William Allen White and “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Once More


James E. Sherow

What’s the matter with Kansas? William Allen White asked his newspaper readers in 1896. He knew the answer for sure – farmer hooligans, old clodhoppers, shabby, wild-eyed, rattle-brained fanatics were ruining the state. These were senseless people, who like the farmer plagued by drought, locusts, floods, and his own poor farming techniques, would raise his fits to the air and exclaim ‘Goddam the Santa Fe Railroad!’ These enemies of the state, White charged, had mistakenly indicted the people of wealth, the captains of industry, for their own self-inflected miseries:

That’s the stuff! Give the prosperous man the dickens! Legislate the thriftless man into ease, whack the stuffing out of the creditors and tell the debtors who borrowed the money five years ago when money “per capita” was greater than it is now, that the contraction of currency gives him a right to repudiate.

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.

(Posted Online on May 30, 2006)