Capital and Labor

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Joshua King Ingalls

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[The following is an abstract of a lecture on the above subject, delivered by J. K. Ingalls. before the Society of Liberals, Sunday, May 15th. 1853.]

The important question which presses for an investigation at the present day, is that of Labor, and its just remuneration. It is a question, the magnitude of which is beginning to be strongly felt by the vast majority of the people ; and the time for its solution can not be far distant. The true relations of labor and capital must be understood and adopted ere long, or the most disastrous results will ensue.

There is a true science of the rights of labor, or there is not: if not, one scheme may be as good as another; but if there is, by investigation and analysis, we can attain to the true knowledge of that science.

Every individual has interests connected with this question; and therefore all should examine it that they may be qualified to aid in its elucidation, and to decide as to the manner of its settlement, in the way it may appear to them. The poor and the rich—the unlearned and the learned—will all be affected by the result. Education is rapidly preparing the masses with that degree of knowledge which enables them to dispense with the services of those who exchange their wits for a livelihood. The time has been when the individual who had attained a collegiate education, possessed a diploma which sustained him through life. But now it is better to graduate at the Workshop to be able to procure the means of support, than at the institutions of learning, He who can sustain his family by labor, is superior to him who can not use his hands to obtain the supplies to his wants, but who is compelled to bow to wealth for its favors. And the goddess Fortune is so tickle that the rich of to-day may be poor to-morrow, and vice versa; so that, inasmuch as all men may be compelled to labor, and as each one should do so sufficiently to maintain himself, none can wisely say, " It is well enough—the relations of labor and capital arc just."

But the question respecting the right of man to labor, and its just remuneration, is not a difficult one. It is not hard to ascertain the rights which, by the gift of Nature belong to each individual, and which he must in the proper order of things realize.

In the first place, we find man having an existence ; and therefore he must have a place in which to exist, and a natural right to occupy that place. He is furnished with lungs, and hence he requires air to breathe ; he has eyes, but light is needed to enable him to see ; and he possesses various bodily organs, each of which has its office, and is furnished by Nature with the means of performing it. So with the whole man; he has certain requirements, certain inalienable rights, and he must have the means of realizing those rights, or be a slave— be deprived of a portion of the provisions existing in Nature for his proper existence.

Physical possessions constitute the basis of human operations. When these are enjoyed in justice, there is no oppression. But there is a distinction between property and possession. Possession is the inalienable right of man ; property is what he produces from this right. Despots have denied that man has any inalienable rights; but do they not exist ? Because the plant has not arrived at maturity, is it not a plant ? If the elements of the free man are yet undeveloped in the slave, is he therefore without an inalienable right to be free ? The rights of all men are equal. And the only true restraint to each individual's sphere of action aside from the promptings of his own will, commences with his infringement upon the rights of others.

There is a difference between the spontaneous productions of the earth, and that which is the result of man's skill. But our laws recognize no distinction. They make property of every thing, whether produced by toil or by nature; and even go so far as to make property of man. This is not in accordance with any principle of right—any true science of nature. It is in opposition to the fundamental principle of the rights of man; which is his right to labor—to till the earth, and enjoy the full product of his toil without interference. And this first right—the basis of social liberty—the important prerogative of Individual Sovereignty—let us secure and uphold by all manner of just means.

The present relations of man to his possessions and property, are inverted. What is termed " capital," is not confined to property; but it embraces things which never have and never can be produced by labor. The earth, with all its productions, from the rocks upon its surface to the richest ores in its depths—from the simplest plant of the field to the loftiest tree of the forest—have been held as the property of one set of men to the exclusion of others, and have been obtained by purchase or by inheritance. All the natural productions of the earth are claimed as property; and so is man himself. And this unhallowed inversion of man's natural and legitimate relations, has resulted in the vast accumulation of property by some and the abject poverty and slavery of others.

Is there, in the the nature of things, any power in property to reproduce itself? Is capital entitled to any reward ? Yet, in the present social derangement, property is made to accumulate property, and capital to increase from its own value. And while capital is the controlling power—making man the dependent, or the artisan inferior to his productions—it will continue to demand its dividend, and to buy and own man, its creator.

Man is the active agent, and the only one ; while the soil and the elements controlled by man are the passive ones. But society has given money the power to buy both—man, the active, and earth, the passive. Money represents man who labors, and the earth that is cultivated; no wonder that it commands interest. It represents bones and sinews, the earth and its elements, the homes and possessions of man, instead of the value of productive industry.

To ascertain, therefore, the solution of this question, whether labor, alone, is entitled to compensation, we must go outside of society ; because we can not solve it while the relations of the active and passive, the creator and the created, are inverted.

I assume, then, that if money could not buy man, the earth and its elements, it would lose its power of compensation or of increase. Capital should be the product of labor and that alone. Labor is entitled to the product—man is entitled to that only which he produces. We have no right to exchange the products of labor for man of the earth. Neither have products the right to share products.

