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WHAT IS THE REASON ?
HOW MUCH LAND AND PROPERTY, AND I HAVE NONE !"
This was the exclamation of a la- made poverty and want and servile boring man, who accompanied the late toil the necessary lot of any human Theodore Sedgwick, from his residence being; that he has placed him in the in Stockbridge to a steamboat-landing midst of the lavish and superfluous on the North River, as he was setting riches, with which he is surrounded, off on
a voyage to Europe. They only to tantalize him with the view of were upon a mountain summit in good which he is not to be permitted Berkshire, overlooking the broad valley to attain. This fair earth was not made of the Hudson. Spread out before to be man's prison-house and place of them lay the rich pastures and fat corn- bondage, where his soul must be crushfields of Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, ed and extinguished by material incumand Ulster. Cities and villages were brances; but for a garden of Eden, there, teeming with enterprise and wherein grows every plant that is wealth. Herds of flocks innumerable pleasant to the sight and good for food, were pasturing upon the hills and and in the midst whereof is the Tree grazing upon the plains. Upon the of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge, broad deep bosom of the majestic river not set there for the blinding, but for floated many a barque, borne along on the healing of his eyes. Wealth everywings of wind or fire, deeply laden where abounds, and liberal provision with the harvests of every clime. for every human necessity, comfort, From along the tributary branches of luxury. Ample means are provided, the monarch food, ascended the smoke, too, for the large unfolding of man's and was heard the rattle, of forges and spiritual nature. Why in so plentiful factories, ever busy in pouring in their a world does poverty so much more contributions to the full tide of wealth. abound? Why is it, that so large a The scene presented a living panora- portion of men, born the equal heirs ma, exhibiting in one brilliant view the of nature's abundance, are compelled harinonious competition and co-opera- to be the slaves of toil, to waste imtion of Agriculture, Commerce, and mortal energies, and lose their true life, Art, to provide supplies for every want in the wanton struggle for animal exand desire and taste of man. The at- istence? Amid so much public prostendant was filled with amazement, and perity, why so much private wretchedexclaimed,—“ How much land and ness? Why these savage hovels by property, and I have none ! What is the side of these vast and gorgeous palthe reason?"
aces? Why this squalid, ragged vagrant Wealth everywhere abounds. Kind wandering, homeless and famishing, Nature, no niggard step-dame, but an among these abodes of luxurious opuall-bounteous, loving mother, exhaust- lence? Why this huge mass of ignolessly produces supplies for all her chil- rance in the midst of all these ostentadren. The Universal Father has writ- tious provisions for education ?—this ten his attribute of Love over all the unshrinking vice even under the dropface of his creation, upon every mani- pings of the sanctuary? Why is the festation of his existence; in the beams light of this young, new soul quenched of the morning light, the evening's de- in its opening by the mountains of inclining shadows, the gorgeous splendor cumbrance, which lie upon it, and keep of noon, and the solemn majesty of it from emerging ? Why, in a world midnight ; in the sun, the stars, and the so rich, are there so many millions who seasons in their courses; in the un- can say—“ I hare none?" Loud above travelled solitudes of the forest, and the din of commerce, the clatter of mathe swelling tides of the boundless sea; chinery, the stunning roar of the uniand has inscribed it in characters of versal struggle for wealth, a million clearer light upon that altar which he echoes are hcard repeating the queshas erected for his worship in the deep tion,“ What is the reason?" instincts and sentiments of man's soul. With the conservative portion of the We cannot then believe that He has community,—with those who regard the
present as the best possible social or- forth in declarations and constitutions, der that can be formed out of such ma- are treated in practice as abstractions, terials as human nature furnishes, it is whose realization is possible only under usual to impute inequalities of condition certain conditions and contingencies, and the evils resulting therefrom, to which have never yet occurred, and of personal misconduct or missortune :- whose occurrence no historical analogy though I believe that far less influence justifies the expectation. is attributed to the former than to the No higher idea has yet been genelatter,—the individual is generally more rally entertained of the equality with in fault than his stars. Society, it is which all men are said to be endowed, said, has done all it could do, to prevent than as political equality, equality beor compensate their inequalities. Our fore the state, comprehended in the political institutions have guarantied right of suffrage, of office, and other equality of rights to every member of political rights. Equality in this form is society, and opened a free path to indi- nowhere fully established; but political vidual energy, talent and industry, rights are limited by conditions of proleaving his lot of fortune to cach one's perty, age, complexion, or something own will. Fortune, the treasures of else; and still more by the inequalities knowledge, the path of ambition, are of culture and social condition, which open to all, and it is his own fault, who- result from the present arrangement of ever fails to attain them.
