(Note: this continues the series of articles by Paul Likoudis which I am publishing each Thursday.)
The Wanderer at 140....
Rerum Novarum & Der Wanderer’s
Work for Social Justice & Catholic Action
by Paul Likoudis
fourth in a series
Der Wanderer was struggling towards its 24th birthday when, on May 15, 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued the first of the modern papacy’s social encyclicals, Rerum Novarum, which addressed the “spirit of revolutionary change” which is “disturbing the nations,” poisoning politics, upending “practical economics,” creating vast fortunes for the few while throwing the masses into “utter poverty.” He warned: “some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.”
Der Wanderer editor Hugo Klapproth embraced the Holy Father’s call, and over the eight years he remained at the helm of Der Wanderer, when he was succeeded by his son-in-law Joseph Matt in 1899, he popularized a concept of social cooperation which Pope John Paul II would later champion – solidarity.
During the decade when Der Wanderer made Rerum Novarum its central purpose, working closely with Frederick Kenkel, founder of the Catholic Central Union, to promote “corporatism,” circulation rose from 4,000 to nearly 15,000, thus contributing greatly to the prominence of German-American Catholics in the American labor movement and the advancement of workers’ rights and protections through favorable legislation.
In line with most German-Catholic (and German-Lutheran, for that matter), newspapers – there were 727 published in the United States in 1890 – Der Wanderer approached the social question during a time of great social turmoil on several fronts.
It was anti-assimilationist, viewing with distrust, or contempt, American Puritanism, which justified the economic injustices that grew with industrialism, while preaching temperance. German Catholics, for example, could not understand why Irish Catholics would join their Protestant brethren in prohibiting opening the beer gardens after Sunday Mass.
Moreover, it was highly chauvinistic in celebrating the German language, culture and heritage. In his very first editorial for Der Wanderer, June 14, 1899, Joseph Matt (himself an immigrant) argued forcefully for allowing German-Americans to keep their hyphenated designation, for without it, they could be neither German nor American. He added:
“German blood flows in the veins of ten million American citizens and at the same time the religion, values, and customs of the Germans, their way of life and their work ethic, their manner of feeling and thinking has slowly but surely altered and transformed the people of the United States. Is that what ‘becoming absorbed’ means?....The impact of German life and labor on native-born Americans is so obvious that only the most obdurate can deny it. German science and art exercise an irresistible power on all [levels] of society....Every day the works of our philosophers, scholars, and artists germinate in the thoughts of millions of people and create within them a sense for what is better and more beautiful....Humboldt, Schiller, Goethe, etc. are no longer just the property of German-Americans. Their great creative accomplishments have become the heritage of the nation.... And music! What a revolution has it not achieved on American soil! The great German masters in the field of music – aren’t they encountered in every cultured American community and in any one aspiring to become cultured? Does that mean to become absorbed? Is that annihilation? Yes, it is surely an annihilation, that is, to the extent that German culture has annihilated a philistine and barbaric environment....
“This is truly victory, a clear triumph for Germans over native-born Americans....Future Americans will bear on their brow the stamp of German culture.”
Der Wanderer viewed with suspicion the Americanist tendencies of the predominantly Irish-Catholic hierarchy, and its reluctance to admit there was a “social problem” in the United States that demanded amelioration along the lines proposed by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, for strong workingmen’s associations, for a “living wage” for factory workers, for a decrease in working hours and increased workers’ insurance, for better protection for women and children in the workplace, for a Sunday day of rest. (In 1894, the Minnesota legislature prohibited any work on Sunday, except for “works of necessity or charity.”)
Nevertheless, as Fr. John Kulas observed of Der Wanderer in his history of the newspaper’s first ten years, “the impulse to Americanization in this newspaper was as real as the desire to preserve things German. In Der Wanderer, the readers found a reliable guide, a familiar and loyal champion, a proponent of valued ideals, a discriminating informant, a provocative facilitator of the political process, a companion in some way on the journey into the new. In the process something was gained, something was lost, but more importantly something new was created.”
