Pictures and Illustrations.
Address to the Laboring Men of Chicago.
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:
You are to be congratulated on the success of your celebration.
Two great demonstrations in Chicago alone are vying with each other in honoring Labor Day. These vast assemblages represent sturdy manhood and womanhood. They represent honest toil of every kind, and they represent strong patriotism and desirable citizenship. The law has set apart this day in recognition of the nobility of labor, and as the Governor of this great State, I have come to pay homage to that force which lays the foundation of empires, which builds cities, builds
341railroads, develops agriculture, supports schools, founds industries, creates commerce, and moves the world. It is wisely directed labor that has made our country the greatest ever known, and has made Chicago the wonder of mankind. I say wisely directed labor; for without wise direction labor is fruitless. The pointing out and the doing are inseparably connected. More than this, ahead of the directing there must go the genius which originates and conceives, the genius which takes the risk and moves a league forward. All three are necessary to each other. Weaken either, and there are clouds in the sky. Destroy either, and the hammer of industry ceases to be heard. Glance over this majestic city, see its workshops, its warehouses, its commercial palaces, its office temples, and the thousand other structures that show the possibilities of human achievement and tell who did all this. You say the laboring men; yes, that is correct; but I tell you that if the gods keep a record of our doings, they have set down the men who originated all this, and then dared to make a forward step in building, as among the greatest of laborers. We are at present in the midst of a great industrial and commercial depression. Industry is nearly at a stand-still all over the earth. The consumptive power, or rather the purchasing power, of the world has been interfered with, producing not only a derangement but a paralysis, not only stopping further production, but preventing the proper distribution of what there is already created; so that we have the anomalous spectacle of abundant food products on the one hand, and hungry men without bread on the other. Abundant fabrics on the one hand, and industrious, frugal men going half clad on the other. Employer and employe are affected alike.
There are thousands of honest, industrious and frugal men who walk the streets all day in search of work, and even bread, and there are many hundreds of the most enterprising employers who sweat by day and walk the floor by night trying to devise means to keep the sheriff away from the establishment. You are not responsible for this condition. Men here and in Europe, who call themselves statesmen, have inaugurated policies of which this is a natural result. Considering the increase in population, the increase in the industries and commercial activity of the world, as well as the increased area over which business was done, there has in recent years been a practical reduction in the volume of the money of the world of from thirty-three to forty per cent., and there had of necessity to follow a shrinkage in to value of property to a corresponding extent. This has been going on for a number of years, and as it has progressed it has become harder and harder for the debtor to meet his obligations. For the
342value of his property kept falling while his debt did not fall. Consequently, every little while a lot of debtors, who could no longer stand the strain, succumbed. The result was that each time there was a flurry in financial circles. By degrees these failures became more frequent, until finally people who had money took alarm, and withdrew it from circulation. This precipitated a panic and with it a harvest of bankruptcy. No doubt there were secondary causes that contributed, but this one cause was sufficient to create the distress that we see. If for some years to come there should not be sufficient blood in the industrial and commercial world to make affairs healthy, then you must console yourselves with the thought that our country, with all the other great nations, has been placed on a narrow gold basis, and you will not be troubled with any of these cheap dollars that the big newspapers claim you did not want. The present depression, resulting from a lack of ready money in the world, shows how indispensable capital is to labor — all the wheels of industry stand still the moment it is withdrawn. It also shows that while the interests of the employer and the employe may be antagonistic on the subject of wages, they are the same in every other respect; neither can do anything without the other — certain it is that the employe cannot prosper unless the employer does. On the other hand, if the purchasing power of the employe is destroyed, the employer must soon be without a market for his goods. The great American market was due to the purchasing power of the laboring classes. If this should in the end be destroyed it will change entirely the character of our institutions. Whenever our laboring classes are reduced to a condition where they can buy only a few coarse articles of food and clothing, then our glory will have departed. Still another thing has been made more clear than before, and that is, that the employers, as a rule, are not great capitalists of the country. As a rule, they are enterprising men who borrow idle capital, and put it to some use, and whenever they are suddenly called on to pay up and are not able to borrow elsewhere, they are obliged to shut down.
