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ening of food is, without any qualification, an advantage; that the use of oat and corn meal, and even of the dreaded and despised potato, has been a help, a most important help, to many struggling communities, and may be, in the same degree, to-day to any community where the land is not locked up in feudal tenures, where industry is unconstrained, where class legislation has not put labor at disadvantage, and the native desires and aspirations of man are allowed fair play. Did the substitution of “rye and Indian” for the dearer wheat tend to degrade the people of New-England ? The question is grotesque in its absurdity. It left the more wealth and labor to be applied to higher uses than filling the belly. It allowed just so much the more to be done in the way of making decent and comfortable homes; of erecting churches and schoolhouses, and supporting the offices of religious and secular instruction; of clearing the ground, opening roads, and building bridges; of making ample provision for old age, for the endowment of dependent members of the family, and for the equipment of the young for their struggle, in their turn, with nature and with men. It allowed the child to go to school, not grudging the wages he might earn by starving his mind.' It allowed the wife and the daughter to keep the house, making possible that sterling sense of decency which has been the savor of New England life. That is what the substitution of cheaper food did for early New-England, and what it might do and would do among any people taught to fear God and not man, accustomed to decent belongings, and cherishing generous aspirations.
Has the use of the potato by the Irish in America, so far
? No small sacrifice for poor folks. Mr. Gould in his very interesting Report on the Condition of the Industrial Classes of Switzerland, in 1872, estimates the average loss to working families from requiring the school attendance of children above twelve years of age to be £10 to £12 per annum, for each child so withdrawn from labor (p. 349). Such expenses, when made "necessary,” are a deal better than dear food.
as it has been used—and it has been used very freely—been in any sense or in any degree an injury to them? Far otherwise: it has enabled them to acquire their little homesteads' the more rapidly; it has enabled them to put tea, coffee, and sugar on their table; to clothe their wives decently on week days and handsomely on the Sabbath ; to give their children their time at school, and send them there with shoes and stockings on their feet that they may not be ashamed before the American children. Such has been the influence of the potato on the fortunes of the Irish in the United States; and there is no reason, aside from the oppression, spoliation, and proscription practised for many generations by the English in Ireland, why the same cause should not have produced the same effect there. Justice and equal rights have made the Irish industrious and provident; and in such a condition any lowering of the cost of subsistence is a distinct, unqualified advantage. In America the Irish, no matter how newly arrived, have shown a passionate eagerness to acquire bomesteads, for
"I have before me the tax and valuation lists of a township in Massachusetts containing a smart manufacturing village. The total population of the township was about 3300. The Irish males above 18 years of age numbered 229. Of these, 128 paid taxes upon property. The total amount of estate owned by these 128 Irishmen, exclusive of all money in saringe-banks (the deposits of these institutions being taxed en masse by the State without distinction of ownership), was $163,560, being an average to each holder of $1278.
“ Custom has rendered leather shoes a necessary of life in England. The poorest creditable person of either sex would be ashamed to appear in public without them. In Scotland custom has rendered them a necessary of life to the lowest order of men, but not to the same order of women, who may, without any discredit, walk about barefooted. In France they are necessaries neither to men nor to women, the lowest rank of both sexes appearing there publicly, without any discredit, sometimes in wooden shoes, and sometimes barefooted.”-Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, ii. 407.
Mr. Senior says of shoes: “ When a Scotchman rises from the lowest to the middling classes of society, they become to him necessaries. He wears them to preserve, not his feet, but his station in life."-Pol. Econ., pp. 36, 37.
which they will labor and for which they will deny themselves. Cheap food here has helped them to accomplish this object more easily and quickly. Cheap food in Ireland did not tend in the same direction, but the rather allowed and excited a dangerous increase of population : and this for reasons which the public conscience of England has long recognized.
