Слике страница
PDF
ePub

But our labor organizations are not constructed on the ideals of Horace Mann. Their standard is the mass and not the individual, hence, necessarily, they tend to mediocrity, instead of excellence. But their standard is not even the average of the mass, it is the lowest plane, it is the standard of the most lazy, shiftless, incompetent among them. Not the most or the best, but the least and the worst possible work is their aim. Instead of regarding work as something so essential to the formation and the preservation of character that a wise man will seek it or even make it for himself though he has no financial need of it, their doctrine is that work is a pestilent evil, to be avoided to the very utmost. They have cast down the image of Industry from its American pedestal, and set up the European god of Leisure in its place. They teach that laziness is a virtue and energy a vice, and that idleness and not labor is the true end of man.

Doubtless this "topsyturvification" of the true American idea is one of the many evils which, along with many advantages, have resulted from the large foreign immigration of recent years. Millions of the most active and aggressive

of our citizens have come from countries where the ignominy and shame of labor have been an axiom of thought for many generations. They and theirs have from the very dawn of civilization been looked down upon by idlers because they worked; and have acquiesced, as if it were in the nature of things that laborers should be scorned by loafers. They have been accustomed to find themselves classed with beasts of burden, because these work, and to tacitly acknowledge the justice of the association. No wonder, then, that their first great idea in coming to the United States is, as soon and as much as possible, to shake off this badge of inferiority and degradation; that when you talk to them of freedom, you suggest to their minds freedom from work and nothing more nor less. How is it to be expected that they should understand the American idea that the loafer is the blackguard, and the steady, industrious, faithful laborer is the gentleman?

Now, experience shows that the European, or feudal, conception of work as a badge of inferiority is not inconsistent with a civilization based on other things such as hereditary rank, militarism, state-religion, and the like. All these absurdities and fallacies existing together counterbalance each other; and not only is society held together, but some very high types of character are developed, however great the sacrifice of other lives for theirs. But sound philosophy teaches us that some ideas which experience shows may safely prevail under European social conditions, will prove fatal to the free government under which we live. And among those ideas sure to poison the life blood of the Republic is the idea that labor is ungentlemanly. The European workingman who settles here does not appreciate it, but in his intense desire to work as seldom and as little as possible, he is attaching to labor this foreign stigma, and destroying the chief distinction between the Zeitgeist of America and Europe, which renders our country so preferable for all such as he. By frankly showing that in his own eyes the work he does is a detestable thing, to be avoided to the utmost, and only done under the pressure of absolute necessity, he is creating a popular idea of himself not as a free and independent citizen, a "sovereign" ruler with other sovereigns over a great country whose governors are his commissioned representatives, but as a miserable serf, driven to his work like a beast, down-trodden and degraded.

It is amazing that it never occurs to our foreign labor agitators that their continual persistence in speaking of workingmen as slaves and "vassals," tends gradually to undermine the self-respect of the men, and make them more or less regard themselves in that depreciatory light, and feel and act accordingly, while such language, too often supported by conduct so childish and reckless as to seem to justify the epithets by which it is incited, must also inevitably conduce to the establishment in the community at large of just that

contemptuous idea of wage-workers which the words express, and which is the European and feudal and not the proper American and republican idea about such people. Well, then, these foreigners, with their European notion that labor is degrading and idleness is honorable, are by nothing they find here at once so encouraged and helped as they are by the presence of Sunday laws on our statute books. For this foreign idea of theirs is part of the very essence of Sunday laws, and in them they find American States preaching already to their citizens the un-American doctrine that idleness is a good thing in itself, to be desired and sought after for its own sake, and that legislation for the promotion of idleness, is a boon from the government to the people.

