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An Anglo-American Cooperative Project of the 1870's: The Mississippi Valley Trading Company


No student of American agrarian history in the third quarter of the nineteenth century will neglect the Patrons of Husbandry. From a number of well-documented accounts he may learn how in 1867, in Washington, D.C., their Order was founded to enrich the cultural life of farmers and their wives, and how their association in Granges moved them instead to express the chronic discontents of agricultural producers as a body. Even better-known is the ground of those discontents, which temporarily united the cotton, sugar and tobacco farmers of the South with the corn raisers of Kansas and Nebraska and with the wheat producers of Minnesota and the Dakotas. In a physically depleted land, and under a system subservient to the business needs of the victorious north and east, the farmer of the Mississippi Valley found himself in thrall to the distant manufacturer and to the local merchant by credit arrangements frequently entailing a crop-lien system. In order to rid himself of this bondage, to put himself instead upon a firm basis of cash buying and selling, and to develop a more diversified agriculture, the farmer required – as the Patrons repeatedly insisted – an alternative source of capital to the eastern banker.

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1.Buck Solon J.: The Granger Movement (Cambridge, Mass., 1915) and The Agrarian Crusade (New Haven, Conn., 1920); Thomas C. Atkeson: Semi-Centennial History of the Patrons of Husbandry (New York, 1916); Charles M. Gardner: Grange, Friend of the Farmer (Springfield, Mass., 1949).
2. Buck: The Granger Movement, p. 244.
3. See Rozwenc Edwin C.: Cooperatives come to America (Iowa, 1941), and Clifton K. Yearley, Jr.: Britons in American Labor (Baltimore, 1957) Parts 5 & and in G. Cerney: ‘Cooperation in the Midwest in the Granger Era’ in Agricultural History (Wash., D.C.), Vol. 37, No. 4 (Oct. 1963) pp. 187–205.
4. From the 1874 returns to the Registrar of Friendly Societies, J.M. Ludlow (himself a Christian Socialist). Total membership of all cooperative societies in Britain in this year is impossible to determine: probably the number outside the Cooperative Union was less than the number inside.
5. Some of Samuel's correspondence with British cooperators is in the Samuel Papers in the Wisconsin State Historical Society's Library, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis. Yearley: op.cit., p.234, refers to the correspondence with Neale, but incorrectly states that it continued for twenty years after 1881: it naturally ceased with the latter's death in 1892.
6. From his own statements to the British press we learn that Worrall was a physician by training, who migrated from Britain in 1853; that as a member of the Colorado legislature in 1865 he sponsored immigration bills, and as a member of the Louisiana legislature in 1872 introduced measures to protect negroes and to charter the Louisiana Academy of Arts, Science and Medicine, of which he was secretary and which may have conferred on him an honorary doctorate. He appears to have had relatives of the labouring class in Southsea, Hants. His first visit to England in 1875 attracted reports and interviews in a number of provincial dailies and weeklies, and seems to have been not unconnected with a recently-formed ‘Mississippi Valley Society’ of private traders on either side of the Atlantic, claiming branches in most large cities of the Mississippi Valley. Its president on the American side was Jefferson Davis, and on the English (and parent) side John Crossley, a Halifax merchant. His conversion to cooperation Worrall attributed to an encounter with Horace Greeley.
7. The most considerable of which were those delivered to the New Orleans State Grange on 6 June 1874 and to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce on 2 May 1875: these were published in London in the latter year as pamphlets under the respective titles, Direct Trade between Great Britain and the Mississippi Valley and International Cooperation. Much of their substance Worrall repeated in his Manual of Practical Cooperation (American Cooperative Union, Louisville, Ky., 1876). His address to the Cooperative Congress on 31 March 1875 was printed in its Reports and Proceedings, p. 52 ei seq. Worrall's second visit to Britain was covered by the Cooperative News (Manchester) between November 1874 and June 1875, q.v.