Fr. Kulas’ study, Der Wanderer of St. Paul (Peter Lang, 1996), does not cover the Rerum Novarum period, but the contribution Der Wanderer made in the broad arena of social justice is told by Notre Dame professor of history (emeritus) Philip Gleason in The Conservative Reformers: German-American Catholics and the Social Order (University of Notre Dame Press, 1968).
Dr. Gleason’s study focused primarily on Frederick Kenkel and the Catholic Central Union (or Central Verein), and his enormous effort to rally all the German Catholic associations and organizations into a common front to promote a German Catholic social action that was anti-liberal, anti-state, anti-socialist and pro-family, pro-worker and pro-Church.
Due to the very close working relationship between Kenkel and Der Wanderer’s Joseph Matt, German-American Catholics were able “to assume a position of leadership on the social question,” wrote Gleason.
The effort to organize the various German associations, writes Dr. Gleason, “was largely the work of Joseph Matt, the editor of Der Wanderer in St. Paul. Then a young man in his mid-twenties who had emigrated from the Palatinate in 1895, Matt remained one of the giants in the German-American Catholic community until his death in 1966. The essential transformation wrought by the plan he proposed was that the Central-Verein was changed from a loose confederation of autonomous local benevolent societies into a more tightly-knit national federation of state federations....
“Virtually all the societies of German-American Catholics – both the older type and the more Americanized variety – were brought under one roof; within two years of the plan’s adoption and the membership of the Central-Verein almost doubled from the 1900 figure of about fifty-thousand.....”
The goal of the Central-Verein, as well as Der Wanderer, Dr. Gleason continued, was “Catholic unity” across the entire spectrum of Catholic issues, but front and center was a Catholic solution to the “social question.”
“But while German Catholics were sufficiently Americanized to be profoundly affected by the prevailing social ferment and swept along in the currents of reform,” Gleason writes, “there were also strong emotional links to the fatherland which made the example of German social Catholicism relevant to their awakening interest in the social question. Since the pioneering days of Bishop von Ketteler in the mid-19th century, the Catholics of Germany had become increasingly attentive tothe social question; after the Kulturkampf abated they developed an extensive program of reform on both the practical and theoretical levels.
“The proverbial German talent for organization was turned to good account by these Catholics, who mobilized all classes of society into specialized organizations for rural folk, workers, employers, professional people, and intellectuals. The annual Catholic congresses were great mass meetings at which representatives from all these groups gathered for mutual encouragement and to examine the pressing problems of the day....
“The example of social Catholicism in the fatherland thus provided a stimulus and warrant for interest in the social question; but the Central-Verein’s more immediate heritage as a German-American Catholic society just emerging from an era of ethnic-religious controversy also played a powerful role. For although social reform interest was in keeping with the Progressive impulse of the times it would be mistaken to assume that the Central-Verein was becoming ‘liberal.’ On the contrary, its tradition was one of opposition to all forms of liberalism, ranging from the doctrinaire anticlerical variety of the German Forty-Eighters [a reference to the atheist, socialist and Freemason revolutionaries who convulsed Europe in 1848] to the social and procedural liberalism of the Catholic Americanizers....”
German-American Catholics, Dr. Gleason continues, “held less sanguine views on the excellence of American society and the easy compatibility of Catholicism and American civilization” that such Americanists as Baltimore’s James Cardinal Gibbons, Bishop John J. Keane [founder of the Catholic University of America and later Archbishop of Dubuque) and St. Paul’s Archbishop John Ireland. “[T]he German Catholics retained the conviction that the liberals were too complacent, to satisfied with the status quo; they glossed over the defects and shortcomings of American life and were insufficiently critical of the blemishes on the American scene. The liberal Catholics, according to this interpretation, were so bedazzled by the supposed excellencies of the American way that they believed ‘We have no Social Question’....
“If anything were needed to persuade the German-American Catholics that we most assuredly did have a social question, nothing could have served the purpose more admirably than the conviction that the Americanizers denied its existence. Thus, the Germans later took great pride in their entry into the field of social reform at a time when other Catholics were indifferent to the need for such activity....”
