THE DEMAND FOR EQUALITY
Lewis Douglass’ embarrassing exclusion from the Columbia Typographical Union because of his race was an all too frequent occurrence for black craftsmen. More serious than the personal insult was the demoralizing effect such discrimination produced in the black community generally. Since the future seemed to offer no reward for the perseverance required to learn a skill, there was no incentive for Negroes to make the necessary sacrifices. Consequently the earning capacity of blacks as a group was certain to decline even further. Frederick Douglass articulated what most black workers felt intuitively when he denounced such a society which rendered free men slaves to poverty (Doc. 1). These deplorable conditions led one black newspaper editor to question whether the American trade unions ought to be ridiculed for their selfishness or their stupidity (Doc. 3), and probably explains why Afro-Americans sided with the Chinese exclusion issue (Doc. 2).
Even though most white unions practiced, and their organs advocated, racial exclusion, one labor newspaper was a remarkable exception to the rule. Most of the documents (4–20) in Part X are taken from the Boston Daily Evening Voice, the only labor paper of the period to champion solidarity and equality among the black and white working classes. Among the labor periodicals of the time, it was clearly exceptional, while in its social vision, it still stands above the vast majority of labor publications.
The Voice was a product of an offensive launched in 1863 by American employers to destroy the new unions which sprouted in every major city to fight for the workers’ share in the wealth stimulated by the Civil War. In November 1864, the morning newspapers in Boston discharged the union printers, who in turn went on strike. The locked-out printers then began to publish the Voice, which quickly expanded until it claimed the largest circulation of any workingman’s paper in New England.
One of the major issues the paper confronted was whether white workers could afford to ignore black workers. The issue was of crucial importance. By 1864 slavery was destroyed and several million blacks were added to the nation’s labor supply. If they remained unorganized, blacks would be used as a ready supply of strikebreakers. Consequently, the Voice called for an end to racial exclusion, and advocated working-class solidarity, and racial equality through Radical Reconstruction. Motivated partially by their past association with the abolitionist movement, and partially by a practical desire to uplift American laborers generally, the editors undertook to educate the workers on the value of this twin policy. They relied on appeals to justice and self-interest. “Equality” and “injustice” were interrelated concepts with profound significance for the working classes. In order to succeed, the Voice argued, the labor movement had to appeal to the people’s inherent sense of justice, and the movement needed the public’s support. But the struggle to improve the economic status of the white working-class was dependent upon the destruction of slavery and poverty. How could the labor movement appeal to justice if it denied entry to ex-slaves and people of color? Moreover, how could the white workers improve their economic status if employers broke strikes with blacks who were excluded from the unions? Clearly whites could not afford to be indifferent to the plight of black people.
It soon became evident, however, that the Voice was waging a losing battle. So straight-forward a position on the issue of race was too progressive for the period and found little support in the labor movement. In 1867, therefore, the paper abandoned its campaign if not its convictions.
Everywhere we are excluded from lucrative employment. We have secured our freedom from slavery to individuals, yet we are slaves to society. We have neither the favor nor the friendship of the people around us. It cannot be denied that circumstances conspire against us. We are made to feel the depression of a fearful prejudice. Our countrymen have not yet forgiven the Almighty for making us black. We are discriminated against in a thousand ways. In some sections even our wages are kept back by fraud. Men refuse to lend, rent, or sell land to us. Printers unions and other mechanical associations, exclude us. Men are determined that our sons shall not learn trades or work at trades where they have learned them, and yet we are in a Christian country, where men who deny us the privilege of getting bread, ask God every morning to give them their daily bread.
Undated speech on Industrial Progress, Frederick Douglass Papers, Library of congress.
From the Pacific State, news comes of the most unchristian treatment to the Chinese. Treatment that makes one ask, Can it be possible? Possible that a man born in a Christian land would do it? Possible that a Christian community would sanction it? Seared must be the conscience of that man or that society. Yet is this state of the people’s conscience a legitimate fruit of slavery? Wrath can just as easily vent itself upon a yellow skin as on a black. A poor helpless Chinese, is no more than a poor helpless Negro. The demon spirit that could maltreat and rob the one, will not spare the other. We hope all the colored people of the Pacific Coast will keep their garments clean from any act of oppression against these measurably helpless strangers. “Remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt.” Well do we remember the eloquent denunciations of Bishop Ward against this worse than heathenish treatment. Dear Bishop keep up the fire. Make California ring with your plea for the Chinese. Instruct all of our ministers to speak in their behalf. Tell the people to take this kindred colored race by the hand and help them up to civilization and to Christ. By reason of mutual suffering and mutual prejudice we can reach them. They will hear us. They will, may we not fervently hope, be willing to receive Christ at our hands.66
The Christian Recorder, July 24, 1869.
Chas. Reade in his new story published in the Galaxy, “Put Yourself in His Place,” is holding up to the world’s contempt the British Trades-Union. Would that we had an American Chas. Reade to picture forth the ineffable meanness of the American Trades-Unions. We know not which is made to appear most, their selfishness or their stupidity. The printers of Washington City lately showed the length of their ears, and now the telegram informs us that the bricklayers of the Navy Yard are about to have the country judge of the sweet braying of their voices.
