A Reminiscence of Charlie James

My first memory of Charlie James never fails to bring back to me in undiminished freshness the delicious surprise of which that meeting was the occasion.

It was just after the insurrection of Louis Riel and his fellow Metis in the far Northwest, against the accumulated tyrannies of the Canadian Parliament. As an outcome of that episode, I had been charged with treason against Her Majesty Queen Victoria, of ever blessed memory; and having had the good fortune to find a scalable place in the wall of the fort in which I had been given the opportunity to repent of my general cussedness, had been rewarded for my agility in seizing the opportunity by being invited to deliver to the citizens of Eau Claire, Wis., an address setting forth the true inwardness of the Metis struggle, and the why and how of its relationship to the struggle of the working people of the United States against the uncrowned masters of this alleged republic and commonwealth.

In view of the very immediate recency of my escape from the jaws of the British Lion, my remarks were very naturally interlarded with attempts to twist the tail of that dignified animal; and when, at the conclusion of the discussion, I beheld approaching the platform a gentleman whose every lineament and pose was that of a typical British aristocrat, my youthful vanity was flattered by the thought that the lion’s tail had really got twisted, and that I was in for an encounter with one of its claws!

Under this self-laudatory impression, I, of course, braced myself for the expected onslaught; and it may therefore be imagined with what a corresponding degree of astonishment I found myself listening to a criticism that I had not been quite radical enough! I had come to preach, but waked up to find myself invited to membership in the more outspoken congregation of Rabbi James!

On accepting James’s cordial invitation to what proved a very delightful hospitality in his home, I realized, in his breadth of view and readiness of understanding of our economic grievances, a most refreshing compensation for the anti-social disposition which I had of course discovered in the American bourgeoisie, from the moment of my escape into this land of the free. In contrast with the pious disapproval which these latter gentry had very generally expressed, of a movement which had disregarded sacred rights of property created by a civilized government for the guidance of a savage people, James went so far as to draw upon his military reading for a remarkably farsighted discussion of the tactics which, in case of a renewal of the Metis struggle, might profitably be employed by a people weak in numbers, but possessing the facility of movement developed by the nomadic life.

To this he added a bird’s-eye view of the various phases of the economic struggle in the more sophisticated centres of the Eastern States, and having thus equipped me with an invaluable advance understanding of new struggles into which I was shortly to be plunged, he sped me on my way with a sincere introduction to Albert R. Parsons and other comrades, who were shortly to seal their devotion with their lives.

This visit with James was in January of 1886. In view of the fact that the workingmen’s invitation which had led up to the meeting, and the introductions which resulted from it, were the direct outcome of a refusal by the lumber magnates of Eau Claire to allow me the use of a Y. M. C. A. hall controlled by those pious frauds, and in view of the further fact that, as a result of these introductions, I found myself within three months placed in charge of the successful eight-hour fight of the Chicago carpenters, this episode, in its entirety, furnishes one more example of the way in which those who would add field to field until they have swallowed the whole earth are constantly driving their victims into that solidarity with each other which will one day prove the undoing of these tyrants.

Only once more did I meet my good old friend James. That was in the Chicago Conference of 1893, when he arranged with me an elaborate, and I fear quite undecipherable, system of cipher correspondence for use in troublous days which he expected soon to come.

He has died in peace, but his life has been a martyrdom to the sincerity of his views. Had he been an intellectual prostitute, his mental gifts and profound learning would have given him a luxurious seat at the banquet of the rich. He preferred to take his lot with the wretched and the outcast, and like Agassiz he had no time to waste in money-making. Yet his life marks an epoch in the fight against that Movement in favor of Ignorance of whose wiles he was the most distinguished discoverer.