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"Relations, Existing and Natural, between Man and Property," The Spirit of the Age, I, 16 (October 20, 1849), 243-246.
RELATIONS, EXISTING AND NATURAL, BETWEEN MAN AND PROPERTY.
BY J. K. INGALLS.
The reader, who has followed us this far in our investigations will be prepared for the reflections which ensue of the question of "labor and capital." Because he will see that capital is by no means confined to what is legitimately property; but embraces, as its chief portions, things that have no relation to human labor, never were, and never can be produced or reproduced by it. The earth, with its vast resources of mineral wealth, its spontaneous productions and its fertile soil, the free gift of God and the common patrimony of mankind, has for long centuries been held in the grasp of one set of oppressors, by right of conquest or right of discovery; and is now held by another, through the right of purchase or inheritance from them. All of man's natural possessions, everything external and passive, has been claimed as property; nor has man himself escaped the insatiate jaws of greed. He too has been, is held as a thing to be bought and sold. This invasion of his rights and possessions has resulted, through many methods of operations, in clothing property with a power to accumulate an income. The moralists and religious teachers of all ages and nations have denounced the principle of "increase," though in vain, because they understood not its basis. The Jewish scriptures are filled with prohibitions and denunciations against this evil; and though less pointed, it cannot be for a moment supposed that the philanthropic system of Jesus was less consistent with natural justice. When the selling all, was enjoined, that the poor might be given means of life and instruction, and when self-sacrifice and benevolent actions was adopted as a test of discipleship, it cannot be thought that any authority was furnished for the monopoly of heaven's bounties, that thereby usance might be exacted, from the unselfish and unfortunate.
"What do I think of interest," said Cato, to a friend who inquired his opinion. "What do I think of murder?"
While the power of wealth is continued by social arrangements, so as to control the man, sever him from his just relations to the soil and the passive agent, make his very existence dependent on the monopolist of the fair earth and all its productions as well as all products of industry, capital will demand a division with labor in all its earnings. It were reasonable to expect any other result. Man cannot serve God and Mammon if he try. It is folly to expect him to allow his brother to cultivate the soil, or in any way help himself, unless he pay him for the privilege. This, of course, is meant, as a general rule. Men, who will give thousands to this or that professedly benevolent object, will exact the last, even to the pound of flesh, where rent or usury is concerned.
Property is restricted to the productions of industry, when by that term, we mean what is properly a subject of traffic, between man and man. One man by labor can never produce any thing which he may justly for another man. This proposition all will admit, except the special advocates of "Patriarchalism." Any social organization recognizing the legality of such transactions, is fundamentally wrong, and must involved itself in derangement and ruin, unless the principle be abandoned. But if the principle be wrong, so must be its results; for it is this way generally that the justice or injustice of any principle is known. By the fruits shall the tree be truly judged. In a word, then, what is the effect of chattel slavery on business, generally? In the first place, it brings the slave in competition with all who labor. This must tend to make labor disreputable, and reduce its award; for why should I pay you a just compensation for your labor, when I can buy a man with my property, who will be compelled to work without remuneration! But then it must be perceived, that in consequence of this power of property, there would be a great demand for its use. Suppose I pay sixty dollars a year interest on the purchase money of my slave? He will earn me two hundred, and I shall be the gainer, in any reasonable contingency, by a hundred dollars at least. Now this must react on what is called free labor, in the same way as the competition is subjected to by the slave labor. Capital is needed to carry on the mechanical, manufacturing or agricultural business, will command higher rates, as the demand for it to purchase slaves shall increase, and as the transaction shall be found to pay. Thus this wrong affects more than the poor victim of oppression; it forces him into competition with other laborers, and while it reduces the products of their labor in value, it also increases the tax they have to pay for the privilege of toiling. Abolish slavery and you would abolish one of the main props of the system, which compensates capital out of the products of labor.