All remuneration of capital presupposes the idleness or uselessness of the capitalist. The man of wealth is hungry—the industry of another furnishes him with food, and be himself is not obliged to labor ; but he remunerates the laborer by allowing him to toil as much longer for his own support. The present rule is, for the owner of the farm to give one half of its product to the tenant who cultivates it. Thus it is, that the capitalist is naked, and behold he becomes sumptuously clothed by the laborer; he would have luxury—another's industry furnishes it; his most trivial caprice is made known—the poor man flies to gratify him. He has gold, and he will let you use it for a time, provided you will place him in possession-of its equivalent fur a security, and largely increase the amount' at the return. All of his life he wants labor; for which he pays the usance of gold and not labor. And if he will be benevolent, the amount of his gift is levied on his tenants and collected from them ; or if he supports oppression, his laborers are compelled to supply him with the means to do so.

Capital does not increase labor ; nor does it develop the resources of the country. But it is the owner of industry, and with the power which society invests in it, is the foe of mankind.

[The continuation of this subject, will appear in the next number.]


In my previous remarks upon this subject, I endeavored to demonstrate the true relations of man to the earth and its productions; and I concluded that the laws which make property of the earth and its spontaneous productions, and of man who tills the earth, were unjust, and productive of the most serious and lamentable consequences.

I am not, however, discussing the question as to whether these laws have once been beneficial in their operations, or not; and upon the decision of which should be based our present and future action ; because the only means which could have been employed an age, or even a short period, since, may be entirely inadequate to our present demands. I am rather endeavoring to ascertain the true principles which relate to the subject under consideration, and what is the best course to pursue for the harmonizing of mankind, so far as the conditions of labor may exert an influence to that end. I am not in favor of retaining laws which have once been satisfactory in their operation, merely because such has been the case, and not questioning their present appropriateness. Because an individual may conceive it proper under some circumstances to let blood from his system, does it follow that he shall continue that practice, henceforth ? This course would soon completely exhaust all his vitality, and death would ensue.

There has been a development of the social condition of the race in a manner corresponding to the growth and progress of nature—by means of a series of progressive unfoldings, one above another. Each of the series had its appropriate degree of life; and when called upon to yield up its life, that it might be incorporated into the vitality of the succeeding and higher order, it has refused to do so; and from a desire to preserve its own identity, has adhered to it, with a protracted and rebellious grasp.

The first inhabitants of earth were hunters, and subsisted by their skill in capturing wild-beasts. These were followed by those who practiced the more peaceful and profitable mode of domesticating animals. Subsequently a higher order succeeded—that of the cultivation of the earth. But those who adhered to their old system of life, attempted, in some instances, to plunder the progressive ones; and in order to obtain possession of their wealth, destroyed the lives of those who produced it. But the next season found the plundered district desolate ; and hence the robbers adopted the plan of sparing the lives of those they captured, and said to them, " we will not slay you ; we will keep you to toil for us." They found, however, with the development of arts and methods of convenience and comfort, that this kind of service was not satisfactory; and hence they adopted the feudal system ; from which ultimately grew the present relation of labor, wages and capital. But in all of these changes and regulations, during the past, the laws governing them have been enacted and enforced by the physically powerful, and not those controlled by the moral forces.

I am not trying to prove that the world has always been wrong in its social relations. I do not urge that society could have been more rapidly developed by any other means than those which have been employed. But the question is, are we not already sufficiently elevated to operate upon principles of equity ? May we not, in our present condition, render justice to whom justice is due? and give industry its full reward, instead of sharing it with idleness ?

And here may be presented a few facts, in illustration of what I consider to be the true principle—which we are now capable of practicing with universal benefit—that capital is not entitled to a division, with labor, of the fruits of productive industry. 1 do not desire, however, to destroy the natural force of capital; but would have those laws repealed which give capital the power over man. I would have

avarice release its grasp upon the soil, and the spontaneous productions of nature. In this city, a man obtains the possession of a house by some means—by the usual operations of business it may be—and he realizes an annual income of perhaps one thousand dollars, for the rent of it; which is the reward given him by society for the merit of owning a house. Another person, without the power of obtaining a home, has been compelled to labor hard, year after year, during the whole course of his life to acquire one-third of the means received by the* first named, and from which he can hardly pay for the use of a house, and support himself and family. And this is the penalty inflicted upon him by society, for being destitute of a certain amount of capital. Is this justice ? Is this equality ? One labors until death releases him, and yet is in a condition of complete slavery to the one who merely possesses a certain amount of property.

Again the man who receives, yearly, the above named amount for the use of his capital, is enabled to purchase the continual labor of two- or three men for the same length of time. Suppose he was allowed to buy these men and compel them to toil; would the case be anywise different, as far as the conditions of their labor are concerned ?

