Morris Hillquit Papers on Microfilm

Collection Number: 5430 mf

Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library


Morris Hillquit Papers on Microfilm, 1886-1940
Collection Number:
5430 mf
Hillquit, Morris
10 microfilm reels
Forms of Material:
Articles, reports, pamphlets, correspondence, photographs, news clippings, microfilm.
Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
Includes materials pertaining to the following broad subjects: socialist unity, growth and conflict, 1900- 1913; the war years, 1914-1919; Bolshevism and red-baiting, 1918-1921; fusion politics, 1922-1924; reconstruction and decline of the Socialist Party, 1925-1933; and trade unionism, 1909-1933.

This is a microfilm edition of the Morris Hillquit papers, the originals are at the Wisconsin State Historical Society.
Collection material in English


Morris Hillquit is considered by some to have been the foremost spokesman and theoretician of the Socialist Party of America from its founding in 1901 until his death in 1933. As author, politician and labor attorney, Hillquit took a centrist position in the Party and worked to further the Social Democratic ideals of political activism, unionism and international brotherhood among workers.
Morris Hillquit emigrated to the United States from Russia in 1896 and worked first in the New York City garment trade until joining the staff of the ARBEITER ZEITUNG in 1890. A member of the Socialist Labor Party, Hillquit led the "Rochester faction" in its secession from the SLP in 1899. This group merged with the Social Democratic Party in 1901 to form the Socialist Party of America. As a member of the United Hebrew Trades, Hillquit helped to organize garment workers in New York City while obtaining an LL.B. from New York Law School in 1893. Hillquit was a member of the negotiating committee which settled the 1910 New York Cloakmakers' Strike which led to the Protocol of Peace, establishing machinery to conciliate labor disputes in the garment industry. Hillquit served as general counsel for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union from 1913 to 1933 and was a leader in the Socialist Party from 1901 until his death in 1933.
Morris Hillquit was one of the men most influential in molding the American socialist movement in the twentieth century. He enjoyed an international reputation as the foremost spokesman and theoretician of the Socialist Party of America from the party's founding in 1900 until his death in 1933. A social Democrat throughout his career, Hillquit believed in the American political process, the trade-union movement, and the brotherhood of all workers. He was the leader of the centrist position in the Socialist Party and, as author, politician, and labor attorney, he attempted to adapt abstract socialist doctrine to the problems of the American working class.
A cultured, charming, and urbane man, Hillquit was at home in all worlds. He was a collector of art and a devotee of literature, the theater, and opera. He had a successful and lucrative New York City law practice apart from his legal work for the Socialist Party and the trade unions. His proficiency with languiges, his strict integrity, and his gift of empathy enabled him to work effectively in the international socialist movement as well as on the American scene. Gentle humor and quick, sharp wit marked his courtroom debates, his speeches, and his writings. An optimistic man whose intelligence and insight rarely led him to discouragement and never to despair, he believed in man and in socialism, and in the eventual triumph of both.
Born on August 1, 1869, in Riga, Russia, Moses Hillkowitz was the third of five children of Benjamin and Rebecca (Levene) Hillkowitz. (He legally changed his name after he immigrated to the United States). Hillquit's mother tongue was German, as was his earliest education. From 1881 to 1886, however, he attended the Alexander Gymnasium, the only Russian school in Riga. In the latter year, because of pogroms in Russia, the Hillquit family immigrated to the United States and settled in New York City's lower East Side, a neighborhood largely inhabited by Eastern European emigres.
Although his parents had decided that Hillquit would complete his education in the New York City public schools, he determined not to be "the drone of the family," and after a few months he quit school and sought a job. For a short time he worked in a shirt factory, later in a waist factory, and after that in a picture-frame factory. The deplorable working conditions and low wages in these sweatshops combined with the after-work discussions of social philosophies on the Cherry Street tenement roofs influenced his later career as a socialist leader and labor attorney.
From his initial intellectual encounters in America, Hillquit allied himself with the Social Democrats and in 1887, when he reached the minimum membership age of eighteen, he joined the Socialist Labor Party. The following year he began his life-long association with the labor-union movement as one of the founders of the United Hebrew Trades. As the union's first corresponding secretary, he helped to organize, with varying degrees of success, the shirtmakers, the knee-pants makers, and the Jewish bakers of New York City.