But the feature of our social system, which allows property in man, is only one of the wrongs, by which the existing claims of capital are sustained. The power of property over natural possessions is a still more general cause of its exactions, since its prevalence is almost universal; for while it gives control of one productive agent, also compels the labor of the other, as that cannot be exercised without a place and means, cannot exist indeed, without access to the other. Restore to man the right of person and possession; in other words the right to love and labor, and there would be no more thought of asking usance for land or money, than there would for a "cup of cold water," or for the privilege of looking at the sun. It might be indeed that disorganized trade, would enable the capitalist to make a shift for awhile to exact some trifle in that way; but competition, which they have made work so well in their favor, would destroy their craft, and a better system of commerce would soon sweep away the last vestige of usury. It is hoped that this reflection will be borne constantly in mind. Compensation to capital depends wholly or chiefly on its power to represent the active or the passive agent, the Man or the Soil. If it could not buy the one, nor monopolize the other in such quantities as to bring the rightful inheritor into actual dependence and want, then it must lose its power to increase of itself, or to compel compensations from the labor of society. This suggestion seems called for, since it is so inwrought with all our customs and hereditary modes of thought, that dividends should be made according to capital employed. Was not a large portion of or early arithmetic devoted to the elucidation and examples of rules for calculating interest, simple and compound, Discount, Stock dividends and Brokerage!
It may be inquired, "why battle against the effect, when the eradication of the cause can alone avail anything?" We are not fighting the effects, but only exhibiting the tendencies, that the true nature of the causes themselves may be known. The true cause, is the cupidity, which stimulates the few to invade the natural rights and possessions of others, and the ignorance and disunion of the many, which permits, authorizes, and enforces such wrongs. But it may be asked in return, where is the propriety of opposing slavery, land, monopoly, isolation of capital, and engrossment of commerce, when it is proposed to engraft on the new condition their chief results, the prerogative of capital to divide with labor the products of industry?
But space does not allow the farther pursuit of this train of thought. Some illustrations must be given showing how falsely capital and labor are at present conditioned. Capital should be the product of labor and that alone. How then can products share products? On no ground, but that the elder brother is entitle to more pay than the younger, for the same amount of labor. He must be paid in the first place for his work, and, in the next place, asks to be paid, out of what is due to the younger brother, for having been paid when he did work. It cannot be made nothing more nor less of than this. For if he has performed service in any way, for that he is to be paid. But remuneration to capital presupposes, to that extent, the idleness or uselessness of the capitalist. He is hungry. Industry steps forward to furnish him with bread. Will he repay, with his own labor, the labor necessary to produce this? Will he even give you any of his capital which he claims is the result of labor and skill? Not a whit of either. But then he will pay you, liberally. He will permit you to labor on this free God's earth, and sow and reap as much for yourself as you have given him. Could radicalism ask for anything more? He is naked, and industry steps forward and clothes him. Perhaps, now his purse strings will relax, and he will encroach for once on his principal! How futile the thought! He has a machine or "patent right" for one, bought by his property, or rather use of it, from the poor mechanic or inventor. These you may have? ah no—you may use, until you have made yourself as much as you have furnished him: no longer. He is destitute of the luxuries of other climes. Industry and adventure bring these to his very doors, nay put them up in their places, serve them on his table. Will he not do something for you now? You are again mistaken. He has gold hid away, clutched from its just place, as a measure and representative of value. That, however, he will not part with. He will let you use it for a few days or months, providing you secure him for the return of every farthing, by more than its value in other property. In a thousand ways he needs constantly your assistance. But he will pay you in no other. Labor as you may, with whatever fraternal affection, you shall never find the brother in him; that is, as a capitalist. It is not meant that many can wholly bury up their humane nature beneath this glittering, yet to the soul, corroding metal. Day after day, unless your excessive toil unfit you for thought, you will discover, that in place of being an aid, a creature of labor, as seemed, capital has become your tyrant and enslaver, and you have become a transformed creature and slave or your own productions.
