Lincoln at Gettysburg redefined the political - moral basis of the United States by indicating that “All are created equal with the right to life…” means what it says, but he also said we were (and still are) in process of realizing this fundamental truth. Lincoln’s “Labor is Prior to Capital,”
a corollary of this principle is also in process.
THE PROGRESSIVE ERA: The Gilded Age – 1890, T. Roosevelt & W.H. Taft vs. Corruption, Wilson epic pro-Labor & Peace to World War l – 1917.
President Theodore Roosevelt saved Capitalism from a bloody worker revolution, but workers continued to be exploited. Historian Foster Rhea Dulles wrote:
Yet the status of the great bulk of working men did not improve during these years of the progressive era in terms commensurate with the national advance as a whole. The real wages of industrial workers; that is, wages in terms of purchasing power, actually declined. (Foster Rhea Dulles, Labor in America, Thomas Y. Crowell Co. New York, 1966, p. 185.)
Neo-liberal legislation curbed the criminal greed of the capitalists, but the direction the economy as ‘for the people’ was not achieved. Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book The Bully Pulpit minimizes the seriousness of this explosive situation at the turn of the century to W.W. I. (Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2013.)
THE POLITICS OF PLUTOCRACY
Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft were of the ‘progressive era,’ men of principle, compassion and, in many instances, advanced the cause “of the people,” but they were limited by their higher belief of loyalty to their class.
As a result, the ‘progressive era’ was not all progressive. Beyond Roosevelt and under Taft was the dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times building in 1910. Western Federation of Miners members were found guilty of the attack. Let’s not forget the Triangle Shirt Waist strike by garment workers in 1909 and the tragic fire at Shirt Waist in 1911. During the Wilson administration there was the Ludlow Massacre of strikers and their families by the militia in 1914. Consider before Roosevelt’s presidency, the Pullman strike, and some of the bitter violent struggles of the Western Federation of Miners - Cripple Creek, Colorado 1894; Leadville, Colorado 1896; and Coeur d’Alene Idaho, 1899. (Rayback, Joseph G. A History of American Labor, The Macmillan Company, N.Y. 1966) State militias were used to keep the peace, but at the request of Idaho Governor, Frank Steunenberg, President McKinley sent Federal Troops to Coeur d’Alene. (Stone, Irving, Clarence Darrow for the Defense, Big Trouble, Bantam Books, 1958, p. 97)
‘Square Deal’ Roosevelt was not Labor’s favorite. The legendary Mother Jones led a march of 100 children in 1903 to Roosevelt’s summer home in Oyster Bay, Long Island to protest conditions in Philadelphia textile mills. (AFL-CIO web site)
During the Roosevelt administration, three leaders of the Western Federation of Miners, including nationally known Big Bill Haywood were kidnapped by Pinkerton detective, James McParland, and shipped from Denver to Boise, Idaho to stand trial for the 1905 murder of the former Governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg. The trumped up charges were obviously false and recognized as such by the working population. Roosevelt categorized the defendants as ‘undesirable citizens’ which outraged the working community. A trial was held in Boise; Roosevelt sent Federal troops to a nearby fort to be called out if needed.
Throughout the country in 1907, May Day marchers protested Roosevelt’s ‘undesirable citizens’ remark. Eugene Debs wrote for the May Day edition of The Worker, the Socialist Party’s weekly: “This is the first and only international Labor Day. It belongs to the working class and is dedicated to the revolution.” (Philip S. Forner, International Publishers, New York, 1986, p.77)
Eugene Debs, sketched by Liam Gima-Lange, student at Aptos Middle School, San Francisco, California
In New York a massive march was held that included a large representation of Jewish garment workers. Presiding speaker, Socialist attorney Morris Hillquit, the former Moses Hilkowitz of Riga, Latvia, began his remarks, “Ladies, gentlemen and fellow undesirable citizens.” Eugene Debs vented his anger at the detention and accusations against the Western Federation of Miners leaders: “If they attempt to murder Moyer, Haywood and their brothers, a million revolutionists, at least, will meet them with guns.” (Eugene V. Debs Speaks, Pathfinder, New York, 1970, p. 147) With Clarence Darrow as defense attorney, a not-guilty verdict was reached in 1907. World Federation Miner leader, Big Bill Haywood, was released from prison. (Lukas, Anthony, Big Trouble, Simon & Schuster, 1997, pp. 470 – 490, 722.)
