1877 Railroad Strike

Historical content: 
The Gilded Age
Historical skills: 
Corroboration, Sourcing



Use the newspaper excerpt below and your knowledge of history to answer the questions that follow.  


The following excerpt appeared in a Washington, D.C. newspaper on July 24, 1877, a time when railroad strikes were occuring across the nation.  

Source text: 

“The mob which raided private establishments today closed up nearly all the rolling-mills, machine-shops and factories on the west side of the river. The mob was not composed of railroad men, but of tramps, miners, and idle roughs, who seem to have but recently come to the city. No violence was offered by the mob, as the operatives quit work and the shops suspended on the first demand in almost every case. In a few instances protests were made, but invariably the reply was shut up or burn up. The striking railroad men deny any connection with the raids on the shops, and say they are not responsible for the actions of the mob.”

Question 1: Explain why a historian might not think that this passage alone provides enough evidence to understand the role of railroad workers during the strike in Columbus.

Question 2: Three documents are described below. Explain whether each document could be used to support the newspaper's account of the role of railroad workers in the protest.  If the document could not be used to support the newspaper's account, explain why not.   

a. A July 26, 1877 editorial condemning the railroad workers for their role in the violence by a Columbus newspaper known to be sympathetic to the railroad owners.

b. A police file on those arrested during riots in St. Louis, Missouri indicating that many of the rioters were railroad workers. 

c. A letter written by a railroad worker two days after the protest that describes how he and his co-workers refused to participate in the violence. 

About the Assessment

Like Morale After Fredericksburg, this assessment asks students to source and corroborate a document.  In this assessment, students evaluate an excerpt of an 1877 newspaper article about railroad strikes in Columbus, Ohio.  Question 1 asks students to evaluate whether the excerpt provides enough evidence to draw conclusions about the broader railroad strike. To answer this question, students must source the document to determine whether the account can be thought of as conclusive evidence.  Question 2 asks students to evaluate whether additional documents could be used to corroborate the account.