8. and thereby “needlessly squandering more money than would build every foot of levee from Cairo to the Balize, and open, if necessary, twenty passes to the Gulf” (quoted in Cooperative News, 21 November 1874, p. 255). The Valley could also send pork and beef, cheeses and butter, hides and tallow and tobacco: in return they would use British textile products, metal and pottery hardware, chemicals and even stationery.
9. 5 April 1875, p. 6, in a leading article reviewing Worrall's address to the Cooperative Congress. “He astounds us to no purpose with the millions of square miles of fertile territory which are comprised within his happy valley, with its millions of injured inhabitants, its hundreds of millions of pounds of butter and tobacco, and its hecatombs of slaughtered animals all crying out to the Lancashire operatives to send over what they want. We… are only surprised that he should assume that there are not already two vessels engaged in the manner he suggests.… If there is a profitable voyage to be made, we may be quite sure our shipowners will soon discover it“.
10.Saturdoy Review (London) vol. 39, 10 April 1875, pp. 462–5.
11.Agricultural Economist (London) vol. 5, 1 December 1874 & col. 6, 1 January 1875, p. 17.
12.Cooperative News, 29 May 1875, p. 297.
13. 24 March 1875.
14. 7th Annual Cooperative Congress (London). 29–31 March 1875, Reports and Proceedings pp. 55–56. Worrall addressed the Congress in person. Cooperative settlements in the U.S. were currently being promoted by (among other British union leaders) Alexander Macdonald of the miners and Joseph Arch of the agricultural labourers. Such colonies were mooted all through the 1880's, and Neale himself was a sponsor of several of them.
15.Prospectus and Articles of Association, signed by Neale and Worrall, and including a provisional directory (Manchester, 1875, 56 pp.). These were reprinted as an appendix to Worrall's A Manual of Practical Cooperation.
16. Worrall: op.cit., p. 58.
17.Mississippi Valley Trading Co. Papers, letter book, Smith to Worrall, 5 & 20 August 1875. The societies responding were, however, mostly small ones: “all the large ones hold resolutely aloof”, with the conspicuous exception of Leeds. The company's papers, in the library of the Cooperative Union, Ltd., in Manchester, have hitherto remained virtually unused. Yearley (op.cit., p. 248 et seq.) mentions them in giving some account of the Company, but clearly did not himself see them. Their principal item is the letter book, containing duplicates of all outletters from April 1875 to August 1878.. Correspondence not otherwise cited in footnotes below is drawn from this letter book.
18.Cooperative News 22 May 1875, pp. 280–1.
19. Neale to O. H. Stratton, 24 July 1876.
20. Smith to Worrall, 28 October 1875. Report of Central Board to 8th. Annual Cooperative Congress (Glasgow), 17–19 April 1876, Reports and Proceedings pp. 22, 23; also Neale to Stratton, 23 February 1876.
21. Smith to Neale, 21 & 28 October 1875.
22. Letter reprinted in 9th Annual Convention of the National Grange, November 1875, Proceedings pp. 90–91; also Jones to Rutherford, 18 January 1876.
23. 9th Annual Convention of the National Grange, Proceedings p. 35.
24. 8th Annual Cooperative Congress (Glasgow, 17–19 April 1876) Reports and Proceedings p. 23.
25. Smith to Rutherford, 21 December 1875.
26. Neale to Worrall, 2 November 1875 and 5 January 1876. Neale particularly urged the officers of the American Cooperative Union not to proceed to manufacture until they were assured of the corn trade, and certainly not at this early stage to try to become a Cooperative Home Wholesale as well (Neale to Buchanan, 7 February, and Smith to Worrall, 9 February, 1876).
27. Wright was also to explore the possibility of planting Granges in Europe, but this idea was later dropped as impracticable. It may be noted that the recent amendment of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act of 1852, itself the achievement of Neale and his colleagues, would in any case have made some changes in the company's constitution desirable.