the social state. Knowledge is power It appears to me, that in this state. inherently, and wisdom confers à just ment society receives far more cred- authority. Wealth, too, is power, acciit than it deserves. Personal miscon- dental and base, indeed, but, as things duct is unquestionably the source of are, even more commanding than wisan immeasurable amount of evil and dom. And thus, under the most persuffering. But it is more frequently an fect forms of political equality, priviaggravating than an original canse ; leged classes will exist, and become a only making more intense the disorders permanent element, as real and as of the individual being, which are oppressive as under those forms of themselves produced in the first in- social organization which are founded stance by, and are the prominent indi. primarily and avowedly upon privilege. cations of, a false, unnatural, or imper- The true doctrine of equality, as the fect organization of society. I know principle of human brotherhood, of right that there is prefixed to many of our essential and inalienable, society has books of statute law, an instrument never embraced, and is apparently still called a constitution, which declares, in very far from adopting. When thus affirmance of the notable Declaration professed in words, it is with an implied of American Independence, that all reservation, a secret reference to the men are created equal, and endowed possible conditions of another life, a by their Creator with certain natural, tacit protest of its inconsistency with essential, individual rights.
And I re
the necessary distinctions on this side joice that it is there ; for though now of the grave. Men revolt from it, when it seems half-dead, it is a true and living it requires them to give the divine grasp word, that shall one day find an authen- of brotherhood to the smutty artizan, tic utterance, and awaken and save the the toil-begrimed ploughman, or that world. Tones of that utterance have hard-fated brother on whose brow God's been from time to time breathed forth sun has stamped a darker hue than from the deep heart of Humanity; and theirs. louder and louder tones are laboring to The most generally received theory find a voice, which society must pre- of the origin and functions of society pare itself to hear,—for as it hears, is, that its leading idea is the protection will they be infernal discords, or the of property-meaning thereby a man's harmonies of the universe.
material goods--houses, lands, stocks, I said that word now seems half-dead. guineas, bank.notes; in a word, his While it should be the vivifying spirit purse. Without inquiring now how of all the institutions, practices, opi- much truth is contained in this statenions, of society, a great deal of the ment, it is sufficient for the present action of society, in its legislation and purpose to say that society has utterly social customs, is a practical denial and failed of fulfilling its office in this view annulling of it. Human Rights, set of it. It does not protect property in any just sense-in any but a purely society, by its laws of acquisition and arbitrary and conventional sense. It is inheritance, deprives a large part of not a protector of property, but a rob- mankind of this natural right. The ber and protector of the robbers of pro- whole face of the earth, from its pinnaperty.
cles mingling with the clouds, down to I am aware that this is strong, and its lowest valleys and deepest mines, is seemingly harsh language. But the covered up with society patents, and conventional laws of property, counter- charters, and parchments, and title acting the natural laws, and the natural deeds, which secure it to some few in rights of man, are among the foremost exclusive and indefeasible appropria. of the causes of the ignorance, poverty, tion; while the plundered heir is left suffering and sin, which in all ages without a rood; cannot set a foot upon have degraded the masses of mankind; the ground, out of the common highand which, in all ages, conservatism, way, without committing a legal treswith a horrible obliquity of moral vision, pass; and must be indebted to the public. has urged as a conclusive reason charity even for space to moulder in against the reform of the very abuses and return to dust. Our own constituwhich have caused them. The time tions, though based professedly upon has passed for standing cap in hand the theory of natural righits, have all before haggard and hoary conventional- admitted and sanctioned the principle, isms, to find soft-sounding names for transmitted from the ages when force the frauds and manifold oppressions of and fraud were the only law, that an man, which the dead past has be- exclusive and perpetual title to the soil queathed to the living, reforming pre- may be acquired, without limitation of sent. There is a natural right of pro- quantity or time. The title once acperty, as a natural right of life and quired is held good against all mankind liberty-equally conferred by the Cre- in all circumstances, is transmissible to ator—belonging to man as man-equal. descendants, and is not extinguished ly necessary to enable him to accom- while one drop of the blood of the plish the destiny assigned him. A original possessor can be traced in the more false and pernicious moral and veins of any human being in the repolitical heresy was never broached, motest generations. Here is a fundathan that which founds the right of mental injustice, creating original and property on convention, and says, with necessary inequalities of social condiHenry Clay, “ that is property, which tion. The social destroys the asserted the law declares to be so." Whatever natural equality of rights, and makes deprives a man of a natural right, is the title to that great property, which robbery-whoever does it is a robber; the Creator gave for the subsistence whether you, or I, or the irresponsible and happiness of all the members of representative of our thought and will, his human family, contingent and consocial opinion and social law; whether ventional, in the case of every indiit be done at the mouth of the pistol, or vidnal; depending upon the accident of under the plausible and venerable forms his being born of this, or that father, in of immemorial prescription. Let us be this, or the contiguous house. Injustrue first of all to the reality of things, tice is implied in every social difference wasting not overmuch thought upon between one man and another, which is words, for “ words are the daughters of not the consequence of personal conmen, but things are the sons of God.” duct. There is injustice in the ar
