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THE NATIONAL ERA AN EXCELLENT WITNESS.
In an article in the Era of August 16, 1855, criticising and denying our theory of the Failure of Free Society, the writer begins by asserting, “We demonstrated, last week, from history, that the condition of the poor of England has greatly improved in modern times, as they have become free from the restraints of feudal bondage.” He then goes on to criticise us, but, before concluding, contradicts and refutes his work of the week before, and adopts our theory in its fullest extent. He admits the intolerable exploitation and oppression of capital over labor, but looks forward to the day when it will be corrected. He is, like all Abolitionists, agrarian. He holds our doctrine, too, that the serfs were set free to starve, not because liberty was a good or a boon. He further holds, that the poor laborers could not get masters if they wanted them, because the rich can get their labor on better terms. Thus he distinctly shows that Free Society has failed, and why it has failed. We know very well the rich of Western Europe would not willingly take the poor as slaves, but the law should compel them to do so; for that is the only feasible system of agrarianism, the only practicable way of letting in all men to a sufficient, if not equal, enjoyment of terra matre. Here is his refutation of himself, and confirmation of our theory, which he thinks he is upsetting. We never take up an abolition paper without finding doctrines like those of the Era, and only adduce it as a specimen:
“Under despotic and corrupt governments, which oppress the people with taxes, to support extravagant misrule and unnecessary war-which debauch them by evil example of those in high places, and discourage education or render it impossible—the condition of the poor and nominally free becomes truly deplorable. But it is not Freedom which is their undoing—it is rather the lack of it. It is their subjection, through ignorance, to bad rulers, which keeps them in poverty. We know that the claim laid by capital to the lion's share of profits is itself, under any circumstances, a great obstruction to the progress
but we believe that even that obstacle will one day be removed—that problem in political science be solved by civilization and Christianity. We believe that the human intellect will never, with the light of the Gospel to guide and inspire its efforts, surrender to the cold and heartless reign of capital over labor. But, at any rate, one thing is certain, under the worst form of government, or the best, namely: when Freedom becomes a burden and a curse to the poor,
Slavery—that is to say, the enslavement of the mass of laborers, with responsibility on the part of the master for their support—is no longer possible. When freemen are unable to support themselves, among all the diversified employments of free societies, it would he impossible for them to find masters willing to take the responsibility. The masses in Europe, in fact, owe their liberty to the excessive supply of slave labor, which, when it becomes a burden to the land, was cast aside as worthless. Who believes that Irish landlords would take the responsibility of supporting the peasantry, on the condition of their becoming slaves ? In fact, is it not notorious that they help them to emigrate to America, and often pull down their cabins and huts, in order to drive them off ?”
In further proof of the agrarian doctrines of the Abolitionists, we add an article from the Northern Christian Advocate, a clever Methodist paper, edited in the State of New York:
“FACTORY OPERATIVES.—There is a class of laborers, consisting of men, women and children, whom we never contemplate but with regret--we see them, at least, in imagination, subsiding, in spite of all their care, into utter dependence and poverty. Hence, we never look upon a factory or large manufacturing establishment with unmingled pleasure. The men and women, who ply its machinery, are too apt to become identified with such establishments in an improper degree. This process of assimilation and identification goes on slowly, but surely, till at last the individual and the factory are so blended into one, that a separate existence is impossible. One or
, two generations are required to bring about this state of things. Pecuniary dependence, ignorance of other employments, physical malformation, and the general helplessness of a mere factory population, are not the work of a day. Individuals cannot be detached from other pursuits at once-cannot have manufacturing knowledge and no other knowledge until they have had time to drift away from other occupations. But however retarded the effect, it is sure to follow, and consequently every large mechanical establishment must be considered as having certain malign tendencies, which are to be carefully guarded against.
“ The causes of the evil under consideration are very obvious, as is also their appropriate remedy. We must set down as the first and principal cause of injury, the fact that the capital which sustains mechanical business is not under the control of the operatives. The mills or machines may stop at any hour in spite of the wants or wishes of the employees. Wages may be put down, little or much, with or without notice. Operatives are not consulted in such cases. The motive may be good or bad-it may be to guard against bankruptcy, or to amass
— wealth from the sinews of a toiling, dependent race. But, whatever the motive and the decision, the operative is helpless—he can control neither the one nor the other. It is his to labor; others are charged with the regulation of prices, and the only check in his power is the precarious one of a strike. Strikes in business are like insurrections in civil governments--a last, desperate remedy, and as often fatal to the sufferer as protective of his in
terests. The same is true of the farmer who does not own the soil on which he labors, but is compelled to make terms with a landlord. Hence, the well known insurmountable evils of agricultural tenantry. In Europe it has produced serfdom and feudalism, besides a good deal of servitude and degradation concealed under the mild name of peasant. It matters not what the
occupation may be, as soon as the laborer becomes thoroughly dependent, and feels that dependence, the system does him an incalculable injury. It is for this reason that large landholders always deteriorate the population, and society becomes worthless just in proportion as the means of independent existence pass from the hands of the many to the few. This difficulty is, and must be forever in the way of conducting manufacturing establishments on the present plan. Perhaps some means of diffusing capital among operatives, or, what is the same, of giving the laborer reasonable securities, may yet be discovered; but the change would require to be radical. The monopoly of capital, is so nearly like the monopoly of land, that we may readily see no partial measures can ever effect a cure.”