"Committee Condemns W. Va. Mine Owners":
Debs, Germer and Berger Report
The eagerly awaited report by Eugene V. Debs, Adolph Germer and Victor Berger to the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party was published on June 12 and 19, 1913, by the Wheeling Majority. Under the headline "Committee Condemns W. Va. Mine Owners," Debs described conditions in the Cabin Creek, Paint Creek and New River mining districts and his committee's meeting with Governor Henry Hatfield. The report is reproduced here as it appeared in the Majority.
The full and complete report of the special committee comprising Eugene V. Debs, Victor L. Berger, and Adolph Germer, appointed by the National Committee of the Socialist Party to investigate the situation in West Virginia is given below.
In view of the fact that this report has been twisted and misinterpreted in the capitalits [sic] dailies into an endorsement of Hatfield's administration, our readers will doubtless be pleased at this opportunity to read it complete, and form their own conclusions. It may be added that Hatfield has now agreed to allow the United Mine Workers to organize West Virginia, and this is after all, the most important thing of all.
"Charleston, W. Va., May 26, 1913. "To the National Committee of the Socialist Party:
"Pursuant to your instructions the undersigned committee, appointed by your body, proceeded to West Virginia to investigate the situation growing out of the strike in the mining regions of that state. Germer and Debs arrived at Charleston, the capital of the state, the local headquarters of the United Mine Workers, and in close proximity to the strike zone, on the evening of May 17th, and Berger on the evening of the 20th. The committee lost no time in getting in touch with the local comrades, including those in prison, and the striking miners. Every available source of reliable information was sought out and diligently examined. Scores of persons were interviewed and the stories of scores of strikers were heard.
"From the hour of our arrival we were `spotted' by the henchmen of the mine owners. We could not leave our hotel without being shadowed. Friendly persons identified the detectives and warned us against them. At the same time rumors of all kinds were in circulation, the most persistent one being that we would soon be arrested and sent to prison.
"However, nothing came of this, and we continued our investigation for several days, deciding finally to seek an interview with Governor Hatfield. The second day after this request was made through the governor's private secretary, word came that the governor was willing to meet Debs but not the rest of the committee. Debs at once refused to meet the governor unless he was willing to receive the entire committee. Berger and Germer, however, expressed themselves in favor of Debs calling on the governor as a possible means of opening the way for a general hearing, it being understood that any action to be binding must first have the approval of the committee.
Would Only Meet Debs.
"Accompanied by Thomas Haggerty, leading official in charge of the United Mine Workers in West Virginia, Debs proceeded to the office of Governor Hatfield on the morning of the 22nd, and a detailed interview followed, the governor passing in review over his official acts relating to the trouble in the coal fields, beginning with his inauguration March 4th, 1913, and Debs pointing out wherein he believed him to be wrong, especially in having suppressed the Socialist papers and imprisoned their editors and employes [sic].
"It should be noted that in the very beginning of the interview Debs frankly stated to the governor that he was there under protest; that inasmuch as the governor had declined to meet the entire committee Debs had declined to to [sic] meet him, and that it was only upon the express wish of his colleagues that he had consented to the interview.
"The governor disclaimed responsibility for certain acts with which he had been unjustly charged. He had not only not declared martial law but asserted that he was as much opposed to it as any one could possibly be. He had inherited martial law from Governor Glasscock, his predecessor, and the reason he permitted it to remain effective was because he was requested to do so by the union miners themselves to prevent them and their organizers from being assaulted and beaten up by the Baldwin-Feltz [sic] thugs in the employ of the mine owners. This statement of the governor was subsequently verified by all the officials and organizers of the United Mine Workers.
"To show that he was endeavoring to give the miners a square deal the governor pointed out that he had a mine superintendent and two mine guards in jail at that very hour and that he had refused to release them on bail offered by the operators. He also pointed out that when two organizers were beaten up a few days previously by the thugs of the mine owners he promptly offered a reward of $100.00 for their arrest, and he emphatically declared that if apprehended they would be given the full limit of the law.
"The day previous to this interview the governor had unconditionally released all our comrades from prison, including John W. Brown, Fred Merrick, C. H. Boswell, W. H. Thompson, George S. Parsons and a number of others. Mother Jones had been set free some time previously. Shortly afterward Dan Chain, who had been sentenced to the penitentiary by the military commission, was given his liberty by the governor, so that not one of our comrades remained in custody.
