When I heard Mitt Romney speak this morning at the Clinton Global Initiative, I could not believe what I heard. He talked in glowing details about free enterprise being responsible for the wealth established out West in the 1800′s and how we needed to quit giving aid without work. He said and I quote, “Before then there was terrible poverty in the West in the 1800′s and because of free enterprise we were able to bring wealth to that part of the Country.
When we realize there were few settlers in the region yet in the 1800s and Sioux Indian Wars were still raging in the plains that led to General Custer’s death in 1875, my eyebrows arched when I heard Mitt Romney say something so ridiculous. Even though treaties had been signed by the Indian Nations there were still renegade Indian Wars as well as wars between the Indian Nations and the United States Calvary still being fought out West in the 1800s.
The gold rushes that took place out West and in South Dakota did make instant millionaires out of a very few but it was the Railroads that were built by the Army and United States Government that opened up the West for trade that was responsible for the wealth that would follow.
Without either it is highly doubtful that Free Enterprise would have established the railroads that connected the West Coast with the East Coast. As a matter of fact because of claim jumpers and large landowners burning out smaller settlers,highway men or robbers,houses of ill repute and gamblers who often won the deed to other’s land in the 1800′s it has been said that anyone who got wealthy West of the Mississippi in the 1800′s did it dishonestly. The only law available in most of the West in the 1800′s was the colt 45,a rope, and the perceptions of the vigilante that was usually controlled by the large land owners. If a person so much as looked at a member of the vigilante wrong they could find the colt pulled and a bullet in their head. So much for free enterprise’s role in the wealth of the West that Mitt was glorifying.
The construction and operations of the intercontinental railroad was authorized by the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864 while the Civil War was still being fought. Congress supported it with 30 year U.S. government bonds and extensive land grants of government-owned land. It was the culminating success story of the 1800′s as it made possible the transportation of goods and produce from the West into the Cities of the East. There were smaller railroad lines built by wealthy men prior to this but it was the Army that designed the first Continental railroad with government subsidies that brought both people and trade from the East Coast to the West Coast.
It is true that this was a time of great wealth for large land owners along with oil magnates in Texas, and coal and gold mine owners in Wyoming and the Dakotas but their families, for the most part,all lived in previously established land owned by Mexico or on the East Coast during this time. Mansions of the gold miners early success did interspersed the landscape of the wealthy who struck it rich in mining but they were few and far between. They did not share their wealth with the workers but instead paid them drastically poor wages. The railroads shipped in Chinese laborers to do what were very high risk jobs working with explosives both in transport and carving the railroad through mountain rock due to the shortage of people in the West.
American ingenuity was second to none when it came to the inventions of Edison and electricity,Bell and the telephone, and Ben Franklin’s advancement of civilization through the printing press. The quality of work of Tiffany and Sons and various Silversmiths along with the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gen were all factors of American ingenuity. No one could hold a candle to entrepreneurship of the Americans. Cabinet makers who had arrived to the East Coast and potterers and glass makers from Ohio to Indiana made such quality work that it is still highly collectible today.
With the later invention of the automobile and assembly lines by Henry Ford making the automobile affordable to the masses and followed by the Industrial revolution, interState systems paid for by government and invention of the technology era, we as Americans led the field, but these inventions and advancement of free enterprise were still a long way from reaching the West in the 1800′s as the majority of Americans out West were still living in squalor conditions and the American Natives were starving due to the depletion of their hunting grounds. American ingenuity and inventions will always bring wealth through free enterprise but this was still a long way off in the West during the 1800′s.
The workers were given deplorable living conditions when they could find work and only those who worked with explosives since their lives were short-lived were given a little extra in pay. The same was true about those hired to work the oil rigs and to work in the mines. The only wealth that was brought to the West at the time was no different from what too many Conservative and Tea Party Republican members of the Congress and Senate are trying to accomplish today.
The owners got richer on this so-called free enterprise and the poor were replaced by other poor immigrants as they died off from deplorable working conditions, and they got even poorer. Later they would be paid in tokens that could only be used in the Company stores and by the time they paid the Company housing rents and bought food for their families they usually ended up owing the Company Store far more than they earned.
There was wealth only if you were someone who belonged to the American aristocracy such as Cornelius Vanderbilt,the Rothschilds,the Rockefellers,the Astor’s, Hunts, or a member of the Standard oil family such as Rockefeller and Flagler etc., who were worth a Billion in the 1890′s and the first monopoly or Corporation in America. They however all lived on the East Coast and not out West. They may have been given credit for being the builders of America or the founders of American Industry, but they did not provide for the sacrifices born out of the American laborers,make up the Calvary or Military, nor provide for the hardships that went into the making of the transcontinental railroads.
