We desire to call the attention of our colored friends to the importance of being properly represented at the ensuing convention, to be held in the city of Washington, D.C., on Monday, December 6th, and succeeding days. We assure them in the kindest spirit that it is to their interest to steer clear of all political partisan humbugs, to allow their reason, their sober common sense to control them, and refuse to accept any advice, which places them in antagonism, in any measure, direct or indirect to the National Labor Union. Such a movement will assuredly prove fatal to their future aspirations, and we are led to fear that some such action is contemplated, in looking over the proceedings held in several sections of the country. We are perfectly aware that the best interests of the producing classes demand that the issues and isms of the past should be ignored; that the broad eternal principle—that the interests of labor are one and inseparable the world over—no matter whether the laborer be the skilled, intelligent white mechanic of the New England States, or the colored emancipated toiler of the South; but this grand truth can be more surely sown by exhibiting a confidence in the declaration of friends than by accepting the bogus support of the enemies of the white mechanic. Of course it will take time to eradicate the prejudices of the past; to overcome the feelings which it may be, the teachings of a life–time has inculcated, yet it is well to remember that revolutions never go backwards, and now that the National Labor Union has evinced its honesty and sincerity of purpose by admitting colored delegates on terms of perfect equality, it would certainly be the height of folly to raise a barrier which their enlightened action has removed. Our advice, therefore, is to shove the reverend humbugs and honorables to the wall; let your bona fide labor representatives mould the action of the convention; reaffirm the platform of the National Labor Union; ignore the blatant demagoguism of these who expect to ride into public favor on your shoulders; go to work in earnest and organize in every State of the Union; send your duly accredited delegates to the Cincinnati Congress, where they will be cordially welcomed, and both you and your children’s children will reap the advantages of taking such a course.
It is highly probable that our esteemed friend, Mr. R. Trevillick, President of the National Labor Union, whose viewers we have embodied in the above suggestions, will be in attendance. If not, we trust, he will make it a point to point out the danger of pursuing a different line of policy.
We have just learned that it is the intention of Mr. Trevellick to attend the Convention.
Workingman’s Advocate, December 11, 1869.
7. OBSERVATIONS OF SAMUEL P. CUMMINGS,50 A WHITE LABOR UNIONIST
The Convention of colored men at Washington last week was in some respects the most remarkable one we ever attended. We had always had full faith in the capacity of the negro for self–improvement, but were not prepared to see, fresh from slavery, a body of two hundred men, so thoroughly conversant with public affairs, so independent in spirit, and so anxious apparently to improve their social condition, as the men who represented the South, in that convention. Our experience with them has exalted them in our estimation immensely, and we feel as though the future of the colored race on this continent was secure. The convention was called to order by Mr. Myers, of Baltimore, and Geo. T. Downing of Rhode Island, was chosen temporary chairman; and, upon assuming his position, Mr. D. made one of the best speeches on the labor question we ever heard. It was a gem in its way, and had his counsels been heard too, some unpleasant things might have been avoided; but there were a few, who evidently had some secret purpose to serve, who tried to make the convention the means of carrying it out. Prominent among these was Mr. J. M. Langston, the famous colored lawyer of Ohio, who evidently aspires to the leadership of his race, and who, we hear, has been promised a high position under the government, if he can control the colored vote of the South, in the interest of the Republican Party. Mr. Langston certainly possesses ability, but very little discretion, at least his course indicated it, for on the first evening of the convention, he took occasion to insult the white delegates from Massachusetts, and warned the delegates to beware of us, intimating very strongly that we were the emissaries of the Democratic Party, which was certainly new to us, who have until this year acted with the Republican Party.