But does not capital, as at present employed, increase the productions of labor, and facilitate exchange? How deluded! Its monopoly is the main obstacle to the success of any legitimate enterprise. You complain that there is not money enough in circulation to do business with. But how is this difficulty to be obviated. Ten thousand dollars, that is deeply needed, are in the possession of the miser. If you will pay him six or seven per cent, he may let you have the use of it. At the end, say of ten years, he has received it all back and ten thousand more, so that in the place of ten, there is twenty thousand withdrawn from circulation. In ten years more there will be forty thousand, and in the fourth period, eighty thousand dollars. A strange remedy truly; for while the isolation of the circulating medium has been going on in a duplicate geometrical ratio, in every period of ten or twelve years, the actual increase has been hardly perceptible. Paper may have been issued, indeed, but there is no addition of value, and in the place of facilitating business, facilitates the isolation of capital some two or three fold.
The same remark holds true with regard to the soil. The monopoly of this follows in the same ration, from the same cause. One farm let out for half its products, will enable the owner in ten years to monopolize another farm of equal value. These two, in ten years, two others. These four in another period four others; these eight, other eight, &c. Thus is forty years, the one farm, by legal and customary rates, has become sixteen, and in sixty year has multiplied to sixty four. But has there been any "increase" of the earth's surface, during these sixty years? not at all, but a relative decrease, inasmuch as, while this has remained stationary, thee has been, in all probability, an increase of the inhabitants of the globe. Can a rational being see any other result than bankruptcy in business, which must return, once in about each period, and utmost depression even to the starvation by millions of the tillers of the soil! While in the interior of the State of New York, a case came to my knowledge, of the actual verification of this proposition. A man when he came of age had inherited two farms, from his father, well furnished. He went to work on one, himself, and let the other to a landless person. In a few years he bought another and another, and last fall, had realized the sixteenth, being now between fifty and sixty years of age. The arrangement, which by the way is common through all the grazing portion of the State, was on of labor and capital, exactly; and the distribution is based on the principle that the results of such association are to be divided according to the amount of labor performed and the capital employed. As one man furnished all the capital for the use of these sixteen families, and they did all the labor, it is very easy to ascertain their virtual relations. The proprietor received as capital's share, three-fifths, the families, as labor's share, two-fifths. As one-fifth would cover all repairs and waste of property, which it is just should have been contributed by labor, the mere fact of possession, is here rewarded, in one individual, and amount equal to what is given to the labor of sixteen families. This perhaps may be regarded as a transition stage from serfdom or slavery towards fraternity and harmony; but one that should not be tarried at long, unless we would bring back the elder tyranny.
Capital now stands in the relation of oppressor and for to labor. Labor may not move its limbs, but at the beck of capital. Not a tithe, but a moiety of its productions must be paid as tax for the use of capital. It would cultivate the soil, but capital will not permit it, except on these conditions. A prohibition, ranging from a "dollar and quarter," to hundreds and even thousands of dollars is place on the cultivation of each acre of land on the globe. Industry would delve for the metals, which are deposited in every mountain, and make of them articles of use labor-saving machines; but capital barricades the way. These have become property. It would build ships for commerce, and bring up the treasures of the vast deep, but capital has engrossed the means, and will allow nothing to be done in any department, except she be allowed to realize, our of it, her "cent per cent." It is the greatest folly to think of emancipating labor by more rapid production. This will only decrease the necessity of capital to employ labor at all, and facilitate the accumulation, which is already crushing the sons of toil into the very dust. Any attempt at compromise is equally futile. Capital does not furnish employment, does not in any way award industry, does not facilitate exchange, but places her ban on all, and only allows them scope when full tribute has been awarded to her. And yet it is not seldom we hear the subject treated as though the accumulations of past labor, or rather of past robbery and slavery, was society's main dependence, and without it the most deplorable condition would be experience by labor. This is a great mistake. If all such ideas of property were abolished at once, should we not still have the soil, productive as ever? Should we not have all the metals and minerals, all the same constructive skill? Industry left