Imagens das páginas
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

THIS was the exclamation of a laboring man, who accompanied the late Theodore Sedgwick, from his residence in Stockbridge to a steamboat-landing on the North River, as he was setting off on a voyage to Europe. They were upon a mountain summit in Berkshire, overlooking the broad valley of the Hudson. Spread out before them lay the rich pastures and fat cornfields of Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, and Ulster. Cities and villages were there, teeming with enterprise and wealth. Herds of flocks innumerable were pasturing upon the hills and grazing upon the plains. Upon the broad deep bosom of the majestic river floated many a barque, borne along on wings of wind or fire, deeply laden with the harvests of every clime. From along the tributary branches of the monarch flood, ascended the smoke, and was heard the rattle, of forges and factories, ever busy in pouring in their contributions to the full tide of wealth. The scene presented a living panorama, exhibiting in one brilliant view the harmonious competition and co-operation of Agriculture, Commerce, and Art, to provide supplies for every want and desire and taste of man. The attendant was filled with amazement, and exclaimed, “How much land and property, and I have none ! What is

the reason?"

Wealth everywhere abounds. Kind Nature, no niggard step-dame, but an all-bounteous, loving mother, exhaustlessly produces supplies for all her children. The Universal Father has written his attribute of Love over all the face of his creation, upon every manifestation of his existence; in the beams of the morning light, the evening's declining shadows, the gorgeous splendor of noon, and the solemn majesty of midnight; in the sun, the stars, and the seasons in their courses; in the untravelled solitudes of the forest, and the swelling tides of the boundless sea; and has inscribed it in characters of clearer light upon that altar which he has erected for his worship in the deep instincts and sentiments of man's soul. We cannot then believe that He has

made poverty and want and servile toil the necessary lot of any human being; that he has placed him in the midst of the lavish and superfluous riches, with which he is surrounded, only to tantalize him with the view of good which he is not to be permitted to attain. This fair earth was not made to be man's prison-house and place of bondage, where his soul must be crushed and extinguished by material incumbrances; but for a garden of Eden, wherein grows every plant that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, and in the midst whereof is the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge,— not set there for the blinding, but for the healing of his eyes. Wealth everywhere abounds, and liberal provision for every human necessity, comfort, luxury. Ample means are provided, too, for the large unfolding of man's spiritual nature. Why in so plentiful a world does poverty so much more abound? Why is it, that so large a portion of men, born the equal heirs of nature's abundance, are compelled to be the slaves of toil, to waste immortal energies, and lose their true life, in the wanton struggle for animal existence? Amid so much public prosperity, why so much private wretchedness? Why these savage hovels by the side of these vast and gorgeous palaces? Why this squalid, ragged vagrant wandering, homeless and famishing, among these abodes of luxurious opulence? Why this huge mass of ignorance in the midst of all these ostentatious provisions for education ?—this unshrinking vice even under the droppings of the sanctuary? Why is the light of this young, new soul quenched in its opening by the mountains of incumbrance, which lie upon it, and keep it from emerging? Why, in a world so rich, are there so many millions who can say "I have none?" Loud above the din of commerce, the clatter of machinery, the stunning roar of the universal struggle for wealth, a million echoes are heard repeating the question,-"What is the reason!"

With the conservative portion of the community,-with those who regard the


What is the Reason?

present as the best possible social order that can be formed out of such materials as human nature furnishes, it is usual to impute inequalities of condition and the evils resulting therefrom, to personal misconduct or misfortune :— though I believe that far less influence is attributed to the former than to the latter, the individual is generally more in fault than his stars. Society, it is said, has done all it could do, to prevent or compensate their inequalities. Our political institutions have guarantied equality of rights to every member of society, and opened a free path to individual energy, talent and industry, leaving his lot of fortune to each one's own will. Fortune, the treasures of knowledge, the path of ambition, are open to all, and it is his own fault, whoever fails to attain them.

