John T. Elliott

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John T. Elliott (1836-1902), also spelled John T. Elliot, was a labor organizer active in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City in the late 19th century. He was a founding member of the English-speaking sections of the First International in the United States. In the conflict over Victoria Woodhull and Section 12's membership in the International, Elliott sided with the Victoria Woodhull faction against Karl Marx. He was a member of the Committee of Safety in New York during the unemployed workers' movement in 1873-1874. He served as an organizer for the Knights of Labor in Baltimore; later, in Baltimore, he also took a major role in founding the Brotherhood of Painters and Decorators of America, and served as general secretary-treasurer of the union from 1887 to 1900.


Karl Marx, "Notes on the 'American split'" (1872)

From Karl Marx's 1872 "Notes on the ‘American split’" within the International Working Men's Association.

This Appeal -- and the formation from it of all sorts of middle-class humbug sections, free-lovers, spiritists, spiritist Shakers, etc. -- caused the split, and the demand by Section 1 (German) of the old Council that Section 12 be expelled and that no section be admitted to membership unless it consisted of at least two-thirds workers.
First, five dissidents formed a separate Council on November 19, 1871, which consisted of Yankees, Frenchmen, and Germans.
December 3, 1871. The new Federal Council for North America formally founded (Yankees, Germans, Frenchmen.)
December 4. The old Council (10 Woard Hotel) denounces in a circular to all sections of the International in the United States.
Both councils appealed to the General Council. Various sections, for example, the French Section No. 10 (New York), and several Irish sections, withdrew their delegates from both councils until the General Council made its decision. Les of the Woodhull journal, in an article of December 2, entitled: "Section 12 Sustained. The Decision of the General Council." (This was the decision of the General Council, November 5, 1871, which, on the contrary, sustained the Central Committee against the claims of Section 12, which tried to replace it as Yankees.)
Resolutions of the General Council, March 5 and 12, 1872.
The fate of the International in the United States depended on it. [...] As soon as the resolutions reached New York, the fellows of the Counter Committee began to follow their old tactics. They had first discussed the original split in the most notorious New York bourgeois papers. Now they did the same against the General Council (presenting the matter as a conflict between Frenchmen and Germans, between socialism and communism), to the joyous cry of all labor-hating organs.
Under the title: "The Party of the People, etc.", a new Appeal, always with Victoria C. Woodhull at the head, followed by the chief scamps of the Counter Council, Th. H. Banks, R. W. Hume, G. R. Allen, William West, G. W. Maddox (the subsequent president of the Apollo meeting), J. T. Elliot (the English secretary of the Counter Council), T. Miller (delegate of French Section 2).
Woodhull, etc., Weekly, May 25, 1872. At last (Apollo Hall scandal, May 9, 10, 11), Woodhull for President of the United States, F. Douglass for Vice-President (Maddox of Counter Council, president of the convention, first day.) Laughingstock of New York and United States.
The rest, officials of the Counter Council: John T. Elliot, vice-president, G. R. Allen, secretary (and member of Committee on Resolutions and Platform). In the latter committee, Th. Banks (one of the five founders of the Counter Council, November 19, 1871). Also Mrs. Maria Huleck on one of the committees. In the Central National Commitee of New York there figure: G. R. Allen, Th. H. Banks (next to Colonel Blood, member of Section 12 and lover of Victoria), J. B. Davis.
Breakup of the Counter Council.

New York Herald

From "The Communists. Meeting to Arouse the Second Assembly District," in the New York Herald, Sunday, January 18, 1874, p. 10.

Having concluded his remarks, Citizen Burke then introduced

Citizen Elliott.

