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King Coal by Upton Sinclair

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significance is not merely a true incident, but a typical one. The life
portrayed in "King Coal" is the life that is lived to-day by hundreds of
thousands of men, women and children in this "land of the free."

The reader who wishes evidence may be accommodated. There was never a
strike more investigated than the Colorado coal-strike. The material
about it in the writer's possession cannot be less than eight million
words, the greater part of it sworn testimony taken under government
supervision. There is, first, the report of the Congressional Committee,
a government document of three thousand closely printed pages, about two
million words; an equal amount of testimony given before the U. S.
Commission on Industrial Relations, also a government document; a
special report on the Colorado strike, prepared for the same commission,
a book of 189 pages, supporting every contention of this story; about
four hundred thousand words of testimony given before a committee
appointed at the suggestion of the Governor of Colorado; a report made
by the Rev. Henry A. Atkinson, who investigated the strike as
representative of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in
America, and of the Social Service Commission of the Congregational
Churches; the report of an elaborate investigation by the Colorado state
militia; the bulletins issued by both sides during the controversy; the
testimony given at various coroners' inquests; and, finally, articles by
different writers to be found in the files of _Everybody's Magazine_,
the _Metropolitan Magazine_, the _Survey_, _Harper's Weekly_, and
_Collier's Weekly_, all during the year 1914.

The writer prepared a collection of extracts from these various sources,
meaning to publish them in this place; but while the manuscript was in
the hands of the publishers, there appeared one document, which, in the
weight of its authority, seemed to discount all others. A decision was
rendered by the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado, in a case which
included the most fundamental of the many issues raised in "King Coal."
It is not often that the writer of a novel of contemporary life is so
fortunate as to have the truth of his work passed upon and established
by the highest judicial tribunal of the community!

In the elections of November, 1914, in Huerfano County, Colorado, J. B.
Farr, Republican candidate for re-election as sheriff, a person known
throughout the coal-country as "the King of Huerfano County," was
returned as elected by a majority of 329 votes. His rival, the
Democratic candidate, contested the election, alleging "malconduct,
fraud and corruption." The district court found in Farr's favour, and
the case was appealed on error to the Supreme Court of the State. On
June 21st, 1916, after Farr had served nearly the whole of his term of
office, the Supreme Court handed down a decision which unseated him and
the entire ticket elected with him, finding in favour of the opposition
ticket in all cases and upon all grounds charged.

The decision is long--about ten thousand words, and its legal
technicalities would not interest the reader. It will suffice to reprint
the essential paragraphs. The reader is asked to give these paragraphs
careful study, considering, not merely the specific offence denounced by
the court, but its wider implications. The offence was one so
unprecedented that the justices of the court, men chosen for their
learning in the history of offences, were moved to say: "We find no such
example of fraud within the books, and must seek the letter and spirit
of the law in a free government, as a scale in which to weigh such
conduct." And let it be noted, this "crime without a name" was not a
crime of passion, but of policy; it was a crime deliberately planned and
carried out by profit-seeking corporations of enormous power. Let the
reader imagine the psychology of the men of great wealth who ordered
this crime, as a means of keeping and increasing their wealth; let him
realise what must be the attitude of such men to their helpless workers;
and then let him ask himself whether there is any act portrayed in "King
Coal" which men of such character would shrink from ordering.

The Court decision first gives an outline of the case, using for the
most part the statements of the counsel for the defendant, Farr; so that
for practical purposes the following may be taken as the coal companies'
own account of their domain: "Round the shaft of each mine are clustered
the tipple, the mine office, the shops, sheds and outbuildings; and
huddled close by, within a stone's throw, cottages of the miners built
on the land of, and owned by, the mining company. All the dwellers in
the camp are employes of the mine. There is no other industry. This is
'the camp.' Of the eight 'closed camps' it appears that practically the
same conditions existed in all of them, and those conditions were in
general that members of the United Mine Workers of America, their
organisers or agitators, were prevented from coming into the camps, so
far as it was possible to keep them out, and to this end guards were
stationed about them. Of the eight 'closed camps' one of them, 'Walsen,'
was, and at the time of the trial still was, enclosed by a fence erected
at the beginning of the strike in October, 1913: Rouse and Cameron were
partly, but never entirely, enclosed by fences. It is admitted that all
persons entering these camps and precincts were required by the
companies to have passes, and it is contended that this was an
'industrial necessity.'"