Less than two weeks after Pope Leo’s encyclical was published in Rome on May 15, Der Wanderer’s editor Hugo Klapproth published an editorial summary of the encyclical, offering these highlight to his readers:
“… Divine Law excludes a solution to the social problems of workers that is based on the abolition of private property….
“It is erroneous to use the power of the state to intervene violently in family life….
“Public authority may not defend the rights of society at the expense of the rights and the liberty of the individual….
“It is a major error to think that the wealthy classes and the impoverished worker are destined by nature to interact violently…
“Justice and moderation and a reasonable share of the public burden are at the heart of the duties of the state. Proletarians have the same rights as the wealthy, and they must be similarly protected. An absolute external equality can never be achieved….
“Extreme exhaustion results in physical breakdown. Accordingly, reduction of working hours is imperative….
“Every worker has a right to earn a living wage…
“It would be expedient if employers and employees belonged to the same organizations….
“Finally, the Pope makes clear that a general labor union imbued with the spirit of the faith and moral law must be organized.”
In the June 4 and 11, 1891 issues, Der Wanderer published the full text of the encyclical, followed a week later, on June 18, 1891, excerpts from a homily Archbishop Michael Corrigan of New York delivered on Rerrum Novarum:
“The Vatican Council declared that for a statement of the Pope to be considered a dogma the Holy Father must be exercising the universal teaching authority ‘ex cathedra’ on a topic of faith or morals. He is then gifted with that infallibility which Christ has promised to his Church. Three elements are necessary and sufficient: 1st the Pope must speak as the Father of all Christians; 2nd he must talk about faith and morals; 3rd the Pope must intend to bind all Catholics to accept this teaching.
“In the new encyclical the Pope indubitably speaks for the universal magisterium on a matter of faith and morals. On the other hand he is not defining a point of doctrine. For that reason this encyclical can be considered a collection of theological teaching which now has to be recognized as a teaching of the Catholic Church....”
In its August 27, 1891 edition, Der Wanderer published the resolutions of the 36th Generalversammlung des Deutschen Röm. Kath. Centralvereins (36th General Conference of the Central-Verein) and among the resolutions was No. 3:
“In social questions we intend to follow the guidelines and spirit which the Holy Father enunciated so beautifully and clearly in his recent encyclical Rerum Novarum. A solution for the social question can only be attained by applying the fundamental principles of divine laws on which the Church rests.”
CITING CARDINAL MANNING
In its issue of September 24, 1891, Der Wanderer published a homily delivered by Henry Edward Cardinal Manning on the encyclical under the heading, “Cardinal Manning and the Recent Encyclical.”
“In discussing the encyclical Rerum Novarum the venerable Cardinal Manning declared: ‘The state oversees the national economy including commerce and finance. At the same time it is concerned with the well-being of all classes. Social classes are concerned for their own interests. And in a reaction to this organized egoism a number of individuals have espoused socialism. The encyclical carefully defined socialism and has shown the essential ties between the legislative process and social values. As the encyclical correctly observes, the rich have many resources for protecting their interests and they are less dependent on the help of the state. But those without means are not able to rely on their own powers and thus they must be able to count on the help of the state as their first line of defense.’
“Cardinal Manning enumerates the various forms of social legislation existing in England, and then he continues: ‘Nevertheless, up to now no one has been so blind as to suggest that England is a socialist state. One hears complaints about public schools in France, America, and Belgium for being irreligious, immoral, and not compassionate. But no one would think of suggesting that public schools represent the worst kind of socialism (sic!). But let one strive to protect workers from being exploited through unfair contracts and inadequate wages and one is accused of being a socialist. The ability of people to think clearly has been impaired because they don’t reflect, because they are blinded by excessive concern for their own interests and permit themselves to be ruled by prejudices which they unthinkingly fabricate out of class differences.’
