Contributed and produced by EKIS and Lynn Nelson.




William Allen White

Today the Kansas Department of Agriculture sent out a statement which indicatesthat Kansas has gained less than two thousand people in the past year. There areabout two hundred and twenty-five thousand families in his state, and there wereten thousand babies born in Kansas, and yet so many people have left the statethat the natural increase is cut down to less than two thousand net.

This has been going on for eight years.

If there had been a high brick wall around the state eight years ago, and not asoul had been admitted or permitted to leave, Kansas would be a half millionsouls better off than she is today. and yet the nation has increased inpopulation. In five years ten million people have been added to the nationalpopulation, yet | instead of gaining a share of this say, half a million --Kansas has apparently been a plague spot, and, in the very garden of the world,has lost population by ten thousands every year.

Not only has she lost population, but she has lost money Every moneyed man inthe state who could get out without loss has gone. Every month in every communitysees someone who has a little money pack up and leave the state. This has beengoing on for eight years. Money has been drained out all the time. In towns whereten years ago there were three or four or half dozen money-lending concerns,stimulating industry by furnishing capital, there is now none, or one or two thatare looking after the interests and principal already outstanding.

No one brings any money into Kansas any more. What community knows over one ortwo men who have moved in with more than $5,000 in the past three years? And whatcommunity cannot count half a score of men in that time who have left, taking allthe money they could scrape together?

Yet the nation has grown rich; other states have increased in population andwealth -- other neighboring states. Missouri has gained over two million, whileKansas has been losing half a million. Nebraska has gained in wealth andpopulation while Kansas has gone downhill. Colorado has gained every way, whileKansas has lost every way since 1888.

What's the matter with Kansas?

There is no substantial city in the state. Every big town save one has lost inpopulation. Yet Kansas City, Omaha, Lincoln, St. Louis, Denver, Colorado Springs,Sedalia, the cities of the Dakotas, St. Paul and Minneapolis and Des Moines allcities and towns in the West -- have steadily grown.

Take up the government blue book and you will see that Kansas is virtually offthe map. Two or three little scrubby consular places in yellow-fever-strickencommunities that do not aggregate ten thousand dollars a year is all therecognition that Kansas has. Nebraska draws about one hundred thousand dollars;little old North Dakota draws about fifty thousand dollars; Oklahoma doublesKansas; Missouri leaves her a thousand miles behind; Colorado is almost seventimes greater than Kansas -- the whole west is ahead of Kansas.

Take it by any standard you please, Kansas is not in it.

Go east and you hear them laugh at Kansas; go west and they sneer at her; gosouth and they cuss" her; go north and they have forgotten her. Go into anycrowd of intelligent people gathered anywhere on the globe, and you will find theKansas man on the defensive. The newspaper columns and magazines once devoted topraise of her, to boastful facts and startling figures concerning her resources,are now filled with cartoons, jibes and Pefferian speeches. Kansas just naturallyisn't in it. She has traded places with Arkansas and Timbuctoo.

What's the matter with Kansas?

We all know; yet here we are at it again. We have an old mossback Jacksonian whosnorts and howls because there is a bathtub in the State House; we are runningthat old jay for governor. We have another shabby, wild-eyed, rattle-brainedfanatic who has said openly in a dozen speeches that "the rights of the user areparamount to the rights of the owner"; we are running him for Chief Justice, sothat capital will come tumbling over itself to get into the state. We have rakedthe old ash heap of failure in the state and found an old human hoop skirt whohas failed as a businessman, who has failed as an editor, who has failed as apreacher, and we are going to run him for Congressman-at-Large. He will help thelooks of the Kansas delegation at Washington. Then we have discovered a kidwithout a law practice and have decided to run him for Attorney General. Then,for fear some hint that the state had become respectable might percolate throughthe civilized portions of the nation, we have decided to send three or fourharpies out lecturing, telling the people that Kansas is raising hell and lettingthe corn go to weed.

Oh this IS a state to be proud of! We are a people who can hold up our heads!What we need is not more money, but less capital, fewer white shirts and brains,fewer men with business judgment, and more of those fellows who boast that theyare "just ordinary clodhoppers, but they know more in a minute about finance thanJohn Sherman; we need more men who are posted," who can bellow about the crimeof '73, who hate prosperity, and who think, because a man believes in nationalhonor, he is a tool of Wall Street. We have had a few of them some hundred fiftythousand -- but we need more.

We need several thousand gibbering idiots to scream about the "Great Red Dragon"of Lombard Street. We don't need population, we don't need wealth, we don't needwell-dressed men on the streets, we don't need cities on the fertile prairies;you bet we don't! What we are after is the money power. Because we have becomepoorer and ornerier and meaner than a spavined, distempered mule, we, the peopleof Kansas, propose to kick; we don't care to build up, we wish to tear down."There are two ideas of government," said our noble Bryan at Chicago. "There arethose who believe that if you legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, thisprosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that ifyou legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its wayup and through every class and rest upon them."

That's the stuff! Give the prosperous man the dickens! Legislate the thriftlessman into ease, whack the stuffing out of the creditors and tell the debtors whoborrowed the money five years go when money "per capita" was greater than it isnow, that the contraction of currency gives him a right to repudiate.

Whoop it up for the ragged trousers; put the lazy, greasy fizzle, who can't payhis debts, on the altar, and bow down and worship him. Let the state ideal behigh. What we need is not the respect of our fellow men but the chance to getsomething for nothing.

