Jump to Content

Add to My Citations
Enclosure with 1 April 1870
to Jervis and Olivia Lewis Langdon • Buffalo, N.Y.
(SLC 1870 [MT00883])
Click to add citation to My Citations.

“MORE WISDOM.” 1

“They that go down to the sea in ships, see the wonders of the deep;”2 and they that buy coal mines in Pennsylvania and work them see wonders likewise.

They see the wonder of finding themselves suddenly stripped of their independence and converted into the servants of their own employés.

They learn to come and go, do and undo, bow and scrape, simper, smile, shuffle and smirk, at the behest of the “Miners’ Union.”3

They enjoy the wonder of seeing orderly men murdered and little or no notice taken of it by Pennsylvania law officers sworn to execute the statutes, but who prefer perjury to unpopularity, apparently.

They enjoy also the wonder of seeing a legislature lavish all its solicitude upon the miner, without seeming to reflect that his employer has a soul to save too.4

They enjoy, finally, the spectacle of a legislature delivering into the hands of an irresponsible mob the actual control of property belonging wholly to their employers.

Such are some of the wonders these men see. The secret of it all lies in the fact that the members of the Miners’ Union are a political power. They have votes, and therefore legislatures must not offend them nor petty officers see the small indiscretions which they commit with scalping knife and Deringer.5

But the latest wonder is a certain thing which has just become a law in Pennsylvania. It is, that every mine shall be under the control of three persons, whose prerogative it shall be to order alterations in the manner of opening or working it, and who shall also close up and stop work upon such mine when in their discretion it shall seem proper to do so. And who appoints these autocrats? The owners of the mine? No. Their employees do it. 6

Nothing need now be deemed impossible to a Pennsylvania legislature.

And who is it into whose hands the legislature has given this high appointing power? Simply an irresponsible society of men who hold meetings, pass laws, and enforce them by the agencies of terrorism and blood. When a man goes to work in a colliery tabooed by the Miners’ Union, they stick a notice on his door-post suggesting that he resign his situation with all convenient dispatch—and they emphasize this suggestion by printing at its top the sign of a coffin.

That these “coffin notices,” as they are called, are not inspired by empty bravado, may be gathered from the following telegram, dated Shamokin, March 5, and signed by an old and respectable resident of that locality:

“Luke Fidler colliery was going to work without the Union. The ‘Mollie McGuires’ of the Union men murdered the watchman. Three superintendents in one colliery in [Shamokin] have been murdered since the troubles in the coal mining districts began, and nothing done about it.”7

These are the sort of people who are to choose three absolute sovereigns to preside over each mine. These are the people for whose “protection” the Pennsylvania legislature is straining itself to provide. It seems an unnecessary courtesy while ammunition is so cheap.

After saying so much about it, do we suggest a remedy? A remedy for secret assassination; for blind and deaf and dumb officers of justice; for mob terrorism; for truckling legislatures? No; there is no remedy for these things. That is, no remedy that can be brought into instant use. There is one, but time is required for it. It applies itself, and is simply that remedy which comes to the relief of all disorder, viz: the teaching of reason and fair dealing to all parties concerned, through the convincing agencies of hardship, disaster and weariness of fighting each other.

However, should the Pennsylvania legislature take the only step now left it to take for the “protection” of those persecuted lambs, the miners, and make them absolute, joint and equal owners with the present nominal proprietors of the collieries, it is fair to presume that the millenium of peace and order in that Pandemonium8 would be greatly hastened. Until then, let us continue, as is usual and proper, to wail for the poor oppressed and [down-trodden ] miner, whose only solace, in this cold world, is putting up his little “coffin notice” on his neighbor’s door and then helping to get him ready for the funeral.