In 1889, Hillquit obtained his first political job, a four-dollar-a-week clerkship with the New York Labor News Company, a division of the Socialist Labor Party national office. The following year, with Abraham Cahan and Louis E. Miller, he helped to organize a Yiddish weekly, the Arbeiter Zeitung, and he joined the newspaper staff as "associate editor, business manager, bookkeeper, and official poet." Meanwhile, he mastered English and began teaching the language to immigrants in public school night classes. In 1891 he entered the law school of the University of the City of New York, and upon graduation in 1893 he was admitted to the New York bar. In December of the latter year, he married his cousin and law-school classmate, Vera Levene. The Hillquits had three children: Nina Eugenia, Lawrence Benjamin, and Walter Benno. The latter died in infancy.
From the time of his admission to the bar until the turn of the century, Hillquit was absorbed mainly in the establishment of his East Side law practice. He remained active in Socialist Labor Party politics, but grew increasingly dissatisfied with the tactics of party leader Daniel De Leon. In 1899, this dissatisfaction culminated in open opposition. Hillquit, with Max S. Hayes and Job Harriman, organized the anti-De Leon forces and sought control of the party. In the ensuing court battles, the De Leon supporters won the titles to party name and property. Subsequently, the unsuccessful insurgents opened fusion negotiations with the Social Democratic Party, and in 1901 the two groups merged to form the Socialist Party of America.
After the birth of the Socialist Party and until the outbreak of World War I, Hillquit devoted his time to the creation of a distinctly American socialist literature, the dissemination of socialist propaganda, and the education of American socialists. In addition to writing numerous pamphlets and articles, he published three books: History of Socialism in the United States (1903), Socialistm in Theory and Practice (1909), and Socialism Summed Up (1913). He established a reputation as an effective, popular orator and debater; two of his notable debates appeared in book form in 1914: Socialism, Promise or Menace?, a debate with Father John A. Ryan reprinted from Everybody's Magazine, and The Double Edge of Labor's Sword, the testimony of Hillquit, Samuel Gompers, and Max S. Hayes before the United States Commission on Industrial Relations.
Convinced that the Socialist Party needed a training center for the study of socialist philosophy and propaganda methods, Hillquit and other party leaders organized the Rand School of Social Science in 1905, Hillquit served the school as a director and trustee until his death. He was a member of the board of directors of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society from its founding in 1905 until 1915. During the same time he served as international secretary of the Socialist Party and, in that capacity, he represented the party at three International Congresses: Amsterdam, 1904; Stuttgart, 1907; and Copenhagen, 1910.
In addition to running for numerous minor political offices, twice before the war, in 1906 and 1908, Hillquit was the Socialist Party nominee for the New York Ninth District congressional seat. He lost both elections to a fusion candidate.
Hillquit's legal ability aided the socialist and labor movements as effectively as his pen. He acted as principal legal advisor for the Socialist Party. He counseled Schenectady Mayor George R. Lunn's socialist government, and advised Santeri Nuorteva, representative of the Finnish Socialist Government in the United States. The majority of his legal cases were routine, but in 1901 he defended anarchist leader and editor Johann Most against charges of endangering the public peace.
Before the war Hillquit aided two major strikes in the New York garment industry: the waistmakers' in 1909 and the cloackmakers' in 1910. In 1909 he was arbitrator for the Ladies Shirt Waist Makers' Union and in 1910, as representative of the New York Joint Board of Cloak and Skirt Makers' Unions, he became a member of the first Board of Arbitration esteblished under the "Protocol of Peace." Five years later, he successfully defended eight leaders and members of the Cloakmakers' Union, men who had composed the 1910 picket committee, against murder charges. He replaced Meyer London as counsel for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in 1914; until his death in 1933 he fought the union's legal battles and often intervened with diplomacy to settle disputes between the union membership and leadership.
When war began in 1914, Hillquit's activities focused on opposition to the war and efforts to prevent American intervention. In December, 1914, he helped to organize the League to Limit Armaments. The following May, at the request of the National Executive Committee of the American Socialist Party, he drafted a manifesto analyzing the causes of the war, explaining socialist opposition, and outlining a peace program. He visited President Woodrow Wilson and urged him to support the Socialist Party's peace program.
