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Sweet Tyranny

Sweet Tyranny: Migrant Labor, Industrial Agriculture, and Imperial Politics

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Sweet Tyranny
    Book Description:

    In this innovative grassroots to global study, Kathleen Mapes explores how the sugar beet industry transformed the rural Midwest through the introduction of large factories, contract farming, and foreign migrant labor. Sweet Tyranny calls into question the traditional portrait of the rural Midwest as a classless and homogenous place untouched by industrialization and imperialism. Identifying rural areas as centers for modern American industrialism, Mapes contributes to the ongoing expansion of labor history from urban factory workers to rural migrant workers. She engages with a full range of people involved in this industry, including midwestern family farmers, industrialists, eastern European and Mexican immigrants, child laborers, rural reformers, Washington politicos, and colonial interests. _x000B__x000B_Engagingly written, this book demonstrates that capitalism was not solely a force from above but was influenced by the people below who defended their interests in an ever-expanding market of imperialist capitalism. The fact that the United States acquired its own sugar producing empire at the very moment that its domestic sugar beet industry was coming into its own, as well as the fact that the domestic sugar beet industry came to depend on immigrant workers as the basis of its field labor force, magnified the local and global ties as well as the political battles that ensued. As such, the issue of how Americans would satiate their growing demand for sweetness--whether with beet sugar grown at home or with cane sugar raised in colonies abroad--became part of a much larger debate about the path of industrial agriculture, the shape of American imperialism, and the future of immigration.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09180-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Business

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-ix)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    A year after Congress passed the 1901 Platt Amendment, dramatically restricting Cuban sovereignty, the U.S. House of Representatives convened special hearings to debate what kind of trading rights to award its southern neighbor.¹ While dozens of witnesses paraded before Congress, the majority who made the trip to Washington had come to protect the fledgling American beet sugar industry from Cuban cane sugar. One of those witnesses, Michigan sugar beet industrialist N. H. Stewart, insisted that there was a rather simple answer to the question Congress had met to decide. Repeating an argument that industry spokesmen had been making since the...

  5. 1 Rural Industrialization and Imperial Politics
    (pp. 13-38)

    In 1899, USDA sugar beet investigator Charles Saylor wrote a celebratory account of the newly emerging domestic sugar beet industry. He proclaimed: “[H]ere is a chance in the sugar industry to see the factory and the farm side by side. . . . Here is a chance to hear the hum of industry, the music which thrills and inspires the soul of man, brightens and gladdens our home, amalgamates and develops our social organism.” Saylor even delighted that the rural landscape would soon be transformed by “restless volumes of smoke issuing from chimneys early in the morning and late at...

  6. 2 Contract Farming in Rural Michigan
    (pp. 39-64)

    In December 1899, Michigan sugar beet industrialists Gilbert H. Lee of Caro, W. L. Churchill of Bay City, and N. H. Stewart of Kalamazoo traveled to Omaha, Nebraska, to meet with other sugar beet industrialists from across the country. They had gathered to organize the American Beet Sugar Manufacturers’ Association in order to “combat the power which is trying to crush the life of this young but promising industry . . . our new colonial dependencies.”¹ Just two months later, however, when Churchill wrote to his fellow sugar beet industrialists, he had little to say about Puerto Rico, Cuba, and...

  7. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  8. 3 Family Farms, Child Labor, and Migrant Families
    (pp. 65-95)

    Company officials and farmers, who spent much of the first decade and a half of this industry battling over the relationship between the factory and the field, nonetheless found themselves in agreement on one fundamental issue: the need to find an appropriate labor force for this labor-intensive crop. Despite the numerous rhetorical assurances by company spokesmen that their industry would provide plenty of work for white Americans, the problem was not one of providing jobs for the unemployed but rather finding enough workers who would be willing to toil in the fields. In the first of his many sugar beet...