free, could soon build itself a temporary residence, and the one half of its products, which it now pas to capital, would, in half a dozen years, reproduce all the essential forms of wealth, which now exist. It would not be found necessary to rebuild the pyramids, nor the penitentiaries, court-houses, kingly or ducal palaces, superceded works of internal improvement, the myriads of sectarian establishment, nor heaven high walls of partition, in a religious, social or practical sense, to separate man from man, and prevent the poor from contemplating the beauties of nature and the possessions of the wealthy. The navy of the world might be left, till "a more convenient season." The munitions of war, could also be dispensed with, until men got time to fight. A princely palace with squalid huts, "to match," might be superceded by a comfortable and airy mansion. The royal stables, (as the active happy life, would be unfavorable to the establishment of hospitals,) might be replaced by cheerful workshops; and after all this was done, materials would still be left. The prince and peasant, now co-laborers, would soon find out what employment was best suited to their talent. The useless and parasital professions and employments, especially the army, nary, the bar, the pulpit, and different kinds of trade and speculation, would greatly reinforce the ranks of labor and hasten the attainment of a condition, in which work would become attractive, because united with study, devotion, recreation, and amusement.
But suppose on the other hand, that labor should become defunct? The simple result must be that your army and navy, your useless professions must yield up the ghost at once. In a year nine tenths of the race would have died of starvation. The next year the other ninth would become extinct also. Can any one surmise how high "rents" would be in Broadway at the end of that time! Is it known, precisely, how much the wild beasts pay for the privilege of making dens of the palaces of Babylon's ancient kings, or what may be the price for cultivating one of the hanging gardens? or how high the price for house lots in Palmyra? It might be serviceable to inquire, how much cannon and bayonets will be worth in a time of peace? Would the crowns and all the paraphernalia of kingcraft and priestcraft, indeed bring more than they cost of actual labor. To me it is very plain that this idol, capital, is a very phantom and bugbear, an incubus, which has no moving, life giving power, only the power to oppress and keep from moving the half waking, half unconscious form of labor. Wait till the recumbent man shall once open his eyes, or thoroughly stir himself, and the spell is gone, once and for ever. But mark, what horrid contortions, what strangling of the very breath and life circulation, a specter is able to effect! See, oh blinded brothers, what the real cause of your oppression! Not property, no monarchies, no hierarchies, not priestcraft nor kingcraft, but your own disorganization and disregard of each other's rights and possessions. The foes you would fight are but ghosts of the past, and of your own imagination. It is your supineness that has enslaved you, and you have bound upon each other the chains, which only the hand of brotherhood can unloose. Think not by compromise to effect anything, only manly, loving action will answer now. See ye not how the wealth ye have heaped up in this land and in Europe, is constantly used as an engine of oppression to yourselves and brethren over the water, struggling for political freedom! Know ye not, that the gold ye thing to relieve business with, will be sent to Austria and to Russia, as long as they can extort the interest from oppressed millions, by the cannons and bayonets it will furnish them! Know ye not that it will be employed to facilitate a monopoly of the soil, upon which all depend for subsistence, and the title to which is as perfect in you, in every son of toil, as in the "Lord of the manor," even more perfect if you labor upon it and he does not! It will be employed to monopolize the bread you consume, the knowledge you would acquire; to perpetuate the superstitions and sectarian establishments, which have made you foes to each other, and caused you to wade through seas of blood. It will tax in proportion to its increase every moment's labor, every hour's repose. Every thing that you shall eat, drink, wear, see or hear, will be measured, and in addition to the cost of production, there will be added, an impost as capital's dividend. If you employ a teacher of righteousness to break to you the bread of life, you must pay not only for the service, but for the capital that was used, in procuring his education. If you meet to worship your God, you must pay your contribution to greed in the form of rent or interest. If in the defence of a righteous claim you would employ an advocate to secure justice from the laws, you must not only pay him, but a tax as interest on the capital and time employed in preparing him for his vocation. Thus you find the labor of the past, so far from being an aid, it is the main obstacle to your success, and all attempt at progress with this before you will only increase its potency, as the school boy's ball of snow grows larger at every roll, until it becomes immovable; and blocks up his own pathway.
