The 18 Sept. 1845 issue of the Voice of Industry (Vol. 1 No. 17).
American Factories and Their Female Operatives. By the Rev. [William] Scoresby, D. D., Vicar of Bradford, Yorkshire, England. From the London edition. Boston: [William] D. Ticknor and Co. 1845, pp. 133.
Lowell as It Was, and as It Is. By Rev. Henry A. Miles. Lowell: Powers and Bagley, and N. L. Dayton. 1845, pp. 234.
New York Daily Tribune. Saturday August 16, 1845. Visit to Lowell, &c.
To judge from the description of these writers, Lowell is rather nearer a paradisaical condition than most places. They are unanimous in holding it up as one of the most perfect localities that do the sun honor, by receiving his diurnal contributions of light and heat. The correspondent of the Tribune especially, cannot contain his astonishment at the spectacle. He grows eloquent and sentimental, and even classical under its influence, and lets himself out into full flourishes of that peculiar enthusiasm in which correspondents of the daily presses are apt to take satisfaction. We make room for a sample of his delight.
Mr. Miles [...] seems to suppose that a reasonable degree of justice to man is realized when the laborer is shut up in a close room from ten to twelve hours a day in the most monotonous and tedious of employments. This is not wrong, we shall be told; they come voluntarily and leave when they will. Voluntarily! we might reply, so much the worse if they do; but let us look a little at this remarkable form of human freedom. Do they from mere choice leave their fathers' dwellings, the firesides where are all their friends, where too their earliest and fondest recollections cluster, for the factory and the corporation boarding house? By what charm do these great companies immure human creatures in the bloom of youth and first glow of life within their mills, away from their homes and kindred? A slave too goes voluntarily to his task, but his will is in some manner quickened by the whip of the overseer. The whip which brings laborers to Lowell is necessity. They must have money; a father's debts are to be paid, an aged mother is to be supported, a brother's ambition is to be aided, and so the factories are supplied. Is this to act from free will? When a man is starving he is compelled to pay his neighbor, who happens to have bread, the most exorbitant price for it, and his neighbor may appease his conscience, if conscience he chance to have, by the reflection that it is altogether a voluntary bargain. Is any one such a fool as to suppose that out of six thousand factory girls of Lowell, sixty would be there if they could help it? Every body knows that it is necessity alone, in some form or other, that takes them to Lowell and that keeps them there. Is this freedom? To our minds it is slavery quite as really as any in Turkey [the Ottoman Empire] or Carolina. It matters little as to the fact of slavery, whether the slave be compelled to his tasks by the whip of the overseer or the wages of the Lowell corporations. In either case it is not his own free will, leading him to work, but an outward necessity that puts free will out of the question.
We do not attack the Lowell corporations in particular. It is the whole system of modern industry with which we are at war, and we have chosen to suppose the example we are considering to be as free from objections as possible. We wish to show that even at Lowell the existing system of labor and the relations between the work[wo]men and their employers are full of the foulest wrongs, that it cannot stand for an instant before the bar of justice. Did we desire to examine the final fruits of the system, we should have taken Manchester, or Leeds, with English Parliamentary reports for our guides, rather than Lowell, and the Rev. Mr. Miles. There the wages system has had its complete operation and fully worked out its tendencies. But we do not need to unfold the vice, the degradation, and the misery in which industrial feudalism has steeped the manufacturing laborers of England, in order to convince candid and humane persons that, judged by any other standard than that of worldly selfishness, the whole system of factory labor is unnatural, oppressive and unjust. That in New England it has not yet reached its climax, that we have not seen all or the foulest of the Hydra's heads, is owing to the youth of the system amongst us, and to the peculiarly favorable circumstances, which diminish every day. That gloomy era approaches, in our manufacturing towns we see more than mere premonitions of its coming, when the pale sky of New England shall look down on men, women, and children ground to the very dust by feudal monopoly. Perhaps there are some laborers already, who are inclined to complain that the iron foot of capital is laid upon their necks. What foolish repining! Friends, be contented with the lot in which you are placed! Would you rebel against the decrees of Providence?
We are engaged in a movement, the aim of which, is the elevation of the whole human race into a social condition of complete and universal justice. While thus seeking the good of all men, of all orders and conditions, we cannot be blind to the fact that the laboring classes are everywhere greater suffers than any other. In Barbarian society, the slaves of arbitrary power and of brute force, in Civilized society, the slaves of money and their physical necessities, they are universally oppressed, degraded, and regarded as an inferior order of beings. But they are beginning to understand that they have all the attributes of men, and will soon demand their rights so clearly, that the moral sense of the world can no longer refuse them. To their cause we are bound, heart and soul. While we have a voice it shall never be silent on their behalf. Upon our banner are inscribed the sacred words, which to them have a nearer meaning than to other men, "The Right to Educate; the Right to Labor; the Right to just Compensation; Association." Let the cowardly and the heartless be doubtful as to the result. [- The Harbinger]
Our Real Necessities.