On April 7, 1917, the day after the American declaration of war, delegates overwhelmingly adopted an anti-war manifesto drafted by Hillquit, Algernon Lee, and Charles E. Ruthenberg. Despite American intervention, Hillquit continued to oppose the war and to work for peace. In May, 1917, he helped to arrange the first American Conference for Democracy and Terms of Peace. Three times during the war he was a candidate for public office. In 1916, he campaigned for the New York Twentieth District congressional seat and failed of election by only 350 votes. In 1917, when war hysteria was at its height, the party nominated him as the New York City mayoralty candidate. Although the opposition labeled him a traitor and an agent of the Kaiser, Hillquit boldly campaigned on a peace platform and in a four-way race polled 22 per cent of the total vote. In 1918, although seriously ill with tuberculosis and unable to campaign, Hillquit again ran for Congress from the Twentieth District. He lost the election but received mor than 40 per cent of the vote.
The entrance of America into the war and the passage of the Espionage Act brought hundreds of indictments against socialists and socialist publications. Hillquit defended the American Socialist, Pearson's Magazine, and the New York Call when the Post Office Department detained selected issues of the publications and ordered the publishers to show cause why their second-class mailing privileges should not be withdrawn. He was chief defense counsel in the Masses trial and was scheduled to defend Victor L. Berger, Eugene V. Debs, Scott Nearing, and a host of other socialists, when pulmonary tuberculosis forced his withdrawal from the cases. Nevertheless, during his confinement from the summer of 1918 until the summer of 1920, he continued to work for the party. When the success of the Russian Revolution created internal dissension over the question of party tactics, he wrote articles, drafted manifestoes, and revised Socialism Summed Up as Present Day Socialism (1920). The following year, he examined Marxist philosophy as applied by the Bolsheviks in From Marx to Lenin (1921).
In January, 1920, Hillquit temporarily returned to professional life to be the chief defense counsel in the celebrated expulsion trial of five New York assemblymen who were members of the Socialist Party. Later that year, he published his closing defense counsel in the celebrated expulsion trial of five New York assemblymen who were members of the Socialist Party. Later that year, he published his closing defense argument in the trial as Socialism on Trial and ran for Congress from New York's Twentieth District.
In another well-known postwar case, Schlesinger v. Quinto (1922), Hillquit established a legal precedent. As counsel for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and the New York Joint Board of Cloak Makers' Unions, he obtained an injunction restraining employers from violating contractual obligations.
After the war, Hillquit, as international secretary of the Socialist Party, attempted to re-establish international ties that had been broken or weakened by the war. In 1920, he proposed a resolution that recommended postponement of Socialist Party affiliation with either the Second or the Third International. The Socialist Party convention adopted the resolution, but a party referendum directed the National Executive Committee to apply for membership in the Third International even though the Communist had issued the Twenty-one Points, one of which denounced Hillquit and other internationally known Social Democrats as "reformists" and "notorious opportunists" and demanded their expulsion as a condition of membership. The Communists denied the application and subsequently the Socialist Party joined the Labour and Socialist International. During the next decade, Hillquit frequently traveled to Europe to participate in International Congresses and meet with European socialist leaders.
In 1922, Hillquit and other Socialist Party leaders who were interested in the formation of an independent labor party attended the Chicago meetings of progressives that organized the Conference for Progressive Political Action. During the following two years, Hillquit was very active in fusion politics. He helped to write the constitution and served on the national committee of the Conference. When the Conference endorsed presidential candidate Robert M. La Follette in 1924, the Socialist Party supported the nominee and Hillquit actively campaigned for the ticket. However, after La Follette's defeat, the Conference for Progressive Political Action disbanded; and the socialists, under Hillquit's leadership, declined to participate in other liberal coalitions and began to rebuild the party.
Hillquit became national chairman of the Socialist Party in 1929. At the 1932 national convention a faction attempted to replace him with Daniel W. Hoan, the socialist mayor of Milwaukee. Hillquit won re-election and later that year ran his final political race as a candidate for mayor of New York City. A strenuous campaign brought him 250,000 votes, but undermined his failing health.
Despite illness he continued to work for labor and socialism. He drafted a code for the coat and suit industry and defended it before the National Industrial Recovery hearings in Washington. He also completed his autobiography, Loose Leaves From a Busy Life, which was published posthumously in 1934.
Hillquit died on October 7, 1933. The condolence letters and telegrams that deluged his family, and the funeral procession of socialists and working-class people that filled the New York streets, measured in a small way his achievements as a socialist and labor leader.


