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The Libertarian Legacy of R.C. Hoiles, Part 2

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Hoiles began his newspaper career by working for the Alliance Review (Ohio), a daily owned by his brother Frank. In 1919, he and Frank bought the Lorain Times Herald, (Ohio), of which R.C. owned two-thirds. In 1921, they each purchased a one-third share in the Mansfield News (Ohio), of which R.C. became a hands-on publisher. He wanted to use the News to speak out against oppressive labor unions but Frank refused to print such articles. The disagreement led to a professional break in which R.C. received Frank’s interest in the Herald and the News, eventually becoming sole owner of both. Then, in 1927, R.C. purchased the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum (Ohio), which was managed by his son Clarence under R.C.’s direction from Mansfield, where he lived.

A colorful page in Ohio newspaper history followed. The Herald had exposed the fraudulent awarding of a paving contract to a Cleveland company despite the presence of a lower bid; public pressure resulted in the lower bid’s being accepted. The enraged owner of the Cleveland company, S.A. Horowitz, purchased rival papers in both Lorain and Mansfield in order to run R.C. out of business. The attempt failed and the conflict blazed on. In his essay “The Uncompromising R.C. Hoiles,” biographer Carl Watner highlighted its bitterness:

[The] front porch of the Hoiles home was destroyed by an explosion in November 1928, Hoiles’ car was wired with dynamite (which fortunately failed to detonate), and a dud bomb was discovered in the office of the Mansfield News. None of this gangsterism was ever explained, but it did motivate R.C. into selling the papers in Mansfield and Lorain.

R.C. purchased a bullet-proof automobile and hired an armed guard to accompany him. Some blamed Horowitz; some blamed the labor unions that Hoiles lambasted. Hoiles held firm. Of labor unions, he stated,

I don’t believe in unions, in a closed-shop. Never did and never will. Oh, I don’t object to the principle of someone representing an employee if that employee wants representation. But that’s not how unions work. They force the representation on you whether you want it or not. And I didn’t want it.

In 1932, Hoiles sold the other papers. It is not clear why. Perhaps it was because of the stress of the situation. Perhaps, as a June 4, 1986, letter from R.C.’s son Harry to Carl Watner suggests, it was because the papers had ceased to be sufficiently profitable.

Hoiles spent much of the next three years poring through the books that created a libertarian fervor within him. In a 1955 editorial, he explained,

Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the first libertarians who aroused my interest in liberty and how a government should be limited…. Then I ran across Herbert Spencer…. Then a socialist told me that Frederic Bastiat made the best explanation of the disadvantages that come from protective tariff…. Bastiat so impressed me that I republished his Social Fallacies (Economic Sophisms) and his Harmonies of Political Economy in two volumes, and his essay entitled The Law.

Events in his personal life contributed to Hoiles’s disillusionment with government. According to a term of the sale, R.C. was not to receive full payment for his two newspapers until 1935. Meanwhile, New Deal legislation enacted under Franklin Roosevelt caused the value of the dollar to plunge on one hand and nullified the gold clause in private contracts on the other; gold clauses were common with business contracts of the day and gave a creditor the option of receiving payment in gold or gold equivalent. In a letter written on February 4, 1964, to Robert LeFevre, R.C. explained that as a result of “the government abrogation of contracts…. I lost $240,000.”

Dealing with the unions

When he bought the Orange County, California, newspaper Santa Ana Register in 1935, R.C. imported his views of labor to the West Coast. A 1961 policy statement expressed the positions he held without waiver from 1935 until his death in 1970. That statement referred to the “Three Guides to Morality”: the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue); the Golden Rule (the Sermon on the Mount); and the Declaration of Independence.

All of the guides indicated that men were born with equal and inalienable rights that “are not the gift of any government.”

Hoiles’s newspaper chain experienced repeated strikes but his office in Orange County was picketed by the union only once. D.R. Segal explained why “only once.” He wrote, “After the first few days the pickets quit and refused to come back. They said R.C. walked with them, lecturing to them, handing out pamphlets and obviously having the time of his life with a captive audience. They said the hell with it and called off the picket line.”

The view of picket lines that Hoiles undoubtedly presented to the protesters as he marched at their side could not have been popular. An advocate of crossing picket lines, he declared picketing to be “nothing but a racket. It throws wages out of balance, causes unemployment, poverty, misery….” An editorial entitled “Pickets Hitler’s Real Aid” (February 12, 1941) called picketers “leeches and parasites on society … traitors to the principle of equal freedom and the American way” who try “to persuade other people not to work or buy from the firm that does not consent to pay tribute to their arbitrary, coercive demands.”

No wonder that, after one such anti-union editorial, thousands of union members canceled their subscriptions to the Register. Undeterred and perhaps roused by opposition, Hoiles personally went house to house to get signatures to put “right to work” legislation on the California ballot.

Hoiles even managed to sway some union members to his perspective. In an article entitled “What Would You Call Mr. Hoiles?” Thaddeus Ashby described R.C.’s modus operandi. “One of the first things Hoiles does when he buys a newspaper is to refuse to sign a closed shop contract with the union. He has a strike on his hands.”

Ashby recounted the words of a man who had lost his job because of one such strike:

“I was in sympathy with the union. Of course, I quit when the strike was called. I went to … work on a union paper. I soon got tired of it. I could do as much work in an hour as a union man did all day. They told me to slow down. Then, one warm day I opened a window and was promptly informed by the shop steward that there was a union man who got paid for opening windows, and was I trying to throw him out of work? I came back to Hoiles. I like working here and wouldn’t go back to a union shop under any circumstances.”

Hoiles never deviated from his early beliefs and experiences regarding business and labor. His economic credo remained: America’s enviable standard of living owed nothing to governmental laws and regulations. It was entirely due to the voluntary exchanges, contracts, production, inventions, and investments that resulted from men who were free to choose for themselves.

Conclusion

As important as economic discussion may be, it can lose the more human face that underlies matters of dollars and cents. Thaddeus Ashby was once asked about Hoiles’s economic stance that both excoriated business and labor and championed them. Was he a scoundrel? Was he a genius?

What human being lay beneath the economic theories?

Ashby answered,

He’s the kindest man I ever met. You’ve heard he’s against tax-supported schools, tax-supported old age pensions, social security, child labor laws, taxes of any kind. You’ve heard how he throws labor unions out on their ears. But I say he is kind because he respects men as individuals. You feel he wants to find the best that’s in you and drag it out of you where you both can stand and admire it. He looks for the truth in a man.

Part 1 | Part 2

This article originally appeared in the July 2010 edition of Freedom Daily.

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    Wendy McElroy is an author for The Future of Freedom Foundation, a fellow of the Independent Institute, and the author of The Reasonable Woman: A Guide to Intellectual Survival (Prometheus Books, 1998).