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BOSTON, OCTOBER 8, 1842. DEAR SIR:
The undersigned, in transmitting to you the following vote of the MASSACHUSETTS CHARITABLE Mechanic Association, beg leave to express their gratification, at having been able to listen to an Address so replete with interesting and useful information to the working classes of this community; and cannot but hope that the request therein made may be complied with.
Yours with great respect, &c.
OSMYN BREWSTER, GEORGE G. SMITH, Esq.
At a meeting of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, held October 6, it was unanimously
Voted, That the thanks of this Association be presented to George G. Smith, Esq. for his able, interesting, and eloquent Address, delivered this day, and that the President, Vice President, and Treasurer, be a committee to inform him of this vote, and request á copy for the press.
BOSTON, OCTOBER 18, 1842. GENTLEMEN:
Your very kind letter of the Sth inst. was duly received, and would have been answered sooner had not business engagements prevented. Agreeably to your request, I send you a copy of my Address. I shall make no apology for its imperfections, as they are of course to be expected; and had not our brethren of the Association been willing to make allowances for them, they would not, I know, have desired to see it in print. I remain gentlemen, very sincerely, your friend,
GEO. G. SMITH. To Messrs. Joseph Lewis,
Chas. A. Wells, Committee.
“Ir is universally admitted that the combined operations of the mechanic powers, have been the source of those useful inventions and scientific arts, which have given to polished society its wealth, conveniences, respectability and defence, and which have ameliorated the condition of its citizens.
"Rational therefore is the inference, that the association of those who conduct these powers in their operations, will prove highly beneficial in promoting good offices and fellowship; in assisting the necessitous, encouraging the ingenious, and in rewarding fidelity."
Tuis, my friends, you are aware, is the preamble to our Constitution; and it is to carry out these ideas of our founders, to gather new motives " for mutual good offices and fellowship," to stimulate each other in the good work of “assisting the necessitous, encouraging the ingenious, and rewarding fidelity,” that our triennial celebrations have been continued.
On these occasions, our audience must not anticipate any especial display of intellect, since the speaker, being always a member of the association, and generally immersed in the duties of some handicraft, is thereby necessarily debarred from those opportunities of mental cultivation which are indispensable to so high an aim; and I have therefore chosen the plainer task of endeavoring to collect such facts and observations as may best cultivate and strengthen the spirit of fellowship; and by
considering our present condition as compared with that of the great operative fraternity in other times and countries, by contrasting the privations and oppressions under which they groaned with our own manifold blessings, to strengthen our confidence and interest in each other, increase our love of country, and awaken in us a lively sense of that Supreme goodness from which these blessings flow. I shall endeavor also to gather from these ideas certain principles, having, as I think, an important bearing upon the social position of our order; as it has been affected by differences in the political institutions of various countries, as well as by the general progress of improvement
My subject then will lead me briefly to consider the condition of the mechanic in the principal nations of antiquity, and among the barbarous tribes who succeeded them; also to present such facts as I have been able to gather, illustrating in any way that gradual improvement, which, as we approach our own times, is the most interesting point in his history. And in pursuing this train of thought, I may bring forward matter having no apparent connection with it. I am fully conscious also, that much of what I shall have to say is already well known to most of you ; but considering every striking trait of national manners or modes of living, and every prominent fact in legislation, as influencing the condition of the mechanic directly or indirectly, I have thrown these materials together as best I might, without any scrupulous regard to order or accurate chronological arrangement. I hope therefore to be excused for any errors in the selection of my materials, or want of clearness in their disposition.
We have very little information respecting the operative classes of the early ages; history has, until within a
few years, been a mere record of political events, and throughout the whole duration of Roman or Grecian institutions, all is darkness except as to the more prominent facts which affect the national power. In Rome, however, the researches of some modern historians seem to prove, that the plebeians, or common people, comprising of course the whole body of the operatives, originated from those captive families, which it was the uniform custom of the Romans, in the early ages of the republic, to drag from their homes, in order to swell their own population. These families having been always the principal inhabitants of the conquered cities, felt their degradation therefore the more keenly; and from this cause, says Guizot, "arose that struggle between the plebeians and the patricians, which commenced in the very cradle of the republic, and was merely a prolongation of the war of conquest; the struggle of the conquered aristocracy to participate in the privileges of the conquerors;" and which continued till the popular liberty was absorbed in the despotism of the Cæsars. We learn, also, that in every Roman city the operatives were divided into colleges, corresponding no doubt with the guilds of later times; but of the constitution of these bodies, or their internal regulations, we know nothing. It is evident, however, that they did not contain sufficient vitality to rescue their order from its social abasement. The condition then of mechanics in Rome, although surrounded by the semblance of freedom, was hopeless; and although we find them, while the republic lasted, continually battling with the aristocracy, yet there was obviously nothing of that gradual improvement which, amidst every discouragement, finally conducted the populace of the middle ages to comparative emancipation and happiness.