Tag Archive: Wikipedia

Hearst's New York Journal front page giving a biased, pro-war account of the explosion on the U.S.S. Maine (Wikipedia)

By the end of the 19th century, Cuba had long been seen as a potential acquisition for the expanding United States. By the 1860s, Cuba was importing many of their goods from the United States, who purchased most of the sugar that the island produced. Several attempts to purchase the island from Spain were aborted due to shifting political fortunes within the U.S. Large American companies had a significant financial interest in lowering import tariffs on the sugar, while at the same time the mindset of “Manifest Destiny” – the drive to expand the U.S. throughout the Western Hemisphere – was beginning to take hold.

Enter the media. Beginning in the 1890s, William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pullitzer, and other members of the media began to conjure and over-report ‘attrocities’ that they claimed had been perpetrated by the Spanish Empire, which was now in steep decline. During this time, Hearst’s New York Journal and Pullitzer’s New York World entered into a fight for readership. They began to employ strategies to gain readership that would later be called “Yellow Journalism”. This included publishing morality plays, showing “nudity” (or the closest Victorian equivalent), and sensational political articles about sometimes fabricated scandals.

During the 1890s, Cuba began a struggle for independence against Spain. Hearst and others could see the potential for readership in the headlines. At one point, World correspondent as James Creelman wrote in his log, he sent a message from Cuba to Hearst saying “There will be no war.” Hearst replied, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

Later, the U.S. sent a dreadnought, the U.S.S. Maine to Havana to guard American interests as hostilities broke out there. It sank, likely the result of an internal boiler explosion, but Hearst’s headline was “MAINE EXPLOSION CAUSED BY BOMB OR TORPEDO”. Pullitzer’s Journal screamed, “DESTRUCTION OF THE WAR SHIP MAINE WAS THE WORK OF AN ENEMY” above an illustration of a terrible explosion splitting the ship in two pieces. The headlines helped to begin the Spanish-American War.

Three years later, Ambrose Bierce claimed that Hearst’s reporting led Leon Czolgosz to shoot President McKinley. These claims devastated Hearst’s hopes to become president himself, but he denied it to be the case.

Later, in 1941, Frank Luther Mott gave a description of signs of “Yellow Journalism”:

1. scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news
2. lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings
3. use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudo-science, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts
4. emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips
5. dramatic sympathy with the “underdog” against the system.

How many are still in use today?

Wikipedia: Yellow Journalism


"In memoriam -- our civil service as it was", Thomas Nast (Harper's Weekly, 1877. via Wikipedia)

Prior to Andrew Jackson’s presidency, each newly elected president had been rather circumspect regarding the transfer of power from one administration to the next. Andrew Jackson changed that in a big way. An office-seeking horde descended upon Andrew Jackson’s inauguration after Jackson had promised friends, allies and cronies alike positions within his new administration. The new process of appointing people due to political ties rather than competence represented a marked change from the past in the 1830s. This new Jacksonian system, the Spoils System derives from a quote by the Jacksonian Democratic Senator William L. Marcy of New York: “To the victor belong the spoils.” The system remained in place until the 1860s, when the public began to demand an increasingly large number of civil services to be administered by the federal government. The system did not end, however, until the Pendleton Act passed in 1883, however, which established a bipartisan board that would select applicants for work within the government. Later, the Hatch Act of 1939 prevented government employees from taking part in many political activities.

Wikipedia: Spoils System

"Miner strikes the owner" (Judge, via Wikipedia)

Bituminous coal miners had gone on strike in 1897 and had won a resounding victory. With success, the unions grew rapidly in size and spread to anthracite coal miners by 1899 and 1900. During that time, owners acquiesced to labor demands rather than impose on Republican William McKinley’s chances in the upcoming election. But in 1902, anthracite coal miners still lacked recognition for their unions and they did not have much say in the decisions that shaped their industry. Unwilling to concede even more, the company bosses refused arbitration and 100,000 United Mine Workers of America, comprising up to 80% of the workers in Pennsylvania, went on strike.

J.P. Morgan, owner of the Reading Railroad (of Monopoly fame) and financial autocrat, played a significant role in the negotiation process after intrigues involving the Federal mediation, the National Guard, Police and spies, but after 163 days, the strike ended with another labor victory. In the end, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed that the government sought to ensure a “Square Deal” (first usage ever) to both sides. The strike was a victory for the workers and help lead to Progressive Era reforms.

Wikipedia: Anthracite Coal Strike

The 8-hour workday: Why you can enjoy your weekends. (Wikipedia)

On the Eight-hour work day

During the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, child labor was common, slavery was still legal in many places, and for free men, the average work day was 10-16 hours. There was no middle class and those who were not rich traveled in “steerage”. The adoption of the 40-hour work week was in itself a labor that was hard-fought. The Briton Robert Own called for a ten-hour day in 1810 and had formulated by 1817 the slogan: “Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest.” It was not until 1847 that women and children were granted a 10-hour day in Britain, such were the working conditions of the time. By 1836, demands for the 8-hour day finally reached the United States, but it was not until 1866 that the labor movement there decided on a course of action. That is when the National Labor Union passed this resolution in Baltimore:

“The first and great necessity of the present to free labour of this country from capitalist slavery, is the passing of a law by which eight hours shall be the normal working day in all States of the American Union. We are resolved to put forth all our strength until this glorious result is achieved.”

While this is incredibly different from the rhetoric of capitalism that we hear on TV today, Unions worked tirelessly to achieve the goal that had been set: The eight hour work day. It took a great deal of effort. It was not until 1916 that the Adamson Act was passed as the first federal law that promoted the 8-hour day for railroad workers. For the first time, the working hours for private companies were regulated and it luckily surived a surpreme court challenge in Wilson vs. New. Still, it was not until the New Deal that the eight-hour work day became standard for most Americans.

So as you are sitting at your desk, remember that progress is slow. It took nearly a century to achieve an 8-hour work day after centuries in which people worked up to 16 hours for slave wages at times there was no middle class. Things are better now, but only after a good deal of hard work, numerous strikes, legal challenges and tenacity. Many people died for the simple right to have free time away from work. The powers that be have never appreciated the work that labor gives, though over two centuries, labor is no longer treated like chattle. Let us not go back to the 19th century.

Wikipedia: Eight-hour day