Wealth, pauperism, and crime in the North
--Facts Reached by the Census.
--We commend the following to attention;
[from the New York Herald, April 3, 1861.]
A view extending some fifty miles, having New York city as a focus of observation, presents much that is gratifying and much that is to be regretted.
Before the free labor of the North
should boast of its advantages over the slave labor of the South
, on principles of humanity and philanthropy, it should carefully consider the pauperism and crime existing among us. There are about two millions of people inhabiting an area extending fifty miles from New York.
The Metropolitan district contains about 1,300,000 people, who possess an aggregate wealth in real and personal estate of about one thousand millions of dollars.
The assessors valued this property for 1859 at little over 750,000,000 and the census marshals added to this about 25 per cent. as the true or cash value, thus making about $1,000,000,000. This amount divided among 1,200,000 people, gives to each man, woman, and child about $833, or to each person twenty-one years of age about $1,600, or to each head of a family about $5,000. Here we find an aggregate and an individual wealth now here else to be found on the continent of America
in a territory embracing the same area.
But a glance at the pauperism and crime existing in the same area will astound us. --Census marshals return 144,936 paupers in the Metropolitan district, wholly or partially supported at the public expense during the year.
Thus we see that about one in every ten of our population were either wholly or in part supported at the public expense.
This is independent of a large number supported by private charity, for which our citizens are proverbial.
The number of criminals convicted within the year in the Metropolitan district was 50,958, thus showing that crime is a natural attendant upon poverty.
This magnitude of pauperism and crime should be looked squarely in the face, as a thing we do not find to any great extent in the slave labor States.
Though freedom is the normal condition of the white man he drags at every step the galling chains of interiority in social life.
Here, among one million two hundred thousand people, one person in every ten is wholly.
or in part, aided by public charity.
Would it not be better to reflect seriously on this condition of social life before we make war on the institution under which the physical comforts of the laboring classes are well provided for?
The fact that within the last quarter of a century the slave population has about doubled — increase from two to four millions--shows that in physical comforts and general good treatment they have little to complain of. That they are happier than the free blacks, both North and South, no one can truthfully deny that they are better cared for in sickness, have more of the necessaries of life, than the great body of the laboring white class in the free States, is equally evident.
When the above was written, New York had not begun to feel the privations of war. The state of things this winter will be ten times worse.
But it is not alone with reference to the war that we would commend it to attention.
It may serve to correct the universal delusion — a delusion which has prevailed even among ourselves — that great aggregations of wealth and population, such as are presented in the city life of the free States, are reliable indications of the general happiness and prosperity, and, as such to be desired in our own country.
Our own people, who have visited the North
in days gone by, have been greatly impressed with the outside splendor of everything they saw. They never saw the inside life.
They did not know that one in every ten of that population was supported at the public expense.
They stood upon the steps of the Astor House
and St. Nicholas and saw crowds of well-dressed people passing from morning till night.
Suppose they could also have seen a procession pass by, composed of all the paupers of New York — an army numbering one hundred and forty-four thousand nine hundred and thirty-six men, women, and children — ragged, famished, hollow-jawed, wretched beggars!
Or, to enlighten still farther the intelligence of our Southern visitor, suppose, after he had regaled himself at the fashionable places of amusement, and looked in upon the colleges and common schools, and had prepared himself to hold forth on his return to the South
about the superior provision made in the North
for the education and moral advancement of the masses; suppose that he could have been entertained with a torch-light procession of the criminals of New York city--an army of fifty thousand nine hundred and sixty-eight thieves, burglars, ruffians, rioters, incendiaries, and murderers!
what would he have thought of that glance at the inner life of a great city?
And then he would not have seen half, no, not a fourth.
Of the paupers, the multitude that is avowedly pauper is but a small portion, and that the happiest portion, of the poor of New York.
There are vast numbers whose incessant labor obtains barely enough to keep soul and body together; who know not how soon they may be deprived even of that means of support, poor as it is; who struggle to keep up a decent appearance, and to make some provision for the future of families who are dearer to them than themselves.
What anxieties gnaw their hearts; what fears and apprehensions, wearing deep lines in their faces, careworn furrows which even the hand of death cannot always smooth.
The few monopolize vast fortunes — the many condemned to precarious subsistence or absolute want — is the unvarying condition of city life.
So, too, in regard to the nominal criminals.
The fifty-nine thousand acknowledged criminals of New York are but a small proportion of the actual criminals of that city.
The millionaires who have acquired their fortunes by swindling and dishonesty are as detestable thieves as any pickpockets whose faces figure in the Rogues' Gallery
, and some of them inferior to pick pockets in intelligence and good manners.
Many of the rich men of New York have cheated and robbed their way from the sewers to the Fifth Avenue as undeniably as others have cheated and robbed their way to the Penitentiary.
By what base arts has Bennett
himself crept into fortune!
There is not a rogue in Sing Sing
with a heart more corrupt, and a face that better fits the inside of prison bars, than the proprietor of the New York Herald
Nor, among the crimes of which the law takes no cognizance, and which, in that region, go unwhipped of justice, who shall calculate the number of seductions, the murder of female innocence, and the vice and misery that follow in its train?
And yet, it is this kind of life which a certain class of philosophers has always held up to the South
as the acme of human happiness and prosperity, and the garish outside of which has made superficial observers of the South
discontented with a state of society in which pauperism is unknown, criminals few, female virtue respected, and the physical and moral welfare of the people, as a whole, better than that of any equal number of people on any other part of the earth's surface.
If we desire to preserve unimpaired our pure Southern civilization, and the dignity and integrity of Southern character, we should not indulge in idle repining that the South
has no large cities, and is mainly an agricultural people.
We hope to see no one city absorbing the commerce and trade of the new Government.
We want no New York, or London
, or Paris
to give political, moral, or social tone to a people now pure, just, brave, proud, and honorable.
Commerce and manufactures we may and ought to have, but our chief dependence must be that wonderful soil which produces such a vast diversity of the richest products of the earth, and which rewards with health, plenty, and happiness those who make it their reliance.