The Court then goes on as follows:

"The Federal troops entered the district in May of 1914, and the
testimony is in agreement that no serious acts of violence occurred
thereafter, and that order was preserved up to and subsequent to the
election, and to the time of this trial.

"It was under this condition that in July, 1914, the Board of County
Commissioners changed certain of the election precincts so as to
constitute each of such camps an election precinct, and with but one
exception where a few ranches were included, these precincts were made
to conform to the fences and lines around each camp, protected by fences
in some instances and with armed guards in all cases. Thus each election
precinct by this unparalleled act of the commissioners was placed
exclusively within and upon the private grounds and under the private
control of a coal corporation, which autocratically declared who should
and who should not enter upon the territory of this political entity of
the state, so purposely bounded by the county commissioners.

"With but one exception all the lands and buildings within each of these
election precincts as so created, were owned or controlled by the coal
corporations; every person resident within such precincts was an employe
of these private corporations or their allied companies, with the single
exception: every judge, clerk or officer of election with the exception
of a saloon keeper, and partner of Farr, was an employe of the

"The polling places were upon the grounds, and in the buildings of these
companies; the registration lists were kept within the private offices
or buildings of such companies, and used and treated as their private

"Thus were the public election districts and the public election
machinery turned over to the absolute domination and imperial control of
private coal corporations, and used by them as absolutely and privately
as were their mines, to and for their own private purposes, and upon
which public territory no man might enter for either public or private
purpose, save and except by the express permission of these private

"This right to determine who should enter such so called election
precincts, appears from the record to have been exercised as against all
classes; merchants, tradesmen or what not, and whether the business of
such person was public or private. Indeed, it appears that in one
instance the governor and adjutant general of the state while on
official business, were denied admission to one of these closed camps.
And that on the day of election, the Democratic watchers and challengers
for Walsen Mine precinct, one of which was Neelley, the Democratic
candidate for sheriff, were forced to seek and secure a detail of
Federal soldiers to escort them into the precinct and to the polls, and
that such soldiers remained as such guard during the day and a part of
the night....

"But if there was any doubt concerning the condition of the closed camps
and precincts, and the exclusion of representatives of the Democratic
party from discussing the issues of the campaign within the precincts
comprising the closed camps, it is entirely removed by the testimony of
the witness Weitzel, for contestee (Farr). He testified that he was a
resident of Pueblo, and was manager of the Colorado Fuel and Iron
Company; that Rouse, Lester, Ideal, Cameron, Walsen, Pictou and McNally
are camps under his jurisdiction. That he had general charge of the
camps and that there was no company official in Colorado superior to him
in this respect except the president; that the superintendent and other
employes are under his supervision; that the Federal troops came about
the 1st of May, 1914, and continued until January, 1915. That in all
those camps he tried to keep out the people who were antagonistic to the
company's interests; that it was private property and so treated by his
company; that through him the company and its officials assumed to
exercise authority as to who might or who might not enter; that if
persons could assure or satisfy the man at the gate, or the
superintendent that they were not connected with the United Mine
Workers, or in their employ as agitators, they were let into the camp.
That 'no one we were fighting against got in for social intercourse or
any other'; that he and officials under him assumed to pass upon the
question of whether or not any person coming there came for the purpose
of agitation. That Mr. Mitchell, the chairman of the Democratic
committee, as he recalled it, was identified with the agitators, ran a
newspaper and was connected either directly or indirectly with the
United Mine Workers; that Mr. Neelley, Democratic candidate for sheriff,
was identified with the strikers, and that he would be considered as an
objectionable character. That when the Federal troops came, they
restored peace and normal conditions; there was no rioting after that,
there was no fear on the part of the company when the Federal soldiers
were here, except fear of agitation. Asked if he guarded the camp
against discussion, against the espousal of the cause of the company, he
replied, 'We didn't encourage it.' The company would not encourage
organisers to come into the camp, no matter how peacefully they
conducted themselves; that the company did not permit men to come into
the camp to discuss with the employes certain principles, or to carry on
arguments with them or to appeal to their reason, or to discuss with
them things along reasonable lines, because it was known from experience
that if they were allowed to come in they would resort to threats of
violence. They might not resort to any violence at the time, but it
might result in the people becoming frightened and leaving, and they
were anxious to hold their employes. He was asked whether or not one had
business there depended upon the decision of the official in charge; he
replied that the superintendent probably would inquire of him what his
business was. That any one that Farr asked for a permit to enter the
camp would likely get it....

