Social Reform

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Social Reform

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John Adams, “Social Reform,” Boston Investigator 24 no. 24 (October 11, 1854): 1; 24 no. 26 (October 25, 1854): 1; 24 no. 31 (November 29, 1854): 1.

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For the Boston Investigator.

 

Social Reform

No. I.

 

Mr. Editor:—As the friends of Social Reform occasionally speak through your columns, allow me, if you think worthy, to utter a few thoughts upon the question. The object oaf all social reformers, is the establishment of justice in the relation which each individual man sustains toward his brother man. The cause of the present injustice and discord is in the fact that the present organization of society is founded in the false relation which capital sustains towards labor. Society says, that capital is entitled to a share of the products of labor; whereas truth and justice say, that labor is entitled to the whole of its production.

The adjustments of this issue will remedy the existing evils of society. To M. Proudhon belongs the honor of developing the true idea which must soon revolutionize society. Says M. Proudhon, “Labor is productive; capital is not.” A house, a bushel of wheat, or a yard of cloth, is capital or past labor, neither of which will reproduce itself; a house cannot reproduce itself, nor the wheat itself, consequently they are fit only to be consumed as used, and whoever consumes or uses them other than the producer, will be required by strict just to restore the same and now more. Society, as at present, says, the he should restore more than he has consumed.

The two opposing principles cannot always exist; one of which now lives in the actual world cursing and destroying the happiness of man, while the other lives only in the ideal, but is yet to bless and save.  It is a true saying, that the ideal always produces the actual. The key-stone in the present social edifice which holds it together and builds it up, is the limited basis of the present currency used by mankind to exchange their productions. Our currency is based upon the precious metals which the world has fixed upon, on account of their value in the arts, their compactness, and their indestructibility. Because of their limited quantity, it follows that whoever can monopolize them can charge a premium for the use of the same as money. Therefore, whoever issues the bank note based upon specie, can also by taking advantage of men’s necessitates compel them also to pay a premium for the same. Thus society justifies the present banking institutions of the world, and mankind exclaim in their wonted ignorance that we cannot live without banks, which is equivalent to saying society cannot live without injustice, which is true enough in the present order of things.

We would not object to the basis of our currency, but we would make it more extensive; even we would extend it to all the productions of man. A gold or silver dollar has cost past labor, and its very existence presents evidence that some one has toiled in its production, so also has a house, a farm, a bushel of wheat, or a yard of cloth. When we see either of these articles, we know that some one ha toiled in their production. Gold and silver shelter, feed, and clothe no man, while the other productions which we have name do all of these. Then why may we not justly extend the basis of the currency to other really useful productions of man as well as to confine it to the productions of a small class of men called miners? The evils of the present narrow basis of a currency, no man can calculate. The toiling men and women of Massachusetts are paying to-day for the use of a currency at the rate of over $5,000,000 per annum to the bankers of the Commonwealth, for a currency based upon $3,000,000 of specie. Sometimes our politicians shudder at the idea of taxing the inhabitants of the State the comparatively small sum of $3,000,000, but if they were to swell the tax to the cost of our currency, some of them, especially the patriotic ones, would soon faint in their extreme lover which they bear for the dear people.

But the evil does not stop here. The various railroads of the State declare dividends of late years of about 8 per cent, and the amount of capital invested in the same is not far from $40,000,000, the dividends upon which must amount to $3,000,000, the whole of which is a tax upon labor. There are “business corporations” whose capital amounts to over $100,000,000, which must also declare dividends of over $7,000,000 more, for you know that shrewd business men do not invest their money unless it pays more than 6 per cent. Thus do the toilers of our State pay to these classes of corporations the enormous sum of $15,000,000 annually in the shape of dividends to capitalists. It is evident that this vast sum of money is the labor of one class of men paid directly to the pockets of another class of men “who neither toil nor spin.” Add to this the sums of money which the same class are paying to capital in the shape of rents, interest on bonds and mortgages, and the amount would be incredible—the exact amount of which we have at present mo means of computing. To make an estimate is impossible.

We know that landlordism is common wherever it is profitable, and that the larger part of the property of our cities and villages is in the hands of landlords whose profits are derived form the mechanic, the trader, and the artisan. A statement went the rounds of the papers a few years ago that two-thirds of the farms in some of the agricultural counties of the State were covered by mortgage, which statement if it approximates towards the truth, would astonish the natives in the amount of burden under  which the agricultural districts groan.—The very fact that our State produces less quantities of the staple agricultural productions, at the present time (as the census returns show) than at former periods, must exhibit evidence to every reflecting mind that there is something “rotten in Denmark.” Under the light of agricultural science the State should increase her productions, but facts show the reverse to be true.—If we can break down landlordism and the banking institutions of the State, and substitute a system in its stead whereby a currency can be furnished at a tenth part of its present cost equally and more safe for the holders of the same, we shall have accomplished the great work of Social Reform.

