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equality. No one class has any special immunities. Perhaps it might be more correct to say there is but one class Differences exist to be sure in wealth, talents, among us. education, taste, and by leisure for liberal or a necessity for laborious pursuits; but society has no distinctions in law, and no separation by caste. Every thing may be had by any body, who can acquire the means of procuring it; and the means are open to the efforts of each and all. These means are acquired too by chances and apparent accidents of extraordinary character, and the continuance of them beyond one or two generations of the same family is so efficiently prevented by our statute of distributions, that, though there are among us many rich men, and always will be so long as our prosperity continues, the class, as it exists in Europe, is here wholly unknown.
Privileges or possessions beyond what are bought and paid for are not only not possessed, but not even imagined; and those habits, manners, and inclinations, which distinguish a wealthy aristocracy, are absolutely, and we may say without any exception, unheard of. A class of men, living on their wealth and creating fictitious wants and desires which it is the occupation of other classes to supply, and marked from their fellow citizens, as a peerage of nabobs, has not yet been seen, and is not likely under our institutions ever to be seen in the United States. Our rich men have almost invariably something to do, in common with their fellow citizens. Without occupation, they would lose the respect of the community, and would get nothing in exchange for it. Their wealth is mingled with the common mass of the wealth of the people. It cannot be placed apart, and kept separate from the general fund. It must be and is exposed to all that agitates the community. The general prosperity of the country affects it; and in that general prosperity, therefore, our rich men are at least as much concerned as the laborer who toils for his daily subsistence. They cannot, if they would, separate themselves either in employment or amusement or inclinations from the body of the people. If an individual should have a different disposition, it would be impracticable to indulge it. No combination could be formed for such objects; and it was feelingly lamented by a gentleman of this description, that in Boston there was no place to do nothing, and nobody to help do it.
Property, perhaps, in all countries, is in some degree connected with the general condition of the people, and is more or less secure, and more or less productive, as the community is prosperous or depressed; but in the monarchical governments of Europe, there is a vast amount of property in the hands of rich men, which is not affected, or but very little affected, in this way. The enormous debt of the English nation, the extravagant pension list, and exorbitant hierarchal establishment, supply a permanent and unchangeable class of rich men with an annual income, the payment of which, power enforces, at whatever cost to the people. If commerce languishes, or agriculture is depressed, or the manufacturers starve, still these great demands on the means of the people are regularly levied, and the very misery of those who suffer, adds to the value of the property of those who possess. And they do receive their entire amount whatever be the suffering of the laborers from whose anguish and wretchedness it is wrung. The affluence that grows out of commercial or manufacturing operations is raised by the exertions of multitudes, whom it feeds, clothes, nourishes, and instructs; while the disproportionate revenues raised for the support of oligarchical stipendiaries in taxes and gratuities, impoverishes one class for the grandeur and dignity of another. The effect too is continued beyond its immediately perceptible limits. By taking away one half the food of the laborer, it extends the circle of the poor, and multiplies a class of dependent and miserable men, whom the more active capitalists must employ, and can, and of course do employ at a cheaper rate. Where then enormous wealth is drawn from the people for sinecures and proud establishments, hierarchal magnificence and government patronage, the laborious and industrious members of the community, who pay the amount, will be oppressed; and being oppressed, they will be driven into pauperism and crime, and the circle will enlarge from time to time and take in greater numbers. The established inequality of the different portions of the community will grow wider, and proceed from bad to worse. The limit of suffering at length will be reached, and a mighty revolution will throw off the oppressive weight that can no longer be sustained, and could not be moved but with violence and convulsion.
We have included the public debt of a nation in the causes
that are calculated to establish a monied aristocracy, but it is apparent that it can produce such a result, only when it is permanent in its character, and very great in amount. Its quantity and its durability united place its proprietors in a condition, where the ordinary fluctuation of public affairs does not reach them. They are then cut off from that sympathy with the people, which alone can make them essentially a part of the community. In such a condition of things there may naturally be entertained a strong jealousy of monied men; and it cannot be supposed that they who are clothed every day in purple and fine linen by those whose labor supplies the materials, while themselves and their own children are almost naked, can very well expect much regard and esteem.
We, too, have a public debt; but its amount is so small in comparison to the general wealth of the country, and it is so constantly diminishing by means of that republican policy that enforces its rapid extinguishment, that it cannot produce here any injurious operation. We have no hierarchy, and no pension list, and no sinecures; all the property of our richest men must therefore be placed in the general funds of an active, enterprising people, forming capital for productive industry, mingling in good or ill fortune with the condition of the country, and binding its proprietors by ties certainly not weaker than join their fellow citizens to the common welfare of the state.
