The financial and commercial disturbance caused by the Bank of California's closing made labor conditions worse. There had been much unrest on account of the overplus of Chinese thrown on the labor market when the trans-continental railway was completed. This was aggravated by the continual arrival of thousands of Chinese laborers by trans-Pacific steamers. The unrest caused among white laborers by the presence of these alien thousands caused clever leaders some called them demagogues to use the Chinese labor question as a stepping-stone to power. The most prominent among these were Denis Kearney and Isaac Kalloch both orators.
There was much unemployment in 1876, 1877, and later, most of which was attributed by the California workingmen to the presence of Chinese laborers. During the three years 1876, 1877, 1878, there was not only unemployment but also destitution in San Francisco. The benevolent associations and the churches were feeding some thousands of persons daily. This had never before been known in California.
In the midsummer of 1877, a group of San Francisco working-men called a mass-meeting to discuss their grievances. The date set was July 2l. This movement was a reflex of that in the Eastern States where, on July 16, 1877, the strike begun on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was followed by rioting in Pittsburgh, Albany, Chicago, St. Louis, and other places. The rioting in Pittsburgh was particularly bloody. These facts are elsewhere set forth in these pages.
The disturbed labor conditions throughout the Pacific Coast, felt most acutely in San Francisco, caused the Western workmen, particularly the unemployed, to follow the Eastern troubles with keen attention. Therefore, when their leaders issued this call for a mass-meeting in San Francisco while rioting was still going on in the East, it caused grave apprehension in official and employing circles in the chief city of the Coast. The meeting took place in a large vacant space next to the City Hall usually called "The Sand Lot." [In the area of Grove and Larkin streets.] Fearing trouble, the entire police force was on duty, and the National Guard, while not ordered out on the streets, assembled at their armories. This meeting was presided over by James F. D'Arcy, organizer of the Chicago "Workingmen's Party of the United States." Resolutions were passed sympathizing with the Eastern rioters; declaring that all railroad property in the disturbed districts should be condemned to public use; declaring that subsidies to transportation lines should be abolished; demanding an eight-hour law; denouncing the employment of the military against strikes. The centre of the meeting was orderly enough, but the many thousands present could not hear or participate in the business transacted on the platform. On the outskirts of the meeting, various agitators stirred up the crowd to riot, and mobs began wrecking the Chinese laundries. They were combated by the police and a citizens' "Committee of Safety." This anti-Chinese mob rioted for three nights, destroying many Chinese wash-houses. Several persons were killed in these encounters. The mob also attacked the wharves of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, that company being held responsible for the transportation of the Chinese to California. The mob set out to burn the steamships, but did not succeed; it then satisfied its destructive spirit by burning some lumber-yards and hay-barns which were adjacent to the Pacific Mail wharves. In Oakland, across the Bay from San Francisco, a mob of several thousand men threatened to destroy the large railroad yards there, but did not accomplish their purpose. At the end of three days there were 4000 men enrolled on the side of the law, and the rioting in San Francisco ceased.
Photograph of Denis KearneyThe apprehension of the officials and the employing classes showed the workingmen their power. They therefore determined to organize a Pacific Coast Union. On August 18, Denis Kearney issued a call for a meeting on August 22; it met, organized under the name of "The Workingmen's Trade and Labor Union," and elected J. G. Day President and Kearney Secretary. Throughout California, at Sacramento, the capital city and other interior cities, workingmen's unions were organized on similar lines. The San Francisco Union on September 12, formally condemned the existing political parties, and changed its name to "The Workingmen's Party of California." It declared for a reduction in the hours of labor; the establishment of a bureau of labor; strict accountability of office-holders; reduction of official salaries to the rates paid for skilled labor; abolition of the national banks; property to be assessed at its full value; the abrogation of the Burlingame treaty with China; and various other advanced measures. This was the beginning of a movement destined profoundly to affect the government of the State.
