When looking back at the history of American labor, one cannot leave out the radical Thomas Skidmore. Born on August 13, 1790, Skidmore grew up in Newton, Connecticut. He would move to New York City to make his living as a carpenter. It was here in the city that Skidmore began to absorb the talk of labor reform as the nation slowly made the change from a slow, agrarian society to a faster paced, scheduled, industrial one.
Skidmore became outspoken about the rights of workers of this time period. He started a Committee of Fifty to fight for the 10-Hour work day, something that would not be achieved in most parts of the country until the late 1840s. Skidmore, however, was not content with struggle for just the 10-Hour day, he had much bigger ideas. In 1829 he completed and published his manifesto, The Rights of Man to Property!
The Rights of Man to Property! is not a reiteration of John Locke's natural laws. If anything, it could be compared more to Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto more than anything written by Locke. Skidmore was a radical and a forward thinker. He believed in the equality of every person, regardless of gender, color or other factors. Skidmore thought that everyone should be able to vote, acquire and own property as well as get an education. Inheritances, debts and monopolies would all be abolished, as well as all forms of slavery and servitude. However, the craziest part of Skidmore's manifesto was his call to redistribute property. He claimed that all factories, railroads and industrial property should be collectively owned, instead of owned by a single person who made a lot of money of the work of many.
To promote his ideas, Skidmore helped found the New York Workingman's Party. Skidmore jumped to the forefront of the party, but quickly found himself getting pushed out of the top by members who held a less radical view. A year after the party was founded, it was in shambles and completely un-organized.
Skidmore would not live much longer than the political party he helped create. He passed away during a cholera epidemic in 1832.
From The Folks Who Brought You The Weekend
, Chitty, A.B. & Murolo, Priscilla. The New Press, New York 2001
A copy of Skidmore's manifesto can be found at the following web address: http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Quad/6460/doct/829RMP.html