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Politics, Labor, and the War on Big Business: The Path of Reform in Arizona, 1890-1920

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Politics, Labor, and the War on Big Business details the rise, fall, and impact of the anticorporate reform effort in Arizona during the Progressive reform era, roughly 1890–1920. Drawing on previously unexamined archival files and building on research presented in his previous books, author David R. Berman offers a fresh look at Progressive heritage and the history of industrial relations during Arizona’s formative period. In the 1890s, once-heavily courted corporations had become, in the eyes of many, outside “money interests” or “beasts” that exploited the wealth of the sparsely settled area. Arizona’s anticorporate reformers condemned the giant corporations for mistreating workers, farmers, ranchers, and small-business people and for corrupting the political system. During a thirty-year struggle, Arizona reformers called for changes to ward off corporate control of the political system, increase corporate taxation and regulation, and protect and promote the interests of working people. Led by George W.P. Hunt and progressive Democrats, Arizona’s brand of progressivism was heavily influenced by organized labor, third parties, and Socialist activists. As highly powerful railroad and mining corporations retaliated, conflict took place on both political levels and industrial backgrounds, sometimes in violent form. Politics, Labor and the War on Big Business places Arizona’s experience in the larger historical discussion of reform activity of the period, considering issues involving the role of government in the economy and the possibility of reform, topics highly relevant to current debates.

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ONE “The Beasts”

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In the 1860s Arizonans set out on a quest for economic growth. Acting in a united fashion to promote development of the area’s natural resources, territorial leaders obtained much of what they had wished for by the late 1880s—in came the railroads and the investment needed for large-scale deep–shaft mining operations. Development, however, brought concerns over corporate economic and political power and drew attention to problems that had surfaced in regard to taxation, regulation, and labor conditions. At that same time, development and population growth led to considerable heterogeneity, social and economic tension, and the emergence of partisan politics.

Arizona in the 1860s was a dry and barren land of 4,000 Anglo-Americans and Mexicans, isolated from each other by distance and physical barriers, and 30,000 American Indians. The territory lacked the capital and, mainly because of Indian wars, the conditions of law and order necessary for economic development.1 Government or the lack thereof was also a problem. Arizona was part of the New Mexico Territory, the capital of which was Santa Fe, 500 miles from Tucson where most of Arizona’s Anglo settlers lived.

 

TWO Stirring the Political Pot

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In the early 1890s Arizonans had two major causes: statehood and free silver. The two major parties agreed on these goals, but neither was willing to offer much in terms of political reform or to challenge corporations in the interests of labor. This left room for the emergence of a third party. The pressure for change in this direction was stimulated further by a chain of events—a severe economic downturn, the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, and the Pullman Strike.

Arizona’s population grew from 88,243 in 1890 to 122,931 in 1900.1 Many prominent Arizonans viewed favorable economic and population trends as proof that the territory was ready to make the transition to statehood. Statehood meant self-government, a step upward in status, and full participation in national politics. It also meant getting away from “carpetbag rule”—being governed as the South had been after the Civil War by appointed officials from the North and the East.

Opposition to statehood in the US Congress was rooted largely in partisan considerations. Republicans were in charge and saw little value in creating a state that was likely to send Democrats to the nation’s capital.2 Many members of Congress were put off by Arizonans’ commitment to free silver in the 1890s.3 In calling for free silver, Arizonans joined a national effort demanding that the federal government return to the bimetallic gold and silver standard it had abandoned in 1873 by purchasing silver bullion for conversion into silver dollars without limit at a ratio of sixteen grains of silver to one grain of gold.

 

THREE Populists Make Their Case and Their Mark

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The national Populist or People’s Party, formed in 1891, represented farmers, workers, and others who—for one reason or another—were unhappy with the way the economic, social, and political systems were evolving in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The preamble to the party’s platform, adopted in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1892, described the United States as a nation in which labor was impoverished and “the fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few.”

For the Populists, this land of “tramps and millionaires” was on the “verge of moral, political, and material ruin.” In the midst of all this, the two national parties, as the Populists saw it, “propose[d] to drown out the outcries of a plundered people with the uproar of a sham battle over the tariff, so that capitalists, corporations, national banks, rings, trusts, watered stock, the demonetization of silver, and the oppressions of the usurers may all be lost sight of.”1

Populists offered a broad-ranging program to head off the disaster. They called for government ownership of the railroads and other monopolies such as telephone and telegraph companies. For the Populists, it was a matter of the people owning the giant corporations or being owned by them. For labor, the Populists demanded recognition of the right to organize, an end to the Pinkerton system of industrial armies, and an eight-hour day. The Populists also campaigned for several measures intended to protect the political system against special interests. Included among these were the secret ballot, popular election of US senators, and the initiative and referendum. Though it was less central to most Populists than other planks in their platform, the free coinage of silver became one of their central “talking points.”

