Terence V. Powderly

American labor union leader, politician and attorney

Terence Vincent Powderly (January 22, 1849 – June 24, 1924) was an American attorney, labor union leader and politician, best known as head of the Knights of Labor in the late 1880s. A lawyer, he was elected mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania for three 2-year terms, starting in 1878. A Republican, he served as the United States Commissioner General of Immigration in 1897.

Terence Powderly in 1890

Quotes edit

  • It is as well to be born in the first chapter as elsewhere, and though I have only secondary evidence as to the fact, believe it happened as related to me afterwards by my mother, who said the doctor found me in an old hollow log and, as our house happened to be nearest to the log in question, he wrapped me up in his cloak, carried me to the house and left me with mother.
  • Many men, aware of the treatment I received at the hands of Walter Dawson, have asked me why I did not avenge the wrongs he inflicted on me. I am not aware that he did inflict wrong on me … I did some good through being blacklisted. It made me more than determined to perfect an organization that would render blacklisting impossible; it made me mayor of Scranton where I learned that we are all good and bad instead of good or bad. It taught me how to put myself in the place of the vilest, filthiest, lowest-down tramp that comes to me for help. It taught me when men were brought before me for trial how to pierce the veil between cause and effect, between motive and act; it enabled me to come down from the bench as a magistrate, a representative of the law, and before the bar of my own heart, and conscience, place the prisoner then before me on the bench in my stead.
  • In later life I was charged by many with being an agitator; some of my friends in defending me against assault denied that I was an agitator; they were wrong, I was an agitator and as such did all that lay in my power with voice and pen to agitate against the injustices practices on workingmen and women.
  • That a deep-rooted feeling of discontent pervades the masses, none can deny; that there is a just cause for it, must be admitted. The old cry, “These agitators are stirring up a feeling of dissatisfaction among working men and they should be suppressed,” will not avail now. Every thinking person knows that the agitator did not throw two millions of men out of employment. The man that reads such paragraphs as this will not lay the blame of it at the door of the agitator:
“Mrs. Sarah Jane Geary, an Englishwoman, residing in this city, committed suicide a few days since. Her husband is a miner, and, owing to the frequent suspensions of business in the mines during the past winter, his meager earnings were insufficient to support the family. The fact preyed on Mrs. Geary’s mind, and she resolved to end her life, that her children might receive her share of the food, otherwise they would go hungry.”
  • That the army of the discontented is gathering fresh recruits day by day is true, and if this army should become so large that, driven to desperation, it should one day arise in its wrath and grapple with its real or fancied enemy, the responsibility for that act must fall upon the head of those who could have averted the blow, but who turned a deaf ear to the supplication of suffering humanity and gave the screw of oppression an extra turn because they had the power.
  • Give men shorter hours in which to labor, and you give them more time to study and learn why bread is so scarce while wheat is so plenty.
Print of the Knights of Labor leaders with Powderly featured prominently
  • Men having capital, the product of labor to invest, form themselves into companies or associations and consolidate their capital that they may reap a greater profit from their investments … The men who labor, taking this action of the men of capital as a criterion to go by, have formed themselves into companies or associations that they reap a greater profit from the investment of their capital, which is labor. That capital of the former is the creation of man; that latter as the creation of God, and of the two is entitled to the most consideration, since no capital could exist unless labor created it.
  • Individually, workingmen are weak, and, when separated, each one follows a different course, without accomplishing anything for himself or his fellow man; but when combined in one common bond of brotherhood, they become as the cable, each strand of which, though weak and insignificant enough in itself, is assisted and strengthened by being joined with others, and the work that one could not perform alone is easily accomplished by a combination of strands.

Quotes about Powderly edit

  • Not being bound down like the trade union to the routine of organization, dues collection, wage negotiations, and the like, the Knights gave free rein to their revolutionary speculations. They denied all identity of interest between the employer and employee, and proposed no collective bargaining as a means to industrial peace. "To point out a way to utterly destroy the [wage] system would be a pleasure to me," exclaimed Grand Master Workman Powderly, long a leader of the Knights.
  • The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 acted as a catalyst for the protracted workers' rights struggles and widespread sociopolitical change that would define much of the twentieth century. Transformative figures like anarchist organizers Emma Goldman and Lucy Parsons, socialist labor leader Eugene V. Debs, Knights of Labor head Terence V. Powderly, and AFL founder Samuel Gompers were all inspired by the massive forty-five-day railroad strike that cost hundreds of millions in damage, resulted in one hundred casualties, and saw a thousand people imprisoned.
  • Head of the militant Knights of Labor, he was National Villain No. 1 in the press of the Eighties.

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