(To be continued.)

JOHN ADAMS

Brookfield, (Mass,) Sept. 25th, 1854.

 

For the Boston Investigator.

 

Social Reform

No. II.

 

Mr. Editor:—Individual or isolated attempts at Social Reform have often been made, and nearly as often have failed. I predict they must continue to fail, for the advantages to be derived from such organizations are not sufficient to induce men and women to join in sufficient numbers to keep them alive. After the novelty of the thing has passed away, more are ready to leave than to join. Every such attempt or effort at re-organization cannot rid itself of the burden which rent and usury inflict upon the world, for no body of men can entirely shut from them the outside world; and in proportion as they have intercourse with others, they must pay their share of the tax which this principle inflicts. Add to this the sacrifice necessary to success for all new enterprises, and it is more than poor human nature can bear.

Through political action alone, can we hope for any success. The State must take the matter in hand and simply grant to the people a currency at cost. Let those who want to use money for the purposes of exchange who have past labor, pledge the same to the State; the State in return issues bills of exchange redeemable in debts due to the State, to the amount of one-half or three-fourths of the property pledged. With this alone there could be furnished a sufficient amount of money for all the transactions of trade. The cost of the same to be paid from time to time as may be thought best, equal in amount to the actual cost of issuing the bills and to whatever other expense the State may be subjected by the transaction. The real estate of the Commonwealth would furnish a currency issued upon one half of its value in gold or silver money, with which the business transactions of the whole United States might be executed, and much more safe than the present currency.

We never hear of capital refusing a loan upon real estate of one half of its assessed value, on account of its insecurity. The cost of the same would not be more than 1/2 per cent. per annum. The inquiry may arise, will the bills pass if not redeemable in specie? We answer, yes. The money of the present banks will necessarily go out of circulation, for nobody but a simpleton will think of paying 6 per cent. When he can get bills at less than one per cent. No man could successfully do business and pay 6 per cent. besides the other who has the instrument at one-twelfth the expense. Will the bills be good for anything, methinks I hear someone say? We answer, for all the legitimate purposes of trade (for they are representatives of past labor to the amount of one-half) they will necessarily be good, but they will be worthless to cheat some neighbor with by taking usury; for your neighbor will get his money where you get yours, viz. of the State and when your neighbor transacts business with you, it will be done with these bills of exchange on the spot, and you will thus be likely to evade a lawsuit. Some one will inquire, where shall we get our specie? To this we will reply:—buy it just as you would any other past labor or commodity of those who have it to sell. The product of the dairy will be for sale then as now. So will gold and silver. Will the one dollar bill of exchange (hope there may be none less than five dollars) buy a silver dollar? We answer, yes. Gold and silver will then as now be the measure of value, for they are to be issued upon one-half the specie value of the property pledged. Necessarily, therefore, will they command the specie; and the specie, instead of being hoarded by the banks, will be in the pockets of the people. The business of the community can be successfully carried on with this money, and could we suppose that no other State should adopt it, Massachusetts would be the industrial State, for to it industry would flock from all quarters, for here would the laborer be rewarded for his labor and be the disposer of his own productions..—No manufacturer or farmer of a neighboring State could successfully compete with the same class in our won State, and thus would our barren and rocky hills become fruitful beyond precedent. The landlord’s and the usurer’s occupation would be done, and none to mourn. The hands of busy industry, being relieved of the burden of the past, would soon sit under their own vine and apple tree, “none to molest or make afraid.”

Thus, by a simple act of the State, may we do away with the present unjust relations which men sustain with each other, and by no other means than political can they be remedied. Some of our friends may isolate themselves away from the “rest of mankind,” make themselves martyrs to their own ideas of right, and accomplish but little towards redeeming the race from its present discordant state. The present system of banking must be warred with until it is destroyed, for it is the chief instrument now used in robbing labor or three-fifths of its earnings, as is now done throughout the civilized world. The greater the degree of civilization, the more oppressive and unjust has this grey and hoary principle become. In no other way can the friends of Social Reform ever establish justice on earth. They must enter the field of politics, however disgusting it may be, and teach the people the true principles and objects of Government, viz.: the protection of man in his natural rights and the establishment of the highest justice possible on earth. Let me conclude this article by a quotation from Jefferson:—”Still one thing more, fellow citizens, a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good Government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.” Our present system is the opposite of this doctrine,—as it is none else than to protect the rich in robbing “labor of the bread it has earned.”

