“The Eight Hour Movement,” an Address by Wendell Phillips, Tremont Temple. Dec 21, 1865 [manuscript caption title].
Strikes, capital, labor, worker productivity and an argument for an 8-hour workday
Manuscript copy of a major address on labor and capital by Wendell Phillips, celebrated American abolitionist, orator, and reformer. Phillips’ December 1865 address, “The Eight Hour Movement,” here transcribed by an unknown hand (not Wendell Phillips’), was delivered in Boston’s progressive Tremont Temple Baptist Church. The address was part of an extended campaign of lectures that year to shorten the common laborer’s workday to eight hours.
Earlier that month, Phillips had spoken at the city’s Faneuil Hall giving a general call to political action on the “Labor Question” and supporting legislative reform to shorten the workday to eight hours.¹ Here in his major address, “The Eight Hour Movement,” Phillips speaks exclusively on the topics of labor (including the situations in Massachusetts and Great Britain), strikes, capital, worker productivity, etc. and the eight-hour workday:
I ask to introduce to its [the assembly’s] acquaintance a new topic—that of the eight hour movement of the laboring men of this state. ...a question which grows from no uneasy ambition or restless caprice of a class or of individuals, but a question which is the natural outgrowth of the great elements which go to make up our civilisation. Every man acquainted with the history of this generation knows that just so fast as we have gotten rid of the old nobility of birth, the feudalism of blood, the system of the barons by hereditary right, that…there has grown up in the vacant space…the almost unlimited power of united capital. ... What we call manufactured, whether furniture or clothing, whether articles used in architecture or in any one of the great industrial arts, they are all manufactured by machines, and through the hands of capital the man who works the machine sinks almost into being a part of it. (pp3–4)
Phillips’ address mentions American abolitionist Theodore Parker, English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham as well as the work of “Eight-Hour” advocate Robert Owen (whom Phillips mistakenly calls “Dale Owen,” confusing him with his son Robert Dale Owen). Continuing, Phillips compares Massachusetts with the progressive labor situation in Great Britain, arguing that the eight hour day will improve productivity:
I am ready to maintain that the reduction from ten hours to eight will have the same result that it had from fourteen to twelve and from twelve to ten: that while it produces a more intelligent, manly, cultivated and elevated laboring class, it will produce exactly as much and even more for the result of daily manufacture. ... To-day we stand here behind England, Massachusetts refuses to cover her laborer with that shield which England has covered him with ever since 1848. The capitalists of Lawrence and Lowell demand of the State House the right to grind out of labor more than the Parliament of England permits to Manchester and Sheffield. (pp19–20)
This same year, Phillips joined with reformer and “Eight-Hour” advocate Ira Steward (1831–1883) to form the Grand Eight Hour League.² Phillips address, “The Eight Hour Movement,” does not appear to have been published in his collected speeches and lectures.
Description: “The Eight Hour Movement,” an Address by Wendell Phillips, Tremont Temple. Dec 21, 1865 [manuscript caption title].
[Likely Boston. ca. 1865?]. ff. Sm. Folios; ruled. 12¾ x 7¾ inches. Unpublished. Manuscript copy, on rectos; pencil docketing on first leaf’s verso. Some emendations and corrections. Folds; very good.
Note. 1. Wendell Phillips, Theodore C. Pease, Speeches, Lectures and Letters of Wendell Phillips… accessed online. 2. Ness, ed., Encyclopedia of American Social Movements (London and New York, 2004), p474. Refs. Stewart, Wendell Phillips Liberty’s Hero (Baton Rouge, 1986), p261.