  9. 4 Farmers and the Great War
    (pp. 96-121)

    After the United States formally declared war in April 1917, Michigan’s rural population eagerly joined the war effort. Many small towns sponsored Liberty Loan Drives and abandoned German-language classes in their schools.¹ The Gleaner, the most popular farm organization in the state, supported the war by selling “Gleaner Patriotic Bonds” and sending bronze medals to its “boys” on the home front. Gleaner girls dressed in red, white, and blue performed military drills to express support for relatives and friends abroad.² Even businesses joined in the mobilization effort, with the German-American Sugar Company changing its name to the Columbia Sugar Company...

  10. 5 Immigrant Labor and the Guest Worker Program
    (pp. 122-142)

    Soon after the United States formally entered World War I, the Michigan Sugar Company came up with a plan to convince eastern European migrant families to stay in the countryside year-round. It would erect “modest but comfortable houses” near the factories and sell them to “any of the beet workers who wish to take advantage of the offer on the deferred payment plan.” To drum up support among farmers and townspeople, the sugar company claimed that building homes for migrant families would not only solve their looming labor shortage, it would also be a means to “Americanize” the migrant population....

  11. 6 Mexican Immigrants and Immigration Debate
    (pp. 143-165)

    Two years after passing the historic 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, which severely curtailed the number of southern and eastern Europeans coming into the United States and made it virtually impossible for immigrants from Asia and Africa to enter at all, the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings to discuss a bill to amend that act to include the Western Hemisphere.¹ The hearings, however, focused on only one aspect of immigration, as indicated by the title, “Seasonal Agricultural Laborers from Mexico.” During these hearings, Roy Orchard Woodruff, a Michigan congressman who opposed the bill, read a prepared statement about the important role...

  12. 7 Child Labor reformers and Industrial Agriculture
    (pp. 166-185)

    During the same years that sugar beet industrialists sparred with immigration restrictionists over the growing numbers of Mexicans working in Michigan’s sugar beet fields, they also faced criticism of their labor practices from an altogether different source—child labor reformers concerned with the extensive use of child labor in the fields.¹ Unlike the restrictionists, however, who vilified Mexican immigrants as a threat to white workers, not to mention the family farm, the child labor reformers who focused on farm children and eastern European migrant children portrayed them as the victims of their parents who made them labor in the fields...

  13. 8 Remaking Imperialism and the Industrial Countryside
    (pp. 186-214)

    A year after Michigan sugar beet industrialist T. G. Gallagher traveled to Washington, D.C., to protest the restriction of Mexican immigration, he journeyed to the nation’s capital yet again. This time, however, his concern was not with keeping the door open to Mexican immigrants but rather closing the door to Cuban sugar. To buttress his argument that Congress should raise the tariff on Cuban sugar coming into the United States, Gallagher asked the nation’s elected representatives if they had recently consulted the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, noting, “It says in the preamble to the Constitution of the United States,...

  14. 9 The Politics of Migrant Labor
    (pp. 215-240)

    As the Great Depression spread across the Midwest in early October 1930, Detroit resident W. H. Davis took pen in hand to write a letter to Henry Hull, the Commissioner General of Immigration. In the letter, Davis complained about Mexicans as the root cause of unemployment in “his” city. Davis even went so far as to describe Mexican immigration as “alien bootlegging” and suggested that to solve this problem, the government should begin to issue “citizenship cards” and that “possession of such cards would show a person entitled to employment when they apply for work.”¹

    Davis’s letter hints at the...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 241-246)

    In 1937 Paul S. Taylor, the sociologist who had spent two decades interviewing and writing about migrant workers in the United States, proclaimed: “Migratory labor is a proletarian class, not a people with a developed culture. It is forced to till the soil for others. It lives in material poverty. To a large extent indispensable, nevertheless it is commonly exploited and substandard. It slips through stable and often rich communities of which it is never an accepted part. It offers a breeding ground of social unrest. . . . It lends itself readily to the development of a form of...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 247-300)
  17. Index
    (pp. 301-308)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-315)