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chapter 90: Kearneyism in California - Viscount James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, vol. 2 
The American Commonwealth, with an Introduction by Gary L. McDowell (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995). Vol. 2.
Part of: The American Commonwealth, 2 vols.
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Kearneyism in California
The Character of California
What America is to Europe, what Western America is to Eastern, that California is to the other Western states. The characteristics of a new and quickly developed colonial civilization are all strongly marked. It is thoroughly American, but most so in those points wherein the Old World differs from the New. Large fortunes are swiftly made and not less swiftly spent. Changes of public sentiment are sudden and violent. The most active minds are too much absorbed in great business enterprises to attend to politics; the inferior men are frequently reckless and irresponsible; the masses are impatient, accustomed to blame everything and everybody but themselves for the slow approach of the millennium, ready to try instant, even if perilous, remedies for a present evil.
These features belong more or less to all the newer and rougher commonwealths. Several others are peculiar to California—a state on which I dwell the more willingly because it is in many respects the most striking in the whole Union, and has more than any other the character of a great country, capable of standing alone in the world. It has a superb climate, noble scenery, immense wealth in its fertile soil as well as in its minerals and forests. Nature is nowhere more imposing nor her beauties more varied.
It grew up, after the cession by Mexico and the discovery of gold, like a gourd in the night. A great population had gathered before there was any regular government to keep it in order, much less any education or social culture to refine it. The wildness of that time passed into the blood of the people, and has left them more tolerant of violent deeds, more prone to interferences with, or supersessions of, regular law, than are the people of most parts of the Union.
The chief occupation of the first generation of Californians was mining, an industry which is like gambling in its influence on the character, with its sudden alternations of wealth and poverty, its long hours of painful toil relieved by bouts of drinking and merriment, its life in a crowd of men who have come together from the four winds of heaven, and will scatter again as soon as some are enriched and others ruined, or the gold in the gulch is exhausted. Moreover, mining in this region means gambling, not only in camps among the miners, but among townsfolk in the shares of the mining companies. Californians of all classes have formed the habit of buying and selling in the mining exchanges, with effects on the popular temper both in business and in politics which everyone can understand. Speculation becomes a passion, patient industry is distasteful; there is bred a recklessness and turbulence in the inner life of the man which does not fail to express itself in acts.
When California was ceded to the United States, land speculators bought up large tracts under Spanish titles, and others, foreseeing the coming prosperity, subsequently acquired great domains by purchase, either from the railways which had received land grants, or directly from the government. Some of these speculators, by holding their lands for a rise, made it difficult for immigrants to acquire small freeholds, and in some cases checked the growth of farms. Others let their land on short leases to farmers, who thus came into a comparatively precarious and often necessitous condition; others established enormous farms, in which the soil is cultivated by hired labourers, many of whom are discharged after the harvest—a phenomenon rare in the United States, which, as everybody knows, is a country of moderately sized farms, owned by persons who do most of their labour by their own and their children’s hands. Thus the land system of California presents features both peculiar and dangerous, a contrast between great properties, often appearing to conflict with the general weal, and the sometimes hard pressed small farmer, together with a mass of unsettled labour thrown without work into the towns at certain times of the year.1
Everywhere in the West the power of the railways has excited the jealousy of the people. In California, however, it has roused most hostility, because no state has been so much at the mercy of one powerful corporation. The Central Pacific Railway, whose main line extends from San Francisco to Ogden in Utah, where it meets the Union Pacific and touches the Denver and Rio Grande system, had been up till 1877, when my narrative begins, the only route to the Mississippi Valley and Atlantic,2 and therefore possessed immense influence over the trade of the whole state. It was controlled by a small knot of men who had risen from insignificance to affluence, held nearly all the other railway lines in California, employed an enormous number of clerks and workmen, and made the weight of their hand felt wherever their interest was involved. Alike as capitalists, as potentates, and as men whose rise to gigantic wealth seemed due as much to the growth of the state as to their own abilities, and therefore to come under the principle which is called in England that of the “unearned increment,” they excited irritation among the farming and trading class, as well as among the labourers. As great fortunes have in America been usually won by unusual gifts, any envy they can excite is tempered by admiration for the ability shown in acquiring them. The common people felt a kind of pride in the late Mr. A. T. Stewart, and feel it now even in that flagrant “monopolist,” Mr. Jay Gould. But while these particular railway magnates were men of talent, there were also in California millionaires who had grown rich merely by lucky speculation. They displayed their wealth with a vulgar and unbecoming ostentation. They did not, as rich men nearly always do in the Atlantic states, bestow a large part of it on useful public objects. There was therefore nothing to break the wave of suspicious dislike.
