Cardinal Gibbons Letter, 1887


Letter to T.V. Powderly, Sept. 21, 1887

In 1887, the membership of the Knights of Labor had begun a steep decline, from which it would not recover. By the summer of 1887 the membership had dropped by 200,000, from its height of over 700,000 a year earlier, a decline precipitated by the loss of a strike against Jay Gould's railroad in the spring of 1886. In these circumstances, the Knights' leadership hoped a letter from James Cardinal Gibbons, the author of the memorial to Rome that defended the KoL, might help rally the leadership if read aloud at the next General Assembly meeting. Gibbons obliged by penning this letter.



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

  • How would you describe the tone of Gibbons' letter to Powderly?
  • What do you think Gibbons' means when he expresses hope that "a calm conservative spirit will control" Knights' proceedings?
  • What is Gibbons' view of strikes?
  • What is Gibbons' view of "the laboring classes"?
  • Do you think the letter qualify as an endorsement of the Knights? Explain.