How shall we speak of these Trades-Unions legislating in regard to color? Who are these that look down upon the lowly Negro with contempt? They are white men, who with the doors of every college in the land standing open to them, with gratuitous scholarships on every hand, yet, had they not spirit enough to enter, and become more than hewers of wood. They are white men, surrounded with other white men by the scores, who were ready to take them by the hand and lift them up to the higher walks of life, yet such was the worthlessness of their souls, that they aspired not to be above the drawers of water. They are white men, with every office in government open to them, aye inviting them to enter and enjoy, yet were they destitute of a shadow of honorable ambition, and were content to carry the load of life. These are the men who say the Negro shall not work by their side—the Negro, who, with almost every college door in the land closed against him, yet became well read—the Negro who had few to help him up but many to push him down, yet reached the top—the Negro who, with Miss Columbia, frowning if he even looked at a mail-bag, yet has he got it, and distributes its contents abroad, the Negro shall not work by their side! Do they fear him? dread to come in contact with him? True he has shown more zeal than they, more aspiration, more ambition; for we verily think, judging from their past record, that had they been bondmen, with all their boasted Saxon blood, they would have been even more patient than the patient Negro. With all their liberty, they have done no more than the Negro has in slavery. Both are laborers, both are mechanics.
In conclusion we have only to exhort all the American Trades-Unions to action consistent with common sense, and the spirit of our American democracy.
The Christian Recorder, June 19, 1869.
Our readers have not failed to notice that statements respecting white and colored laborers in the city of Baltimore. Whites refuse to work with blacks. It is not very strange that such should be the case in a city so long the capital of a slave State, and so late the hotbed of secession; we know that the prejudice against the negro is not confined to the States where he has been a slave. But things are not as they were—our country is entering upon a new experience, and new issues are coming before the people. We must forget the things which are behind, and press forward to those which are before. The workingmen’s movement is a birth of the new conditions in which the country is placed, and to succeed it must maintain its relation to those conditions and not do violence to the spirit that called it forth.
On what is our movement based? On one idea—JUSTICE. We demand justice—just wages and just treatment as citizens. We hold that the employer is no more favored of God or the constitution of the country than the employee,—that the former has no more right to wealth and its comforts and luxuries than the latter. We point to the fact that labor produces all wealth, and we claim our just share of the product. If we are ignorant, we say, let us have our rights, that we may not be forced to continue in ignorance. We say that no man, because he is stronger, has any right to tread us under foot. We ask no favors, but our right—the right to work and the right to enjoy our earnings.
Now it is obvious if we demand our own rights as men we must concede to other men theirs. If we insist that employers are no better than we, we must not pretend to be better than others. If we claim justice we must do justice. We cannot succeed on any other ground. To attempt to do so is to tear away the very foundation on which we essay to build. A child might understand that if we are not willing to do justice we can never hope to get it.
The workingmen’s success is simply impossible without united and harmonious action. If the machinist says to the wielder of the pick and shovel, I will not associate with you,—if you want better wages you must get it on your own hook; if the clerk says to the coal-heaver, between you and I there is a gulf fixed; or if the white says to the black, I do not recognize you as a fellow workman; and these feelings prevail, there is the end of hope for the labor movement.
Look at it a moment. There are now four million of the negro race about to enter the field of free labor. If we take them upon equal ground with ourselves in the contest for the elevation of labor, they become an ally; but if we reject them—say we will not work in the shop with them, what is the result? The black man’s interests and ours are severed. He that might have been our co-operator becomes our enemy. This vast force of four million workers is in the field against us. We refuse their alliance; the enemy sees and seizes his opportunity, and the black man becomes our competitor. He will underwork us to get employment, and we have no choice but to underwork him in return, or at least to work as low as he, or starve. Shall we then be so blind and suicidal as to refuse to work with the black man? Here he is—a power to tell on one side or the other in the contest for the elevation of labor. Shall this power be used on our side, or on the side of our opponents? It is first offered to us. Shall we reject it? We hope there is more intelligence among workingmen than to persist in the indulgence of an old prejudice when that indulgence is the ruin of their cause.
No, brother workingmen, side by side with every sone of toll we must win our cause. To elevate a class only is to do nothing. We have to establish a principle—the principle of justice—if we would have a secure foundation for our work. When we fully comprehend and honor this principle we shall be irresistible, and our rising will be as strong and sure as the rising of the sun, and as beautiful and blessed.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, October 5, 1865.
In a recent editorial we pointed out the vital importance to the great cause of labor that the negro should be recognized as brother laborer; stating that if we did not extend a hand to him and help him up he would pull me down; that there were four million of his race in the country who must live by their work, and that capitalists would not scruple to hire them in preference to white workmen when they could get their services cheaper, the consequence of which, of course, would be to bring down the price of white labor. Here is a fact in point which may go further than anything we could say:
“A railroad company in Michigan has lately made application to the Freedmen’s Bureau for four hundred negro laborers, to be employed in the construction of a new line of road in that State. They offer to pay such laborers eighty-seven and a half cents per day, and board them.”