Most of the Western states have been peopled by a steady influx of settlers from two or three older states. Minnesota, for instance, and Iowa have grown by the overflow of Illinois and Ohio, as well as by immigration direct from Europe. But California was filled by a sudden rush of adventurers from all parts of the world. They came mostly via Panama, for there was no transcontinental railway till 1869, and a great many came from the Southern states. This mixed multitude, bringing with it a variety of manners, customs, and ideas, formed a society more mobile and unstable, less governed by fixed beliefs and principles, than one finds in such Northwestern communities as I have just mentioned. Living far away from the steadying influences of the Eastern states, the Californians have developed, and are proud of having done so, a sort of Pacific type, which, though differing but slightly from the usual Western type, has less of the English element than one discovers in the American who lives on the Atlantic side of the Rocky Mountains. Add to this that California is the last place to the west before you come to Japan. That scum which the westward moving wave of emigration carries on its crest is here stopped, because it can go no farther. It accumulates in San Francisco, and forms a dangerous constituent in the population of that great and growing city—a population perhaps more mixed than one finds anywhere else in America, for Frenchmen, Italians, Portuguese, Greeks, and the children of Australian convicts abound there, side by side with Negroes, Germans, and Irish. Of the Chinese one need not speak; for, though they numbered in 1880 some twelve thousand, have a large quarter to themselves, and have given rise to the dominant question in Pacific coast politics, they do not themselves join in any political movement, but mingle as little with the whites as oil with water.
California, more than any other part of the Union, is a country by itself, and San Francisco a capital. Cut off from the more populous parts of the Mississippi Valley by an almost continuous desert of twelve hundred miles, across which the two daily trains move like ships across the ocean, separated from Oregon on the north by a wilderness of sparsely settled mountain and forest, it grew up in its own way and acquired a sort of consciousness of separate existence. San Francisco dwarfed the other cities, for in those days Los Angeles had not risen to importance, and was a commercial and intellectual centre and source of influence for the surrounding regions, more powerful over them than is any Eastern city over its neighbourhood. It was a New York which has got no New England on one side of it, and no shrewd and orderly rural population on the other, to keep it in order. Hence both state and city were, and in a sense still are, less steadied by national opinion than any other state or city within the wide compass of the Union.
These facts in Californian history must be borne in mind in order to understand the events I am about to sketch.3 They show how suited is her soil to revolutionary movements. They suggest that movements natural here are much less likely to arise in other parts of the Union.
The Sand Lot Party
In 1877 California was suffering from “hard times.” The severe commercial depression which began in the Eastern states in 1873, and touched the lowest point about 1876, had reached the Pacific coast, and was aggravated there by a heavy fall in mining stocks. The great bonanza finds some years before had ushered in a period of wild speculation. Everybody gambled in stocks from railroad kings down to maidservants. Stocks had now fallen, and everybody was hard hit. The railroad kings could stand their losses, but the clerks and shop assistants and workmen suffered, for their savings were gone and many were left heavily in debt, with their houses mortgaged and no hope of redemption. Trade was bad, work was scarce, and for what there was of it the Chinese, willing to take only half the ordinary wages, competed with the white labourer. The mob of San Francisco, swelled by disappointed miners from the camps and labourers out of work, men lured from distant homes by the hope of wealth and ease in the land of gold, saw itself on the verge of starvation, while the splendid mansions of speculators, who fifteen years before had kept little shops, rose along the heights of the city, and the newspapers reported their luxurious banquets. In the country the farmers were scarcely less discontented. They too had “gone into stocks,” their farms were mortgaged, and many of them were bankrupt. They complained that the railroads crushed them by heavy freight rates, and asked why they, the bone and sinew of the country, should toil without profit, while local millionaires and wealthy Eastern bondholders drew large incomes from the traffic which the plough of the agriculturist and the pickaxe of the miner had created.
Both in the country and in the city there was disgust with politics and the politicians. The legislature was composed almost wholly either of office-seekers from the city or of petty country lawyers, needy and narrow-minded. Those who had virtue enough not to be “got at” by the great corporations had not intelligence enough to know how to resist their devices. It was a common saying in the state that each successive legislature was worse than its predecessor. The meeting of the representatives of the people was seen with anxiety, their departure with relief. Some opprobrious epithet was bestowed upon each. One was “the legislature of a thousand drinks”; another “the legislature of a thousand steals.” County government was little better; city government was even worse. The judges were not corrupt, but most of them, as was natural considering the scanty salaries assigned to them, were inferior men, not fit to cope with the counsel who practised before them. Partly owing to the weakness of juries, partly to the intricacies of the law and the defects of the recently adopted code, criminal justice was halting and uncertain, and malefactors often went unpunished. It became a proverb that you might safely commit a murder if you took the advice of the best lawyers.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans had done, nor seemed likely to do, anything to remove these evils or to improve the lot of the people. They were only seeking (so men thought) places or the chance of jobs for themselves, and could always be bought by a powerful corporation. Working men must help themselves; there must be new methods and a new departure. Everything, in short, was ripe for a demagogue. Fate was kind to the Californians in sending them a demagogue of a mean type, noisy and confident, but with neither political foresight nor constructive talent.