"There was but one attempt to hold a political meeting in the closed
precincts. Joseph Patterson, who attempted to hold this meeting,
testifies concerning it as follows:

"Was at a political meeting at Oakview. Had been a warm, personal friend
of Mr. Jones, the assistant superintendent of the Oakview mine, and had
written him a letter asking the courtesy of holding a political meeting.
On Saturday evening received a letter that he could hold such meeting.
On the day previous to the meeting witness received a 'phone message
from the assistant superintendent, in which the latter inquired whether
witness was coming up there to cause any trouble, and witness replied,
certainly not, and if the superintendent felt that way they would not
come. Had advised the superintendent that he and others were going to
hold a political meeting for the Democratic party. Jones, the
superintendent, stated that witness should come to the office that night
before he went to the school house for the purpose of the meeting; when
witness arrived at the meeting there were about six or eight English
speaking people and a dozen to fourteen Mexicans. The superintendent,
Mr. Morgan, and Mr. Price, were outside of the door most of the time.
Witness noticed that the first few fellows that came toward the school
house, the superintendent stopped and talked with them and they turned
back to the camp. This happened several times: as soon as they talked
with Morgan they turned back. After he saw that, witness went into the
school house and said that it was no use to hold any meeting; that it
seemed that nobody was allowed to come. This meeting was supposed to be
in a public school house on the company property. Had to get permission
from the superintendent of the Oakview mining Company to hold said
political meeting."....

"It appears that the number of registered voters in the closed precincts
was very largely in excess of the number of votes cast, and this of
itself was sufficient to demand an open and fair investigation as to the
qualifications of the alleged voters.

"It appears from the testimony that in these closed precincts many of
those who voted were unable to speak or read the English language, and
that in numerous instances, the election judges assisted such, by
marking the ballots for them in violation of the law. Again, it appears
that the ballots were printed so that.... (The decision here goes on to
explain in detail a device whereby the ballot was so printed that voting
could be controlled with the help of a card device.) Thus such voters
were not choosing candidates, but, under the direction of the companies,
were simply placing the cross where they found the particular letter R
on the ballot, so that the ballot was not an expression of opinion or
judgment, not an intelligent exercise of suffrage, but plainly a
dictated coal company vote, as much so as if the agents of these
companies had marked the ballots without the intervention of the voter.
No more fraudulent and infamous prostitution of the ballot is

"Counsel contend that the closed precincts were an 'industrial
necessity,' and for such reason the conduct of the coal companies during
the campaign was justified. However such conduct may be viewed when
confined to the private property of such corporations in their private
operation, the fact remains that there is no justification when they
were dealing with such territory after it had been dedicated to a public
use, and particularly involving the right of the people to exercise
their duties and powers as electors in a popular government.

"The fact appears that the members of the board of county commissioners
and all other county officers were Republicans, and as stated by counsel
for the contestees, the success of the Republican candidates was
considered by the coal companies, vital to their interests. The close
relationship of the coal companies and the Republican officials and
candidates appears to have been so marked both before and during the
campaign, as to justify the conclusion that such officers regarded their
duty to the coal companies as paramount to their duty to the public
service. To say that the closed precincts were not so created to suit
the convenience and interests of these corporations, or that they were
not so formed with the advice and consent of these corporations, is to
discredit human intelligence, and to deny human experience. The plain
purpose of the formation of the new precincts was that the coal
companies might have opportunity to conduct and control the elections
therein, just as such elections were conducted. The irresistible
conclusion is that these close precincts were so formed by the county
commissioners with the connivance of the representatives of the coal
companies, if not by their express command.

"There can be no free, open and fair election as contemplated by the
constitution, where private industrial corporations so throttle public
opinion, deny the free exercise of choice by sovereign electors, dictate
and control all election officers, prohibit public discussion of public
questions, and imperially command what citizens may and what citizens
may not, peacefully and for lawful purposes, enter upon election or
public territory....

"We find no such example of fraud within the books, and must seek the
letter and spirit of the law in a free government, as a scale in which
to weigh such conduct....