Oh, yes, Kansas is a great state. Here are people fleeing from it by the scoreevery day, capital going out of the state by the hundreds of dollars; and everyindustry but farming paralyzed, and that crippled, because its products have togo across the ocean before they can find a laboring man at work; who can affordto buy them. Let's don't stop this year. Let's drive all the decent self-respecting men out of the state. Let's keep the old clodhoppers who know it all.Let's encourage the man who is "posted." He can talk, and what we need is notmill hands to eat our meat, nor factory hands to eat our wheat, nor cities tooppress the farmer by consuming his butter and eggs and chickens and produce.What Kansas needs is men who can talk, who have large leisure to argue thecurrency question while their wives wait at home for that nickel's worth ofbluing.

What's the matter with Kansas?

Nothing under the shining sun. She is losing her wealth, population and standing.She has got her statesmen, and the money power is afraid of her. Kansas is allright. She has started in to raise hell, as Mrs. Lease advised, and she seems tohave an over-production. But that doesn't matter. Kansas never did believe indiversified crops. Kansas is all right. There is absolutely nothing wrong withKansas. "Every prospect pleases and only man is vile."

William Allen White
The Emporia Gazette
15 August 1896

William Allen White was the young and little-known editor of an undistinguishedsmall-town newspaper when this editorial catapulted him into national prominence. The year was 1896, and a presidential election between the Republican candidate,William McKinley, and the Democratic choice, William Jennings Bryan, wasunderway. The Republicans were determined to replace Grover Cleveland, theDemocratic incumbent, with a representative of their own party and so restore themonopoly of the presidency they had enjoyed since the beginning of the CivilWar.

The differences between the two parties were great, and were center largely uponmonetary policy. The Federal government had issued a large quantity of papermoney, greenbacks, to finance the war, and these had been steadily retired asthe government attempted to return the nation to a solid currency of gold andsilver. Republican administrations had followed the policy of retiring the notesas quickly as possible, more quickly than the nation could acquired additionalgold to replace them. Although the national currency was bi-metallic, theRepublicans limited the coinage of silver to such a degree that the amount ofcurrency in circulation actually decreased even while the population of thecountry grew and its economy expanded. The result was that the value of moneyincreased as the supply of it diminished. A farmer or small businessman having toborrow money found that he was charged interest and also forced to pay back moneymore valuable than that which he had originally borrowed.

This situation suited the banking interests of Wall Street and Lombard Street inSan Francisco, as well as the great railway companies, meat packers, and otherenterprises that worked in cooperation with the great banks. Control of thenation s money flowed into the robber barons of the East and West coasts, andthe farmers and small businessmen of the Middle West were impoverished. By 1896,feelings ran high, and were inflamed by the superb rhetoric of William JenningsBryan, a native of Nebraska. In Kansas, already badly off due to the grasshopperinfestation of 1888, price-fixing by the railways serving the state, thefinancial panic of 1893, and an increasing difficulty in borrowing money forplanting and ordering new inventories, popular frustration took the form of the Populist Revolt, in which the mass of the populations challenged the economicand political leadership of the state. With the cry of Raise Hell, not corn, the Populists embarked upon a bitter and vociferous campaign against theestablishment.

The more well-to-do viewed this movement, which they saw a being much like theviolent European Anarchists, with horror and revulsion. It seemed clear that thePopulists would gain control of Kansas and perhaps elsewhere, deliver their votesto Bryan, and place new and dangerous men in the United States Senate and theHouse of Representations. The presidential campaign also saw a massive campaignof invective mounted against the Populists in general and the state of Kansas inparticular. It was against this background that White wrote the editorial thatwas, in its way, a response to a question that many were asking in the rest ofthe country: What s the matter with Kansas?

The story goes that White, a short and portly man who considered himselfsomething of a fashion plate, was walking to the offices of The EmporiaGazette when he encountered two loungers who had absorbed enough Populistresentment of the upper classes that they could not resist directing someinsulting remarks toward White, and even poked a stick at him. Deeply angered,White hurried to his editorial offices, wrote his editorial column, anddispatched it to the printer in the heat of the moment. Although he soonrecovered himself and regretted the violence of his attack, the paper was alreadyout and could not be recalled. White and the Gazette quickly gainednational notice as papers across the country reprinted this sweeping denunciationof Kansas Populism from the pen of a Kansan. Although the Populist won thestatewide elections, Kansas electoral votes went to McKinley, and William AllenWhite became a favorite of Republican leaders. He remained a national figure forthe rest of his life and is remembered in the William Allen White School ofJournalism of the University of Kansas. It is ironic that the fame of an eminentKansan should rest upon his scathing denunciation of the state and of a goodshare of its inhabitants.

As for the Populists, they died out as a political movement. The Klondike goldrush soon began to expand the nation s supply of hard currency, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act broke up the combines and cartels that had milked the Mid-Westernersfor so long, and Theodore Roosevelt, himself a Westerner in his heart, introducedmore moderate and popular policies for the Republican party to espouse. Somewould say, however, that Populism as an attitude never died out in Kansas and hasbeen reflected in a general dislike of outsiders, governments, and largecorporations, as well as in an adventurous (and sometimes even eccentric) spiritof individual worth and moral initiative.

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