It is said that a party of hod-carriers, who have been receiving two and a half dollars a day, have demanded an advance; that the employer refused to accede and employed a party of negroes; that the police were ready to put down any attempt on the part of the white hod-carriers to molest the negroes,—which is not objected to, if the same police are ready to put down an attempt on the part of capitalists, sitting in their bank parlors and countingrooms, and contractors sitting in the mechanics’ exchange, concerting plans to compel workingmen to work at the prices dictated by the nabobs who have the control of money, and through this control can say to the laboring man, work at our price or starve. Why is it more cruel for the hod-carrier to fight against his competitor than for the capitalist to say to him, we will starve your wife and children unless you conform to our demand? Both are wrong, entirely wrong, and need reform. But is there not reason to fear that some police officers perform with alacrity the duty (as they call it) of mauling a hod-carrier, while they are little skittish when called upon to protect the hod carrier from the oppression of capital? Now the question is asked, why should the negro be willing to carry a hod cheaper than anybody else? Why should he be induced to do so? Why should not the hod-carrier be as well paid as the contractor? And why should not the contractor be as well paid as the merchant, or moneylender? Indeed it might be asked, why should the money-lender be paid at all, seeing that money is a creature of the government, created for the common good at the common expense, and should not be tampered with. At any rate, keep the moneylender at six per cent. If this will not support him, let him go to work or retrench his expenses. Do not let him take advantage of the demand for money which himself and the other bank directors have created, and say to the contractor, take the extra interest out of the hod carriers’ and other laborers’ wages; and say to the merchant, charge to the consumer. Why should not the hours of the hod-carrier furnish him with as much money as the hours in any other indispensable vocation?
When will workingmen learn that competition among themselves to get employment of the capitalists is suicide? that this competition is just what keeps the workingman under the thumb of capital? and this is the face of the fact that all of what is called capital is the result of labor performed by workingmen. The result of the hod-carrier strike proves that workingmen should feel that the successful management of the boss and capitalist in this case is a blow at all labor; and harder blows are yet to be delivered, unless all workingmen are as willing and able to combine as the capitalists. One of two things should be done—either repeal all the legislation in favor of capital and against labor, or else enact laws which shall protect labor as well as capital.
If the negro hod-carrier will underbid the white hod-carrier because the negro can live cheaper, soon the white will underbid the black, because he has learned to live still cheaper, and then again the black the white, until the lowest rate obtains; and so it will be as long as it is necessary that every laborer shall change his labor into money and a few banks or a combination of banks can control the money.
Many capitalists and opponents of the eight-hour law and other labor reforms, look upon the contest between black and white as a good joke. Pity it is so, but so it is. Are we to have a “poor white trash?”
Boston Daily Evening Voice, November 15, 1865.
The question of negro suffrage, now dividing the country, is one of which it is important that the friends of the Labor Movement should entertain just views. Reformers of all men are necessitated to cast out prejudice and feeling, and base their action upon sound principle. Prejudice contending with prejudice makes a fruitless fight; but truth is a power which, though often resisted, nothing can overcome.
“The eternal years of God are here.”
No principle has been made clearer by the facts and discussions of the workingmen’s movement than that of mutual relation and dependence among all the ranks of labor. The whole united power of labor is necessary to the successful resistance of the united power of capital. Otherwise, those left out of the union are forced, in self-defense, to take a position antagonistic to their brethren or class, and become co-operation with the enemy. If the Trades’ Unions of white men exclude black men, black men are obliged to underwork, and thus injure the cause of the white men. On the same principle, it is a damage to the cause of white labor that black labor should be ignorant and degraded. Our Trades’ Unions all recollect that one of the first and most formidable difficulties they had to encounter was the no-apprenticeship system, by which incompetent workmen were admitted to competition with skilled workmen; and they from the first saw the remedy-an efficient apprenticeship law, which should secure the thorough instruction of every tradseman. It does not require much thought to discover that the four millions of Southern negroes, now entering the field of free labor, stand in precisely the same relation to labor in general as the unskilled workmen of our Northern workshops to the skilled workmen. In self-defence this skilled labor must elevate the unskilled.
Now the old aristocratic and slaveocratic spirit of the South is denying to the freedman the rights of citizenship, and determined to keep him under a despotism worse if possible than slavery itself; and President Johnson, and we know not how large a party in the North, are in favor of leaving to the negro-hating white population of the Southern States the whole question of what shall be the condition of the negro in those States. No workingman should be found with that party. An opportunity is afforded us, by right action on this question, to strike a telling blow for the cause of labor; while the mistake of opposing negro suffrage may require the lapse of a generation to rectify it. Our fathers foresaw that the only safe standing-place outside of aristocratical and monarchical government was the platform of freedom and equality; and in the recent war we have had a solemn warning that we must carry out that principle or leave for history the sad task of writing down democratic government a failure. The thinkers of the Revolution had the mission to plant among the nations this principle of government; and to the workers—the workingmen—of this day is committed the important task of bringing to maturity that which they planted.
