Nonfiction > Jacob A. Riis > The Battle with the Slum > Page 217
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Jacob A. Riis (1849–1914).  The Battle with the Slum.  1902.

Page 217
 
“The people are all right,” was the unvarying report of the early Tenement House Committees, “if we only give them half a chance.” When the country was in the throes of the silver campaign, the newspapers told the story of an old laborer who went to the sub-treasury and demanded to see the “boss.” He undid the strings of an old leathern purse with fumbling fingers, and counted out more than two hundred dollars in gold eagles, the hoard of a lifetime of toil and self-denial. They were for the government, he said. He had not the head to understand all the talk that was going on, but he gathered from what he heard that the government was in trouble, and that somehow it was about not having gold enough. So he had brought what he had. He owed it all to the country, and now that she needed it he had come to give it back.
  The man was an Irishman. Very likely he was enrolled in Tammany and voted its ticket. I remember a tenement at the bottom of a back alley, over on the East Side, where I once went visiting with the pastor of a mission chapel. Up in the attic there was a family of father and daughter in two rooms that had been made out of one by dividing off the deep dormer window. It was midwinter, and they had no fire. He was a pedler, but the snow had stalled his push-cart, and

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