Skip to main content

An Editorial: What’s The Matter With Kansas?

May 2024
3min read

To the twenty-eight-year-old William Allen White, the hungry farmers spearheading the Populist movement in the bitter campaign of 1896 “were trying to tear down the tabernacle of our national life. ” When some of them taunted him on the street, he responded with the stinging editorial below. Its callow savagery made the young editor nationally famous in a matter of days.

Today the Kansas Department of Agriculture sent out a statement which indicates that Kansas has gained less than two thousand people in the past year. There are about two hundred and twenty-five thousand families in this state, and there were ten thousand babies born in Kansas, and yet so many people have left the state that the natural increase is cut down to less than two thousand net.

This has been going on for eight years.

If there had been a high brick wall around the state eight years ago, and not a soul had been admitted or permitted to leave, Kansas would be a half million souls better off than she is today.…

Not only has she lost population, but she has lost money. Every moneyed man in the state who could get out without loss has gone.…

Go east and you hear them laugh at Kansas; go west and they sneer at her; go south and they “cuss” her; go north and they have forgotten her. Go into any crowd of intelligent people gathered anywhere on the globe, and you will find the Kansas man on the defensive. The newspaper columns and magazines once devoted to praise of her, to boastful facts and startling figures concerning her resources, are now filled with cartoons, jibes and Pefferian speeches.…

What’s the matter with Kansas?

We all know; yet here we are at it again. We have an old mossback Jacksonian who snorts and howls because there is a bathtub in the State House; we are running that old jay for Governor. We have another shabby, wildeyed, rattle-brained fanatic who has said openly in a dozen speeches that “the rights of the user are paramount to the rights of the owner”; we are running him for Chief Justice, so that capital will come tumbling over itself to get into the state. We have raked the old ash heap of failure in the state and found an old human hoop skirt who has failed as a businessman, who has failed as an editor, who has failed as a preacher, and we are going to run him for Congressman-at-Large. … Then we have discovered a kid without a law practice and have decided to run him for Attorney General. Then, for fear some hint that the state had become respectable might percolate through the civilized portions of the nation, we have decided to send three or four harpies out lecturing, telling the people that Kansas is raising hell and letting the corn go to weed.

Oh, this is a state to be proud of! We are a people who can hold up our heads! What we need is not more money, but less capital, fewer white shirts and brains, fewer men with business judgment, and more of those fellows who boast that they are “just ordinary clodhoppers, but they know more in a minute about finance than John Sherman”; we need more men who … hate prosperity, and who think, because a man believes in national honor, he is a tool of Wall Street. We have had a few of them—some hundred fifty thousand- but we need more.…

“There are two ideas of government,” said our noble Bryan at Chicago. “There are those who believe that if you legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, this prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class and rest upon them.”

That’s the stuff! Give the prosperous man the dickens! Legislate the thriftless man into ease, whack the stuffing out of the creditors.…

Whoop it up for the ragged trousers; put the lazy, greasy fizzle, who can’t pay his debts, on the altar, and bow down and worship him. Let the state ideal be high. What we need is not the respect of our fellow men, but the chance to get something for nothing.

Oh, yes, Kansas is a great state. Here are people fleeing from it by the score every day, capital going out of the state by the hundreds of dollars; and every industry but farming paralyzed, and that crippled, because its products have to go across the ocean before they can find a laboring man at work who can afford to buy them. Let’s don’t stop this year. Let’s drive all the decent, selfrespecting men out of the state. … What Kansas needs is men who can talk, who have large leisure to argue the currency question while their wives wait at home for that nickel’s worth of bluing.

What’s the matter with Kansas?

Nothing under the shining sun. She is losing her wealth, population and standing. She has got her statesmen, and the money power is afraid of her. Kansas is all right. She has started in to raise hell, as Mrs. Lease advised, and she seems to have an over-production. But that doesn’t matter. Kansas never did believe in diversified crops. Kansas is all right. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Kansas. “Every prospect pleases and only man is vile.”

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate