RCC Honors History Project

Knights of Labor Constitution (1878)

Posted by nrohr on April 15, 2009

Knights of Labor Constitution (1878)

Noble Order of the Knights of Labor

Courtesy Department of Archives and Manuscripts. The Catholic University of America, Washington DC


The alarming development and aggressiveness of the power of great capitalists and corporations under the present industrial system will inevitably lead to the pauperization and hopeless degradation of the toiling masses. It is imperative, if we desire to enjoy the full blessings of life, the unjust accumulation and this power for evil of aggregated wealth shall be prevented. This mush-desired object can be accomplished only by the united efforts of those who obey the divine injunction: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” Therefore we have formed the Order of the Knights of Labor for the purpose of organizing, educating and directing the power of the industrial masses.

It is not a political party, it is more, for in it are crystallized sentiments and measures for the benefit of the whole people; but it should be borne in mind, when exercising the right of suffrage, that most of the objects herein set forth can only be obtained through legislation, and that it is the duty, regardless of party, of all to assist in nominating and supporting with their votes such candidates as will support these measures. No one shall, however, be compelled to vote with the majority.

Calling upon all who believe in securing “the greatest good to the greatest number” to join and assist us, we declare to the world that our aims are:

I. To make industrial and moral worth, not wealth, the true standard of individual and national greatness.

II. To secure to the workers the full enjoyment of, the wealth they create; sufficient leisure in which to develop their intellectual, moral and social faculties; all of the benefits, recreations and pleasures of association; in a word, to enable them to share in the gains and honor of advancing civilization.

In order to secure these results, we demand at the hands of the law-making power of Municipality, State and Nation:

III. The establishment of the Referendum in the making of all laws.

IV. The establishment of Bureaus of labor Statistics, that we may arrive at a correct knowledge of the educational, moral and financial condition of the laboring masses, and the establishment of free State Labor Bureaus.

V. The land, including all the natural sources of wealth, is the heritage of all the people, and should not be subject to speculative traffic. Occupancy and use should be the only title to the possession of land. The taxes upon land should be levied upon its full value for use, exclusive of improvements, and should be sufficient to take for the community all unearned increment.

VI. The abrogation of all laws that do not bear equally upon capitalists and laborers, and the removal of unjust technicalities, delays and discriminations in the administration of justice.

VII. The adoption of measures providing for the health and safety of those engaged in mining, manufacturing and building industries, and for indemnification to those engaged therein for injuries received through lack of necessary safeguards.

VIII. The recognition, by incorporation, of orders and other associations organized by the workers to improve their condition and to protect their rights.

IX. The enactment of laws to compel corporations to pay their employes weekly, in lawful money, for the labor of the proceeding week, and giving mechanics and laborers a first lien upon the product of their labor to the extent of their full wages.

X. The abolition of the contract system on National, State and Municipal works.

XI. The enactment of laws providing for arbitration between employers and employed, and to enforce the decision of the arbitrators.

XII. The prohibition by law of the employment of children under fifteen years of age; the compulsory attendance at school for at least ten months in the year of all children between the ages of seven and fifteen years; and the furnishing at the expense of the State of free text books.

XIII. That a graduated tax on incomes and inheritances be levied.

XIV. To prohibit the hiring out of convict labor.

XV. The establishment of a national monetary system in which a circulating medium in necessary quantity shall issue directly to the people without the intervention of banks; that all the national issue shall be full legal tender in payment of all debts, public and private; and that the government shall not guarantee or recognize any private banks or create any banking corporations.

XVI. That interest-bearing bonds, bills of credit or notes shall never be issued by the government; but that, when need arises, the emergency shall be met by issue of legal-tender, non-interest-bearing money.

XVII. That the importation of foreign labor under contract be prohibited.

XVIII. That, in connection with the postoffice, the government shall provide facilities for deposits of savings of the people in small sums.

XIX. That the government shall obtain possession, under the right of eminent domain, of all telegraphs, telephones and railroads; and that hereafter no charter or license be issued to any corporation for construction or operation of any means of transporting intelligence, passengers or freight.

And while making the foregoing demands upon the State and National Governments, we will endeavor to associate our own labors:

XX. To establish co-operative institutions, such as will tend to supersede the wage system, by the introduction of a co-operative industrial system.

XXI. To secure for both sexes equal rights.

XXII. To gain some of the benefits of labor-saving machinery by a gradual reduction of the hours of labor to eight per day.

XXIII. To persuade employers to agree to arbitrate all differences which may arise between them and their employes, in order that the bonds of sympathy between them may be strengthened and that strikes may be rendered unnecessary.


Article I.

Name, Jurisdiction and Membership.

Section 1. This body shall be known as the General Assembly of the Knights of Labor, and shall be composed of Representatives selected according to the constitution. The General Assembly has full and final jurisdiction, and is the highest tribunal of the Order of the Knights of Labor. It alone possesses the power and authority to make, amend or repeal the fundamental and general laws and regulations of the Order, and to finally decide all controversies arising in the Order. It shall issue, or cause to be issued, charters to State, National Trade, District and Local Assemblies, traveling and transfer cards, and all supplies requiring uniformity. It shall prohibit the sale of intoxicants at entertainments given by the Assemblies of this Order. It may also tax the members of the Order for its maintenance.

Sec. 2. To facilitate the work of the Order there may be established State, National Trade, District and Local Assemblies under such regulations as may be hereinafter provided. These several subdivisions of the Order shall subject to the absolute control of the General Assembly.

Sec. 3. In each of the States and Territories of the United States of America, as soon as ten or more Local Assemblies are founded therein, there may be established a State or (as the case may be) Territorial Assembly. In foreign countries an Assembly similar in power and purpose may be established in each Province or other subdivision into which said country may be divided. Said Assembly shall be known by the name of the State, Territory, Province or other division in which it is located. All reference hereinafter made, and all laws, rules or regulations of the Order applying to a State Assembly, shall be construed as in like manner applying to a Territorial, Province, etc., Assembly. The jurisdiction of a State Assembly shall include all of the territory of the State not assigned to a Mixed District Assembly existing at the time said State Assembly is organized, together with such territory as may be surrendered by any such District Assembly.

Sec. 4. District Assemblies may be instituted within the limits of a State Assembly with such jurisdiction as said State Assembly may define.

Sec. 5. Local Assemblies may be founded within the limits of a District Assembly with such jurisdiction as said District Assembly may define. Local Assemblies may be attached to a State, National Trade, District or to the General Assembly. Local Assemblies shall have the right to transfer from the higher body to which they are attached to another higher body for reasons satisfactory to the General Executive Board. This decision, to be lawful, must be arrived at by two-thirds the members present at a meeting of the Local specially called for the purpose, after the Local has met all lawful demands of the higher body from which it may desire to detach itself. Notice of action taken, with receipts for all indebtedness to superior body the Local Assembly desires to withdraw from up to date of quarter preceding application for transfer, must at once be forwarded by the Local to the General Secretary-Treasurer, and a similar notice and copy to the higher body to which the Local desires to attach itself. A Trade Assembly belonging to a National Trade Assembly may also join a State of Mixed District Assembly in the locality in which it is situated and under such regulations as said District Assembly may enact, provided that the delegates of such Local Assembly shall have no vote in electing representatives of the State or of the District Assembly to the General Assembly and its membership shall be credited to the National Trade Assembly as a basis of representation.


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