28.Statement and Explanation of changes proposed to be made in the Articles of Association of the Mississippi Valley Trading Company (May 1876), written by Neale and circulated to the shareholders. See also 8th Annual Cooperative Congress (Glasgow, 17–19 April 1876), Reports and Proceedings pp. vi, 17, 23–24 & 41.
29. Worrall to Neale, 21 January 1876; Jeffersonian Democrat (Louisville) 5 & 12 February 1876; Neale to Worrall, 25 January, 2 February & 29 May 1876; Neale to Rutherford, 9 February 1876; Neale to Buchanan, 3 July 1876.
30. Neale to Worrall, 2 Feb. & 22 July 1876; Neale to Stratton, 12 June 1876. For Worrall's organizing activities during the early months of that year, see the following Louisville newspapers: Jeffersonian Democrat 5 & 12 Feb.; Riverside Weekly 5 Feb.; Southern Agriculturalist 10 Feb.; and the A.C.U's official organ (edited by Buchanan), the Cooperative Journal of Progress 1 June & 1 July; also passim the Courier-Journal, the St. Louis Republican and the (New Orleans) Home Journal. A number of the A.C.U's circulars are in the Samuel Papers.
31. Neale to Buchanan, 12 June 1876; Evansville Daily Courier (Indiana) 8 April 1877.
32. 10th. Annual Session of the National Grange, Chicago, 15–19 November 1876, Final Report of Proceedings, pp. 144, 152.
33. 8th Annual Cooperative Congress, Reports and Proceedings, p. 44.
34.M.V.T.Co. Papers, 24 August 1877.
35. 9th Annual Cooperative Congress (Leicester) 2–4 April 1877, Reports and Proceedings p. 41.
36. Neale to Jones, reprinted in the Grange Record (Louisville) 3 January 1877; Neale to Wright, 10 July & 26 September 1877; 11th Annual Convention of the Patrons of Husbandry, November 1877, Proceedings pp. 12 & 134; Neale to Jones, 17 November 1877; 10th Annual Cooperative Congress (Manchester) 22–24 April 1878, Reports and Proceedings p. 21.
37. Neale to Wright, 6 August 1878.
38. Neale to O. H. Stratton, 10 March 1876; Cooperators “are, as compared with the commercial classes of Great Britain, neither wealthy nor enterprising, being essentially a mass of citizens who have been accustomed to think of little else than the safety of the little capital which they have laboriously accumulated, and approach commercial undertakings with the feelings of Savings Bank depositors”; and to Worrall, 2 February 1876: “I must repeat, that it will be vain to expect that our cooperators will be got to run any kind of speculative risk”; and to Wright, 3 January 1877: “If the Patrons form any large anticipations of the amount of British capital which is ready to rush into trade with them as soon as the door is at all open, they will certainly be disappointed, and the reaction against exaggerated hope may be fatal”.
39.M.V. T. Co. Papers, Mss. report of Worrall's speech to stockholders in St. Louis, June 1876. Also Neale to Buchanan (A.C.U.), 28 July 1876: “You appear to look at the Company as an institution set up for the purpose of indoctrinating the citizens of the United States with English ideas about the best method of carrying on distributive cooperation upon the Rochdale plan”, instead of providing an exportchannel for producers.
40.Acland A. & Jones B.: Working Men Cooperators (Manchester, 1894) p. 79. That Neale was well aware that his rivals in the movement might turn the Mississippi Valley project to their own advantage is clear from a letter of Smith (M.V.T.Co. Papers, 7 December 1875) to Worrall, lamenting the “fatal indiscretion” of the latter's break with the Patrons because “you know as well as I do that friends Mitchell, Allen & Co. would hail your failure as a blessing, because it would make it possible for the Wholesale, having got the hint, to enter in and take possession of the promised land”. It was noted that when the British delegation of 1875 returned from the U.S.A., John Kay sent a separate and private report to the C.W.S.
41. Buck: The Granger Movement, p. 262; Cross Ira B.: Cooperative Stores (Wisconsin State Bureau of Labor & Industrial Statistics, 1905) p. 21.
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