Document 1: "A Mild Mannered Crowd," New York Times, 2 May 1886, p. 2.

Document 1: "A Mild Mannered Crowd," New York Times, 2 May 1886, p. 2.


        May Day was the prototype for International Women's Day -- an occasion when parades and oratory demonstrated the power of working people. The first such May Day celebration in 1886, described here in the New York Times, drew together a diverse coalition that embraced different ethnicities, skilled as well as unskilled workers, trade unionists and socialists in support of the eight-hour day and other labor goals. This vivid description of a throng of 20,000 persons in Union Square, complete with police and pickpockets, conveys the vitality and the diversity of the labor movement. It also reveals the gendered composition of the torch-lit crowd, in which violence was expected between the demonstrators and the police, and women were not present.

Eight-Hour Day Parade, Chicago. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, September 16, 1882.
From: Kathryn Kish Sklar, Florence Kelley & the Nation's Work
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 107.




        Nearly 20,000 persons were at one time congregated in Union-square last evening, and probably 12,000 of them were directly interested in the eight-hour movement. About 600 police officers were visible to the naked eye and over 400 were hidden from view in the buildings surrounding the square. Not many blocks away 200 or 300 more officers might have been quickly called upon to take a hand in suppressing a riot if one had occurred. The evening passed riotlessly away, but that did not prove that the admirable police arrangements made by Superintendent Murray were unnecessary. He was in command of the blue-coated army, and his headquarters were on the plaza, near the stands which had been erected for the use of the orators, who tried to talk so as to be heard upon the right of a workingman to be employed eight hours and to receive a full day's pay for his services.

        There were 800 officers on the plaza, under the immediate command of Inspector Steers, and they were so stationed in line that they might have done terrific work if ordered to quell a disturbance. The other officers were so quartered that they might have surrounded at a moment's notice the whole body of workingmen there assembled. Inspector Dilks was in command of the men housed at No. 8 Union-square, and Inspector Byrnes was the commander at No. 52 Union-square. Officers from all the precincts south of One Hundred and Thirtieth-street were in the buildings surrounding the square, and the Morton House and Everett House were well garrisoned. Mr. Charles E. Vernam, proprietor of the Morton House, had a little army of his own prepared to repel an invasion.

        Police Captains Webb, Eakins, McCull[agh], (the young man,) McDonnell, Allaire, Hooker, Brogan, McCullagh, (the elder,) Clinchy, Ryan, Killilea, Berghold, Williams, Cortright, and Gastlin, and Sergeant Stewart, of the City Hall police, were on duty, with many Sergeants and roundsmen. Detective Sergeants and "fly cops" were scattered through the crowds, and officers in full uniform leaning from fourth and fifth story windows of stores and dwellings were interesting objects for the workingmen to contemplate.

        To the credit of the New-York workingmen, it was said that the only organization which troubled the police was that known as the sugar-house gang from the Eastern district of Brooklyn. When that body started from the other side of the East River they were accompanied to Union-square by New-York officers in civilians' dress, who were unknown to them. These officers were said to be brave and discreet men, who had been picked out by Inspector Byrnes for this duty. Many well known citizens who mingled with the crowds complimented Superindendent Murray upon the wisdom of his course in placing the men under his command where they would do the most good, as it was evident that a riot of great proportions might have been easily provoked by some of the fire-eaters who were bound to be in the gathering. But the fire-eaters were as mild mannered men, last evening, as any that ever enjoyed themselves on rollerskates. Whenever they had anything to say they looked about them in a wistful way, and every time saw long lines of police officers confronting them. When they started a cheer it soon died away.

        Although the mass meeting was announced for 8 o'clock, the crowds in the square began to gather an hour earlier, and at the time the orators reached the platforms on the plaza the gathering was in its fullest strength. It was generally estimated by persons used to viewing and figuring upon the numbers in large assemblages that about 20,000 persons, workingmen and spectators, were in attendance. Trades organizations, with torches, transparencies, Chinese lanterns, and bands of music, marched around the square and cheered when they passed the speakers' stands. They carried American, German, and French flags and a few banners, but red flags were not visible. Many men wore red and blue ribbons, but there were no other indications of Communism, and no shouts of "down with" anything or anybody. Nearly all of the transpar[e]ncies bore some reference to the hopes of the workingman that eight hours should be considered a fair day's labor. It was earnestly requested upon some of the transparencies that everybody should "boycott the Tribune," and that all cigars without the "blue label" should be shunned.[A] The names of manufacturers who persisted in making cigars without the blue label were emblazoned in a warning manner. The Third-avenue cars were not forgotten, and people generally were requested not to ride in them. There was no outburst of fury upon the part of any of the workingmen over their wrongs. The presence of the police officers seemed to interest them more than anything else. When the sugar house gang marched away to Brooklyn, the New-York officers and everybody else breathed more freely. Pickpockets were at work in the crowds, and they took away with them a few more or less valuable watches.

