Labor Day started with a Knights of Labor meeting in New York City. Or maybe American Federation of Labor vice president Peter J. McGuire thought of it.
Either way, the American holiday was launched around 1882. Oregon made it an official public holiday in 1887. It became a Federal holiday in 1894.
Quite a few countries celebrate Labour Day, either with or as International Worker’s Day. Their celebrations are often around the first of May.1
America’s labor holiday might have been then, too; if 1880s politics and my country’s cultural history had been different.
Or, from another viewpoint, developing a little common sense.
“The Obferation of Christmas having been deemed a Sacrilege, the exchanging of Gifts and Greetings, dreffing in Fine Clothing, Feafting and similar Satanical Practices are hereby FORBIDDEN”
(Public notice deeming Christmas illegal. Boston (1659))
“…They deserve to be cast into Hell….”
“…The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you….”
(“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” pp. 6, 15; Jonathan Edwards (July 8, 1741) (via Digital Commons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln))
“…You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
(“A Cross of Gold,” William Jennings Bryan (July 8, 1896))
“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
(“A Mencken Chrestomathy,” H. L. Menken (1949))
As I see it, H. L. Menken was a tad unfair in his description of Puritanism. And I’m very glad that the ‘good old days’ aren’t coming back.
I also suspect Labor Day promoters wanted to avoid tangling with stalwart defenders of yesteryear. Bygone days as seen through rose-colored glasses, at any rate.
And that’s almost another topic.
Let’s see. Where was I? Labor Day. Trade unions. “Satanical Practices.” Loathsome insects. Right.
America’s sometimes-grudging tolerance for folks who aren’t Puritans or at least Calvinist may account for our historically lax attitude toward May Day.
Or maybe Boston banned Maypoles and suchlike “heathenish vanity” along with Christmas. If so, I haven’t found documentation for that blue law.
England’s Cromwell and company were more proactive. Under their guidance, Parliament outlawed the observance of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide. And, of course, banned maypoles.
“The Puritans detested May Day because it was rooted in paganism and reminded them of idolatry. Maypoles were banned by parliament on 8 April 1644:
‘And because the profanation of the Lords Day hath been heretofore greatly occasioned by May-poles (a heathenish vanity, generally abused to superstition and wickedness), the Lords and Commons do further order and obtain, that all and singular Maypoles, that are, or shall be erected, shall be taken down and removed.'”
(“The Romantics and the May Day Tradition,” Essaka Joshua (2007) via Google Books)
But all good — and not-so-good — things pass. After killing Charles I, establishing a Commonwealth and then The Protectorate, the Interregnum lost steam.2
Good grief. I’m wandering off-topic again.
I’m not particularly upset that some folks celebrate May Day and dance around maypoles.
My guess is that America’s Labor Day — I’m back to that, finally — isn’t near May Day partly because of the Haymarket affair.
And partly because of May Day’s “heathenish” associations. Maybe.
The Haymarket affair started in Chicago on May 4, 1886.
Methodist preacher, socialist, anarchist and labor activist Samuel Fielden — that’s quite a portfolio — had just finished his speech when police showed up.
Lots of police.
They were dispersing the crowd when someone threw a bomb. We don’t know who.
Throwing the bomb may or may not have had something to do with the police killing eight workers the previous day.
The bomb killed policeman Mathias J. Degan and six other officers. Then the police opened fire on the crowd. Understandably, I suppose.
The New York Times and others said folks at the rally started shooting at the police.
What’s more certain is that Chicago’s police scored four kills and winged at least 70 other folks. The exact numbers are uncertain. Some folks probably got friends and neighbors to treat their wounds.
Remember, this was 1886. Folks wounded at the rally might have thought they’d be arrested if they went to a doctor or hospital. And Americans were still getting used to doctors who occasionally washed their hands. (October 30, 2016; October 14, 2016)
Newspapers, business leaders and the judicial system leaped into action. Citizens were told that anarchists caused the “riot.”
The powers that be suspended legal inconveniences like search warrants. Law enforcement collected dozens of suspects. Eight were tried and convicted.
Five were German-born immigrants. One was born in America, with German ancestors. One was a British-American, another was British. Some were hanged, slowly. One committed suicide. Opinion’s divided on whether and how justice was served.3
I figure that many folks know Labor Day honors the labor movement. And for most of us it’s also the unofficial end of summer.
Working eight hours a day, five days a week, became widely accepted. Workers, blue-collar and otherwise, often get medical insurance and other benefits besides their paycheck.
I think life in America is better for many folks now, compared to the 19th century. I’m also quite sure this isn’t a perfect society. We have real issues and bogeymen, and folks with more zeal than sense.
But as I’ve said before, I’m glad the ‘good old days’ aren’t coming back.
There’s more to say about work, social justice and the common good. A great deal more. But that will wait for another day.
Besides — I’ve talked about some of that, and natural law, before:
- “Faith, Feelings and a Viral Video”
(January 22, 2019)
- “Changing Rules”
(February 4, 2018)
- “Acting Like Truth Matters”
(May 21, 2017)
- “Natural Law, Our Rules”
(February 5, 2017)
- “Authority, Superstition, Progress”
(October 30, 2016)
- My view