Illinois Anti-Conspiracy Laws Of the Nineteenth Century
The White City displayed technological and architectural wonders of the age. Building designs also celebrated the past as Greek, Roman, and Baroque styles permeated the landscape. It was a commemoration of both old and new, of how classical trends might interact with visionary advancements. Visitors from around the world marveled at "what a city, a real society might look like."
But outside the exposition lay a deep, nagging problem. It was, in fact, a stark contradiction to that which the fair represented. The fair may have stood for progress and advancement, but at what cost? Following the beginning of the Civil War, Illinois experienced several major incidents of labor upheaval: violence during coal-miner strikes in 1863; the eight-hour movement and strike of 1867; the massive strike for the eight-hour day in 1873; the great railroad strike of 1877; the Haymarket Riot of 1886; and the Pullman Strike in 1894. Several of these outbreaks resulted in the Illinois legislature cracking down on labor, often harshly As Howard Barton Myers writes about its labor history, "Chicago is an excellent city in which to make a study of the various methods for maintaining order or punishing violations of law in industrial disputes." To Alan Trachtenberg, "The Pullman strike, its burning railroad cars, and the path of ugly violence it traced through Chicago, seems the most dramatic external instance of history playing tricks on the White City What starker contradiction than the strike and the themes of the Fair?" It is the focus of this article to examine the reactions of the Illinois legislature to the often violent labor disputes that took place during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Each piece of subsequent labor legislation had its own means of administration. For example, coal mining fell under several organizations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics oversaw inspection, the State Mining Board handled the licensing of inspectors, and a Mine Rescue Commission was entrusted to deal with emergencies. The Child Labor Law of 1903 placed enforcement with school authorities. Factory inspection did not have its own department until 1907.
Chicago labor history of the late nineteenth century is usually identified with two major events: the Haymarket Riot and the Pullman Strike. In both cases some form of official legal action was the end result, and with long-lasting effects. In the case of Pullman, the injunction issued against the workers would continue to haunt labor for decades to come. There were certainly, however, other events that influenced the legal and political landscape.
Before Haymarket and Pullman, the first attempt at regulation, due to a bitter conflict, came in 1863 with the LaSalle Black Law. A progression of strikes in the coal mines of LaSalle, Illinois, accompanied by violence, prompted the General Assembly to legislative action. The result was a four-section document imposing severe restrictions on labor activities, of which only two sections applied to coal mining.
The LaSalle Black Law remained on the books well into the twentieth century. There was an interesting case in 1937 in which workers staged a sitdown strike. The strike was prosecuted in the courts under the LaSalle Black law. As with prior Illinois labor legislation, enforcement was not uniform, and a few individuals were convicted under the act, while some were not. Enforcement of these laws, as with many of the other labor laws, was subjected to the whims of the courts, police, and the agency who had jurisdiction, all of whom might have had their own, and conflicting, interpretation. The mere presence of the law, though, was sometimes enough to curb some activities, or to inspire others as the pro-labor forces argued for its repeal.
More was to come to convince the Illinois legislature to monitor the activities of labor. The one great event was the Haymarket Riot. On May 1,1886, forty thousand workers struck, demanding ten hours pay for eight hours of work. Two days later, at the McCormick Reaper Works, where relations between labor and management were already at a fever pitch, police gunfire killed several strikers. August Spies and several other revolutionaries and anarchists called for a demonstration at Haymarket Square, which was just immediately west of downtown Chicago, to protest against police brutality and the killings. The crowd included the charismatic and popular Chicago mayor Carter Harrison, a man openly in favor of the rights of labor. At 10:30 p.m., just after Harrison departed the meeting satisfied with the peaceful environment, police moved in and attempted to break up the meeting. Suddenly a dynamite bomb was thrown, resulting in the deaths of seven policemen and starting a full scale riot during which many others were shot to death. Although many have tried to determine the identity of the bomb thrower, historians still lack a definitive answer.
After the ensuing riot and arrests, eight individuals stood accused of conspiracy and murder. Although several of the accused were not even present at Haymarket, their reputation as anarchists, with ties to the movement, made them suspect. The highly controversial trial resulted in guilty verdicts for all eight. Four of the defendants were put to death by hanging, one committed suicide in his jail cell, and the sentences of the others were commuted to life
in prison. A few years later, and in calmer times, Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld pardoned the three surviving men. As, however, Donald Miller points out, "Haymarket almost destroyed Carter Harrison's political career," and not just from those frightened by the upsurge of radicalism. Many laborers felt Harrison "could not protect their rights as strongly as he once had." As for others, they looked towards the state legislature for additional assurances that society would be protected.