 

FOUR Statehood and the Path of Reform

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Arizona’s population jumped from about 123,000 in 1900 to over 204,000 in 1910, a 66 percent increase. During the same period, the US population grew by only 21 percent.1 Encouraged by these numbers, prominent Arizonans renewed the drive for statehood. There was little sentiment in the territory for joint statehood with New Mexico, however. Arizona’s corporate leaders were among those most strongly opposed to this proposal. While the statehood issue took center stage, territorial politics moved out of its Populist phase with the death of the silver issue and the failure of Populist leaders’ final attempt in 1900 to fuse with the Democrats. Arizonans, however, continued to debate many of the issues and concerns the Populists had raised.

Arizona politicians increased their clamor for statehood in the early 1900s, claiming that the territory was ready to make the transition. They also became increasingly critical of what Territorial Delegate Mark Smith denounced as “the infamous Territorial system of government,” which subjected Arizonans to the “whim and caprice of politicians” and “a government of carpetbag rule.”2

 

FIVE Worker Unrest, Organization, and Confrontations

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Arizona’s working class in the last decades of the nineteenth century consisted of native-born Anglos, Hispanics, and European-born immigrants who found employment in farming, mining, and transportation (especially with the railroads). Workers were divided by skilled-unskilled differentials, language, and ethnic backgrounds. The native-born and European Anglos held the skilled and semi-skilled positions. Hispanics were more prevalent among the unskilled workers.1

The most highly skilled workers organized first—for social purposes as well as to protect and advance their economic status. Much of this activity took place in areas impacted heavily by railroad and mining activities. Arizona railroad workers had organized in the early 1880s, and many had participated in the Pullman Strike in 1894. Following the crush of this strike, however, rail unions generally became less aggressive. Brotherhood leaders representing workers on the Santa Fe, for example, made virtually no new demands on the railroad and stood back as management violated existing agreements with impunity.2

 

SIX Rising Tide

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In 1901 over 100 Socialists attended a “unity convention” in Indianapolis, Indiana, and created the Socialist Party of America, also known simply as the Socialist Party. Leaders later recognized the importance of the 1893 depression and the 1894 American Railway Union Strike in setting the conditions that led to the birth of the new party and of the historic role the Populists played in leading the attack on the old parties. They also acknowledged that many Socialists came out of the Populist movement and credited the Populists as the source of several reforms in the Socialist Party’s platform.1

Delegates at the 1901 convention agreed to use the ballot box as a means of securing political office and, from there, “transforming the present system of private ownership of the means of production and distribution into collective ownership by the entire people.” The 1901 platform declared that it was essential “for the Socialist Party to support all active efforts of the working class to better its condition and to elect Socialists to political offices, in order to facilitate the attainment of this end.”2

 

SEVEN Finishing Up, Looking Ahead

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During the period 1907–1909, the last years of territorial governance, Arizona politics was shaped by the confluence of several strong currents. For one thing, with the joint statehood proposal shot down, statehood for Arizona seemed imminent and political leaders were focused on removing the last remaining obstacles. To improve the chances for statehood, leaders emphasized upgrading Arizona’s image by exerting greater control over drinking and gambling. The increased political mobilization of labor also stirred the political pot, prompting the major parties—especially the Democrats—to pay more attention to labor’s demands. Compounding the problem for Democrats was the need to worry about the ability of the Socialist Party to siphon off labor votes. The Democratic Party, however, had trouble moving left because its conservative faction was still strong.

For the anti-corporate or Populist wing of the Democratic Party, the results of the 1906 election were not positive: corporate Democrat Mark Smith won the delegate to the US Congress position, and Democrats lost control of the upper house in the assembly, costing George Hunt his position as council president. Matters were somewhat reversed in 1908. Smith was able to fight off a challenge from Brady O’Neill, a leader of the Populist faction, for the Democratic nomination for delegate but lost the general election to a Republican. In 1908, however, the Democrats regained control of the council, and Hunt returned as president of that body.

 

EIGHT Reformers Take Charge

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By late 1909 it had became apparent that Arizona would likely soon become a state. Soon thereafter, a struggle for control took place during the drafting of the statehood enabling act and in the selection of delegates to the ensuing Constitutional Convention. In the past the prospect of statehood had aroused the interests of politicians concerned about offices, corporations seeking outside capital, and farmers and ranchers hoping to shift taxes to the corporations.1 In 1910 unionists and Socialists, acting through a newly created Labor Party, became new and influential players in statehood politics. They exerted considerable influence on the Progressive Democrats who wound up controlling the Constitutional Convention. Conservatives from President William Howard Taft on down were alarmed about the prospects of radicals taking over the new state.

