One of several labor movements that emerged during the industrialization of the late 19th century, Indiana’s Workingmen’s Party organized its first state convention in November 1865, in Indianapolis. Two years later the party nominated a full slate of candidates that lost to the Republicans in the city election. 

The leader of this movement was John Fehrenbatch, a member of the Machinists and Blacksmiths Union, and its main objective was the establishment of an eight-hour workday. Both major parties were quick to offer eight-hour planks, but little action was taken. At the same time, Republican supporters of the eight-hour workday accused the Workingmen’s party of Confederate sympathies because of its ties to the Democratic Party.

During the 1870s, several more Workingmen’s Party conventions were held in Indianapolis, and the party’s popularity increased due in part to the difficult economic times following the Panic of 1873, caused by overexpansion of the economy following the Civil War. The Workingmen’s Party also allied with the Grangers, a group of farmers organized against the monopolistic practices of railroads and grain elevators, and the Greenback Party, another 19th -century political party with an anti-monopoly ideology, to achieve currency reform, better wages, and benefits.

On July 4, 1874, the Social Democratic Workingmen’s Party of America was formed and soon began a movement to unite all socialist groups in the country. The following year this organization held a national convention in Philadelphia to establish the Workingmen’s Party of the United States, with which the Indiana party affiliated.

In 1876, the Workingmen’s platform called for an income tax and the issuing of more Greenbacks instead of banknotes. In the 1877 Indianapolis municipal election, an entire ticket of Workingmen’s Party candidates was submitted to the voters, but it received only 4 percent of the vote. Major party candidates often discussed labor-oriented planks but took little action until after the turn of the century.

The Workingman’s Party of the United States was renamed the Socialist Labor Party in 1877. Three decades later, Indianapolis was the national headquarters for the Socialist Party of America,

Revised July 2021

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