H105, American History I

Northern working men’s declarations (1829-1844)

Working Man’s Advocate (New York) (December  26,1829).

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary” for one class of a community to assert their natural and unalienable rights in opposition to other classes of their fellow men, “and to assume among” them a political station of equality to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” as well as the principles of their political compact, “entitle them; a decent respect to the opinions of mankind,” and the more paramount duty they owe to their own fellow citizens, “requires that they should declare the causes which impel them” to adopt so painful, yet so necessary, a measure.

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights” against the undue influence of other classes of society, prudence, as well as the claims of self defence, dictates the necessity of the organization of a party, who shall, by their representatives, prevent dangerous combinations to subvert these indefeasible and fundamental privileges.  “All experience hath show, that mankind” in general, and we as a class in particular, “are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves,” by an opposition which the pride and self interest of unprincipled political aspirants, with more unprincipled zeal or religious bigotry, will wilfully misrepresent.  “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations” take place, all invariably tending to the oppression and degradation of one class of society, and to the unnatural and iniquitous exaltation of another by political leaders, “it is their right, it is their duty,” to use every constitutional means to reform the abuses of such a government, and to provide new guards for their future security.  The history of the political parties in this state, is a history of political iniquities, all tending to the enacting and enforcing oppressive and unequal laws....

We have trusted to the influence of the justice and good sense of our political leaders, to prevent the continuance of these abuses, which destroy the natural bands of equality so essential to the attainment of moral happiness, “but they have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.”

Therefore, we, the working class of society, of the city of New York, “appealing to the supreme judge of the world,” and to the reason, and consciences of the impartial of all parties, “for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the spirit, and by the authority,” of that political liberty which has been promised to us equally with our fellow men, solemnly publish and declare, and invite all under like pecuniary circumstances, together with every liberal mind, to join us in the declaration, “that we are, & of right ought to be,” entitled to Equal Means to obtain moral happiness, and social enjoyment, and that all lawful and constitutional measures ought to be adopted to the attainment of those objects.  “And for the support of this declaration, we mutually pledge to each other” our faithful aid to the end of our lives.

The Man (New York) (June 12, 1834).

When a number of individuals associate together in a public manner for the purpose of promoting their common welfare, respect for public opinion, the proper basis of a republic form of government, under which they associate, require that they should state to their fellow citizens, the motives which actuate them, in adopting such a course.

Now we, the Delegates of the General Trades’ Union of Boston and its vicinity, deploring the humiliating state of degradation, into which the producing or working class of other countries are reduced; and fearing that in our own beloved country, unless timely arrested, the same unhappy state of society will finally prevail.  We already behold the wealthy fast verging into aristocracy, the laboring classes into a state of comparative dependence, and considering that this is owing to the want of union, among Mechanics and Working Men, and to their apathy and indifferences in almost entirely resigning to the non-producers, the business of legislation.

We, therefore, by and with the advice of our constituents, do declare that our object in thus uniting is to give to the producing or working classes their just standing in society, by constitutional, peaceable and legal means.  We expressly disavow and denounce any tendency to disorganization or anarchy.  We will accomplish our objects by promoting among the working class intelligence, morality, good feelings to each other, and a just sense of their rights and duties as citizens.

With the Fathers of our Country, we hold that all men are created free and equal; endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and we hold, that to secure to each individual, the possession of those rights, should and ought to be the principal object of all legislation; consequently, that laws which have a tendency to raise any peculiar class above their fellow citizens, by granting special privileges, are contrary to and in defiance of those primary principles.

We hold, that labor, being the legitimate and only real source of wealth, and the laboring classes the majority and real strength of every country, their interest and happiness ought to be the principal care of Government and any laws which oppose or neglect those interest, ought not to exist.

Our public system of Education, which so liberally endows those seminaries of learning, which from peculiar circumstances, are only accessible to the wealthy, while our common schools (particularly in the country towns) are so illy provided for, that few who can afford to pay for their children at a private school will send them to the public one.  Thus even in childhood, the poor are apt to think themselves inferior.  The youth of genius is discouraged — he beholds the higher branches of learning placed out of his reach, he exerts himself but to acquire the mere rudiments of education, the science of government and legislation leaves to the more favored children of fortune, and thus perpetuates those distinctions which give to wealth an undue ascendancy.

The militia laws by their unequal operation, have become quite odious to the people, placing the whole burthen on the working class, while the rich are exempted by paying what, in proportion to the property they have to defend, is a mere trifle.  It shall always be our pride to support a well organized Militia, but we protest against the principal of taxing the Working Man as a fine, to the amount of six days earning, while his wealthy neighbor does not pay to the amount of one....

Now we as representatives of the Trades’ Union, do pledge ourselves to each other, to use our utmost efforts, to support the principles of our Union, and to obtain for the working class that standing in the community to which their usefulness entitles them.  Let it not be said that we are exciting the poor against the rich.  We seek not to excite the passions of any[,] we appeal to their understandings[,] we invite a calm, a thorough, and a candid investigation of our motives; and trusting in the justice of our cause, we persevere in it with undiminished zeal, until we behold our young men aspiring to the character and title of virtuous and intelligent mechanics, as the most certain means to obtain the respect and confidence of their fellow citizens.

Working Man’s Advocate (New York) (September  28, 1844).