There are many advanced thinkers who look forward to a new industrial system that shall be an improvement on the present, and under which the laborer shall come nearer getting his share of the benefits resulting from invention and machinery, than under the present system. All lovers of their kind would hail such a system with joy. But we are forced to say that it is not yet at hand. As we must have bread and must have clothing, we are obliged to cling to the old system for the present, and probably for a long time to come, until the foundations can be laid for a better one by intelligent progress,
343Classes like individuals, have their bright and their dark days, and just now there seems to be a long dark day ahead of you. It will be a day of suffering and distress, and I must say to you there seems to be no way of escaping it, and I therefore counsel you to face it squarely and bear it with that heroism and fortitude with which an American citizen should face and bear calamity. It has been suggested that the State and different branches of government should furnish employment during the winter to idle men. Certainly everything that can be done in this line will be done, but I must warn you not to expect too much from this source. The powers of government are so hedged about with constitutional provisions that much cannot be done. The State at present has no work to do. The parks can employ only a few men. The city has work for more men, but it is also limited in its funds. The great drainage canal may, and probably will, give employment to a considerable number of men, but, after all, you must recognize that these things will be only in the nature of makeshifts; only to tide over; only to keep men and their families from starving. And on this point let me say it will be the duty of all public officials to see to it that no man is permitted to starve on the soil of Illinois, and provision will be made to that end. But all this is temporary. The laborer must look to ways and means that are permanent for the improvement of his condition when the panic is over, and these measures must be along the line of and in harmony with the institutions of this century, and must move by a gradual and steady development. Nothing that is violently done is of permanent advantage to the working man. He can only prosper when his labor is in demand, and his labor can be in demand only when his employer prospers and there is nothing to interfere with consumption.
The world has been slow to accord labor its due. For thousands of years pillage, plunder and organized robbery, called warfare, were honorable pursuits, and the man who toiled, in order that all might live, was despised. In the flight of time, it was but yesterday that the labor of the earth was driven with the lash, and either sold on the block like cattle, or tied by an invisible chain to the soil, and was forbidden to even wander outside his parish. In the yesterday of time, even the employers of labor were despised. The men who conducted great industries, who carried on commerce, who practiced the useful arts, the men who made the earth habitable, were looked down upon by a class that considered it honorable to rob the toiler of his bread, a class which, while possessing the pride of the eagle, had only the character of the vulture. Great has been the development since then. This century brought upon its wings higher ideas, more of
344truth and more of common sense, and it announced to mankind the he is honorable who creates; that he should be despised who can only consume; that he is the benefactor of the race who gives it an addtional thought, an additional flower, an additional loaf of bread, an additional comfort; and he is a curse to his kind who tramples down what others build, or, without compensation, devours what others create. The century brought with it still greater things. Not only did it lift the employer to a position of honor, influence and power, but it tore away parish boundaries, it cut the chains of the serf, it burned the auction block, where the laborer and his children were sold; and it brought ideas; it taught the laboring man to extend his hand to his fellow laborer; it taught him to organize, and not only to read but to investigate, to inquire, to discuss, to consider and to look ahead; so that today, the laborer and his cause, at least theoretically, command the homeage of all civilized men, and the greatest States in Christendom have set apart a day to be annually observed as a holiday in honor of labor.
