Friday, April 24, 2009

1905 Tobacco Hearing in Congress

Tobacco and Robertson County Visited the U.S. Senate in 1905
J. Mark Lowe

[Photo: Felix Grundy Ewing, courtesy of Robertson Co. Tenn. Historical Society]
Tobacco has always often been at the center of controversy. Whether taxation or health, the subject has fueled passionate debates. Robertson County Tennessee and Tobacco were featured in an article in the New York Times in March of 2007. The discussion was the proposed comprehensive ban on workplace smoking in Tennessee.  On October 1, 2007 all public places, including restaurants, became smoke free. 
The subject of tobacco was also the focus of the United States Senate in January 1905.  A resolution passed by the House of Representatives was being considered by the Senate, which would have allowed farmers to sell their unprocessed tobacco without taxation. These statements from the hearings were transcribed exacted as printed in the Congressional Record and published accounts of the activity.
Hearings before the Subcommittee of the Committee on Finance, United States Senate on H.R. 14896, for the Relief of Tobacco Growers. 
Washington, D.C., Monday, February 6, 1905.
The subcommittee met 11 o’clock am. Present: Senators Allison (acting chair, Iowa), John W. Daniel (Virginia)  and Arthur P. Gorman (Maryland) of the subcommittee; also Senators William B. Bate (Tennessee) , and Edward Ward Carmack (Tennessee)  and Hon. John Wesley Gaines, Representative from Tennessee. 
Statement of Felix Grundy Ewing, Esq. of Glenraven, Tenn., Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Dark Tobacco District Planters’ Protective Association of Kentucky and Tennessee.
"Chairman:  Mr. Ewing, please state your occupation and business, so that we will know what significance there is to your testimony.
Mr. Ewing: My name is Felix Grundy Ewing. I am a tobacco planter living in Robertson County, Tenn. I am the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Dark Tobacco District Planters’ Protective Association.
Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, we are a trust-ridden people. We are suffering very much from the methods that they have resorted to in buying tobacco from us. It has been the custom for the past four years for one buyer to come to a barn and make one bid on that tobacco, and, generally speaking, he does not come any more. He comes and says: “I will give you 4-1/2 cents,” or “I will give you three and one,” or “I will give you something else;” and it is that or nothing. Most frequently we will not have another opportunity for selling.
We see an outlet now for our crop. We are organizing the farmers and demanding a better price. We know that our tobacco is not raised anywhere else in the world. We know that our good tobacco can not be duplicated and we are making a very earnest effort to organize the farmers, with a view of making them pay a fair price for tobacco. But there is another thing that affects us very much. The trusts have been buying the best of it at their own prices, and then they will say, “20 or 25 per cent of this tobacco is nondescript, and we will buy it for nothing. We will give you 3 cents for that,” or “we will give you 2 cents for it.”
Chairman: That is the refuse?
Mr. Ewing: That is what they call nondescript, but we call it low grade or lugs. 
Chairman: And that is what you want to retail?
Mr. Ewing: That is what we want to retail; and if we had the opportunity of simply saying to them, “This tobacco that you call nondescript you need not take unless you want; we can make another disposition of it,” then we would be satisfied. We want to have the privilege of selling that tobacco at retail.
Chairman: Where would you sell it, then?
Mr. Ewing: It is a very coarse character of tobacco, and we would sell it largely to miners and persons of that kind. I do not believe it would be possible for us to take it to a store in New York, or possibly in Washington City, and sell it to a fashionable class of trade. I do not think that would be a possibility. But everybody in that district chews and smokes our own tobacco, and they prefer what we call the “lugs” – that is, the lowest grade. They prefer it because it is not quite so strong as the higher grade tobacco. Eighty per cent of our whole crop is exported.
Chairman: What do they do with it? How do they prepare it in order to use it?
Mr. Ewing: I presume you mean this tobacco we desire to retail at home. If they chew it they just break off a part of the leaf. 
Chairman: They just chew the leaf?
Mr. Ewing: Sometimes they put it in a twist, you know. A man can put it in a twist if he does not dispose of it. Sometimes they do that; but at other times you will find a man with just a hand of tobacco in his pocket, and he will break off a part of the leaf. If they smoke it they crumple it in their hands and put it in their pipes. It is a coarse grade of tobacco that is not popular with the better class of trade; but we see that it has an outlet in this way.
Again, we recognize the fact that this is the only agricultural product that is taxed. Ours is a tobacco country, a tobacco soil, and a tobacco climate. We can not raise wheat and corn in competition with other sections of the country. Our grass is not spontaneous. We do not raise stock as they do in other sections of the country. We are absolutely dependent upon tobacco."

Watch for more installments from this Congressional Hearing.  Learning about individuals can be found wherever the story is shared.  Keep the story alive.  - Mark

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