Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
Social Reform
By Horace Greeley (1811–1872)
[From Reforms and Reformers.—Recollections of a Busy Life. 1868.]

THE GREAT, the all-embracing Reform of our age is, therefore, the SOCIAL Reform,—that which seeks to lift the Laboring Class, as such—not out of labor, by any means—but out of ignorance, inefficiency, dependence, and want, and place them in a position of partnership and recognized mutual helpfulness with the suppliers of the capital which they render fruitful and efficient. It is easily said that this is the case now; but, practically, the fact is otherwise. The man who has only labor to barter for wages or bread looks up to the buyer of his sole commodity as a benefactor; the master and journeyman, farmer and hired man, lender and borrower, mistress and servant, do not stand on a recognized footing of reciprocal benefaction. True, self-interest is the acknowledged impulse of either party; the lender, the employer, parts with his money only to increase it, and so, it would seem, is entitled to prompt payment or faithful service,—not, specially, to gratitude. He who pays a bushel of fair wheat for a day’s work at sowing for next year’s harvest has simply exchanged a modicum of his property for other property, to him of greater value; and so has no sort of claim to an unreciprocated obeisance from the other party to the bargain. But so long as there shall be ten who would gladly borrow to one disposed and able to lend, and many more anxious to be hired than others able and willing to employ them, there always will be a natural eagerness of competition for loans, advances, employment, and a resulting deference of borrower to lender, employed to employer. He who may hire or not, as to him shall seem profitable, is independent; while he who must be hired or starve exists at others’ mercy. Not till Society shall be so adjusted, so organized, that whoever is willing to work shall assuredly have work, and fair recompense for doing it, as readily as he who has gold may exchange it for more portable notes, will the laborer be placed on a footing of justice and rightful independence. He who is able and willing to give work for bread is not essentially a pauper; he does not desire to abstract without recompense from the aggregate of the world’s goods and chattels; he is not rightfully a beggar. Wishing only to convert his own muscular energy into bread, it is not merely his, but every man’s interest that the opportunity should be afforded him,—nay, it is the clear duty of Society to render such exchange at all times practicable and convenient.
  A community or little world wherein all freely serve and all are amply served,—wherein each works according to his tastes or needs, and is paid for all he does or brings to pass,—wherein education is free and common as air and sunshine,—wherein drones and sensualists cannot abide the social atmosphere, but are expelled by a quiet, wholesome fermentation,—wherein humbugs and charlatans necessarily find their level, and naught but actual service, tested by the severest ordeals, can secure approbation, and none but sterling qualities win esteem,—such is the ideal world of the Socialist. Grant that it is but a dream,—and such, as yet, it for the most part has been,—it by no means follows that it has no practical value. On the contrary, an ideal, an illusion, if a noble one, has often been the inspirer of grand and beneficent efforts. Moses was fated never to enter the Land of Promise he so longingly viewed afar; and Columbus never found—who can now wish that he had?—that unimpeded sea-route westward to India that he sought so wisely and so daringly. Yet still the world moves on, and by mysterious and unexpected ways the great, brave soul is permitted to subserve the benignant purposes of God contemplating the elevation and blessing of Man. And so, I cannot doubt, the unselfish efforts in our day for the melioration of social hardships, though their methods may be rejected as mistaken or defective, will yet signally conduce to their contemplated ends. Fail not, then, humble hoper for “the Good Time Coming,” to lend your feeble sigh, to swell the sails of whatever bark is freighted with earnest efforts for the mitigation of human woes, nor doubt that the Divine breath shall waft it at last to its prayed-for haven!  2

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