Political Players


George Pullman

George M. Pullman was born in a small New York town in 1831. He worked as a cabinet maker and other businesses during the Civil War (which he managed to avoid) and soon developed an idea for improved sleeping cars. In 1867 the Pullman Palace Car Company was incorporated with a capital of one million dollars. In early 1880 Pullman begain building his model town on mostly swamp land purchased at a low price. He advertised his industrial experimental community for its beauty and refinement and the influence it would have on his workers. "It is found possible" he stated, "not only to give them better conditions than they could get elsewhere, but to give those conditions at prices wholly within their power to pay; and yet sufficient to return a moderate interest on the investment, and so sustain it and make it enduring." Indeed, the entire cost of a Pullman house was recovered from rents in about four years. His model town was truly a business experiment for wealthy tycoons to sustain their fortunes. Following prosperity for the Company was an economic recession which Pullman stated forced him to cut wages and lay off workers. As Rev. Carwardine stated, "As all the facts come to light, it is plain that Mr. Pullman could have prevented the great strike, with its attendant consequences, without sacrificing either his dignity or his money." But Mr. Pullman was "destined to be regarded as a stubborn, ungenerous, autocrat and a prime example of all that was worst about capitalism in his time." He died a hated man in October of 1897, buried under tons of steel and concrete in a Chicago cemetary.

Eugene V. Debs was born in Terre Haute, Indiana. A painter as a youth, he entered politics as a city clerk and later served two terms in the state legislature. He was secretary and treasurer of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Fireman for fourteen years. His concept of the American Railway Union came into existence June 20, 1893. Hailed as the champion of labor, Debs was determined to help the Pullman workers. President Cleveland, who was opposed to Debs and the strike, ordered for his arrest. Charged with contempt and conspiracy, Debs was sentenced to serve six months behind bars. In his last strike speech, Debs declared: "I am a Populist and I favor wiping out both old parties...I have been a Democrat all my life and I am ashamed to admit it...Go to the polls and vote the People's ticket." In 1897 Debs and other former ARU members created the Social Democractic Party which voted Debs as a candidate for President in 1900. He also helped organize the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905. Virgil Vogel wrote: "He became, to masses of Americans, Mr. Socialist, until his death at Elmhurst, Illinois, on October 20, 1926. It seems apparent that the last thirty years of his career were strongly influenced by the lessons of the Pullman strike."

Eugene V. Debs
Rev. Carwardine

Reverend William H. Carwardine, pastor of the first Methodist Church in Pullman, was one of the most influential figures in the Pullman Strike. "More than any other man," writes William Adelman, Rev. Carwardine "awakened the American public to the suffering of the people in Pullman. His book, The Pullman Strike, his many speeches throughout the city of Chicago, and his address before the ARU convention helped to gain public support for the citizens of Pullman." A Populist and an advocate of "social gospel", Rev. Carwardine helped with the Pullman Relief Committee and the Homeseekers' Association. He later gave over 60 lectures on industrial problems in America and ran for the Illinois State Senate on the Prohibition ticket in 1904. He strongly believed that "The Laborer is Worthy of His Hire" and that "If there is one law for the rich man and another for the poor man, there is no liberty." He died August 25, 1929, in Evanston, Illinois.

Several other political figures played important roles in the Pullman Strike. Chicago Mayor John P. Hopkins, a Democrat, resident of Pullman, and former employee, sympathized for the workers and contributed money and goods to the strike relief. Governor John P. Altgeld, also a Democrat, sent militia to Chicago at Hopkin's suggestion to protest the presence of federal troops. He maintained it was a violation of Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution. U. S. Senator Sherman also fought for Pullman workers and all Americans by proposing legislation to prevent "outrageous monopolies" such as the Pullman company.

Debs Anarchy

National media, such as Harper's, did not support the Pullman strike. T.C. Crawford wrote "There has never been a strike in this country with so small a basis of justification...The fact is that the Pullman corporation has always treated its workmen well, and that they have no real grievance and no justification." Other articles called to "Suppress the Strike" and reported that a "powerful conspiracy is at work over large sections of the country" headed by King Debs and "his fellow-demagogues." The "so-called strike" or the "impudent falsehood" was ridiculed by many journalists, one who wrote that "No adult who has ever learned to read is so silly as to be imposed on by it."

King  Debs

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