Outside Opinion

This article from the July 24, 1877 issue of the Pittsburgh Daily Post includes the opinions of two New York newspapers, noting the repercussions mob violence may have on railroad companies and workers, as well as how they believe the public should understand the causes of the uprising.

The New York Press on Mob Rule in Pittsburgh.
The Lessons they Draw for Strikers and Others.

The Herald of Sunday morning published a three column crude and imperfect account of the riot on Saturday night. "The Sheriff Slain" is one of its headlines and its latest dispatches are as follows:

Midnight. - Sheriff Fife's dead body has just been brought in from the Outer depot.

Major General Pearson is badly wounded.

Editorially, the Herald discusses the question at length and with ability. Here is a point made that all will appreciate:

This state of things gives us a glimpse of some very unpleasant possibilities that underly [sic] our ordinary tranquility. It seems to indicate that nearly everything is better organized in this country than the power that is nominally authorized to preserve order and protect property. In the presence of great combinations of men the ordinary police is useless, the militia is uncertain by natural sympathy with the disturbers and because it fires in a spirit of panic, and ere the force of the general government can be brought to bear the trouble may reach such proportions that the revolt could defy the fore of the United States; for our little army the Indian wars and the danger on the frontier leave a disposable remainder too small to deal with the resistance of all that might make common cause with the strikers by reason of sympathy in the uprising against what they call the "tyranny of capital." Another unpleasant disclosure is that the railway, the most important instrument of modern commerce, may at any moment be lost to the traffic of the country by a dispute over wages pushed to extremes through a passionate caprice or sense of wrong on one side, or by a heartless greed on the other. There are dangers that may readily be exaggerated in any statement of the possibilities of collision between labor and capital, but that seem to have a certain grave, reality in view of the experience of the past few days.

Treating of the reduction of wages as a necessary result of the shrinkage in value the Herald continues:

It is very likely that in the name of a necessary and inevitable reduction, the pay for useful labor of the greatest importance has been reduced to the starvation point. Railway companies are the most likely to have practised [sic] this kind of villany. They are administrations in which there is no sympathy for the laborer, for the good old reason that corporations have no souls. It is not to be supposed that institutions which have been the centres of the most gigantic invasions of the rights of persons known to the age would hesitate to trample down their poor employes [sic] if they believed them to be helpless. Engineers, brakemen and firemen have had ample experience of the spirit in which their companies were disposed to deal with them, and that experience has inspired their organizations for mutual support and defence [sic] . These organizations are their instinctive effort to help them selves, and have given to the disputes over wages in the railway interest an importance not attained by similar disputes in any other interest. These combinations are more systematic, logical and effective than any previously made by strikers. They are quite unlike the rude devices of mill hands as indeed might have been expected; for railway men are insensibly drilled into a consciousness of method and co-operation, and perceive more readily than any other men the importance of unity of action and the means of securing it.

But, the Herald argues, considerations enter into a railroad strike affecting the general public, that do not appear in ordinary conflicts for wages:

The commodity produced by a railroad company is the swift and certain transportation of persons and goods through a given district; and the arrest of that production is a grievous injury to a large class of persons who are not involved in any way whatever in the wrong, real or supposed, that has been done to the laborers. If railroad men only refuse their services the responsibility would fall upon the company of continuing the traffic; but if they refuse to labor and resist, with violence, the operation of the roads, endeavor to drive away by intimidation men who are ready to take their places, then, in a foolish assertion of their own case, they make open war upon the interests of the people at large and they can only expect that an intelligent public opinion will protest against their acts.


The World of Saturday, before the riot had assumed such formidable proportions, discussed the question of wages with considerable force and clearness. We quote: If the wages the railroad companies offer are all they can afford to pay, that can be made to appear to the satisfaction of the men unless the men are dunces. If they are, and if, after a clear exposition of the case, they insist upon losing their wages altogether for a time, and going to work finally at the wages at which they might have worked steadily, or if they choose to go into permanent idleness and ultimately to the devil, that is their own look out. But it is a human duty as well as a piece of business prudence to give them or their representatives a clear and full explanation, and we have not observed that the managers of the roads which are in trouble have done that. There is a great deal of nonsense in the newspapers about the heartlessness of the strikers in choosing inconvenient seasons for striking, as if a man bent upon coercing his employer by all lawful means would choose to strike under circumstances which would relieve his employer of all embarrassment. One newspaper has made itself conspicuous by observing that "these gatherings," presumably of strikers, "are illegal and ought to be dispersed." If they are the Constitution of the United States, which protect [sic] them, is also "illegal." The duty of governments, national and local; and of good citizens, in this as in all other strikes, is single and ample. It is to keep hands off, so far as the strike is concerned, and leave the question to be settled by the parties to it in the only practicable way; but to stop at once and punish with extreme severity all violence, intimidation, threats and other unlawful expedience - all "hitting below the belt" in the contest which is left to be settled in this foolish and wasteful way. The men who "strike" are not to be punished by the law for "striking;" which is a piece of ignorance and folly and punishes itself; but they are to be punished if they attempt to reinforce their ignorance and folly by crimes against public order.

The World of Sunday, after pointing out to workingmen that they are in reality the great sufferers by this mob violence has its say to citizens, who in reality working men are yet the capitalists or men of substance. It says:

These classes should consider how far this crisis is the result of the national demoralization of the last ten years, and make up their minds that the suppression of the present riot will be of little avail unless it is followed by a new growth of habits of industry and economy, and by a general revival of the sentiment of reverence for law, honesty and justice. Society has been in a sort of intoxication ever since the civil war [sic] began, and its awakening to sobriety again is naturally accompanied with weakness and tribulation. For years cool observers preached the dangers of reckless issues of irredeemable paper money and, were laughed at for their pains; but the day of reckoning came and brought a financial revolution from which the business interests of the country have not yet recovered. For years such observers urged the necessity of preserving a reverence not merely for the spirit of the law but for the very forms, of it, and they were called Bourbons and croakers for their pains. Constitutions were set aside, courts tampered with, statutes made and unmade, governments overturned by troops. The administration of justice was corrupted, and the example of appealing to violence to gain an end was set in high places and approved by partizan [sic] prejudices.

If we recognize these social disturbances as a natural result of the passions and follies of the war and of the turbulent time which have succeeded it, we can deal with them more effectually because more intelligently[?]. They must be faced as we have faced the financial panic; and the elements which make them dangerous must be so dealt with and destroyed as to insure the country against any rekindling of them in our times.

About this Document

  • Source: The Daily Post
  • Date: July 24, 1877