The Gilded Age, Populist and Progressive Era Reading Group

Chapter 18 – The Wages of Capitalism :: American Colossus by H.W. Brands

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “As a starting point for a new education at fifty- five years old, the shock of finding oneself suspended, for several months, over the edge of bankruptcy, without knowing how one got there, or how to get away, is to be strongly recommended.”
  • “The more he saw of it the less he understood it. He was quite sure that nobody understood it much better. Blindly some very powerful energy was at work, doing something that nobody wanted done.”
  • “On July 5 union sympathizers at Bellevue, Pennsylvania, not far from Homestead, reported the arrival by train of the Pinkerton men, who boarded two barges for the final approach to Homestead. Before the barges came within sight of the plant, the workers had spread the alarm. An informal militia of workers raced to the waterfront below the plant, and as the barges, propelled by a tug, drew near, the workers opened fire.”
  • “Some of the workers tossed sticks of dynamite at the barges; these effected little damage to the steel craft but seriously dented the Pinkertons’ morale. Another group of workers pumped hundreds of gallons of oil into the river upstream from the barges and attempted to set it alight as it drifted down. But the fuel wouldn’t catch. Still another group improved on the incendiary idea, commandeering a raft, filling it with oily refuse, setting it ablaze, and pushing it downstream toward the barges. This variant came close to succeeding, but the current redirected the fiery vessel at the last moment and spared the Pinkertons from roasting.”
  • “The corporation is everything and everywhere,” a journalist from Pittsburgh recorded. “The corporation trims your lawn and attends to your trees; the corporation sweeps your street, and sends a man around to pick up every cigar stump, every bit of paper, every straw or leaf; the corporation puts two barrels in your back yard, one for ashes and one for refuse of the kitchen; the corporation has the ashes and refuse hauled away.… The corporation does practically everything but sweep your room and make your bed, and the corporation expects you to enjoy it and hold your tongue.”

  • “The forces of labor must unite,” he told the second annual meeting of the ARU in June 1894. “The dividing lines must grow dimmer day by day until they become imperceptible, and then labor’s hosts, marshaled under one conquering banner, shall march together, vote together, and fight together, until working men shall receive and enjoy all the fruits of their toil. Then will our country be truly and grandly free, and its institutions as secure and enduring as the eternal mountains.”
  • “While the boycott is ostensibly declared as a demonstration of sympathy in behalf of the strikers in the Pullman shops it in reality will be a struggle between the greatest and most powerful railroad labor organization and the entire railroad capital.”
  • “A strike is essentially a conspiracy to extort by violence … Whatever other doctrine may be asserted by reckless agitators, it must ever be the duty of the courts, in the protection of society, and in the execution of the laws of the land, to condemn, prevent, and punish all such unlawful conspiracies and combinations.”
  • “The first shot fired by the regular soldiers at the mobs here will be the signal for a civil war I believe this as firmly as I believe in the ultimate success of our course. Bloodshed will follow, and ninety percent of the people of the United States will be arrayed against the other ten percent.”
  • “From this moving mass of shouting rioters squads of a dozen or two departed, running toward the yards with fire brands in their hands. They looked in the gloaming like specters, their lighted torches bobbing about like will-o’-the-wisps. Soon from all parts of the yard flames shot up and billows of fire rolled over the cars, covering them with the red glow of destruction.… It was pandemonium let loose, the fire leaping along for miles and the men and women dancing with frenzy. It was a mad scene where riot became wanton and men and women became drunk on their excesses.”
  • “When a body of 100,000 men lay down their implements of labor, not because their rights have been invaded, but because the bread has been taken from the mouths of their fellows, we have no right to say they are criminals. It is difficult for us to place ourselves in the position of others, but this Court should endeavor to do so and should realize that the petitioners in this case are representatives of the great laboring element of this country, upon which this country must so largely depend for its safety, prosperity, and progress.”
  • “Every detail of the proceedings was stamped with the effort on the part of the prosecutor to make a mountain out of a mole hill”

Thought Questions

  • In what ways was the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago significant for the United States?
  • What did The World’s Columbian Exposition symbolize about the United States
  • Describe the “battle of the currents”
  • Describe the symbolism in the following: “Millet and his crews devised a novel method of applying the mixture of white lead and oil— through hoses and nozzles from tanks pressurized by air. The “whitewash gang,” Burnham called them, and their spray equipment, even while launching a revolution in the painting industry, finished the Chicago job with just hours to spare.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Many visitors got their first direct appreciation of standard time zones (adopted by American railroads during the 1880s) by observing the fair clocks, which were connected electrically to the Naval Observatory in Washington, an hour ahead of Chicago. George Ferris’s giant wheel wasn’t finished when the fair began, but its size and shape drew gasps nonetheless.”
  • What was the significance of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890
  • What was the significance of the National Cordage Company
  • Describe the American economy in the early 1890s, the Panic of 1893 and the ensuing depression
  • In what ways had time changed banking and the currency issue
  • Describe the Haymarket riot of 1886 and its significance on organized labor
  • Who was Henry Clay Frick
  • Compare and Contrast: Pinkertons and working men
  • Explain and Expand: Pinkertons and working men
  • Explain and Expand: “The union leaders were right to be concerned about a loss of popular sympathy.”
  • Explain and Expand: “George Pullman was a paternalist, but before that he was a capitalist”
  • Who was Eugene V. Debs and what role did he have in the American Railway Union?
  • Compare and Contrast: American workers with the railroads, financial resources, federal government, public opinion.
  • Explain and Expand: “Combinations of workingmen to promote their interests, promote their welfare, and increase their pay if you please, to get their fair share in the division of production, are not affected in the slightest degree, nor can they be included in the words or intent of the bill,”
  • React and Respond: “President Cleveland directed Nelson Miles, still the commander of the Western army, to deploy federal troops against the strikers.”
  • Explain and Expand: “The troop deployment made the tense situation explosive. General Miles was as determined to crush this labor rebellion as he had been to crush the Ghost Dancers.”
  • Who was Jacob Coxey
  • Explain and Expand: “If Jacob Coxey had known either more or less about economics he might have agreed.”
  • Describe the arrival of Coxey’s Army in Washington D.C.
  • Explain and Expand: “The Western Coxeyites never got anywhere near Washington.”

Primary Sources

Articles and Resources

Further Reading