Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy

William Leggett, courtesy of United States Library of Congress
Leggett, William
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Lawrence H. White, ed.
First Pub. Date
Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc.
Pub. Date
Essays first published 1834-1837.
70 of 108



Plaindealer, December 31, 1836.


The venerable Sir Thomas More, in a work wherein he has availed himself of the convenient latitude of fiction to utter many important political maxims and opinions, which might not have been tolerated, in his days, had they been put forth in the sober guise of literal truth, has expressed numerous sentiments in regard to the errors and abuses of government, which apply with as much force and accuracy to our times and country, as to his. "Is not that government both unjust and ungrateful," he asks, "that is prodigal of its favours to those who are goldsmiths and bankers, and such others as are idle, and live either by flattery, or by contriving the arts of vain pleasure; and, on the other hand, takes no care of those of a meaner sort, such as ploughmen, colliers, and smiths, without whom it could not subsist? After the public has reaped all the advantage of their service, and they come to be oppressed with age, sickness, and want, all their labours, and the good they have done, is forgotten; and all the recompense given them is that they are left to die in great misery. The richer sort are often endeavouring to bring the hire of labourers lower, not only by their fraudulent practices, but by the laws which they procure to be made to that effect; so that, though it is a thing most unjust in itself to give such small rewards to those who deserve so well of the public, yet they have given those hardships the name and colour of justice, by procuring laws to be made for regulating them."


Who, that knows anything of our legislation, can read this passage, without perceiving that it applies as strongly to the condition of things among ourselves, as if it had been written purposely to describe them, and not those which existed in England three centuries ago? Our government, like that against which the complaint was urged, is prodigal of favours to bankers and others, who choose to live in idleness by their wits rather than earn an honest livelihood by the useful employment of their faculties; and like that, it makes no laws conferring privileges and immunities on the "common people," who look to their industry for their support. The farmers, the labourers, the mechanics, and the shopkeepers, have no charters bestowed upon them; but the only notice they receive from the law is to forbid them, under heavy penalties, from interfering with the exclusive rights granted to the privileged few.


A very casual and imperfect survey of society, in regard to the vast disparity of condition it presents, must satisfy any reflecting mind that there is some great and pervading error in our system. If the inequalities of artificial condition bore any relation to those of nature; if they were determined by the comparative degrees of men's wisdom and strength, or of their providence and frugality, there would be no cause to complain. But the direct contrary is, to a very great extent, the truth. Folly receives the homage which should belong only to wisdom; prodigality riots in the abundance which prudence has not been able to accumulate, with all his pains; and idleness enjoys the fruits which were planted and cultivated by industry. It is not necessary to state these facts in figurative language, in order to render them worthy of serious and attentive consideration. Look through society, and tell us who and what are our most affluent men? Did they derive their vast estates from inheritance? There are scarcely a dozen wealthy families in this metropolis whose property descended to them by bequest. Did they accumulate it by patient industry? There are few to whom an affirmative answer will apply. Was it the reward of superior wisdom? Alas, that is a quality which has not been asserted as a characteristic of our rich. Whence, then, have so many derived the princely fortunes, of which they display the evidences in their spacious and elegant dwellings, in their costly banquets, their glittering equipages, and all the luxurious appliances of wealth? The answer is plain. They owe them to special privileges; to that system of legislation which grants peculiar facilities to the opulent, and forbids the use of them to the poor; to that pernicious code of laws which considers the rights of property as an object of greater moment than the rights of man.