Late in 1877 a meeting was called in San Francisco to express sympathy with the men then on strike at Pittsburg in Pennsylvania. Their riotous violence, which had alarmed the respectable classes all over America, had gratified the discontented railroad operatives of California, then meditating a strike of their own against a threatened reduction of wages. Some strong language used at this meeting, and exaggerated by the newspapers, frightened the businessmen into forming a sort of committee of public safety, with the president of the famous Vigilance Committee of 1856, a resolute and capable man, at its head. Persons enrolled by it paraded the streets with sticks for some days to prevent any attack on the Chinese, but it was soon perceived that there was no real danger, and the chief result of the incident was further irritation of the poorer classes, who perceived that the rich were afraid of them, and therefore disposed to deal harshly with them. Shortly after came an election of municipal officers and members of the state legislature. The contest, as is the custom in America, brought into life a number of clubs and other organizations, purporting to represent various parties or sections of a party, and among others a body calling itself the “Workingmen’s Trade and Labour Union,” the secretary of which was a certain Denis Kearney.4 When the election was over, Kearney declared that he would keep his union going, and form a working man’s party. He was Irish by birth, and though in business as a drayman, had some experience as a sailor, and held a master’s certificate. He had borne a good character for industry and steadiness till some friend “put him into stocks,” and the loss of what he hoped to gain is said to have first turned him to agitation. He had gained some faculty in speaking by practice at a Sunday debating club called the Lyceum of Self Culture. A self-cultivating lyceum sounds as harmless as a social science congress, but there are times when even mutual improvement societies may be dangerous. Kearney’s tongue, loud and violent, soon gathered an audience. On the west side of San Francisco, as you cross the peninsula from the harbour towards the ocean, there was a large open space, laid out for building, but not yet built on, covered with sand, and hence called the Sand Lot. Here the mob had been wont to gather for meetings; here Kearney formed his party. At first he had mostly vagabonds to listen, but one of the two great newspapers took him up. These two, the Chronicle and the Morning Call, were in keen rivalry, and the former, seeing in this new movement a chance of going ahead, filling its columns with sensational matter, and increasing its sale among working men, went in hot and strong for the Sand Lot party. One of its reporters is credited with having dressed up Kearney’s speeches into something approaching literary form, for the orator was an imperfectly educated man, with ideas chiefly gathered from the daily press. The advertisement which the Chronicle gave him by its reports and articles, and which he repaid by advising working men to take it, soon made him a personage; and his position was finally assured by his being, along with several other speakers, arrested and prosecuted on a charge of riot, in respect of inflammatory speeches delivered at a meeting on the top of Nob Hill, one of the steep heights which make San Francisco the most picturesque of American cities. The prosecution failed, and Kearney was a popular hero. Clerks and the better class of citizens now began to attend his meetings, though many went from mere curiosity, as they would have gone to a circus: the W.P.C. (Workingman’s Party of California) was organized as a regular party, embracing the whole state of California, with Kearney for its president. The gathering on the Sand Lot to which all those “eager for new things,” as the discontented class were of old time called, flocked every Sunday afternoon to cheer denunciations of corporations and monopolists, and to “resolute” against the rich generally, became a centre of San Francisco politics, and through the reports of some newspapers and the attacks of others, roused the people of the entire state. The Morning Call had now followed the lead of the Chronicle, trying to outbid it for the support of the working men. There was nothing positive, nothing constructive or practical, either in these tirades or in the programme of the party, but an open-air crowd is not critical, and gives the loudest cheers to the strongest language. Kearney was not without shrewdness and address: he knew how to push himself to the front, and win the reputation of rugged honesty: he always dressed as a workman and ran for no office, and while denouncing politicians as thieves and capitalists as bloodsuckers, while threatening fire and the halter if the demands of the people were not granted, he tried to avoid direct breaches of the law. On one occasion he held a gathering beside the mansions of the Central Pacific magnates on Nob Hill, pointed to them and to a bonfire which marked the place of the meeting, and while telling the people that these men deserved to have their houses burned, abstained from suggesting that the torch should be applied then and there. Another time he bade the people wait a little till his party had carried their candidate for the governorship of the state: “Then we shall have the control of the militia and the armouries; then we can go down to the Pacific Mail Company’s dock and turn back the steamers that come in bringing the Chinese.”5 Immense enthusiasm was evoked by these harangues. He was crowned with flowers; he was, when released from prison on one occasion, drawn in triumph by his followers in his own dray; newspaper reporters thronged around to interview him; prominent politicians came to seek favours from him on the sly. Discontent among the working class was the chief cause that made the new party grow, for grow it did; and though San Francisco was the