That was done out of the blood,sweat,starvation,death and tears of the poor. There were only two kinds of people in the 1800′s when it came to wealth or the lack of the same. They were either the very wealthy engineers of American progress or the very poor laborers in the 1800′s. Too many times the artists as well as the cabinet makers along with the inventors would find their own efforts stolen from them by the wealthy because of their families own desperate situations or circumstances. There were no laws to protect the poor and even if there was they could not afford to pay a lawyer. If the 1800′s is something that Romney wants to glorify then we can understand why he does not relate to us.
When produce could be brought from the West by refrigerated cars, later, the large land owners employed immigrant and migrant workers paying them next to nothing to do slave labor. The housing conditions for the workers again were deplorable and in many cases not much more than a horse stable or hog shed.
The railroads helped increase the wealth of landowners because they could transport perishable items and profit from it. The smaller producers grouped together to protect their profits from the large producers by forming the Grange or Co-ops. I assure everyone who reads this, free enterprise did not bring wealth to the general masses in the West in the 1800′s. I could not believe that Mitt spoke about this as being a time in History that we must all aspire to because it was a time of great turmoil and unrest in the West.
Beginning in the later part of the 1800′s Germans,Czechoslovakians,Persians, Irish,Asians,Scottish,Swedish, Israelis,Syrians,Russians,along with many other over seas Nationalities, began to arrive through the Great Lakes or our shores to escape persecution, wars, or starvation and mostly settled in the Cities. Some came for the hope of jobs or heard stories of wealth being told about a New Country called America. Those who could farm were offered free land in return for clearing away the trees where forests existed and to make improvements on the Land in States along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
Some who were paid to fight in the Civil War to replace the sons of the American Aristocracy, arrived during the mid 1800′s and if they survived the war they bought land from the government with the $250.00 they were paid by the wealthy, once the war ended. There was a whole regiment of German-speaking men and other Nationalities who fought in the Civil War, in place of the sons of the wealthy. The African-American slaves who fought in the Civil War was amongst the lowest provided for but the bravest of the regiments. They were sent in front of the troops and suffered the worse casualties due to their bravery.
Fur traders,missionaries, and store owners who traded with the American Natives,arrived earlier and there were scattered settlements out West in the later part of the 1800′s. The French and Spanish had arrived much earlier and had owned a great part of America from Louisiana and all the way into Utah. It all belonged to the American Natives prior to our signing the Indian treaties with them that moved them to the Reservations. It would lead President Abraham Lincoln to ask in the 1800′s prior to the freeing of the African-American slaves, “Did we believe the slaves or the Indians had it worse?” When the slaves were freed they were never given a mule nor their 40 acres that was promised them by the Republicans.Only California which was established much earlier by the Spanish, before the American and Spanish war, was a center of wealth and growth.
A large part of the West was still anywhere but close to being established late into the 1800′s when towns or villages were just beginning to pop up few and far between alongside of the railroads. Instead workers were primarily kept in outdoor conditions or in what were called camps. California had their own established wealth from trade,gold mines and an agreeable growing season. Much of the Western Plains were deserts where only scrub brush,tumble weeds,sage brush and cactus would grow in the 1800′s. Land that produced would turn into farmland much later with the building of dams and irrigation funded by the government. Next to the Native Americans both the French Canadians and the Spanish were here before the majority of our ancestors arrived in the West.
Farms and towns or what we would call villages started springing up more following the early 1900′s,as government gave incentives to Americans and foreigners from other Countries to move West. They brought with them their ability to survive hardships and to do without while improving the fruit trees and farming. It is true that many families other than the store owners or those who established banks, were poor in the West. When the railroads arrived and they could start sending their beef and grain to the East or West Coasts, they realized better living conditions, but it was agriculture and the railroads that made it possible and certainly not free enterprise that helped them improve their living condition.
In 1904 the Kincaid Act was signed and this is what brought the majority of people West as posters were placed overseas offering free land to settlers as well as East of the Missouri. This brought the majority of white foreigners and previous settlers to America and the West as more towns were established along the railroads, and helped establish the West further. Anyone who would clear a section of land and build improvements on it would be given the land clear and free. These relatively New States of the West, needed to establish a government and have people to pay taxes in order to do so. They did that by giving people the land in exchange for the taxes they paid into their State Governments.
To suggest that the Father’s of Industry were somehow responsible for bringing free enterprise to the West and therefore increased the wealth of the West is simply fallacy as it was the increase in population and supply and demand that brought the much-needed food supply as well as the coal for heating and the lumber for buildings to the populated areas through use of the railroads.