(To be continued.)

JOHN ADAMS

Brookfield, (Mass,) Sept. 30th, 1854.

 

Social Reform

No. II.

 

Mr. Editor:—That rent and interest must cease is certain. When? is the only question. In the Old World, where we can fully see the results of the present order of civilization, carried out in their highest degree, where society is divided into two classes, vis., capitalists and wages slaves, where kings and priests bear rule, the only question is, how the masses can be governed and employed. To solve the same difficulty here in demotic America, will soon be a question, and the same classes, capitalists and priests, will be as deeply interested as their prototypes in the Old World now are in governing the masses. In our own country, it will be more difficult for these classes to bear rule, for here we have liberty of speech, the freedom of the press, and the ballot-box, three instruments which it will be difficult to suppress. True it is, that centralization has been making rapid strides during the last five years, and may yet make advances, but there is a point beyond which it cannot go. The Fugitive Slave Law, and the Maine Liquor Law, and the opposition to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and the “Know-Nothing” movement, all tell that a strong effort is being made to subjugate the American people, and to increase the powers of the central and state governments over the freedom of man and the same classes. Capitalists and priests are linked in the movement to fool and cheat the people. But “the sober second thought will be efficient.”

But what has this to do with the question? We very well know that the inventive genius of man was never more active than at present. Machinery to perform the labor of human hands is fast throwing labor into the market. The sewing machine and the reaper will cheaper, the bread we eat and the clothing we wear and also hasten over-production. Let the time come when we have our store-houses filled with the productions of human industry, or rather too much bread and clothing, and nothing can prevent a social revolution. Let but the factory wheel and the shoe hammer stop but six months in Massachusetts, it will set a ball in motion which the whole tribe of bankers and landlords with the aid of the church cannot stop. It will do more to spread the reign of justice than all the preaching which might be done in a century. In the Old World it is different, for there the people can be set to work fighting each other, and thus the work of governing the race be accomplished. They can be made to fight about a “Holy Sepulchre,” or something of the sort, and this extend the reign of kingcraft and priestcraft, two of the worst crafts with which the race has had to contend.—Let the time come when over-production shall exist, and come it will, and science will demonstrate the plan I have proposed, viz., that of reducing the cost of the circulating medium to its minimum price by extending the basis of the currency to the real estate of the country, and eventually to all the productions of human industry. To my toiling brothers and sisters let me say, be of good cheer; Tom Hood tells us that

 

“The night is mother of the day,

The winter of the spring,

And ever upon old decay

The greenest mosses cling.”

 

The man now lives (may his life be spared!) who will lead us on to victory over the present inequalities which exist, and plant our feet upon the rock of justice and freedom. In the meanwhile, let us help ourselves as best we may, knowing that the principle in Christian ethics, “there can be no redemption without suffering,” is equally true of social reform; that we can never be redeemed without suffering; that a hungry stomach, a chilled back, and a leaky roof, cannot be without its beneficent results upon the race to which we belong.—to my toiling sisters who must soon compete with the sewing machine in the hands of capital, I must say one word more. Although you may be compelled to serve in degrading occupations, perhaps be compelled to sell yourself for the vilest of purposes, a brighter day will dawn for you, a higher redemption is for you, as your sufferings and toils have been more sever than those the opposite sex. When the time comes that every man and woman can be owner and disposer of their own productions, and the inventions of men turned for our benefit instead of driving us into the market, there to compete with another as miserable as ourselves, woman must rise and become the ruler of man. Man now rules, and mate and blame are his instruments. Then woman must rise and shine and be as superior to man as she is now and has been in ages past his inferior. Her instruments will be love and pity. Fellow toilers! The future is ours!

JOHN ADAMS

Brookfield, (Mass,) Oct. 20th, 1854.

 

John Adams, “Social Reform,” Boston Investigator 24 no. 24 (October 11, 1854): 1; 24 no. 26 (October 25, 1854): 1; 24 no. 31 (November 29, 1854): 1.

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Adams, John, “Social Reform,” The Libertarian Labyrinth, accessed October 14, 2019, http://library.libertarian-labyrinth.org/items/show/3478.