centre of its strength, it had clubs in Sacramento and the other cities, all led by the San Francisco convention which Kearney swayed. But there were further causes not to be passed over. One was the distrust of the officials of the state and the city. The municipal government of San Francisco was far from pure. The officials enriched themselves, while the paving, the draining, the lighting were scandalously neglected; corruption and political jobbery had found their way even into school management, and liquor was sold everywhere, the publicans being leagued with the heads of the police to prevent the enforcement of the laws. Another was the support given to their countryman by the Irish, here a discontented and turbulent part of the population, by the lower class of German immigrants, and by the longshoremen, also an important element in this great port, and a dangerous element (as long ago as Athens) wherever one finds them. The activity of the Chronicle counted for much, for it was ably written, went everywhere, and continued to give a point and force to Kearney’s harangues, which made them more effective in print than even his voice had made them to the listening crowds. Some think that the monied classes at this juncture ought to have bought up the Chronicle (supposing they could have done so secretly), and its then editor and proprietor has been much maligned if he would have refused to be bought up.6 The newspapers certainly played a great part in the movement; they turned the Workingman’s Party into a force by representing it to have already become one. Most important of all, however, was the popular hatred of the Chinese. This is so strong in California that any party which could become its exponent rode on the crest of the wave. The old parties, though both denouncing Chinese immigration in every convention they held, and professing to legislate against it, had failed to check it by state laws, and had not yet obtained federal laws prohibiting it. They had therefore lost the confidence of the masses on this point, while the Sand Lot party, whose leaders had got into trouble for the ferocity of their attacks on the Chinese, gained that confidence, and became the “anti-Mongolian” party par excellence. Like Cato with his Delenda est Carthago, Kearney ended every speech with the words, “And whatever happens, the Chinese must go.”
Meanwhile, where were the old parties, and what was their attitude to this new one? It is so hard in America to establish a new movement outside the regular party lines, that when such a movement is found powerful we may expect to find that there exist special causes weakening these lines. Such forces existed in California. She lies so far from the Atlantic and Mississippi states, and has been so much occupied with her own concerns—even the War of Secession did not interest her as it did the country east of the Rocky Mountains—that the two great national parties have had a comparatively weak hold on the people. The Chinese question and the railroad question dwarfed the regular party issues. Neither party had shown itself able to deal with the former—both parties were suspected of having been tampered with on the latter. Both had incurred the discredit which follows every party in hard times, when the public are poor, and see that their taxes have been ill-spent. The Sand Lot party drew its support chiefly from the Democrats, who here, as in the East, have the larger share of the rabble: hence its rise was not unwelcome to the Republicans, because it promised to divide and weaken their old opponents; while the Democrats, hoping ultimately to capture it, gave a feeble resistance. Thus it grew the faster, and soon began to run a ticket of its own at city and state elections. It carried most of the city offices, and when the question was submitted to the people whether a new constitution should be framed for California, it threw its vote in favour of having one and prevailed.
“The hoodlums”7 and other ragamuffins who had formed the audience at the first Sand Lot meetings could not have effected this. But the W.P.C. now got a heavy vote in San Francisco from the better sort of workingmen, clerks, and small shopkeepers. In the rural districts they had still more powerful allies. The so-called Granger movement had spread from the upper Mississippi states into California, and enlisted the farmers in a campaign against the railroads and other “monopolists” and corporations. To compel a reduction of charges for goods and passengers, to prevent the railroad from combining with the Panama Steamship Company, to reduce public expenditure, to shift more taxation on to the shoulders of the rich, and generally to “cinch” capital—these were the aims of the Granger party; nor will anyone who knows California think them wholly unreasonable. The only way to effect them was by a new constitution, not only because some could not have been attained under the then existing constitution (passed in 1849 and amended in several points subsequently), but also because the people have more direct control over legislation through a convention making a constitution than they have over the action of a legislature. The delegates to a convention go straight from the election to their work, have not time to forget, or to devise means of evading, their pledges, are less liable to be “got at” by capitalists. They constitute only one house, whereas the legislature has two. There is no governor to stand in the way with his veto. The rarity and importance of the occasion fixes public attention. Thus a new constitution became the object of the popular cry, and a heavy vote in favour of having it was cast by the country farmers as well as by decent working people in the towns just because it promised a new departure and seemed to get behind the old parties. As often happens, the “good citizens,” who ought to have seen the danger of framing a new constitution at a time of such excitement, were apathetic and unorganized.