Cast yet another glance on society, in the aspect it presents when surveying those of opposite condition. What is the reason that such vast numbers of men groan and sweat under a weary life, spending their existence in incessant toil, and yet accumulating nothing around them, to give them hope of respite, and a prospect of comfort in old age? Has nature been less prodigal to them, than to those who enjoy such superior fortune? Are their minds guided by less intelligence, or their bodies nerved with less vigour? Are their morals less pure, or their industry less assiduous? In all these respects they are at least the equals of those who are so far above them in prosperity. The disparity of condition, in a vast multitude of instances, may be traced directly to the errors of our legislation; to that wretched system, at war with the fundamental maxim of our government, which, instead of regarding the equality of human rights, and leaving all to the full enjoyment of natural liberty in every respect not inconsistent with public order, bestows privileges on one, and denies them to another, and compels the many to pay tribute and render homage to the few. Take a hundred ploughmen promiscuously from their fields, and a hundred merchants from their desks, and what man, regarding the true dignity of his nature, could hesitate to give the award of superior excellence, in every main intellectual, physical, and moral respect, to the band of hardy rustics, over that of the lank and sallow accountants, worn out with the sordid anxieties of traffic and the calculations of gain? Yet the merchant shall grow rich from participation in the unequal privileges which a false system of legislation has created, while the ploughman, unprotected by the laws, and dependent wholly on himself, shall barely earn a frugal livelihood by continued toil.


In as far as inequality of human condition is the result of natural causes it affords no just topic of complaint; but in as far as it is brought about by the intermeddling of legislation, among a people who proclaim, as the foundation maxim of all their political institutions, the equality of the rights of man, it furnishes a merited reprehension. That this is the case with us, to a very great extent, no man of candour and intelligence can look over our statute books and deny. We have not entitled ourselves to be excepted from the condemnation which Sir Thomas More pronounces on other governments. "They are a conspiracy of the rich, who, on pretence of managing the public, only pursue their private ends, and devise all the ways and arts they can find out, first, that they may, without danger, preserve all that they have so acquired, and then that they may engage the poor to toil and labour for them, at as low rates as possible, and oppress them as much as they please."

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Plaindealer, March 18, 1837. Text abridged and extract deleted so as to omit references to political personalities of the day.


The first number of a weekly newspaper, just established at Oswego, called the Commercial Herald, has been sent to us. Amongst leading articles there is one entitled Loco Focos, which professes to give an account of the principles and objects of the political party known by that name. It says—

Their ideas of politicks and morals are drawn from the most beautiful theories that human genius has invented, and from propositions, true in themselves, but susceptible of no practical results. Hence, their tenets are founded in the false premises of a perfectibility in human nature that dispenses with all the restraints of law, and all the obligations of religion. The sweeping nature of their doctrines has brought them in contract with our whole system of legislation, and indeed with all laws human and divine. Hostile to every species of monopoly, even to the institution of marriage, they have in some respects exercised a wholesome and salutary influence upon the course of legislation.


The same paper names Shelley as "among the authordox writers" from whom the Loco Focos derive their creed, and cites a passage from the notes to Queen Mab as illustrative of the views of the Loco Focos on the subject of marriage....*60


We cannot augur favourably of a newspaper which is guilty of such sheer and coarse misrepresentation at its very outset. There is not one word of truth in these statements; they are unmitigated, unqualified slanders. We do not belong to the party, the principles of which are thus traduced, and we have before expressed the opinion that its course of action is not in exact accordance with its principles, and not calculated to expedite the object at which it aims. But with respect to the creed which it professes, no man claiming to be a democrat can gainsay a single syllable of it. Admitting, as a political axiom, the truth of the fundamental doctrine of our government, the political equality of mankind, every article of the creed of those called Loco Focos has the force and certainty of a geometrical demonstration. The assertion is without a shadow of truth that they propose to dispense with the restraints of law and the obligations of religion, that they are opposed to all law, human and divine, or that they are hostile to the institution of marriage....


The whole creed of those who are termed Loco Focos is embraced in the maxim of the equality of men's political rights. It breathes no hostility whatever to religion; has no reference to the institution of marriage; and opposes existing laws only to the extent that they interfere, either directly with men's equal rights, or indirectly, by restraints on the natural freedom of trade, which, though general in their terms, have yet the inevitable tendency of unduly fostering particular interests or classes....


