William Otis Lester to Jane Addams, February 23, 1916


Colter, Wyo., Feb. 23, 1916.

Miss Jane [Addams],
Chicago, Ill.

Dear Madam:--

From what I have seen in public print of your interest in public affairs, I take it you may be interested in what follows:

It looks now as though both parties are going to take a stand on this "Preparedness" program that in the estimation of the writer a large majority of the people will not approve of. I suppose this is done on the theory that what both parties approve of the people will have to accept.

Regardless of what stand Congress may take on this question it appeals to the writer that a definite and vigorous move should be made to establish the rule of the people by majority vote. I would propose this plan:

That there be organized, as far as possible, at every country school house, and in towns and cities, at least in every voting precinct, Public service Leagues, to take up this question of "Preparedness", and any other important question for consideration, and decision thereon, by majority vote.

My plan of organization would be this: For organizations in the towns and cities appeal to labor organizations, clubs, and perhaps churches, to organize leagues. For country districts: send to the various County School Superintendents and get the names of teachers and school trustees; send them circular letters outlining the plan, and requesting them to organize leagues. In a [page 2] great many country districts there are now literary societies and social centers, those would readily fall in with the idea, and not many of the others would neglect to comply with so [laudable] and reasonable a request, especially now that public interest is so aroused over this question of "Preparedness". In the country school districts the league meetings could be conducted as social centers, or as the ordinary literary society, the women and school children taking part, with the exception that instead of debating questions of small consequence, as now, they could take up questions of community, county, state or national interest. It would certainly be educational, and good preparation for the older children to hear public questions discussed.

To get the best results, and exert the greatest possible influence, it would be necessary for this organization to take an active part in the selecting of candidates for Congress and State Legislatures. On this point I would suggest that pledges be sought from all candidates for Congress and legislatures, that they will support any measure endorsed by a majority of the people. Failing to give such pledge, a rival candidate should be placed in the field. It should be no child's play but war to defeat any candidate not willing to obey the voice of the people. As matters now stand it is too much of a case of where "the ox knoweth his master's crib."

Such an [organization] would mean a big work, and call for honest and capable management, with headquarters, probably at Washington, and likely, instead of carrying on a heavy correspondence, by letter, with locals, a small monthly magazine to submit questions, print information on all sides of any question up for consideration, publish results, etc. It would require a small membership fee, but if the membership was large enough to command results ten cents per year would likely cover it, with fifty cents for three [page 3] years to subscribers to the magazine.

If this appeals to you as desirable, would you not take the matter up with some within the circle of your acquaintance, whom you think would be favorably impressed, and if convenient have a few copies of this letter sent to presidents or secretaries of labor organizations within the city for their consideration, and let me know the result. I am sending out between twenty-five to fifty similar letters to men and women of liberal ideas to get a general view on the suggestions offered.

Personally I would like to see a new political party organized with no fixed platform, but simply a declaration that the problems of government should be worked out in the interest of the whole people, and not for a special privilege class, and the above plan as the basis of operation; then let the people work out their own salvation "with fear and trembling", it would no [doubt] be better start with nonpartisan leagues as outlined; let the people get used to working together, and endorse a new party if they wanted it.

History teaches us that it is pretty hard to get new questions considered by established parties, and the people get far ahead of old parties in their desires for progressive legislation, before old parties will concede anything.

Yours very truly

W. O. Lester. [signed]

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