Submitted by Sharon Farrell
Happy Labor Day! The original Act of Congress pictured here, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, shows that Monday, September 3, 1894 would become our nation’s first federally observed Labor Day. The Act was passed by Congress seventy days earlier, on June 26th, and received President Cleveland’s signature on June 28th.
Since 2013 or so, several sources have been casting Cleveland’s signing of the bill as an attempt by him for a re-election bid, saying it was “election year politicking.” Doubtful, since the next election year was 1896, not 1894. In addition, Cleveland was serving his second term, and had no intention of running for a third.
Some have reported that he signed it as an apology for “blood spilled” by strikers during the Pullman Strike of 1894. While it is true that blood was spilled, Cleveland would have to be psychic to know this when the bill was signed by him ten days prior to his order to send troops into Chicago.
At times too much credit has been given to Cleveland for enacting Labor Day. Prior to 2013 Labor Day had sometimes been credited as the sole idea of Cleveland as a sort of executive order. In truth, multiple labor leaders, citizens, senators and members of congress had tried unsuccessfully for close to a dozen years to achieve the passage of a federal Labor Day Holiday bill. It had been discussed, rehashed, crafted, and sponsored by numerous legislators over time. This successful 1894 version was introduced by Illinois Congressman, Lawrence McGann.
Cleveland may not have crafted the bill, but I think he heartily agreed that Americans deserved a “Labor’s Holiday” fully endorsed not just by Congress, but by the President as well. It would be a proper tribute to the spirit of the original legislation to remember the day with thanks and best wishes to the American labor force this Labor Day.