"Liberty is something more than a name. He who depends upon the will of another for shelter, clothing and food cannot be a free man in the broad, full meaning of that word. The man whose daily bread for himself and family depends upon wages that an employer may give or withhold at pleasure is not free. The alternative between starvation and submission to a schedule is slavery.
"Freedom does not consist in definitions. The declaration that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the inalienable rights of every human being makes no man independent. The right to liberty is an empty mockery and delusion unless the power to be free exists also. Freedom is not merely the removal of legal restraints, the permission to come or go. Added to these must be the capacity and the opportunity, which only exemption from the necessity of incessant daily labor can bring. To paraphrase Shakespeare, Poverty and Liberty are an ill-matched pair. Freedom and dependence are incompatible. The abolition of poverty has been the dream of visionaries and the hope of philanthropists from the dawn of time.
"The inequality of fortunes and the obvious injustice of the unequal distribution of wealth among men have been the perplexity of philosophers. It is the unsolved enigma of political economy! Civilization has no paradox so mysterious as the existence of hunger when there is an excess of food--of want in the midst of superfluity. That one man should have possessions beyond the capacity of extravagance to squander, and another, able and willing to work, should perish for want of embers, rags and a crust, renders society unintelligible. It makes the charter of human rights a logogriph. So long as such conditions continue the key to the cipher in which destiny is written is not revealed--the brotherhood of man is a phrase, justice is a formula, and the divine code is illegible.
"The exasperation of the poor at the insolent ostentation of the rich has overthrown empires. The relief of the needy has been the object of statutes human and divine. The complaints of the wretched are the burden of history. Job was a millionaire. Whether that incomparable production bearing
his name is a parable or a biography, it is of profound interest, because it shows that the patriarch was occupied with the same questions that disturb us now. He describes like a Populist those who take the ass of the orphan and the ox of the widow, remove the landmarks, reap the field and gather the vintage of the poor, whom they deprive of their garments and leave naked to the showers of the mountains and the shelter of the rocks.
"The Hebrew prophets reserved their choicest maledictions for the extortions and luxury of the rich, and Moses prescribed regulations for the remission of debts, the redistribution of lands and the restriction of private fortunes. In Rome, for centuries, the ownership of real estate was limited to 300 acres to each citizen, and the number of cattle and slaves was restricted to the area cultivated. But the laws given by the Almighty, through Moses, to the Jews, were as inoperative as the codes of Lycurgus and Licinius against the indomitable energies of man and the organic conditions of his being.
"At the time of Caesar 2,000 plutocrats practically owned the Roman Empire, and more than 100,000 heads of families were mendicants, supported by donations from the public treasury. The same struggle has continued through the Middle Ages into the nineteenth century. There is no remedy prescribed today that has not been ineffectually administered to innumerable patients before: no experiment in finance and political economy proposed that has not been repeatedly tried, with no result but individual disaster and national ruin.
"At last, after much random groping and many bloody and desperate combats with kings and dynasties, privilege, caste and prerogative, old abuses, formidably intrenched orders, titles and classes, the ultimate ideal of Government has here been realized, and the people are supreme. The poor, the toilers, the laborers are the rulers. They make the laws, they form the institutions. Louis xiv said, 'I am the State.' Here the wage-workers, the farmers, the blacksmiths, the fishermen, the artisans say, 'We are the State.' Confiscation and pillage and the enrichment of royal favorites are unknown. Every man, whatever may be his nativity, his faculty, education or morality, has an equal chance
with every other in the race of life. Legislation, whether good or bad, is enacted by the majority.
"Less than a century ago the social condition in the United States was one of practical equality. In our first census period there was neither a millionaire, a pauper nor a tramp in the country. The first American citizen to pass the million-dollar goal was the original Astor, about 1806, who had migrated from Germany not many years before, the son of a butcher, with a pack of pelts as the foundation of his fortune. The largest estate before this time belonged to George Washington, which at his death, in 1799, was appraised at about $650,000.
"The mass of the people were farmers and fishermen, living contentedly upon the products of their toil. The development of the continent by the introduction of railroads, agricultural machinery and the scientific applications of modern life has made us the richest nation on earth. The aggregate possessions of the country probably exceed $100,000,000,000, one-half of which is said to be under the direct control of less than 30,000 persons and corporations. The largest private fortunes in the world have been accumulated in the last half century in the United States.