Legal actions taken in the wake of Haymarket are certainly some of the most influential in Chicago history. The Illinois legislature responded to the incident at Haymarket with two separate acts in 1887. The passage of the Cole Anti-Boycott and the Merritt Conspiracy laws blamed labor for the violent incident, and the two laws were created to make sure such events would not happen again.
Labor regarded the boycott as a powerful yet non-violent method of exerting economic pressure against unfair employers. In 1886 Illinois labor conducted at least fifty boycotts, one of the most successful being against specific goods produced by prison labor. Employers, however, always opposed the use of the boycott and searched for ways to curb it. The opportunity for anti-labor forces to strike against this practice came about in the year after Haymarket. The Cole Anti-Boycott law stated that "if two or more persons conspired together or the officers or executive committee of any society or organization uttered or issued any circular or edict instructing its members to institute a boycott or blacklist, they shall be deemed guilty of conspiracy." The penalties for violating this law included imprisonment for up to five years, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.
While labor's foes used the Cole Anti-Boycott law as the perfect chance to strike at one of labor's strongest weapons, the Merritt Conspiracy law was a more direct result of Haymarket. A great outcry against the violence called for quick action, especially against labor organizations. Each of this law's four sections aimed to keep a firm grip on any potentially destructive behavior.
The major problem facing the prosecution at the Haymarket Trial was proving not only that any of the accused threw the bomb, but also that their statements provoked the explosion. Judge Joseph E. Gary held that these connections need not be proven. This formed the basis of the law, and, according to Earl Beckner, "the phase of the Merritt Bill which organized labor opposed most strenuously." In fact, supporters of the bill "not only showed that it was based upon well-founded principles of law, but that it was libel to say it was a struggle between capital on one hand and labor on the other."
Section One of the Merritt law provided that if two or more persons should conspire to do an unlawful act, dangerous to human life or property, each party should be held liable for whatever offense any of the other conspirators might do. Section Two said that any person who encouraged, through any means of communication, other persons to commit any act of resistance to law should be deemed guilty of having conspired with those actually committing the crime. Furthermore, the prosecution did not need to prove that actual communication to the perpetrator took place. Section Three somewhat reiterated Section One by claiming that all persons connected with a conspiracy were to be deemed guilty of the crime committed by either or any of them, even though the time and place of the crime was not agreed upon. Section Four provided that it was not necessary to prove that the conspirators on trial ever met and entered into an agreement. It would be sufficient proof if it appeared the parties were working together.
The law was not passed without a fight. One of the oppositions to the bill in the legislature was that "the measure wiped out the legal presumption of innocence that had always been given to accused persons under the law. ..." according to the Chicago Tribune on May 5, 1887. The Chicago Times reported heated debates, especially in the Senate, where one senator believed that bill opponents "were alarmed beyond the necessity of the case. It was nothing against which any good citizen could complain." Another senator, however, argued "for the right of the laboring classes to organize to protect themselves," and "cautioned the senate to go slow in its efforts to take from the people the rights guaranteed to them."
The Chicago Tribune added much fuel to the fire. In keeping with a great deal of popular sentiment at the time, the paper placed clear blame on the radical sector, splitting the responsibility for society's ills evenly between the socialists and anarchists, although it appeared at times that the Tribune did not know the difference between the two groups. To the Tribune, society was just fine without these "wild-eyed orators" who were "urging the rank and file to the commission of crime." The Tribune claimed that the "Conspiracy bill is a merciful measure; it will tend to check lawless schemes at the outset," and that the law would
The Merritt Conspiracy law did not have a long life. The Illinois legislature repealed the act in 1891, although not without a great deal of dissension. The Cole Anti-Boycott law, however, lasted into the twentieth century, even though its effects were greatly modified by a series of amendments in 1919 and 1947, and by court decisions. This is not to imply that the boycott issue was watered down. On the contrary, the right to boycott, whether directly or as a secondary boycott, remained an important legal issue for the labor movement into the twentieth century. As Henry Kraus wrote to Congress in 1908, "Now, what do workmen do when they boycott? They tell their friends, they tell their neighbors, they tell their fellows citizens of the hard or degrading terms imposed by the boycotted person or firm; and they ask these friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens, to assist in ameliorating these hard or degrading terms of employment imposed by the boycotted persons."
Less than ten years after Haymarket, Chicago faced another controversy involving disgruntled workers. Labor relations at the Pullman Palace Car Company fell to an all-time low in the early months of 1894. With the country already in a state of economic depression, workers at Pullman faced layoffs and wage cuts, with no relief in the prices of life's necessities, nor in the rents they paid to their boss for the privilege of living in "his" town. On June 21, under the direction of the newly organized American Railway Union (ARU) led by Eugene Debs, workers began a boycott of Pullman cars. The strike spread rapidly, and within two weeks the Middle West's railroad system was shut down.
