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Reds in the Blue Line

May 1, 2010
By Jon Hochschartner

(Author's Note: What follows is a history of Essex County anti-capitalists from the turn of the century through 1911. There were socialists here before and after, but this is the period I've chosen to focus on.)

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Near the turn of the century, the Elizabethtown Post wrote, "The Anarchist, the Socialist, and the boycotter visit the dreams of the capitalist, and like the Sultans of the Arabian Nights, he sees poison in every glass he drinks, and his daintiest meal turns to ashes in the apprehension that it may be his last." [1]

Locally, fears of class violence were unjustified. But radicalism was growing as socialists of national reputation began to proselytize in Essex.

In 1900, about 200 people gathered at the Ticonderoga opera house to hear Benjamin Hanford, the Social Democratic candidate for governor, speak. [2] The Ticonderoga Sentinel, a bastion of establishment interests, was thoroughly horrified.

"Mr. Hanford's remedy," the Sentinel wrote, "(is to) take possession of railroads, telegraphs, mills, labor saving machinery, manufacturing industries, in fact everything, without consulting the owners, and then run them for the benefit of the people." [3]

In 1901, the Ticonderoga Sentinel published a long letter, dripping with historical materialism, which demonstrated the degree Marxism had influenced the thinking of local radicals.

"The class that is the disease of capitalism must be the death of capitalism," the writer declared. [4]

The same day, the Social Democrats announced their slate of 14 candidates for Ticonderoga office. [5] Town radicals did remarkably well come the November election, in which low turnout gave the Social Democrats and the Socialist Labor Party a combined total amounting to more than 10 percent of all votes cast. [6]

By 1902, on a national level, the Socialist Party of America had formed through the fusion of Social Democrats and alienated factions of the SLP.

The newly minted SPA put forward a large local ticket that captured more than 60 votes per candidate in Ticonderoga, [7] and which the Sentinel inaccurately reported going to the SLP. [8] This was an improvement on the radicals' performance the previous year. But the Sentinel, which was staunchly Republican [9], took the opportunity to crow: "The result of the elections in this town demonstrates that wise counsels prevail in the labor unions and that as organizations they are non-partisan and cannot be cajoled into supporting any particular party." [10]

1903 marked the beginning of a brief period of socialist decline. The SPA ticket included only three candidates from Essex, compared to the 10 that ran in the year prior. Even in Ticonderoga, which would later be described as "the hub of Essex County Socialism," [11] the radicals fared poorly. There, the SPA and SLP received 27 and 13 votes, respectively, to the Republicans' and Democrats' 466 and 136. [12]

Still, the Sentinel, which had boasted of worker placidity the year prior, was not reassured.

"This movement on the part of Socialists," it wrote, "to induce labor unions to become identified with the Socialist Party seems to be general throughout the land and has become evident, as all are aware, in our own village." [13]

In 1906, there was but a single local running on the SPA ticket, a candidate for Congress. [14] The SLP ticket didn't include anyone from Essex. [15] The two parties came to loggerheards that year when a county ballot error supposedly gained the SLP "quite a few" votes at the expense of the SPA. [16]

A neutral observer would correctly point out the immediate aims of both groups were virtually identical and the parties would be better served joining forces. But such an observer would be pointing to the petty sectarianism that's plagued the left since time immemorial.

That year saw a number of socialist speakers come to Ticonderoga, addressing crowds at Burleigh House corner. [17] Still, in 1907 the Socialist party didn't offer any nominations for county office. [18] It wouldn't be until the following year that the socialists regained some steam.

In 1908, the Socialist Party filed an eight-man ticket for Essex office. [19] Besides this, two locals were running for the House and Senate. [20]

The socialists kicked off their campaign with a mass meeting at the Ticonderoga opera house, where an Albany speaker presented "the principles of Socialism." [21]

Their House candidate, Frederick G. Thomas of Ticonderoga, would report his expenditures to the secretary of state as just a single cent. [22] Whether this was evidence of hairshirt boasting, a lack of funding or a combination of the two, we'll never know. But the stunt broke into the pages of the New York Times. [23]

In 1910, the center of county radicalism was firmly established. Of the 126 socialist voters in Essex, 117 came from Ticonderoga.

The next year, a female socialist delivered such a stirring speech in front of Gallant's cigar store that guns were fired, much to the alarm of the Sentinel. [24]

Still, the local SPA was disappointed by the degree to which workers clung to their Republican and Democratic Party loyalties.

"The good Union man voted for more police clubs, brickabat, and militia to run down, club and shoot them into submission when they are on strike," Frank Clark wrote. "Join the Socialist local and help fight the class that have got you hand and foot bound with the chains of capitalism." [25]

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Jon Hochschartner lives in Lake Placid.

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[1] Jan. 26, 1888, The Elizabethtown Post

[2] Oct. 4, 1900, Ticonderoga Sentinel

[3] Oct. 4, 1900, TS

[4] Feb. 21, 1901, TS

[5] Feb. 21, 1901, TS

[6] Nov. 7, 1901, TS

[7] Nov. 6, 1902, TS

[8] Oct. 30, 1902, Elizabethtown Post and Gazette supplement

[9] Oct. 30, 1902, TS

[10] Nov. 6, 1902, TS

[11] Nov 24, 1910, TS

[12] Nov, 5, 1903, TS

[13] Nov. 26, 1903, TS

[14] Nov. 1, 1906, TS

[15] Nov 1, 1906, TS

[16] Nov. 8, 1906, TS

[17] Oct. 11, Sept. 13, Sept. 6, 1906, TS

[18] Oct. 17, 1907, TS

[19] Nov. 19, 1908, TS

[20] Oct. 30, 1908, Essex County Republican

[21] Oct. 29, 1908, TS

[22] Nov. 19, 1908, TS

[23] Nov. 12, 1908, The New York Times

[24] Sept. 19, 1911, TS

[25] March 30, 1911, TS

 
 

 

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