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ART. III.-1. Lectures on the Elements of Political Economy. By Thomas Cooper, M.D., President of South Carolina College, and Professor of Chemistry and Political Economy. Second Edition. 8vo. pp. 383. Columbia, South Carolina: Morris & Wilson. London: R. Hunter. 1831.
2. The Savings Banks of England, Wales, and Ireland, arranged according to Counties; with the Period of the Establishment of each Institution; and the Increase or Decrease of each Class of Depositors, &c., since November, 1829, from the latest official Returns. By John Tidd Pratt, Esq. London: Hansards. 1831.
THE establishment of Mechanics’ Institutions, the diffusion of cheap science and literature, and the wider spread of education among the operative members of the community, have of late years combined, with a variety of political circumstances, to raise into notice, both in this country and America, a class of men who had not previously taken any considerable part in public affairs. The mechanics in both countries have now been for some time accustomed to discuss, in societies which are exclusively confined to their own ranks, questions of the first importance, relating not only to the conduct of the government, but also to every branch of the constitution of the state; and we believe that we are not far wrong in asserting that they have already established, to their own satisfaction at least, a code of principles, chiefly based upon their views of their own interests, which they are aspiring and, indeed, confederating to carry into effect by all the means that are within their reach. In America they have, to a certain extent, succeeded in getting those principles not only represented in the Congress, but actually interwoven with the law. It is to the school of the mechanic political economists, such as Skidmore, Thompson, Ming, Byllesby, and Hodgskin, and to the men whom they influence by their writings and the exertions of their coadjutors returned to Congress, that the Union owes the famous Tariff, which compels the Americans, in order to protect their own artisans, to buy an inferior article for double the price at which they might purchase a much superior article from England. It is to the same school (and similar motions are beginning to prevail in this country) that we must trace the singular doctrine, that the labour of the mechanic is the sole origin of national wealth ; that capital, whether in the form of raw material, utensils, land, or money, is of itself unproductive; that it can be made valuable only by the hand of the operative; and that without his assistance it would be a burthen, not an enjoyment to its possessor. From this fundamental principle the conclusion is drawn, that the mechanic does not receive for his labour a fair proportion of that national wealth which he is thus the chief, if not the sole, instrument in producing; that he ought to take a much higher rank in the esti
mation of society than that which is generally conceded to him: that he should in fact hold equal rank with his fellow citizens of the highest order; that the wealth gained by the capitalist in the way of profit does not belong to him, but ought to have been handed over to the mechanic by whose skill and industry it was created, and that therefore the time has at length arrived, when the wealth thus fraudulently acquired ought to be distributed, according to the equitable rule which this doctrine manifestly suggests. Proceeding upon the assumption,that all accumulations of capital at present in the hands of its possessors ought to be divided in the manner we have mentioned, the “working classes,” as they have called themselve, are, both here and in America, taking the most active, though ill-directed steps, for bringing about such changes in the constitution of the respective governments, as may be best calculated to forward their own immediate purposes. Hence the elevation of General Jackson to the presidency, the late radical change in his cabinet, and the present ultra democratic complexion of the Congress in one country; hence the numberless penny publications, the frequent meetings of the mechanics, their separate political unions, their speeches upon the superlative value of labour, their propositions for the abolition of all hereditary rights, and their undisguised demands for a republic in the other. We would not be understood as entertaining any desire to paint this novel state of things in exaggerated colours: it is quite possible that we may have mistaken some of the arguments which have sprung from this new school, and that we have not rightly comprehended their ultimate tendency. If so, we are open to correction. But, as at present advised, we believe that we have explained the leading points of their doctrine in accurate, and at the same time in the most dispassionate, language. We may add, that we consider it as the mere first fruit, the primary ebullition of the intellectual advancement which has been recently made by the operative members of the community in both countries. It is not at all unnatural that men, who had for many years been hemmed in by various barriers within the circles of labour, joined to comparative ignorance, should, upon their emancipation from their former condition of mental lethargy, dash their chains from around them with strong feelings of exultation. It was in fact frequently predicted, that the very objects which they are now endeavouring to achieve, would be the first to which they would turn all their attention when they should be improved by a superior education; and it may be remembered that this was one of the many arguments which were used at the time against Mechanics’ Institutions, and against the general diffusion of education among those, whom, in the way of description, we must call the lower orders. Give them the means of learning to read and write, and acquire and propagate knowledge, it was said by the Bankeses and other enemies of popular education, and you arm them at once against law, and order, and society. They will universally combine, it was added, for obtaining a general distribution amongst themselves, not only of the church property, but of the estates of the nobles and the wealth of the capitalists, and they will assume into their own hands the whole control of the state. We have not the slightest apprehension, however, that things will ever, in this country at least, reach to such a condition as that. We entertain great doubts whether even the immature ideas which are at present communicated to the public upon this subject, either in speeches or writings, are approved of generally by the mechanical portion of our population. They are the aspirations of a few, acquiesced in, perhaps applauded to a considerable extent by their fellow-labourers; but they are the indications merely of the imperfect stage of education at which those individuals have as yet arrived, and we look for their correction, not to the government or the laws, but to the more advanced stage of instruction towards which those classes are making rapid progress, as well as the good sense which they generally possess, even beneath the angry declamations into which they may be occasionally betrayed. When they begin really to understand their own interests and rights, and put aside the clouds of vanity in which they are at present involved, they will also see that there are other classes in the state which have rights as well as they : that if the mechanics claim rights which do not belong to them, there are others who may set up similar pretensions; that from such conflicting elements nothing could ever arise but bloody civil wars, one or two years of which would put an end for a while to all occupation for