Sunday, July 17, 2016

"The scum of creation has been dumped on us,"

From Timothy Egan's, The Big Burn:
"What passed for law and constitutional protections in Morenci, [company owned mining town in Arizona, 1910] were thugs hired by Phelps Dodge.  They maintained a three tier wage system:  one for trouble-free whites, one for Mexicans, one for Italians.  Such attitudes are typical in a decade when nine million immigrants came to the United States, and one-third of the population was either foreign-born or a child of someone born abroad.  The Italian surge in particular angered those who felt the nation was no longer recognizable, had lost its sense of identity.  And they hated all these strange languages spoken in shops, schools, and churches.  The Immigration Restriction League, founded by Boston blue bloods with family ties to the old Tories of England, campaigned to keep "undesirable classes" from entering the country.  They meant Italians, Greeks, Jews, and people from eastern Europe. 
"The scum of creation has been dumped on us,"  said the native politician Thomas Watson.  "The most dangerous and corrupting hordes of the Old World have invaded us."  It was not just pelicans [auto-correct changed my version of politicians to pelicans] who attacked Mediterranean immigrants as a threat to the American way of life.  Francis A. Walker, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, called Italian and Greek immigrants "beaten men from beaten towns, representing the worst failures in the struggles for existence."  Another educated expert cautioned Americans against "absorbing the equitable blood from Southern Europe." (pp. 131-2)

I'd note that Fredrick Trump, Donald's grandfather arrived in New York on October 19, 1885  (a year before the Statue of Liberty was unveiled) from Germany at age 16.  Twenty-six years prior to the mining and timber rush described in the book in the summer of 1910 (see below), Trump
"moved to the mining town of Monte Cristo, Washington in Snohomish County.[7] Monte Cristo was expected to produce a fortune of gold and silver because evidence of mineral deposits were discovered in 1889. This led to many prospectors moving to the area in hopes of becoming rich, with the financial investment of billionaire John D. Rockefeller in the entire Everett area creating an exaggerated expectation of the area's potential."
He returned to Germany in 1901, found a wife, and returned with her to the US in 1902.  The Trumps, coming from northern Europe, while part of this huge surge of immigrants, came from a more privileged group of immigrants, they weren't Italians or Greeks or Jews.  Though by 1917 the US was at war with their country of origin.

Mike Pence's grandfather didn't get to the US from Ireland until much later - April 11, 1923.

From what I can tell, Hillary Clinton's paternal grandfather immigrated from England and her paternal grandmother was born in the US to Welsh immigrant parents.

I would also note, that when people claim that their ancestors were legal immigrants, as the passage above suggests, the laws were much, much easier back then for European immigrants.  

Actually, immigration is but a small part of the book.  The main focus is the boom towns of Idaho and Montana as the railroads opened access to the forests just after Teddy Roosevelt, with the guidance of Gifford Pinchot, created millions of acres of national forests and parks in the West.  But they had to fight Eastern corporations that were ravaging the new public land with their rapacious taking of minerals and timber.  This included a huge scandal over Alaska coal.  Roosevelt's second term was up and he chose not to run again.  (He'd come in to office from the vice presidency when president McKinley was shot and had only served seven years.)  While he was off on safari in Africa,  Taft, who had promised Roosevelt to protect the forests and the new concept of conservation, had instead appointed pro-development  Richard Ballinger as secretary of the interior.
"The interior secretary, whose duty was to oversee an empire of public land on behalf of the American people, had once backed a syndicate as it tried to take control of coal in a part of Alaska that was later added to the Chugach National Forest. .  ."  
"Beyond the Alaska coal deal, Ballinger was now showing his true colors - as a traitor to the progressives, Pinchot believed.  "You chaps who are in favor of this conservation program are all wrong,"  Ballinger said in a speech.  "You are hindering the development of the West.  In my opinion, the proper course is to divide it up among the big corporations and let the people who know how to make money out of it get the benefits of the circulation of money."  (pp. 94-5)

That's all backdrop to the story of a band of well-trained and highly motivated new rangers  whose job was to oversee huge tracts of land newly designated as national forests and parks. ("Supervisor Koch . . . felt protective about his five million or so acres . . .")  Land that was being exploited by mining and timber companies and hordes of folks taking the new railroad into the tiny boom towns hoping to get rich.

As the title of the book suggests, the book is about fires, as the rangers struggle on meagre salaries to protect the towns and even more, the newly created national forests from the ravages of fire in the bone dry summer of 1910.  There was no rain, but lots of  thunder and lightening, which started thousands of fires that summer.

I'm not through with the book yet, but I thought the sections on immigration give some historical perspective to today's political debates.  And overall, the book shows that the fights between the corporations looking to exploit natural resources and the government fighting to preserve some of the natural space of the continent, wasn't much different then, though time allows us more facts about what was happening back then.

In a book Pinchot wrote at the time - The Fight for Conservation - 
"He predicted that America might one day, within this century, be a nation of two or three hundred million people.  And what would his generation leave them?  Their duty was to the future.  To ensure that people in 2010 would have a country of clean water, healthy forests, and open land would require battle with certain groups, namely 'the alliance between business and politics.'  It was, he said, 'the snake that we must kill.'"(p. 158)
Given that today corporations once again have great influence over Congress - enough to prevent or pervert what they most oppose - and the importance of money in politics is major issue, I'd say his view of things was pretty prescient.

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