Harper's Weekly Editorial—July 14, 1894

From Sketches by G. A. Coffin
The Principles—Pullman, Davis, Debs
Blockade Chicago & Northwestern RR
Marshall's Office—Chicage & Northwestern Round-House
Deputies at Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific RR
Headquarters of the Strikers
Police Guarding a Switch-Tower

At the Union Depot—Driving out an Engineer—Drawing Spikes from Switches
Blockade at Grand Crossing—Largest Railway Crossing in the World

A POWERFUL conspiracy is at work over large sections of the country striving to subvert the government of law and to impose on the nation the decrees of the conspirators. Its chiefs are open and defiant in declaring their purpose; they are already supported and obeyed by two hundred thousand misguided men, and other hundreds of thousands are wavering in their allegiance to the republic, and seem ready to join the rebels if any weakness is shown or mistake made by the authorities whom the people have intrusted with their protection. EUGENE V. DEBS and his fellow-demagogues long ago avowed that they would unite in an association the railway working-men of the country, so that all should obey a single will, promising that them a general suspension of traffic and intercourse ordered by its head would so evidently portend the utter ruin of the nation that the mere threat of it would extort from every community and every employer of labor compliance with its demands. They have prosecuted this plan with wonderful vigor, until now, believing that their organization is strong enough to defy opposition, they have made a wanton display of their power, in order to terrorize society and show themselves its masters. There is no longer even the empty pretext, with which the PULLMAN boycott began, of a wrong done to somebody which the public were to be forced to force somebody else to redress. The avowed aim of the American Railway Union, with its allies, the Knights of Labor and kindred associations, is to subjugate the people of the United States, to extort from the nation the control and management of its high ways, intercourse, and commerce, and place them in the hands of irresponsible imitators of JACK CADE and PERKIN WARBECK.

Much hair-splitting has been done in discussing the lawfulness of the course pursued by the managers of this so-called "strike." Their boast from the first was that they would stop all traffic, and extort their demands by the consequent general suffering. In pursuance of this end they took the measures which were best adapted to secure it. They distinctly announced their purposes, and then "called out" one after another of the bodies of working-men whose services are most essential. But the number of unemployed and unorganized laborers was so great that the mere cessation of work by the members of the unions would not suffice. Their places could be filled in a short time by men in extreme need of employment. Throughout the region of the strike, accordingly, the followers of DEBS began a systematic effort to carry out his declared policy and to obey his implied orders. They established a reign of terror over their fellow-workers who were unwilling to join them, or who, because they and their families were starving could not afford to forego their wages. No man must be permitted to do the work they had abandoned. On every line of railroad affected by the strike violence was used or threatened to any extent which was necessary to obstruct it. Property was destroyed and life imperiled without scruple. The general situation for several days, as recognized by the labor leaders and by the entire public, was one of open war, to the extent that the railroad companies were exerting all the means in their control to keep their lines open, with an ample force of willing workmen ready to serve them, while the strikers and their allies, including every disorderly and dangerous element of the population, confronted them at all points with force and prevented the movement of trains. Volunteer workmen were assaulted and injured, switches were turned, couplings detached and broken, station-houses burned, engines and cars destroyed, and in at least one case a committee appointed for the purpose by a meeting of union men made a destructive attack on railway property.

Through all this time DEBS and his fellow-councilmen continued to announce daily through the press that they countenance no violence, and to call on the men to exercise simply their individual right of refusing to work. This impudent falsehood is taken seriously by some journalists, whose credulity is too great to be sincere. No adult who has ever learned to read is so silly as to be imposed on by it. Yet when writers in daily journals assure the public that any interference with this conspiracy by the authorities is an extreme measure, that a "compromise" is desirable with the strikers, that, in particular, the use of force by the United States to prevent a commercial blockade is a questionable strain upon the constitutional powers of the government, it is time to give clear expression to the principles of public law applicable to this emergency, though not so much of special learning in the law as of simple candor and of the commonsense of mankind is needed to understand them.