The Aristocracy simply owned everything in the West that added to their own personal wealth. Without the railroads financed by government and the laborers who risked renegade and outlaw attacks,snake bites, infections,broken limbs, horse falls,starvation, yellow fever,black lung,tuberculosis,blizzards, drownings, raid attacks by the Mexican out laws,prairie fires,dust storms, heat,cold, floods,plague,diphtheria, to name a few, that took their lives along with low pay and long hours, and gave of their own ingenuity of blacksmithing,leather making, boot repair along with their understanding of mines to solve problems, none of the progress credited to the Fathers’ of Industry, would have been feasible in the 1900′s, much less the 1800′s. It did take all of us working together then just as it does today to solve the problems of the future.
It was not until after World War 11 that there was even a middle class in America of any substantial size. It was the GI Bill with affordable education and housing that was provided by the government and better working and living conditions with better pay that was responsible for the middle class and it is what made all dreams possible for all Americans. Companies paid for workers training on the job instead of asking them to get outside training, before they hired them. For the first time in America the poor could gain wealth through affordable education and fair pay. Our economy boomed as a result of the middle class having discretionary spending and both the Company and the workers profited.
Government initiatives combined with the formation of workers Unions brought wealth to the poor and the workers. Education guaranteed by government and supported through fair pay laws protected through Union negotiations for the American workers played a much larger role in making wealth possible for All Americans. When free enterprise is left on its own without government controls and Union support for the workers, our pay decreases while their profits increases and our economy falters.
American workers will and are returning to poverty because of the greed of our free enterprise system and the lifting of regulations that became worse during the Bush Administration. When Corporations realizes the quality of the American worker over a sub standard product,and again understand that minimum wages will not spark the economy but only fair wages will, we will again return to a strong middle class.
Companies working together in partnership with Unions,educators,government and on the road that President Obama has established, will again bring back good paying jobs that we are trained for at our Community colleges, but it will take time to return the middle class to its rightful place. It has taken decades for the greedy to put us in this hole and it will take at least a decade to get us back out of the same hole they dug for us. When we all have the dignity to be able to provide again, America will return to the fiscal strength my generation became accustomed to. We need to give President Obama four more years before we can see the fruition of it.
Mitt Romney is only right in that Free enterprise does play a role in giving the workers a job but to credit it with bringing wealth to the West or to the workers, when the truth is it was made possible by Government working for us, is a large factor missing in the equation. Government giving immigrants land in exchange for taxes, government bonds that went into the railroads and the building of our infrastructure,free education provided through government and the Army who mapped out the Railroads,and the military that protected and continues to protect our Freedom, is the main reason people could ship their product and migrate West. Government adding armed guards to the trains and sheriffs and policemen on our Streets so we could move West without fear of death or robbery, seems to be left out by Mitt Romney in the retelling of History.
It was not Free Enterprise that made American Dreams come true but Government being there in partnership with the poor every step of the way to work with us and help us out of poverty, that we of the middle class and many who gained their own wealth have had help from, and we need to support government through a fair and just tax system in return. Our United States Treasury is in desperate need of being replenished by all of us from Wall Street to main Street.
To rob our own government treasury, as Mitt Romney and the Republicans suggest, by adding another 5 trillion dollars to the deficit with a further drop in taxes to the wealthy only continues digging the hole deeper. To suggest,as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have, that some how we are dependent on the government instead of the workers having worked in partnership with government to provide for the growing needs and freedom of the American people and free enterprise, is not just an insult to us but an insult to the struggles of our and their own ancestors, as well.
When it has been both the poor and middle class who have made the wealth of free enterprise possible,when we are of all nationalities and have shed our blood and lives for the furthering of the wealth of free enterprise and helped advance our civilization,when we have paid in to our retirements both out-of-pocket and through sacrifice, when we have sacrificed blood, life and limb for a Democracy born out of our Constitution; then the insults of Mitt Romney, who was lying on the beach of France spelling out a love letter to Ann, during his deferment as a Mormon from the draft that he protested in favor of during the Viet Nam War, becomes just that more grievous to us.
The very idea of the Republican complaints against the use of food stamps now that some of us are in a temporary need, that were initiated by their own Bob Dole for a time of need, that they themselves helped create out of greed, by the lifting of regulations over free enterprise is reminiscent of another time in history. It is attributed to Marie Antoinette that when she was told “the peasants are out of bread” she told them”let them eat cake.” The present group of Republicans led by their hopeful Mitt Romney appear to most of us to have lost sight of the reality and the truth that they themselves have created this deficit of government funds and instead have lifted the regulations that keep the greedy amongst us in check.
It has always been ALL Americans working together, with government and our elected officials working for us, that has made us the greatest and strongest Nation in the World. Jobs provided through free enterprise that only furnished slave labor,deplorable living conditions, and caused the workers to “Owe their soul to the Company Store”, is nothing that we should ever strive to return to, while the rich get richer. Stop their drive to defeat us by voting Democrat in November.