labourers of every kind, and thus impose upon them and upon their families the most dreadful privations—such indeed as would materially thin their ranks by death, and reduce the survivors to the condition of mendicants. We wish that in describing the mechanics and others of our fellow-subjects, who earn their bread by their industry, we could use some other phrase than that of the “working classes.” In the first place, we object, as a matter of statistics, to the arrangement of any set of men in this country (the peers alone excepted) in a particular caste or subdivision of society. We think that it is not warrantable, either by the habits or laws of this country, to say that the artisans, for instance, in metal and leather, in earthenware and glassware, and cloths, and cottons, are of necessity members of one and the same class. It would appear, in our opinion, to be a degradation of those ingenious and enterprising persons so to consider them, for it would imply that they can have no means of rising beyond their original situation, and of ever mixing with the other ranks of the community. We need hardly say that there is no situation, the throne alone excepted, which is not open to the talent and ambition of individuals in England, no matter from what ranks they may have sprung. Usage has indeed rendered the phrase so familiar, that we cannot now dispense with it. At the same time we must observe, that there is no authority even in that usage, for giving to the description, the “working classes,” an invidious meaning, as if the object were to separate them from their fellow subjects, with the view of condemning them to a subordinate condition, but little removed from that of slavery. The phrase cannot in this country be justly considered to import any such thing, and none but designing and mischievous persons can give it so odious a construction. They would confine it to the labourers who receive weekly wages for working at the merely mechanical employments, whereas in truth it ought to be equally applied to the ministers, the active members of both Houses and of the learned professions, to literary men, bankers, merchants and their clerks, who work generally much harder (the mental character of their labour being considered) than any set of mechanics in any part of the world. Taking the phrase, however, as one of convenience, the necessity for which arises out of the inadequacy of our language to supply one of precise propriety, we must candidly tell the persons who are familiarly designated as the “working classes,” that in endeavouring to set the value of their labour above that of the capital which gives employment to it, they are erecting a theory which has no foundation in truth, and which, if it were universally established, would be the immediate cause of their own ruin, both as a political and a social body. Mr. Cooper has put this point with admirable clearness and unanswerable force.
* Price is the remuneration paid by the purchaser of the commodity, for exchangeable value conferred on any raw material, by means of capital, skill, and labour. Let us take cotton, converted into a piece of shirting.
To make this piece of shirting the land is wanting to sow the seed; the seed is wanted to be sown. Can the labourer produce cotton without land and seed ? No. The land and seed then are as necessary as the labour. Who owns the land and seed 7 The labourer ? No, the capitalist. Has the labourer a right to go to the owner of the land and seed, and say, I want to sow cotton, give me your land and seed, to enable me to do so for my own benefit and emolument?
* Has not the land owner a right to say no ; do as I have done; save out of your earning for twenty years; deprive yourself of comforts that you may be enabled to buy land for yourself, and use your own land thus procured. Oh! but you cannot get cotton (says the labourer) without your land is worked and the seed sown; the cotton produced will be the result of my labour. Very well, says the land owner, let us see if your labour alone will produce cotton without land and seed. Moreover, who is to give you and your family food and clothing till the cotton is fit for market? Who is to find the gin to gin it, the bagging to pack it, the waggons and horses to send it to market? Have you got them 7 Are not all these as o to the production of the raw cotton in a saleable state, as your abour 3
“Then again; whose labour paid for that steam engine and machinery 2 Was it yours ? What right have you to benefit by the labour of another man, without paying him a reasonable compensation ? If you wish to work and earn your living by making use of the result of my past labours and savings, pay me a reasonable proportion of the price the article sells at, and take the rest yourself. What that shall be depends on our bargain; if you do not like my proposals, let me alone and work elsewhere. * What answers can be given to these questions 2 Messrs. Hodgskin, Thompson, Byllesby, Messrs. Al. Ming, Tho. Skidmore, and the Mechanic Political Economists, shun them. Let us have a reply; a full and satisfactory one must be given, before the present state of things can be changed. No man will work and save if another can take from him his -earnings and his savings without compensation. No man will be a member of a community, where industry is to be robbed by force. Either it is worth the while of the operative to work upon the proposed conditions, or it is not; if not, let him seek employment elsewhere. “Well, says the operative, the labourer—here I am, able and willing to work; if the laws of society will not find me reasonable subsistence for reasonable labour, I am an outcast, an outlaw; I am left to starve, and punished with the worst of deaths, without being in any manner in fault. “The capitalist replies; how came you here 7 Either your parents fixed you here for their convenience, or you came here for your own. Did I bring you into existence 2 Did I contract to find you employment 2 Am I to maintain, by my own labour, and out of my own savings, all the persons who need employment Did not your present existence here, take place without my procuration or concurrence—without my knowledge 2 Did you not come here, do you not stay here, of your own accord—for your own benefit? Is that a reason why you are entitled to seize upon the fruits of my labour ! Am I to be deprived of my property, robbed and punished, because your parents were thoughtless? Receive employment on my terms, or use your skill and strength where you please, elsewhere. The choice is in your power.’—pp. 350, 351. The “working classes” lay great stress, and not, we must confess, undeservedly, upon the intellectual acquisitions which they have made. For those acquisitions we give the mechanics full credit, and we trust that every succeeding year will see their knowledge increased. We have frequent occasion to admire the ingenious and perfect manner in which they perform the various tasks assigned to them, the beautiful productions which they finish in silver and gold, in glass and earth, iron, steel, wood, and other materials upon which their time is expended. Nay, we have seen some excellent compositions from their pens, and have heard very admirable discourses from their lips, evincing political sagacity and information of no common order. But it should be considered by the artificers of the country, that they must of necessity destroy their present opportunities of advancing themselves in the world, if they set up such visionary claims as a class as those to which we have alluded. How can they cultivate their intellects unless they have leisure for that purpose, and how can they have leisure unless , they have the means of earning subsistence, upon which they can