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The eight-hour movement (1865)

Address in Faneuil Hall, November 2, 1865.

It is twenty-nine years this month since I first stood on the platform of Faneuil Hall to address an audience of the citizens of Boston. I felt then that I was speaking for the cause of the laboring men, and if tonight I should make the last speech of my life, I would be glad that it should be in the same strain,--for laboring men and their rights.

The labor of these twenty-nine years has been in behalf of a race bought and sold. The South did not rest their system wholly on this claim to own their laborers; but according to Chancellor Harper, Alexander H. Stevens, Governor Pickens, and John C. Calhoun, asserted that the laborer must necessarily be owned by capitalists or individuals. That struggle for the ownership of labor is now somewhat near its end; and we fitly commence a struggle to define and to arrange the true relations of capital and labor. To-day one of your sons is born. He lies in his cradle as the child of a man without means, with a little education, and with less leisure. The favored child of the capitalist is borne up by every circumstance, as on the eagle's wings. The problem of to-day is how to make the chances of the two as equal as possible; and before this movement stops, every child born in America must have an equal chance in life. [140]

In this final arrangement, every man will combine in his own person the laborer and the capitalist. There cannot be any conflict between labor and capital. What makes our lives easier than those of our ancestors? They are so because six generations of workmen have made Massachusetts a great treasure-house of capital. When our fathers landed here, Massachusetts was a wilderness. Forests have been removed, roads built, cities raised by capital or aggregated labor. Capital and labor are only the two arms of a pair of scissors,--useless when separate, and only when fastened together cutting everything before them.

What, then, do we come here for? To find out the true relation between capital and labor, to make the laborer more comfortable, and a more worthy citizen. Where the government rests on the people, its administrators are bound to give time to the laborers to understand the theory of government. When shut up an excessive number of hours in labor, the workman comes out but the fag-end of a man, without brain to think of such subjects. Now, therefore, it is a fair division to give him eight hours for labor, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours for his own,--his own to use as he pleases. [Applause.] I shall not be the first to say, “You shall not have it unless you come under bonds to use it well.” It is none of my business to say what he shall do with what is his own. I shall not say to the millionnaire, “We will defend you in the possession of your stocks and bonds, if you will use them well.” I may argue with him, and shall, to use his wealth properly; but my first object shall be to give it to him, because it belongs to him. It has been argued that the negro would not work if his freedom was given to him. I have answered, his freedom belongs to him, and he is responsible for its use.

The present effort is to give the laborer more leisure, [141] in order to make him more intelligent. Never, in history, has more leisure been secured to the working-classes, but greater intelligence has resulted therefrom. Thirty millions of Frenchmen to-day hold a voice in the government, because the cry against lessening their labors was not heeded. The same cry has been raised here; it has been said that the workman will not work unless you starve him, that starvation is the only stimulus which the masses will obey. I don't believe it, and I want to lift them to the possibility of showing that it is not true.

Now, how shall this thing be done? I will tell you, I have had a little experience in this matter. [Laughter.] I have never held, and never expect to hold, a political office; but this I know, that the man who only looks at the game can sometimes criticise it better than the players. This country is one of ideas. You can never gain your point by threats; it would be disgraceful to gain it thus. Why have you not carried your ends before? Because in ignorance and division you have let the other side have their own way. We are ruled by brains. You might as well try to roll back Niagara, as to try to rule New England against her ideas. You have got to face them, and to change them. You need not despair if truth is on your side. You must have the truth, and must work for it. There are three sorts of men,--those who have the truth, but lock it up; those who have it not, but work like the devil against it; and those who have it, and force it on the willing conscience of the nation. You want books and journals. I am glad you have one Voice; but one can't cover the State or the North. You want something to subjugate all journals, and bring cultivated minds and foremost men to your service. Opinions differ not from scoundrelism or want of heart. You want to make the intellect of the [142] country discuss the question, to make every man speak of it. How did we Antislavery men do this? [A voice, “Kept at it!” ] Yes, kept at it. You know the patient Job said, “Oh, that mine adversary had written a book!” Well, he was a wise man. [Laughter.] When I made a speech here, the Daily Advertiser abused me; but it could not abuse justice so much but that men could see the delusion. I defy a man to make an argument against the laws of God that will hold water. Any man trying to dodge justice will answer himself.

How will you make the newspapers and the public men discuss the Labor Question? I will tell you. Go into the political field, and by the voice of forty thousand workmen say, “We mean that eight hours shall be a day's work, and no man shall go into office who opposes it.” What will be the result? It will be the same as in 1846, when the Abolitionists said they were going to trample on the Whig and Democratic parties. The journals then took up the question; the intellect and education of the country took hold of it, and settled it by balking the South so that they said, “Make or ruin, we will go outside.” How will you make your enemies wield the pen? Do it by announcing your political creed. Break into the debating society at the statehouse, and make them discuss the Labor Question. I don't want the subject made political in a bad sense of the word, but in a higher sense. When men have wrongs to complain of, they should go to the ballot-box and right them. I may be asked if I would give universal suffrage to ignorant men, and thus give them power over the property of the millionaire. I answer, Yes; all the more for that, because then the millionaire would be willing to give a part of his wealth to aid in making voters intelligent. Universal suffrage is taking a bond of the rich to educate the poor. You will never reach the [143] influential classes by meetings like these. How will you do it? Go to your next candidate for mayor, and ask him if he is in favor of the eight-hour system. If he says, Yes, let it be known that he is to have your votes. If No, let him know that he will not have them. You will not, perhaps, gain the victory the first time. It would be a disgrace if you did. [A voice, “Why?” Because it would look as if you had frightened the city of Boston. You will gain your point by argument. The Journal, the Advertiser, the Transcript will discuss it, and the State will be lifted by the four corners. You will gain in twelve months what we gained in twelve years, if you are true to yourselves.

Some may think this a political address. I belong to no political party, and if I live to the age of Methuselah, do not expect a vote. I want Charles Sumner to stand on this platform, and give his views on this question; I want Samuel Hooper to come down here and look his constituents in the face; I want Henry Wilson, with his tireless activity, to give his labors to the working-men. Abbott Lawrence, in 1840, when asked by a committee of his constituents what his opinion was in regard to slavery in the District of Columbia, said he did n't know as he had any opinion on the subject, and if he had, it was not worth while to express it. Twenty years later he would have cut off his hands rather than give such an answer. Two years hence, if you are true to yourselves, instead of having an Ishmaelite like me to address you, you can take your pick out of all the politicians in the country; instead of one journal, you will have all the journals discussing the Labor Question.

You must imitate the tenacity of the Abolitionists in adhering to a single issue. The Temperance party committed the folly of depending upon resolutions, and voting for Whigs and Democrats; and influential men, [144] seeing that they did not value their own principles, left them out in the cold. There are men enough here to govern this city. When you have convinced thinking men that it is right, and humane men that it is just, you will gain your cause. Men always lose half of what is gained by violence. What is gained by argument, is gained forever. Mass meetings like these amount to nothing. A political movement, saying, “We will have our rights,” is a mass meeting in perpetual session. Filtered through the ballot-box comes the will of the people, and statesmen bow to it. Go home, and say that the working-men of Massachusetts are a unit, and that they mean to stereotype their purpose on the statute-book.

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