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standard of natural wages generally reduced to the cost of the absolute necessaries of existence, to a few potatoes and a little buttermilk, the scantiest provision of the coarsest and cheapest food that would support life. In such case, of course, no retrenchment is possible; and whenever a partial failure of the crops, as in 1847, or any other adverse circumstance, produces the slightest enhancement of the price of these necessaries, the laborer must starve, if public munificence does not come to his relief. But in England, if wages are temporarily reduced, or if food for a short time be of higher cost, the working classes can dispense with meat, beer, and tea, and still subsist. But the standard of living being established by long custom, the laborers will not submit, or need not submit, to such a reduction of their comforts as a permanent arrangement, but will rather throw themselves, or their families, upon the poor laws for support.
Hence the importance which is attributed by the Malthusian Economists to the preservation of as high a standard of living as possible for the laboring classes. Those who wTork for hire, they argue, are themselves to blame, if, in their eagerness to burden themselves with families, they submit to lower wages and a poorer style of living than that established by their forefathers; they must blame themselves if they do not even take advantage of a temporary increase in the demand for labor, or a temporary reduction in the price of food, to improve their condition permanently, by refusing to go back to the low wages and diminished comforts of their former life. "Unfortunately," says Mr. J. S. Mill, "this salutary effect is by no means to be counted upon; it is a much more difficult thing to raise, than to lower, the scale of living which the laborers will consider as more indispensable than marrying and having a family. If they content themselves with enjoying the greater comfort while it lasts, but do not learn to require it, they will people down to their old scale of living. If, from poverty, their children had previously been insufficiently fed or improperly nursed, a greater number will now be reared, and the competition of these, when they grow up, will depress wages, probably in full proportion to the greater cheapness of food. If the effect is not produced in this mode, it will be produced by earlier and more numerous marriages, or by an increased number of births to a marriage. According to all experience, a great increase invariably takes place in the number of marriages, in seasons of cheap food and full employment."
It is in this way that the Malthusians justify the uniform despondency of their views, and refuse to believe that the abolition of the corn-laws, emigration, a widely spread epidemic, a destructive war, or any other cause of cheapened food or lessening for a time the number of competitors for hire, can effect any permanent improvement in the condition of the working classes. Instead of profiting by the occasion to raise their standard of living, the laborers only use it as a means of rearing more children, whose competition must eventually bring back wages to their former proportion to the price of food. The fact is overlooked, that it is the present hopelessness of their condition, the impossibility of rising above their present rank in life, or even, as they are already at the bottom of the scale, of falling below it, which renders the laboring poor reckless and improvident in respect to marriages, and which makes them consider children as no encumbrance, and relief in the poor-house as no degradation. Under a different constitution of society, which should give the bulk of the people a right of ownership in the soil, such as the corresponding classes generally possess upon the Continent, and should break down the now impassable barriers between the different classes in the community, leaving the avenues to wealth and honor as open as they are in the United States, they would become more provident and hopeful, or a large family would no longer be esteemed a burden.
Certainly, no one, under present circumstances, would advise either an English or an Irish laborer, who is entirely dependent on wages, to diminish his chance of keeping out of the workhouse by taking upon himself the support of a wife and children. What would be imprudence for an individual, would be imprudence also in the whole class or body of men to which he belongs, or whose position in life resembles his own. The English Economists do right, then, at the present time, in dissuading the laboring poor from marriage. But we do not hereby acknowledge that the actual wretchedness of this class is the consequence of their having already multiplied up to the farthest limit at which the earth will supply them with food. Much less do we accept the doctrine which tends to make the wealthier classes in Great Britain hard-hearted and indifferent at the sight of the sufferings of the poor, byteaching that their misery is their own fault, the inevitable result of their own perversity and improvidence in keeping up their numbers too high. On the contrary, the very fact, that it is now imprudent for them to marry, is what they have most right to complain of, since it is not their own fault, but that of the laws and the aristocratic institutions of their country. If the policy of the English law, for the last half-century, had favored the distribution of fortunes as directly as it has actually encouraged their aggregation, or if it had been only neutral in this respect, as it is in this country, and had allowed property to take its natural course of an equal division among all the children when the parent had expressed no wish to the contrary, the laboring classes of England, like the peasantry of France and Switzerland, and the inhabitants of our own land, might now be free to follow their own inclinations without incurring the charge of imprudence. Their right to do so would be established by a fact of the first importance in the eyes of a Malthusian; they would not have become as numerous as they now are. The population of France, under the law which compels an equal division of the parent's estate among his children, increases at the rate of only five per cent in ten years, while the rate for England is about thrice as great. Yet no one supposes that the Englishman is naturally more careless and improvident, or more inclined to excess, than his neighbor across the Channel.
