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loans from them, for which they gave their lands in pawn, and even sold to them outright their castles and hereditary estates. Ennobled by the possession of these, the ambition of the citizens grew by what it fed on, and not infrequently, as in the case of the Medici at Florence, they became the ancestors of a line of kings.
This sketch of the causes affecting the growth of opulence in ancient and modern times is introduced principally for the purpose of illustrating the most remarkable difference in the social condition of Great Britain and the United States. The most striking thing in the aspect of society here is the constant strain of the faculties, in all classes, in the pursuit of wealth, — the restlessness, the feverish anxiety to get on, which English writers, at least, are apt to regard only as "the disagreeable symptoms of one of the phases of industrial progress" In whatever light it ought to be viewed, they are certainly mistaken in considering it as a consequence of the recent formation of our institutions, and the recent establishment of our people on the shores of a new world, — in attributing it to our favorable position, with an abundance of fertile land, and with sources of opulence as yet fresh and unexhausted. Were such causes adequate to produce this particular effect, we should find society exhibiting the same characteristics wherever it was similarly situated, — in British America, for instance, in British Australia, and over a great portion of the South American continent. But it is not so; and we must therefore look for an explanation of the phenomenon to some cause which is peculiar to our own social state, — to some stimulus acting upon what political economists call "the effective desire of accumulation," which has full scope to operate here, while it is repressed or much restricted in all other nations, — even in England, where the character of the population in other respects is so similar to our own.
I find such a peculiar operating cause in the fact, that every individual here has the power to make savings, if he will, and almost as large as he will, — and has the certainty that the savings when made, the wealth when accumulated, will immediately operate, in proportion to its amount, to raise the frugal person's position in life, — to give him, in fact, the only distinction that is recognized among us. Neither theoretically nor practically, in this country, is there any obstacle to any individual's becoming rich, if he will, and almost to any amount that he will; — no obstacle, I say, but what arises from the dispensations of Providence, from the unequal distribution of health, strength, and the faculties of mind. In other words, there are no obstacles but natural and inevitable ones; society interposes none, and none exist which society could remove. And ours is the only community on earth of which this can be said. Here there are no castes, and not even an approach to a division of society by castes. Our whole population is in that state which I have attempted to describe as the condition of the inhabitants of a free town in the Middle Ages. The property which is rapidly gained is often quite as rapidly spent, for the sake of that consideration and influence which the reputation of riches alone can give. Hence, wealth circulates among us almost as rapidly as the money which is its representative. A great fortune springs up, like the prophet's gourd, in a night, and is dissipated by some unforeseen accident on the morrow. Every one is made restless and anxious by this exposure to sudden change; but one great good comes of it, that it keeps down permanent discontent, and stifles the jealousy that is usually nursed by social differences and inequalities of fortune. How is it possible, indeed, that the poor should be arrayed in hostility against the rich, when —to adopt a former illustration — the son of an Irish coachman becomes the governor of a State, and the grandson of a millionnaire dies a pauper? The consequence of the whole is an unceasing energy and activity in the pursuit of wealth, which accomplish greater wonders than all the modern inventions of science, which actually generate enthusiasm of character, and are regarded by foreigners with surprise and distrust, as the tokens of some constitutional disease in the body politic. Even the Irish immigrant here soon loses his careless, lazy, and turbulent disposition, and becomes as sober, prudent, industrious, and frugal as his neighbors. Nearly all the enormous fortunes that have been gathered in this country are the growth of a single lifetime, and therefore, even if they were more evenly distributed than they now are at the death of their founders, there would not be a smaller number of them in the succeeding generation. Consequently, they are regarded as the prizes of industry, economy, and enterprise; and the sight of them stimulates and sustains exertion, instead of chilling and repressing it, which is the effect produced by the fixedness in certain families of vast hereditary estates.
