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he fails, the loss will be his creditors, rapacious of other people's property, and prodigal when he has any of his own, he it is that deranges the order and business of life, and imitating the style and splendor of wealth, brings in his bankruptcy, ruin on innocent sufferers, and odium on the class to which he affected to belong.
It is extremely objectionable to take the condition of the laboring classes in other countries, and argue from their degradation, that a like state does, or will exist among our own.
There, the people lie under the weight of ancient institutions, established in darker ages, and not only vicious in themselves, but accumulating their evils from century to century, until the present mass becomes intolerable, and yet irremediable without a revolution. Our institutions, on the contrary, are brought out in the bright days of intelligence and freedom.
The immense disparity of individual fortune there seen, does not so much establish classes in the same society, as it divides society into two or more distinct, and it may be, hostile parts. Here such disparity does not exist at all, and the tendency to it is constantly checked within the life of the fortunate individual. There is no such thing among our free population as excessive labor, because there is no need of it, with such exceptions indeed of particular cases, as serve to prove the generality of the rule. Fashion too, though she sometimes plays very fantastic tricks, does not quite turn night into day, and make labor necessary at unreasonable periods ; and where there is a tendency to this species of folly, there is a salutary control in public opinion. There are no classes of respectably idle men among us.
All idlers of whatever degree, go by the common name of Loafers. Every man, to be respectable, must do something; and he loses his station in society, if while he is of a proper age to labor, he has no regular and honorable employment. It was the remark of a foreigner, that Boston was the hardest place in the world to find any body to help him do nothing.
The consequence of all this industry is wealth, and the result of wealth is luxury ; and luxury, according to some modern economists, is injurious to honest labor and a defect of the social system. But a vast proportion of all the active employment of mechanic industry in the United States grows out of the factitious wants of luxury and wealth ; and these wants, and the supply of them, constitute that circulation of capital and labor, which preserves, not the mere health, but the elastic and buoyant spirit of the people. Unquestionably like every thing else, luxury may be carried to a dangerous excess. It may interfere with charity and even humanity. It may enervate the body politic by an effeminacy that is degrading, and by an example that is ruinous.
All this is the extravagance, the abuse of a condition of things which may, nevertheless, be salutary in its legitimate operation. But the evil where it exists is not in our social system, but in the ill-regulated character of individual man. It is to be controlled like any other of the disorders of society, not by changing the social institutions, but by infusing a higher moral principle into the bosom of the community. It is not easy to point out the exact line which divides luxury from convenience, comfort or even necessity. It is undoubtedly a shifting line, to be drawn according to personal means, and the power of example under a moral restraint imposed on the citizen.
For all these obligations the individual himself is answerable on his responsibility for his personal conduct; but luxury itself is the patron of all the arts, inasmuch as they are essentially devoted to the refinements and elegance of life.
“ Allow not nature more than nature wants,
Man’s life is cheap as beasts."
It would hardly do for our society to adopt a different doctrine. Let this magnificent exhibition be annihilated; let the products of mechanic skill be crushed by some ascetic or Spartan philosophy, and the
arts themselves obliterated from the records of life. We might live, live like the Esquimaux, or Indian in the unsophisticated state of original existence. The arts are themselves luxuries; the exhibition of them is a luxury. The mind enjoys this luxury as a high elevation of its nature; as a lawful indulgence in the rich blessings of Providence; as a progress toward that perfection which it is enabled to work out for itself, by the exertion of its noblest faculties, and in conformity with its proud destination.
It is a cavilling spirit that makes the luxury of life a subject of complaint because its direct enjoyments are necessarily confined to limited numbers. Indirectly they extend to all classes. They keep in circulation the vital air of the political system. Hardly will it do for our industrious yeomanry, who are covering the country with the Morus Multicaulis, until our silk-worms shall out-number the produce of the celestial empire, to rail at the luxury of a silk dress as an aristocratic distinction. Our splendid manufactories of silver are worse than useless, if it is a sin against Democracy to use a silver fork. The coach-maker must change his trade, if the fair daughters of the country may not be indulged with a carriage. The saddlery, which is in such exquisite finish in the Hall of Exhibition, is something like the armor of treason against the republic, if we come to the conclusion that it is for the benefit of the laboring classes that every man who rides at all must go bare-back.
But it is indeed true on a great scale as a small one, that “there is always weal and wo in the world's gear.”
One of the misfortunes of our social system is, that there is no great and leading object of ambition or desire that comes into competition with wealth. Hence the love of accumulation is the absorbing and maddening spirit of the country. It is supposed that its impetuous influence, which in its excess does not augur well for the purity or duration of the Republic, has of late greatly increased. Yet it was so mighty in its operations twenty-five years ago, that
an eminent statesman* of Massachusetts advocated a war with Great Britain for this, among other reasons, “that the spirit of patriotism was descending into a grovelling spirit of gain, and the nobleness of public virtue into the chicanery of private interest, and that it was for the common good of the country to revive the selfdevotion of the Revolution, by opening a new field of danger and glory.”
There may be some cause for such sentiments in the present day. An intemperate desire for wealth leads to illegal acts for its acquisition; to devices of ingenious fraud ; and to controversy and complaint between the possessors and competitors for property.
But the appropriate remedy for this disease does not appear to be that harsh and caustic application, - suggested from high authority, — “a more righteous and equal division of property."
This can hardly be done without “revolutions and agrarian disorders,” and a violation of that right of possessing and protecting property which the constitution secures. Nor is it easy to see how the term righteous, introduced into the receipe, is any thing more than a paradoxical expression.
But the answer is, that it is not the possession of property, and of course not the inequality of it in the hands of its legitimate owners, that produces the evil. The trouble proceeds from that intensity of desire, which no quantity could satisfy ; from an appetite for its pleasures, whose increase doth grow by what it feeds on; from an ill-regulated state of moral feelings, which are reckless of justice or right, and seek only their self-indulgence, whatever may be the consequences. These incidents do not in the least cast a doubt upon
progress of that improvement, which is to form the new era of history. We are passing through a revolution, not closing it. The elements of
# Vice-President Gerry.
life, of thought, of feeling are in commotion, as are those of the natural world when the sun-light is struggling through the storm. When they shall be tranquillized, is for Him to determine with whom one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. Nobody pretends that the social system is yet perfect. But the fault, where any remains, is in the character of the individuals, and not in the principles on which it is adjusted. All force or violence of action or feeling will only serve to protract the time for the consummation of its advantages. We know indeed that the demon of war is not yet banished from the earth, nor indeed can be, while encouragement is given to a pitiful submission to insult or national degradation, which invites his continuance and exasperates his ferocity. But a better temper than ever before prevailed, regulates the exercise of power in this respect.
“ Neither government or people, - thank God for it, - can now trifle with the general sense of the civilized world; and the civilized world would hold them to a very strict account if, without very plain and apparent reasons, deeply affecting the independence and great interests of the nation, any controversy should have other than an amicable issue."*
The evil spirit of intemperance is not exorcised, nor indeed can be, under the operation of penal laws that fetter the action without influencing the will. But who doubts that this enormous monster is in the hands of a giant, and that intelligence, the Hercules of our day, will signalize by its overthrow, the most important of its labors.
Slavery is not abolished, nor indeed can be, while an irritating opposition is kept up, that strengthens the passions of the master, and inflames the ferocity of the slave. But under the influence of the principles of the age, the manacles of oppression will melt in the solvent of time.
* Mr. Webster's speech at Oxford, England, 1839.