Individual correspondents of note include Friedrich Adler (1910-1933); Victor L. Berger (1903-1926); Julius Henry Cohen (1914-1915); Eugene V. Debs (1903-1925); Charles Dobbs (1903-1916); Julius Gerber (1920-1934); Adolph F. Germer (1917-1929); Maxim Gorki (1906-1928); Job Harriman (1900-1925); Camille Huysmans (1905-1917); Harry W. Laidler (1919-1933); Algernon Lee (1904-1933); James Oneal (1923-1934); Clarence O. Senior (1929-1934); Norman Thomas (1922- 1934); and Bertha Hale White (1924-1925).
Organizational correspondents which figure largely in the collection include the American Labor Party (1923-1924); Conference for Progressive Political Action (1922-1925); International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (1909-1933); International Socialist Bureau (1905-1915); JEWISH DAILY FORWARD (1926-1933); Labour and Socialist International (1923-1933); League for Industrial Democracy (1922-1933); National Farmer-Labor-Progressive Convention (1924); NEW LEADER (1923-1933); NEW YORK CALL (1912-1923); Rand School of Social Science (1907-1933); Socialist Party of America (1914-1933); and Socialist Party of New York City (1931-1933).
Among the subjects covered in this collection are conflicts within the socialist movement (1900-1913), including ideological differences within the Socialist Party of America and disputes on the issues of state autonomy, trade unionism, and relations with the Socialist Labor Party. Also discussed in this period are the establishment of the Rand School of Social Science, Party propaganda activities, Hillquit's campaigns for a seat in Congress, his friendship with Maxim Gorki, his attendance at International Socialist Congresses and his service as international secretary of the American Socialist party.
Also documented are Hillquit's anti-war activities (1914-1918) and his involvement with fellow socialists tried under the Espionage Act of 1917; Bolshevism and red-baiting (1918-1921) and the effects of the Russian Revolution on American socialists, deepening divisions within the Socialist Party, activities of the Lusk Committee, including attempts to revoke the charter of the Rand School, Hillquit's legal defense of five New York State Assemblymen ousted from office because of their Socialist Party membership, attempts to obtain amnesty for Eugene V. Debs and others imprisoned for anti-war activities, and Socialist Party relations with the Labour and Socialist International.
Papers for the years 1922-1924 discuss "fusion politics", cooperation with organized labor and the organization of the Conference for Progressive Political Action and endorsement of the presidential candidacy of Robert M. La Follette. As well as correspondence, reports, and executive committee minutes of the Conference for Progressive Political Action, correspondents include the Farmer-Labor Party, the Committee of Forty-Eight, the American Labor Party, the Joint Committee for Independent Labor Political Action, and the Committee For a National Farmer-Labor-Progressive Convention. Bertha Hale White, the Party's national secretary, figures prominently in the correspondence dealing with fusion politics.
After 1924, the collection is largely concerned with internal Party affairs. Correspondence with Bertha Hale White, George C. Kirkpatrick, and Eugene V. Debs discuss the Party's economic difficulties. Also included are minutes of the National Executive Committee, reports of the national secretaries and correspondence with Julius Gerber, James Oneal and Nathan Fine discussing activities of the New York local.
Trade union materials (1909-1933) document Hillquit's involvement with the New York City Shirtwaist Makers' Strike (1909-1910), the Protocol of Peace negotiations, activities as counsel for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, Hillquit's defense of union leaders charged with murder in connection with the 1910 Cloakmakers' Strike, his service on a nonpartisan Council of Conciliation to negotiate a settlement in the cloakmaking industry (1915), and his involvement in the ILGWU's internal struggles with communist factions and the New York Joint Board of Cloak Makers' Unions.

