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This Week in People’s History, Feb 6–12

A Sad Day for Liberty (in 1899), Strikers Kill a Wage Cut (1894), If Men Were Angels (1788), Women Close in on the Right to Vote (1919), The Times They Are a-Changing' (1964), Strikers Shut Seattle Down (1919), Nixon in Crisis (1974)

Cartoon showing Uncle Sam, John Bull, and the Kaiser riding heavily on the shoulders of servants of colorof
The White (?) Man's Burden,

A Sad Day for Liberty

125 YEARS AGO, on February 6, 1899, the U.S. Senate put its final stamp of approval on the controversial creation of the Empire of the United States, a nation with overseas territories spanning the globe. On this day the Senate ratified the Treaty of Paris between the U.S. and Spain, which gave the U.S. sovereign authority over Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, and over millions of Puerto Ricans, Guamanians and Filipinos. That the birth of the U.S. Empire was controversial can be seen by the fact that the treaty was ratified by a vote of 57-27, just one more "yes" vote than the constitutional requirement for a two-thirds majority. The treaty's opponents had many strong objections, especially that under the treaty's terms, the citizens of the overseas empire would become residents of U.S. territory and subject the U.S. laws and courts, but they would have no voice in making the laws that governed them. Under the treaty, some 15 million people would be living under the same kind of tyrannical yoke that the 13 colonies had thrown off only 120 years earlier.

Strikers Kill a Wage Cut

130 YEARS AGO, on February 7, 1894, the Western Federation of Miners in Colorado began an unusually successful  strike to oppose a 17-percent wage cut. The strike lasted five violent months and ended in a victory for the union. The workers, all gold miners, were incensed because the only reason for the wage cut was the mine-owners greed.  The value of gold was steady because it was fixed by law, but there were enough unemployed miners in the region for the mine owners to cut wages and hope to make their profiteering stick. The mine-owners might have succeeded had it not been for the intervention of Colorado Governor and People's Party member Davis Waite, who dispatched the state militia with orders to preserve the peace in the strike region and not to intervene on behalf of the mine owners.    

If Men Were Angels . . . 

236 YEARS AGO, on February 8, 1788, Federalist Paper Number 51 (by James Madison) was published. It advocated the ratification of the U.S. Constitution with these words: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

Women Close in on the Right to Vote

105 YEARS AGO, on February 9, 1919, a large group of militant National Woman's Party members demonstrated outside the White House, demanding women's right to vote. They took the unusual step of burning an effigy of President Woodrow Wilson, because they blamed Wilson for the failue of Congress to pass the proposed 19th Amendment. Women's right to vote had been a major U.S. political issue for more than 70 years,  gaining support steadily, but it had always fallen short of the necessary majority in Congress.  For more than 30 years Congress had been considering the 19th Amendment, but it had never passed. A new vote on the Amendment was scheduled to take place the day after the demonstration, but it failed to pass again, this time by a single vote. Finally, five months later, the 19th Amendment passed both the House and the Senate. It went into effect when it was ratified by the required number of states in August 1920.…

The Times They Are a-Changing'

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60 YEARS AGO, on February 10, 1964, Bob Dylan's album, "The Times They Are a-Changin'" was released by Columbia Records. Many of its tracks, including the title song and "With God on Our Side" soon occupied major places in the soundtrack of the movements for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam.

Strikers Shut Seattle Down 

105 YEARS AGO, on February 11, 1919, a 6-day-long general strike by virtually all 65,000 union members in Seattle, Washington, came to an end. The strike had been enormously successful in bringing one of the largest cities on the West Coast to a virtual standstill. The multi-union General Strike Committee had authorized and organized the maintenance of essential services, such as garbage collection, normal hospital operations and the delivery of milk and food, but virtually no unauthorized economic activity took place for the strike's duration.  The strikers also had complete success in maintaining the peace; even though the city and state governments mobilized thousands of heavily armed police and troops, no violence occurred. On the other hand, the strike did not achieve its demand, which was to end the years-long wage freeze that had been imposed on the city's thousands of shipyard workers. When it became clear that the shipyard owners were going to remain adamant in refusing to negotiate with the unions, the unions made the decision to call the strike off. According to the General Strike Committee, despite the strike's failure to force an end to the wage freeze, the strikers went back to work "not feeling defeated . . . glad they had struck, equally glad to call it off, and especially glad to think that their experience [of organizing the continuation of essential services] would now be of use to the entire labor movement . . . ." 

Nixon in Crisis, Again

50 YEARS AGO, on February 12, 1974, the evidence of President Richard Nixon's Watergate-related lawlessness was becoming clearer and clearer, and his grip on the power to remain in office was rapidly diminishing. In less than six months,  he would become the first and only president to resign. On this day, he somewhat bizarrely seized upon the 165th birthday Abraham Lincoln to deliver an unscheduled (but not extemporaneous) speech during the annual ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial. Some of his words, in light of the events of the following months, are indeed memorable: "Why is Lincoln, of all the American Presidents, more revered, not only in America but in the world?" Nixon asked. "There are several reasons that come to mind," he continued. "He freed the slaves. He saved the Union. He died of an assassin's bullet just at the height of his career. . . . When we examine the American Presidents, it is quite clear that no President in history has been more vilified or was more vilified during the time he was President than Lincoln. . . . He was very deeply hurt by what was said about him and drawn about him. But on the other hand, Lincoln had that great strength of character never to display it, always to stand tall and strong and firm no matter how harsh or unfair the criticism might be."…