As will be seen by the newspaper reports they formed a National Labor Union upon a basis similar to that adopted at Philadelphia last August, and may be said to be fairly in the field as an organized body of laborers. Whether their course in forming an independent National Union was wise or not, time alone can tell; but we are convinced that for the present at least, they could not do better. It is useless to attempt to cover up the fact that there is still a wide gulf between the two races in this country, and for a time at least they must each in their own way work out a solution of this labor problem. At no very distant day they will become united, and work in harmony together; and we who have never felt the iron as they have, must be slow to condemn them because they do not see as we do on this labor movement. For ourselves, we should have felt better satisfied had they decided to join the great national movement now in progress, but fresh as they are from slavery, looking as they naturally do on the Republican Party as their deliverers from bondage, it is not strange that they hesitate about joining any other movement. Although they did not distinctly recognize any party in their platform, yet the sentiment was clearly Republican if their speeches were any indication. Still, strange as it may seem, parties were ignored in their platform, and this course was taken mainly through the influence and votes of the southern delegates.
Isaac Myers, a member of the present Labor Union was chosen their permanent President for the ensuing year, with a good list of other officers, and in their hands the cause will no doubt be safe . . . When we see a convention composed mainly of those who ten years ago were slaves on the plantations of the South, assembling under the very shadow of the national capital, to deliberate on questions of grave national importance, and conducting them with such marked ability, as to arrest public attention, we feel sure that the day is not far distant, when the good sense of our colored friends will lead them to join us in all honest efforts to make the interests of labor the paramount interest in our legislation, state and national. Till then, we can afford to wait. S.P.C.
Samuel P. Cummings in American Workman (Boston), December 25, 1869.
As was contemplated, one result of the Convention was the organization of a permanent Bureau of Industry, to have its headquarters in Washington, with officers and auxiliary associations in all the States and Territories. The President of the new Bureau is MR. ISAAC MYERS, of Baltimore. Mr. Myers is at the head of the very successful co–operative Ship Builders Association of that city. This Association, as our readers will perhaps remember, was organized by colored mechanics who had been driven out of the Baltimore Ship Yards on account of their color. Determined not to starve or be outdone, they organized, and borrowed capital to the amount of $40,000, and to–day they are out of debt, and are doing fully as much business as any of their white competitors. Nor do they confine their workmen to colored mechanics. Some of the very white men who a few years ago combined to deprive Mr. Myers and his associates of employment have since sought and obtained work in their yards. The name of Mr. Myers at the head of the new Bureau is therefore a guaranty that it means work, and that good results may be expected from its organization. Until such time as colored apprentices and mechanics can have access to other workshops, it will be the aim of the Bureau to open the way for both by cooperation and organized effort, independent of those now in existence controlled, regulated and exclusively occupied by whites. It will also endeavor to promote the organization of cooperative Land and Building Associations. It will need, and we trust will obtain, an adequate supply of money to achieve a large measure of usefulness. But should its pecuniary cooperation prove to be limited, the discussion of these industrial problems, already awakened by the Convention and the organization of the Bureau, will do great good.
This Convention served more fully to confirm the statements we have so frequently presented in the columns of THE STANDARD, that LAND is an immediate and pressing need among the freed–people, to the end that their freedom shall become real instead of nominal, or as at present, at best, but partial. With great unanimity the Convention seconded the proposition we have urged, that Congress should provide for a Land Commission to facilitate the selection and purchase of suitable lands for small homesteads, through Agents qualified for the trust. Forlorn and helpless as many inevitably are, suddenly emancipated, with past years of unrequited toil, and left as victims of monopolists, they need to be helped to the opportunity to help themselves. Magnanimity should not be esteemed as the chief of the virtues only when it is shown towards negro–hating rebels. We urge that the loyal freed–people be not wholly abandoned to the Ku–Klux and to the grinding and cruel task–masters who, while they can no longer buy and sell the men and women at the same auction with their horses, mules and swine, have still the power to render their estate little better, in the rural districts, than slavery itself. We hope that early in the present session of Congress due provision will be made whereby individuals, local associations, and the new National Bureau, may have government cooperation in securing to the landless freed–people homesteads. The memorial to Congress prepared by Col. Mackay of South Carolina, and an address before the Convention by Col. R. J. Hinton, replete with important statistical information concerning the Land question, and an eloquent plea for the suffering freed–people, we hope in a subsequent issue to present to our readers.
