The Nation says that Pinkerton’s mercenary police force is “the greatest disgrace that has befallen the United States.” That was putting it mildly.
The unfortunate killing of a boy in Jersey City, by a chance shot from one of Pinkerton’s men employed in guarding the coal company’s wharves in Jersey City against the strikers, is exciting a great deal of indignation against this organization among the strikers and their friends. That disgraceful demagogue, Mayor Cleveland of Jersey City, is particularly loud in his denunciation of them, and a great many good people are asking why an armed body of this sort, which is not under the control of or responsible to any public authority, should be permitted to figure as prominently as it does in these labor troubles. We are very glad that people are beginning to ask what it means, and why it exists, because the answer is most instructive.
It cannot be too soon or too well understood that, as an armed organization offering itself for hire for purposes of defence in various parts of the Union, Pinkerton’s Men are, we must all admit, the greatest disgrace that has befallen the United States. No such evidence of our internal weakness and lawlessness as the existence and activity of this organization constitutes has been offered to the world since the present Government was founded. Its appearance in any other civilized country would fill to-day every man in it with shame and astonishment. For it is–let nobody shrink from this plain truth–an unmistakable sign of retrogression towards medieval barbarism. Pinkerton is neither more nor less than the head of a band of mercenaries, such as each great landholder in the eleventh and twelfth centuries kept in his pay for the defence of his property and that of his vassals against the armed attacks of his neighbors. They are called into existence by exactly the same causes now as then–the absence of a public force capable of enforcing the law of the land, and affording security for life and property to the peaceable and well-disposed. Now as then, now as at every time since the dawn of civilization, no men of the Aryan race who have accumulated property of any kind will submit to be despoiled of it, or interfered with in the management of it, or allow any person or body of persons to “go upon them or send upon them,” as the Barons said in Magna Carta, without trying to defend themselves. If there are courts, they will appeal to the courts; if there are police, they will call in the police; if there are troops, they will ask for the troops to defend their rights under the law; but if neither courts, nor police, nor troops will do anything for them, they will hire an army of their own. Of course, this is anarchy in its first stage. The word is not a pleasant one, but it must be used when the occasion calls for it.
The demand for Pinkerton’s Men began nearly twenty years ago in the coal regions in Pennsylvania, when the Molly Maguires took possession of them, and superseded the law by a foul and murderous conspiracy. This conspiracy was then called, as some such things are now called, “Labor.” Labor overawed the sheriffs, defied the courts, intimidated the juries, and marked out its enemies for assassination literally by the dozen. It reduced a large and populous district to a condition of terror and disorder which it would have been hard to match outside of Central Africa. The corporations owning the property, finding there was no help to be expected from the public force, hired a force of their own, with Pinkerton at its head, and through his exertions Labor was at last brought to justice, and twenty cut-throats righteously hanged.