The railroad owners turned to President Grover Cleveland, who, according to Jeremy Brecher, was "more than happy to use the force of the U.S. government to crush the strike." Cleveland, completely ignoring Governor Altgeld's protests, sent in federal troops to restore order, protect stockbrokers, safeguard the mails and interstate commerce, and whom the Chicago police would not protect. But there was no need to "restore order," as Debs and the ARU conducted a peaceful strike. Upon the arrival of federal troops, violence soon broke out with the firing of shots and the burning of railroad cars. On July 2 a federal court issued an injunction forbidding interference with the mails or interstate commerce. Debs ignored the injunction, continued the strike, and was promptly jailed for contempt of court. The conflict resulted with the loss of the strike and the demise of the ARU.
Governor Altgeld's outrage at the incident prompted him to issue a public statement in 1895 about the injunction and the treatment of Debs. In lambasting any judge who issued an injunction against labor, Altgeld said this person "can legislate for himself, and having done so can then turn around and arrest and imprison as many people as he pleases; not for violating any law, but on the mere pretext that they had disregarded his injunction, and, mark you, they are not tried by a jury according to the forms of law, but by the same judge who issued the ukase ...." Labor echoed these sentiments well into the twentieth century and battled the use of the injunction for decades to come.
The legal aftershocks of Pullman were undoubtedly much greater, for the widespread use of the labor injunction began with this historic strike. This was certainly not the first time the injunction was used against organized labor, but it became the most influential. When Debs was jailed for contempt of court, he appealed to the United States Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that the injunction was illegal. The court upheld the injunction, holding that federal judges have an inherent equitable power to assist the government in putting down dangerous labor conspiracies that threaten interstate commerce. Thereafter both state and federal judges used injunctions as a powerful weapon to restrain union activities. The decision reserved the right for the government, whether local or national, to use the injunction to restrain union activities in the future.
Haymarket and Pullman therefore left both short-and long-term effects on the Chicago
Haymarket and Pullman did much to hurt the Chicago labor movement and the labor movement as a whole. Although groups like the Illinois State Federation of Labor hoped to promote the interests of labor in an orderly and "democratic" fashion, it could do little to dispel the vision of labor upheaval present in so many minds. The United Labor Party hoped to promote a similar agenda, and in similar fashion, but a simple reference to Haymarket could do more to damage the movement than the efforts of the most docile speaker.
What exactly is there to be learned from these events? We know all too well the fear and paranoia that many felt towards a growing labor movement. The presence of foreigners, who were distrusted in the first place, and the allegedly evil ideologies they endorsed and brought to America-anarchism, socialism, communism-were enough to convince many of the need to protect property, American liberties, and society as a whole. Were these laws necessary and did their passage have the intended effects? To look at it from the viewpoint of industry, and government, as well as society as a whole, there was clearly a problem that needed to be addressed. Unless the government stepped in, violence related to labor activities would only possibly become worse. To the pro-labor forces, the laws did nothing to try to ascertain the root of these problems, merely blaming the working class for society's ills instead of trying to figure out just what was going on. As many of labor's advocates would point out time and again, how many of those fighting for these laws were workers and understood their plight?
Was there, however, that much misunderstanding on both sides? Was one either actively pro- or anti-labor? Certainly many concerned citizens wished to see an end to the strife, but they did not quite understand the nature of the problem or what would be the best solution. Many, however, did see the inherent problems and worked to alleviate them. The police force was not always willing to rush into a labor problem with clubs, nor did all judges instantly rule against labor activities. Judges often ruled against businesses who unfairly controlled the marketplace, and, as noted above, the police were not willing to protect the strikebreakers at Pullman. Perhaps the "misunderstandings" stem from what people believed constituted a free marketplace and what was in the public's best interest to ensure that the marketplace ran smoothly.
The Cole and LaSalle laws lasted into the the twentieth century although their strengths greatly diminished. Merritt was shot down fairly quickly, and what was left over in the wake of these acts were ill feelings from both sides. Still it was obvious that the labor forces were taking an even greater interest in law and politics. Many groups, such as the State Federation and later the Chicago Federation of Labor, wanted to influence labor legislation not due to violent incidents, but because such laws would be good for society as a whole. It was not difficult, though, for vehmently anti-labor forces to arouse fear and suspicion, often referring back to the Haymarket incident to try and turn public opinion against a growing labor movement.
These laws essentially struck at words, how to use words, how to understand words, the responsibility of using words, and when words might be considered dangerous. When placed next to the grandeur of the White City and all its glory, the incidents and laws they inspired, and the ideas represented in the laws, we see a society that was still learning to cope with the challenges and changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution.