W.H. Taft, Roosevelt’s chosen successor, was not a Labor favorite. As a Federal Circuit Court Judge in Cincinnati in 1894, he issued an injunction to stop railroad workers from refusing to service Pullman cars. Taft ruled that the railroad workers had the right to organize, but not to boycott Pullman which was a manufacturer in another city. (Kearns Goodwin, p. 216.)
Taft could not see beyond supporting Labor’s right to organize. Property rights, for Taft, superseded worker rights. Kerns Goodwin reports his comments:
To the daunting question of what those unable to find work during the recession might do, he had earnestly answered, ‘God knows….they have my deepest sympathy. It is an awful case when a man is willing to work and is put in this position.’ (Kerns Goodwin, p. 535.)
Eugene Debs’ important reply is not recorded by Kerns Goodwin. Debs stated: “The Socialist Party does not refer this important problem to the Deity for solution. It recognizes the fact that is of human creation and must be solved by human effort.” (Eugene V. Debs Speaks, p. 162.)
THE McCLURE’S MAGAZINE
McClure’s as progressive – that’s a stretch. Anthony Lukas wrote:
For years McClure had betrayed anxiety about labor’s ‘lawlessness.’ In part his misgivings sprang from an 1896 pressman’s strike against his own company occasioned by his temporarily cutting his press feeders wages from twelve to ten dollars a week. (Lukas, p. 591)
It’s no wonder that Samuel S. McClure would not publish Eugene Debs’ response to President Cleveland’s article in McClure’s Magazine justifying sending Federal troops to Chicago to break the Pullman strike. Samuel McClure was pro-labor as long as labor was exciting and his writers produced articles that sold magazines. The powerful investigative writing team of McClure’s separated from the magazine in 1906. (Kerns Goodwin, p. 487.)
Undaunted, McClure and the magazine continued. He was especially interested in the ‘lawless’ Western Miners Federation. The chief witness against the W.F.M leaders was Harry Orchard – a gun for hire – who claimed the W.F.M. hired him to murder ex-Governor Frank Steunenberg, a major figure in the Cour d’Alane strike.
McClure secured psychiatrist Hugo Munsterberg, a colleague of William James at Harvard, to profile Harry Orchard. During the trial articles were written portraying Orchard as telling the truth. Defense lawyer Clarence Darrow and his “defense team were livid.” (Lukas, p. 600) The move to ‘yellow journalism’ did not work.
Taft with Roosevelt’s support won the presidency in 1908. After the election, McClure offered Roosevelt 72,000 dollars to work for his magazine, but Roosevelt rejected the offer and signed with Outlook magazine. (Morris, Edmund, Theodore Rex, Random House, New York, 2001, p. 540.) McClure sold his magazine to creditors in 1911.
THE POLITICS OF SOCIAL DEMOCRACY
Milwaukee ‘Sewer Socialists’ claim Eugene Debs as founder with Victor Berger. Frank Zeidler explains ‘Sewer Socialist’:
…it reflects a time when the practical Socialists of Wisconsin were held in some derogation by Socialist theoreticians, especially in eastern states, who said the Milwaukee Socialists were incapable of theoretical thinking and were content to see that rubbish was collected and sewers installed. (Beck, Elmer A. The Sewer Socialists, Westburg Associates, Fennimore, WI, 1982, viii)
Anthony Lukas calls this, “…one step at a time ‘gas and water’ Socialism, so named because its program emphasized the ownership of municipal utilities.” (Anthony Lukas, p.413.) Change would come through political action. (Elmer Beck, p. ix)
Democratic Socialist Eugene Debs was a man of compassion. He was a worker himself and identified with the suffering poor. Debs was incarcerated during the Pullman strike. He wrote about his experience as an inmate in the Cook County Jail,
I can never forget the sobbing and screaming that I heard, while in Cook County Jail, from the fifty or more women prisoners who were there. From that moment I felt my kinship with every human being in prison, and I made a solemn resolution with myself that if ever the Time came and I could be of any assistance to those unfortunate souls I would embrace the opportunity with every ounce of my strength.(Debs Speaks, p. 297)
Eugene V. Debs was a man of principle; for him it was clear that labor was prior to capital. Like Lincoln he believed that all were equal and had the inalienable right to life and a living wage. Debs wrote in 1903:
As a social party we receive the Negro and all other races upon absolutely equal terms. We are the party of the working class, and we will not suffer ourselves to be divided by any specious appeal to race prejudice… (Debs Speaks, p.93)
Is Labor prior to Capital? Debs wrote’ “…the truth is axiomatic that labor, and only labor, creates capital.” (Ibid. p. 55.)