Next came, in the summer of 1878, the choice of delegates to the convention which was to frame the new constitution. The Workingman’s Party carried many seats in the convention, but its nominees were ignorant men, without experience or constructive ideas.8 Among the lawyers, who secured a large representation, there were some so closely bound by business ties to the great corporations as to be disposed to protect the interests of these corporations, as well as those of the legal profession. In justice to many of them it must be added that their respect for the principles of the common law and for sound constitutional doctrine led them to do their best to restrain the wild folly of their colleagues. However, the workingmen’s delegates, together with the more numerous and less corruptible delegates of the farmers, got their way in many things and produced that surprising instrument by which California is now governed.
The New Constitution
An able Californian writer gives the following account of the Constitution of 1879:
The new Constitution adopted in May, 1879 made radical changes in almost every department of the Government. It completely changed the judicial system, and thereby rendered necessary an alteration of almost all the laws relating to civil and criminal procedure. It revolutionized the working, and to a great extent the scope of the legislative department, lopping off special and local legislation, and obliging the objects heretofore obtained by such legislation to be covered by general law. As a part of this revolution, it required a new plan of county, township, and city organization, with the idea partly of forcing the same general laws upon all local governments, and partly of investing such local governments with power to legislate for themselves. But the main underlying spirit of the new instrument was an attack upon capital under the specious name of opposition to monopolies. To use an expressive Californian phrase, capital, and especially accumulated capital, wherever it was found, was to be “cinched.”9 With this object in view, cheap labour was to be driven out of the country, and corporations so restricted and hampered in their operations as to be unable to make large profits. The cry was that there were unjust discriminations on the part of railroads, and extortionate rates on the part of water and gas companies; that vicious practices were indulged in by mining corporations; that fair day’s wages for fair day’s labour could not be obtained; that rich men rolled in luxury, and that poor men were cramped with want. It may be admitted that there were some grounds for these complaints. But it does not follow that capital was any more tyrannical or corporations more unconscionable than by their very nature they are compelled to be.10
Some of the above points, and particularly the changes in local government and in the judicial system, lie outside the scope of the present narrative, and I therefore confine myself to inquiring how far the objects aimed at by the Sand Lot party were attained through the constitution whose enactment it had secured. They and the Grangers, or farmers’ party, which made common cause with them, sought to deal with four questions in which lay the grievances chiefly complained of by discontented Californians. These were:
Let us see what remedies the constitution applied to each of these. The cry of the Sand Lot party had been: “None but honest men for the offices.” To find the honest men, and, having found them, to put them in offices and keep them there, is the great problem of American politics. The contributions made to its solution by the convention of 1879 were neither novel nor promising. Its main results may be summed up under the four heads above-mentioned.11
It also declares that eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s work on all public works.
When the constitution came to be submitted to the vote of the people, in May 1879, it was vehemently opposed by the monied men, who of course influence, in respect of their wealth, a far larger number of votes than they themselves cast. Several of the conservative delegates had, I was told, abstained from putting forth their full efforts to have the worst proposals rejected by the convention in the belief that when the people came to consider them, they would ensure the rejection of the whole instrument. Some of its provisions were alleged to be opposed to the Constitution of the United States, and therefore null. Others were denounced as ruinous to commerce and industry, calculated to drive capital out of the country. The struggle was severe, but the Granger party commanded so many rural votes, and the Sand Lot party so many in San Francisco (whose population is nearly a third of that of the entire state), that the constitution was carried, though by a small majority, only 11,000 out of a total of 145,000 citizens voting. Of course it had to be enacted as a whole, amendment being impossible where a vote of the people is taken.
The next thing was to choose a legislature to carry out the constitution. Had the same influences prevailed in this election as prevailed in that of the constitutional convention, the results might have been serious. But fortunately there was a slight reaction, now that the first and main step seemed to have been taken. The Republicans, Democrats, and Sand Lot party all ran “tickets,” and owing to this division of the working men’s and the Granger vote between Kearneyite candidates and the Democrats, the Republicans secured a majority, though a small one. Now the Republicans are in California, as they would themselves say, the moderate or conservative party, or as their opponents said, the party of the rich and the monopolists. Their predominance made the legislature of 1880 a body more cautious than might have been expected. Professing hearty loyalty to the new constitution, the majority showed this loyalty by keeping well within the letter of that instrument, while the working men and farmer members were disposed to follow out by bold legislation what they called its spirit. Thus the friends and the enemies of the constitution changed places. Those who had opposed it in the convention posed as its admirers and defenders; while those who had clamoured for and carried it now began to wish that they had made its directions more imperative. The influence and the money of the railroad and the other great corporations were of course brought into play, despite the terrors of a prosecution for felony, and became an additional “conservative force” of great moment.
