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Cardinal Gibbons and the Knights of Labor

 

 

This Labor Day I recall an episode in both the history of labor in the United States and in the history of the Catholic Church in America.  The last half of the nineteenth century was a time of labor strife, as businesses grew larger, the fruit of the ongoing Industrial Revolution, and workers fought for improvement of working conditions that by any standard were frequently abysmal.  Prior to the Civil War apologists for slavery often argued that the average slave in the South was better fed, better housed and better clothed than the average industrial worker in the North.  This of course overlooked the entire question of liberty, but there were enough terrible examples of wretched working conditions in the North to give the argument facile support.

Unions sprang up to represent workers.  One of the largest in its day was the Knights of Labor founded in 1868.  Successful in several large strikes, by 1886 the membership totaled 700,000, perhaps a majority of whom were Catholic.  In 1886 the Archbishop of Quebec condemned the Knights in Canada based upon the secrecy that attended the meetings of the organization and forbade Catholics to join it.

The American hierarchy voted 10 to 2 against condemning the Knights.  Archbishop James Gibbons was going to Rome in 1887 to receive his red hat as Pope Leo XIII had made him a Cardinal.  While there he took the opportunity to submit a lengthy letter in support of the Knights.  Although the letter bears the name of Gibbons, it was probably written by his friend Bishop John Ireland of Saint Paul, who had long been active in support of the rights of workers.  The letter did the trick and the Vatican announced that the Knights were not to be condemned.  The arguments made in the letter had an impact on Pope Leo XIII and helped lay the groundwork for his historic encyclical  Rerum Novarum (1891) in which he defended the rights of workers to organize to seek better working conditions.  Ironically the subject matter of the letter, the Knights of Labor, was in decline, too many of its strikes having involved violence which the leadership of the Knights condemned, but which tarnished the Knights in the eyes of the public.  The Knights would cease to operate as a labor union in 1900, newer unions taking the place of this pioneering organization.

The letter of Cardinal Gibbons stressed that Catholic workers in America who belonged to labor organizations were not hostile to the Church as often occurred in Europe where Unions were organized by Leftist and Anarchist groups.  In America most Americans supported the workers in their struggle to improve their lot, with both major political parties vying to pass legislation aiding workers.  In short, the letter explained American labor and political conditions to the Vatican and how these differed substantially from those existing in Europe.  The letter and the decision of the Vatican were good examples of effective communication between American ecclesiastics and Rome.  Here is the text of the letter: Continue Reading

6

The Yorktown, the American Worker and Three Days

We must have this ship back in three days!

Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz

 

On Labor Day we honor the American worker and the repair of the USS Yorktown tells us why.  Badly damaged at the battle of the Coral Sea, it was estimated that the Yorktown would take three months in drydock to repair.  That was unacceptable.  With the battle of Midway looming the Yorktown had to be gotten back into action if the US was to have any chance at all against the Japanese fleet with its heavy advantage in flattops.

What happened next was a true miracle.  1400 civilian dockyard workers and sailors swarmed over the Yorktown, working night and day for 72 hours.  Hawaii Electric staged rolling blackouts in Honolulu to generate the enormous power necessary for the mammoth repairs.  The Yorktown sailed for Midway on May 30, 1942 with civilian workers still on board, completing the repairs.  At Midway, four days later, Yorktown’s role in the victory was absolutely crucial,  her planes sending the Japanese carrier Soryu to the bottom before the Yorktown herself was sunk. Continue Reading

30

A pox on a pox on both your houses

In the crazy world of politics, and in the crazier world of presidential primary politics, there were few things more quixotic than Jon Huntsman’s futile bid for the presidency. Huntsman behaved as though he stopped observing American politics the morning after Barack Obama was elected president, and didn’t bother catching up even when he announced his candidacy. In many ways he was the anti-Romney, running to the left of his actual record as governor. His debate performances were uniformly terrible, as his attempts at humor fell flat, and he otherwise offered up little more than empty bromides and bland slogans that were meant to appeal to . . . well, I’m not really sure who they appealed to other than the 12 people who voted for him.

