Socialist Press – Girard’s Appeal to Reason

By Crawford County April 25, 2017

Girard in the early 1900s was primarily a quiet home for the well-off, the retired merchants and farmers, and other conservative types of midwestern United States. Quite opposite to the county seat, nearby mining towns were home to working class immigrants immersed in poverty and injustice. The inequality faced by such blue-collar workers nationwide inspired a small, but formidable socialist movement proposing public control of manufacturing industries.

The nationwide movement required a press to distribute ideas, and the press required a leading visionary with resources at the ready. The man who filled this role was Julius Augustus (J.A.) Wayland, and his press was the Girard-based Appeal to Reason. Born in Versailles, Indiana on April 26, 1854, Wayland quickly found a calling in newspaper publishing, purchasing and selling press operations as he moved across Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, and Tennessee.

Despite his comfortable wealth and Republican background, Wayland became convinced of the socialist platform in the 1890s as he came into frequent contact with railroad and mine workers striking for fair wages. Wayland spoke of Laurence Gronlund, whose book The Cooperative Commonwealth helped stabilize Wayland’s new political beliefs in a 1912 Appeal to Reason article: “To be brief, [Gronlund] ‘landed’ me good and hard. I saw a new light and found what I never knew existed. I…went into the financial study so thoroughly that the result was, I closed up my real estate business and devoted my whole energies to the work of trying to get my neighbors to see the truths I had learned.”

Continuing his press operations to support the socialist ideal, Wayland eventually moved to Kansas City, Missouri. There he founded the Appeal to Reason, drawing the name from American Revolutionary Thomas Paine. The first issue was run August 31, 1895 with 50,000 copies. To improve circulation, Wayland quickly implemented sensational news stories and partisan support of the socialist party.

In 1897, Wayland moved the Appeal to Reason from Kansas City to Girard, a town Laurence Gronlund called “ripe for socialism” despite its conservative population. At a reduced price of 25 cents per issue, the Appeal’s circulation grew to 36,000 in one year, eventually topping at 141,000 paid readers and special single-issue runs of 4.1 million copies.

The Appeal to Reason’s most famous promoter was Eugene Debs, who between campaigns for the presidency lived in Girard for short spells while editing for the newspaper. The Appeal also saw one of its muckraking stories gain national notoriety in 1905, when its original serial “The Jungle,” written by Upton Sinclair, caused nationwide uproar at the working conditions found in the Chicago meatpacking industry.

Over time, Wayland’s editorial control waned. Frustrated with socialism’s lack of general popularity, Wayland committed suicide in 1912. The Appeal continued without his presence under the direction of editor Fred Warren with continued success up to World War I. As public opinion turned against all anti-military political positions (including socialism), the paper felt forced to rethink its priorities. Throughout the war, the paper operated under the moniker The New Appeal, explicitly supporting the Wilson Administration and the war effort. Despite returning to its original name in 1919, the Appeal failed to flourish post-war. In 1922, the paper rechristened its efforts as The Haldeman-Julius Weekly, ultimately ending the paper’s stance on socialism.

Considering its substantial readership and influence as press of the socialist political party, local historians saw value in preserving what issues they could. The PSU Axe Library boasts one of the area’s largest collections of paper manuscripts. Many issues can also be found online with free subscriptions.

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