Nonfiction > Jacob A. Riis > The Battle with the Slum > Page 6
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Jacob A. Riis (1849–1914).  The Battle with the Slum.  1902.

Page 6
 
this. It cannot be shirked. Shirking means surrender, and surrender means the end of government by the people.
  If any one believes this to be needless alarm, let him think a moment. Government by the people must ever rest upon the people’s ability to govern themselves, upon their intelligence and public spirit. The slum stands for ignorance, want, unfitness, for mob-rule in the day of wrath. This at one end. At the other, hard-heartedness, indifference, self-seeking, greed. It is human nature. We are brothers whether we own it or not, and when the brotherhood is denied in Mulberry Street we shall look vainly for the virtue of good citizenship on Fifth Avenue. When the slum flourishes unchallenged in the cities, their wharves may, indeed, be busy, their treasure-houses filled,—wealth and want go so together,—but patriotism among their people is dead.
  As long ago as the very beginning of our republic, its founders saw that the cities were danger-spots in their plan. In them was the peril of democratic government. At that time, scarce one in twenty-five of the people in the United States lived in a city. Now it is one in three. And to the selfishness of the trader has been added the threat of the slum. Ask yourself then how long before it would make an end of us, if let alone.

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