- Historic Sites
The Coal Kings Come To Judgment
When the anthracite miners downed tools in 1902, economic feudalism went on trial
April 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 3
Once the conference had failed, however, there seemed little he could do. He had no power to send federal troops, as Markle had demanded, unless the governor of Pennsylvania asked for them. But that did not for a moment discourage the President. “The one condition Roosevelt’s spirit could not endure,” his friend Mark Sullivan wrote, “was any situation in which individuals or groups seemed able to defy or ignore the people as a whole and their representative in the White House. … He could not endure to be dared.” If a request from the governor was necessary, Roosevelt would make sure one came. Through Senator Matthew Quay of Pennsylvania he sought to persuade Stone to ask for federal assistance; then he would send in the Army to operate the mines. He had even chosen a troop commander—Major General J. M. Schofield. But the Quay-Stone gambit failed: no request for troops ever came.
Nevertheless, sentiment for a settlement of some kind continued to build up. The operators were under particularly heavy pressure. Roosevelt was too shrewd a politician not to let some word of his take-over plan get through to them. In addition, their conduct at the Washington conference, coming on top of Baer’s infamous letter, placed the coal-hungry public even more squarely behind the miners. The strike had now been in progress for almost five months. Violence was increasing; the entire Pennsylvania National Guard—8,750 strong—was now on duty in the coal region.
To Secretary of War Root, who on his own initiative had carefully reviewed the proceedings of the October 3 meeting, it seemed clear that the strike had now reached the point where pride, more than the issues, prevented either side from backing down. He felt the only hope of settlement lay in an agreement similar to the one Mitchell had suggested: the miners to return to work pending appointment of an impartial board of arbitration whose award both they and the operators would consent in advance to accept.
Still on his own hook, but with Roosevelt’s acquiescence, Root on October 11 met with J. P. Morgan in New York. Together they worked out a memorandum—which Morgan next day persuaded Baer and his colleagues to sign—asking Roosevelt to set up an arbitration commission. The operators did not, however, entirely abandon their pride. Though they refrained from naming the members for him, they told the President exactly what kinds of men to select: an engineer from one of the military services, a professional mining engineer, a federal judge from the eastern district of Pennsylvania, a businessman familiar with the anthracite industry, and, finally, “a man of prominence, eminent as a sociologist.”
Roosevelt was chagrined—and so was Mitchell, when he learned of the memorandum—to note that not one man with a labor background had been suggested. Both felt there should be at least one such individual, and that in addition, because so many of the miners were Catholics, a high-ranking Catholic prelate ought to be named. The operators could not very well oppose the latter suggestion, but they could and did fight very vigorously the naming of any pro-labor representative. A crisis was reached late in the evening of October 15. Roosevelt and two of Morgan’s junior partners, Bacon and George W. Perkins, were in the White House with telephone lines open to the offices of Morgan and Baer. All at once there ensued a scene of high comedy, which only Roosevelt could appreciate fully; for suddenly it dawned on him “that the mighty brains of these captains of industry would rather have anarchy than tweedledum, but that if I would use the word tweedledee they would hail it as meaning peace.” The President explained:
… it never occurred to me that the operators were willing to run all this risk on a mere point of foolish pride; but Bacon finally happened to mention that they would not object to any latitude I chose under the headings that they had given. I instantly said that I should appoint my labor man as the “eminent sociologist.” To my intense relief, this utter absurdity was received with delight by Bacon and Perkins who said they were sure the operators would agree to it! Morgan and Baer gave their consent by telephone and the thing was done.