        The space opposite the northeasterly platform was the most densely crowded part of the square. All the speeches from that platform were delivered in English. Torches and flags were liberally displayed, and bands of music performed at intervals. Promptly at 8 o'clock Chairman Edward Conklin called the meeting to order. Mr. John McMacklin, of the Painters' Union, said that the reason thousands of laboring men were seen trudging around in quest of employment was that capitalists were not satisfied with a fair return for their investments. They seemed to have forgotten that the human frame and the human mind were constructed for any other purpose than to swell the millions already in the hands of the capitalists. "Look around in this country to-day," he said. "and you will see a class living in opulence, and in a degree of splendor which has not been equaled in modern times. In making this demand for eight hours' work labor makes it with due consideration for and deference to the rights of all men, and we are determined that in the progress of this movement, no untoward act of ours shall justify the interposition of the authorities to stem the tide of popular revolt against the tyranny which grinds to earth the toiling masses." The speaker roundly denounced the District Attorney and continued: "I say here to the law officers of the city this boycotting shall go on. They may as well try to stop the tide with a pitchfork as to stamp out the boycott. We have a secret boycott that we can apply which will have its effect, even though strong corporations should employ their ill-gotten gains in prosecuting us. We propose, however, to settle this matter peaceably."

        Mr. John Swinton said he was glad to take part in the grand fraternity of feeling which stretched from Maine to California, from the Missouri Pacific to Third-avenue, and from Hoxie to Hart.[B] The eight hour movement was very practicable, and it might be immediately and easily put into effect. It was theoretically a settled question, and no humbug reformer need wrestle with it. The development of machinery had made it possible, and the man who did not believe in it belonged by his nature to the Know Nothings. The only thing which could stand in the way of the righteous demands of organized labor was the vindictive spirit of an accursed monopoly which bought up Legislatures and poisoned the founts of justice. "We have here," said the speaker, "a rotten bench of prostitute judiciary, which has inaugurated a reign of terror for honest workingmen, and which is dragging before it on baseless charges hard-working tailors, bakers, and car drivers, and so endeavoring to crush out the independence of labor, and to quell their just uprising in behalf of their rights. I say to these leprous Judges that there is a light rising in the East, and I caution them not to issue these writs of arrest against men who will shortly occupy the places they so unworthily fill. I warn this rotten judiciary - I warn this prostitute Bench that the road to the penitentiary which Donohue is now about to tread, will shortly be traversed by them if they persist in their course. The workingmen of this country will no longer submit to be dragooned by mercenaries in uniform and by scoundrels in ermine."

        From the rear of the east stand Charlie Spinner, of the Cloth Cutters' Union, spoke. His advice was, "vote for the workingmen's candidate; boycott the Third-avenue road, and damn the conspiracy law." Five or six other speakers made brief addresses, all calling on the crowd to boycott the Third-avenue road, amid cries of "We'll kill Hart!" "He ought to be dead!"

        The stand near Broadway was given up to the German speakers at first. The red banners and flags of the German Bakers' Union were flung forth from the corners, and were waved with vigor when the various organizations passed by. "The Union forever" was the favorite air of the band that filled the pauses between the speeches. The latter were not incendiary, and there was more talk in the way of denouncing the police and the Grand Jury than of using violence in overthrowing the sway of capital. H. Emrich, a furniture maker, was first to peer down upon the mass of faces. He urged upon the men the necessity of keeping together and strengthening the unions in order to make the shorter-hour movement a success. The enemies of the workingmen to-day, he said, were the Grand Juries, the Judges, and the press.

        S. E. Schevitach, who is connected with the Volks Zeitung, was a little forcible in his denunciation of capital.[C] He said the square and surrounding buildings were full of policemen, and that the citizens must think they were in a state of siege. Just then the sugar men from Brooklyn marched by, and the speaker suggested three cheers for them, which were given vigorously. The sugar men received a great deal of attention thereafter. "If capitalists attempt to put down labor," said the speaker, "they will find millions of workingmen to meet, and laborers with fists, too, in an emergency."

        George Block, who edits the organ of the German-American Bakers' Union, said if the press parasites and Grand Jury were going to cast aside the law, the laboring men would cast it aside, too. An assertion that Mrs. Gray would continue to be boycotted called forth a hurrah of applause.

        Capt. Thomas Collum, one of the committee of the Third-avenue strikers, said he was not a silvery-tongued orator, but knew how to tie up a street car road. He said the strikers would buy the road, if necessary. "We are going to kill the Directors of the road," he said. "We will bury them and ride to the funeral in our own stages." Capital, he asserted, had the cream of the country, but the laboring men intended to have some of the good things, too.

        From the rear platform of the west stand speeches in English were made to the closely packed crowds on the sidewalks. J. T. McKechnie, who spoke for the Central Labor Union, said its object was to emancipate labor by law, as slave labor had been emancipated by war. One million people, he said, are out of work. The shorter hour movement means that we want these men to work. By machinery 3,000,000 horse power has been added to the country's resources in the last 15 years. That means that the power of 15,000,000 slaves has been added to the producing power. The speaker denounced Wall-street and the men who have never earned money by an honest day's work. In conclusion, he appealed to the men to vote for representative candidates.

        An unknown speaker said: "Our organizations are not beyond the pale of the law. We are the stanchest and strongest supporters of law. But what the country needs is broad statemanship for the whole people. Was man created only to expect starvation in his old age? What was the rising generation to hope for? We must vote with clear heads against corporations and a future landed aristocracy."

        At 10 o'clock the Chairman told the meeting to disperse quietly and to boycott the Third-Avenue Road.

A. See the glossary for an explanation of Blue Label Cigars.
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B. John Swinton was the publisher of a labor reform newspaper, John Swinton's Paper.
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C. Volks Zeitung was an prominent German-American socialist newspaper from 1878-1932.
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