contest of 1852." A platform was adopted which proclaimed man's right to the soil and urged that freedom of the public lands be endorsed by the Democratic party. Senator Isaac A. Walker of Wisconsin was nominated as the candidate of the party for President.

For a while the professional politician triumphed over the too trusting workingman reformer. But the cause found strong allies in the other classes of the American community. From the poor whites of the upland region of the South came a similar demand formulated by the Tennessee tailor, Andrew Johnson, later President of the United States, who introduced his first homestead bill in 1845. From the Western pioneers and settlers came the demand for increased population and development of resources, leading both to homesteads for settlers and land grants for railways. The opposition came from manufacturers and landowners of the East and from the Southern slave owners. The West and East finally combined and the policy of the West prevailed, but not before the South had seceded from the Union.

Not the entire reform was accepted. The Western spirit dominated. The homestead law, as finally adopted in 1862, granted one hundred and sixty acres as a free gift to every settler. But the same Congress launched upon a policy of extensive land grants to railways. The homestead legislation doubtless prevented great estates similar to those which sprang of a different policy of the Australian colonies, but did not carry out the broad principles of inalienability and land limitation of the original Agrarians.

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