Adler, Friedrich, 1879-1960.
Berger, Victor Luitpold, 1860-1929
Cohen, Julius Henry, b. 1873.
Debs, Eugene V. (Eugene Victor), 1855-1926.
Dobbs, Charles.
Gerber, Julius.
Germer, Adolph.
Gorky, Maksim, 1868-1936.
Ham, F. Gerald, 1930- ,
Harriman, Job, 1861-1925.
Hillquit, Morris,1869- 1933.
Huysmans, Camille.
Laidler, Larry Wellington, 1884-1970.
Lee, Algernon, 1873-
Oneal, James, 1875-
Senior, Clarence Ollson, 1903-1974.
Thomas, Norman, 1884-1968.
White, Bertha Hale.
American Labor Party.
Bureau socialiste international.
Conference for Progressive Political Action
International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.
International Socialist Bureau
Labour and Socialist International
League for Industrial Democracy.
National Farmer-Labor- Progressive Convention.
Rand School of Social Science.
Socialist Labor Party
Socialist Party (New York, N.Y.)
Socialist Party (U.S.)

Anti-communist movements--United States.
Cloakmakers' Strike, New York, N.Y., 1909.
Labor unions--United States--Political activity.
Mediation and conciliation, Industrial. Clothing industry. New York (N.Y.)
Press, Socialist--United States.
Protocol of Peace, 1910
Radicalism--United States.
Shirtwaist Makers' Strike, New York, N.Y., 1909.
Socialist parties--United States.
Strikes and lockouts. Clothing industry. New York (N.Y.)
Trade-unions. Clothing workers. New York (N.Y.)
Trade-unions. Clothing workers. United States.
Trade-unions. Women's clothing industry. United States.
World War, 1914-1918--Protest movements--United States.

Form and Genre Terms:


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Cite As:
Morris Hillquit Papers on Microfilm #5430 mf. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library.


Related Collections:
Morris Hillquit Papers (Wisconsin Historical Society)


Reel 1 1895-1910
Reel 2 1911-1923
Reel 3 1924-1930
Reel 4 1931-1934
no. 1553-2536, Includes 60th Birthday Greetings and Condolence Correspondence
Reel 5 1901-1928
Includes correspondence from the Gorki Archives, 1906-1928 (no.2537-2598) and writings, 1901-1918 (no.1-109)
Reel 6 1919-1931
Reel 7 1886-1932
no.247-317. Includes photographs, 1886-1944 and broadsides and circulars 1906-1932
Reel 8 1905-1919
Includes general newspaper and periodical clippings
Reel 9 1920-1931
Reel 10 1903-1940
Includes clippings and press releases, 1932-1933; book reviews, 1903-1934; and obituaries, 1933-1940