by David Safier
I just finished Jeff Biggers' new book, State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream. Biggers could have used a quote attributed to Mark Twain in his book's introduction: “History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” He moves back and forth between recent state history and Arizona's earlier years, pre- and post-statehood, showing that though things change, they also stay the same. It's a good read.
Take this passage from an essay by George W. P. Hunt, who would go on to be the first Governor of the new state of Arizona. Hunt was a successful businessman, but he never forgot his days as a worker, whose side he often took against what he called the "controlling influence" of the railroads and mining industries.
The same spirit of ruthless aggression which has crushed life and hope out of millions of lives in the factories, mills and mines of unhappier states, is gradually invading Arizona, calling up the courage and determination of every citizen in the defence of human rights. . . . It is right and just for every citizen, be he wealthy or be he poor, to take an active interest in public affairs, but the bounds of justice are transcended, and the rights of a free people are seriously menaced when corporations, as such, become compactly organized into political alliances for the influencing of legislation and the election of officials.
Hunt's concern about corporatization sounds incredible modern. His warnings about corporations forming political alliances to influence legislation — think ALEC — or to control elections — think Citizens United as the latest incarnation of the attempts to control the outcome of elections — resonate today as much as they did in the 1890s.
When, prior to statehood, the Labor Party made 27 demands on what should go into the state's Constitution — including, according to Biggers, "an eight-hour workday, women's suffrage, workmen's compensation, anti-corruption and fair banking practices . . . compulsory education," the right of recall and much more — the corporate interests called it both a "radical" and "socialist" agenda. The times have changed, but the language of opposition to labor-friendly ideas remains the same.
When he was Governor, Hunt sent a militia to protect striking miners against probable violent attacks by hired thugs, and the result was federal mediation and a deal that gave the striking workers much of what they wanted (even though part of the deal was that there could be no union organizing, which angered some in the labor movement). Hunt's actions were hated so much by the mining interests, they tried to recall him. They accused Hunt of sowing "class hatred and divisions" and creating "near anarchy" in the town. Accusations of class warfare and anarchy: still right wing favorites. (In a happy ending, the recall went nowhere.)
In another post, I'll excerpt a passage about cultural and racial hatred addressed toward Hispanics in turn-of-the-century Arizona, with a very modern-sounding, 1904 response from a Mexican-American resident of Arizona.