Workingmen’s Demonstration (1836)

Philadelphia Public Ledger, August 23, 1836

The meeting of the Workingmen held in the Independence Square, yesterday afternoon, was one of the largest ever witnessed in this city. Mr. Robert M’Cauley was appointed president, and Messrs. Thos. Fitnam, Frederick Story, John Braff, Wm. Wellington, and Francis Brelsford vice-presidents. Mr. Crossin, in a very neat and appropriate address, stated the object of the meeting to be the expression of the sentiments of the workingmen in relation to the conduct of Mayor Swift in demanding enormous and unconstitutional bail of some of the Schuylkill laborers, for being guilty of the atrocious crime of fixing a price on their labor. Mr. W. Thompson next addressed the meeting. He remarked that they had assembled there not for any party purposes, but to resist an invasion of their rights. He had been one of the friends of John Swift, as a man he was so still; but he could not uphold the tyrannical judge who would, upon an unfounded accusation, demand 2500 dollars bail from men who were possessed of scarcely 25 cents; and because of their poverty incarcerate them in a jail with common felons. Messrs. S. Thompson, J. Farrel, and other gentlemen addressed the meeting, and were listened to with enthusiastic attention. The honest indignation they expressed met with a response from every one present, and the deafening shouts that greeted the various speakers, showed the unanimity that prevailed in the meeting. The magnates of the land may be taught that the people can throw off the trammels of party, and punish misrule and oppression by whomsoever exercised.


Philadelphia Public Ledger, August 25, 1836


“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines instituted, nor cruel nor unusual punishment inflicted.” — Constitution of the U.S.

Pursuant to public notice, the Workingmen of the city of Philadelphia, without distinction of party, assembled in Independence Square, on Monday afternoon the 22d inst. It was one of the largest meetings ever held in this city, and its proceedings conducted throughout with strict order and propriety. The workingmen assembled to assert their rights in the rear of that venerable fane, where liberty first drew breath, where the sages of ’76 shook from off their necks the tyrant’s yoke, and swore on the altar of God to be free or die in the attempt; –the blood of thousands sealed the decree; and shall it be said that posterity has become so base, to bow the knee and receive the yoke, not from a foreign but a domestic tyrant? No. The workingmen, the pillars of the country, know their rights, and knowing them, will maintain them.

The meeting was organized by appointing Robert M’Calley President, Wm. Wellington, John Bruff, Frederick Stoy, Thos. Fitman and Francis Brelsford Vice Presidents, and Joshua L. Fletcher and Joseph D. Miller Secretaries. The call for the meeting was read by the President, after which mr. John Crossin, in a very eloquent manner stated the object of the meeting, and on his motion a committee of five were appointed to draft. resolutions. John Crossin, John Batson, Frederick Straley, Edward M’Donald and Thomas Fitnam were appointed the committee, who after retiring a short time, reported the following, which were unanimously adopted.

The time having arrived when the working men of Philadelphia are driven by stern necessity to come out and make an open declaration of their violated rights, in consequence of the blow already struck at their personal liberty by the Mayor of Philadelphia; and as the objects of our government at all times should be to render the people happy by the just and impartial administration of laws congenial to their habits, feelings and principles; and by their desire at all times, readily and freely to alter, repeal or amend any acts detrimental to the interests or happiness of the people; and as American citizens, we regret to say that the prosperity and happiness of the people are neglected, and entirely lost sight of in these days of Patent Legislation–and the effects that should be felt from the acts of a liberal and enlightened government, as we profess to have are never felt at all, or if so, only as the forerunner of another act of intolerance– Therefore, as the children of men who perilled all to establish an asylum for their descendants, which should be governed by the immutable principles of justice and equity, and feeling we have been betrayed and disgraced, we religiously and solemnly protest against the present order of affairs, and swear these things shall not be so for ever. As citizens we complain, and let our lawgivers listen ere it be too late–the Rubicon may be passed, while yet we are idly asked what the people want? The people will not always cry for justice and get mockery for their portion–they day may be near at hand when justice will not answer. Let our foes look to it in time–convulsion is ripening to perfection. The people will not always watch the Avalanche.

The day of retribution may come! Freemen may be taught to lay bare the arm and strike home–then give us right–give us equal law–give us knowledge by means of education, that we may see the fetters that bind us, and work our own salvation out–these should be our’s, and we claim them still, and we’re asked, what do the people want? We want every thing we have, but our privilege, labor, labor, labor, never ending labor. We complain because a portion of the acknowledged laws of the land are unjust, unequal, and in their operations calculated to destroy rather than foster that spirit of liberty co-existent with the republic.

We complain of the protection given unnecessary and soul destroying monopolies–of the protection given to capital at the expense of labor–the existence of rotten monarchical laws, expressly applied to destroy the last prop and support of the hard working man, their right to sustain themselves.

We complain of the mode and manner of dividing all offices of trust, profit and honor, as they ever are among the wealthy, the office holder or their friends–of the lavish waste of the people’s money bestowed on officers who perform no equivalent duty, or if any, not sufficient to entitle them to the pay now received by the laborer in our streets–of laws to grant appropriations of money to colleges, academies, and seminaries, where the children of the wealthy alone are taught, in order that they may move in the same sphere in life as their parents.

