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Bread Upon The Waters
Twice in one generation we kept Russia from starving; the Kremlin plays it down, but the people we fed remember—and history will not forget
August 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 5
- 1. Cornmeal, ground not too fine, made of white grain, having had plenty of sunshine, and kiln-dried to prevent souring, and then sacked, should be shipped by general order at once.
- 2. This meal mixed with pure water, when milk can not be had, into a plastic mass, salted and baked well done on iron gridirons or smooth boards, is a wholesome and nutritious and palatable food. I eat it every day …
- 3. Southern cooks who are experts should be sent on to form schools to leach the Russians the art of making corn bread. Yellow-corn—extreme northern corn—without sun, oil, or flavor, with condiments, and too finely ground, is the cause of distaste for corn bread.
- 4. Money should be donated, to be distributed, under Russian control, for the purchase of seeds, as oats, spring wheat, etc., for next year’s crop.
- 5. The Americans are now expending millions on the Columbian Exposition for 1893. This is well enough, but let this pride of display be cut short and the money be given to the starving men, women, and children of Russia. This would be more useful and glorious than anything that can be done at Chicago.
Although some members of the House were doubtless unconvinced that southern corn pone was necessarily the solution to Russia’s troubles, and some certainly had reservations about Russia’s display of alleged friendship during tiie Civil War, General Clay’s petition rallied a good deal of sentiment in favor of help for the hungry masses. The question before the House, however, was not the merits of corn, but how any grain or flour whatever might be transported. Already, in fact, about two million pounds of wheat flour had been donated, under the urgings of a trade journal called The Northwestern Miller , by American producers in the Midwest; the problem was to get it to Russia. Senator William D. Washburn of Minnesota had consulted the Secretary of the Navy, who had suggested the use of the venerable frigate Constellation —A sister ship of “Old Ironsides”—launched in 1797 and still fitfully under sail. No steam vessel of the Navy, the Secretary indicated, was available. One member of Congress, on hearing this, remarked that if the Constellation was to be used, “she would get to Russia … most likely alter the starving people are all dead and gone.” It also turned out that far more flour was on hand than the Constellation could possibly hold. President Harrison recommended chartering an appropriate vessel; and Senator Washburn then introduced a joint resolution authorizing $100,000 to transport the flour to Russia. It easily passed the Senate, but the House soon raised a storm over the question of Russian despotism, as well as on constitutional grounds.
The upshot, after a long hassle, was indefinite postponement of the resolution—tantamount to killing it. A gentleman from Texas, Conslantine B. Kilgore, declared that since Congress had refused to appropriate taxpayers’ money to help “that great state” when it had a famine of its own a lew years earlier, lie would certainly not vote expenditures lor Russia; a gentleman from Lincoln (the youthful William Jennings Bryan) said as much for Nebraska. On the other hand, when a motion was made to refer the resolution to committee, Charles A. Boutelle from Maine said, “Mr. Speaker, the quality of mercy is not strained. There is no necessity in this case for straining it through a committee of the House of Representatives”; and William C. P. Breckinridge of Kentucky asserted that the resolution “is constitutional; it is humane; therefore it is American, and therefore it is Democratic.” Finally, various congressmen spoke warmly and at length against czarist tyranny and the persecution of Jews in Russia; and since an impasse seemed to have been reached, the motion to postpone passed by a rather wide margin.
This was a keen disappointment to the editor of The Northwestern Miller , W. C. Edgar, who had led the drive for Hour donations in the Midwest; but he was not a man to be easily discouraged. Through his professional connections abroad, he had become aware of the vast extent of the Russian famine earlier than most Americans, and he made vigorous plans, in the fall of 1891, to do something about it. An inquiry to the embassy in Washington brought the reply that the Russian government would be grateful to accept any donations of American flour; and Edgar, without losing any time, set afoot a systematic solicitation program.