Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel

By C. Vann Woodward | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
Populism on the March

FEW LEGISLATIVE ACTS in the history of Congress have had so many willing claimants upon its authorship as that which established rural free delivery of mails. At least seven public men have expressed anxiety to be known as the "Father of the R. F. D." The heated dispute over the paternity of this measure is to be understood only when the momentous changes it worked in rural life are taken into account, and when the farmer's previous isolation is considered. Not one farmer in three hundred got a daily paper in the 'nineties, and those who lived five miles or more from a post office were fortunate to get their mail once a week. It is not surprising that the rural population of the country has been confronted from time to time with several men to claim their gratitude for initiating the rural free delivery.1

When Tom Watson called to witness "every rural free delivery box in Georgia and every other state from the lakes to the gulf, from sea to sea" as evidence of his accomplishment (as he not infrequently did), he could back his claim with proof such as no one of his rival "fathers" could advance. Indisputably, he had introduced the resolution providing for the first appropriation that the United States ever made for rural free delivery.

Credit for starting agitation for rural free delivery belongs to John M. Stahl, an Illinois editor, who began his extensive campaign in 1879. Unable to make any impression upon Congress,

____________________
1
John M. Stahl, Growing with the West, pp. 103-104.

-244-

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