When in the course of human events, the producers of property have been reduced to the lowest state of degradation and misery by the almost universal usurpation of all property and power by a non-producing, tyrannical, and aristocratic class, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to cease ultimately being tenants to land usurping and non-producing lords; in being journeymen to masters, shoppers, and manufacturers, to produce fabrics to which they are mostly entitled themselves, and in being electors to elevate officers of parties and cliques instead of those of their own class.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:  That as the natural wants and powers of production of all men are nearly equal, all should be producers as well as consumers.  That, as nothing but labor bestowed upon the natural elements and products of the earth can produce property, nothing else can give title to it:  and hence every man is equally entitled, with the same exertion, to an equal share of the soil, water, air, and light.  That, to perpetuate an equality of property, life, liberty, knowledge, and happiness, each man’s power of accumulating should be limited to his own manual and mental labor, and exchanged for that of another according to the time of production and value of materials.

It is also self evident, that all the sovereign power of government resides in the whole people; that they cannot be bound by a law which has not received their consent:  that they can at all times alter or abolish any law, government or alliance which has become oppressive, and substitute others; that the representative system of government does not seem to carry forward that extent of intelligence and reform which exist among the people; and that to effect this purpose, whoever can produce an undoubted credential that he has invented or discovered something, should become a member of an Areapagus, who should produce and digest all laws deemed necessary, and discussed, adopted, or rejected by a direct vote of the people in townships, or that size of district which will contain the proportionate number of agriculturists and mechanics needful to produce an assortment of the necessaries of life.

But when a long train of legislation upon erroneous principles, has no other effect than to increase that irregularity of property which is principally produced by the monopoly of the earth; it is the right, it is the duty, of the producing class to arouse themselves in the majesty and indignation of their sense of justice, and reclaim the rights to which the God of Nature entitles them.

The history of the aristocratic class, is nothing but a continued series of usurpations of the produce of the laborers through all ages, all having the direct tendency of reducing them to the utmost degradation, want, and misery.  To prove this let facts be submitted to a candid world.

The non-producers have in all ages usurped nearly all the property of the earth, and by military and manor services, feuds, rents, tythes, deodands, interest, dividends, profit, and personal slavery, compelled the producers to support them in idleness and extravagance.

The non-producers in the savage and first stage of society, in the character of chiefs, compelled their adherents to engage in cruel warfare to plunder the camps and hunting grounds of other tribes.

They then, in the next stage of society, compelled the laborer in the character of shepherd to herd their flocks.

They then, in the beginning of the next stage of civilization, compelled them to cultivate the earth which they had monopolized, and to build their castles for a bare subsistence, and sold them along with the soil.

They then, as the manufacturing stage of civilization came on, made them through the power of money, build towns, which have reduced them to a more extensive system of tenantry; and destroyed their healths, lives, and means of intelligence with too great a number of hours of labor, within the dusty walls of the factory, the suffocating smoke of the furnace, and the damp air of the coal pit.

Thus have they, in the character of land-lords and usurers, reduced the great body of the people in subsequent ages to a state of abject tenantry and vassalage.  They have collected the most exorbitant rents, and lived in idle splendor while the tenant has seldom been able to raise himself from his hovel.

They have, in the form of government, levied another tax, and that upon consumption too, for the support of sinecures, that have only rivetted the fetters more strongly upon their necks.

They have, in the shape of priests, levied another enormous tax upon the industry of the producers, without giving adequate instruction of the duty of mankind to each other.

This non-producing aristocracy are still monopolizing more of the property of the country, making the difference greater between the immensely rich and the miserably poor.

They have not only monopolized the earth, but they have created estates out of annuities and stocks, thus further taxing the people with the interest upon them.

They have also monopolized the profit of labor saving machinery, which not only takes a competence from the laborer, but throws him out of employment.

Their thirst for speculation is such, that they are continually forming themselves into banking associations, and becoming legalized to create millions of paper money merely with the labor of printing and signing strips of paper; and whenever a revulsion of trade takes place by their expansion of the currency, they refuse to redeem them; and instead of giving relief are the first to cry out for relief.

These aristocrats, having more leisure to acquire information than the honest producer, have more power to form public opinion and control legislation in their favor.

They have erected themselves into what they consider a higher class, and treat with contempt and insolence the very class upon whom they depend for their existence as well as subsistence,

They have at length, in some countries, reduced the producers to a point beyond which they can no farther go — to a state of miserable starvation, and to the infamy of the almshouse; where they are still made to labor for the coarsest food and clothing, so as to allow a revenue for government; and even their bodies sold at death to the anatomist for dissection.

In every state of these oppressions, we, the producers, have endeavoured to show them the evils to which they are reducing us.  But our entreaties have always been considered as an attempt to array the poor against the rich; when in truth it is the rich who are always oppressing the poor.

We have ever been warning them against their repeated one-sided legislation, by constantly granting themselves privileges that are making themselves “richer and the poor poorer.”  We have continually reminded them that it is the lower class, as they call us, who are the real honey producers of the hive of society.  Yet, unlike those working bees, we have never destroyed those idle drones, though they have been deaf to the voice of justice and of common fellowship.  We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity which impels us to act in self defence, by establishing that system of economy in society whereby all can be placed in equal circumstances to acquire the goods of life, and hold them, in the present bad economy of society, as our enemies, but in sharing in equal portion of land and labor, friends.

We, therefore, producers and would-be producers, of the City of New York, appealing to the eternal principles of equality and justice established by Nature’s God, for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and in behalf of the pauperized producers throughout the earth, solemnly publish and declare, that the producing class shall no longer support, by the “sweat of their brow,” a haughty, unfeeling, and monopolizing class of non-producers.  We further declare, that they should take measures to make all producers as well as consumers; that all division of society into high, middle, and lower classes cease; and that the most republican party should assume the name of producer and call the aristocratic non-producer.  And for the support of this list of facts and Declaration of our Principles and Independence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, and fortunes, and our sacred honor.