It appears to me, that in this statement society receives far more credit than it deserves. Personal misconduct is unquestionably the source of an immeasurable amount of evil and suffering. But it is more frequently an aggravating than an original cause; only making more intense the disorders of the individual being, which are themselves produced in the first instance by, and are the prominent indications of, a false, unnatural, or imperfect organization of society. I know that there is prefixed to many of our books of statute law, an instrument called a constitution, which declares, in affirmance of the notable Declaration of American Independence, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain natural, essential, individual rights. And I rejoice that it is there; for though now it seems half-dead, it is a true and living word, that shall one day find an authentic utterance, and awaken and save the world. Tones of that utterance have been from time to time breathed forth from the deep heart of Humanity; and louder and louder tones are laboring to find a voice, which society must prepare itself to hear, for as it hears, will they be infernal discords, or the harmonies of the universe.

I said that word now seems half-dead. While it should be the vivifying spirit of all the institutions, practices, opinions, of society, a great deal of the action of society, in its legislation and social customs, is a practical denial and annulling of it. Human Rights, set

forth in declarations and constitutions,
are treated in practice as abstractions,
whose realization is possible only under
certain conditions and contingencies,
which have never yet occurred, and of
whose occurrence no historical analogy
justifies the expectation.

No higher idea has yet been gene-
rally entertained of the equality with
which all men are said to be endowed,
than as political equality, equality be-
fore the state, comprehended in the
right of suffrage, of office, and other
political rights. Equality in this form is
nowhere fully established; but political
rights are limited by conditions of pro-
perty, age, complexion, or something
else; and still more by the inequalities
of culture and social condition, which
result from the present arrangement of
the social state. Knowledge is power
inherently, and wisdom confers a just
authority. Wealth, too, is power, acci-
dental and base, indeed, but, as things
are, even more commanding than wis-
dom. And thus, under the most per-
fect forms of political equality, privi-
leged classes will exist, and become a
permanent element, as real and as
oppressive as under those forms of
social organization which are founded
primarily and avowedly upon privilege.
The true doctrine of equality, as the
principle of human brotherhood, of right
essential and inalienable, society has
never embraced, and is apparently still
very far from adopting. When thus
professed in words, it is with an implied
reservation, a secret reference to the
possible conditions of another life, a
tacit protest of its inconsistency with
the necessary distinctions on this side
of the grave. Men revolt from it, when
it requires them to give the divine
of brotherhood to the smutty artizan,
the toil-begrimed ploughman, or that
hard-fated brother on whose brow God's
sun has stamped a darker hue than

The most generally received theory of the origin and functions of society is, that its leading idea is the protection of property-meaning thereby a man's material goods-houses, lands, stocks, guineas, bank-notes; in a word, his purse. Without inquiring now how much truth is contained in this statement, it is sufficient for the present purpose to say that society has utterly failed of fulfilling its office in this view of it. It does not protect property in

any just sense-in any but a purely arbitrary and conventional sense. It is not a protector of property, but a robber and protector of the robbers of property.

I am aware that this is strong, and seemingly harsh language. But the conventional laws of property, counteracting the natural laws, and the natural rights of man, are among the foremost of the causes of the ignorance, poverty, suffering and sin, which in all ages have degraded the masses of mankind; and which, in all ages, conservatism, with a horrible obliquity of moral vision, has urged as a conclusive reason against the reform of the very abuses which have caused them. The time has passed for standing cap in hand before haggard and hoary conventionalisms, to find soft-sounding names for the frauds and manifold oppressions of man, which the dead past has bequeathed to the living, reforming present. There is a natural right of property, as a natural right of life and liberty-equally conferred by the Creator-belonging to man as man-equally necessary to enable him to accomplish the destiny assigned him. A more false and pernicious moral and political heresy was never broached, than that which founds the right of property on convention, and says, with Henry Clay, "that is property, which the law declares to be so." Whatever deprives a man of a natural right, is robbery-whoever does it is a robber; whether you, or I, or the irresponsible representative of our thought and will, social opinion and social law; whether it be done at the mouth of the pistol, or under the plausible and venerable forms of immemorial prescription. Let us be true first of all to the reality of things, wasting not overmuch thought upon words, for "words are the daughters of men, but things are the sons of God."