The freedom of the colored people of this country is still very unlike that which the whites enjoy. Senator Wright of South Carolina, in coming to Washington as a delegate to this Convention, though paying first–class fare, was compelled to come in the second–class car, or be put off the train. It is but a few weeks since George T. Downing, Esq., was rudely thrust from the reclining chair car, in which he was entitled to a seat, at Jersey City, by Camden and Amboy ruffians, solely on account of color. And this same prejudice dominates in the workshops and prohibits in a large measure the landless freed–people from obtaining suitable land for a livelihood, either by lease or purchase. Labor movements among the white workingmen, manipulated to their great disadvantage in many cases by political demagogues, will do little for the colored people. Witness the action of the Bricklayers and the Printers Union.
We are glad that so auspicious a beginning in the way of organization has been made by this Convention. The Bureau just organized is an important step in the right direction. Its advantages are freely offered to all who are inclined to friendly cooperation,—men and women, colored and whites. This is the true ideal. Political and industrial reconstruction must go hand in hand. A. M. P.
National Anti–Slavery Standard, December 25, 1869.
ST. LOUIS, MO., Dec. 7, 1869.
TO GEORGE MYERS, Secretary of the Colored Men’s Organization, Baltimore, Md. SIR.—Since I met you in Washington city last November, I have been so pressed for a time, that until now have I postponed writing to you, as I then promised concerning the convention of colored laboring men to meet on the 6th of this month in Washington city. I learned today that President Trevellick of the National Labor Union, has left his home and gone to your convention. It will not be important, therefore, that I should enter into an excluded explanation of the principles and doctrines embraced in the platform adopted, or rather reaffirmed, at Philadelphia, last August. Upon some of the questions I gave my views when we met in Washington, and I noted what you complained of, and have given much thought to the subject since.51
You and the other colored men that I met with you stated that, although the colored men now have the same political rights that white men enjoy, yet there are social rights and privileges denied them; or rather, as society is now organized, the colored men cannot enter factories and workshops, or be taken as apprentices to learn the trades, that white men only monopolize to the entire exclusion, in some instances, of the colored men. That the condition of colored men in the Southern States, although they enjoy the rights of free citizens, yet are they in a state of quasi slavery, by reason that they cannot procure land of their own. That the white men of the south will not sell their agricultural lands to the colored men. That the colored men must necessarily become tenants, and left to the whim, caprice, or cupidity of the land owner in regard to the division of the net productions for rent, leaving the laborer to work on as long as his physical ability will hold out, without the chance to provide for old age, when he can no longer labor. Now, under the present unjust medium fixed by Congress for the distribution of the net productions of labor and capital, and the unjust mode of disposing of the public lands (the people’s lands), the white laboring men have as much cause to complain as the colored men. Upon these two vital questions the white and colored laborers stand precisely alike. The question of carrying on factories and workshops, or taking apprentices to learn trades, are not political questions that legislation can interfere with. These may be called matters of taste, and being local and conventional different rules may be established depending on local considerations only. Whilst the other questions although national, and that can only be effected or changed by national legislation, yet they must be local in their application as well as national—per see.
The National Labor Union party have laid down in their platform certain principles or dogmas, upon which they will demand such national legislation as will allow every individual, white or colored, to enjoy the full benefit of the common inheritance given by God to all mankind alike. And as God requires all men alike to fulfill all the duties required by the law of his being—“To eat bread in the sweat of his brow”—so He has provided a sufficiency for all whereby man is to obtain his bread by his own labor. In order that man can carry out that Divine decree, there has been provided a sufficiency of air, water, fuel and land. If these elements had not been provided, and in sufficiency, then the decree would have been hard—nay, unjust. A sufficiency of the soil to every citizen is a common gift, and “no one is entitled to a surplus of a common gift which deprives another of a sufficiency.” And a sufficiency of the soil to every citizen is the preventive of social evil. The Congress of the United States has sold the people’s lands and given the proceeds to corporations. In regard to the public lands, the Philadelphia platform provides that the thirteen hundred millions of acres that are left, that have not been alienated, must be hereafter held security in trust by Congress for the actual settlers, and that every individual being entitled by inheritance to a sufficiency, a minimum ought to be given, without cost, to every citizen that chooses to take it. And that by popular legislation a minimum quantity of land should be held in trust for every citizen that thinks proper to take it; that this quantity should always be held in trust, that is to say, the donor should not have power to alienate the soil, only the excess he adds by his labor could be disposed of, leaving no apology for any one capable of labor to become a pauper.