Compassion and Principle in the Faith community
Leo XIII’s Encyclical is not mentioned by Doris Kerns Goodwin or Edmund Morris as having an influence on Theodore Roosevelt or W.H Taft. Lukas mentions an incident concerning the May 4th march in 1907 which supported the W.F.M. leaders held in detention and called “undesirable citizens” by Roosevelt. A Roman Catholic Pastor denounced the march and the people in no uncertain terms.
I watched the crowd pass back and forth and hardly heard and English word spoken … This horde abused the privileges they got by being permitted to land on our shores. We ought not to become the dumping ground for the refuse of Europe. (Lukas p. 479)
In Denver, Roman Catholic Bishop, Nicholas C. Matz condemned the W.F.M. as Socialist and therefore contrary to the teaching of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. (Lukas, p. 193)
Labor priest, Irish immigrant, Peter Yorke in San Francisco in 1901 supported a maritime strike that included all working on the docks citing Rerum Novarum.
Garment workers in New York had no problem connecting the theology of faith with an understanding of every day social justice. Anthony Lukas wrote:
The intellectuals who rose within the garment trades were often Socialists, working class savants mixing up a rich stew of Talmudic doctrine and Marxist dogma. Tracts of that era saw a congruence between the two beliefs the coming of the Messiah became the Social revolution; Israel’s liberation from Egypt symbolized the workers’ liberation from class oppression. (Anthony Lukas, p. 466)
The Social Gospel advocated by the Protestants, initiated by the faith based abolitionists, had a strong presence in the progressive era. Roosevelt wrote an article for McClure’s in 1901 which indicated that he might have been close to breaking away from the “politics of plutocracy.” The article referred to a large New York City Episcopal Church, St. George, which had made an impact preaching the Social Gospel. Roosevelt wrote: The Church is of all places, that which men meet on the basis of common humanity under the conditions of sympathy and self respect. (Roosevelt, Theodore, McClure’s Magazine, “Reform Through Social Work,” vol.XVL, March 1901, p. 448)
The dominant political philosophy of Roosevelt was that of the Manifest Destiny of the U.S. plutocracy controlling not only the American Continent, but the world. With Roosevelt we begin with U.S. neo-colonialism and the steady march to W.W.I and W.W.II.
AFL-CIO, Web Site www.aflcio.org
Beck, Elmer A. The Sewer Socialists, Westburg Associates, Fennimore, WI. 1982
Dulles, Foster Rhea, Labor in America, Thomas Y. Cromwell Co. New York, 1966
Forner, Philip S. May Day, International Publishers, New York, 1986Kearns Goodwin, Doris, The Bully Pulpit, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2013
Lukas, Anthony, Big Trouble, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1997
Morris, Edmund, Theodore Rex, Random House, New York, 2001
Rayback, Joseph G. A History of American Labor, The Free Press, New York, 1966
Roosevelt, Theodore, “Reform through Social Work,” McClure’s Magazine, March 1901, vol. XLV
Stone, Irving, Clarence Darrow for the Defense, Bantam, Books, New York, 1958
Tussey, Jean Y. ed. Eugene V. Debs Speaks, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1970