Dirt Farmer Internationalists: The Meitzen Family, Three Generations of Farmer-Labor Radicals, 1848-1932
Alter, Thomas E.
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My dissertation, “Dirt Farmer Internationalists: The Meitzen Family, Three Generations of Farmer-Labor Radicals, 1848-1932,” uses three generations of a German Texan family to examine the evolution and continuity of agrarian radicalism in the U.S. and transnational influences on that political tradition from Central Europe, Mexico, Ireland, and the Soviet Union. This project seeks to broaden our historical understanding of U. S. political culture and modern finance capitalism through examining some of its earliest critics–agrarian radicals. The dissertation begins with a historical overview of the home of the Meitzens, the then multi-ethnic Prussian province of Silesia-populated by Germans, Bohemians, and Poles. Silesia was one of the most industrial Prussian provinces, while at the same time remaining highly agricultural. This resulted in a unique convergence of workers and farmer’s political demands in Silesia during the 1848 Revolution. When the revolution failed, Otto Meitzen, along with other German and Silesian political exiles, emigrated to Texas where they decisively influenced state politics in the years to come. Otto Meitzen’s son, E.O. Meitzen, would begin his decades long political activism with the Greenback Labor Party and the Grange. He then rose to a rank-and-file leader in the Populist movement and later became a leader of the Texas Socialist Party with his son, E.R. Meitzen. The farmer-labor political alliances that the Meitzens fought for were remarkably similar to those seen in Silesia during the 1848 Revolution. During their decades long activism, the Meitzens formed political partnerships with Irish radicals, Mexican revolutionaries and supporters of the Bolshevik Revolution that greatly influenced their lives and politics. I argue that, building upon this international legacy of agrarian radicalism, the farmer-labor bloc from the 1870s-1920s, of which the Meitzens were a key constituent part, moved the U.S. political spectrum to the left and is responsible for initiating and moving forward much of the economic reforms of the Progressive and New Deal eras.