What then, says the timid reformer, shall be done? Capital and labor have becomes strangely inverted by position, but you would not advocate a destruction of one or the other? Certainly not. I would say to the boy, tugging and sweating to move the mountain of his own creation, you can never succeed in that way. If the ball will not allow you to proceed, just step our, though it be into a deep drift and go round it. The exertions, which here are important for good, will soon bring you to a beaten path again. Leave it to the action of the sun and rain, since it will not accompany you. To labor I would say, let capital alone. You can get on without that, that can not go on, cannot preserve its existence for a day without you. To capital I would say, accompany labor in the accomplishment of its destiny, that thereby thy existence may be preserved, it will be better for both, but infinitely better for thee. Do not attempt to ride on his shoulders any longer, however, lest the luxuries his hand is compelled to furnish, ultimately intoxicate thee, and in a moment of fancied security, the desperate Sinbad release himself from thy grasp, and with the first weapon he can find, crush thy dominative head, even though there were no use in it.
The only peace then that should be sought, is a return to natural relations, where the labor of to-day is paid as well as the labor of yesterday, and each man may have what is his own by natural possession or actual creation. Freedom of labor and conservation of wealth, is the only union at all desirable. This is alike just and beneficial to both. It is idle to preach cooperation to capital, as it would be to preach peace to the Czar of Russia. Capital knows, if you do not, my brother, that in isolation, monopoly, engrossment of the passive agent and possession of the human being, lies all its power to accumulate, or even to preserve itself in existence.
Republicanism, the assertion and recognition of human rights, must precede any realization of the true social ideal. An organization, built up on any other foundation, will be liable to be swept away at any moment, by the mighty tides which shall purify the political and social waters, the revolutions and the bankruptcies, which shall continue "unto the end." But shall the socialist, then, become a politician? No, and yes. Not in any party sense, not by attempts to place one set of men or another, in office of power; but by a calm and dignified assertion of principles; and what is more, by the arrangement of their own affairs, after the ultimate ideal truth, as far and as fast, as it can possible be done. One organization, where labor was freed from all tax to wealth, where the capital was strictly preserved, would do more towards abolishing the unequal laws under which we life, than any political system. Because the common mind cannot decide on the working of principles, as well before as after an experiment has been tried. It is the mystification of the close relation between cause and effect, that gives the demagogue his influence over the masses, who have all power in this country, and indeed in all countries.
The chief obstacle in the way of human progress, is the ignorance of the majority, in regard to natural rights and the operation of the varied schemes of government, finance and trade. He shall hasten the New Era, who shall devise a plan of transition, which will present to the sensuous perceptions of mankind, a demonstration of the divine ideal. Still we have society, government, trade, and all things as they are; is there any place which may serve our Archimedes' lever as a fulcrum? If there is not we have done little towards remodeling the world, and our lever itself is well nigh useless. If there is, the whole form of society may be changed, without one drop of human blood. Earth's tyrants of the scepter, of the chain, and of the purse, may be left "alone in their glory," or welcomed to the ranks of labor and of Brotherhood. If no better offer, the present writer will give his own suggestions, in due time, with regard to a method of transition, which shall be simple and just and natural.
- Joshua King Ingalls, “Relations, Existing and Natural, between Man and Property,” The Spirit of the Age 1, no. 16 (October 20, 1849): 243-246.
- Joshua King Ingalls, “Relations, Existing and Natural, between Man and Property,” The Journal of Progress 1, no. 11 (July 9, 1853): 3.