We have always considered the Loco Focos wrong in separating from the main body of the democracy, and in combining under a separate organization; because we thought the more certain, the more speedy, and the more democratick mode, of achieving the triumph of their particular principles, would have been to cooperate in general objects with those with whom they agreed in the main, constantly exercising, with vigilance and temper, their proper share of influence in the primary popular proceedings, to bring about that reformation which they desire to accomplish. But all party combinations are mere measures of policy to establish or maintain particular principles; and the separation of any portion of a party, therefore, on questions of difference touching cardinal principles, although it may be censurable as impolitick, can never deserve the more serious reprehension which belongs to dishonesty. It is not to be doubted that, with the mere exception of such a sprinkling as all parties contain of men governed by selfish motives, the Loco Focos are sincere in the creed and in the objects which they profess. They must then be considered democrats, in the strictest meaning of the word, and will naturally merge again into the great democratick party, under that best possible appellation, when it shall, by a much needed reformation of its "usages," and a lustration of its members, become worthy of its name.

Notes for this chapter

The English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley published the long ideological poem Queen Mab together with notes in 1813. The ninth note was a celebrated essay against legal marriage.—Ed.


End of Notes

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Plaindealer, May 13, 1837. Text abridged and extracts deleted.

· · · · · ·


...The manifesto*61 takes openly the highest ground of aristocratick doctrine. It asserts, with startling frankness, the fundamental principal of that creed which rests on deep distrust of popular intelligence and virtue. It affirms that moral and pecuniary worth go together; that property is the touchstone of merit, and the only true and permanent basis of government. It in effect repeats the celebrated dogma of Mr. Webster, "Take care of the rich, and the rich will take care of the poor," a sentiment so revolting to the general sense, that he was fain to disavow it, though it was well known he had uttered it; but it is now put forth by this whig committee of no partisans with a boldness that indicates an intention of withdrawing it no more, but rather of shouting it louder and louder, as their chief and most exciting battle-cry. "In a great majority of cases the possession of property is the proof of merit." This is the ground on which they take their stand. They give a new reading to the old saying that "worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow." Worth with them is not moral and intellectual worth, shown by any other index than dollars and cents. He is most worthy who is worth the most money; and he the most base who is worth none. Property is the proof of merit; and according to the inevitable converse, poverty is the proof of vileness and degradation.


But property, we are told, as a general rule, cannot be acquired, in a country of free laws and equal rights, without industry, skill, and economy. This, however, is not a country of free laws and equal rights. The principle of man's natural and unalienable equality of rights is admitted in the abstract, but is widely departed from in practice. It is for endeavouring to conform the practice to the theory that the whigs raise all this no partisan clamour against Mr. Van Buren. They want a National Bank, to make the rich richer and the poor poorer; to set at naught the just influence of the poor man's equal suffrage; and place the government under the absolute control of a sordid, fluctuating, paper money aristocracy. "Property cannot be acquired without industry, skill and economy?" How, then, in heaven's name, did the pseudo rich men of the last two years acquire their wealth? Did it rain upon them from the clouds, or spring up under their feet spontaneously from the bosom of the earth? Was it an exercise of "industry, skill and economy" to lay out cities in the prairies, project railroads over mountains, and devise all sorts of impossible schemes, and then, counting upon the realization of these visionary projects, to assume the loftiest port of affluence, and riot in the most wasteful excess? Was it "industry, skill, and economy," that supplied the gorgeous equipages and sumptuous tables of the thousands, who now, overtaken by the inevitable consequences of their own folly, declaim against the specie circular, lay the blame of their wild and most immoral extravagance to the account of the government, and demand its assistance to rescue them from the bankruptcy they have brought upon themselves? Under a code of really equal laws, property would, indeed, to a certain extent, be an evidence of sagacity and prudence, but under a system of special privileges, it is as much a proof of successful gambling, as of steady enterprise employed in objects useful to mankind. Under a federal bank, property would soon become the badge of an exclusively privileged order, and poverty and vassalage the irremediable doom of the great majority of men.


