Archive for the ‘Labor’ Category

Excerpts from the “Cross of Gold” speech

Excerpts from the “Cross of Gold” Speech at the Democratic National Convention, Chicago
William Jennings Bryan
July 9, 1896

Make sure you understand what is alluded to by the phrase “crown of thorns” and “crucifixion.” How can you tell that Bryan is a religious man?

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Convention: I would be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen to whom you have listened if this were a mere measuring of abilities; but this is not a contest between persons. The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty—the cause of humanity. ….

Never before in the history of this country has there been witnessed such a contest as that through which we have just passed. Never before in the history of American politics has a great issue been fought out as this issue has been, by the voters of a great party. ….

With a zeal approaching the zeal which inspired the crusaders who followed Peter the hermit, our silver Democrats went forth from victory unto victory until they are now assembled, not to discuss, not to debate, but to enter up the judgment already rendered by the plain people of this country. In this contest brother has been arrayed against brother, father against son. The warmest ties of love, acquaintance and association have been disregarded; old leaders have been cast aside when they have refused to give expression to the sentiments of those whom they would lead, and new leaders have sprung up to give direction to the cause of truth. Thus has the contest been waged, and we have assembled here under as binding and solemn instructions as were ever imposed upon representatives of the people. ….

The gentleman who preceded me (ex-Governor Russell) spoke of the State of Massachusetts; let me assure him that not one present in all this convention entertains the least hostility to the people of the State of Massachusetts, but we stand here representing people who are the equals, before the law, of the greatest citizens in the State of Massachusetts. When you [turning to the gold delegates] come before us and tell us that we are about to disturb your business interests, we reply that you have disturbed our business interests by your course.

We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day–who begins in the spring and toils all summer–and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the board of trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak for this broader class of business men.

Ah, my friends, we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic coast, but the hardy pioneers who have braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose–the pioneers away out there [pointing to the West], who rear their children near to Nature’s heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds–out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their young, churches where they praise their Creator, and cemeteries where rest the ashes of their dead–these people, we say, are as deserving of the consideration of our party as any people in this country. It is for these that we speak. We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest; we are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned; we have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded; we have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them….

Mr. Carlisle said in 1878 that this was a struggle between “the idle holders of idle capital” and “the struggling masses, who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country;” and, my friends, the question we are to decide is: Upon which side will the Democratic party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses?” That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic party. There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.

You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard; we reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.

My friends, we declare that this nation is able to legislate for its own people on every question, without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation on earth; and upon that issue we expect to carry every State in the Union. I shall not slander the inhabitants of the fair State of Massachusetts nor the inhabitants of the State of New York by saying that, when they are confronted with the proposition, they will declare that this nation is not able to attend to its own business. It is the issue of 1776 over again. Our ancestors, when but three millions in number, had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation; shall we, their descendants, when we have grown to seventy millions, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers? No, my friends, that will never be the verdict of our people. Therefore, we care not upon what lines the battle is fought. If they say bimetallism is good, but that we cannot have it until other nations help us, we reply that, instead of having a gold standard because England has, we will restore bimetallism, and then let England have bimetallism because the United States has it. If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost.

Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

Vocabulary for this post:

Multicultural History of the US: After the Civil War

How immigration exploded in the US from the Civil War onward. A good review of social history, a major strand in AP US history.

Video Podcast on Indentured Servants

I love this guy. In a purely platonic way.

This video can also be found at

How well did the indenture system work to solve the colonies’ labor shortage?

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones

I found this article on “Mother” Jones on a website, and thought you might find it helpful.

Mother Jones
How Mary Harris Jones Became the Miner’s Angel and Grandmother of All Agitators


On a warm sunny day in mid-September, I find myself drawn off the rush of Interstate 55, down a stretch of two lane highway that was once the Mother Road, Route 66. Then onto a gravel path that leads to a small cemetery. In the fields of central Illinois, this could be the sacred ground of a thousand settlements that took root in the mid-1800’s. But there is someone special here, a woman whose likeness is guarded on each side by sturdy coal miners, their sledge hammers at the ready. They are two of the thousands of “her boys.” Some are buried here in Mount Olive Union Miners’ Cemetery with the one they called their “mother,” their protector, Mary Harris Jones. She was known by another name in the U. S. Senate, “the grandmother of all agitators.”