All this potato-philosophy is based upon the assumption that, excepting small expenditures for clothing and shelter,' nothing can be made indispensable or “necessary” to the workingman except his food; and that his food will consist practically of a single staple article, the cost of which will govern his whole expenditure; and hence, if that staple article be cheapened, the consequences predicted by Prof. Rogers will, in the persistence of the sexual instincts, inevitably ensue. But we in the United States know very well, first, that a cheap staple article of food may be compatible with a lavish expenditure on garnishes, fruits, condiments, relishes, and drinks ;' and, secondly, that a great many things may be made indispensable to the working classes beyond their food; that, moreover, the higher the industrial desires rise, the more tenacious and persistent they are; that tastes, when once inspired, are not only more costly than appetites, but are far stronger ;'
1 “ The worst-paid class in England, the agricultural laborers, expend about two thirds of their revenues in food and one third in other objects."-Jones, Pol. Econ., p. 99.
Mr. Mill makes this strange remark respecting “ the workpeople,” having, presumably, those of England in mind : “ They are not the principal customers, if customers at all, of most branches of manufacture." It would puzzle one to tell of what branches of manufacture the workpeople of the United States are not customers.
? Wheat-flour is very cheap in the United States, corn and oat meal relatively much cheaper. The cost of these articles can scarcely be said to govern the expenditure of an American family. Many a mechanic spends as much for milk, batter, and eggs as he does for flour and meal.
• “ The great preventive check is the fear of losing decencies." Senior, Pol. Econ., p. 38.
that the industrial desires are constantly multiplying and intensifying among a people where political freedom and social ambition exist, such desires extending themselves rapidly even among new comers or persons just released from thraldom; that decent and comfortable homes, with yards and gardens, schoolhouses and churches, may ba come just as “necessary” in such a community as food and drink; that parents in such a community will gladly deny themselves the wages their children might earn, in order to send them to school, and the husband gladly deny himself the wages his wife might earn, in order that she may “keep the house.” When such desires and aspirations are once enkindled, any cheapening of the food of the people merely releases just so much wealth to be bestowed on other and higher objects.
Let me not be understood as objecting to the proposition that the use of the potato by any people as the sole article of food is injurious and dangerous, but only as taking exception to the reason assigned therefor. It is because this crop is a most precarious one, and because the potato, while forming an admirable element in a diversified diet, is not fitted physiologically to be the sole nutriment of human beings, that its exclusive use is undesirable. So far as it is to be used, its cheapness is a recommendation; and if all other articles of food used with it could be cheapened to its level, it would be so much the better in any community where laws are free and education general. Given these, the native desires and aspirations of men will find objects enough' on which to expend the labor which is released from the slavery of ministering to the merely animal necessities of the body. I say “slavery,” for that labor is only truly free which is exercised as the result of a choice. So far as a man is driven by brutal lunger to work he differs not much from a slave; when he works because he chooses exertion rather than privation of things agreeable and honorable, his labor is that of the free man.
1 The proportion of breadwinners to dependants will of course vary greatly with the habits and dispositions of the people in the respects mentioned in the text.
The results of Cantillon's computations are thus stated by Adam Smith : “Mr. Cantillon seems to suppose that the lowest species of common laborers must everywhere earn at least double their own maintenance in order that, one with another, they may be enabled to bring up two children; the labor of the wife, on account of her necessary attendance on the children, being supposed no more than sufficient to provide for herself. But one half the children born, it is computed, die before the age of manhood. The poorest laborers, therefore, according to this account, must, one with another, attempt to rear at least four children in order that two may have an equal chance of liv. ing to that age. But the necessary maintenance of four children, it is supposed, may be nearly equal to that of one man.”—Pol. Econ. i. 71. The rudeness of these computations appears on the face. In Belgium, in 1856, 49.3 per cent of the population were reported as pursuing gainful occupations; in the United States, in 1870, only 82.4 per cent ; in England and Wales, in 1871, 51 per cent; in Scotland, 43.7 per cent. * Contrast the Swiss and the Russian. Consul Egerton reports that an incentive to labor is the great desideratum in Russia. “In the truly agricultural districts the peasant, earning enough for his wants during the summer months, remains idle throughout the winter."-Report of 1873 (Textile Factories), p. 92, note. So much for a land where the people are universally ignorant, and are despotically governed. In Switzerland, to the contrary, Mr. Gould reports, “Men who during the short tourist season frequently earn as guides, porters, etc., enough to keep themselves and their families in comfort during the remainder of the year, may nevertheless be seen in winter willingly exposing themselves to the severest hardships for the small sum of a franc or two a day."-Report on the Condition of the Industrial Classes, 1872, p. 346.