We rejoice, however, that the whigs take their stand, openly and boldly, on their true distinctive principles. They now show themselves in the native hue of aristocracy. They no longer attempt to slubber over their real motives of action, or the ultimate objects which they hope to achieve. They no longer deny that a National Bank is their shibboleth and that the protection of a privileged order is the chief end of government. On this ground we are willing to meet them, and, proclaiming with equal distinctness and sincerity the principles for which we fight, we close with them in the struggle, and trust the issue to the merits of our cause. We hold that all men have equal political rights. That the sole object of government is the protection of those rights; and that whatever impairs or infringes them, whatever gives privileges to the few, which are withheld from the many, or superiour immunities, in any respect, to any particular rank or class of men, is an abuse of power, contrary to the great ends of political organization, and calling for prompt correction through the influence of equal suffrage.


"Those who believe that the possession of property is an evidence of merit will be the last to interfere with the rights of property of any kind." We beg our readers to mark the terms and purpose of this pledge to the slaveholders of the south. There is no ambiguity in this part of the manifesto. The solemn promise is given by the northern whigs to the southern slaveholders, that they will respect, to the utmost extent, the rights of property in slaves, and discourage, as a cardinal measure of party, every attempt to discuss the great scheme of emancipation. The maxim, so boldly asserted, that "property is the proof of merit" includes, it seems, property in fellow beings, not less than property in things. Slaves cannot be acquired, any more than houses and lands, without "industry, skill, and economy," and he

"Is wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best,"

who is the uncontrolled possessor of the greatest number of human creatures. The kidnapper, on the coast of Africa, with the noisome recesses of his vessel crowded with suffocating wretches, stolen from their homes and their country, must be a man of supereminent virtue and intelligence, according to the creed which recognizes property of all kinds as "the proof of merit;" and the craven man-seller, who drives his herd of poor negroes through the streets of the federal metropolis of this great empire of freemen, and sells them to the highest bidder under the very walls of the capitol,

———where freedom waves
Her fustian flag in mockery over slaves,*62

is a citizen far more meritorious than the humble denizen, who, respecting the equal rights of his fellow men, and trusting solely to "industry, skill, and economy," has no proof of merit to offer that will stand the test of the whig touchstone of desert.


Mere party newspapers, of the northern and eastern states, have been endeavouring, for a long time past, to heap on their antagonists the odium of abolitionism. In that contemptible and degrading spirit of misrepresentation, which too much distinguishes the political press, they have sought, by mutual criminations and reproaches, to convince the south that the ordinary line of political demarcation also divided opinions on the question of slavery. The whigs have charged abolitionism on the democracy, and the democracy have retorted the charge upon the whigs. But we have now the formal declaration, adopted, as we are assured, by unanimous acclamation, at an immense assemblage of the whigs of this great city, that they are the friends and advocates of slavery; that they consider the possession of slaves the proof of merit; and that they will discourage every effort to discuss the evils of servitude. We ask of our readers to ponder this declaration. We ask of those, more particularly, to give it their most serious heed, who think with us as to the detestable wickedness and ruinous consequences of slavery. And we ask, most particularly, of those who coincide with us in regard to slavery, but differ on questions of politicks—we ask of whig abolitionists, to read this bill of sale which consigns them over to the task-masters of the south; which surrenders their inestimable right of free discussion; which forbids them to yearn and pray for the emancipation of three millions of their fellow men from abject bondage; but pledges that they shall witness, uncomplainingly and complacently, without raising an arm or exerting a voice, whatever enormities that meritorious class who hold their black brothers as property may choose to perpetrate on the human commodity. We ask the American, which has heretofore been a vigorous and efficient asserter of the sacred right of free discussion, if it consents to this sweeping measure of propitiation to the south? We ask the Express, which has shown some touches of human sympathy for the poor negro, and some natural horrour of the institution of slavery, if it will be a party to so base a compact? We ask of every friend of human rights, whatever may be his opinions on questions of temporary expediency, whether he will countenance this unholy league?


