Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Secret Society Blogging: The United American Mechanics

"This group was formed by a small coteries of men who were opposed to immigrants coming to the United States. The men met in a grocery store in Philadelphia on July 8, 1845, to form the organization called Union of Workers. The name was soon changed to Order of United American Mechanics (OUAM). Its objectives were to be a patriotic, social, fraternal and benevolent order, composed of native white male citizens, who would purchase goods only from white businessmen, help native Americans[1] find employment, protect the public school system[2] aid widows and orphans of deceased members and defend its members from harmful economic competition by immigrants. The order's formation was an outgrowth of the American Nativist movement, which opposed the German, Irish and Roman Catholic immigration of the early 1840s. One primary reason for opposing the "foreigners", which led to the OUAM being founded, was that many Americans resented immigrants ("greenhorns") being hired by businesses for lower wages.

According to Albert C Stevens in his Encyclopedia of Fraternities (1907) the OUAM organizational meeting took place on July 4[3] 1845, with an audience of about sixty individuals. A majority left which they heard the the new group would be a secret society. A handful remained. Some of the key organizers were Freemasons. The name "Mechanics" was chosen because the group saw itself as a secret fraternity of operative[4] mechanics and tradesmen; however, its membership never was composed entirely of mechanics and tradesmen.

The ritual of the OUAM very much bore the influence of Freemasonry, apparently because some of its founders were Masons. In the tradition of Masonry, the ritual was secret, with required vows of secrecy. The emblem included the Masonic square and compass, along with the arm of labor wielding a hammer and the American flag.

The anti-immigration feelings of the OUAM were not confined to this organization in the fraternal arena. For in 1853 the OUAM organized the Junior Order of United American Mechanics (JOUAM). As a juvenile group, it was to train youths who would later join the OUAM. By 1885 the junior order had become an independent adult group, employing the same objectives and symbols as its parent society. The OUAM also formed auxiliary organizations[5]: the Daughters of Liberty and the Daughters of America. The latter group was really an affiliate of the JOUAM

In time, the OUAM changed its posture from a Nativist fraternal group to a fraternal society dispensing life insurance. It even changed its name by dropping the word "Order" and simply called itself United American Mechanics. Today the society is part of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, the society organized in 1853[6].

A few footnotes and glosses:

[1] "native Americans" doesn't mean "Native Americans" in this context, as you know.

[2] "Protect the public school system" in this context means "from Catholic influence".

[3] Lots of societies revised their birth dates to July 4, for obvious reasons; actually it was July 8, as noted above.

[4] This is a term of art from Freemasonry. "Operative" masons are those who cut stones; "speculative" masons follow the rituals of Freemasonry.

[5] "Auxiliary" organisation - ie, one for women relatives of members, women not being allowed to join OUAM. I'll try to do a few writeups of ladies' auxiliaries in coming weeks.

[6] Presumably the OUAM became part of the JOUAM rather than vice versa for financial reasons relating to their respective life assurance funds.

OUAM are a funny bunch - you can see how there are elements of proto-socialism, the co-operative movement and Fascism there, all mixed up in the American cultural and political environment of the 19th century. If Europe had avoided the First World War, you can sort of see how the Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Abeiterpartei might have ended up as an insolvent life assurance fund, merged into the Hitler Youth(actually this would be unlikely because the German state were early to recognise the need for state pensions, but perhaps the really interesting scenario for alternate history buffs is what the OUAM might have turned into if things went differently in America).

I really do think, by the way, that I have an explanation for the development of the "paranoid style in American politics" which has an Ockhamist advantage over Hofstadters. Remember that societies like this were absolutely ubiquitous in the USA during a formative period in its history. If one is, oneself, given to meeting up in the back rooms of grocery shops to try and stitch up a few deals to the economic benefit of those present at the expense of those absent, how much of a stretch is it to believe that similar stitch-ups are being carried out on a grander scale, in more salubrious surroundings, by the members of more exclusive societies?

Next week I'll bite the bullet and type in a few hundred words on the Order of Red Men, a fraternal benefit organisation which did, actually, end up controlling large parts of the lives of millions of people. I bet at least a few people in comments will guess how ...
16 comments this item posted by the management 6/01/2009 03:39:00 PM

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