To begin with property in the earth. rangements by which one is enabled to, The earth was created for the subsist- and does inevitably, begin life with an ence of man; by the law of nature it is advantage over another. Society is as the common patrimony of the race. If unjust when it creates, or permits, by virtue of his creation as a son of hereditary distinctions of property, as God, every man has a natural, essential when it creates hereditary distinctions right to life and liberty ; by virtue of of rank, or differences in the security the same relation, every man must have of life or liberty. For the right of a right to an equal portion of the earth, property is based upon the same foun-or an equivalent, for his subsistence dation with every other natural right. and use. Brotherhood, a common pa. It is personal, and not conventional. It ternity, necessarily involves a common does not originate in, nor exist by the and equal right of inheritance. But force of the laws of society, the will of the legislature, but by the law of human- come into life with no inheritance but ity, the will of God, and is, therefore, life and muscle. Having no property sacred, universal, inviolable.
of their own,-or more strictly, tinding Passing from property in the earth, their share of the common patrimony let us consider other species of proper- withholden from them by the laws of ty, and the solution which social insti- society, yet ever subject to the inexotutions give of the inquiry, “ Why hare rable law of hunger and cold—they must I none?" What is Property? I have starve, or work upon the property of seen no definition which so well satis- others. They must become slaves, or fies the conditions of a natural right, as laborers for wages. Those positions this : “ Property is what a man ac- are correlative, though not identical, and quires, without violating any one's in some conditions the latter may be in right, and without neglecting any duty.” a state of social existence more miseraIt is founded on the law of justice and ble and hopeless than the former. The Christian love. The right of property, fundamental idea of wages is, that they then, secures to every man the just are but a part of the actual product of fruits of his own labor, by a title that is the laborer's work; a part being retaingood against the world. It forbids eve- ed and appropriated by the employer, ry one from appropriating to himself under the names of interest on capital, the fruits of the labor of another. The skill, profit, risk, or some other decepwhole fruit of a man's labor is his pro- tion, by which the real nature of the reperty ; no fraction of it, acquired under lation of labor to its fruits is concealed. the above conditions, can be taken For a time, while the number of inheritaway, or withholden from him, without ors, or proprietors, is large, and that of violating the Law of Nature. Society non-proprietors, or laborers for wages, is unjust, is it permits him to be depriv- comparatively small, no very crying ed of any portion. It does not protect evil is likely to follow. It will not be him. It is a robber, and permits rob- very difficult for the laborer to become bery, as truly as if it permitted him to a proprietor. But it is obvious that the be deprived of liberty, and made a slave. difference in the numbers of the two No one will think of disputing the pro- classes will be constantly becoming position, that all the wealth of the greater. The law is of universal force, world is the product of labor. The that “to him who hath shall be given, ground yields no spontaneous harvests. and from him that hath not shall be Nature's seed times and harvests must taken away even that which he hath.” be purchased by toil; the sea gives up Capital will be constantly accumulather treasures only to the hardy ploughi- ing, and the number of non-proprietors man of the deep; the earth hides her growing larger, by the force of causes, metals and precious gems in her dark- which there is neither justice nor phiest caverns, till the strong arm of labor losophy in asserting, imply misconduct brings them forth. The wealth of the on the one side, or merit on the other; world, then, according to the simple or which imply anything more than sulaw of manhood and reason, belongs to perior caution, or superior cunning, or the laborer. But the laborer has it not. ihe absence of those qualities--a greatHe is still a laborer, toiling day by day er or less degree of skill in the multifor daily bread; while he, who has la- plication of chances, or simply than bored not, or labored no more, nor pro- the different estimates which may be duced more, builds palaces. Through- formed concerning the highest proper out all the employments of society, this objects of human pursuit. As the numdistribution takes place. The producer ber of laborers increases, the proportion of wealth does not gather the harvest, of the products of their labor returned but he who labors not, and produces no- to them in the form of wages is diminthing.