“Moving to the issue of wages the cardinal says: ‘I have already indicated what I mean by minimum wage. It must allow the worker to provide a modest standard of living for himself and his family. The normal human situation prescribes that everyone should have a decent home and be surrounded by all necessities and comforts of an ordinary life. There would be no real love of country in a land where the citizens were unwilling to concern themselves about ‘altar and hearth.’ National policy requires that the number of people without a decent home should be kept as low as possible. …
“‘A just wage is one that as a minimum allows support of the family in a modest and simple way of life… Wages which bear a just relationship to a firm’s profit are a source of satisfaction and good will. It is an affront against human nature to express satisfaction with a wage structure which exhibits too great a disparity with the profit margin. Without mentioning names Leo XIII highly recommends the example of those who in France and elsewhere allow their workers to share in the profits of their labors.’”
The October 8, 1891 issue of Der Wanderer featured a front-page editorial, “Leo XIII and the Labor Question,” which contained excerpts from an address by Leo to a group of French pilgrims, in Rome to thank him for the encyclical. At the audience, the Holy Father said:
“We believe it is indisputable that the labor and social question cannot be resolved by civil legislation alone. By the nature of things a resolution must be based on the full demands of justice which should be reflected in wages. This question is above all a conscience question and brings with it a responsibility before God…Only religion with its revealed faith and divine precepts has the right to make the demands of justice a matter of duty.....
“If some issues relating to implementation still remain to be worked out – and how can it be otherwise in dealing with such a complex issue – a clarification can be left to time and experience. [The Pope envisions an active social action by Catholics, collaboration with public institutions and human wisdom as the basis for solving social problems. But he warned against radical socialists.]
Over the next months and years, Der Wanderer reported regularly on the resolutions passed by German workers’ associations across the country, all urging addressing social issues in light of Leo XIII’s encyclical.
A September 5, 1894 editorial observed: “It is no longer conceivable that in the United States Christian workers can be organized into a series of specific trade unions: the socialistic ‘Trades Unions’ are locally too powerful to permit this. This makes it all the more urgent, it seems to us, that general worker societies dealing with the contemporary labor situation in the sense of the encyclical should be made available.”
A September 9, 1896 editorial, “Zur Arbeiterschutz-Gesetzgebung,” “Worker Protection Legislation,” supported legislation in New York, opposed by owners of big factories, limiting child labor:
“The new law prescribed that children under 14 years of age may under no circumstances be employed in the shops. Boys under 16 years and girls under 21 years may not work longer than a ten-hour day or a 60-hour week. At the same time, the work day may not begin before 7:A.M. or extend beyond 10:00 P.M. Exceptions are permitted only during the Christmas season. In addition, washing and toilet facilities must be available and opportunities to sit down must be provided. Girls and children may be allowed to work in basements only if they are properly ventilated and illuminated. A lunch break of at least 45 minutes is mandatory….
“....Every child must provide a document from the health department that he or she is good health. Additionally, parents must present a notarized document attesting to the fact that their child has finished the compulsory education course…
“These kinds of laws are in the best interests of society, for they guard against stunted development in the coming generation.”
At a moment in American history when the labor issue or the “social question” is again front and center, as American workers grapple with job “outsourcing,” and increasing downward pressure on wages, the raveling, rather disintegration, of a the social safety net, unjust taxation, the looting of pension funds by corporate pirates, growing class warfare sparked by workers’ stagnant or declining wages while CEOs the wealth of the top one percent grows exponentially, Leo XIII’s encyclical is as relevant as it ever was, if not more.
And it takes a Catholic newspaper to raise a Catholic culture.
# # #
A Wanderer editorial on the national election of November 1892, “Zu den bevorstehenden Wahlen” (On The Coming Election):
“We are devoting in today’s issue a large amount of space to political matters, more than is customary for us even in election years. The reason for this is our strong conviction that the election this year has extraordinary significance.
“The readers of Der Wanderer will not require at this late stage of the campaign a very extensive review of the question as to whether Cleveland or Harrison is the better candidate for President. Nonetheless, even this question can once more be illuminated by what we have to say here as well as by means of other material found in the current issue of our newspaper.
“There was a time when the differences between the two major parties in this country – the Democrats and the Republicans – seemed to be blurring. From the beginning the main difference consisted in the fact that the Republicans stressed the power of the Federal Government and strove more and more to consolidate it. The Democrats, on the other hand, campaigned for the rights and liberties of the individual states in the union.