Citizen Elliott announced the fact that the German wards were already thoroughly organized and that the only thing which remained to secure a thorough and effective organization was the enrolment of the English speaking wards. The proper manner of procedure, the speaker stated, for those in sympathy with the movement now on foot to redeem the workingmen was to perfect district and ward organizations throughout the entire city, the same as is done previous to the holding of the political elections. Rumors had gone abroad that the Committee of Safety had determined to resign their trust, but such was not the case. The

Committee of Safety

would always remain in active existence. The members of that committee had pledged themselves to remain true to the principles which led to their organization. They would never relax their efforts, but would work night and day to promote the great cause of the workingmen. Not one of them sought any office, and they were all pledged never to accept any. The Committee of Safety have, moreover, determined to carry the cases of the men now in custody who were arrested for participation in the meeting on Tuesday last before the State courts, and no labor nor expense would be spared to free them from bondage. On last Tuesday the country at large had seen a most dastardly outrage perpetrated upon the rights of the workingmen.

Commissioner Duryee

had charged his police upon inoffensive workingmen like so many “bulldogs” (Voice in the audience—“Shame! Shame!”) When a demonstration is made again let the workingmen go out in large numbers so that the police or military will not dare to resist them. (Loud applause. I request that those who are present here this evening will, before they depart, come forward and sign the roll so that we can form a good nucleus to perfect a solid organization in this ward.

Citizen Banks

was then introduced. During the interval between the organization of the meeting and the conclusion of the speech of Citizen Elliot [sic] the audience was considerably increased by the entry of quite a number of prominent Communists.

Other Speakers

Citizen Samuels, of the Committee of Safety, then addressed the meeting, and was followed by Citizen Leander Thompson, chairman of the Committee of Safety, and Citizen McGuire. Subsequent to the speech of Citizen McGuire, Citizen Elliot offered and read the following resolutions, which were unanimously adopted:—


Whereas we are passing through a great financial crisis which has thrown us suddenly out of employment; and whereas there is no destruction of the real wealth of the country, but speculation in gold, stocks and the people’s lands, sanctioned by the government, has been the sole cause of the panic; and whereas we are industrious, law-abiding citizens, who wish to avoid all outrage on person or property, and deprecate violence or injustice in any form; and whereas we desire only the means of obtaining the necessities of life, not as objects of charity, but as law-abiding citizens, whose right it is to demand work of the government which we have always protected and supported; therefore, we are
Resolved. That we will not eat the bread of idleness nor starve in the midst of plenty; but that we demand work, and pay for that work, now and without delay.
Resolved. That we demand the rigid enforcement of the eight-hour system on all private as well as public work, and the instant and entire abolition of the whole government contract system.
Resolved. That if the government will not furnish work for the unemployed, we, through our Committee of Safety, will in this our time of need supply ourselves and our families with proper food, shelter and clothing and will send all our bills for the same to the City Treasury to be liquidated, until such times as we shall obtain work and pay.
Resolved. That we demand an immediate and permanent reduction of twenty-five per cent on all house rents until the 1st of May to the unemployed of all classes.
Resolved. That, in the furtherance of the objects set down in the above resolutions, we will enroll our names and organize, not in the interest of any political party, but in the interest of all the people who are suffering from the present condition of affairs.
Resolved. That we will appoint from this mass meeting a committee of twelve workingmen, residents of the ward, to organize the working classes of the ward and co-operate with the German ward organizations.
Resolved. That we will support and sustain the Committee of Safety in its work of securing the above objects.

New York Times

From The Commune in New York. Its Several Organizations, New York Times, January 23, 1874.

The first international societies established in America were started in 1868-9 among the Germans in the City of New-York. In 1870 two French sections were organized, but it was not until the 1st of March, 1871, that Americans took up the idea, and began the formation of sections, the first American section being No. 9. At that time there were two French, two Irish, and four German sections, aggregating nearly 2,000 members. Among the founders of section No. 9 were Ira Davis, J. W. Gregory, Theodore S. Banks, George R. Allen, Leander Thompson, G. W. Maddox, John Halbert, John T. Elliott and others, who became subsequently, and have continued more or less identified with the cause. Davis and Gregory are dead, but the others are all enjoying the dole of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," which the Constitution of the United States generously vouches to all who come within its purview. The only difference between them and ordinary citizens is perhaps that while they have enough of life they desire a little more liberty and a shorter route to the attainment of happiness than that over which it has been so long "pursued" and so rarely overtaken. Every member of the sections established was an artisan or a mechanic, or at least was engaged in a skilled industrial avocation, and section No. 9 in a few weeks enrolled about 200 members.