In her 73rd year, Mary Jones began a march from Philadelphia to New York City. She was at the head of her army, several hundred textile workers, half of whom were under 16 years of age. They were on the march to see President Theodore Roosevelt, to plead for his support in ending the abominable work life of tens of thousands of Philadelphia’s children. They marched in their tattered rags, many with fingers missing from a moment’s carelessness at the loom. Sixty hours a week, week in and week out with no future. The grandmother of all agitators was on the move to fix that, for them and the almost 2,000,000 other children working in mills, mines and factories throughout the country.
She looked like such a sweet old lady, about five feet tall, with silver white hair and simple dress. But behind her plain wire spectacles were eyes that knew pain. Her husband was dead, her four children all dead of yellow fever. These sad urchins were her children and grandchildren now, and she meant to do whatever it took to get decent child labor laws. If that meant marching across New Jersey and calling out Teddy Roosevelt, well then, that’s what it would be. To those who doubted her fire, she exclaimed “I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell-raiser.”

She raised as much hell as she could muster in getting the public behind her and her children. When New York Senator Thomas Platt heard she was on the way to see him, he ducked out the back door of his hotel and jumped a trolley. Roosevelt engaged the Secret Service to scour the roads and rail lines to keep the mob away from him. But Mother Jones pulled a fast one. She dressed up three of the mill boys in Sunday attire and slipped on a train like any sightseeing family. They made it to the Roosevelt mansion, but were turned away with the shrug that there was nothing the President
could do. But the hundred mile march and the hell-raising speeches of Mother Jones had already done the job. Public outcry from the flurry of ongoing newspaper reports caused state after state to pass child protection laws or enforce the ones they had.

When she was 83 and could have been rocking away on the front porch, Mother Jones was thrown in jail. She was at it again, but this time for the miners, her other children, who she rallied to stand up for their rights. “Tell it, mamma. I can’t”, called back the immigrant laborers and displaced farmers struggling to eke out a subsistence living. So she did. From Colorado to the Virginias she roused the miners, then rounded up their wives and children to confront the authorities and strike-breaking workers with pots and pans. Often even the gunmen ran off more scared than the mules.

The charges against her were conspiracy to commit murder. When the coal miner’s contract expired with the operators along Paint and Cabin Creeks in West Virginia, the negotiations degenerated into a shooting war between miners and mine guards. The militia was called out three times. Mother Jones, who’d been avoiding coal company property by walking up creeks to give her speeches, was summoned, convicted with the rest, and given a twenty year sentence by a military judge.

Not deterred in the least, Mother Jones discovered a hole under the rug of the shack where she was confined, and she used it to pass letters to newspapers and congressmen about the plight of the miners and injustice of the military courts. A sympathetic soldier would crawl under the hut to retrieve the messages whenever she banged two beer bottles as a signal.

Within the month, though, she contracted pneumonia, which ironically proved to be her salvation. She was attended by Dr. Henry D. Hatfield, a practicing physician who also just happened to be the newly elected Governor of West Virginia. He quickly moved her to a private home under doctor’s care until the military court’s judgment was rescinded.

Some denounced her as “the most dangerous woman in America.”, but to her “boys” she would always be the “Miner’s Angel.” She stayed with their cause until seven months after her 100th birthday. Then she was laid to rest in the place she earlier requested, next to miners who had died in the Virden, Illinois mine riot of 1898. “I hope it will be my consolation when I pass away to feel I sleep under the clay with those brave boys.”

The monument in Mount Olive’s Union Miners’ Cemetery, 80 tons of Minnesota granite, was erected in 1936. It was dedicated before a crowd of 50,000, including 32,000 in the line of march. All were there to honor Mary “Mother” Jones, a woman who had listened to President Lincoln as he spoke, and then went on to wage her own campaign for the rights of those whom she saw as oppressed. Her headstone reads simply, “She gave her life to the world of labor, her blessed soul to heaven. God’s finger touches her, and now she sleeps.”

Links for more information:
This is a great article that brings Mother Jones to life.