Capital Location. For Permanent Seat, Martinsburg. Election, Tuesday, Aug. 7th, 1877

This July 24, 1877 editorial from the Martinsburg Statesman downplays the extent of the riot, stresses the dignity of the strikers convictions, and portrays the officers of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as stubborn and tone-deaf in the face of the strikers' reasonable requests.

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As we anticipated the strike on the B. & O. railroad, and the unwarranted connecting of it with Martinsburg, has given the jealous enemies of our city the opportunity of defamation, which like vultures that have been quick to seize upon, scrupling not to add falsehood to their otherwise defamatory reports regarding the B. & O. railroad strike. Notably among those outside the State are the whole batch of Baltimore papers, the Richmond Dispatch and Philadelphia Ledger, The latter says:

"Martinsburg is perhaps, committing commercial suicide by her failure to do her duty in suppressing the railroad mob there, and by the aid and comfort a considerable portion of her population are giving to the obstruction of and destruction to the business of the Baltimore &Ohio railroad, and to the thousands of persons whose goods and merchandise are now blockaded before that lawless town."

It may surprise the Ledger, but it is nevertheless ture, that nothing approaching a riot has taken place, unless the unwise and hasty action of Governor Matthews in ordering out the military was a riot. We assure the Ledger, that from the moment the disturbance commenced between the B. & O. railroad company and its employees, there has not been any disturbance of the peace in contemplation of law with the exception of the unfortunate wounding of two men, one a soldier and the other a railroad hand, which was more the result of excitement than that of a predetermined purpose to commit a breach of the peace. In all the consequent excitement, and even this kept within proper bounds, not a pin's point of the company's property has been disturbed or destroyed, nor that of any individual citizen. At no time has there been threats of violence to persons or property, and not an hour, day or night, when the most timid persons feared to pass the streets or along the line of the road; and it is a notable fact that the strikers in taking off from the engines those who volunteered to run them, have done it in great good humor, and without danger to life or limb. Will the Ledger do the people of Martinsburg the justice to make the proper correction?

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Upon the arrival of the federal troops it was vainly imagined that the strikers would instantly cower, but these starving men, without a morsel of food passing their lips for forty-eight hours preceding, were made of sterner stuff; they did not falter nor quail in face of the dangers hedging them around. "I might as well die by the bullet as to starve to death by inches," said a stalwart and determined striker in our hearing, and this was the animating motive of these brave but oppressed men.

As we have said the B. & O. R. R. Company have constantly defied the very laws, whose protection they seek. Again and again has private property been wantonly destroyed along the line of its road and when but meager compensation has been demanded it has been refused.—When the authorities of the State have demanded the taxes assessed upon the property of the railroad it has refused payment and openly defied collection; and to this open defiance of the laws they have added the insult of the attempted seduction of members of the legislature of the State by free passes and by direct offers of other immunities. Such has been the notorious history of this Corporation in its dealings with our State and people, contemptuously overriding all processes of the State government. Its whole course has been marked by supreme contempt for private rights and persistent defiance of laws regulating its franchises. Whilst therefore we are bound to say this much in justification of the oppressed employees, we do not approve of the course pursued by them to obtain justice at the hands of the Company. They should have first set forth in a calm address their grievances, asking the Company to do them at least a modicum of justice. If then the Company had turned a deaf ear to their appeal, notification might have followed the refusal, that upon a certain day work would cease, and relying upon their dire necessities for justification, but with no desire to interrupt trade or travel, they would protest to the bitter end against supercession. The Company could have then cast the balance sheet, between the continued employment of skilled labor at fair living prices and that of picking up hands here rand there, to supercede them. It is most probable that the railroad authorities under the circumstances would have consented to an amicable compromise; at all events such a course would have greatly assisted the down trodden and oppressed employees in obtaining the object sought.

Again the obvious consequences arising from the hasty action of Gov. Matthews are far more serious than might be supposed. If the soil of West Virginia is to be made the battle ground between a foreign railroad corporation and its employees—if the peace of the State is to depend upon the good understanding existing between the employer and the employed; if the channels of business and the course of trade are to be interrupted, communities disordered and defamed, the lives of peaceable citizens imperiled—if in a word the highways extending through the State's domain, belonging to foreign corporations, can be turned into an armed camp for U.S. soldiers, and the counties contiguous placed under martial law, then we may as well bid farewell to local civil government and attaché ourselves as provinces, subject to the dictation and rule of any foreign mercenary possessed of money sufficient to purchase enough of our territory to lay down the track of a railroad or fence in it as a corporate inheritance. To such ignoble conditions—through the action of the Chief Executive of the State has its sovereign citizens been brought to.

About this Document

  • Source: Martinsburg Statesman
  • Date: July 24, 1877