The children of Israel were forty years in marching from the bondage of Egypt to the freer atmosphere of Palestine, and a halo of glory envelops their history. In the last forty years the children of Toil have made a forward march which is greater than any ever made in the wilderness. True, the land is not conquered. You have simply camped upon that higher plane where you can more clearly see the difficulties of the past, and where, in the end, you may hope for a higher justice and a happier condition for yourselves and your children, but a great deal remains to be done. In a sense, you are just out of the wilderness. You ask, along what lines, then, shall we proceed when the times get better in order to improve our condition? I answer, along lines which harmonize, not only with nature's laws, but with the laws of the land. Occupying, as I do, a position which makes me in a sense a conservator of all interests and classes, I desire to see the harmonious prosperity of all; and let me say to you that, until all the active interests of the land prosper again, there can be no general demand for your services, and, consequently, no healthy prosperity. What I wish to point out is the absolute necessity of each class or interest being able to take care of itself in the fierce struggle for existence. You have not yet fully reached this state. In the industrial world, as well as in the political world, only those forces survive which can maintain themselves, and which are so concentrated that their influence is immediately and directly felt. A scattered force, no matter how great, is of no account in the sharp contests of the age. This is an age of concentration. Everywhere there is concentration
345and combination of capital and of those factors which to-day rule the world. The formation of corporations has greatly accelerated this movement, and no matter what is said about it, whether we approve it or not, it is the characteristic feature of our civilization, and grows out of increased invention, the speedy communication between different parts of the world, and the great industrial generalship and enterprise of the time. It is questionable whether this tendency to combination could have been stopped in any way. It is certain, without this concentration of force, the gigantic achievements of our times would have been an impossibility. Combination and concentration are the masters of the age. Let the laborer learn from this and act accordingly. Fault-finding and idle complaint are useless. Great forces, like great rivers, cannot be stopped. You must be able to fight your own battles For the laborer to stand single-handed before giant combinations of power means annihilation. The world gives only when it is obliged to, and respects only those who compel its respect.
Government was created by power and has always been controlled by power. Do not imagine that it is sufficient if you have justice and equity on your side, for the earth is covered with the graves of justice and equity that failed to receive recognition, because there was no influence or force to compel it, and it will be so until the millennium. Whenever you demonstrate that you are an active, concentrated power, moving along lawful lines, then you will be felt in government. Until then you will not. This is an age of law as well as of force, and no force succeeds that does not move along legal lines. The laboring men of the world always have been, and are to-day, the support and principal reliance of the government. They support its flags in time of war, and their hands earn the taxes in time of peace. Their voice is for fair play, and no great government was ever destroyed by the laboring classes. Treason and rebellion never originated with them, out always came from the opposite source. Early in our history there occurred what was called Shay's rebellion, but they were not wage-workers who created it. Then came the so-called whisky rebellion, created not by day laborers. During the war of 1812, a convention was held in the East which practically advocated a dissolution of the Union, but wage-workers were not among its members. The great rebellion of 1861 was not fomented by the laboring classes, but by those classes which ate the bread that others toiled for. It was a rebellion by those who had long been prominent as leaders, who largely controlled the wealth of the country, who boasted of aristocratic society and many of whom had been educated at the expense of the
346country whose flag they fired on. While, on the other hand, the great armies which put down this rebellion and supported the flag were composed of men who had literally earned their bread by the sweat of their brows. It is true that at times a number of laborers, more or less ignorant, who thought they were being robbed of the fruits of their toil, have indulged in rioting; and, while they have always lost by it, and while they cannot be too severely condemned, yet they do not stand alone in this condemnation, for there have been many broadcloth mobs in this country and in different sections of it, whose actions were lawless and as disgraceful as that of any labor mob that ever assembled. I must congratulate organized labor upon its freedom from turbulence. Rioting is nearly always by an ignorant class outside of all organizations, and which, in most cases, was brought into the community by conscienceless men to defeat organized labor. There should be a law compelling a man who brings this class of people into our midst to give bond for their support and their good behavior, for at present they are simply a disturbing element. They threaten the peace of society and bring reproach on the cause of labor. The lesson I wish to impress upon you is that in business, in the industries, in government, everywhere, only those interests and forces survive that can maintain themselves along legal lines, and if you permanently improve your condition it must be by intelligently and patriotically standing together all over the country. Every plan must fail unless you do this.