To begin with property in the earth. The earth was created for the subsistence of man; by the law of nature it is the common patrimony of the race. If by virtue of his creation as a son of God, every man has a natural, essential right to life and liberty; by virtue of the same relation, every man must have a right to an equal portion of the earth, or an equivalent, for his subsistence and use. Brotherhood, a common paternity, necessarily involves a common and equal right of inheritance. But

Our own constitu

society, by its laws of acquisition and inheritance, deprives a large part of mankind of this natural right. The whole face of the earth, from its pinnacles mingling with the clouds, down to its lowest valleys and deepest mines, is covered up with society patents, and charters, and parchments, and title deeds, which secure it to some few in exclusive and indefeasible appropria tion; while the plundered heir is left without a rood; cannot set a foot upon the ground, out of the common highway, without committing a legal trespass; and must be indebted to the public. charity even for space to moulder in and return to dust. tions, though based professedly upon the theory of natural rights, have all admitted and sanctioned the principle, transmitted from the ages when force and fraud were the only law, that an exclusive and perpetual title to the soil may be acquired, without limitation of quantity or time. The title once acquired is held good against all mankind in all circumstances, is transmissible to descendants, and is not extinguished while one drop of the blood of the original possessor can be traced in the veins of any human being in the remotest generations. Here is a fundamental injustice, creating original and necessary inequalities of social condition. The social destroys the asserted natural equality of rights, and makes the title to that great property, which the Creator gave for the subsistence and happiness of all the members of his human family, contingent and conventional, in the case of every individual; depending upon the accident of his being born of this, or that father, in this, or the contiguous house. Injustice is implied in every social difference between one man and another, which is not the consequence of personal conduct. There is injustice in the arrangements by which one is enabled to, and does inevitably, begin life with an advantage over another. Society is as unjust when it creates, or permits, hereditary distinctions of property, as when it creates hereditary distinctions of rank, or differences in the security of life or liberty. For the right of property is based upon the same foun-dation with every other natural right. It is personal, and not conventional. does not originate in, nor exist by the force of the laws of society, the will of


Passing from property in the earth, let us consider other species of property, and the solution which social institutions give of the inquiry, "Why have I none?" What is Property? I have seen no definition which so well satisfies the conditions of a natural right, as this: "Property is what a man acquires, without violating any one's right, and without neglecting any duty." It is founded on the law of justice and Christian love. The right of property, then, secures to every man the just fruits of his own labor, by a title that is good against the world. It forbids every one from appropriating to himself the fruits of the labor of another. The whole fruit of a man's labor is his property; no fraction of it, acquired under the above conditions, can be taken away, or withholden from him, without violating the Law of Nature. Society is unjust, if it permits him to be deprived of any portion. It does not protect him. It is a robber, and permits robbery, as truly as if it permitted him to be deprived of liberty, and made a slave. No one will think of disputing the proposition, that all the wealth of the world is the product of labor. The ground yields no spontaneous harvests. Nature's seed times and harvests must be purchased by toil; the sea gives up her treasures only to the hardy ploughman of the deep; the earth hides her metals and precious gems in her dark est caverns, till the strong arm of labor brings them forth. The wealth of the world, then, according to the simple law of manhood and reason, belongs to the laborer. But the laborer has it not. He is still a laborer, toiling day by day for daily bread; while he, who has labored not, or labored no more, nor produced more, builds palaces. Throughout all the employments of society, this distribution takes place. The producer of wealth does not gather the harvest, but he who labors not, and produces nothing.

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, finding their share of the common patrimony withholden from them by the laws of society, yet ever subject to the inexorable law of hunger and cold-they must starve, or work upon the property of others. They must become slaves, or laborers for wages. Those positions are correlative, though not identical, and in some conditions the latter may be in a state of social existence more miserable and hopeless than the former. The fundamental idea of wages is, that they are but a part of the actual product of the laborer's work; a part being retained and appropriated by the employer, under the names of interest on capital, skill, profit, risk, or some other deception, by which the real nature of the relation of labor to its fruits is concealed. For a time, while the number of inheritors, or proprietors, is large, and that of non-proprietors, or laborers for wages, comparatively small, no very crying evil is likely to follow. It will not be very difficult for the laborer to become a proprietor. But it is obvious that the difference in the numbers of the two classes will be constantly becoming greater. The law is of universal force, that "to him who hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." Capital will be constantly accumulating, and the number of non-proprietors growing larger, by the force of causes, which there is neither justice nor philosophy in asserting, imply misconduct on the one side, or merit on the other; or which imply anything more than superior caution, or superior cunning, or the absence of those qualities-a greater or less degree of skill in the multiplication of chances, or simply than the different estimates which may be formed concerning the highest proper objects of human pursuit. As the number of laborers increases, the proportion of the products of their labor returned to them in the form of wages is diminished, according to the fundamental law of demand and supply; until, at length, wages are reduced to the standard of bare subsistence. This continues, with occasional fluctuations, alternating above and below that standard, the permanent condition of the laborer. Such has been the invariable downward progress of the working-man for wages.

