From the 1870s, when members of a secret organisation of Irish coalminers, the Molly Maguires, were executed for allegedly assassinating Pennsylvania mine owners and their henchmen, to the summer's day in 1920 when an Italian anarchist called Mario Buda ignited his dynamite-laden horse-drawn wagon outside the Morgan bank on Wall Street, killing more than 30 bystanders, America was wracked by extraordinary political and civil violence, most of it initiated by the country's new industrial overlords and their political allies. All the confrontations that gave the period an atmosphere of impending civil war - the coast-to-coast railroad strikes of 1877, the Haymarket bombing of 1886, the Homestead Strike against the Carnegie Steel Company in 1892, the Pullman strike of 1894 - ended in bloodshed. Between 1877 and 1903 federal troops and state militias were called up more than 500 times to put down strikes across the industrial heartland. Captains of industry retained Pinkerton goons, spies, agents provocateurs and industrial armies. Vigilantes roamed the South terrorising and lynching uppity African Americans. Massive urban fortresses, public armouries that were often financed by robber barons and equipped with Gatling guns and modern munitions, were designed to deal ruthlessly with incipient insurrections.
LRB 26 February 2009 | PDF Download