Now, in a general election where even Ron Paul has sorta kinda made peace with the Republican party, Huntsman is on a media speaking tour. Huntsman went on CNN today and blathered about the GOP’s lack of inclusiveness and the party’s inability to offer real solutions. Video is available at the Right Scoop. The other night, Hunstman appeared on the Colbert Report. I don’t normally watch mini-Stewart, but I was in a semi-feverish state and lacked the ability to change the channel. Immediately Huntsman complained about the general state of American politics. He asked when was the last time we got together as a country and tried to work our problems out and achieve solutions to our problems. The utter vacuousness of this comment acted like a magical healing balm, filling me with the strength to pick up my remote and flip off the television, but not before hurling an agitated and incomprehensible epithet for which I must now go to Confession.

What was so outrageous about the comment? It means literally nothing. First of all, what is this great national debate that we’re supposed to be having? Is there going to be a scheduled moment when all Americans gather and hash out their feelings? More importantly, people have offered solutions – they are just solutions that Jon Huntsman doesn’t like. And that, right there, crystallizes the problem I have with so many political moderates. Continue Reading

6

September 2, 1945: Japan Surrenders

Japan surrendered on a Sunday 67 years ago in 1945.  The above is the only color video of the surrender ceremony.  One of my uncles, a Navy enlisted man, was present in Tokyo Bay when the surrender occurred.  Below is a newsreel that conveyed the news to the American homefront:

Here is the speech given by General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in Japan, that I believe deserves to be remembered today, as it still is relevant to the dangers facing Man: Continue Reading

2

Ozymandias Obama

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

Percy Byyshe Shelley

Hattip to Christopher Johnson at Midwest Conservative Journal, both for the story and the Ozymandias reference.

 

For those who thought Obama worship was only a thing of the 2008 campaign:

A torrential downpour that struck Charlotte  Saturday afternoon damaged the  Mount Rushmore-style sand sculpture bust  of President Obama — an ominous  beginning to what many fear is a plagued  convention.

Workers were trying Saturday afternoon to reform the base of the  sculpture,  built from sand brought in from Myrtle Beach, S.C., pounding  and smoothing out  the sand that had washed off the facade of the waist-up rendering of the chief  executive.

The sand sculpture was protected from above, and Mr. Obama’s face didn’t  see  too much damage. But the storm was so strong that its heavy winds  blew the rain  sideways, pelting the president’s right side and leaving  the sand pockmarked  and completely erasing his right elbow.

Democrats’ choice of Charlotte has drawn criticism from unions who  don’t  like North Carolina’s labor laws, and the state seems to be  tilting away from  Democrats politically.

The large Rushmore-style sculpture drew comparisons to Mr. Obama’s  2008  convention in Denver, when he accepted his party’s nomination on a  stage that  looked like a Greek temple. Continue Reading

10

Obama 2016 Review

My family and I went to see the documentary Obama 2016 yesterday.  The documentary is based on Dinesh D’Souza’s book The Roots of Obama’s Rage which posits that the key to understanding Obama is that he is motivated by the same anti-colonial ideology that motivated his Kenyan father.  I disagreed with his thesis, so I was uncertain whether I would enjoy the movie.  Read below for my review of the film.  The usual spoiler alert applies. Continue Reading

11

170 Greatest Clint Eastwood Quotes

A humorous compilation of Clint Eastwood quotes from his film and television appearances.  (Strong harsh language advisory.)

The Clint Eastwood speech/improv/comedy routine at the Republican Convention on Thursday has gone viral on the net.  Hordes of people who never would have bothered looking at the convention are now watching Eastwood’s humorous takedown of Obama.  I would say this was a stroke of genius, except it appears to be all unplanned, except by Mr. Eastwood who has made a career of playing seemingly ordinary men who turn out to be smarter, and tougher, than their adversaries. Continue Reading

7

Prayer to Saint Joseph

Something for the weekend.  The video above supplying music and images to the prayer to Saint Joseph seemed very appropriate for a Labor Day Weekend.  There was a reason why God chose as His guardian and the husband of His mother a humble carpenter, instead of some great and powerful king.  God does not see as we see.  We judge too often by outward appearance while God judges by the soul and character.  A simple concept one would think, but one that is hard to live by as we too often judge people by their jobs or clothes or any of the other superficial differences between us that loom so large on this earth and which are less than nothing in eternity.