"And our material resources are yet hardly touched. Less than a fourth part of our arable area has been ploughed. Our mines hide treasures richer than those of Ophir and Potosi. Our manufactures and commerce are adolescent, but they already have established an aristocracy of wealth that wears neither garter nor coronet, and is proclaimed by no herald, but often is welcomed in the courts of princes and the palaces of kings.
"If the unequal distribution of the burdens and benefits of society depends upon legislation, institution and government, then under a system like ours the equilibrium should be restored. If wealth results from unjust laws, and poverty from legislative oppression, the remedy is in the hands of the victims. If they suffer it is from self-inflicted wounds. We have no feudal tenures, nor primogeniture, nor entail; no opportunities that are not open to all. Justice, equality, liberty and fraternity are the foundations of the State. In every man's hand is the ballot. The school offers education to all. The press is free. Speech, thought and conscience are unfettered.
"But universal suffrage has not proved a panacea for the evils of society. Poverty is not abolished. Though wealth has accumulated beyond the dreams of avarice, the inequality of distribution is as great as in the time of Job and Solomon and Agis. Not only is the old problem unsolved, but its conditions are complicated and intensified. Vaster political power is consolidated in the hands of the few, and more stupendous fortunes acquired by individuals under a republic than under a monarchy.
"The great gulf between the rich and the poor yawns wider and wider day by day. The forces of labor and capital, which should be allies, auxiliaries and friends are arrayed against each other like hostile armies in fortified camps, preparing for siege or battle. Millions of money are annually lost in wages, the destruction of perishable property, the deterioration of plants and the decrease of profits by the strikes and lockouts which have become the normal condition of the war between employers and employees.
"Utopia is yet an undiscovered country. Ideal perfection in society, like the mirage of the desert, recedes as it is approached. Human nature remains unchanged in every environment.
"The condition of the masses is immeasurably bettered with the advance of civilization. The poorest artisan today has free enjoyment of comforts and conveniences that monarchs with their treasures could not purchase five centuries ago. But De Toqueville observed the singular anomaly that as the state of the masses improves, they find it more intolerable, and discontent increases. Wants and desires are multiplied more rapidly than the means of gratification. Education, daily newspapers, travel, libraries, parks, galleries and shop windows have widened the horizon of workingmen and women, increased their capacity for enjoyment, familiarized them with luxuries and the advantages of wealth. Political instruction has taught them the equality of man and made them acquainted with the power of the ballot. False teachers have convinced them that all wealth is created by labor, and that every man who has more than he can earn with his hands by daily wages is a thief, that the capitalist is a foe, and the millionaire a public
enemy who should be outlawed and shot at sight.
"Great private fortunes are inseparable from high civilization. The richest community in the world, per capita, at this time is the tribe of Osage Indians. Its aggregate wealth is ten times greater, proportionally, than that of the United States. It is held in common. Community of property may not be the cause of barbarism, but in every State, as social and economic equality is approached, and wealth 'created by labor' without the intervention of capital, as in China and India, wages are low, the laborer is degraded and progress impossible. Were the wealth of the United States equally distributed among its inhabitants at this time the sum that each would possess, according to the census, would be about $1,000.
"Were this equation to continue, progress obviously would cease. Had this been the prevalent condition from the beginning, we should have remained stationary. Only as wealth becomes concentrated can nature be subjugated and its forces made subservient to civilization. Until capital, through machinery, harnesses steam, electricity and gravitation, and exempts man from the necessity of constant toil to procure subsistence, humanity stands still or retrogrades. Railroads, telegraphs, fleets, cities, libraries, museums, universities, cathedrals, hospitals--all the great enterprises that exalt and embellish existence and ameliorate the conditions of human life--come from the concentration of money in the hands of the few.
"Even if it were desirable to limit accumulations, society possesses no agency by which it can be done. The mind is indomitable. The differences between men are organic and fundamental. They are established by ordinances of the Supreme Power and cannot be repealed by act of Congress. In the contest between brains and numbers, brains have always won, and always will.
"The social malady is grave and menacing, but the disease is not so dangerous as the doctors and the drugs. The political quacks, with their sarsaparilla and plasters and pills, are treating the symptoms instead of the complaint. The free coinage of silver, the increase of the per capita, the restriction of immigration, the Australian ballot and qualified
suffrage are important questions, but they might all be accomplished without effecting the slightest amelioration of the condition of the great masses of the wage-workers of the United States. Instead of disfranchising the poor ignorant, it would be well to increase their wealth and their intelligence, and make them fit to vote. A proscribed class inevitably become conspirators, and free institutions can only be made secure by the education, prosperity and contentment of those upon whom their existence depends."