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The Chinese (1870).

An Editorial in the “National (Antislavery) standard,” July 30, 1870.

We welcome every man of every race to our soil and to the protection of our laws. We welcome every man to the best opportunities of improving himself and making money that our social and political systems afford. Let every oppressed man come; let every poor man come; let every man who wishes to change his residence come,--we welcome all; frankly acknowledging the principle that every human being has the right to choose his residence just where he pleases on the planet. Our faith in our political institutions and in our social system is that both can endure all the strain which such immigration will produce. More than this, we believe that our civilization will be perfected only by gathering into itself the patient toil, the content with moderate wages, the cunning hand, the inventive brain, the taste and aspirations, the deep religious sentiment, the rollicking humor and vivid imagination, the profound insight and far-reaching sagacity which mark the different races; each contributing one special trait to the great whole.

But such immigration to be safe and helpful must be spontaneous. It must be the result of individual will obeying the laws of industry and the tendencies of the age. Immigration of labor is an unmixed good. Importation of human freight is an unmitigated evil. [146]

This brings us to the question of importing Chinese laborers. The Chinese are a painstaking, industrious, thrifty, inventive, self-respectful, and law-abiding race. They have some pretentions to democratic institutions and moral culture,--are a little too much machines; but we shall soon shake that servility out of them. Their coming will be a welcome and valuable addition to the mosaic of our nationality; but, in order to that, they must come spontaneously, of their own free-will and motion, as the Irish, Germans, and English have done. If the capital of the country sets to work, by system and wide co-operation, to import them in masses, to disgorge them upon us with unnatural rapidity,--then their coming will be a peril to our political system, and a disastrous check to our social progress.

We lay it down as a fundamental principle,--never to be lost sight of,--that every immigrant of every race must be admitted to citizenship, if he asks for it. The right to be naturalized must not be limited by race, creed, or birthplace. Secondly, every adult here, native or naturalized, must vote. In spite of this, give us time, with only a natural amount of immigration, and we can trust the education and numbers of our native voters to safely absorb and make over the foreign element. Irish and German immigration has been only a ripple on our ocean's breadth; generally speaking, it has been only a healthy stir. But it is easily possible for associated capital to hurry the coming of the Chinese in such masses as will enable these money lords to control the ballot-box by their bond-servants. An extended North Adams can do more than lessen shoemakers' wages; one thousand such Samsons, the associated capital of Massachusetts, can swamp and overwhelm the ballot-box. of that State. We hold it to be clearly within the province, and at clearly the duty of legislation, to avert this [147] danger. Capital is too strong now. The public welfare demands that its political power be crippled. Universal suffrage is admissible only on condition of an educated people. We cannot undertake to educate the whole world at once. In detachments, million by million, we can digest the whole human race.

Then as to the influence of such importation on the laboring classes. The Chinaman will make shoes for seventy-five cents a day. The average wages for such work in Massachusetts is two dollars. What will become of the native working-men under such competition? He met similar competition from the Irish immigrants and the German; but it never harmed him. They came in such natural and moderate numbers as to be easily absorbed, without producing any ill-effect on wages. These continued steadily to advance. So will it be in the case of the Chinese, if he be left to come naturally by his individual motion; imported in overwhelming masses by the concerted action of capital, he will crush the labor of America down to a pauper level, for many years to come.

Putting aside all theories, every lover of progress must see, with profound regret, the introduction here of any element which will lessen wages. The mainspring of our progress is high wages,--wages at such a level that the working-man can spare his wife to preside over a home, can command leisure, go to lectures, take a newspaper, and lift himself from the deadening routine of mere toil. That dollar left after all the bills are paid on Saturday night, means education, independence, self-respect, manhood; it increases the value of every acre near by, fills the town with dwellings, opens public libraries and crowds them; dots the continent with cities, and cobwebs it with railways. That one remaining dollar insures progress, and guarantees Astor's millions [148] to their owner better than a score of statutes. It is worth more than a thousand colleges, and makes armies and police superfluous.

The importation of Chinese labor seeks to take that dollar from our working-man. The true statesman must regard such a policy as madness. The philanthropist must consider it cruel and mad too. Even so much of such a result as will inevitably be wrought by the natural immigration of the Chinese is to be deplored; every aggravation of it is to be resisted for the sake of republicanism and civilization. If we cannot find in the armory of the law some effectual weapon to prevent it, our political and social future, for fifty years, is dark indeed, and such a fate as swallowed up Roman civilization is by no means impossible.