Thus a series of statutes was passed which gave effect to the provisions of the constitution in a form perhaps as little harmful as could be contrived, and certainly less harmful than had been feared when the constitution was put to the vote. Many bad bills, particularly those aimed at the Chinese, were defeated, and one may say generally the expectations of the Sand Lot men were grievously disappointed.
While all this was passing, Kearney had more and more declined in fame and power. He did not sit either in the constitutional convention or in the legislature of 1880. The mob had tired of his harangues, especially as little seemed to come of them, and as the candidates of the W.P.C. had behaved no better in office than those of the old parties. He had quarrelled with the Chronicle. He was, moreover, quite unfitted by knowledge or training to argue the legal, economical, and political questions involved in the new constitution, so that the prominence of these questions threw him into the background. An anti-Chinese agitation, in which the unemployed marched about San Francisco, calling on employers to discharge all Chinese workmen, caused some alarm in the winter of 1879–80, but Kearney was absent at the time, and when he returned his party was wavering. Even his prosecution and imprisonment on what seems to have been a somewhat trivial charge gave only a brief revival to his popularity. The W.P.C. was defeated in a city election in March 1880 by a combination of the better class of Democrats with the Republicans, and soon after expired.
When I was in San Francisco in the fall of 1881, people talked of Kearney as a spent rocket. Some did not know whether he was in the city. Others said that the capitalists had rendered him harmless by the gift of a new dray and team. Not long afterwards he went East, and mounted the stump on behalf of the Labour party in New York. He proved, however, scarcely equal to his fame, for mob oratory is a flower which does not always bear transplantation. Though he lived till 1906, he was never again a leading figure in California politics, and was, indeed, in 1883, no longer deemed a force to be regarded. And now, as the Icelandic sagas say, he is out of the story.
After the session of 1880, Californian politics resumed their old features. Election frauds are said to have become less frequent since glass ballot boxes were adopted, whereby the practice of stuffing a box with papers before the voters arrive in the morning has been checked. But the game between the two old parties goes on as before. What remained of the Sand Lot group was reabsorbed into the Democratic party, out of which it had mainly come, and to which it had strong affinities. The city government of San Francisco is much what it was before the agitation—a few years later, under Boss Buckley, it was even worse—nor does the legislature seem to be any purer or wiser. When the railroad commission had to be elected, the railroad magnates managed so to influence the election, although it was made directly by the people, that two of the three commissioners chosen were, or soon afterwards came, under their influence, while the third was a mere declaimer. None of them possessed the practical knowledge of railway business needed to enable them to deal, in the manner contemplated by the constitution, with the oppressions alleged to be practised by the railroads; and the complaints of those oppressions seemed in 1883 to be as common as formerly. I enquired in that year why the railroad magnates had not been content to rely on certain provisions of the federal Constitution against the control sought to be exerted over their undertaking. The answer was that they had considered this course, but had concluded that it was cheaper to capture a majority of the commission. The passing of the Interstate Commerce Act by Congress was expected to bring about a change in the situation, but that act disappointed its promoters; and the tyranny of the Southern Pacific Railroad (as it is now called, for it has absorbed the Central Pacific line) remained severe. In July 1894, when the dispute between the Pullman Company and their employees in Illinois gave rise to a railway strike over large parts of the West, the mobs which attacked the depots and wrecked the trains in California seem to have been regarded by the mass of the people with a sympathy which can be attributed to nothing but the general hostility felt to the railroad company which had so long lain like an incubus on the state.
Some of the legislation framed under the Constitution of 1879 was soon pronounced by the supreme court of the state invalid, as opposed to that instrument itself or to the federal Constitution. So far as the condition of the people at large was affected, it is not so much to the constitution as to the general advance in prosperity that they owe what they have gained. However, the restrictions imposed on the legislature (as regards special legislation) and on local authorities (as regards borrowing and the undertaking of costly public works) have proved beneficial. Congress passed statutes stopping Chinese immigration, and the subsequent influx of Japanese labourers was reduced in 1908 to small dimension. The net result of the whole agitation was to give the monied classes in California a fright; to win for the state a bad name throughout America, and, by checking for a time the influx of capital, to retard her growth just when prosperity was reviving over the rest of the country; to worry, without seriously crippling, the great corporations, and to leave the working classes and farmers where they were. No great harm was done, and the constitution, pruned and trimmed by the courts, and frequently amended, usually in a ‘radical’ sense, ultimately came to work tolerably. Since those days, other states have enacted constitutions no less rash and no less drastic in some of their provisions.