"In this connection the governor referred to the fact that not in a single instance had he affirmed a conviction of the military commission and that while his affirmation would have sent a number of our comrades to the penitentiary, he had, on the contrary, granted them their unconditional release. He further claimed that he had abundant evidence with which to convict some of the leading strikers in the civil courts, but that he had not felt disposed to press the cases against them.
"Interrogated upon the several points at issue in the coal strike, Governor Hatfield pointed to the colume [sic] of statutes on his desk and said: `There is my guide; that is the law and I shall endeavor to impartially execute it.' The governor unhesitatingly declared that workingmen had the right to organize and that he would protect them in that right to the extent of his power; that Socialists had the same right that Republicans and Democrats have; that they were entitled to the right of free speech and free assemblage and to the full protection of the law.Papers Resume.
"As to the Socialist papers that had been suppressed the governor seemed to realize the gravity of his injustice whne [sic] he said these papers could resume publication any time they wished to do so.
"This in brief was the substance of the first interview, in the course of which Debs asked the governor to meet the entire committee which he readily agreed to do.
"On the same afternoon the entire committee met the governor in his office by appointment. The ground was again covered in detail and the same statements by the governor were repeated to the commtitee [sic]. The governor informed us that we were at liberty to go anywhere we pleased in the pursuit of our mission, and assured us that he was not opposed to the impending senatorial investigation.
Hatfield Not Exculpated.
"We have no desire to exculpate Governor Hatfield for any act he is justly responsible for, but it is undoubtedly true that he has been accused of wrongs which were committed under the administration of Governor Glasscock, his predecessor, to whose official spinelessness and subserviency to the mine owners are mainly due the outrages which so long disgraced West Virginia in the eyes of the nation.
"It was under the administration of Glasscock and not Hatfield that martial law was declared; that the military commission was created; that Mother Jones, John Brown, C. H. Boswell and numerous others were court martialed and convicted; and it was also under the Glasscock administration that an armored train, in the name of law and order, shot up the cabins and tents of the miners, dealing out death and destruction under cover of darkness, an outrage so infamous that it will remain forever as a foul and indelible blot upon the state in which it was perpetrated.
"Governor Hatfield's administration is not free from censure, but the terrible conditions which prevailed when he came into office should be taken into account when his acts are considered. Beat upon every side with hostile elements and in the center of fiercely contending factions, it would have been a miracle if he had escaped without bitter comdemnation. The one act of his administration which stands out as utterly without warrant and subject to the severest censure is the suppression of the two Socialist papers, the Star and the Argus, both outside of martial law zone, and the imprisonment of their editors and attaches. For this arbitrary and despotic act there is no warrant in justice or under the law, and it becomes especially odious and reprehensible when it is considered that the office of the Star was demolished, its forms, ready to go to press, battered up and its property destroyed and scattered in all directions, and as if this had not been sufficiently outrageous, the home of the editor, Thompson, after he had been seized and removed, entered, searched and burglarized, to which an ill and terrified wife was compelled to bear witness, after the hour of mid night and under the protest of the sheriff and local authorities. This dastardly crime cannot be too severely condemned and complete financial reimbursement would be the very least reparation that could possibly be made.
"In this connection it is but jost [sic] to say that the governor and his friends disavow knowledge of these outrages beyond the suppression of the papers and the arrest of the editors, declaring that the other wanton acts above referred to were wholly unauthorized.
"It should also be said that the governor and his friends positively disavow the threat alleged to have been made by Governor Hatfield, and for which he has been so bitterl [sic] ydenounced [sic], that he would deport from the state all miners who refused to accept the terms of settlement with the operators and resume work in the coal fields. It is emphatically denied that any such threat was ever made.
"Beginning with the 24th inst [sic], we visited the Cabin Creek, Paint Creek and New River districts, in the order mentioned, attended in the first two by Mr. Moore, the governor's assistant private secretary, whose services he tendered and which the committee accepted. The governor on behalf of the state also tendered the use of a special train to the committee which was respectfully declined.
"At the Cabin Creek and Paint Creek districts, accompanied over the entire route by numerous miners familiar with the situation, the committee made a house to house and tent to tent canvass, hearing the stories of men, women and children and witnessing scenes of horror and dessolation [sic] which beggar description.
Outrages Not Exaggerated.
"The report of the outrages perpetrated upon the defenseless miners and their families during the Glasscock administration have not in the least been exaggerated. Houses and tents were shot up indiscriminately from an armored train in the darkness of night; men were assaulted and women insulted by the dastardly mine thugs, and even little children were not spared.