This is no accidental or transient condition of things. So long as the earth may be the subject of exclusive appropriation, beyond the wants, and beyond the life of the individual generations, and the subject of inheritance, without limitations of amount or consanguinity, it is inevitable that some will

It has been retarded among us by the extent and fertility of our new territory. But enough is realized-presages not uncertain are before us-to forbid the hope that there is anything in our institutions to save the laborer for wages from such a destiny.

Notwithstanding these manifest propositions and experiences, conservatism appeals to an Astor and a Girard, to demolish a plausible theory by a stubborn fact-to demonstrate the "superiority of man over his accidents." Those are but rare exceptions. In a society of any long duration, wages, in the average of all employments, cannot greatly exceed the necessities of the animal life; not at all, when several lives depend upon the labor of one. It is impossible for every laborer, for he tgreat majority of laborers, to become capitalists; and it is only by becoming capitalists, and taking their turn of appropriating the labors of others, that they can materially improve their condition, and rise into that blissful region of sunshine, which conservatism assures them is within the reach of all. A Girard and Astor may occasionally dazzle the world by the splendor of success. Not as laborers for wages did they rise, or even begin to rise. In a just condition of society, such results as they achieved would have been impossible, as they are undesirable, and as they now are to the vast mass in the like condition. Inquire concerning the companions of their boyhood among the narrow lanes and dark alleys where their early years were nursed, and where are they? Hundreds of them toilsomely lived, and obscurely perished, in the same dark lanes and alleys where they first saw the light; and these two alone of them all, children of fortune, favorites of blind accident, are raised aloft as symbols of a destiny which all might have reached! It is a social wonder that a shoemaker in a generation becomes a leader in the national councils, that a farmer's boy is a Secretary of State, and a working blacksmith makes himself master of fifty languages. The vast host of shoemakers, farmer's boys, and blacksmiths, whom the pressure of society kept for ever at the bench, the furrow and the forge, and prevented from being anything but shoemakers, farmer's boys, and blacksmiths, is overlooked; and society glorifies itself for the opportunities it gives for high upholdings! Be

hind the path of every Franklin who has struggled successfully, and triumphed over the obstructions of his early condition, lie the broken and discomfited wrecks of the thousands who commenced the struggle with him; and they fill nameless and unknown graves on the very spot where they began the battle, while his name alone has gained a memorial. In these contests, were the conquerors alone worthy of the victory? Was no lofty hope, no generous love, no unselfish ambition, no infinite aspiration extinguished, when the others fought and fell? Great and revered are the names of the conquerors. They are the heroes and prophets of the race; tokens of the possibilities that lie unfolded in the mind of man; signs full of promise and encouragement to humanity. But not to all is given the heroic gift. Few are they, who are called to be prophets, or apostles, or speakers with tongues. Let us not, in our reverence for these, cast reproach upon the memory of the vanquished, nor in them libel our common nature. Let us not, for the sake of hiding, or of profiting by, social sins, be unjust to those who have perished, and are every day perishing, in the conflict with the world. Let us, rather, look social institutions boldly in the face, demand of them by what right they exist, what is their mission, and what share they have had in the discomfiture of our brethren, whose bleaching bones lie strewed on every side around us.

I am desirous of illustrating more fully the subject of wages, because it is claimed, by conservative reasoners, that they are the grand balance and compensation of all social injustice. The fal sity of the system of wages, the utter fallacy of the idea of compensation, will appear from a consideration of some of the laws which regulate wages, as laid down by political economy. One of them is that "the rate of wages depends upon the number of laborers compared with the amount of business to be done." The wants of the laborer cannot be regulated by any such contingencies. They are necessities of existence, independent of the transitions, depressions, and fluctuations of trade and the market. This rule violates the law of nature and justice by disregarding those necessities, and grounding itself upon those fluctuations; compensating capital for the fall of the market by the

« AnteriorContinuar »