Observations on the Movement
I would leave the reader to draw a moral for himself, were he not likely to err, as I did myself, till corrected by my Californian friends, by thinking the whole movement more serious than it really was.
It rose with surprising ease and swiftness. The conditions were no doubt exceptionally favourable. No other population in America furnished so good a field for demagogy. But the demagogue himself was not formidable. He did not make the movement, but merely rode for a moment on the crest of the wave. Europeans may say that a stronger man, a man with knowledge, education, and a fierce tenacity of fibre, might have built up a more permanent power, and used it with a more destructive effect. But Californians say that a strong man would not have been suffered to do what Kearney did with impunity. Kearney throve—so they allege—because the solid classes despised him, and felt that the best thing was to let him talk himself out and reveal his own hollowness.
The movement fell as quickly as it rose. This was partly due, as has been said, to the incompetence of the leader, who had really nothing to propose and did not know how to use the force that seemed to have come to his hands. Something, however, must be set down to the credit of the American party system. The existing parties are so strong, and are spread over so wide an area, that it is very difficult to create a new party. Resting on a complex local organization, and supported by the central organization for the purposes of federal politics, they can survive a temporary eclipse in a particular state, while a new party cannot count itself permanent till it has established some such organization, central as well as local. This may operate badly in keeping old parties alive, when they deserve to die. But it operates well in checking the growth or abridging the life of mischievous local factions. That fund of good sense, moreover, which lies at the bottom of nearly every native American mind, soon produces a reaction against extreme measures. When the native voters, especially those who owned even a little property, had relieved their minds by voting for the new constitution, they felt they had gone far enough in the direction of change, and at the election of a legislature voted for moderate men. Support from this class having been withdrawn, the Sand Lot rabble ceased to be dangerous; and although threats of violence were abundant, and sometimes bloodthirsty, there was very little sedition or disorder.
Every stump orator in the West says a great deal more than he means, and is promptly discounted by his hearers. The populace of San Francisco has now and again menaced the Chinese quarter and the docks of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, which brought the Chinese over, until Congress checked them. Once the Chinese armed in defence of Chinatown, and twice during these agitations a committee of public safety was formed to protect the banks and keep order in the streets. But many people doubt whether order was really endangered. The few attacks made on Chinese stores were done by small bands of hoodlums, who disappeared at the sight of the police. The police and militia seem to have behaved well all through. Moreover, any serious riot would in San Francisco be quelled speedily and severely by the respectable classes, who would supersede the municipal authority if it seemed to fear, or to be secretly leagued with, the authors of sedition. Even the meetings of the various political parties were scarcely ever disturbed or “bulldozed” by their opponents. When the Kearneyites once or twice molested Democratic meetings, they were so promptly repelled, that they desisted for the future.
There was very little of conscious or constructive communism or socialism in the movement. Kearney told the working men that the rich had thriven at their expense, and talked of hanging thieves in office, and burning the houses of capitalists. But neither he nor any other demagogue assailed the institution of property. The farmers, whose vote carried the new constitution, owned their farms, and would have recoiled from suggestions of agrarian socialism. And in fact the new constitution, although it contains provisions hostile to capital, “is anything but agrarian or communistic, for it entrenches vested rights, especially in land, more thoroughly than before. . . . It is anything but a working man’s Constitution; it levies a poll tax without exemption; disfranchises a considerable portion of the floating labour vote; prevents the opening of public works in emergencies, and in various ways which working men, even in their present stage of enlightenment, may easily see, sacrifices the interests of the labouring classes, as well as the capitalists, to what the landowners regard as their interests.”12 A solitary Parisian communist who was elected to the convention “exercised no influence, and was expelled from the party for refusing to support the new Constitution.” There were some rich men, and lawyers connected with the great corporations, among the candidates and supporters of the Sand Lot party. Others of the same class who tried secretly to use it had probably their selfish ends to serve, but would have been less willing to increase its strength had they regarded it as an attack on property in general. Theoretical Communism has not yet much hold upon native Americans, while its practical application does not commend itself to farmers who own their land and workmen who own their houses. The belief which prevailed in the Eastern states that the movement had a communistic character was therefore a mistaken one.
More mischief would have been done but for the existence of the federal Constitution. It imposed a certain check on the convention, who felt the absurdity of trying to legislate right in the teeth of an overruling instrument. It has been the means of upsetting some of the clauses of the Constitution of 1879, and some of the statutes passed by the legislature under them, and has discouraged attempts to pass others.