However, the more the great bloody ‘conflict’ of the 60s, which essentially dealt with this main ‘issue,’ receded into the past, the more it lost its hold on people.
“In the last decade ‘movements’ and ‘questions’ emerged in the public debate which engaged the people much more actively. First of all, there were issues in the area of economics. Powerful associations of laborers, tradesmen, and farmers arose, and it wasn’t long before they began to gain influence in the political arena as well. To these new developments was added a renewed round of vigorous discussion on the school question. For a while no one was able to tell whether and how the two traditional parties would react to these new initiatives, which in typical American fashion developed astonishingly fast. But when a new party started to emerge first from the ranks of laborers and farmers, the main parties felt constrained to come to terms with it. We are still very much in the early stages of this process. Still it has progressed far enough that the future development can be foreseen with a fair amount of certitude.
“In the realm of economics both parties are now competing for the favor of the farmers and the workers, in order to nip in the bud the threat posed to both parties by the new party, namely the so-called ‘People’s Party.’ But the Republicans have betrayed all too clearly by their deeds in recent years when they controlled the executive and the legislative bodies both on the national and the local level what the promises they are now making are worth. This is true quite apart from the fact that these promises are for the most part couched in ambiguous terms making it impossible to gain a clear perception of the basic principles underlying them. The deeds of the Republicans and other well known circumstances speak more loudly against them in the school question than their words. In this connection most Republicans make no pretense of masking their unjust intentions.
“By contrast, the Democrats in their current ‘platform’ envision reforms in social and economic issues for the people. As far as the school question is concerned the Democrats express their support for basic principles which for the most part are not only clearly and precisely formulated but which are also much more in harmony with the practice of the party especially here in the states of the northwest than is the case of Republican ‘theory and practice.’ It is already clear that the Republican Party represents itself as a main proponent of the wealthy classes on the one hand and on the other hand of modern state socialism, whereas the Democratic Party, befitting its name, will more than ever position itself on the side of the better portion of the people, of the ‘little man,’ of the masses of working people. It will marshal its forces against the use of state power to infringe upon the sacred rights and freedoms of individuals, especially the rights and freedom pertaining to education. It is true perhaps that on some issues the differences between the parties are not yet so sharply drawn; the Democrats in spite of being in the sunlight on most issues does not lack for its own shadow side; nonetheless, the clear difference in the enunciation of principle will be accomplished all the faster and the more advantageously, the more decisively citizens who love law and freedom lend a hand and assistance to the Democratic Party.
“This seems in large part to be happening in the present election campaign. One can see that citizens of German nationality are rallying more numerously than ever around the Democratic flag. Legions of German Lutherans who were formerly strict Republicans have joined the Democrats because of Republican school laws. Hosts of other non-Catholic Germans who up to now had been even stricter Republicans have turned their backs on the Republican Party for precisely the same reason and also because of the increasing Puritan elements in the Republican Party. Not a few German Catholics, who previously had been – if not Republican – independent or unaffiliated are now decisively turning to the Democrats. But this trend can be noticed among non-Germans as well. We have never before heard of so many political conversions among notable English-speaking Republicans taking place as this year—a presidential election year at that....
“If this process of party realignment continues as sketched here the outcome cannot be in doubt. The Democratic Party will develop more and more into a true and genuine American People’s Party in the spirit of the constitution and the principles of the founding fathers. It will then also do its best to bring the just demands of workers and farmers to fruition. The forlorn Republican Party will be forced either to regenerate itself or be satisfied with playing the role of a minority opposition party.
“No one knows how much closer this election will bring us to the realization of these goals! Financial and political power – a veritable gigantic army of office holders spread over the length and breadth of this land – is in the hands of Republicans. It is disgraceful how even ambassadors and consuls have left their posts in foreign countries, in order to ‘go on the stump’ for their bosses in Washington.
“It is all the more necessary then that every upstanding citizen do all that he can – on election day and on the days preceding the election – to fulfill his civic duty. Victory or defeat – that in the end remains in the hand of God, and true patriots will not fail at this time to commend the well being of our country to His loving care.”