At present you are to a great extent yet a scattered force, sufficiently powerful, if collected, to make yourselves heard and felt; to secure, not only a fair hearing, but a fair decision of all questions. Unite this power and you will be independent; leave it scattered and you will fail. Organization is the result of education as well as an educator. Let all the men of America who toil with their hands once stand together and no more complaints will be heard about unfair treatment. The progress of labor in the future must be along the line of patriotic association, not simply in localities, but everywhere. And let me caution you that every act of violence is a hindrance to your progress. There will be men among you ready to commit it. They are your enemies. There will be sneaks and Judas Iscariots in your ranks, who will for a mere pittance act as spies and try to incite some of the more hot-headed of your number to deeds of violence, in order that these reptiles may get the credit of exposing you. They are your enemies. Cast them out of your ranks. Remember that any permanent prosperity must be based upon intelligence and upon conditions which are permanent. And let me say to you again, in conclusion:
This fall and this winter will be a trying time to you. The record of the laborers of the earth is one of patriotism. They have maintained the government, they have maintained the schools and churches, and it behooves you now to face the hardships that are upon you and see that your cause is not injured by grave indiscretions. Make the ignorant understand that government is strong and that life and property will be protected and law and order will be maintained, and that, while the day is dark now, the future will place the laborer in a more exalted position than he has ever occupied.
Specimens of Newspaper Comment on Above Speech.
"Words fitly spoken are like apples of gold in pictures of silver." And nowhere of late have such words been spoken with more force and with promise of more good effect than by Governor Altgeld, at Chicago, on Labor Day.
Governor Altgeld, at that meeting, was emphatically the right man in the right place. Not because of his official rank, though it was entirely proper, under existing circumstances in Chicago, that the Governor of Illinois should be there. It is, however, as a citizen of Chicago, elected to high office by the votes of its workingmen, who believe in and trust him as they do no other man, that John P could be most effective on such an occasion.
He has the demagogue's opportunity. He could easily have fallen in with the schemes of those who propose to use the State as a means of relief. Instead of this, having in mind the constitutional limitations of the powers of the State, he pointed out the impossibility of such a plan. He held before his hearers no illusory hopes or promises, but while insisting that it was the duty of society to assist them, he pointed out the necessity of sacrifice and courage on their own part.
The mutual dependence upon each other, of labor and capital, met with clear and forcible treatment at the Governor's hands. The argument is somewhat trite, but is usually without effect because made by men who have no sympathy with labor, in answer to other men equally without sympathy with capital, who declare eternal war between the two elements. In the hands of Governor Altgeld, talking to the Chicago workingmen, the argument becomes effective. When made in connection with a statement of the causes which have brought about
348present conditions and the things necessary to their betterment, it cannot fail to exert a deep and wholesome influence.
This speech is one of the most notable made since the beginning of hard times. In many respects it is more important than any which has been made at Washington. It required both courage and a high sense of duty to make it. Its influence is for good, and it should have wide circulation and acceptance. — St. Louis Republic, September, 7 1893.
Just as all sensible, patriotic citizens were shocked, and their sense of the duty and limits of the State Executive outraged, by Gov. Altgeld's famous fulmination pardoning the anarchists, so the same citizens should rejoice that within a few months he should give utterance to views upon the existing evil conditions of industries at once calm sound and fearless. Nothing is more remarkable about Governor Altgeld's address at Kuhn's Park, Labor Day, than its freedom from truckling demagogy.
If the laboring men looked for a fiery Mark Antony harangue, cattering to their discontent and dwelling upon the wrongs that labor suffers at the hands of capital, they must have been woefully disappointed. He faced the industrial situation as the Governor of the State of Illinois should, squarely and candidly. He told his hearers that if "there are thousands of honest, industrious and frugal men who walk the streets all day in search of work or even bread, there are many hundreds of the most enterprising employers who sweat all day and walk the floor by night trying to devise means to keep the sheriff away from the establishment." He counseled his hearers to face the situation like men, and endure the present hardships with "that heroism and fortitude with which an American citizen should face and bear calamity."
But the most important part of the Governor's speech was that in which he spoke of the government, as the creature and safeguard of the laboring men. He cautioned his hearers against every act of violence, that could only hinder their progress, and closed by a warning to the ignorant, that "government is strong, and that life and property will be protected and law and order will be maintained."
Such was the tenor of Governor Altgeld's speech to the representatives of that labor which has no affinity or sympathy with anarchy and violence. It was rendered all the more noteworthy by the fact that on the day of its delivery hundreds of pamphlets containing his incendiary message of pardon were being distributed through the mails from the "Executive Mansion, Springfield, Ill." Evidently the