In truth, White City with its technological advances and architectural designs concealed
something sinister behind the classical Greco-Roman facades. As a person can't judge a book by its cover alone, so history students need to be alert to viewing what Carl Gustavson in his book Preface to History refers to as "tenacious reality."
The reality of the time shows archaic labor laws, dangerous social attitudes, and the potential for violence lurking behind the glittering buildings of a World's Fair that tried to highlight progress. However, progress, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.
Connection with the Curriculum
Materials for Each Student
Objectives for Each Student
Opening the Lesson
Next explain to the class how important a World's Fair was to a city. Compare and/or contrast its importance to hosting a modern day Olympic event.
Students are now ready to individually or as a group read the narrative section of this article. Conduct a guided discussion. Look at the content closely. Show students how the surface appearance of events can conceal other events of far greater social importance and magnitude.
Developing the Lesson
A concept map is a graphical representation of someone's mental model of a topic. It is a method that reveals how we think in the form of a picture. Lines indicating how concepts are related connect ideas or concepts to each other. When finished these lines will often take on the appearance of a spider web.
In Activity 1, I present my concept map of the idea of labor unions. You will be able to visualize my thought pattern and "see" how I am thinking. Added excitement of the map comes after it is shared with others in the class and a discussion centers around how each student paints his conceptual picture and why.
Activity 2 is structured around a famous poem by Vachel Lindsay, who became nationally recognized. He was in the vanguard of modern poetry. His poems are noted for unusual rhythms, rhymes, and structure. He often is portrayed as a people's poet who speaks eloquently for the downtrodden in society. In the poem "The Eagle That Is Forgotten," students will understand who the heroes and villains were in the labor strife that gripped the country as the nineteenth century was coming to a close.
Activity 3 is geared to motivate students to become involved in a freewheeling discussion. What happened yesterday is old news-or is it? This exercise will provoke students to take stands on the issue of who has a right to strike in today's society.
Concluding the Lesson
Extending the Lesson
Another field trip option could include a visit to the home of Vachel Lindsay in Springfield. The home is now a state historic site. It is open for guided tours Tuesday through Saturday. Phone (217) 524-0901 for additional information.
Finally take a virtual field trip to http://www.pullman.org/town.htm. This site offers viewers illustrations, photos, timelines, a brief narrative and links to other related online sites for information.
Assessing the Lesson
Start by placing the key concept (in this example it is Labor Unions) in the center of the page. Next think of related concepts and begin writing them down. Some possibilities could include the following: strikes, boycotts, scabs, pickets, violence, law breakers, protests, police action, sit-down strikes, blacklists, radicals, lawyers, injunctions, trials, fines, jail, etc.
Everyone is likely to come up with different ideas. That is just fine and acceptable. There isn't one correct concept map. This becomes an exercise in divergent/convergent thinking. There perhaps will be noticeable differences between student maps or perhaps only shades of difference. Pair off students in small groups and allow them to compare/contrast their maps. This will encourage discussion as they talk with each other to better understand other perspectives. Here is how my map on Labor Unions would look.
Your map can grow by adding more terms and linking them to each other and to the previous terms already on the map. It would be possible to construct a collective class map by combing individual student ideas and arriving at a group map. A concept map can be used in a variety of ways to encourage discussion.
THE EAGLE THAT IS FORGOTTEN
(John P. Altgeld, b. December 30, 1847; d. March 12, 1902)
Sleep softly ... eagle forgotten ... under the stone.
'We have buried him now,' thought your foes, and in secret
The others that mourned you in silence and terror and truth,
Where are those lovers of yours, on what name do they call
Sleep softly,... eagle forgotten,... under the stone,
After reading the poem answer the following questions that are designed to enhance an understanding of the poet's message, style, and technique. This poem should be read aloud to the class after students have read it silently.
1. What is important about the symbolism of the eagle?
Don't be fooled. Placing the birth and death dates of John P. Altgeld in parenthesis is not accidental. It actually draws us closer to the man.
1. Who is John P. Altgeld?
1. What will happen to the eagle?
1. Who are the others?
1. Who are the lovers of yours?
4. Is this the same eagle referred to in Stanza One?
A good poem transcends mere facts. It captures feelings, emotions, and penetrates into the human heart. Lindsay's poem can also be analyzed in its remarkable ability to touch us; even today after so much time has passed from the event that triggered Lindsay to write it.
8. Why are certain key phrases repeated?
The broken line below represents a continuum, ranging from an absolute right to strike, at one end, to no strike rights at all, at the other end. Below this continuum line is a list of occupations. Indicate, by putting the letter of the occupation at a point on the continuum at the degree to which you think each occupation's right to strike should be limited.
Come prepared to defend your position for each occupational group.