The United States and the Problem of Recovery after 1893

By Gerald T. White | Go to book overview

Chapter III
The Problem of Belief and the Unemployed

As the Senate moved to adjourn at the conclusion of the exhausting special session, several senators arose to suggest that the legislative measures then pending--the repeal of the federal elections bill, the enactment of bankruptcy legislation, and a new tariff bill--could be considered far more comfortably at that time than in a regular session extending into a torrid Washington summer. In calling for a continued session another senator, Wilkinson Call, a Democratic silver man from Florida, gave voice to a variant view: "I believe that the condition of the country requires the presence of Congress here. I think there will be far greater distress throughout the country than exists at this time. I believe there will be many thousands out of employment, perhaps hundreds of thousands, and that the general financial condition of the country and its industrial condition forebode a degree of distress during the coming winter that will require consideration on the part of Congress." 1 His opinion brought neither echo nor comment, nor were the wishes of the other senators respected. The special session was at an end.

The problem to which Senator Call alluded, that of unemployment and relief, is a poignant fact of depression. It was surely important in this one, particularly during the winter of 1893-94. Prior to the outbreak of the panic the industrialization of the nation and, associated therewith, its urbanization had been occurring at a steadily increasing pace. In the decade ending in 1890, according to census figures, the number of individuals engaged in manufacturing and mechanical industries (4,712,000) had more than doubled. 2 During the same period the urban population had increased from less than one-fourth to almost one-third of the total population. Industrialization and urbanization signified a large wage-earning class, with industry the main support for these workers. As a consequence of the panic and the ensuing depression, unemployment also ramified to some extent through the nonindustrial classes. Because wage earners had little opportunity to save, large numbers of unemployed were in a serious economic condition.

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