« PreviousContinue »
products of the natural world from the humble spire of grass, to bush, vine or tree in all the magnificence of its foliage; from the lowly flower, that “wastes its sweetness on the desert air,” to the golden fruit that hangs in the gardens of our modern Hesperides. All unite in one voice of harmony and praise. All contribute to the perfection of the great whole. It is the same in the world of human life. Classes exist in society also. Each class has its own part to perform in the general concert. The profound researches of the Philosopher, the comprehensive policy of the Statesman, the illimitable enterprise of the Merchant, the contributions of professional men to health, order, and religion, are concerted parts of one grand harmony; while the great majority of our fellow-beings, the immense mass of men in one mighty association of intelligent Labor, resemble the
“ Great ocean, strongest of creation's sons;
Unconquerable, unreposed, untired,
Distinctions arising from a natural order of things, or from the acquired character of individuals in a state of society, where the general good forms the leading object of all political arrangement, are not subjects of complaint. They enter intimately into that order, by which “one star differeth from another star in glory.” What should be done, and all that can be done, is to preserve the relations of individuals in society from those artificial contrivances, which in all ages of the world, with too much success, have set up false standards of honor, distinction and glory; have sacrificed the many to the few ; have retarded individual progress and repressed exertion ; have subjected industry and virtue to the influence of family and fortune; and broken the elastic spirit of freedom by the imposition of unjustifiable power.
Such imposition has extensively operated in the establishment of an hereditary right of power, aristocratic privileges of birth, perpet
uation of property in particular families, arrangement of castes, and more than all, in the power of making war, which by some strange perversity of human fortune has not belonged to the people whose blood and treasure are expended in its operations, but to some arbitrary ruler, for whose ambition or pleasure they are wasted. War has been the great enemy of the natural rights of man.
« There the shout
All this in its excess, and in proportion to its prodigality of excess, is victory, and victory, in the insane imagination of a ruined world, is the climax of glory.
But war, whether in victory or defeat, degrades and subjugates the mass of the people.
“ Kings it makes Gods, and meaner creatures kings."
It multiplies tyrants and ruins men. It might be supposed that the arts of civil life, and especially the mechanic arts, or some of them, would Aourish in a state of war. Undoubtedly they do ; but the men and the horses of the camp are about upon a par. The artisan is used, not respected. From its rank luxuriance, a crop of heroes spring up, who consume every green thing in the quiet days of peace.
. The Mechanic may indeed become a soldier, and acquire as he often has done, distinguished honor in the field. By doing so he changes his character. He leaves his proper employment, which is to build up the community, and becomes the artificer of ruin.
War, - as a substitute in a nation for that principle of self-preservation which, in an individual, is the first law of nature, and of that personal honor, without which existence is not a blessing, and as a means of preserving among a people, a high love of country predomi
nating over love of life, – is not indeed an unmitigated evil, but it widens and makes permanent the artificial distinctions of society, strengthens the claims of power, degrades the laboring classes, and treats human beings as mere food for powder in the general arrangements of a campaign of glory.
But what the positive provisions of law or government, have failed to accomplish in marking out the arbitrary distinctions of classes, has been carried to a great extent, by an erroneous and delusive public opinion.
The Providence of God, which can regard nothing as personal but character, assigns to each individual his peculiar condition in the family of mankind, and establishes his measure of duty and his ultimate reward, according to his conduct in a position where a seeming fatality has placed him. But the world is full of artificial distinctions, produced by its own false judgment. It degrades one man, or one class of men, by false and irrational opinions, by perversion of natural right, by unjust estimates of human action. It often adopts the very errors in practice, which it has forbidden by law; establishes an aristocracy of wealth, where it has prohibited the nobility of birth ; allows an exclusiveness of pretension, where it abolishes the claim of right ; and assigns the honors and rewards of life by some theory of excellence, which is from time to time modified according to the caprice of the age.
It would be difficult to explain, on any rational principle, how this theory has been constructed, during a great part of the history of our
It seems to have rested principally on two considerations, REVERENCE FOR POWER, AND CONTEMPT FOR LABOR; reverence for power over mankind, no matter by what means it was acquired ; and contempt for labor performed in their service, no matter how useful might be its products to the community.
A sentiment of this kind, in its full force, is the characteristic of a barbarous people ; but with modifications of no very considerable
importance, it outlived the ruder ages of antiquity, sustained by a elass that everywhere arrogated exclusive superiority; and conceded by the multitude, unconscious of its dignity or its strength.
It was natural, perhaps, that in the earlier formation of society, personal prowess or heroic courage should be the source of personal honor, as being the most obvious qualification for the security of a defenceless people; and we do not therefore wonder that the opinion of that age assigned to the fabled Hercules a place next to the Gods. But it was after the imposing magnificence of Roman story, - its arts, its arms, its philosophy, its fame, but indeed in the period of its decline and approaching fall, that a Thracian peasant, by his skill in wrestling and the foot-race, made himself master of the Roman World.
In periods, which by a delusive light, have been considered the most splendid in history, the mechanic arts were, by an epithet of intended humiliation, termed the servile arts; and the exercise of them confined chiefly, as now they are among the North American Indians, - to women and slaves. When the accommodation of a luxurious people demanded some skill beyond that which these classes could exercise, the artisan was numbered among nominal freemen, but indeed in public estimation, and even in his own, was little elevated above the domestic animals with whom he labored.
We open the records of a past age to learn the labors of our race. A false philosophy directs the opinions they commonly inspire. We read with astonishment of a Chinese wall traversing high mountains and deep valleys, and throwing its arches over wide rivers, for a space of fifteen hundred miles. We are told of the great power by which this tremendous effort of human labor was commanded, as if the control of the millions who accomplished it was the proper subject
Gibbon, Vol. I, p. 8.
of our admiration ; but these millions of human beings, collectively or individually, excite no more interest than the stones of which it is composed.
We listen to a description of the Pyramids, and to the controversy of learned men for what probable purpose this gigantic effort was made. Here again it is power ; individual personal power we are taught to admire ; while the degradation of the uncounted population passes by as a natural incident of the age.
The Parthenon and the Pantheon are objects now of as much idolatry as to the enthusiastic Athenians. The surpassing magnificence of the Imperial City, its temples, theatres, circusses, porticoes, baths, gardens, arches, bridges, aqueducts, columns, sepulchres, carry to its seven hills all who in this age of motion can travel, and bewilder the imagination of all who can read. But notwithstanding the romance of history in relation to Grecian glory and Roman renown, what were the men by whom these wonders were accomplished ?
In the relative situation of the government and the people, - in the comparative estimate then made of power and labor, these mighty monuments are everlasting witnesses of the degradation of the great family of mankind; triumphal arches of oppression on one side, and ignorance on the other; when the condition of the mechanic, by whose arm their stones were rolled one upon another, and the temples covered with transparent Capadocean marble, notwithstanding the occasional outbreaks of a spirit of freedom, which was in truth nothing but sedition ; and temporary power in the government, which was a mockery of popular rights; was in all that regards the character or personal influence of the individual or the class, wholly without consideration or respect. Personal labor was a degradation, and the laborer was a slave.
It would afford very little satisfaction to follow this illustration into more recent periods, or to trace the difference between the ruling and the laboring classes, where such distinctions are preserved, either