‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 14.’ by a Correspondent in New York (16 September, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Here the discussion focuses on the system of government, political parties and elections. For some context, this piece was published almost a year to the day after President Garfield had been assassinated. Perhaps one of the most interesting entries in this series, it comes with some intriguing observations,

“All are politicians (in their way) after they are ten years of age. For months before the election, people’s minds are kept in an intense state of excitement. Meetings, or rallies as they are called, are held. Torchlight processions walk the street, bands of music parade in all parts of the town, cannons are fired from every available point, fireworks go off from every corner, people wrangle and fight with one another, and many a time is blood drawn. During these contests nothing is talked of, morning, noon, or night, but politics, politics, until one gets disgusted at them.”

“I have seen a man leave my side in the workshop to go and vote for a certain candidate and come back in ten minutes with his two dollars in his pocket he had received for voting the other way. My impression is that a great deal of this political enthusiasm is for the sake of the almighty dollar.”

System of Government — Education — Religion — Political Parties — [Illegible], &c.

I need tell none of your readers that instead of having a Queen, King, Czar, or Sultan for our ruler, we have a President, chosen from amongst the people by the people. He may belong to the poorest of the poor. He may have been a poor mule driver on a canal bank, as was our late lamented martyred Garfield. No blue blood is required in the veins of our Chief Magistrate. Instead of having to go to a foreign country to get a nondescript to hold that office, ours must be a naturalised citizen, not appointed though hereditary incapacity, but elected by the votes of every man who has attained the age of twenty-one and been five years in the country. Instead of being in power for life, he is only chosen for four years. Instead of doing nothing for his salary, he is commander-in-chief of both army and navy, and bound by oath to do his best to preserve, protect, and defend the laws of his country. Instead of receiving three or four hundred thousand pounds a year, he received ten thousand, and has to keep his own family. When he commits any crime against the laws of his country, he is liable to be removed from office and punished for his offence. He has no power in making or altering laws, for the first article in the Constitution of the United States says:—“All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” This Senate consists of two members from each State, making it now seventy-four members. They are chosen for the period of six years. They have the power over the House of Representatives. They deal with what would be called in Great Britain imperial questions. The House of Representatives now have two hundred and forty-five members, chosen for the term of two years. These members make the laws for the different States, subject to the Senate. The members of each House receive a salary of one thousand pounds per annum. For each day’s absence, except when caused by sickness, eight dollars per day is deducted from his salary. Such is a brief and very imperfect sketch of how we are governed in this country.

Let us take a glance at the educational condition of the country. Education is not compulsory, but it is free, that is, free from direct school fees; but the people are taxed for it in much the same manner in which you are taxed for your free libraries, only instead of being local, it is national. With the school system you can get all branches of education to your children, from the age of five years up to twenty-one. At the present time there are about ten millions of children and youth under instruction. In 1876 there were three thousand seven hundred public libraries in the States, containing twelve million volumes.

As to the religious position of the country, we find that the Methodists head the list. Taking all the different sects of that body, they number fourteen millions. The Baptists are next in number, all their different sects numbering twelve millions; Roman Catholics, six millions; Presbyterians, four millions; Lutherans, three millions; Episcopalians, two millions. These are the principal churches in America. Of course we have all the smaller denominations, not forgetting the Mormons, who are set down at one hundred and fifty thousand.

As to the laws that are made, I have no fault to find with them, but I have a very poor estimate of how they are put in force, or rather not put in force, besides the many loopholes that are left for people to evade them. For instance, in the States of New York and Pennsylvania it is enacted that no intoxicating liquor be sold on Sunday. Having been in some of the large cities in those States, and seen how this law was administered, it seemed to me that Sunday was the busiest day the saloon-keepers had, everything in the liquor line being sold in the openest manner, and the authorities looking it broad in the face. The principal reason for non-convictions is that the powers that be know too well that if they convicted any of the violators they would come out of office at the first election, as the Justices of Peace and other petty office holders are voted into office by the direct vote of the district, and the saloon-keepers generally have a good deal of influence in such elections. Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 14.’ by a Correspondent in New York (16 September, 1882)”