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
1 Evidently an allusion to Solomon’s remarks in Ecclesiastes 1:16: “I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” Clemens also used this title for a segment of a “San Francisco Letter” dated 22 December 1865 to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, where he made explicit reference to “Solomon’s wisdom” (SLC 1865 [MT00399]; ET&S2, 341–42).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
2 “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; / These see the works of the Lord: and his wonders in the deep” (Psalms 107:23–24).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
3 The Workingmen’s Benevolent Association, organized in Schuylkill, Northumberland, and Carbon counties, in the Pennsylvania anthracite coal region, in 1868. In 1869 the three locals confederated under a single governing council. The W.B.A.’s efforts in behalf of higher wages and safer working conditions were generally unsuccessful, in part because of regional, ethnic, and economic clashes among its members. It collapsed in 1875, a casualty of a disastrous strike (Aurand: 1966, 19–34; 1971, 67–95; Long, 97–110).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
4 In fact, the Pennsylvania legislature had long neglected the coal miners. Although anthracite production was an important industry by the early 1840s, Pennsylvania’s first labor laws, enacted in 1843 and 1848, did not apply to miners. Laws passed in 1849, 1851, and in the 1860s established liens on mine owners’ property in order to protect miners’ wages, but the legislature failed to remedy the abusive company store system, set a uniform standard for the weighing of coal, or pass an effective eight-hour-day law. Until 1869 it ignored the miners’ pleas for safety legislation, instead yielding to mine operators who were aware that “to safeguard the lives of those employed in their mines it would be necessary to make a considerable outlay for safety devices, the existence of which was known to every mine owner” (Trachtenberg, 24). Moreover, the safety act of 1869 applied only to Schuylkill County. Several months after its passage, a disaster in one of the supposedly safe mines in Luzerne County took the lives of 179 men and became the stimulus for an act of 3 March 1870, which set more rigorous safety requirements for all of the state’s anthracite mines (Trachtenberg, 13–18, 23, 26–39). See also note 6.

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
5 The pocket pistol invented by Philadelphia gunsmith Henry Deringer (1786–1868). The now accepted, but incorrect, spelling (derringer) reportedly originated with counterfeit weapons, on some of which “the inventor’s name was misspelt, possibly to escape any legal action, although Deringer had not patented his design” (Blair, 178).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
6 The 3 March 1870 law did not provide for three “autocrats” for every mine, but rather for only six mining inspectors for the entire anthracite coal region. It stipulated that candidates for inspector be selected by court-appointed boards of examiners “consisting of three practical miners and two mining engineers.” The boards were to report to the governor “who would appoint the inspectors, for a term of five years, from the list of men supplied. No person acting as agent or manager for the mine owners, or in any way interested in the mines, could be appointed.” Inspectors were authorized to verify the implementation of safety measures, investigate all accidents, and apply to local courts to close mines if no other remedy were effective. “To make thorough investigation possible, the inspector was given the power of a coroner. He could compel people to attend hearings, and could administer oaths” (Trachtenberg, 43–45, 50).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
7 Jervis Langdon may have been Clemens’s source for this telegram. Langdon’s coal firm had mines in Shamokin, possibly including one or both of those mentioned by the unidentified “old and respectable resident” (16 Apr 70 to Crane, n. 1). The Molly Maguires, originally an Irish anti-landlord organization, were commonly blamed for the violence in the anthracite coal region, and reputedly flourished in Schuylkill and Northumberland counties, the latter including Shamokin (Broehl, 79–81). Their responsibility for the bloodshed is still disputed, however:

Widespread violence and the equally widespread notion of a secret society called the Molly Maguires forced the popular equation of the two. In the resulting milieu there was an excellent outlet for pent-up frustration. It is easy to conceive of a person who, denied institutional outlets, found an outlet for his anger by evoking the Mollies. It was simple: one sent an anonymous note emblazoned with a pistol or coffin and promising vengeance on the recipient. Superintendents and foremen were the most likely targets in the anthracite regions. Men in managerial positions throughout the nation received similar warnings, but only in the Schuylkill and Lehigh anthracite regions did popular opinion make the receipt of a “coffin notice” a fearful experience. The number of “coffin notices” sent to managerial personnel was sufficient to complete a relationship in which violence equaled Molly Maguires and Molly Maguires equaled labor unions.

Calmer minds, however, could not grant the equation of the Molly Maguires and organized labor. The amount of violence actually declined during the period of the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association’s greatest strength. (Aurand 1971, 98–99; see also Long, 110–13)

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
8 “Pandemonium, city and proud seat / Of Lucifer” (Paradise Lost, 10.424–25).



glyphglyphCopy-text:glyph“More Wisdom,” Buffalo Express, 9 Mar 70, 2 (SLC 1870 [MT00883]). Copy-text is a microfilm edition of the newspaper in the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Buffalo, N.Y. (NBu). The original clipping Clemens enclosed, a reprint of the Buffalo Express from an unidentified Pottsville, Pennsylvania, newspaper, is not known to survive.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph


Shamokin • Skamokin

down-trodden • down-ǀtrodden