We complain, because we believe that our children are destined to hereditary bondage, in consequence of the prevailing ignorance of the poorer classes, and that at least a portion of our enormous revenue should be appropriated to educate them in all useful branches whereby the poor man’s child may be an ornament, rather than a blemish to the republic.

We complain, because our legislative halls are filled with lawyers, whose interest it is, whom forced to adopt wholesomer laws, to mystify those laws in such a manner that they may receive a high salary to explain them to the people for whom they were made.

We complain, because men of our own stamp, with feelings analogous to ours, are not permitted to represent us.

And lastly, we complain that, in direct violation of the letter and spirit of our laws, we are subject at any moment to be dragged from our hearths and families, and thrown into a prison, the receptacle of the associator of the knave …

Still, the eternal cry is, what do the people want? They see the parents reduced to a never-ending system of bondage and drudgery;– they see the children become the inmates of the workshop or the factory, when reason and instinct teach us their ages are too tender for collision with the busy world, and that the days of youth are precious, and should be cultivated for future usefulness;–they see the morals and feelings of the poor man’s daughter and blunted degraded by the contaminating influences of hard-hearted avarice, and a foundation laid for profligate abandonment. Yet the wealth ask, what do the people want? All classes of society have their full representation but the mechanics and laborers; they alone, constituting a large majority, have no representation, therefore their interests must be neglected. As history and experience has taught us that the basis of democratic republicanism is founded on honest and independent representation, and that the people’s rights and interests are no where so safe as in the people’s hands, these evils we want corrected, these evils must be corrected, and as a token that we will have reform, we have met in town meeting on this spot that once gave freedom to a world.

Resolved, That the above bill of violated rights becomes our rallying point of action, our cloud by day, and pillar of fire by night, and that we pledge ourselves to assist in establishing our government on the basis left by our patriot sires.

Resolved, That our rights and liberties have been grossly attacked by the present Mayor of Philadelphia, in the false imprisonment and unconstitutional bail demanded of the Schuylkill laborers, in the month of May last, whose only crime consisted in asking 25 cents per day addition to former wages.

Resolved that we cannot and will not support any councils who may refuse to oppose the re-election of John Swift to the mayoralty of Philadelphia, and that a committee of five be appointed to present and ask both delegations, now in session, a pledge to that effect.

Resolved, That it is an insult to our feelings as well as our common sense, to say we have no right to labor for whom we please, when we please, for what wages, and to refuse and give our reasons for refusal, whenever we may please–British precedents to the contrary notwithstanding.

Resolved, That we would do injustice to the memory of the great dead, and commit treason to the living, were we to suffer this monstrous outrage on our personal freedom, to pass silent and unnoticed.

Resolved, That we recommend to our friends in the City, County and State, not to be swayed by party names, but to vote for good men and true, wherever they may be found.

Resolved, That we hail this day with triumph, as the forerunner of the era of the people’s emancipation; and whether successful in this, our present attempt, or not, we will not cease, but agitate incessantly, until the old barriers of despotism are levelled with the earth and the people’s rights acknowledged, and their will become the ruling law of the land.

Resolved, That in our above expressions, we spoke independently of all parties; we owe allegiance to none; neither are we to be bribed on one hand nor cajoled on the other, as we are aware the poor man’s interest forms the policy of neither party.

Resolved, That when the above committee receive the necessary information from the two conventions of city delegates, they be empowered to call a town-meeting to report their proceedings and pursue the original object of the meeting.

Resolved, That we feel ourselves insulted by the contemptible manner in which the working men’s petition was treated at the last session of Congress, when respectfully petitioning to have the ten hour system established on all the National works, which petition was …  [tabled].

Resolved, That we now appeal to the fountain head of the Government; to have the system established in the National Navy Yard, inasmuch as all other yards in the vicinity of Philadelphia, and all employing mechanics acknowledge the said system, therefore, so long as the Government Yard opposes us, our rights and principles are endangered.

Resolved, That the committee already appointed do address a letter to the President of the U.S. soliciting his interference in relation to the ten-hour system in our Navy Yard, believing as we do that it only requires a direct appeal to him in order that it may become a general rule in all the national yards, believing at the same time that it is not inconsistent with the Chief Magistrate of a free people to dispense justice to citizens of all grades and conditions in society.

Resolved, That we have full confidence that ‘Government will do us justice.’

The meeting was eloquently addressed by John Crossin, Wm. Thompson, Samuel C. Thompson, John Farrell, Robt. L. Moffitt and Thomas Fitnam, whose remarks met with a hearty response from the vast assemblage present.

On motion, Resolved, That John Crossin, Wm. Thompson, Joshua S. Fletcher, Joseph D. Miller and Edmund M’Donald, be the committee to further the views of the above resolution relative to receiving pledges from the delegates.

Resolved, That the proceedings to be published in the Ledger, Transcript, National Laborer, and all other papers friendly to the workingmen’s interest.



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