Is it really necessary that men and women should toil and labor twelve, sixteen, and even eighteen hours, to obtain the mere sustenance of their physical natures? Have they no other wants which call as loudly for satisfaction as those? Call ye this life—to labor, eat, drink and die, without knowing any thing comparatively speaking, of our mysterious natures—of the object of our creation and preservation and final destination? No! 'tis not life. It is merely existing in common with the inanimate and senseless part of creation. Life is earnest! Not to obtain the perishing things which pertain to the outward; but, earnest in procuring the riches of enduring, unfading and ever increasing goodness and true wisdom! Goodness and wisdom are among the real necessities of life. In truth there can be no life without them—all is darkness and death where these are wanting. True wisdom will lead us to cultivate all our faculties in that way and manner which shall most increase our own usefulness—add to the good of our fellow creatures and honor the great Creator. In order to increase the former, a portion of time must be devoted to moral and intellectual culture corresponding with the importance of the object. When I hear people say they have no time to read—O, how does the thought come home to my heart—"in Heaven's name what do they live for." No time to read! What in mercy's name do they do for thoughts, for the ever active and restless mind to feast upon from day to day! What do they do with that starving intellect which is ever crying give, give, as the wonders and sublimities in the vast creation, unfold themselves to view and which requires knowledge to satisfy its unbounded wishes. Is it possible that any can be satisfied to exist only in a physical sense, entirely neglecting the cultivation of the noblest powers which God has given them? Rather we say, let the old tabernacle of clay be clothed in rags, and enjoy but two meals per day, than suffer the intellect to dwindle—the moral and religious capacities to remain uncultivated—the affections unfurnished, the charity limited—the mind contracted with blind bigotry and ignorance! Oh! toiling fellow mortal, if thou by hard and unremitting labor eight hours out of the twenty-four, canst not provide for thy physical wants—resolve from this time hence forth and ever to give thy influence on the side of Labor Reform!
- Miss H. J. Stone
"We're All Poor People Here"2
The Boston Sun says, "how often may we hear the remark in every manufacturing village in New England, 'Oh, she's nothing but a factory girl,' in contempt." Whereupon the Sun delivers a lecture upon labor and aristocracy. We do not know how often such a remark may be heard, but we never recollect having heard anything like it in the New England manufacturing villages, in which we have passed nearly all our days; and we do not believe a word about labor or factory girls being spoken of with "contempt." As the old saying is, "we're all poor people here, and all work for a living."—L. Journal [Lowell Journal—likely a reference to the Lowell Daily Courier]
We cut the above from a paper which professes much regard for the factory girls and the laborer, and labors hard to convince the community that the present manufacturing system is the handmaid of health, virtue and happiness, that labor in New England is honored and rewarded and the operative and laborer happy and contented. Now it requires but the simple fact, that the Lowell Journal is fed upon corporation pap, and is fostered, nourished and flattered by the smiles and influences of aristocracy to account for all this pretended respect and sympathy for factory girls, workingmen and dignity of labor, hence it [i.e. such journals like the Lowell Journal] is down upon every print that attempts to speak out upon the factory system, and every person who raises his voice against its evil tendencies and wrongs in society, while it is loud in defending and eulogizing the "peculiar institutions"3 of the day. "We're all poor people here and work for a living." This is truly a new and important fact, for which the editor of the Journal should have the entire credit and we wish it to go abroad throughout the country, that all the people in Lowell "work for a living" and still are poor; that the splendid mansions beautiful gardens and costly equipages which Lowell contains are all owned by poor workingmen, that the agents, speculators and capitalists of Lowell who are receiving the trifling dividends of thirty or forty percent, together with those who are getting their lean salaries of from one to three thousand annually are all poor workingmen. But what has become of the "industrious and enterprising operative," with her "two thousand dollar farm," and the "eleven hundred" which she gave her father; all earned in the Lowell mills in "nineteen years," which amounts to thirty two hundred dollars or about three dollars and a quarter for every week during the nineteen years after paying all her expenses and bringing up a family? What has become of the "eight millions" deposited in the Savings Bank; all from the savings of the operatives?—and the grave statement of the "Natick cobbler" which appeared a short time since in the Journal; that "honest industrious" workingmen can become "rich" and place themselves "beyond the reach of want within a few years"; what has become of this, or how is it reconciled with this universal industry and poverty in Lowell?—are the Lowell people all so dishonest and prodigal even to the editor of the Journal, that they have wasted and squandered the products of their "well paid" labor? We advise the editor of the Journal to notice the ridiculous position this statement has placed him in, and when he again attempts to defend his rotten cause by "throwing dust" or issuing falsehoods, to give something that has the semblance of truth and common sense, and not to shoot down his own ranks. A man who has spent "nearly all his days," to middle age in manufacturing villages without having heard labor and factory girls spoken of with derision and contempt, is totally unqualified to speak and write upon the subject; much less to contend that no such state of feelings exist. But "none are so blind as those who won't see"—the slave holder and apologizer sees no evil in black slavery; the rum seller sees no wrong in the traffic because gold and its blinding influences have obscured their vision, and the editor of the Journal has had the misfortune to get on the same kind of spectacles.
Note: spelling and punctuation have been slightly modified.
- 1According to the website industrialrevolution.org, this text could have possibly been written by the American journalist and reformer Charles Anderson Dana. However, there is no attribution in the Voice, nor in the Harbinger. The text is actually a critical review of a handful of positive or misleading accounts of the Lowell textile mills, which Dana believed to be sympathetic to the corporations rather than the operatives. Dana's review first appeared in the American newspaper The Harbinger (Vol. 1 No. 12) on 30 August 1845 and was reprinted in the Voice of Industry. In addition to giving it its title, I have only posted extracts of this text, since the original review is quite long. It is interesting to note that Dana would later cross paths with Karl Marx in Cologne, Germany. Marx would also later write for the New York Tribune, where Dana was the managing editor for a time.
- 2I've provided this article with a title.
- 3The "peculiar institution" was another name, or euphemism, for slavery in the U.S.