Some prejudice exists against giving the vote into ignorant hands. But we need not fear. The greater danger is in withholding it. One of Wendell Phillip’s pithy expressions is—“Universal suffrage means taking a bond from the wealthy and learned to educate the poor.” The moment the uneducated holds in his hand the power of a ballot, it becomes the interest of every man who owns property to see that he is rightly instructed in the use of it. By giving the ballot we raise; by withholding it we degrade. The degradation of the negro has nearly ruined the country; let us now learn wisdom by our experience, and save ourselves by elevating him.67
There is no safety to free principles but in universal or manhood suffrage. If we limit it to class, we deny the very principle for which our fathers sacrificed. We are already not without our practical warnings of the danger of departing from this principle. As influential a paper as the New York Herald strenuously advocates a property suffrage. It holds that it is not fair that a poor man’s vote should count as much as a rich man’s; and proposes that the amount of property a man owns shall determine how many votes he shall be entitled to cast—making the property of the country to be represented through the ballot-box instead of the men. This is not democracy. And workingmen ought to know that capitalists generally sympathise with this view. Henry J. Raymond of the New York Times, and a member of Congress, too, says in his paper that “universal suffrage is an unmitigated curse.” We are sorry to say that at least one paper that sometimes professes sympathy with the workingmen echoes the same sentiment. We allude to the Chicago Post.
Let the workingman beware. The South has been the battle-ground of the rebellion, which undertook to establish the slavery of the negro; and it is one the same battleground that capital will undertake to secure an advantage by denying the right of suffrage to the freedman. Our most far-seeing statesmen are already battling manfully for the principle, and the workingmen are wofully blind to the support of their champions. In opposing negro suffrage, capital is playing a deeper game against labor than it has yet undertaken; and it can succeed only with the help of the laboring classes. If we understand the groundwork of our freedom, and the hope of our cause of Labor, we shall hold the right of suffrage sacred and dear, jealously guarding it against the least infringement.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, December 28, 1865.
The Detroit Daily Union “protests in the name of the workingmen of Detroit,” against our article on “Manhood Suffrage,” in which we tried to show to workingmen the true course to take in reference to the question of according suffrage to the negro. The Union thinks the position taken in that article inconsistent with our previous advice not to affiliate with any party; because, in its opinion, “the question of manhood, or negro, suffrage is purely a political question,” and one on which the workingmen of the country “hold and will hold their own opinions, pro and con.” The Union also quotes a paragraph from our article concerning the President’s position on the question, and says there is no mistaking our intent “to array the workingmen against the President upon the negro suffrage question,” with whose “position the workingmen, as such, have nothing to do.” It regards it as “wicked to thrust this negro question—this brand not cooled—into the councils of the workingmen;” and can only see in our course “an over-zeal in the cause, or a wicked betrayal of it to politicians.”68
As the Union’s sentiments are doubtless shared by many honest workingmen, our rejoinder must be somewhat extended. The editor of the Union calls our arguments for negro suffrage “specious,” but we submit to the judgment of all intelligent friends of the movement that the following is sound reasoning. The negroes, by emancipation, enter into the field of free labor, and become competitors with white workingmen. They must therefore, on the principles of the workingmen’s movement, be elevated to the intelligence and rights which white workingmen enjoy, so they can co-operate with them, or they will operate against them by underworking. To secure that elevation the right of suffrage is indispensable. Freedom is secured only by freedom. Tyrants fancy their security—they certainly have no other—lies in enslaving the world; but freemen are secure only when all are free. The terrible lesson which this nation has had of the cankering effects of slavery upon the liberties of the country, nearly accomplishing its destruction, should forever set at rest the question whether freedom is safe in the midst of slavery. If the workingmen have learned anything, it is that there can be no hope of their success but in union—the union of all who labor; and that intelligence is the first requisite to success. How mad and suicidal, then, to hold up one hand for the degradation of the negro, while the other is raised for the elevation of the white laborer. Capital knows no difference between white and black laborers; and labor cannot make any, without undermining its own platform and terring down the walls of its defence.
The Union says: “The question of manhood or negro suffrage is a purely political question, and one which, at this time, is perhaps the principal if not the only question that divides the people politically. Therefore, to adopt it either way into the creed of the workingmen is practically to commit the workingmen to the controlling influences of the political party whose fold they thus enter.” The Union’s objection arises from a misapprehension of our position; and owing to the same misapprehension we are charged by it with inconsistency. We hold now, as we did before the election, that the workingmen must cease to act with the old parties entirely, and be a party of themselves. We take this ground, because the workingmen have a distinct issue to present, and because there is absolutely no hope for them while they continue to act with the present political parties. The most ruinous war upon the workingmen’s interests has been carried on through the enginery of the political parties, which are controlled by capital. The workingmen must come out from those parties entirely, now and forever. But it does not follow that they must forsake a principle because it happens to be held by either of the parties. The conductors of this paper feel it their duty to contend that the workingmen should urge upon Congress some measures of relief to the people from the unjust burdens of the national debt. This is a part of the platform of the Democratic party. Do we therefore go over to the Democrats? No. Neither do we go over to the Republicans by advocating negro suffrage.
