Stephen Pearl Andrews, 1877 “Address”

I’m just about done, for now at least, with combing the page of The Index. There is plenty more work to be done. For instance, someone should collect the material by Henry Appleton and Edwin C. Walker, particularly in the volumes for 1877 and 1878, and someone could easily make a good study of the responses to the Heywood trial and the issue of “obscenity” generally. I haven’t come close to exhausting what’s in those pages, but what I’ve extracted is still a “pretty good haul.” Here, once again, are the previous entries on The Index:

One very interesting item which I failed to mention in any of those earlier posts was an “Address,” which follows, by Stephen Pearl Andrews, from 1877, on the subject of strikes. E. L. Crane, of Tippecanoe City (now Tipp City), Ohio, responded in a later issue, and Andrews made one further response, relating the “Address” to The Labor Dollar and his review of Larned’s Talks about Labor in The Radical Review. I’ll collect all that material soon. For now, here’s a relatively unknown piece by Andrews.

The crisis in the affairs of labor and capital which is now pending and imminent, is no accidental or unforeseen event. It is part of a necessary evolution of society to a higher and better state of adjustment between those great interests involved. The transition has to take place between the lower and the higher form of civilization. Such a transition is like the birth of a new being. It cannot occur without the rending of old conditions, with some struggle and pain; but it makes all the difference in the world whether the nature of the case is understood, provided for, patiently waited upon, and lovingly served; or whether, on the contrary, it is met by ignorant alarm, violent resistance, and frantic effort to extirpate the cause of the disturbance An ignorant surgeon who should mistake a perfectly natural case of pregnancy and incipient parturition for a malignant tumor, and who should resort to the knife, would kill both mother and child. The ordinary politician, military commander, or business man is that ignorant surgeon. The case is beyond their skill, and must have a different kind of treatment.

The simple fact is, that our form of civilization based on an unequal struggle of competition between the strong and powerful few and the weak and helpless many (for so it has been), is, in the expressive language of the common people, “played out.” Something else and something better has to come, or something worse from the desperate struggle to get the better. The simple fact is, that the laboring man—and he is the immense majority—GETS NO JUSTICE on the present plan of conducting business, and that he has discovered that fact and means to right things at all hazards. He has the power in his hands the moment he is thoroughly aroused,—in this country of all the countries in the world, with our political creed which concedes it to him, with his numerical majority, and with his wide-spread intelligence and daring enterprise. The ballot is his, but he can’t wait to use it, and he might be cheated in the use of it, as he has been. The soldier is recruited from him! is him! and will fraternize with him! and then, instantly the bottom of our old civilization is fallen out. This, then, is the shorter cut. From the instant this happens—it has already happened in the small way, and it will happen in the large way—the poverty of the current talk about “enforcing the law, first and foremost,” becomes evident. It is then mere babble. The case has gone into the higher court, where the question is of “establishing justice” first and foremost, and of enforcing the laws afterwards; and upon that basis only.

All this means, it is true, revolution, not political revolution merely or mainly but social and industrial revolution, revolution in the world’s way of doing business, of exchanging values and of compensating labor. There are a few dozens of men, and some women, in the United States, and a handful over the whole world, who have made the science of society a study for many years past, and who have tried to tell their busy contemporaries that just this time and these events were coming, but generally their contemporaries were too busy to heed them. I have been one of those students and John the Baptists, which fact is a reason why I feel now authorized to speak. Everything depends, from now on, upon the readiness of the wealthy classes to sense the situation in season to make terms with the new order of things; to sense the fact, first, indeed, that there is a NEW ORDER OF THINGS here now, or inevitably about to come. The trouble with the strikers is that there are too many of them, that they are, in effect, the whole laboring population, the immense majority of the people, so that the theory of shooting them down is futile. A ready acceptance of the situation on the part of the rich and great will tide us in safety over the crisis. Nothing else is safe for the country, and especially for the rich and great themselves, as the class of the population really most in danger. They should entertain at once, and discuss freely with the strikers and among themselves, such extreme and gigantic measures as the forced transfer of all railroads, magnetic telegraphs, and great public works to the government, with the laborers paid fixed and equitable prices, as government employés; the organization of great government workshops; or organized government colonization, and other similar enterprises, and the honest effort that government shall become the social providence for the whole people. They and the people should organize at once volunteer bodies of consultation, from among the wisest and best, and call into their counsels those who may know something of social justice and social tendencies and laws. It matters not if the immediate disturbances subside. Be not deceived by the lull. The storm only gathers force by the delay; and if the rich and great are obstinate or stupid or slow, God help them, when the real crisis comes. The labor question is now on for final adjudication, and it is just as sure to get itself settled, peaceably if it may, forcibly if it must, as the slavery question was to reach its finality, as it did, in blood. I know elements enough, in the single city of New York, the very best elements too, for good uses, if they were rightly met by the rich and great, to renew, in a week’s time, all the horrors of the first French Revolution. It is dangerous sitting in a powder magazine, smoking the best Havana cigars at your ease, and carelessly throwing the burning stumps around you.

I might readily have procured the names of a considerable list of other socialistic students to sign this warning along with me, but that would have consumed time; and the value of the document, if it has any, lies chiefly in the ideas, and much less in the name or names attached to them.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.