The Sunday following this meeting, there began at the Sand Lot a regular series of Sunday meetings. As Monday is usually a dull day for news, the rival San Francisco newspapers featured these meetings and gave them a great deal of space. Between the Sunday meetings a special meeting took place at Union Hall to consider the relief of the unemployed. The Democratic Party in California had become much perturbed over the political tinge given to these meetings; it was the belief of politicians that the Workingmen had very largely voted with the Democratic Party, which now seemed in danger of losing their votes. It was thought best by the Democratic leaders to propitiate the leaders of the new party. Therefore Philip Roach, State Senator, editor of the Examiner (then a Democratic evening daily), and known generally as a "Bourbon war-horse," addressed the Union Hall meeting. Senator Roach spoke along conservative lines, as the Democratic Party was then conservative he mildly opposed Chinese immigration, advocated legislation to help the unemployed and the poor, and vigorously denounced political corruption. He was followed by Denis Kearney, who began by yelling " The Chinese must go!" This was vociferously applauded. Kearney proceeded to give needed fire to Senator Roach's tepid address by urging every workingman present to buy a rifle, and further recommended that all capitalists should be hanged. Before Kearney had finished, the conservative Senator Roach fled in terror from the hall.
The forebodings of the Democratic leaders came true. As the Workingmen's Party increased in numbers and in power, the Democratic Party in California dwindled. Although hitherto powerful in California politics, it never regained its old status. Twice only thereafter in California in the next half century did the Democratic Party carry the State in a Presidential election once the Winfield Scott Hancock ticket was carried on a divided electoral ballot by a minute plurality of 128; later, the Woodrow Wilson ticket was carried by the new women voters of California, who voted for Wilson because he "had kept us out of war."
At the next regular Sand Lot meeting Kearney announced that "bullets would replace ballots" if the condition of the laboring classes were not improved; he further threatened that San Francisco would meet the fate of "burning Moscow" if the capitalists were not driven out. J. G. Day attempted to check the utterance of such sentiments, but he was yelled down, resigned, and withdrew from the meeting. Kearney was elected President to succeed him, and H. L. Knight Secretary. A permanent organization was effected, and a long and radical platform adopted. It proposed to "unite the poor and the workingmen into one political party"; to "defend themselves against capitalists;" to "wrest the government from the rich and restore it to the people;" to "rid the country of cheap Chinese labor by any means to destroy land monopoly;" to "tax the rich so as to make great wealth impossible;" to "elect only workingmen to office."
Workingmen's Clubs were formed all over San Francisco and in other California cities. Kearney spoke regularly, and daily denounced the "shoddy aristocrats" and "thieving millionaires." He repeatedly said from the platform "Judge Lynch is the only judge we want," and advised his hearers to buy rifles and ammunition.
On October 29, 1877, a sensational meeting was held on Nob Hill, as the highest point of California Street hill is called. This magnificent view-point had been chosen by the railroad magnates as a home site. There Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins, three of the builders, had erected large and luxurious residences. Another handsome house was that of General D. D. Colton, a high railroad official; after his death his house was purchased by C. P. Huntington, another one of the Big Four. Some time after, A. N. Towne, another high official, built a house across the street from Colton's. About sixty feet of the crest of Nob Hill had been cut off, and a plateau leveled for buildings. There was much open ground, and Kearney determined to call a night meeting on Nob Hill instead of at the Sand Lot. There, in the midst of the millionaires' palaces, he advised his followers to defy the rich. Several thousand responded to his call. From an improvised platform, with great bonfires blazing and lighting up the dark, the agitator thundered forth his philippics against the rich. It was here that he threatened to "lynch railroad magnates, thieving millionaires, and scoundrelly officials." He declared that stenographers were among his hearers, surreptitiously taking notes preparatory to indicting him. He defied the Grand Jury to indict him, and threatened that if he were jailed his followers would "destroy all the rich hell-hounds in California." This Nob Hill speech and his preceding utterances caused such disquiet that on November 3, 1877, at a meeting in Kearny Street he was arrested and jailed by the police for incendiary language and inciting to riot. At a meeting the following day, November 4, two other Workingmen's agitators, H. L. Knight and J. G. Day, were also arrested and jailed.
The San Francisco supervisors met and passed an ordinance against incendiary speech, entitled after its author "The Gibbs gag law." Kearney protested to the Mayor that he had been incorrectly reported in the newspapers, and promised to mend his ways. Thereupon the charge against him was dismissed, and he and the other two agitators, after a fortnight's imprisonment, were freed.