Samuel Gompers (1896)

From a letter from Samuel Gompers to John O'Sullivan, March 28, 1896. Repritned in The Samuel Gompers Papers, Volume 4: A National Labor Movement Takes Shape, 1895-98, Ed. Stuart B. Kaufman, Peter J. Albert, and Grace Palladino. United States: University of Illinois. 1991. 144.

My trip to Washington is to appear before the committee on Labor on all our Bills; at the same time to appear before the National League of Musicians, which holds their convention there, on the 9th and urge affiliation. In Baltimore, a conference with Elliott3 on the Painters' trouble.

The Samuel Gompers Papers (1991)

Footnote on a newspaper column, "The Labor Convention," December 11, 1895. Reprinted in The Samuel Gompers Papers, Volume 4: A National Labor Movement Takes Shape, 1895-98, Ed. Stuart B. Kaufman, Peter J. Albert, and Grace Palladino. United States: University of Illinois. 1991. 84n7.

7. In 1894 the BPDA split into two factions. James H. Sullivan was associated with the one led by John T. Elliott, which remained headquartered in Baltimore. The other, let by Joseph W. McKinney, was headquartered in Lafayette, Ind. The 1894 AFL convention seated delegates from both groups, but the AFL Executive Council voted in February 1895 to recognize only the eastern faction. The split continued until 1900, when the two divisions amalgamated.

Footnote on a letter from Samuel Gompers to John O'Sullivan, March 28, 1896. Reprinted in The Samuel Gompers Papers, Volume 4: A National Labor Movement Takes Shape, 1895-98, Ed. Stuart B. Kaufman, Peter J. Albert, and Grace Palladino. United States: University of Illinois. 1991. 145n3.

3. John T. Elliott served as general secretary-treasurer of the Brotherhood of Painters and Decorators (after 1899, Painters, Decorators, and Paperhangers) of America from 1887 to 1900.

From "Glossary," in The Samuel Gompers Papers, Volume 4: A National Labor Movement Takes Shape, 1895-98, Ed. Stuart B. Kaufman, Peter J. Albert, and Grace Palladino. United States: University of Illinois. 1991. 523-524.

Elliott, John T. (1836-1902), a founder of the Brotherhood of Painters and Decorators of America (BPDA), was born in Baltimore. Following the Civil War he moved to Philadelphia and joined the International Workingmen's Association (IWA). The IWA General Council in New York City elected him U.S. general secretary for 1871-72, and this brought him actively into socialist and reform politics and relief efforts in the city during the depression of the 1870s. He was involved in organizing the Grand Lodge of Painters of America in 1871, the first national painters' union, which lasted until 1876.
Returning to Baltimore in 1879, Elliott organized KOL Local Assembly 1466 and served as secretary of District Assembly 41. He resigned from the Knights in 1882 and in 1887 helped organize the BPDA and was elected general secretary-treasurer. Elliott presided over the BPDA (after 1899, the Brotherhood of Painters, Decorators, and Paperhangers of America) during years of factionalism, in which the painters divided into two groups. Elliott's eastern faction based in Baltimore, and a western faction headquartered in Lafayette, Ind. Poor health forced him to retire in 1900.

The Painter and Decorator (1914)

From "The Painter and Decorator," Vol. XXVIII, No. 2 (February, 1914), "... published monthly at LaFayette, Ind. by the Brotherhood of Painters, Decorators and Paperhangers of America." 84.

John T. Elliot, the founder of the Brotherhood, sleeps in an unmarked grave. The Rochester General Assembly decided that in respect to his memory and in recognition of his service in the cause of trade unionism a monument should be erected upon his resting place. The request for a free-will offering will be sent out in April.