But there is another Divine law which we contend has by unwise legislation deprived the laboring men of all colors, of enjoying the fruits of their own toil. There is a limit imposed by the law of nature to the right of government to take the earnings or property of a citizen for any purpose whatever. . . .
The Government, or rather the congress, has committed two great political blunders since the war commenced. The first was in issuing bonds based on the credit of the nation and levying a tax on labor to pay the interest. If the credit of the nation was good security for the bonds, it would have been equally good for money issued by the Government, as money that has been issure upon a pledge of the bonds. But the bonds have been issued, and got into comparatively few hands. The holders of the bonds of course, never want them paid. The bonds were purchased with greenbacks, and the greenbacks purchased or obtained by horse traders and other shoddy contractors, we all know how. But the greatest amount was taken from the soldiers after they had received them at the rate of $13 per month. Some were purchased with greenbacks that had been bought with gold, at one gold dollar for two greenback dollars, and some for two dollars and eighty cents in greenbacks. Some loaned the greenbacks to the government and received bonds bearing gold interest.
This system of financiering has resulted in saddling a debt upon the producing classes of over two billions of dollars. Jay Cook says this debt is a national blessing; and Senator Morgan said the sum of its evils were not as great as the sum of its benefits to the laboring classes.
. . . For weeks previous to its assembly, we had intimations from authority which we knew to be reliable, that a desperate effort would be made, by prominent political demagogues, to control its action, and secure its influence in behalf of the Republican party; a prediction which subsequent events have proved to be correct, although the results cannot have afforded them much consolation. While we should have preferred that the voice of labor had been heard a little more distinctly, upon the whole, we are satisfied with the results. A grand inaugural movement has been completed; steps have been taken to consolidate the colored element of the Southern States, which can ultimately, have but one result, viz:—a clear alliance with, and an endorsement of, the principles of the National Labor Union. Of this we have not the slightest doubt. It may take our colored friends, some time to come to this conclusion; but we are perfectly willing to leave it to the inevitable logic of events. The criticisms of our correspondents, we think are somewhat out of place; and, as we believe their publication would not be productive of any beneficial results, we trust they will excuse their nonappearance.
Workingman’s Advocate, January 1, 1870.
. . . We urge the colored laborer to organize his labor, to do it wisely, universally and consistently. We shall seek to illustrate the wisdom of the maxim that labor and capital is one when the laborer is not coerced and when capital is respected, and that therefore all profits should be mutually shared. . . . The pressing need of the hour is education. Seven generations of enforced ignorance and systematic robbery, together with moral degradation to which we have been subjected, make it necessary for we citizens to cast aside all scruples as to the use of public money for the support of non–proscriptive [integrated] schools and to overcome all personal predudices, insuring the benefits of education. . . . so far from being excluded, the “poor white” native of the South, struggling out of moral and pecuniary death into life “real and earnest,” the white mechanic and laborer of the North, so long ill taught and advised that his true interest is gained by hatred and abuse of the laborer of African descent, as well as the Chinaman, whom designing persons, partially enslaving, would make in the plantation service of the South the rival and competitor of the former slave class of the country, having with us one and the same interest, are all invited, earnestly urged, to join us in our movement, and thus aid in the protection and conservation of their and our interests.
In the cultivation of such spirit of generosity on our part, and the magnanimous conduct which it prompts, we hope, by argument and appeal addressed to the white mechanics, laborers and trades unions of our country, to our legislators and countrymen at large, to overcome the prejudices now existing against us so far as to secure a fair opportunity for the display and remuneration of our industrial capabilities.
We launch our organization, then, in the fullest confidence, knowing that, if wisely and judiciously managed, it must bring to all concerned, strength and advantage, and especially to the colored American as its earliest fruits that power which comes from competence and wealth, education and the ballot, made strong through a union whose fundamental principles are just, impartial and catholic.
The New Era, January 13, 1870.