Kearney's imprisonment had excited sympathy among the Workingmen, and on Thanksgiving Day a procession in his honor marched through the city, terminating at the Sand Lot, where speeches of the same threatening character were delivered; this parade numbered some seven thousand.
Immediately thereafter, Kearney, accompanied by Knight, set out to organize his party in the interior cities. He spoke to large gatherings, which applauded his denunciations of the rich and the office-holders. From the largest of these interior cities Oakland the Workingmen sent a petition to the President and the Congress of the United States urging the abrogation of the Burlingame treaty with China. It was not heeded. On January 3, 1878, Kearney headed a procession of fifteen hundred unemployed men to the Mayor's office in the City Hall, demanding "work or bread." As a result the Legislature at Sacramento passed a bill authorizing San Francisco to employ 2000 laborers for three months, but the Supervisors paid no attention to the bill. In a speech thereafter Kearney said: "If the Legislature overstep decency, then hemp is the battle-cry." He also advocated blowing up the Pacific Mail Company's docks, and urged his followers to bring guns to the Sand Lot and form military companies. Two such companies were formed, but weapons were not procurable.
The authorities again took steps to repress the agitators; on January 16, 1878, Kearney and Knight were again jailed, the National Guard was called out, and protection was given to the Pacific Mail docks. The Legislature, then in session at Sacramento, was appealed to, and passed an act authorizing the dispersal of riotous assemblages and the arrest of incendiary speakers.
January 21, Kearney and Knight were acquitted on the charge of inciting a riot, and released on bail on the other charges.
January 21, a Workingmen's convention was held, which bitterly denounced the recent act of the Legislature. That body, alarmed by the fact that Alameda County had just elected a Workingmen's Party Senator to fill a vacancy, side-stepped; and a committee reported that the Workingmen's Party had nothing do with the rioting, and that they were justified in opposing Chinese immigration. The legislators had reason for their alarm, politically speaking; at this election the Workingmen stood at the head of the poll, the Republicans were a bad second, and the Democrats stood at the tail, with only a few hundred votes, where before they had polled thousands. At the municipal elections in various cities of the State the Workingmen elected their candidates. The two old parties were forced to admit that a new political power had appeared.
After speaking in various interior cities, where he organized the Workingmen's Party, Kearney left for the East, to continue his propaganda. He returned in time to enter the fight for a new Constitution in California.
The need for a new organic law had been discussed for some years, and the movement crystallized in 1878. The two old parties feared the new organization, and in April endeavored to get the Workingmen's Party to join the Republicans and Democrats in a non-partisan organization to elect delegates to a Constitutional Convention.
After much complex negotiation, which resulted in fusion, withdrawal, and confusion, the election took place in June. There were 152 delegates; the Workingmen carried San Francisco with 50 delegates; the Non-Partisans carried the State with 85 delegates; the straight Republicans elected nine delegates; the straight Democrats, eight.
The Chronicle was the only newspaper in San Francisco which backed up the Workingmen's Party and supported the New Constitution. The new organic law was defeated in San Francisco by a majority of 1592 out of 38,034. The State, however, gave it a majority of 10,820 out of 145,088 votes. The New Constitution went into effect July 4, 1879.
After the Convention election the Chronicle under Charles De Young quarreled with Kearney and his Workingmen's Party.
Photograph of Charles de YoungKearney thereafter bitterly denounced De Young and his paper, and dubbed the Chronicle party "The Honorable Bilks." The Chronicle attempted to show that the Workingmen's Party had not carried the Convention election. Perhaps they had not the mix-up of new and old parties was so great that it was difficult to tell. But the Workingmen's Party certainly succeeded in electing candidates to other positions. There was a general election in September, at which the Republicans elected the Governor, George C. Perkins, and most of the State officials, together with the Congressional delegation. The Workingmen's Party elected the Chief Justice and the Supreme Bench with the exception of one justice. The Workingmen elected two Railroad Commissioners to one Republican. They also elected quite a minority of the State Legislators. On the ballots of all the parties at this election appeared the words "Against Chinese." In San Francisco 40,030 votes were polled against Chinese immigration, 229 votes in favor. The Republicans in San Francisco elected five Superior Judges, the Workingmen twelve. Isaac S. Kalloch was elected Mayor by the Workingmen by a plurality of 1528.