If any jealousy or unfriendly feeling exists among us towards rich men, it is rather caused by the success of their efforts than by any disapprobation of honorable exertion; for certainly the most determinate and universal passion of our whole population is the desire of gain. We cannot deny that the characteristic of American citizens, and not the least of our New England community, is, in the first place, a desire to be well off in the world, and, next, to have the reputation of being so. This desire, which is the parent of that bold and daring enterprise, that patient and indefatigable industry, that firmness, and constancy, and perseverance, that prudence, and forethought, and calculation, that steadiness and sobriety, and orderly temperament, which have been enumerated among the virtues of our people, is also the mother of a less amiable family, whose children must be restrained and disciplined, if we would preserve the reputation of their
ancestry. If it is necessary to account for this universal disposition, which is blamable only in its excess, it may be said that our institutions as yet give little scope for distinction in any other way. The peerage and the church as hereditary establishments, do not exist with us. The army and the navy, as natural reservoirs for particular favorites, cannot be counted among our institutions. Literature and the arts do not offer much encouragement. Public trust and official
station depend on the caprice of popular favor. Nothing seems within an individual's personal reach but the fortune, for which he must labor, first for existence, and then for celebrity. And it is this necessity that has inspired the universal disposition of which we speak. A great object with every individual is to earn his living. Patrimonial property is so subdivided, and, if it comes at all, ordinarily comes so late, that the necessity of personal exertion for a respectable support is, almost without exception, unavoidable. It is for this purpose education begins, and it is for this it is continued through the tedious period of pupilage. The necessity is apparent; the imperious obligation commences with lisping infancy; it is made, ab ovo, the grand business of life.
Now in this universal struggle it is impossible there should not be competition, rivalry, eager desire to come out well, anxiety to be speedily relieved from the toil. The hope of success, of great success, of success beyond that of the contending crowd, grows into a passion, which may too easily become the master-passion of the mind. Mortification at defeat, contrivance to conceal it, efforts to make small advantages appear large ones, and little losses less, are connected with the main object, until the powers of the mind, directed for a considerable period to one great scheme, finally accomplish even more from habit than was contemplated to be done by design.
The tone of our society is, we confess it with regret, too much regulated by the key note of wealth. The open and grosser marks which in other places are exhibited in base bribery and shameless corruption, have not, we trust and believe, as yet made their appearance among us; but if in this respect we have something left to be proud of, we cannot commit our institutions to the operation of the feeling, which has already been developed, or be satisfied that in its extension it would be found compatible with a republican gov
ernment. Omnia venalia sunt Roma cannot safely be inscribed on the portals of a free people.
In our community, wealth is pursued not so much for accumulation as display; not to be hoarded up for future employment, but lavished in present profusion; and the consequence is, that, though we escape the degradation of avarice, we are subjected to the inconveniences of extravagance. This disposition comes from another of our republican feelings, which, eminently honorable on the whole, may be liable to the beautiful observation of the heroine of Mid-Lothian, that there is always weal and wo with world's gear.'
Notwithstanding the perfect equality of our institutions, there is a constant impulse, in the community, to get each above the rest. We are all placed on the broad level of a perfect equality, but we are not contented to remain there long. We forbid, indeed, any artificial assistance from birth, or government, or hereditary rank, but the strife goes on, nevertheless, among ourselves. Some succeed, and some appear to succeed, but rather by their pecuniary success than in any other way. The evidence of this success is given out in display, in costly expenditure, in luxurious indulgence, in extravagance when it exceeds reasonable limits, and in generous liberality when it does not pass these bounds.
The consequence of this is a passion for dress, magnificent buildings, and showy entertainments. The first is almost universal, and, like most other dispositions of the human mind, has its advantages as well as its evils; its positive and desirable benefits, when regulated by sound judgment; its lamentable mischiefs, when it snaps the reins of discretion. It is beneficial, no doubt, by encouraging honest industry as the means of lawful indulgence; it gives employment to numerous useful classes, who minister in the saloons where fashion holds her court; it encourages elegant and useful arts, and gives our population a neatness and decency of appearance which generate kindred valuable qualities. There is a self-respect inspired by a creditable personal appearance, which has an effect on the manners, and even the character. Of the thirty thousand people of all ages, and sexes, and conditions of life, who thronged the streets of Boston on the second centennial celebration of its settlement, not an individual was to be seen who was not neatly, decently, and appropriately dressed.