A History of Trade Unionism in the United States

By Selig Perlman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
THE "GREENBACK" PERIOD, 1862-1879

The few national trade unions which were formed at the close of the fifties did not constitute by themselves a labor movement. It needed the industrial prosperity caused by the price inflation of the Civil War time to bring forth again a mass movement of labor.

We shall say little of labor's attitude towards the question of war and peace before the War had started. Like many other citizens of the North and the Border States the handful of organized workers favored a compromise. They held a labor convention in Philadelphia, in which a great labor leader of the sixties, William H. Sylvis, President of the International Molders' Union, took a prominent part and pronounced in favor of the compromise solution advanced by Congressman Crittenden of Kentucky. But no sooner had Fort Sumter been fired upon by the secessionists than labor rallied to the support of the Federal Union. Entire local unions enlisted at the call of President Lincoln, and Sylvis himself assisted in recruiting a company composed of molders. The first effect of the War was a paralysis of business and an increase of unemployment. The existing labor organizations nearly all went to the wall. The period of industrial stagnation, however, lasted only until the middle of 1862.

The legal tender acts of 1862 and 1863 authorized the issue of paper currency of "greenbacks" to the amount

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