But let slavery and aristocracy, between which there is a natural affinity, plant their banners on the same height, and wage war with their united forces against the democracy. Strong in the clear justice of that cause which asks for nothing but equal rights, we shall encounter the shock with unshrinking confidence, and our efforts will lose none of their energy from the reflection that, not our own freedom only, but freedom to the slave, depends on the result.

Notes for this chapter

Leggett refers to the published comments of a committee of New York Whigs on a letter from President Van Buren. The President wrote in response to requests presented to him in Washington by the committee.—Ed.
A line from Thomas Moore, London Examiner satirist.—Ed.


End of Notes

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Plaindealer, May 20, 1837. Extract deleted.


It is to the farming and mechanick interests we must look, in these days of extraordinary delusion among mercantile men, for sound views as to the causes of the evils which distract the country, and as to the proper means of bringing affairs back to their former prosperity. If the farmers and mechanicks of the Confederacy were subject to the same periodical madness which afflicts the merchants, we should indeed think there was but too much reason to despair of the republick. But while we may look to them for such a host of sound minds in sound bodies, for such a multitude of men who, like the Roman Mutius,*63 are not only able and willing to act, but to suffer for their country, we shall not lose our confidence in the stability of democratick institutions.


A very sensible writer in the National Intelligencer, under the signature of "A Farmer," makes some excellent remarks on the state of the times....

· · · · · ·


The National Intelligencer speaks of the writer from whose communication we have made this extract, as, "in every sense, a country gentleman." He is a member, then, of a class on which we must mainly depend for the steady and effectual defence of the institutions of liberty, amidst the violent assaults, which, it is easy to foresee, mercantile rapacity will fiercely wage against them. To the cultivators of the soil, gentle and simple, and to the hardy followers of the mechanick arts, we turn our eyes, in these days of passion and prejudice, for that calm good sense and intrepidity, which are necessary to the protection of the great blessing of equal political rights.


The traders, as a body, are a useful class, but not the most patriotick. The spirit of traffick is always adverse to the spirit of liberty. We care not whom the remark pleases nor whom it offends; but it is a truth, which all history corroborates, that the mercantile community, in the aggregate, is ever impelled by sordid motives of action. The immediate interests of trade, not the permanent interests of their country, supply their strongest impulse. They peruse their ledger with more devotion than the Constitution; they regard pecuniary independence more than political; and they would be content to wear ignominious chains, so that the links were forged of gold.


The American people have tested, by a reduplicated experiment, continued through a long series of years, the good and evil of a federal bank, and they have seen that the evil far outweighs the good. They have seen it fail in the cardinal objects for which it was created. They have seen that it could not prevent alternate expansions and contractions of the currency, and ruinous fluctuations in commercial affairs. They have seen, also, that it could not resist the temptation to turn its pecuniary means into political channels and, through the corrupting influence of money, attempt to rule the destinies of freemen. They have seen it purchase presses, bribe publick men, and endeavour to pollute the streams of popular intelligence at the fountain head. These are facts not merely conjectured by suspicion. They rest not on the uncertain evidence of probability. They are corroborated by proofs which defy refutation, and stand indelibly recorded on the enduring archives of the federal legislature. It was for these reasons that the people decided there should be no federal bank.


But the mercantile community acquiesce not in this decision. "We must have a national bank to regulate the exchanges!" is now their cry. This is the proposition with which they meet every argument, the answer they deem sufficient for every objection. Tell them of a constitutional impediment, and they reply that they can see only the impediments to trade. Point to the political evils of a federal bank, and they talk of its financial advantages. Tell them of the danger it would threaten to liberty, and they descant on the facilities it would render to credit. An equal currency is, with them, a phrase of better import than equal rights; a uniform system of exchange a grander object than a uniform system of freedom.