"As all these atrocious crimes agaist [sic] the striking miners and their families will be brought out fully in the senatorial investigation now under way and placed before the country for its edification as to the despotic misrule of the criminal mine barons, we refrain from the attempt to chronicle them in this report. Indeed we could scarcely begin to do justice to the subject without making this report far too voluminous for the limited space in our press and for general circulation.
"A dictinct [sic] victory has been achieved in forcing this investigation upon the mine barons of West Virginia in spite of their combined efforts to defeat it. Henceforward there will be a decided change in the situation. The investigation will bring the facts to light and every effort should be made on the part of the miners and their friends to have the whole of these facts in their grewsome details brought out and placed upon record.
"By act of the legislature recently adjourned the mine guard system, which was one of the prime causes of the trouble and a source of unceasing brutality and terror to the miners was practically abolished and for the first time in the history of industrial West Virginia, the miners and other workers can now organize unions and hold labor meetings free from the interference of the private thugs and sluggers of the mine owners, whom Governor Hatfield is pledged to do all in his official power to suppress.
Trouble Alien Ownership.
"The great trouble with West Virginia, as Governor Hatfield explained, is that hundreds of thousands of acres of coal lands are owned by great corporations, aliens for the most part, such as Guggenheim for instance, who care nothing about the miners and nothing about West Virginia beyond their own heartless exploitation. Vast areas including entire mountains and valleys, are their own private preserves, patrolled by their own private guards, and it is in these privately owned sections where the power of the corporations is absolute, and where, in fact, the feudalism of the middle ages prevails, where the most cruel conditions have existed and the most outrageous crimes have been committed.
"It is with both pride and pleasure that we bear testimony to the uniformly brave spirit and high character of the comrades who have been on the firing line in the West Virginia struggle. They have fought one of the bravest and bloodiest fights in the industrial history of this country. Against overwhelming odds and with spies and sluggers dogging their footsteps, they held their own to the very end.
Join Hands Now.
"At the close of our labors we rejoiced to see the better understanding that existed between the United Mine Workers and the Socialist Party, which we sought in every way to encourage and promote, and barring a very few who are bent upon arraying them against each other to their mutual undoing, we left the comrades in the best of spirits and with the assurance upon every hand, freely given, especially among the striking miners, that our visit had resulted in immeasurable good and that they would not take hold with renewed vigor and enthusiasm, and push the work of organization, economic and political, in all the coal fields and throughout the state.
"The New River district which has heretofore been impregnably fortified against unionism, is now open and Comrade Rogers, who was the interpid [sic] leader there during the most critical period, came down to inform us before leaving that the movement was now spreading steadily and that in the near future that entire region would be solidly organized.
"Of course a few were disappointed because our mission was not a failure and because everything we demanded was conceded. These few, backed up by the papers of the mine owners, did everything possible to discredit us, but without avail. Deliberate falsehood was resorted to when all else failed and the report was sent out that we had endorsed Governor Hatfield [text missing] that we had approved his attitude and his acts, that we had been led into a trap by him, etc [sic], etc., etc., the wish in every instance being father to the thought.
Did Their Duty.
"The truth is that we did our duty and acted openly and honestly with everyone, Governor Hatfield not excepted. We freely admit having given the governor the credit he is justly entitled to protect the miners and punish the assailants, and while every act of his administration, we insist that he shall not be held accountable for the crimes committed under the administration of his servile predecessor.
"Insidious influences have been and still are at work to create open rupture between the miners' union and the Socialist Party, and to prevent such a calamity, especially at such a critical hour, we bent our united energies, and to this fact is due the false and misleading charges that have been put in circulation by the papers controlled by the mine owners and their allies in the labor movement. Great would have been the rejoicing among the coal barons and their henchmen if instead of seeking to heal the breach, and creating harmony, we had encouraged dissention and factional disruption instead of co-operation and good will had followed.
"There is still difficulties to be met, but for the first time the way is now open for organization and we repeat the hope so earnestly expressed before leaving the scene of investigation, that the mine workers and the Socialists now cease all bickering as between themselves and enter upon a statewide campaign of education and organization to the end that in the near future the workers of West Virginia might take front rank among the most thoroughly organized states in the union.
"In closing it should be said that we did not incur the unnecessary expense of going to Washington, seeing that every point we contended for had been conceded and every duty for which we had been commissioned fulfilled.
"The committee was a unit in all its actions and all its conclusions and new [sic] respectfully submits this report with the recommendation that measures be taken to have the party represented by competent counsel at the forthcoming investigation.
"Victor L. Berger,
"Eugene V. Debs,
West Virginia History Journal
West Virginia History Center