But the Union doubtless thinks that the old prejudice against the negro, still existing in the minds of workingmen will cause enstrangement and division in our ranks, if negro suffrage is agitated. We would certainly be tender of people’s prejudices; but, as we have shown, we are engaged in a great work, in which the question of negro or manhood suffrage—of universal freedom—of consistent democracy—is fundamental and vital. We must teach truth—we must walk in the light, or we are sure to stumble and come short of our aim.
These workingmen have profited very little by the lessons of the movement who have not learned that their views are likely to be modified by future experience. To all of us the workingmen’s movement is a school, in which the great subject of Man and his Relations is to be unfolded. In entering this school, we cut away from old authorities, and lay our ear close to nature for instruction; and in seeking the new way, which leads through the rubbish of old dogmas to labor’s elevation—we can allow no old shackles of prejudice to fetter us.
We should, indeed, present a figure nothing less than ridiculous, contending for great principles on pigmy party platforms,—demanding reform of the nation, and not willing to reform ourselves—professing to teach, and too stupid to learn—arising to depart out of Egypt, and carrying all its idols with us!
The Union charges us with hostility to President Johnson, because we said that he was “in favor of leaving to the negro-hating white population of the Southern States the whole question of what shall be the condition of the negro in those States,” and, alluding to the party which opposed negro suffrage, added emphatically, “no workingman should be found with that party.”
We have to reply to this that we are not opposed to men, but to principles. In the course of President Johnson there is much to commend, and we shall be as heartily glad as any one if it shall prove that we have misjudged him on this suffrage question. But believing as we do that the full recognition of the rights of all men is essential to the success of the cause of American labor, as a faithful and advocate of its cause we are bound to condemn that policy which would degrade any class of men, whoever endorses it. We hope the Union will take the same ground.
The Union says, “With the President’s position on that question we believe the workingmen, as such, have nothing to do.” The workingmen “as such” are mere workingmen—machinists, bricklayers, shoemakers, &ct. They do not take part in public questions “as such”—as workingmen—but as citizens; and as citizens, they have as much to do with the question of suffrage and the President’s position upon it, as any other citizens.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, January 12, 1866.
We call attention to our readers (and all workingmen) to the following report of the meeting of Carpenters and Joiners Local Union No. 4, Charlestown, Massachusetts.
Address of H. B. Roys, President of Local Union No. 4
“In our Boston Union, we have two colored gentlemen, as good workmen as stood in Boston. They both worked for one man, and when their boss learned that they were about to join the Carpenters’ Union, he went to one of them and said, ‘Billy, I hear you are going to join that Carpenters’ Union.’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Well, you had better keep away from there; and if you do join, I shall have no more work for you, although you have worked for me thirteen years.’ ‘Well,’ said Billy, ‘I guess I might as well pick up my tools now as at any other time, for I shall join the Union.’ The boss wished him to keep to work, and he would think of the matter. He went to the other one, with the same result. Both gentlemen joined the Union, and the boss is thinking of the matter yet, they suppose, as they have heard nothing from him.”
Would that all workingmen would memorize the following testimony of the distinguished labor reformer, Ira Steward of the Machinists’ Union, before the Massachusetts Legislative Committee:
“The brotherhood of labor is universal, and embraces all classes of workingmen of every degree and color. The wages of one man must bear some relation to the wages of every other or the employer would hire the cheapest labor.”
Boston Daily Evening Voice, March 21, 1866.
By George E. Davenport
Who would the rights of manhood claim Should yield them unto others;
For in God’s eyes we’re all the same, One common band of brothers.
What signifies our birth, our race, Our pride, or lofty station?
Or e’en the color of our face, All men, of every nation,
Thro’ heaven’s justice at their birth Co-equal rights inherit
And none may claim superior worth, Save by superior merit.
All alike, or poor, or rich, Beneath the light of heaven,
One right possess in common which, By God to them was given.
The right to freedom, justice, too, To work out their salvation;
The right untrammeled to pursue Their highest aspiration.
And aim to live our fellow-men In manhood’s scales still higher.
No ban, or race, or creed, but free As air is to mankind,
Let all the rights of manhood be As a just God designed.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, March 21, 1866.
The New Orleans Tribune (edited by colored men) have an article on the Eight-Hour system in its issue of February 11, in which, while it cordially endorses the movement, it very modestly and dispassionately criticises the course of the Workingmen’s Central Committee of New Orleans (representing eleven different trades), which excludes colored men from membership of the associations represented. With the irresistible force of truth the Tribune asks:
“How will you get justice, if you yourselves are unjust to your fellow-laborers? You address Congress in these words: “Gentlemen, we have been wronged up to this time; we have been made to labor like beasts of burden without any regard to the immortal part of our nature. Give us redress. Give us justice; we want justice for us alone. We don’t care if you perpetuate the wrong upon others; do with them as you please. We think for ourselves only; we do not speak for the sake of justice, for in that case we would speak for all; but we only think of ourselves.”
