Carpetbagger or Reformer?

daniels_standing_soldier

Portrait of Edward Daniels, courtesy of Board of Regents, Gunston Hall.

By Kevin Shupe, Senior Reference Archivist at the Library of Virginia.

In 1871 Massachusetts-born Edward Daniels became the editor of the state’s flagship Republican newspaper, the Daily State Journal. He had moved to Virginia just three years previously, purchasing Gunston Hall – the formerly grand estate near Mount Vernon that had once belonged to George Mason. Daniels undoubtedly brought a Northerner’s viewpoint to the newspaper. Not only had he spent 40 years residing in New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, and most recently Chicago, he had also taken a leading role in agitating against slavery before the Civil War, was one of the founders of the Republican Party, and he had commanded a Wisconsin cavalry unit early in the war. Within a few months of taking over the newspaper, Daniels tried to win elected office. In 1871, he ran for a seat in the Virginia state legislature. A year later, he was the Republican candidate for a seat in U. S. House of Representatives. While he made a respectable showing, he lost both elections.

By all appearances, Daniels fit the stereotype of the dreaded carpetbagger — a Northerner who moved to the South after the Civil War, seeking to impose Northern political beliefs and looking to benefit from the chaotic post-war economy. This stereotype, conjured in the struggles of Reconstruction, remains a vivid censure, but it is one that in ways obscures the motives that brought Daniels briefly into the spotlight of Virginia politics. Daniels came of age in an era of rapid cultural changes, a seemingly progressive trajectory that envisioned a modern America grounded on economic and social equality. To that end he became a leading voice in a chorus of reformers who sought answers to the nation’s economic and racial problems. How might a modern researcher view Daniels — as a carpetbagger or as a reformer — as an idealist moral crusader or as a self-righteous zealot — as ahead of his time or as simply a deluded utopian? These are open questions. There is no doubt, however, that Daniels is an intriguing historical figure who deserves further study. To that end, the pages of the Daily State Journal are a great resource for beginning to understand the man and his time.DSJ Masthead

First Daniels Pub Block Mar 14, 1971On the surface, his attempts to win office liken Daniels to other carpetbaggers, but below the surface a different story is revealed. After his first defeat in 1871, he proclaimed that he “had no taste or desire for office.”[1]  The editor of the Chicago Tribune seemed to confirm this, commending Daniels as “very devoted in his labors for every good cause but has a distaste for office which is unusual.”[2] By the time Daniels took on the newspaper and ran for office, many had begun to doubt that radical political and social changes could be realized in Virginia. On a platform of absolute opposition to black suffrage, political conservatives claimed a majority in the 1869 Virginia legislature. Prospects for the Republican Party were uncertain and the promise of racial equality seemed remote. Daniels seems to have understood what he was up against. After losing his bid for a state senate seat, Daniels conceded that he “consented to become a candidate … with the full knowledge that there was not a chance of our election.” His purpose in running, he explained, was to “educate the people into sound political principles.”[3] One suspects that he ventured into the newspaper business with similar expectations, thinking that all he needed was a platform to enlighten the public.Salutatory 9 Mar 1871 p. 2

In the first edition under his charge, Daniels outlined the four areas that would be the newspaper’s editorial focus: education, financial policy, relations of labor and capital, and agriculture. For him these were not separate issues, but closely intertwined. He generally viewed most political and social topics, even race, within the framework of those four interests.[4]

More than any other topic, Daniels (a former schoolteacher) promoted “Popular Education.” The subject had become a contentious social issue. Americans throughout the country grappled with questions about who should be educated, what they should be taught, and how to pay for it. These were thorny problems, nowhere more so than in the South, with the region’s limited tradition of public education, burdensome debts, and newly recognized black citizens. Numerous editorials by Daniels pounded hard on his belief that education needed to be the cornerstone of Virginia’s success. No one — black or white, boy or girl, rich or poor — could be excluded. “The safety of the state,” he insisted, “can best be secured by making education compulsory.” For Daniels, this education would not focus on the conventional liberal subjects, but be “practical as well as theoretical,” with all students learning a trade. “Our American youth, of both sexes, should be taught in branches of useful labor; fewer of our young men should be reared for the learned professions.” With his typical editorial embellishment, Daniels even attributed the fall of the Roman Empire to the “low ebb of industrial education.”[5]

In numerous early editorials Daniels dealt with the topic of the relations between labor and capital. Rapid growth of mass manufacturing in the United States accompanied a fierce conflict between the capitalist investors and the industrial laborers who performed often dangerous and dirty work. Labor stoppages became more and more common. While this was a primary concern in the more industrialized North, it was not at the forefront for Labor article 25 april 1871 p. 1most Virginians. Daniels’ focus on this subject likely had more to do with his interests than with conditions in Virginia. Just before coming to Virginia, Daniels had experienced labor difficulties firsthand as the co-owner of an Illinois coal company. When his workers staged a protracted miners’ strike in 1867, Daniels negotiated a remarkable settlement that gave workers a share of the profits. After that, Daniels became a lifelong proponent of cooperative industrial ventures. In an editorial titled “Co-operation of Labor and Capital,” published the week after he became the editor, Daniels contended “co-operation is the word of hope for American labor. It solves the difficult problem of the past, and opens for the mass a pathway from enslavement and degradation to freedom, knowledge, and the enjoyment of God’s bounty. For us in the South with so much rude unorganized labor, and such incalculable natural wealth, co-operative industry holds out a sure relief.” In the following months, he expanded on this theme in similar editorials titled “Labor Vs. Capital,” and “Labor and Capital. No Natural Antagonism Between Them.” In his arguments, he even recast the Civil War as a battle over labor where “the leaders of the Confederacy desired to fasten their manacles upon all, both white and black, who did not belong to their charmed circle of slave-owners.”[6]