ished, according to the fundamental law This is no accidental or transient of demand and supply; until, at length, condition of things. So long as the wages are reduced to the standard of earth may be the subject of exclusive bare subsistence. This continues, with appropriation, beyond the wants, and occasional fluctuations, alternating beyond the life of the individual genera- above and below that standard, the pertions, and the subject of inheritance, manent condition of the laborer. Such without limitations of amount or con- has been the invariable downward prosanguinity, it is inevitable that some will gress of the working-man for wages. It has been retarded among us by the hind the path of every Franklin who extent and fertility of our new territory. has struggled successfully, and triumphBut enough is realized-presages not ed over the obstructions of his early uncertain are before us-to forbid the condition, lie the broken and discomfithope that there is anything in our insti- ed wrecks of the thousands who comtutions to save the laborer for wages from menced the struggle with him; and such a destiny.
they fill nameless and unknown graves Notwithstanding these manifest pro- on the very spot where they began the positions and experiences, conservatism battle, while his name alone has gained appeals to an Astor and a Girard, to a memorial. In these contests, were demolish a plausible theory by a stub- the conquerors alone worthy of the vicborn fact-todemonstrate the "superior- tory? Was no lofty hope, no generous ity of man over his accidents.” Those love, no unselfish ambition, no infinite are but rare exceptions. In a society aspiration extinguished, when the of any long duration, wages, in the av- others fought and fell? Great and reerage of all employments, cannot great- vered are the names of the conquerly exceed the necessities of the animal ors. They are the heroes and prophets life ; not at all, when several lives de- of the race ; tokens of the possibilities pend upon the labor of, one. It is im- that lie unfolded in the mind of man; possible for every laborer, for he tgreat signs full of promise and encouragemajority of laborers, to become capital- ment to humanity. But not to all is ists; and it is only by becoming capi- given the heroic gift. Few are they, talists, and taking their turn of appro- who are called to be prophets, or apospriating the labors of others, that they tles, or speakers with tongues. Let us can materially improve their condition, not, in our reverence for these, cast reand rise into that blissful region of sun- proach upon the memory of the vanshine, which conservatism assures them quished, nor in them libel our common is within the reach of all. A Girard nature. Let us not, for the sake of and Astor may occasionally dazzle the hiding, or of profiting by, social sins, be world by the splendor of success. Not unjust to those who have perished, and as laborers for wages did they rise, or are every day perishing, in the conflict even begin to rise. In a just condition with the world. Let us, rather, look soof society, such results as they achieved cial institutions boldly in the face, dewould have been impossible, as they are mand of them by what right they exundesirable, and as they now are to the ist, what is their mission, and what share vast mass in the like condition. Inquire they have had in the discomfiture of our concerning the companions of their brethren, whose bleaching bones lie boyhood among the narrow lanes and strewed on every side around us. dark alleys where their early years were I am desirous of illustrating more nursed, and where are they? Hundreds fully the subject of wages, because it is of them toilsomely lived, and obscurely claimed, by conservative reasoners, that perished, in the same dark lanes and they are the grand balance and compenalleys where they first saw the light; sation of all social injustice. The fal. and these two alone of them all, chil- sity of the system of wages, the utter dren of fortune, favorites of blind acci- fallacy of the idea of compensation, will dent, are raised aloft as symbols of a appear from a consideration of some of destiny which all might have reached! the laws which regulate wages, as laid It is a social wonder that a shoemaker down by political economy. One of in a generation becomes a leader in the them is that “ the rate of wages depends national councils, that a farmer's boy is a upon the number of laborers compared Secretary of State, and a working black- with the amount of business to be smith makes himself master of fifty done.” The wants of the laborer canlanguages. The vast host of shoemak- not be regulated by any such continers, farmer's boys, and blacksmiths, gencies. They are necessities of existwhom the pressure of society kept for ence, independent of the transitions, deever at the bench, the furrow and the pressions, and fluctuations of trade and forge, and prevented from being any- the market. This rule violates the law thing but shoemakers, farmer's boys, of nature and justice by disregarding and blacksmiths, is overlooked; and so- those necessities, and grounding itself ciety glorifies itself for the opportuni- upon those fluctuations; compensating ties it gives for high upholdings ! Be- capital for the fall of the market by the