The Tribune points out—what should be apparent to every workingman—that if Congress should pass an eight-hour law discriminating on account of color, white labor would be at a discount, because black labor would be opposed to it, being obliged in self-defense to underbid it.
We copy another paragraph:
“Not only there is something wrong to make so noble a move subservient to prejudice and to political purposes, but there is a perfect inconsistency in such a course. Why! let us take for instance, tailors. All, or nearly all, the important shops of this city belong to colored men. So that this Committee says to the public: “we are too good to associate WITH colored fellow laborers,” when, at the same time, everybody knows that they do not find themselves too good to work UNDER colored employers! These colored employers control the tailor’s trade in NEW ORLEANS. You accept colored men for bosses, and you would oppose them as fellow laborers! Be consistent before all.”
Boston Daily Evening Voice, March 30, 1866.
The Washington correspondent of the Post says of the Southern negroes: An immigration society is suggested here to transplant to the manufacturing localities of New England some two or three thousand of the more able-bodied and see if they cannot, in the land of schools, be taught to read and write. The aim it is said, is to lower the price of labor. An influx of colored girls to Lowell is suggested for the inception of the scheme. They have the undoubted right to go where they please, and the means to be provided for locomotion, it is said, will not be wanting.
This is just what such papers as the Post would like to see; and it is just what we shall see if the negroes are not to have the rights of citizenship at the South. They will come North as competitors in the labor market with the Northern workingmen and workingwomen. It behooves the laboring classes to see to it that they defeat those who are about to act against the interests of all laborers, black and white,—by proscriptive legislation at the South. If they wish to come North, they have the right; but they prefer to live South, and they should not be compelled to exile themselves.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, April 3, 1866.
Mr. Ira Steward, President of the Grand Eight-Hour League of Massachusetts, on seeing in our paper an extract from an editorial in the New Orleans Tribune (a paper edited by colored men), and being struck by its admirable sentiments, addressed to the editors a pithy letter which is published in the Tribune on the 22d ult., with introductory editorial remarks. Both the editorial introduction and the letter of Mr. Steward are well worthy to be transferred to these columns; but are too long for the space we have to spare.69
The remarks of the editor of the Tribune, however, embody some facts which we cannot dispense with. He says the Tribune is the only paper in New Orleans that has spoken in favor of the Eight-Hour System, yet the paper is repudiated by the eight-hour men of the Crescent City, because its editors will not bind themselves to limit the claim to the white workingmen. They therefore patronize only the Bee, the Times, and other papers that denounce them.
The Tribune continues:
“They (the white workingmen) want something right for themselves, but for themselves only, exclusively; and they imagine that a man can get justice when he says: “for justice’s sake do justice to me; but, above all, do not do justice to my neighbor.”
“Is not this a strange blindness? As the President of the Massachusetts Grand League says in his communication, the policy of the bosses in the Southern States is to put one class of workingmen against the other; and as long as they can do that they feel secure. Those among our laboring population who favor the “white eight hour movement” will soon learn it to their own cost.
We already hear that the bricklayers have some experience on that matter. The white bricklayers had a strike for higher wages—for “white wages” only. Very well. The colored bricklayers, who are excluded from the benevolent associations continue to work, and the white men saw that they were about to be entirely dispensed with. They call on this very day, a general meeting of bricklayers, without distinction, at Economy Hall, at noon. And we hope that the colored bricklayers, before entering into any movement with their white companions, will demand, as a preliminary measure, to be admitted into the benevolent and other societies which are in existence among white bricklayers. As peers, they may all come to an understanding and act in common.
But should the white bricklayers intend to use their colored comrades as tools, and simply to remove the stumbling block they now find in their way, without any guaranty for the future, we would say to our colored brethren: keep aloof, go back to your work, and insist upon being recognized as men and equals before you do anything.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, May 7, 1866.
(The following was written several weeks ago, and has been crowded out:)
Under this head the Detroit Union takes us up on a charge of violating our “expressed determination not to allude again” to the subject of negro suffrage. The violation of which we are charged consisted in taking notice of an article of its own on toadyism to English nobility,—which it very justly considered “unbecoming in a people whose laws recognize no distinction of birth or blood,”—and just calling attention, as we did in five or six lines, to the inconsistency on its part of ignoring the human rights of the colored man.
Now we never meant to “express” any such “determination,” are nearly sure we did not; but if we did we hasten to “take it back.” We only meant to discontinue what we perceived to be a fruitless discussion with the Union, knowing that the more you argue against a man’s prejudices the more prejudiced he becomes; and wishing to save to the labor cause what there was to save of one who seemed to be zealous and efficient, we forbore to overwhelm him with arguments, rather leaving him to his reflections. We thought, innocently enough, when, some time afterwards, we saw him blowing the aforesaid pretty bubble that if we just touched it with the point of our pen the instant evanishing of his bright creation might set him to reasoning on cause and effect.
But it didn’t and the Union comes down upon us in the most pugnacious style. If we had space we would copy the whole of its effusion, which we think would be considered decidedly rich.
