This is an excerpt from Thirty Years of Labor by Terence Powderly, pages 252-255. It gives his perspective on how reaction to the Molly Maguires and to the actions of the government against members accused of organized murder forced the Knights of Labor to change from a secret organization to a high-profile educational organization on behalf of working people. Powderly condemned violence throughout his life, but notes that the gross overreaction by government at the prodding of the coal companies created a stronger public reaction against the establishment than against the Molly Maguires. Indeed, Powderly was elected mayor of Scranton, PA in 1878, shortly after the hangings. He had won on the Greenback/Labor Party ticket against a "fusion" candidate backed by both the Democrats and Republicans.
-- Dan Sullivan, online editor
While the organization [Knights of Labor] was working secretly, yet the stir in organizing soon attracted attention, and the first move from the outside against the association came from the church. The events which preceded the erection of the gallows in Schuylkill county, Pa. [for Molly Maguire members convicted of murder], were still fresh in the minds of residents of that place, and one of the first fields that opened up to the organizer was the
MIDDLE COAL REGION OF PENNSYLVANIA.
Everything in the shape of a society, which was at all secret or new, was supposed to be the outcome of Molly Maguireism. It became necessary to allow the name of the order to become known, but the name was no shield from persecution, misrepresentation, and misunderstanding, and soon a scathing denunciation of the association came from the altar of one of the churches in Schuylkill county. The members became alarmed; many left the order at once; others withdrew temporarily, while others, knowing the justice of the principles, determined to make an effort to have objectionable features, if any there were, removed.
Grand Master Workman Stephens was written to, and after investigation a special session of the General Assembly was called to take action on the matter of placing the aims and objects of the order in a favorable light before the public. The request for this call came, from the middle coal fields of Pennsylvania.
that were taught at the foot of the gallows, when men were strangled whose guilt was never proven, and whose innocence is to this day believed in by those who knew them best. Whether the men who were hanged in Pennsylvania were all guilty of murder is not known, but it is known that men were hung on the testimony of those who were themselves murderers. It is known that that plague spot on American civilization, the Pinkerton detective, had entered the council chambers of the workingmen of Schuylkill county, and under the guise of friendship urged the men on to deeds of desperation and blood.
When the final day shall come, and the deeds of all men shall become known, the writer of this believes that no man's hand will be redder, no individual will be steeped more deeply in the guilt and crime for which men died upon the scaffold in Pennsylvania than the men who controlled the corporations which were operating the coal mines at that time. Justice no longer knew an abiding place in their hearts, honesty had given way to make room for the craze for gold; and with one ambition constantly before them, is it any wonder that they cared but little if one of their hired assassins of character swore away the lives of the innocent with the guilty? Men of influence, politicians, business men, clergymen, and professional men united in condemning the Molly Maguires, but the voice of him who condemned the outrageous system which made the Molly Maguires possible was never heard above a whisper. Men who had witnessed the terrible scenes of past years knew full well how easy men's lives could be sworn away; and when they saw the same men opposing organization in 1878, they naturally became alarmed, and urged that a special convention be called at once to set at rest the fears of those who were as yet uninitiated. A convention was called as follows:
To the Fraternity wherever found, Greeting:
On account of what is believed by many of our most influential members to be an emergency of vast and vital importance to the stability, usefulness, and influence of our order, and in accordance with the power given me by the constitution, I do hereby call a special session of the General Assembly of the N. and H. O. of the K. of L. of North America, to be held Thursday, June 6, 1878, at the Sanctuary of No. 1, north-west corner of Sixth and Walnut Streets, Philadelphia, Pa.
The session will commence at 9:30 A. M.
The business is to consider the expediency of making the name of the order public, for the purpose of defending it from the fierce assaults and defamation made upon it by the press, clergy, and corporate capital, and to take such further action as shall effectually meet the GRAVE EMERGENCY.
(Signed,) URIAH S. STEPHENS,
Issued through the office of the Grand Secretary, and the seal of the General Assembly affixed, this 16th day of May, 1878.
(Seal.) Attest : CHAS. H. LITCHMAN,
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