Why is it that large cities are justly considered, according to the expressive metaphor of Jefferson, the sore places in the body politick? Because the sordid spirit of trade gives them their tone, and fixes the standard of their political morals. When we hear of attempts to overawe freedom of political opinion, who are the chief actors in the outrage? The sons of traffick. When the equal right of suffrage is invaded, and proscription dictates to the poor man how he shall vote under penalty of starvation, who are they that thus tyrannize over their fellow men? The merchants. What class of society now threatens tumult and insurrection, if the federal executive dares insist on the fulfilment of the laws? What class is it that warns freemen, charged with no crime but the frank utterance of their sentiments on a subject of general interest and of general discussion, to abandon their homes, and seek elsewhere a place of refuge, if they would escape immolation in the publick streets? We are forced to repeat that this audacious conduct proceeds from the mercantile community. It springs from the selfish, grovelling, debasing spirit of trade—from that spirit which venerates its desk more than the altar, its list of bank balances more than the decalogue, and its book of accounts more than the book of God.


To the farmers and mechanicks, then, we look for safety in these days of mercantile frenzy. They gain their livelihood by wholesome industry, not by maddening speculation, and they know the value of equal laws. Blacker than the clouds which lower over our shattered commerce, would be the boding tempest of the political horizon, had we no surer trust, in the midst of our difficulties, than the patriotism of those who regard the prosperity of trade more than the prosperity of their country and, like true sons of Esau, would sell their birthright for a mess of pottage.

Notes for this chapter

One of the sons of Titus Adronicus in Shakespeare's play of that name.—Ed.


End of Notes

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Plaindealer, May 20, 1837.


In our last number, when commenting on the "nonpartisan" professions of the whig travelling committee, we stated that the proceedings of that veracious body had a direct reference to an intended nomination, at no distant day, of Mr. Webster, as a candidate for the office of President. Circumstances have forced this nomination to be made, in an informal manner, at an earlier day than was anticipated. The Evening Star, of Thursday last, having intimated, in pretty positive terms, that Mr. Clay is entitled to the support of the aristocracy, as their next candidate for the chief executive office of the Confederacy, the Commercial Advertiser and the American of the following evening eagerly reprehended the movement of their contemporary, and protested that Daniel Webster was their man. We are sorry to observe any signs of division in the ranks of our adversaries. We should be much better pleased to see them all unite, with one mind and heart, on a single individual; and we should be still better pleased if that individual were Mr. Webster. This would bring the strife on the true ground of antagonist political principles. It would call upon the people to array themselves under the standard either of democracy or aristocracy. It would show conclusively whether the intelligence of this country acknowledges the maxim that "PROPERTY IS THE TEST OF MERIT," or whether it still holds to the opposite maxim, "THE EQUALITY OF HUMAN RIGHTS."


The aristocratic party ought to select Mr. Webster for their candidate. They acted scurvily towards him in the last contest. To thrust him aside from the field, that they might array themselves under the petticoat banner of so poor an "available," such a mere effigy of a leader, as General Harrison, was, to say the least, mortifying treatment. They owe Mr. Webster reparation. They owe it to themselves, too, to pursue a more dignified course. Their political projects, heretofore, have been palpable confessions of inferiority. They have sought to disguise the true issue. They have seized hold of temporary and local questions. They have selected candidates, not with reference to their capacity or principles, but solely with reference to their supposed power of healing divisions, and uniting separate interests. It is time they should come out in their true characters, and avow the real objects for which they contend. Let them declare, then, their rooted distrust of the intelligence and integrity of the mass of the people; their belief that property is the test of merit, and should be the basis of suffrage; their opinion that the duty of government is to take care of the rich, leaving it to the rich to take care of the poor; and their desire, for the furtherance of these objects, to establish a federal bank, with sufficient capital to buy up men and presses, like cattle in the market. At the end of such a confession of faith, nothing could be in better keeping than the nomination of Daniel Webster for the office of President.