"The denial of the right of peaceful assemblage, can have been for no
other purpose than to influence the election. There was no disturbance
in any of these precincts after they were created, up to the time of the
election, and up to the time of this trial. The Federal troops were
present at all times to preserve the peace and to protect life and
property. There was no reason to anticipate any disturbance. Therefore
this bold denial was an inexcusable and corrupt violation of the natural
and inalienable rights of the citizens.

"The defence relies not upon conflicting evidence, but upon the
contention that the conduct of the election was justified as an
'industrial necessity.'

"We have heard much in this state in recent years as to the denial of
inherent and constitutional rights of citizens being justified by
'military necessity,' but this we believe is the first time in our
experience when the violation of the fundamental rights of freemen has
been attempted to be justified by the plea of 'industrial necessity.'

"Even if we were to concede that there may be some palliation in the
plea of military necessity on the theory that such acts purport to be
acts of the government itself, through its military arm and with the
purpose of preserving the public peace and safety: yet that a private
corporation, with its privately armed forces, may violate the most
sacred right of the citizenship of the state and find lawful excuse in
the plea of private 'industrial necessity' savours too much of anarchy
to find approval by courts of justice.

"This case clearly comes within another exception to the rule, in that
it is plain that the findings were influenced by the bias and prejudice
of the trial judge.

"A careful reading of the record discloses the rejection by the court of
so much palpably pertinent and competent testimony offered by the
contestors, as to force the conclusion that the trial judge was
influenced by bias and prejudice, to the extent at least, charged in the
application for a change of venue, and sufficient in itself to justify a
reversal of judgment....

"For the foregoing reasons the judgment of the court in each case before
us, is reversed, and the entire poll in the said precincts of
Niggerhead, Ravenwood, Walsen Mine, Oakview, Pryor, Rouse and Cameron is
annulled, and held for naught, and the election in each of said
precincts is hereby set aside. This leaves a substantial and
unquestioned majority for each of the contestors in the county, and
which entitles each contestor to be declared elected to the office for
which he was a candidate.

"We find further, that J. B. Farr, the defendant in error, was not and
is not the duly elected sheriff of Huerfano county, and that E. L.
Neelley, the plaintiff in error, was and is the duly elected sheriff of
said county. It is therefore ordered that the said county, and that the
said E. L. Neelley, immediately and upon qualification as required by
law, enter and discharge the duties of the said office of sheriff of
Huerfano county...."

So much for the court opinion upon coal-camp politics. In relation
thereto, the writer has only one comment to offer. Let the reader not
drop the matter with the idea that because one set of corrupt officials
have been turned out of office in one American county, therefore justice
has been vindicated, and there is no longer need to be concerned about
the conditions portrayed in "King Coal." The defeat of the "King of
Huerfano County" is but one step in a long road which the miners of
Colorado have to travel if ever they are to be free men. The industrial
power of the great corporations remains untouched by this decision; and
this power is greater than any political power ever wielded by the
government of Huerfano County, or even of the state of Colorado. This
industrial power is a deep, far-spreading root; and so long as it is
allowed to thrive, it will send up again and again the poisonous plant
of political "malconduct, fraud and corruption." The citizens and
workers of such industrial communities, whether in Colorado, in West
Virginia, Alabama, Michigan or Minnesota, in the Chicago stock-yards,
the steel-mills of Pittsburg, the woollen-mills of Lawrence or the
silk-mills of Paterson, will find that they have neither peace nor
freedom, until they have abolished the system of production for profit,
and established in the field of industry what they are supposed to have
already in the field of politics--a government of the people, by the
people, for the people.

NOTE: On the day that the author finished the reading of the proofs of
"King Coal," the following item appeared in his daily newspaper:



DENVER (Colo.), June 14.--Officers of the United Mine Workers
representing members of that organisation employed by the Colorado Fuel
and Iron Company, have telegraphed their national officers asking
permission to strike.

At the morning session a resolution was adopted expressing
disapprobation of the action of J. F. Welborn, president of the fuel
company, for failure to attend the meeting, which was a part of the
"peace programme" to prevent industrial differences in the State during
the war.

The grievances of the men, according to John McLennan, spokesman for
them, centre about the operation of the so-called "Rockefeller plan" at
the mines. McLennan said the failure of Mr. Welborn to attend the
meeting and discuss these grievances with the men precipitated the
strike agitation.


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