Ready for some Labor Day trivia for 2011? Have you been scouring the Internet searching for Labor Day history, clip art, fun facts and trivia questions? Well look no further as we take a look at how Labor Day got started. Whereas most nations celebrate the efforts of their workers on May 1, May Day, America would have no part in anything that smacks of Marxism. The very first Labor Day parade was on September 5, 1892 in New York City with some 10,000 members of the Central Labor Union marching up Broadway. Other marches and observances followed the next year. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland, the last decent Democrat president, signed the law making the first Monday in September a federal holiday known as Labor Day.

labor day trivia grover cleveland

Grover Cleveland was a pretty interesting president. Not only was he the only Democrat elected between 1860 through 1912, he is also the only president to serve two, non-consecutive terms of office. I suppose the reason I like him is that he was a big fan of the Gold Standard. He fought against cronyism in government, often keeping Republican appointees at their jobs if they did them well. Cleveland was also a free trade advocate and opposed federal handouts to businesses and others. Perhaps most famously was his vetoing a relief bill to give Texas farmers $10,000 worth of seeds. He saw no Constitutional authority in providing such charity and felt that to do so would weaken the ″sturdiness of our national character.″

This was the peak of the Horatio Alger Era. A time when the American Dream meant that anybody, from any walk of life, could indeed prosper and advance themselves with hard work and imagination. The United States had become a world leader in manufacturing and technology. A land of opportunity. Naturally, there is also a flip-side. The growing pains of our expanding economy at the time also led to a constant battle against corporate trusts and cartels. The labor union movement, originally begun to prevent immigrants and African-Americans from the job market, was growing increasing active, and sometimes violent. A number of stock market and bank panics also resulted from this period of rapid growth and change as the country shifted from mostly an agrarian culture to an industrial one. This included several major incidents of labor unrest in 1886, such as the Haymarket Riot and the Bay View Tragedy.

Grover Cleveland, while generally pro-business, differed from Republicans of that time who favored a national policy of trade tariffs to protect American industry. Cleveland believed there was more to gain by removing such tariffs. He strongly believed in free trade and in curbing any imperialist tendencies as the European Powers were carving up the world. He saw America doing best as a neutral nation, staying out of any foreign entanglements. The tariff issue wound up costing Cleveland his reelection bid, as well as his stand against the government minting excessive amounts of silver coins, which led to inflation.

Losing to Benjamin Harrison in 1888, Cleveland returned to being a private citizen. Harrison raised tariffs again, overturning Cleveland′s policies, and also supported increasing the money supply with silver coinage. By 1891, the good times had ground to a halt as people began cash in the paper ′gold notes′ for bullion due to inflation, depleting the Treasury′s gold reserves. The protectionist tariffs had also put a crimp on economic growth, doubling the negative effect on the economy and employment. So Cleveland ran again in 1892 and won.

No sooner did he return to the White House, Cleveland faced the Panic of 1893, a major depression. Helped by J.P. Morgan selling the government extra gold to cover losses, Cleveland worked to repeal portions of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890. Cleveland then worked at reducing tariffs, again, but imposed a 2% tax on income above $4,000 a year, affecting the top 10% of earners. In 1895, the tax was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The Panic of 1893 also had an extreme impact on the labor movement. They wanted a weak dollar in order to have more of them. One group, known as Coxey′s Army, marched on Washington, DC, demanding cheap currency and to use it for a national roads program. Today, we would call that ′infrastructure′ and ′shovel-ready jobs′. While this protest went nowhere, the following year saw the great Pullman Strike where some 3,000 employees of the Pullman Car Company walked off their jobs in protest over wages and 12-hour workdays. Soon, as many as 125,000 railroad workers struck in sympathy, along with an equal number from other labor unions. Cleveland responded with federal troops, as the mail was highly dependent on the railroads. Things got ugly with 13 strikers killed and a great deal of property damage.

The end result, however, was the creation of Labor Day. Once the strike had ended, Cleveland worked to mend fences and heal wounds with the American labor movement. The law was passed by Congress creating Labor Day a mere six days after the Pullman Strike had ended. Talk about moving swiftly! But the damage had been done and the rise of the Progressive movement within the Democrat Party blocked Cleveland from getting another term as president.

I hope you enjoyed our look at some Labor Day trivia for 2011. While there was no Labor Day clip art, the history of the origins of Labor Day and our fun facts should help answer some trivia questions. We now know that it was President Grover Cleveland who signed the law establishing Labor Day to mend fences with the labor unions after the Pullman Strike. As we can see, many issues of that time still resonate today.