Mr. Webster is certainly a great man. We should oppose him, wholly, heartily, and with all the zeal of a firm conviction that his principles are hostile to liberty. But we do not hesitate to call him a great man; a man of strong and capacious mind, much information, vigorous powers of reasoning, and an uncommon flow of stern and majestic eloquence. He is greater as a lawyer than as a statesman; but in both characters he stands in the foremost rank. We admire the energy of his faculties. When passages of his speeches come before us, separate from a consideration of the questions which elicited them, we always peruse them with delight. The pleasure they afford us is but the involuntary homage which the mind pays to a superior intellect; but it changes, by a natural transition, to an opposite feeling, when we are led to reflect upon the nature of the objects for which he is exerting his abilities. Not to assist in enfranchising his fellow-man; not to hasten that glorious day-spring of equal liberty, which is beginning to dawn upon the world; not to spread wider and wider the principles of democratic freedom, and break down the artificial and aristocratic distinctions, which diversify the surface of society with such hideous inequalities, does Mr. Webster raise his voice in the Senate-house. The dogmas of his political creed, like the dogmas of an intolerant religion, would confine the blessings of government, as the latter would those of heaven, to an exclusive few, leaving all the other myriads of men to toil and sweat in a state of immitigable degradation. This is the true end and aim of the aristocratic creed. This is the true and inevitable tendency of their measures who contend for a national bank. This is their open profession when they proclaim that property is the proof of merit, and, by the unavoidable converse, that poverty is the proof of unworthiness. For those who acknowledge such sentiments and motives, Mr. Webster is the proper candidate. He has talents and acquirements that must command respect; his personal character is unimpeached; and he has toiled long and strenuously in their service. We are glad that they are about to do all in their power to render a grateful return. The democracy will now have something to contend against, as well as something to contend for. There will be glory in overthrowing such an antagonist, as well as great gain in preserving the supremacy of their principles. With such an opponent as Harrison, we enter languidly into the contest, as a task of mere duty; with such a one as Webster, we shall rush into it eagerly, as a matter of pride as well as patriotism.

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Plaindealer, July 22, 1837.


In the Board of Aldermen, on Monday evening, a report was adopted, in favour of concurring in the plan suggested by the Mayor of Boston, to address a memorial to Congress on the subject of the immigration of foreign paupers. Under this name, many of the whig gentry, with our Lottery Mayor*64 at their head, seem to think every foreigner ought to be classed who has no money in his pocket. If to be without money is to be a pauper, not a few of our most lordly and aristocratick monopolists are in that category.


But while the newspapers in this quarter continue their efforts to excite popular prejudice against the poor emigrants who are seeking an asylum on our shores, and they are scoffed at as wretches undeserving of succour or sympathy, we observe that a very different tone is used by the journals in the interiour. The people of the fertile west are well aware of the benefits which they derive from the labour of the hardy and industrious poor of Europe. They do not therefore join with our Lottery Mayor in treating these men as miserable paupers, as the offscouring of prisons and poor-houses, and wretches stained with crimes, bloated with intemperance and disease, and altogether loathsome and disgusting. They speak of them as fellow-men, as equal denizens of the great patrimony of mankind, the earth, and invite them to their own luxuriant region, where their capacity to labour will be regarded as the best sort of capital, and the moderate exercise of it will earn them a comfortable support. It would be strange indeed, in a country where millions and tens of millions of acres lie unimproved for the want of agricultural labour, if the people of the west should join in the heartless scoffs with which the aristocracy of this city greet the poor emigrant as he lands upon our shores.


