The Great Railroad Strike of 1877
Student Activity Five: Whose Rights? Who's Right?
Determining points of view (POV)
- U.S. history texts, containing a copy of United States Constitution
- Student Notebook
- Transcriptions from The Albany Argus:
There are at least two sides to any story, even those in history. Railroad workers, large and small business owners, ordinary citizens, newspaper writers, and public officials acted and reacted differently to the circumstances and events surrounding the Great Strike of 1877, based on their respective points of view (POV). Each side believed it behaved reasonably, justifiably, even legally, and cited state and federal laws in their defense.
As you learn more about a conflict, you may also begin to see that, while an action may be "legal," it's not always "right" or fair, or just. Behavior can be legally correct but morally wrong. And, since the strike created an emergency situation, the rights of individuals may have been Constitutionally compromised for the good of society.
In this activity, you will determine which behaviors of workers, owners, managers, and public officials were legally protected by the Constitution during the Great Strike.
(You may work individually or in pairs, as directed by your teacher)
- Carefully read Documents #3, 5A, 5B, and 6C, originally published in The Albany Argus in July, 1877. Determine the meaning of any unfamiliar terms by using the dictionary, context clues from the article, or asking an adult.
- In your notebook, divide a sheet of paper into two columns. Label the left side RR WORKERS. Make a list of the specific requests made and actions taken by the workers during the labor dispute (such as: stopped working; held meetings; listened to speakers; demanded $2 per day; etc.) If you completed Student Activities Two, Three and Four, use the information on your worksheets to help you.
- Skip two lines, then label the left column RR MANAGERS & OWNERS. Make a list of the specific requests made and actions taken by the managers and/or owners during the labor dispute (such as; reduced wages ten per cent; asked for Federal troops; etc). If you completed Student Activities Two, Three and Four, use the information on your worksheets to help you.
- Do the same for PUBLIC OFFICIALS. This refers to government leaders at the federal, state and local levels.
- When you have all three lists, put an asterisk (*) next to those actions that are "rights" protected by the Constitution and other laws in 1877. Using your textbook and a copy of the Constitution, find evidence of this protection; on the right hand side, cite specific portions of the Constitution or the names of particular laws mentioned in your textbook to support your answers. Remember to only use those portions of the Constitution in affect in 1877.
- Review your answers with 2-3 other students, or the class (as directed by your teacher). Discuss the following questions:
- Were all groups justified in acting they way they did?
- Which actions were protected legally during the Great Strike?
- Were any "rights" denied?
- Was one group more legally protected than another? If so, why?
- Whose "rights" do the writers and/or the editors of The Albany Argus support or favor? Support your answer with evidence from the documents.
- News articles are supposed to be unbiased, objectively written. Opinions are supposed to be expressed on the editorial page, which are more subjective. In what ways might a newspaper support one side in a conflict over another? In the 19th century, which groups or people in a community might a large newspaper support? Why? What types of readers would they hope to attract with their publication? Support your answer with evidence from your knowledge of social studies.
After Doing This Activity: Correlating Activities
Develop a Point of View:
Write an editorial for The Albany Argus, supporting the workers in the Great Strike. Make certain to use persuasive techniques that would convince business owners and public officials that the workers' actions are justified and morally correct. Refer to the editorials and articles in this activity for style and format typical of 19th century journalism.
Determining Points of View (POV):
Refer to the editorial pages of your local newspaper over a period of time, perhaps for two or three weeks. Editorials written by the publishers of the newspaper usually are found on the left hand page; those written by guest writers or syndicated columnists are on the right. Use the editorials written by the newspaper to determine the answers to the following questions:
- What issues do the editorials written by the newspaper seem to support?
- Which issues does it not?
- What, if anything, do they appear to have in common?
- Does the newspaper have a point of view?
- What types of readers are they hoping to attract and/or influence?
- Compare the opinions expressed in these editorials with related news articles. How are they affected by the newspaper's POV? Support your answer with evidence from the articles.