The Argonaut vigorously opposed the New Constitution, and, its opponents were all somewhat chagrined when it passed by a fair majority in the State, although defeated in San Francisco. The defeated party first attacked the delegates to the Convention; then, when the Constitution was completed and submitted to the people for sixty days, the opponents attacked the document itself. However, while there were many noisy Photograph of the Rev. Isaac Kallochradicals among the delegates, there were also many men of high standing. The President was J. P. Hoge, San Francisco, a leading lawyer; S. G. Hilborn, Vallejo, sometime Congressman; Abraham Clark Freeman, Sacramento, lawyer, author of "Freeman on Judgments," a legal classic; Clitus Barbour, San Francisco, lawyer; C. F. Reed, a West Pointer, Yolo, farmer; J. G. McCallum: Oakland, lawyer; Henry Larkin, El Dorado; A. P. Overton, Santa Rosa, lawyer, judge, banker; Hugh M. La Rue, Sacramento, farmer; M. M. Estee, San Francisco, lawyer; J. J. Ayres, Los Angeles, editor; I. S. Belcher, Marysville, lawyer, judge; W. H. L. Barnes, San Francisco, lawyer; Patrick Reddy, Inyo, lawyer; Alexander Campbell, Oakland, lawyer; J. M'M. Shafter, San Francisco, lawyer; Eugene Casserly, San Francisco, lawyer, United States Senator; D[avid]. S. Terry, Stockton, lawyer, supreme judge; Henry Edgerton, Sacramento, lawyer; J. West Martin, Oakland, banker, farmer, University regent; John S. Hager, San Francisco, lawyer, judge; S. M. Wilson, San Francisco, lawyer. This score of names selected from the list of delegates were among the most prominent men in California.
As for the New Constitution itself, those who opposed it predicted that it spelled ruin for the State. It had many faults, and it has been amended and re-amended, and the courts have construed it over and over again. Yet the State has lived under it for half a century, and not only has not faced ruin, but has increased so vastly in wealth, population, and power that it is a phenomenon even among the forty-eight States of This our phenomenal Republic. Perhaps the California Constitution of 1879 was not so bad as its opponents feared.
The threatening aspect of the anti-Chinese mobs in San Francisco in 1877 resulted in calling out a portion of the National Guard, although not at the beginning of the disturbances.
In the late seventies there were many " militia " companies, so-called, in California, and they were particularly numerous in San Francisco. The members of the American companies disliked the term "militia," and called themselves "National Guardsmen." At that period in San Francisco the marching spirit was stronger than it is now; elderly citizens of wealth and prominence were often to be seen parading in the plumes and gold lace of the Knights Templar. Young men of well-known families were very generally members of the National Guard. There were at that time in San Francisco three "crack companies" of the First Regiment N.G.C., the National Guard (Company C), the City Guard (Company G), and the Sumner Guard (Company E). At that time all the companies bore names as well as numbers. The National Guard (Company C) at that time was commanded by Captain Benjamin Pratt; the City Guard by Captain George W. Granniss; the Sumner Guard by Captain Oscar Woodhams. I was a member of the Sumner Guard, with the rank, perquisites, and emoluments of corporal. Captain Granniss of the City Guard was promoted to the Governor's staff with rank of Colonel; Charles Fred Crocker, Second Lieutenant, was also promoted to the Governor's staff with rank of Lieutenant- Colonel; he was succeeded by Lee W. Mix, who subsequently became Captain.
In 1880, Company G encamped near the Hotel del Monte [near Monterey]. I was there that year (it was the hotel opening), and remember that Joseph Strong was making studies for a large painting of the camp, with Mr. and Mrs. Charles Crocker, Colonel C. Fred Crocker, Captain Alix, and many others on the canvas, including several members of the Bohemian Club. Some of the portraits were excellent.
The painting in 1927 was in the possession of Captain Lee W. Mix, at Burlingame, California.
