A History of Trade Unionism in the United States

By Selig Perlman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
THE BEGINNING OF THE KNIGHTS OF LABOR
AND OF THE AMERICAN FEDERATION
OF LABOR

With the practical disintegration of the organized labor movement in the seventies, two nuclei held together and showed promise of future growth. One was the "Noble Order of the Knights of Labor" and the other a small trade union movement grouped around the International Cigar Makers' Union.

The " Noble Order of the Knights of Labor," while it first became important in the labor movement after 1873, was founded in 1869 by Uriah Smith Stephens, a tailor who had been educated for the ministry, as a secret organization. Secrecy was adopted as a protection against persecutions by employers.

The principles of the Order were set forth by Stephens in the secret ritual. "Open and public association having failed after a struggle of centuries to protect or advance the interest of labor, we have lawfully constituted this Assembly," and "in using this power of organized effort and coöperation, we but imitate the example of capital heretofore set in numberless instances;" for, "in all the multifarious branches of trade, capital has its combinations, and, whether intended or not, it crushes the manly hopes of labor and tramples poor humanity into the dust." However, "we mean no conflict with legitimate

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