In England, an increase of the population is, pro tanto, an addition to the number of laborers seeking employment, an increase of the supply in the labor-market, and therefore a cause of the depression of wages. In America it is not so. The facilities for collecting a little capital are so numerous, and the expenses of living among a rural population, especially in the Western States, are so moderate, that the class of persons who are dependent exclusively upon wages, and who form the bulk of the community in many European countries, is here very small. The bulk of our people, at least of those who are native-born, may be said to belong to the class of independent laborers or small capitalists. Either by inheritance, or the assistance of friends, or the facility of obtaining credit, or by savings made from wages earned during his minority, almost every native American may be said to have the option of "beginning life," as it is called, with a little capital. But because this capital is small in amount, the possessor of it is willing, if wages are high, to work for others for a time, either as a journeyman, a farm-laborer, a clerk, or in some other capacity, in order to increase his little store by additional savings from wages, before he commences business on his own account. To be in the receipt of wages is not in America, as it generally is in Europe, to be entirely dependent upon wages. The person employed not unfrequently lends capital to his employer, and is thus placed upon an equality with him, and saves his self-respect, though he is "worldng for hire." One who either owns, or has the power of purchasing, a small farm, will yet "hire himself out," as the phrase is, for a season or two, in order to obtain the means of stocking his land, or otherwise facilitating his future enterprise.
Should wages be low, however, persons of small means see little advantage in postponing their introduction to business, and are tempted to employ their own capital at once in some independent occupation. There are innumerable openings for private adventure, which require only an adventurous spirit and a very moderate amount of capital or credit. The step between the situations of a journeyman and a master-mechanic, a clerk and a small tradesman, a farm-laborer and a small farmer, is a short one and very easily taken. If nothing better can be done, there is always the resource of removing to the West, and becoming a pioneer in the settlement of government land, which is first obtained with a squatter's preemption right, and paid for out of the proceeds of subsequent harvests, or out of the enhanced value of the land when the neighborhood begins to be peopled. The tide of emigration westward always becomes fuller and stronger in periods of commercial depression, the stoppage of manufactories, the low prices of agricultural products, and the consequent reduction of the rates of wages. A check is thus immediately applied to the fall of wages, which do not sink as low as might be expected from the general depreciation of property and diminution of the rate of profit. If wages should be considerably lessened, few operatives for hire could be had, except those of foreign origin. Many have a home in the rural districts, to which they can retire in such an emergency, and wait for a return of the prosperous times which first tempted them to leave the paternal roof, and commence work for high wages in a manufacturing town. Again, hired laborers easily become small tradesmen or master-mechanics, because the business of the manufacturer, the merchant, and the artisan is here not so much concentrated in the hands of a few persons with large capitals as it is in England. The competition of many, each having but a small stock in tools or trade, is not so easily crushed out by the monster undertakings of large houses wielding an immense capital, who can outlive the reverses of trade or the periods of depression in the market that are usually fatal to persons of smaller means. Reverses happen and failures ensue, oftener even than in England, and to the large and small capitalists alike; but, as already mentioned, there are great facilities here for bankrupts to recover their position and try again. Profits and losses are great, speculation is rife, and great fortunes are acquired and dissipated with marvellous rapidity. Hence there is great instability, but also much life and enterprise, in trade, and in all departments of industry. I have already explained some of the causes of the peculiar mobility of society, the ease and frequency of the interchange of social position, which is one of the characteristic features of American life, and a necessary result of our political and social institutions. The particular consequence of it, to which I wish here to direct attention, is, that it keeps down the number of laborers for hire, in spite of the rapid increase of the population, and keeps up the rate of wages, or at least prevents it from falling so rapidly as it would otherwise do.
Here, also, is the explanation of the restless, migratory spirit, and the want of local attachments, which have so often attracted the attention of foreign observers. Of the population of three of our "Western States, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin, amounting in the aggregate to nearly one million, according to the census of 1850, only 25 per cent were born within the limits of these States in which they are domiciliated, about 20 per cent were born in foreign countries, and over 51 t>er cent had their nativity in other States, though still within