Skip to main content

Edgar Lee Masters' "Adam Weirauch"

Edgar Lee Masters' classic work, "Spoon River Anthology," offers a fascinating character study of the American mind in the mid-20th-century.

Edgar Lee Masters

Edgar Lee Masters

Introduction and Text of "Adam Weirauch"

In Edgar Lee Masters’ "Adam Weirauch," from his American classic, Spoon River Anthology, the speaker refers to three historical figures as he places blame upon two of them for his own failures in life. He begins by claiming that he suffered defeat because of Altgeld and Armour.

Altgeld refers to John Peter Altgeld, who served as governor of Illinois from 1893 to 1897. Altgeld pardoned three of the alleged Haymarket rioters, thus earning the ire of his opponents, such as Editor Whedon, who according to Weirauch, labeled Altgeld an anarchist.

Armour refers to the business mogul, Philip Armour, who founded the highly successful meat-packing company, making Chicago the meat-marketing capital of the world. So now comes Adam Weirauch bemoaning his lot in life of failure, blaming his misfortunes on two men who achieved a level of success that had been denied the speaker of this epitaph.

Adam Weirauch

I was crushed between Altgeld and Armour.
I lost many friends, much time and money
Fighting for Altgeld whom Editor Whedon
Denounced as the candidate of gamblers and anarchists.
Then Armour started to ship dressed meat to Spoon River,
Forcing me to shut down my slaughter-house,
And my butcher shop went all to pieces.
The new forces of Altgeld and Armour caught me
At the same time.
I thought it due me, to recoup the money I lost
And to make good the friends that left me,
For the Governor to appoint me Canal Commissioner.
Instead he appointed Whedon of the Spoon River Argus,
So I ran for the legislature and was elected.
I said to hell with principle and sold my vote
On Charles T. Yerkes’ street-car franchise.
Of course I was one of the fellows they caught.
Who was it, Armour, Altgeld or myself
That ruined me?

Reading of "Adam Weirauch"

Commentary

Adam Weirauch contemplates his past failures, and just as many of the Spoon River reprobates do, he blames others for his miserable lot in life; however, he does something few of those other n’er-do-wells ever do: he ends by entertaining the notion that perhaps he shares some of the responsibility for his ruination.

First Movement: Loss of Friends, Time, and Money

I was crushed between Altgeld and Armour.
I lost many friends, much time and money
Fighting for Altgeld whom Editor Whedon
Denounced as the candidate of gamblers and anarchists.

The speaker claims he lost friends, time, and money in campaigning for Altgeld. Because he claims he was "crushed between Altgeld and Armour," he makes it clear that he will not be accepting responsibility for his own failures. It’s not his fault that others crushed him.

And Editor Whedon, by denouncing Altgeld as a "candidate of gamblers and anarchists," has become a scoundrel by association, according to Weirauch. The question remains, was Altgeld really beholden to "gamblers and anarchists"? The two sides of every political campaign usually exaggerate and/or obfuscate the policy preferences of their opponents.

The reader, thus, will have to rely on the plausibility of the Weirauch’s complaints to determine whether his claims have merit or if he is simply smearing others to make himself look better.

Second Movement: Questionable Business Acumen

Then Armour started to ship dressed meat to Spoon River,
Forcing me to shut down my slaughter-house,
And my butcher shop went all to pieces.

Weirauch blames Armour’s business venture in meat-packing for putting Weirauch’s own butcher shop and slaughterhouse out of business. Apparently, unable to compete with Armour, Weirauch loses his means of income.

Weirauch’s complaint motivates his readers/listeners to wonder why he could not compete, but as is usual with the complaining Spoon Rivers ghosts, he fails to fill in those details, leaving his audience to assume that Weirauch’s business acumen must have been lacking.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

Third Movement: Crushed between Two Forces

The new forces of Altgeld and Armour caught me
At the same time.

I thought it due me, to recoup the money I lost
And to make good the friends that left me,
For the Governor to appoint me Canal Commissioner.
Instead he appointed Whedon of the Spoon River Argus,
So I ran for the legislature and was elected.

Weirauch then asserts that through the powerful influence of both Governor Altgeld and the meat-packing Armour, he was crushed by those forces at the "[a]t the same time." He is asserting that having to fight two powerful forces made his failure a foregone conclusion.

However, Weirauch has an idea for regaining some of this lost finances as well as getting back some of his friends; he would become the "Canal Commissioner." Unfortunately, the governor elected to appoint Editor Whedon to that position.

Upon failing to secure the opportunity to become Canal Commissioner, the speaker decides to run for the legislature, and he is successful in securing that position.

Fourth Movement: Misfortune Hits Again

I said to hell with principle and sold my vote
On Charles T. Yerkes’ street-car franchise.
Of course I was one of the fellows they caught.

However, Weirauch makes an unfortunate decision. He succumbed to the clutches of the alleged "robber baron" business tycoon, Charles T. Yerkes. Yerkes was not averse to buying votes when necessary to secure his business ventures, and then according to this speaker, his own vote was for sale.

Weirauch had lost in faith in retaining and exercising any guiding moral and ethical principles, so he fell under the spell of political power that allows bribery and graft to taint government. Again, unfortunate for Weirauch, he was "one of the fellows" to get caught.

Fifth Movement: A Questioning Mood

Who was it, Armour, Altgeld or myself
That ruined me?

Weirauch ends his report in a questioning mood. He wonders just who "ruined [him]." Was it "Armour, Altgeld or myself "? Of course, earlier on in his diatribe, he clearly put the blame on both "Altgeld" and "Armour," asserting that they, in fact, "crushed" him.

Perhaps Weirauch actually deserves some credit for his softening to the idea that maybe he himself is, in fact, responsible for his ruin. That position places him head-and-shoulders above many of the other Spoon River inmates who never entertain the idea that maybe they shoulder some the blame for their dysfunctional lives.

Sources

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

Related Articles