It charges us with advocating suffrage for the negro, but never “intimating the remotest desire that it should be extended to white females,” or Indians, or foreign born residents. Well, as this is a serious charge, we will answer seriously, that it is because we were not called upon to do so—the question not being up for discussion. If it will help the Union any, we will say that we are for equal and impartial freedom and right without distinction of sex or color. But one thing at a time. The work now before the country is the reconstruction of the States which were in the rebellion; and the success of the working men’s cause depends upon the right settlement of the vital questions involved in that work. So we think.
The Union goes on:
“The iron molders of Troy may starve on their strike; the engineers of the Michigan Southern road may be crushed under the heels of that giant monopoly; little white children eight years of age may blister the tender skin upon their infantile hands in the cotton mills of Massachusetts, upon the pittance of $2.50 per week at eleven hours a day toil, under its very nose. All these things, as the columns of the DAILY VOICE prove, day by day, are secondary considerations to that paper. They occupy the obscure corners—the back seats of the VOICE, just as the colored population of Massachusetts occupy the back seats, or no seats at all, in the churches where the cotton-lords—the white child killers, assemble to worship God!”
We copy this just to show the absurdity of the charge. There is not a paper in the country which contains as much labor matter, or whose editorials on this subject have been so widely circulated by the labor press. Probably each daily issue of the VOICE contains more matter on the subject than a whole week’s issue of the Union.
Here is a piece of logic which was not learned in the schools. The Union exclaims:
“Human rights, indeed! What are they? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Temperance conduces to happiness. [We cannot quote the whole paragraph. The writer goes on to say that] intemperance is a vice which causes tenfold more misery and crime than would the eternal deprivation of suffrage to the negro; and yet the Boston VOICE beholds with complacency (a misstatement) the onward march of this grand wrong.”
The idea of making temperance one of the “inalienable rights” of the Declaration will strike the reader, we think.
After delivering itself of the above confused conception, we are prepared to hear in the next sentence such a ridiculous utterance as this:
“While we are bound to defend and maintain every right to which [any man, white or black] is entitled as a workingman, we have nothing to do with his political status or his social privileges.”
It might be interesting to read a statement from the Union of what it considers “every right” of the workingman “as a workingman,” without hinging upon “political status or social privileges.”
But the reader will be hardly prepared to see the Union flatly contradict itself a sentence or two further on, as follows:
“We would elevate labor while we would level aristocracy. The extremes of society should be discouraged by every true American.”
Yet the Union has “nothing to do” with the workingman’s “political status or social privileges!”
It is due to the Union to say that it is not accustomed to get so far astray from logic and common sense—an aberration which is sure to happen in any man’s case who undertakes to exalt democratic principles with one hand and spurn the negro with the other. Colorphobia is indeed a terrible malady.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, May 14, 1866.
A telegraphic despatch to a morning paper says:
“The white Irish workmen engaged in clearing out the canal which runs through Washington, who have been working on the eight hour plan, and who are expected to vote for the re-election of Mayor Wallack, stuck today for higher pay. A gang of colored men promptly took their places, but the white men refused to permit them to work and began to pelt them with stones. The police came, arrested the ringleaders and locked them up, after which the colored men shoveled away away unmolested.”
We don’t like that,—the most of it, perhaps none of it. We believe eight are enough hours per day for any man to work at clearing the filth from a canal; and if the Workmen were getting insufficient wages they were justified in striking. But we don’t like the idea of other laborers, white or colored, taking their places after they had struck, and we don’t like the pelting measure. The strike was badly managed. Henceforth let there be an understanding between all laborers, white and black, that the employer cannot play off the one class against the other. This will be much more for the interest of both classes than either underworking or pelting each other.
The Eight Hour men of Washington have nominated H. N. Easby as their candidate for Mayor. We wish every laboring man in the city could have the privilege of voting for him.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, May 15, 1866.
We long ago warned the workingmen of the country that this could not be, or that the attempt would be suicide to their cause. This is too obvious to require argument; and yet almost everywhere we find workingmen insane as to oppose the elevation of the colored laborers. In doing this they oppose their own.
The other day we recorded one fact calculated to open the eyes of this class of people. Here are two more. The first is, that
The laborers strike in St. Louis—which included both the white and colored laborers—has resulted in success.
The second is thus reported:
“The Eight-Hour League of the New Orleans workingmen rigidly excludes negroes from membership. The black laborers were equally in favor of short time, but were denied cooperation. The whites recently struck without notifying the colored men, and were much disgusted the next day at finding their places filled by Africans.”
We notice that the Boston Herald copies this statement this morning, obviously for the purpose of exciting hatred of the negro in the mind of its thoughtless readers. We copy it for another purpose—that of teaching an important practical lesson to our thoughtful readers.
How many kicks like that which the workingmen of New Orleans have received will be required to give them the hint that they cannot ignore the stubborn fact that the colored labor of the country is henceforth in competition with the white; and if the white will not lift the colored up, the colored will drag the white down?
Boston Daily Evening Voice, May 21, 1866.