A business man realizes from his profession the amount of seven hundred dollars per annum—the interest of the capital invested. This he receives from the fruits of his employes' labor, who are compelled to toil unremittingly for their subsistence. If the law granted him the privilege of owning these men, and forcing their services from them, would their position be materially changed ? He receives from the fruits of each man's skill, all that exceeds the means of a scanty livelihood—if he owned the man, he could realize no more.

I might illustrate extensively, the tact that to the extent that the capitalist abstracts from the proceeds of his workmen's labor, he makes slaves of them. But I deem the above sufficient.

Now, is this state of things as it should be, or not? Do the laborers need emancipation, or have they their just deserts ? Is the practice of usury founded upon the principles of justice, or despotism ?

When the true solution of these questions is settled in the minds of the masses, the means for securing just relations between labor and capital will be comprehended and enforced. And to effect this, many think that we should not go to the extremes which we contend for, but that we might work out a sufficient reform by merely increasing the rates of wages, lessening the hours of labor, &c. If this is the best way, why agitate the matter ? Why not plod along in the old paths which we have ever trod, merely repeating the attempts which we have always been making, and letting capital continue to enact the laws of labor, as has been the custom ? Why do we strive to elevate that which is not depressed ?

But this course will never effect a just and lasting remedy. What we need is a radical change—one that will completely extirpate the unjust principle which allows capital to own that which is not truly property, and to usurp a portion of the fruits of industry. And no difficult and complicated scheme is necessary to effect this. The simple laws of nature are all sufficient, and may be easily understood and practiced.

I do not, however, expect or wish a great revolution which will make laboring men idle dwellers of palaces. I only insist that we should use our utmost exertions to promote justice ; that we should understand and proclaim our rights and grievances. If capital receives that which is not its own, why shall we not say so ? Or if labor is rewarded too highly, let us ascertain the amount and declare it, or we may do injustice to capital. Let us discuss the whole question thoroughly, and announce the result to the world. But few may receive it at first; yet if the conclusion is a true one, its friends will multiply more and more, until the desired reform may be worked out.

Let us not be satisfied by the sophistry of those who declare, that when capital is abundant, all are more happy, and labor is better rewarded. Because, the more capital there is hoarded up, the more tremendous and disastrous are the results; for it operates as great weights of oppression, which crush the life and limb. It is unnecessary and injurious that great wealth should exist at all ; for the luxuriance, ease and splendor which it produces, causes weakness, effeminacy, and aristocracy in its subject', while it oppresses more and more the envious and hostile laborer whom it causes to accommodate its caprices.

It is a great mistake that an accumulation of capital is beneficial. The whole amount of wealth created in the past, would not sustain one-tenth of the race for one year, if productive industry should cease. The benefits of wealth are not universal; and capitalists understand full well that it is the isolation of wealth which gives it power. If I could be furnished the control of all the labor of the world, without one cent of capital, except the land and the means which nature furnishes, I would be able, in ten years to produce all of the utility, and much of the luxury, which at present exists on the face of the earth ; and I would reward labor as well as it is at present rewarded.

It is an erroneous idea, that laborers are in the most prosperous circumstances when wages are the highest, especially if the remuneration of capital is also increased. It is but a mere appearance. Laboring men have not been benefitted the most during a rise in the price of labor, but rather the reverse. If the wages of all were raised alike, without also an addition to the quantity of products, how would the necessaries and comforts of life be increased to the working man ? There would be the same demand for supplies, by the whole world; and increased consumption by one class would cause a corresponding scarcity for another, and, therefore, additional prices for consumptive articles ; so that in the end, high wages would secure no more than low ones.

An elevation of the price of labor is not the great end to be sought; but self-employment—the realization of each one's natural right to the soil and the spontaneous productions of the earth—independence of the power of capital, and a destruction of the unjust relations between it and labor. But there must be means for the accomplishment of this; there must be organized action ; combination of labor; freedom from debt, and from the claims of the landlord—and to accomplish the latter let each one save a dollar a week, or whatever amount he may, toward the securing of a house.

Let the masses better their condition now. to the extent which the present relation of labor and capital will admit of. But this is not the ultimate which we desire. We are in a transition state ; and these efforts toward emancipation bespeak the corruption and tyranny of the power of capital; they are caused by the agitation which will be succeeded by a revolution and the final establishment of a superior condition.

In conclusion, the question plainly stated is this : Is labor entitled to the full product of its industry—or should it yield a portion to capital ? Is it just to compel one man to share a part of the fruits of his industry, with him who remains in idleness—or to receive the full compensation for his labor ? And I answer, unequivocally, that the laborer, and him only, is justly entitled to the full fruits of his toil. Capital should receive a full reimbursement and no more ; because capital of itself produces nothing ; labor avails all that is superadded to the spontaneous productions of nature. Who, then, is entitled to the proceeds, but the producer?

  • Joshua King Ingalls, “Capital and Labor,” The Journal of Progress 1, no. 6 (June 4, 1853): 85-86.
  • Joshua King Ingalls, “Capital and Labor,” The Journal of Progress 1, no. 7 (June 11, 1853): 100-101.