The purpose of interfering with the trade and intercourse of the community is an unlawful purpose. When men combine to effect an unlawful purpose, even by acts each of which may be in itself no offence, they are guilty of conspiracy, and all who abet them, knowing their purpose, share the guilt. When the traffic with which they aim to interfere crosses State lines, the offence is against the general government, which has exclusive control of commerce between the States. When the methods pursued by these men are such that violence, disorder, the destruction of property and life, result from them as their natural and probable consequences, the men are themselves guilty of the crimes they have provoked, and caused. When an organized and armed body of men resist by force or threats the officers of the national government in their efforts to enforce the laws and to protect traffic which crosses State lines, they are guilty of levying war against the United States; and every one who instigates or abets them, by word or deed, lends aid and comfort to the enemies of the republic, and is, not only morally, but legally, a traitor to his country.

These are elementary and settled principles of the criminal law. It is the duty of the President to enforce them, and of all citizens to sustain him, and if need be to aid him in doing so to the extreme limit of their power, with their services, their fortunes, and their lives. He must use the force of the United States in this duty, beginning with the civil authorities, supporting them in case of need with the army, and if this be insufficient, calling out an adequate force of militia and volunteers. The issue is one which involves the existence of the government, and there has been no crisis in all our history the facts of which made a stronger appeal to the patriotism and intelligence of the people as a whole to make every necessary sacrifice for its preservation. The one duty of the hour is to crush the rebellion, to assert the right and the power of our free institutions to protect themselves against usurpation and anarchy.

But at this momentous crisis voices are heard in public office and in the press calling for compromise, arid protesting against the execution of the laws. The Mayor of Springfield encourages rioters to obstruct trains. The Mayor of Chicago, with half his "city fathers" at his heels, begs the community to yield to the intimidations of the mob. The Governor of Illinois, in the light of burning property and amid the howls of furious throngs bent on cutting off the food of his citizens and destroying their traffic, informs the President of the United States that interference by him with the people of Illinois is unjustifiable. While the traffic of his chief city is nearly stopped, and its streets and highways are occupied by an armed mob, who forcibly suppress every effort to transport passengers and freight, and sentence to death working-men who strive to earn honest wages, this anarchist solemnly asserts that "the law has been thoroughly executed, and, every man guilty of violating it during the Strike has been brought to justice." These words are applied by him literally to the great mining strike in the coal-fields of Illinois recently ended, but are cunningly so inserted in the despatch as to impress the reader with the belief that they are meant to be asserted of the present strike also. In fact, they are as false of the one as of the other. All these blatant demagogues are simply bidding for the votes of laboring-men whom they believe to be so deeply and permanently deluded that they will give political support to officers who have betrayed their trust. They will find out their mistake. The strike leaders themselves look with utter contempt on such shuffling imbecility.

The men in office who in critical times have won the lasting confidence of all the people, even of the stuff that the worst mobs are made of, are the men who have resisted every mob and all disorder to the death, and have asserted, without regard to the cost in money or in lives, the authority or orderly government.

The lesson of the supremacy of law must be taught promptly, effectually, and to all. If the first lesson must needs be given by the bayonet and the bullet, it will be in every way cheapest and best to administer it in the first clear case of resistance to authority. When order is restored, and it becomes an undisputed fact that any man wishing to do an honest day's work on a railroad or elsewhere shall be free to do so, in spite of DEBS and all his minions, it will be time enough to consider the other aspects of this great social disturbance. Crush the terrorism which forbids working-men to earn bread for their families, and soon the arrogant plot to stop the commerce of a nation in order to glorify and strengthen a few irresponsible demagogues will die out of itself. The normal course of the markets will be restored, the mails will go forward, industrious citizens can freely go out to their work and return to their homes, a hundred thousand families now suffering by the enforced idleness of their heads will again be properly fed, and all the countless wheels of commerce will cheerfully turn again. But, most important of all, the most serious menace which during this generation has been directed against the free society of this land will have ended in a failure so complete that it cannot be renewed. These events disclose a real danger to our institutions, and to civilization itself; but it lies only in this, that some public men, and even some journalists, are weak enough in mind and character to suggest a compromise with crime, a yielding of the majesty of law before the dictates of a mob. That way lies ruin. One step in that direction is a sacrifice of what makes the republic glorious in its past or worth preserving for its future. Until the rebellion is suppressed, all differences of opinion concerning its origin, or the merits of the parties to the dispute out of which it grew, are irrelevant to the issue of the hour, and must wait for the future.

Present action must clear the field for future discussion.

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