Thus the evil seed of general Sunday laws not only brings forth the fruit after its kind of special Sunday laws under the influence of labor agitation, but these laws by their very presence on the statute books afford a constant suggestion and incentive to those who would have the State abridge the citizens' liberty of labor and contract by the enactment of what is strangely enough, called "labor legislation," such as "eight-hour laws," and the like; all of which, like the Sun-day laws, are reflections on labor and its dignity, and are passed in opposition to it, and for the promotion of its direct antithesis, idleness.

Two instances may be mentioned of special Sunday laws which would never have been dreamed of but for the suggestion of the general law. In 1892 there was an attempt to forbid by law the delivery of ice from wagons on Sunday. within the city of Washington, as was done long before in Baltimore. The hardship of such a law, of course, fell entirely upon the poor people, who, having no refrigerators, or very small ones, could not store enough ice on Saturday to last them over until Monday. To the wealthy no particular inconvenience was occasioned. Now the first suggestion of such a law as this was born of a dishonest impulse, or that

desire to get something for nothing which was the inspiring impulse of Dick Turpin and Jesse James. The men who delivered ice from wagons wanted to draw seven days' pay for six days' work, and hence they moved for a law making it penal for them to deliver ice on Sunday, but laying no penalty on the employer who should pay them, upon the assumption that they broke that law, and give them as wages what they had done nothing to earn. Of course neither the sufferings of the poor, nor the immorality of the idea, neither the cruelty nor the rascality of the thing, deterred the Brownist clerics from giving it their enthusiastic support in both cities.

Again, there is the case of barber-shops. Notwithstanding that one who shaves another on Sunday would seem to offend against most general Sunday laws, there is every now and then a clamor mostly, it is believed, successful for the passage of a special act for certain localities against Sunday barbering. Now this clamor originates, if not in dishonesty, at least in laziness. That it should ever be successful is as serious a reflection on the character and manliness of American legislatures, as anything in our political history.

And nothing could illustrate better than its success, the truth of our proposition that it is not possible for the average American legislator to approach the consideration of any Sunday law, without falling at once under the influence of intellectual dishonesty and into a non-legislative frame of mind.

Here come a number of barbers, Messrs. A, B, and C, and ask the legislature to compel another certain number of barbers to close their places of business during certain hours every week. And why? Simply because A, B, and C do not choose to keep their shop open during those hours! That is to say, X, Y, and Z are to be compelled to be idle against their will in order that their spirit of industry may not reap its just and wholesome reward in competition with

the spirit of idleness which governs the conduct of A, B, and C! Every Sunday law is, indeed, legislation for the promotion of idleness. But the present case is so glaring that it points the moral with peculiar force. We can grasp in all its monstrous infamy and absurdity the true nature of such laws by substituting grocers, for instance, in the place of barbers, and Monday in the place of Sunday. Then let us ask, What legislator would dare to put a premium on laziness by voting for a bill to compel X, Y, and Z to close their grocery stores on Monday, because A, B, and C did not desire to keep their grocery stores open on that day - what A, B, and C would dare to clamor for such a law?

These laws are also demoralizing by reason of their very presence in the statute book, because they are not reasonably enforceable, or, in fact, enforceable at all; and the value and effectiveness of all law is weakened by the company of laws of this kind. And this quality of non-enforceability Sunday laws share with all other laws directed against vice and immorality, as will presently appear. Clerics, with their minds always fixed on an expected coalescence of Church and State, frequently clamor for a law which would plainly be unenforceable, in the same sense that many of the laws which attest the survival of a partial union of the two among us, are unenforceable. And when they are asked, What is the use of making a law which will not be indorsed by public opinion to such an extent as to be reasonably enforceable? they reply in some such language as that recently used by a distinguished Southern bishop, to the effect that there ought to be laws expressing the moral sense of the people.

"Experience teaches," said, in effect, the dignitary alluded to, "that the moral sense of a people never rises above their legislation." Now, if there is anything in this world which all experience and history do teach, it is that there is no connection whatever between the legislation and the morality of a people. One illustration here is as good as a

« ПретходнаНастави »