The aspect of society in England in this respect I will not say is the direct contrary of what it is here, for with regard to a very large and influential class, it is just the same. The middle class — what on the Continent would be called the bourgeoisie, the merchants, the manufacturers, the small tradesmen, the master mechanics — are about as busy as we are here in the pursuit of wealth; and their numbers and influence in the state gave occasion to Napoleon's sarcasm, that the English were a nation of shopkeepers. But the parallel between their condition and that of the free towns in the Middle Ages may be carried much farther; outside of the city ivalls there are the nobles and the serfs. The effect of the activity of the commercial class upon the eye of the philosophical observer is qualified by the comparative repose — the stagnation, one can almost say — of the laboring poor.and of the nobility and landed gentry. These two classes, the top and the bottom of English society, are true castes, for nothing short of a miracle can elevate or depress one who is born a member of either. The true movement, the life, of the community in Great Britain is among those who are engaged in commerce and manufactures; here are alternations of fortune, not so frequent, perhaps, as in this country, but as sudden and as great. An Arkwright begins life as a barber, and ends it as a millionnaire; a Peel gives his days and his nights to cottonspinning, and his son becomes prime minister of England. But outside of this class there is stagnation and death. One half of the whole population is composed of laborers who subsist entirely upon wages, who cannot make savings if they would, for their whole earnings barely suffice to keep soul and body together. Hopeless of rising, encouraged by no examples, among those who were born his equals, of elevation to a higher grade, the laborer has no ambition, no thought even, of changing his position in life. His condition is best described in the strong language of McCulloch, when he speaks of "the irretrievable helotism of the working classes of England." And the upper classes, the nobility and the gentry, occupy a sphere which is equally immovable. With estates locked up by entails and marriage settlements, so that they cannot squander them, with an inherited scale of expenditure proportionate to their rank and fortune, so that they cannot make savings from income, and with a measure of political influence and social consideration secured to them by the long-established habits and opinions of their countrymen, they form a caste almost as fixed as that of the Bramins in India.
The difference in the aspect of society and the social condition of the people between Great Britain and the United States seems to me one of the most pregnant and instructive facts which the political economist has to consider; for it shows the superiority of moral over physical causes in the growth of national opulence, and that the hope of rising in the world is the chief motive for the accumulation of capital. Great inequality in the distribution of wealth may operate either as a check or a spur to industry and frugality; it is not, then, in itself, to be deprecated. On the contrary, a perfectly uniform partition of the goods of this world, if it were possible, which it is not, would create universal torpor. Take away the fear of poverty and the hope of rising in the world, and no one would exert himself but for his own amusement. Add the power of a despot, to make such exertion compulsory, and we should have exactly that state of things which existed in Egypt and India, when the institution of castes as yet was unimpaired. If the whole population formed but one caste, from which they could neither sink nor rise by any fault or merit of their own, they would be no more inclined to labor than if they were divided into several castes. It is the fixedness, and not the inequality, of fortunes which is to be dreaded; it is the retention of them in the same families throughout many generations, which chills exertion and unnerves the right arm of toil. Wherever there is motion, there is life. Property cannot be rendered immovable, except by the effect of human institutions which are designed to counteract the laws of nature. In this instance, surely, if in no other, the political economist has a right to cry, Laissez faire! let alone! and do not attempt to amend the ways of Providence! We do try to amend them when we attempt to enforce, or to render permanent, either equality or inequality. Laws of primogeniture and entail, the object of which is to insure to certain families the possession of their wealth for ever, are not a whit more unnatural and unjust in their operation, than would be the schemes of the philanthropic reformers, as they call themselves, who would fain reconstruct society on the basis of making the distribution of all property equal and unchangeable.
"The laws and conditions of the production of wealth," as Mr. Mill remarks, "partake of the character of physical truths. There is nothing optional or arbitrary in them. Whatever mankind produce must be produced in the modes and under the conditions imposed by the constitution of external things, and by the inherent properties of their own bodily and mental structure. "Whether they like it or not, their production will be limited by the amount of their previous accumulation, and, that being given, it will be proportional to their energy, their skill, the perfection of their machinery, and their judicious use of the advantages of combined labor. Whether they like it or not, the unproductive expenditure of individuals will, to an equal extent, tend to impoverish the community, and only their productive expenditure will enrich it. The opinions or the wishes which may exist on these different matters, do not control the things themselves. We cannot indeed foresee to what extent the modes of production may be altered, or its powers increased, by future extensions of our knowledge of the laws of nature, suggesting new processes of indusixy of which we have at present no conception. But howsoever we may succeed in making for ourselves more space within the limits set by the constitution of things, these limits exist; there are ultimate laws which we did not make, which we cannot alter, and to which we can only conform."
Among such ultimate laws is the tendency to an unequal distribution of the wealth that is created by human labor. A law of natural justice, which is recognized by savages quite as much as by civilized nations, assigns the ownership of a useful article to him by whose skill and industry that article was created. The game that is caught, the implement of the chase that is manufactured, belongs, by the consent of all, to him by whom it is caught or made. Nor is any alteration produced in this law because the successful person has so much strength, skill, and enterprise, that he can catch or manufacture two or