Few topics interested Daniels as much as the country’s financial policies, a subject that he acknowledged was often ignored as being “too deep” and confusing for most citizens andDSJ legislators. In numerous editorials, Daniels tried to navigate the “bewildering vortex of talk” about the monetary system. Early on he often focused attention on industrial monopolies, particularly railroads, as the bane of the nation. After the financial panic in September 1873 and subsequent economic depression, his tone grew even more strident. Daniels tried to convince his readers that a sweeping reform of the nation’s financial system was needed. “The lesson of the panic,” he contended, “is easy enough of solution to those who read our columns and agree with us that our present system of finance is radically false in principle, and dangerous at all times to the public prosperity. Relief is to be found only in a radical overthrow of the present system of money monopoly.” [7]

“Agriculture is our pet,” Daniels stated in his editorial mission statement. Issues surrounding this topic were directly relevant to his endeavors at Gunston Hall where he had invested a considerable amount of money in hopes of turning it into a profitable farm. Daniels made the Daily State Journal into a rich resource for agricultural news and advice. In Daniels’ editorials, this interest dovetailed with his ideas about other political matters. “Farmers and Producers, Organize at Once – Organize! Organize!! Organize!!!” he urged in one particularly strident editorial; “vote for no man in either party who is not an intelligent and earnest friend of Industry, Education and Emigration, and the implacable foe of the money rings and monopolies.”[8] After the economic crash in 1873, he grew even more forceful in efforts to turn farmers into activists. Speaking at the second annual convention of the Farmers’ Council of Virginia and North Carolina in November 1873, Daniels introduced several resolutions asking that the Council promote his monetary policies to the legislature.[9]Organize

Daniels apparently stepped away from the Daily State Journal at the end of March 1874. Less than two months later the newspaper suspended its daily edition in favor of semi-weekly and weekly editions, likely for economic reasons. Why Daniels left is uncertain, but it might have involved his growing estrangement from the mainstream Republican Party. With his constant railing against the money monopolists he had likely irritated some influential Republican leaders who were seeking to reinstate the gold standard. Shortly after leaving the paper, Daniels spoke at a political convention for a newly organized “Independent” or “Greenback” party. Established on a political platform of monetary reform, the Greenback party attempted to band together dissatisfied labor groups and farmers. During the 1880 election Daniels traveled around the country to campaign for the Greenback party and its presidential candidate, James B. Weaver. While some state candidates were elected, Weaver received only three percent of the vote. This lack of success did not dissuade Daniels. Between 1885 and 1886, he edited the Greenback and anti-monopoly weekly paper Our Country: The American Society to Promote Justice. When the 1886 elections proved disastrous for the Greenbacks, the party disbanded and the paper closed.

Gunston Hall

Edward Daniels in front of Gunston Hall. Photo courtesy of Board of Regents, Gunston Hall.

Even with the crumbling of Daniels’ political aspirations for the country, he continued to speak and lobby for various reforms, including women’s suffrage, cooperative labor, agriculture, and principally industrial education. Around 1904, he formed an association called the National Society to Promote Industrial Education, and he had grand hopes of establishing an industrial training center at Gunston Hall, which he wanted to call “George Mason Industrial University.” Like so many of Daniels’ schemes this one failed.

When Daniels died in 1916, the nation was on the cusp of validating many of the principles that he fought for, including a woman’s right to vote and industrial education. A few decades later the United States abandoned the gold standard in favor of a more liberal currency system. Not all societal changes, however, would meet his approval. Labor and capital never formed the cooperative arrangement that he hoped for, and the dream for racial equality would be a long time coming. While Daniels had limited political and financial success during his lifetime, his life and legacy deserve far more attention as we seek to understand the nuances of the postbellum South. To a large extent, we can begin to recognize what he stood for by mining the articles and editorials of the Daily State Journal.


[1] “A Card,” DSJ, 9 Nov. 1871, p. 2

[2] Joseph Medill letter to John C. Underwood, 22 Feb. 1868, Robert Alonzo Brock Collection, Papers of John C. Underwood, 1865-1870, The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA (available on microfilm at the Library of Virginia, Accession 41008, Miscellaneous reel 4596).

[3] “A Card,” DSJ, 9 Nov. 1871, p. 2

[4] “Salutatory,” DSJ, 9 March 1871, p. 2

[5] [no title], DSJ, 7 Jan. 1873, p. 2; ”Our Idle Youth – How to Save Them,” DSJ, 2 Jan. 1874, p. 2; “Educating Labor,” DSJ 4 Apr. 1873, p. 2; “Education, Industry, Crime,” 27 Feb. 1873, p. 2.

[6] “Co-operation of Labor and Capital,” DSJ, 13 Mar. 1871, p. 2; “Labor Vs. Capital,” DSJ, 25 Apr. 1871, p. 1; “Labor and Capital. No Natural Antagonism Between Them,” DSJ, 16 May 1871, p. 2; [untitled], DSJ, 30 May 1871, p. 2. For a synopsis of Daniels’ involvement in the Illinois Valley Coal Company labor negotiations, see David Montgomery, Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1867), 436-438.

[7] “Financial Suggestions,” DSJ, 29 Sept. 1873, p. 2; “The Fundamentals of Finance,” DSJ, 31 March 1874, p. 2.

[8] “Farmers and Producers, Organize at Once – Organize! Organize!! Organize!!!” DSJ, 22 Aug. 1873, p. 2.

[9] “Farmers’ Council – Second Annual Session. Second Days’ Proceedings,” DSJ 29 Nov 1873, p. 1.

Posted by in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>