We should judge by the appearance of the blacks now on the work that some of them were recently arrived from the South, and rather green at Northern work. The boss builder told us he paid them the same as he had paid the white men, and to our question whether they proved as capable hands he said he could not tell without further trial; but he should given them a pretty thorough trial before he hired Irishmen again. Irishmen should make a dispassionate note of this, and learn that when they strike against colored men, they do not hurt the colored men, but themselves only.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, August 17, 1866.
Over eighty woolen and calico mills are at present being built in Georgia. They are to be run on the fourteen-hour rule, and are to compete with the factories of the North. We ask the operatives in our New England mills, will your hours of labor ever be reduced, while you are forced to compete with men, women and children who work fourteen hours a day? Nay, will you not be obliged to work more hours than you do even now? We pray you to see to it that those Southern mills be not worked by serfs and the children of serfs. If they shall be, you have not yourselves so many political privileges but that you shall certainly work for serf’s wages.
What must be done?
The answer is an obvious as the question—by maintaining the rights of labor, South as well as North. The already degraded colored population of the South may easily be subjected to the hardes exactions of capital, and capital will not be slow to avail itself of its opportunity. Doubtless cheap labor is one of the allurements to these enterprises. The fact here given should flash upon every mind the truth of the universal brotherhood of labor.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, August 22, 1866.
This peculiar disease, confined entirely to the white race, is of quite modern origin, nothing being recorded of it in history. About twenty-five years since it assumed its most malignant type, and was then first named and its symptoms described by that eminent practitioner, Nataniel P. Rogers. His specific for it was liberal doses of “Herald of Freedom,” taken once a week,—this being as often as the patient could bear the remedy, which was very powerful,—though the malady yielded, but slowly even to such treatment. Other physicians treated the disease with equal judgment, using similar medicines, though under different names. A very eminent doctor persistently prescribed “Liberator,” another styled his searching preparations, Speeches; another, Songs. The present manifestations of the disease requiring a modification of the treatment, some of the once favorite remedies have been discontinued. It is believed the disease is dying out, many portions of the country being quite free from it; though we occasionally hear of very desperate cases. But these are in remote and out of the way places, where the moral diet is gross, and the people have not been served by enlightened physicians.70
These brief notes naturally slipped from our pen as we laid down the Detroit Daily Union, after the perusal of two articles devoted to the VOICE and the Republican party and the colored representatives; and concluding as follows: “We put the question, therefore, to the Boston VOICE directly, and shall respectfully request an answer,—Is John Morrissey as worthy of the suffrages of the workingmen of New York as the negroes it extols are of the workingmen of Massachusetts?”71
If we had space we would let our readers see both the articles of the Union. They reveal a clear case of color-phobia, and we are sorry; for the Union would be a very useful paper if it could be cured. But we have already tried our hand, and the poor sufferer refuses to take our medicine. He does not get any better; rather worse, we fear. Alack-a-day!
We mean no disrespect for the editor of the Union; he has got a bad disorder, and we could not help being amused at the antics it makes him perform, even if he were our own father. We will, however, put a sober face and answer his question.
First, it is necessary to the reader’s understanding to explain that the Union thinks the VOICE a Republican (!) paper (the Republicans here believe anything but that); and in its article to which this question is appended it quotes two passages;—one from the VOICE rejoicing over the election of the colored men, and the other from the Cincinnati Times (a Republican journal), relating to the election of John Morrissey, of whom, and whose election, and the Democratic party, it spoke in terms which did not please the Union. The Union,—strangely enough, we think,—speaks of John Morrissey’s election as “a triumph” of the workingman of New York. “He was,” says this paper, “a poor, hard-working boy, an iron moulder by trade—and it is but a few years since he was enabled to leave the shop and live upon his income.” His history is well known to be that of a pugilist and a gambler. “His income” is the plunderings of the “faro-bank;” and because he was originally a moulder, the Union thinks he may be regarded as a workingman and that his election is a matter of rejoicing.
Now we would not do injustice to Mr. Morrissey. He says in a card published previous to the election that he wishes to reform, and we are willing he should have a chance,—as well as the rest of the plunderers and pugilists who go to Congress, but have been cunning or dishonest enough to pursue their trade in a “respectable” way. And indeed we have more hope of Morrissey’s reformation than of theirs. He has always done his wickedness openly, and proved that he has honor and generosity which are noble traits. These are our sentiments of Mr. Morrissey.
With the colored gentlemen elected in Boston to the State Legislature we are not acquainted; but they are highly spoken of by those who know them. They are from the ranks of labor, and will hold up their hands for labor reform. There is no fear that they will do discredit to the white or the black race, and therefore, being workingmen, they are certainly worthy of workingmen’s support. The Union will see that the mere accident of color is of no account with us. We believe
“A man’s a man for a’ that.”
If the Union is not directly answered, we think the nut is cracked, and we leave it to pick out the meat.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, November 17, 1866.
Whoever spurns his fellow man
Because of his color, race, or creed
And places him beneath a ban,
Is guilty of a wrong indeed.
Boston Daily Evening Voice, September 2, 1867.