On the whole, not much evil has been wrought, at least not much compared with what was feared in the state itself, and believed in the East to have resulted. The better sort of Californians two years after were no longer alarmed, but seemed half ashamed and half amused when they recollected the scenes I have described. They felt somewhat as a man feels when he awakes unrefreshed after a night of bad dreams. He fears at first that his parched tongue and throbbing head may mean that he has caught a fever. But when he has breakfasted and is again immersed in work, these sensations and apprehensions disappear together. After all, said the lawyers and bankers of San Francisco, we are going on as before, property will take care of itself in this country, things are not really worse so far as our business is concerned.
Neither are things better. It is natural to suppose that a shock, however short, must make a difference to a community, and affect its future fortunes. If this shock has so affected California, the results are not yet apparent. Though the new constitution has not altered the economic condition of the workmen and farmers, it might have been thought that the crisis, which suddenly startled this busy and (in San Francisco) luxurious society, would rouse good citizens to a more active interest in politics, make them see the necessity of getting better men into the offices and the legislature, and, indeed, of purifying public life altogether. But these consequences do not seem to have followed. In the stress and hurry of Californian life, impressions pass swiftly away. Good citizens are disposed to stand aside; and among the richer there are those who look forward to a time when, having made their fortunes, they will go East to spend them. San Francisco in particular continued to be deplorably misgoverned, and has passed from the tyranny of one ring to that of another, with no change save in the persons of those who prey upon her, and in the fact that there is now a well organized Labour party which in 1909 carried its candidate for mayor. The earthquake of 1906 was incidentally the means of unveiling corruptions which led to a temporary purification of city politics; but there was presently a relapse. It may be that another social and political shock is in store for the Golden State, a shock which, now that socialistic doctrines have made more progress, might be more violent than that of 1879, yet still within legal limits, for there seems no danger, in spite of such outbreaks as marked the great railway strikes of 1894, of mere mob law and anarchy. The forces at the disposal of order are always the stronger. It may on the other hand be that as society settles down from the feverish instability of these early days, as the mass of the people acquire a more enlightened view of their true interests, as those moral influences which count for so much in America assert their dominion more widely, the present evils will slowly pass away. The president of the Vigilance Committee of 1856 told me that all he had seen happen in San Francisco, since the days when it was a tiny Spanish mission station, made him confident that everything would come out straight. Probably he is right. American experience shows that the optimists generally are. But as respects the municipal government of this great city his prophecy was in 1910 still awaiting fulfillment.
 “Latifundia perdunt Californiam,” someone said to me in San Francisco.
 There are now four other transcontinental lines, but two of them lie far to the north, and another belongs to the same group of men who have controlled the Central Pacific.
 The narrative which follows does not profess to be complete, for the difficulty of procuring adequate data was very great. When I visited San Francisco in 1881, and again in 1883, people were unwilling to talk about the Kearney agitation, feeling, it seemed to me, rather ashamed of it, and annoyed that so much should have been made of it (more they declared than it deserved) in the Eastern states. When I asked how I could learn the facts in detail, they answered, “Only by reading through the files of the newspapers for the years 1877–80 inclusive.” Some added that there were so many lies in the newspapers that I would not have got at the facts even then. Failing this method, I was obliged to rely on what I could pick up in conversation. I have, however, derived some assistance from a brilliant article by Mr. Henry George, who was then a resident of San Francisco, published in the New York Popular Science Monthly for August 1880.
 See note in the Appendix at the end of this volume.
 In an earlier agitation this company’s yard was attacked, but the only person killed was a lad (one of the special constables defending it) whose gun burst.
 This editor became subsequently famous over America by his “difficulties” with a leading Baptist minister of San Francisco. He had shot this minister in the street from behind the blind of a carriage, and thereby made him so popular that the W.P.C. carried him for their candidate for the mayoralty. The blood feud, however, was not settled by this unintended service, for the clergyman’s son went soon after to the Chronicle office and slew the editor. The young man was tried, and, of course, acquitted. He had only done what the customary law of primitive peoples requires. It survives in Albania, and is scarcely extinct in Corsica.
 The term “hoodlums” denotes those who are called in Australia “larrikins,” and in Liverpool “corner boys,” loafing youths of mischievous proclivities.
 Anecdotes were still current three years afterwards of the ignorance of some of the delegates. When the clause prohibiting any “law impairing the obligation of contracts” (taken from the federal Constitution) was under discussion, a San Francisco delegate objected to it. An eminent lawyer, leader of the Californian bar, who recognized in the objector a little upholsterer who used to do jobs about his house, asked why. The upholsterer replied, that he disapproved altogether of contracts, because he thought work should be done by hiring workmen for the day.
 “Cinching” is drawing tight the girths of a horse.
 Mr. Theodore H. Hittell in the Berkeley Quarterly for July 1880.
 As to the nature of state constitutions in general, and the restrictions they now impose on legislatures, see Chapters 37 sqq. in Volume II.
 Mr. H. George, in Popular Science Monthly for August 1880.