Every one cries out for cheap labor to develop the country. Even if material or pecuniary gain were the only requisite for social or natural progress,--which, of course it is far from being,--still it is true that unsettled lands may be opened up too fast for profit, much more for real progress. Indeed, this random and thoughtless cry for cheap labor is one of the great mistakes of heartless and superficial economists; seldom has there been a graver mistake. We assert unhesitatingly that cheap productions are an unmixed good; cheap labor is an unmitigated evil. Human progress shows itself in a fall of prices and a rise of wages. Although labor makes one half the cost of production, still it is true that the world gains just so fast as prices fall and wages rise. To insure progress, the cost of everything but human muscle and brains must fall. The remuneration of these two elements in production must rise. In William Penn's time it took one hundred and thirty-seven days toil to buy a ton of flour; in 1790, one hundred and twenty-five days labor would buy it; [149] In 1835, eighty days work sufficed; now, in 1870, probably forty or fifty days wages would buy a ton of flour. That fact measures and explains the social, industrial, moral, and political progress of Pennsylvania.

In view of such a rule we claim the right of government to check any forced and unnatural importation of labor; against such a claim the advocate of a protective tariff cannot consistently open his mouth. If government may and should protect a nation against pauper labor in other lands, this surely — this immigration of pauper labor — is the most threatening danger. If you would be consistent, Mr. Protectionist, join with us in devising effectual methods to avert it. If the Free Trader assails us with his objection, “Has not the laborer a right to buy his coat or flour in the cheapest market?” We answer, “Yes, under certain restrictions.” To purchase the products of the earth, manufactured or otherwise, wherever you can get them cheapest, is good; good for the seller and good for the purchaser. But this is only true provided there is no artificial combination, no plot of powerful men or classes to flood the market of one land with the surplus of another. Every competition that comes in natural currents, from individual enterprise, is a healthy tendency to average. Secondly, this restriction is to be still more stringently enforced in the purchase of human labor; since the artificial and forced antagonism of that deranges society, undermines government, obstructs progress, crushes individual effort, and drags the highest type of human attainments down to the murky level of the lowest and idlest barbarism. Against anything which threatens such results government has the right to defend society by appropriate laws.

The rate of wages is said to depend upon supply and demand. The rule is sound; but so equivocal that it is [150] worth little. Rate of wages really depends on what the workman thinks will buy him the necessities of life.

There are men in England whose highest idea of life is to work sixteen hours a day, go naked, eat meat once a year, herd — both sexes and all ages-with cattle under one roof, and need only two hundred words to express all their ideas. Such men will work for enough to supply these natural wants. When wages fall below that, they steal, starve, or wake to an intellectual effort to better themselves; their idea of necessaries does much to fix the rate of wages. A Yankee farmer's boy must have good clothes, schooling, ample food, and something over,--these are his necessities. When wages will not buy them he ceases to belong to the ranks of “supply,” and carves out a new career. There are good food and high wages in the kitchens of New York; more than many trades afford. A great “demand” there for American girls; no “supply” nevertheless. We know it is only a sentiment that prevents; but that sentiment is as rigid as iron and inexorable as fate.

“ Supply and demand,” therefore, are to be understood, with a qualification. The “ideas” of the “supply” are a most important element in the calculation. What are the ideas of the “supply” ? These regulate his wages. The Chinaman works cheap because he is a barbarian, and seeks gratification of only the lowest, the most inevitable wants. The American demands more because the ages,--because Homer and Plato, Egypt and Rome, Luther and Shakspeare, Cromwell and Washington, the printing-press and the telegraph, the ballot-box and the Bible,--have made him ten times as much a man. Bring the Chinese to us slowly, naturally, and we shall soon lift him to the level of the same artificial and civilized wants that we feel. Then capitalist and laborer will both be equally helped. Fill our industrial channels [151] with imported millions, and you choke them ruinously. They who seek to flood us, artificially, with barbarous labor, are dragging down the American home to the level of the houseless street-herds of China. If the working-men have not combined to prevent this, it is time they should. When rich men conspire, poor men should combine.

In such combinations,--inevitable and indispensable in the circumstances,--the best minds and hearts of the land are with them. Only let them be sure not to copy the tyranny which makes their opponents weak. Their only strength is an admitted principle,--all men equal, equally free to carve each his own career, and entitled to all the aid his fellows can give. Stand on that unflinchingly; rebuke every threat; avoid all violence; appeal only to discussion and the ballot. You outnumber the capitalists at any rate. The ballot was given for just such crises as these; use it, and you oblige the press to discuss your claims. Use it remorselessly, and legislatures will soon find a remedy. Compel attention by fidelity to each other. Inscribe on your ballot-boxes, “here we never forgive.”

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