The Sumner Guard had been organized in 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War. It took its duties seriously. It wore the regulation United States uniform; in this it was almost alone, as most of the companies wore "fancy" uniforms. Thus, one company of the First Regiment wore a uniform modeled on that of the West Point cadets. But this was conservative compared to some there were "Zou Zous," Grenadiers, Hussars, and other freak uniforms.
The N.G.C. at that time included two regiments of infantry, a battalion of cavalry, and a " First Infantry Irish battalion." Shortly before I joined, the N.G.C. commander was Major- General Lucian H. Allen, an Army veteran and a West Pointer. During the apogee of my military career, however, the N.G.C. commander was General John Hewston, Jr. My regimental commander was Colonel W. H. L. Barnes, later General. Still later, the N.G.C. commander was General W. H. Dimond; and later still, General Walter Turnbull. All of these commanding officers were Major-Generals; there seem to have been few brigadiers.
I looked with respect on my company commander, with admiration on my colonel, and with awe on my division commander. In the First Regiment, Barnes as Colonel was almost a demi-god. Later, in the clubs, I came to know all these great men, so intimately that they called me by my nickname. I found them quite human.
We of the N.G.C. in those days were highly differentiated. In our regiment there was an "Irish battalion" composed of the Montgomery Guard, the Shields Guard, the Wolfe Tone Guard, the Meagher Guard, the Emmet Life Guard, the Sarsfield Rifle Guard; the latter was commanded by Captain C. C. O'Donnell, who subsequently ran for mayor many times in San Francisco, at last being elected and counted out.
These Irish companies were uniformed variously, according to taste and fancy. The most imposing uniform was that of the McMahon Grenadiers, an Independent Irish company. These warriors wore a uniform akin to that of Napoleon's "Vieille Garde" their head- piece was a bearskin shako about a foot and a half tall; this lid on top of a six-foot man is-or was-calculated to terrify any enemy. It does not seem to have generally survived, however; the only place I have seen it, of recent years, is in London, where it decorates the crack corps. One may observe it here at the gateway of the 'Orse Guards and other sacred portals. Passing slaveys gaze, goggle-eyed, petrified at these beautiful soldiers; in fact, the London quotations for escorting servant-girls are eighteen pence per hour for one of these magnificent guardsmen as against a shilling for an ordinary Tommy. Compare the rates of the modern "gigolo" hired by rich American ladies abroad as dancing partners.
In our cavalry battalions we had the First Light Dragoons, the San Francisco Hussars, and the Jackson Dragoons. The three troops were differently uniformed, but what would you ? One could not expect a dragoon to be attired like a hussar. The fair sex greatly admired the hussar jackets. Envious foot-soldiers at times caused confusion in the cavalry ranks by imitating familiar cries used by milk wagon and other commercial drivers. But this was an unworthy jealousy.
Other companies of the First Regiment not yet mentioned were the State Guard, the San Francisco Guard, the Light Guard, the Ellsworth Rifles, the California Tigers.
In the Second Regiment were the Union Guard, the Veteran Guard, the Franklin Light Infantry, the Germania Rifles, the Excelsior Guard, the Eureka Guard, the San Francisco Cadets. This latter company was commanded by Captain C. E. S. McDonald, who was a famous drill-master; the cadets went through all manner of evolutions unknown to Upton, closing their exhibition with a "silent drill," in which for a number of minutes they maneuvered without orders like a smooth-running machine.
The Second Regiment in my time was commanded by Col. John McComb, later editor of the Alta; its lieutenant-colonel was "Jack" Stratman, a well-known character of old San Francisco.
To offset the Irish Battalion there were German companies, among them the Germania Rifles, the German Rifle Corps, and the Schuetzen Verein, which was made up of members of the military company.
There was an "Irish Republic Army" of two companies, which was independent. This was a Fenian organization.
There was an Italian company (independent) called the Garibaldi Guard. They wore the Italian Bersaglieri uniform with the drooping cock's feathers on the cap.
Last but not least there were two companies of colored soldiers, the Brannan Guards and the Lincoln Zouaves. They were independent necessarily.
