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

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XXIII.

QUOTATION FROM THE ADDRESS OF A BARBARIAN OF 1885.

Boston, November 14, 2085.

My Dear Louise:

Mr. De Demain’s old scrap-book furnished him with another text for a little lecture on a recent evening. The extract which he quoted was from an address delivered by some man, whose name time had obliterated, before a convention of bankers held in Chicago in 1885. It said:

The capital of the day-laborer consists of his health, strength, experience, intelligence, and honesty; his stock in trade is so much of these as can be worked out of him in ten hours; his business consists in selling every day one day’s worth of himself, and in replenishing by food, shelter, and warmth so much of his vital forces as have been either worked off or wasted. If they have been worked off for wages, these supply the means of replenishment; if they have run to waste, from want of profitable employment, they must be replenished at the expense of his savings, or remain either partially or wholly impaired.

“Do you wonder,” said Mr. De Demain, “that I have frequently alluded to the age from which you come as an age of barbarism? Could anything better illustrate the feeling of the rich toward the poor in the Christian year 1885 than the words of this man? Could anything show better the true position of the laborers? The very same men who patted the workers on their backs and told them they were the foundation of civilization, the upholders of liberty, the backbone of the republic, whose power through the ballot was unlimited, told them also to their very faces that their whole stock in trade was so much of their health, strength, experience, intelligence, and honesty as could be worked out of them in ten hours!”

I must confess that this quotation staggered me. There was no doubt, however, but it was genuine, for extracts pasted above and below it on the same page contained in themselves evidence of having been printed in 1885.

“I have only this comment to make,” said I: “the laboring men and women of two centuries ago were fools not to have denounced such sentiments by very decisive action. They should have taken the power of the ballot to have rid themselves of men who would act as this man talked. That they did not do it was their misery. If the rich could make the people believe that it was well for them to have their health, intelligence, and honesty squeezed out of them at so much per day, I do not see that the rich were so much to be blamed, after all.”

“Allowing that the people were fools, is it any wonder, when they were expected to work the intelligence out of themselves at so much per ten hours? Allowing that they were vicious, is it to be wondered at when, to sustain life, they were expected to work out their honesty at so much per day?

“Here we have the acknowledgement of the rich that they considered the poor, the workers, as so many sponges which could be dipped into the springs of nature’s wealth and then squeezed to the last drop into the dish of him who squeezed.

“You think the rich were not to blame if the workers, after they had been drained of their health, strength, experience, honesty, and intelligence by the rich, did not raise objections strong enough to overthrow the system? I am too well acquainted with you to believe that your heart will allow you to entertain such ideas. What could the laborers do after their ‘stock in trade’—including strength, intelligence, and virtue—had been worked out of them? Is it any wonder that they submitted to the robbery of profit for so many generations? Is it not a wonder that they were ever able to emancipate themselves from such serfdom as my quotation shows them to have been in? Is it any wonder that they are so happy and prosperous now, when their stock in trade is not worked out of them, so much every day? Is it any wonder that I state so positively that Anarchy will never give place to governments? Is it any wonder that I speak in such strong language against the rich men and the statesmen of your generation and of the generations before it? Is it any wonder that we of today call profit robbery?

“I think not.”

“I presume,” said I, “if a man were to use such expressions in an address today, he would be mobbed?”

“Nothing of the kind. I doubt if he would draw a large audience, but he certainly would be offered no violence. Fear is the main cause of violence always; such a man would be looked upon as a harmless lunatic. We do not in this age mob men who hold views contrary to those of the majority. We do not call them a dangerous class. We feel secure, perfectly, in our social system. We know that Anarchy is right. We fear no innovation. There is no wronged class crying for redress of society’s evils. There are no subdued mutterings of discontent; there are no cries for vengeance; there are no cries for work; there are no cries for bread; there is no selling of health, strength, intelligence, and virtue at so much per ten hours. We are satisfied with Anarchy, yet always striving for better things under it.”

Privately, I wish that you would tell someone to find out who made this address, referred to by Mr. De Demain, and have him informed that it would be better for him and for the social system of your time if he will be more guarded in his remarks in the future.

Josephine.

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2132 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.