In October 1909 Taft toured Arizona and, as expected, offered his support for statehood but cautioned Arizonans that they needed to understand the responsibilities of writing a constitution. He warned against making a constitution similar to the one recently adopted in Oklahoma, which he considered “a zoological garden of cranks.”2 Among the provisions of that document the president found objectionable were those calling for direct democracy.3 Taft was especially critical of the idea that judges should be subject to popular recall. In his view, an independent judiciary was a mainstay of any constitutional system, and a device such as a recall that subjected judges to direct popular control was unwise.

 

NINE Making and Selling a Constitution

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Following their victory in the 1910 delegate contest, the Progressive-labor Democrats took control of the Constitutional Convention, causing considerable alarm among conservatives who said they feared the leftists would produce a document that would be rejected in Washington and, more important, a document that, if not rejected, would make the new state unsafe for people of wealth.1 Though it failed to provide for some of the Labor Party’s demands, with woman suffrage a prominent example, the document they produced was reflective of several fresh ideas and approaches when it came to expanding democracy, regulating business, and protecting labor.

Delegates to the Arizona Constitutional Convention convened in Phoenix on October 10, 1910. Their first task—choosing a president of the convention—proved to be long and drawn out, with several candidates emerging and then fading. Among the conservative, corporate-acceptable Democratic candidates were Everett E. Ellinwood, attorney for the Phelps Dodge mining interests; Morris Goldwater, who had defeated Hunt for the presidency of the Twentieth Territorial Council; Wilfred T. Webb, a pioneering merchant and cattleman from Graham County; and Judge Alfred Franklin, Frank Cox’s partner as legal counsel for the Southern Pacific.2

 

TEN New Regime

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In the December 12, 1911, election in which they decided to remove the judicial recall from their constitution, Arizona voters also selected their first set of elected officials. Frank Murphy asked voters to “give capitalism a chance” and avoid putting radicals in state offices.1 There was some confusion over whether George Hunt fell into the radical category, but voters favored him for governor along with a slate of other Democrats—all of whom did their best to sound at least strongly Progressive—for all major offices.

Governor Hunt, his program, and reaction to that program dominated the headlines in 1912. The new regime brought volumes of legislation, increased government spending, more democratization of the political process, more corporate taxation and regulation, and added worker protection. Newly created commissions went on to demonstrate an aggressiveness and eagerness to fulfill their missions—a trait scholars have seen as typical of new agencies.2 At the same time, the Hunt regime stirred considerable hostility, much of which ostensibly centered on the governor’s policies regarding capital punishment and prison reform.

 

ELEVEN Bringing in the Voters

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In November 1912 Arizona voters continued to demonstrate the Progressive mood that had led to the approval of the constitution and the first set of office holders. The 1912 election, however, created serious concerns for the Hunt Democrats. After the election, Hunt had to deal with increased opposition from corporations and their supporters within the Democratic Party. Their public attack centered on Hunt’s stand on capital punishment, prison reform, and the granting of pardons and paroles. Hunt survived the 1914 general election, even though voters sided with his critics on these issues and some of his supporters in the legislature went down to defeat. All in all, the drive for anti-corporate reform persisted during the period 1912–1914, though it was diminished in intensity and clouded by other issues.

In November 1912 Democratic presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson, a recent convert to Progressivism, carried the state with 43.6 percent of the vote. He was followed by reform-minded, if not radical, third-party candidates Theodore Roosevelt of the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party at 29.3 percent and Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs at 13.4 percent. William Howard Taft, the Republican nominee and easily the most conservative candidate in the race, finished behind Debs with 12.6 percent of the vote. Taft received 23.2 percent of the vote nationally.1

 

TWELVE Radicals at Work

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With the ascendency of the Hunt regime, Arizonans at the far left of the political spectrum had high hopes for fundamental change. Recovering from near devastation following the Labor Party episode, Socialists themselves demonstrated considerable electoral support, reaching a high point in 1912 but still strong enough in 1914 to capture the attention of major parties. Along with building and maintaining the agenda for anti-corporate reform, Socialists reminded Hunt and the Democrats of their commitment to the Labor Party platform and kept watch to see that this commitment was honored. At the same time, they took advantage of the initiative to purse some broad objectives and undertook a host of local causes throughout the state.

The emergence of the Labor Party almost destroyed the Arizona Socialist Party from which it drew much of its leadership and voter support.1 In 1910 the Socialist Party had nearly 600 dues-paying members scattered around the territory in twenty locals. By March 1911, defections to the Laborites had reduced the Socialist Party membership to 97 and three locals.2 The Labor Party, though, received no lasting benefit from this defection or its role in producing a Progressive constitution—it failed to survive the 1910 delegate contest.

