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.

Since then the need for a small private army of this sort for the defence of property has not diminished, but on the contrary has increased. Pinkerton has enlarged and improved his force. It is better armed and drilled every year, and it travels to and fro, all over the United States, a sort of moving shame and disgrace for us all. No American ought to be able to look on it without blushing to the roots of his hair. Its presence always means that American mayors and sheriffs and governors have infused, at the demand of Labor, or through the fear of Labor, to give American citizens protection for either life or property; that they stand idly by while Labor pursues poor men with brickbats, bludgeons, and pistols to prevent their accepting employment which is offered them; and that they deny to employers the means of protecting their premises from wreck and pillage at the hands of men who insist on working for them against their will. In all the great strikes which have occurred during the past year, Labor has asserted the doctrine of compulsory hiring–that is, the right of certain men to he hired by certain employers on their own terms, whether the employers want them or not, and the right to assert this right by force of arms–that is, to besiege the premises with weapons of offence, and prevent, by attacks on life and property, the transaction of all business until their demands are complied with. This is not an overcharged statement. We challenge any one to mention a single strike on a large scale during the past year in which the strikers did not either actually resort to violence, or take pains to produce the belief throughout the neighborhood that they would do so if necessary.

What adds to the disgrace is, that the power against which Pinkerton’s army is called on to protect property is a ludicrously small minority of the population. Labor, which has brought this shame on us, and in fear of which Governors of American States and Mayors of American cities are ready to play the mountebank in their public utterances, and violate their oaths of office, and dishonor the national flag, probably does not number 1,000,000 all told, and a large proportion of it is composed of poor and ignorant foreigners, who know not what they do, and to whom every intelligent American’s first duty is to make plain that in this land of liberty the law is omnipotent.

The poor demagogue who is playing the role of Mayor over in Jersey City ought, however, to be the last to complain of Pinkerton’s Men. If the state of things to which he and the like of him are trying to bring about in the United States should ever be realized, the Pinkerton army will be a much more formidable body than it is now. At present it is simply a guard which any man is entitled to keep on his own premises to protect him from violence, if he thinks it necessary and is willing to go to the expense. But if the country should be carried much further on the road to medieval anarchy, and the law of the land and its ministers be brought into still greater contempt, these private armies would not remain shut up in the yards or warehouses or mansions of their employers, while demagogues stimulated attacks on them. They would sally out, medieval fashion, and twist the necks of the Clevelands, and Hills, and Greens, and Oglesbys in very summery fashion. The fun Labor has now in battering and threatening people with impunity is due entirely to the fact that law abiding habits are still strong among us. But they would not survive for a great while the strain which Labor is putting on them; and whenever the community gets thoroughly tired of Labor and the demagogues, it will give these who like anarchy and private war a dose of them which many generations will remember.