Gibbons' Memorial to Rome, 1887


James Cardinal Gibbons (1834-1921)

Given that the American archbishops had not decided unanimously to either condemn or approve of the Knights, James Gibbons was given the responsibility of presenting the case to Rome for a final decision. The decision of Rome on the Knights would determine whether the American church would allow members to remain in the order and maintain their standing as members of the Catholic church.



With assistance from Bishops John Keane of Richmond, John Ireland of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Denis O'Connell, the Rector of the North American College in Rome, Gibbons made the case for the Knights at the Vatican. The formal argument for the Knights was a written memorial-the avenue through which church authorities pled cases for certain causes to Roman authorities. The original memorial of February 20, 1887 is written in French to Cardinal Giovanni Simeoni, to whom such matters were addressed at the time.



Reproduced here is the front page of the memorial, and an English translation. The memorial first outlines the action taken by the American archbishops toward resolving the matter of the Knights in the United States. It then details the case against condemning the order.


Memorial on Behalf of the Knights of Labor, 1887


As you read the document, reflect on the following questions:

1.  Under point 1, in what ways does Gibbons claim that the Knights’ constitution does not violate the church’s ban on secret societies? 

2.  Under point 2, how does Gibbons describe the state of American society?   The state of the working class in the United States?  On the right of workers to engage in “legitimate resistance”? 

3.  Under point 4 Gibbons describes several objections to the Knights of Labor that have surfaced.  Select a, b, c, or d, read it, and explain whether or not you find Gibbons’ counter to those objections convincing.

4.  Under point 6, describe one thing that Gibbons believe might happen to the American church if the Knights are condemned.

5.  Under point 9, select one of Gibbons’ summary arguments for withholding condemnation and argue for or against it