Clement M. Hammond, “Then and Now” (1884)

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XXI.

MR. DE DEMAIN TELLS HOW THE RICH SHUT OUT THE POOR.

Boston, October 3, 2085.

My Dear Louise:

Since writing you last Mr. De Demain and I have had very few warm discussions. I realize that he belongs to an advanced age, and I to an old one, which have many things not in common. We do not stand on the same ground, and in consequence, if we were to argue for years, we should not convince each other. Then he has the living facts of the present on his side in many cases, and I find it hard work to argue against facts, especially with one who has shown himself so able to handle them. I now usually let my arguments, or would-be arguments, take the form of questions, and, like the over-smart and self-confident debater, “merely ask for information,” when I think I see an opportunity to trip my adversary by throwing a block in the way.

A few days ago Mr. De Demain was reading to me from a very interesting book on the history of the twentieth century, making verbal notes of his own, as he proceeded, for my benefit. He was in the midst of the section devoted to the last decade of state government in America, just before the final acceptance of Anarchy by the people, and was commenting on the passage which told of the struggle made by the rich against the coming new order of things.

“Why was it, Mr. De Demain,” I asked, “that there was always such a cry made by the poor against the rich? Was it not jealousy, in the main? The rich man did not consume very much more than the poor man,—not enough more, at any rate, to cause famine or even scarcity.”

“You ask a very old question and one that has been answered time and time again. It is the same question that the wise statisticians asked two hundred years ago, and they massed their figures like an army to prevent invasion of the rich man’s territory. The statisticians were the generals of the rich lords of the earth. Their armies were figures which they brought up in terrible array of long columns to frighten the slow-witted, unmathematical poor. But the guns of this terrible army were Quaker guns, and the army itself was composed of nothing but ingeniously contrived scarecrows. The people did not for a long time, however, know that they were being fooled. A dummy will serve the purpose of a genuine, flesh-and-blood man—to scare crows.

“The figures laboriously made by the statisticians did not show why the rich men kept the poor men poor. They were not arranged for that purpose. There are truths that figures will not show; there are truths that statisticians, never mind how careful their investigations or how correct their comparisons, may not know. It was not the direct robbery of the poor by the rich that kept the poor in poverty. It was that the rich monopolized all the means of wealth,—including brain development, born of leisure and opportunity.

“This statistics ignored. This the people, in their blind ignorance, did not see.

“It was, as I said, not so much that the rich took big tolls from the earnings of the poor, but they also fenced in the opportunities by means of which the poor could obtain wealth easily. A child born to poor parents found, as soon as he began to realize his necessities, that almost everything had been monopolized by those who had been so supremely fortunate as to be born before him. He found signs stuck up every way he turned, saying, ‘This is mine; keep off!’ All of Nature’s raw material, except the air which wandered through the public streets and the few rays of sunlight that struggled in between the tops of high buildings and the lofty branches of grand old elms that shaded the lawns of the wealthy, was locked up. The only key was money, and he soon found that to be locked up, as well. There was a big placard posted across the faces of the earth, and on it was written:

TAKEN.

“In order to be able to exist at all, the poor unfortunate found it necessary to beg for an opportunity to toil. He went to one of the landlords of the world, and asked that he might be allowed to take some of this monopolized raw material and turn it into what the people desired. The landlord figured on the profit. If it looked big enough, he accepted the service of the poor beggar; if it did not, he pointed to the placard, and said, ‘Go!’

“It was not what the rich used that made them obnoxious to the poor; it was what they monopolized and did not use. They owned the land and all upon it and within it. The poor, in order to live, must, whether they would or no, become employees, and submit to the terms of their employers or starve.

“This in your time, I believe, was looked upon as quite the proper thing. No one but Anarchists dreamed that men did not possess the right—except by might—to gather within their grasp Nature’s resources, and demand heavy rent for their use, retaining the privilege to oust a tenant at any time and for any cause or without cause.

“I have before explained to you how the rich, with the aid of the government, monopolized money, the only means by which the poor might get possession of the raw material, so abundantly furnished by Nature, with which to add to the wealth of the world.”

Mr. De Demain continued at considerable length on this subject, but my letter is already long, so I must conclude his remarks for your benefit some other time.

Josephine.

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2166 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.