 

THIRTEEN Drawing the Battle Lines

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Democrats could take considerable comfort from the results of the 1914 elections, even though the legislative results were not that encouraging. With these results, combined with an intense corporate lobbying effort, the pace of reform slowed considerably in the legislature that went into session in 1915. By that time the courts had also entered the battle, often coming out on the corporations’ side. Union leaders, many of whom were solidly in Governor George Hunt’s camp, saw themselves engaged in a war of survival on the industrial as well as the political front. Employers throughout the state had become more determined to head off organized labor. This was especially true of mine owners and their dealings with the Western Federation of Miners (WFM).

At the same time, foreign-born miners (especially Mexicans) were becoming more militant, more willing to stand up to the boss, and more attractive to the WFM. The result was a series of strikes, the most serious of which occurred in Clifton-Morenci. Hunt and many Arizonans feared a tide of labor violence, as had recently engulfed Colorado. Governor Elias Ammons of that state had sent in the militia to break a strike of coal miners. The governor’s action led to the Ludlow massacre on April 20, 1914, in which troops attacked a strikers’ tent settlement, set the tents on fire, and killed more than a dozen women and children. The massacre set off a war between the striking miners on one side and company guards and state militia on the other. Hunt sought to avoid a similar outcome in Arizona. Already in trouble, Hunt wound up in even more political difficulty because of his pro-labor stand during the Clifton-Morenci strike. Difficulties in mining areas, however, gave the governor’s opponents both additional incentives and a greater opportunity to topple his administration.

 

FOURTEEN Going after Hunt

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Speaking to a gathering of Arizona bankers in the fall of 1915, Frank Murphy warned that Hunt was “aiding and abetting agitators who are largely influencing the workingmen against their own interests and the welfare of the state.” Between Hunt and the broader anti-corporate movement that had engulfed the state, Murphy argued that it was high time for the business community to become politically involved and control the situation. For Murphy, “It is the rankest kind of nonsense for business men to devote their energies and genius to working out economies in their business,” only to have “the results of their efforts ... be dissipated by the reckless politician and non-taxpaying, irresponsible citizen.”1 Businesspeople must be on guard because “the wits of scheming politicians and those trying to slip through life easily by preying upon those who have been successful, always with a big following, are active and untiring.”2 Murphy told the bankers it was up to “men like you gentlemen” to do battle with “the federations of labor, socialists, I-won’t workers, non-taxpayers, and scheming politicians.”3

 

FIFTEEN Hunt, War, and Wobblies

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Following a recount of the votes cast during the 1916 gubernatorial election, the Maricopa County Superior Court awarded the governorship to Thomas E. Campbell on December 16, 1916. Hunt went to the State Supreme Court seeking a reversal by charging vote fraud. The State Supreme Court’s final decision, which came a year after Campbell became governor, gave the election to Hunt by forty-three votes and put him back in office on December 23, 1917.1

During the time Campbell served as governor, several developments took place that were ultimately detrimental to Hunt and the cause of reform. With Hunt out of the way and Campbell in power, mine owners suddenly had a friend in the governor’s office. They used the improved political environment to step up their attack on organized labor, in hopes of wiping out the unions. The US entry into the ongoing war in Europe on April 6, 1917, gave corporations the weapon of patriotism to use against radicals who opposed US involvement and against union activity that appeared to interfere with the war effort. Critics and disruptors were labeled unpatriotic, if not outright enemy agents.

 

SIXTEEN Aftermath

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George Hunt was angry while delivering a message to the Third Arizona Legislature, meeting in special session in May 1918. He praised the support Arizonans had shown for the war effort but denounced the profiteering patriot, “the detestable hypocrite who with sanctimonious demeanor goes through the mummery of patriotic service, though striving all the while to profit by his country’s dire stress.” In the past year, the governor contended, individuals of this type “had reaped a hapless harvest of industrial strife, culminating in such shameful events as the deportations at Bisbee and Jerome,” and displayed “the reckless tendency to brand as disloyal, in public speech and printed article, everyone who reserves the right to do his own thinking.”1

Bisbee, Hunt went on, was a carefully planned activity in which a “mob” organized “under the cover of darkness, calmly [and] premeditatedly ... swooped down at dawn upon the homes of unsuspecting, unoffending miners who had committed no violence ... By sheer force of arms this conscienceless mob of copper company thugs violated, at one and the same time, the sacred tenets of our republic and the sanctity of the American home.” They did all this under the pretension of patriotism.2

 

Concluding Observations

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