When the entire National Guard paraded on great days the effect of the diversity in uniforms was indeed remarkable. Even then, young and artless, I thought it odd. Now it suggests to me the Paris Bal des Quat-z-Arts the morning after.
During my term of service the Sumner Guard was twice called out on serious duty. The first time was when a stubborn strike broke out among the miners in Amador County. Troops were ordered thither by the governor. The First Regiment was asked to furnish Volunteers, and the whole regiment volunteered. Finally, several companies were selected to furnish battalions, the members of which were chosen by lot. In our company allotment I was unfortunate enough not to win a place in this battalion of heroes. Oh, misery! Oh, despair! Those of us who remained at home were sunk in gloom.
What the " Amador War," as it was called, soon palled upon our hero comrades. There was no excitement. The weather was hot, the food was bad. The miners would not fight. For lack of other fighting, the heroes fought bitterly among themselves. Their officers were hated because they enforced strict discipline.
The Sumner battalion was commanded by first Lieutenant Edwards "Big Bill." He strictly enforced the regulation that the men should salute their officers and keep their coats buttoned while on sentry duty. In revenge, the men signed a round-robin requesting his resignation when they were safely home. Edwards sent in his resignation to take effect at the end of the month. Victory what ?
The weekly drill night came. The captain was absent. Lieutenant Edwards was there, but not on duty; he was in the gallery, which was always well-filled with guardsmen watching each other's drill. Second Lieutenant Tibbey was in command. He had never drilled the company before. Besides, he was nervous, owing to the recent row, the round- robin, the fact that Edwards was present, and that there were so many spectators in the gallery. Therefore when he attempted a "company wheel" near the end of the drill- hall he did not start it in time, so we all piled up in the corner in a disorderly heap.
There was much snickering in the gallery. Tibbey, his face scarlet, turned and saluted Edwards, asking him to descend and take command. Edwards did so. " 'Tention, company!" he barked, and we promptly straightened out. He then put us through a severe drill lasting for nearly two hours. The news ran around that the Sumners were being hazed, and the galleries became crowded with delighted warriors. Edwards made us perform every evolution that was possible in a drill-hall. At the end he deployed us as skirmishers in a lively skirmish drill, in which we had to rally repeatedly around our central point at the double quick. When be suddenly barked "Break ranks!" and stalked out, we were all in. It was a little hard on those who did not participate in the "Amador Mutiny," but probably it did us all good.
When the anti-Chinese riots began in July, 1877, the Sumners were ordered to report at the armory. Presumably all the N.G.C. received similar orders. We duly reported, but when we heard that we were detailed to "guard the armory," and were not to be allowed to go out and fight, part of the company again became mutinous. They threatened that they would go out and join the citizens' committee which was aiding the police. The officers at once informed them that if they did not obey orders they would remain in the armory all the same, but in the capacity of prisoners. It made some of the youths aware for the first time that they were subject to military discipline. A similar shock was administered to National Guardsmen some twoscore years later when President Wilson, under a new law, ordered fifty or sixty thousand National Guardsmen to the Mexican frontier.
After the riots were over, the Sumner officers informed their men that the mob leaders had been threatening to arm their followers with the rifles in the armories, hence the precautions. The officers further informed their men that troops could not serve in civic riots unless ordered out by the governor at the request of the city authorities, which request had not been made.
Later, in the autumn of 1877, the troops were ordered out, but the exigency was not so great as it had been, and my recollection is that patrol and guard duty was all we were called on to perform.
It has always seemed odd to me that there should be a general disposition to sneer at the National Guardsmen. They do a great deal of hard work, and they get no pay for it. They are subject to be called on duty by the State, the city, and (under the Wilson law) by the Federal Government. The duty they generally have to perform is not military but police duty repressing mobs and fighting labor strikers a kind of service which even the regular army men loathe. National Guardsmen also dislike it, but they do their duty when called on. If a police officer is killed by a city mob his family can recover damages from the city, and his widow gets a pension. But when a National Guardsman is killed in a riot his family never recovers damages and his widow never gets a pension.
Source: In Our Second Century : From an Editor's Note-book San Francisco : The Pioneer press, 1931, pp. 52-63
Posted 18 May 2014