The people who are daily landing here are not paupers, if the capacity and disposition to labour may exempt a man from that appellation. They are, for the most part, the sons and daughters of useful toil. They are men and women of hardy frames, accustomed to earn their living by the sweat of their brows. They are a class of which, in truth, we stand much in need. We want men to till the earth, to break up the rich soil of our western prairies, to fell the forests which shut out the light of heaven from millions of acres that might easily be made to furnish support to additional millions of fellow beings. When we depend, for the very bread we eat, on the agriculture of foreign countries; when we annually import the commodities of other lands to the extent of fifty millions of dollars beyond the sum of our surplus products; when, in many parts of the country, the fields lie untilled, and the wheels of the manufactory stand idle, for want of the assistance of labour; when these things are so, how can it be said, with any show of justice, that the people who are flocking to our shores will be a burden on our hands?


The aristocratick party seem to entertain very vague notions of pauperism. They set down as paupers, in their vocabulary, all who have no property beyond the sound minds and sound bodies which nature gives. These men are not paupers, and if they become so, it is the fault of our own laws. Let us not lay our sins, then, at their doors. We have perfect control over the matter. We are not obliged to open our poor-houses to those who are able to work; and, indeed, we believe it would be far better for the community, if we did not open them to any class of indigence or misfortune. The care of those really disqualified by nature or accident from taking care of themselves should be left to voluntary charity, not to that wretched system of compulsory charity which poor-laws enjoin. We are too reluctant, in this country, to trust the voluntary principle. We are for doing everything by law; and the consequence is that hardly anything is done well.


But with regard to these poor creatures who are flocking to our country as the boasted asylum of the oppressed of all the world, we ought to welcome them hither, not meet them with scowls, and raise a deafening clamour to excite unkindly prejudices against them, and drive them back from our inhospitable shores. For our part, we open our arms to them, and embrace them as brothers; for are they not a part of the great family of man? It is a violation of the plainest principles of morals, it is a sin against the most universal precepts of religion, to harden our hearts against these men, and seek to expel them from a land, which they have as much right to tread as we who assume such a lofty port. The earth is the heritage of man, and these are a portion of the heritors. We are not bound to support them; they must support themselves. If they are idle, let them starve; if they are vicious, let them be punished; but, in God's name, as they bear God's image, let us not turn them away from a portion of that earth, which was given by its maker to all mankind, with no natural marks to designate the limits beyond which they may not freely pass.


The glorious principles of democracy, which recognize the equal rights of all who bear the human form, forbid the intolerant spirit which is displaying itself to these friendless, homeless exiles. Democracy, which is the divine system of Christian morals applied to politicks, embraces, in its comprehensive creed of equal rights and equal duties, the whole family of man. It bids those who suffer from the oppressive governments of other countries, all hail! as they approach our shores, and welcomes them to a land, the institutions of which, founded on the true principles of human dignity, are intended to promote the greatest good of the greatest number, not the exclusive advantage of a few.


While a wretched spirit of aristocratick selfishness is endeavouring to excite the worst prejudices of the community against the houseless emigrants who are coming among us, it would be a fit employment for democratick philanthropy, on the other hand, to devise means for conveying these wanderers into the interiour of our vast country, where a soil, rich with the alluvious fertility of ages, invites them to labour, and would yield to industry a grateful return. These paupers would then soon relieve us from the degrading necessity of importing our bread from foreign lands; and we should find, in the reversed balance of our commercial account with other countries, that an influx of the hardy peasantry of Europe, to fill up our waste lands and cover them with harvests, is not a clog on our progress, but a new and vigorous spring in the great machinery of national wealth.


We have ourselves asked these men to our country with an emphasis of invitation which no rhetorical additions could have heightened. When we send our purveyors abroad, to gather up the harvests of other lands in order to supply our citizens with bread, we offer an inducement to foreign labour to come among us, to which no form of express invitation could give augmented force. With what propriety can we now tell them they are intruders where they are not needed, and seek to drive them away with ungracious and opprobrious taunts?

Notes for this chapter

New York's whig mayor, Aaron Clark, was formerly a lottery dealer. See "The Municipal Election," in Leggett, Political Writings, vol. II, pp. 279-281. Clark was elected because the Loco Focos split the democratic vote.—Ed.


End of Notes

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