ADDRESS OF THE CITY AND COUNTY CONVENTION TO THE WORKING MEN OF THE STATE
Fellow-citizens: In offering to your consideration a subject of such importance, we shall state the ground which has led us to a separation from the two great political parties which have heretofore misruled and misrepresented the people, and the reasons for dissenting from existing laws, which we consider unreasonable and unjust, operating like an incubus upon the equitable energies of those who constitute the true wealth and strength of our country, thereby nullifying in practice the glorious principle and vivifying declaration that "all men are born equal." Too long have the operatives of this country, as in all others, been left without a suitable representation in the local, state and national councils to guard their interests and crush a power in its origin that ultimately deadens and paralyses their efforts to sustain their rank and privileges as freemen; a power which while it holds them amenable, yet, through the influence of the powers that be, passes by the malversations of the great, the rich, and the powerful.
In assuming a title, our object is not to draw another useless line of distinction between our fellow-citizens for mere electioneering purposes-it is that all thinking as we do may rally under one banner, and by a unity in action produce the desired end.
The main pillar of our system is general education; for it is an axiom no longer controverted, that the stability of a republic depends mainly upon the intelligence of its citizens-that in proportion as they become wise they become virtuous and happy-that the period for forming a good and useful citizen is in youth, ere ignorance and crime have deluded the mind by a lengthened dominion over it, and therefore that an early and suitable education for each child is of primary importance in maintaining the public weal.
It is now forty years since the adoption of the constitution of Pennsylvania, and although that instrument strongly recommends that provision be made for the education of our youth at the public expense, yet during that long period, has the salutary and patriotic obligation been disregarded by our legislative authority, and thousands are now suffering the consequences of this disregard to the public welfare on the part of our rulers.
It is true, that some attempts have been made to remedy the omission in two or three districts of the state, but they have proved ineffectual. The very spirit in which these provisions have been made not only defeats the object intended, but tends also to draw still broader the line of distinction between the rich and the poor. All who receive the limited knowledge imparted by the present system of public education are looked upon as paupers, drawing from a fount which they have in no wise contributed towards creating. The spirit of independence and of feeling in which all participate, cause the honest and industrious poor to reject a proffered bounty that connects with its reception a seeming disgrace. This honest pride in relation to charity schools, however injurious its effects may be on the poor man's offspring, is nevertheless commendable, inasmuch as it is in accordance with the spirit of our free institutions, with our elevated national character-and such a narrow policy is less than they have a right to demand at the hands of our representatives.
It is in vain for the opponents of equal education to assert that the poor, if left to themselves, will use their exertions to educate their children, and that the expenses saved them by its being accomplished by public means, will be expended by the parent on less important subjects; for it is a lamentable fact, that persons destitute of education are ignorant of the loss they sustain, and hence, fail to avert the evil from their offspring. The ignorance of the parent generally extends to his children's children, while the blessings of a liberal education are handed down from father to son as a legacy which poverty cannot impoverish.
We confidently anticipate the cordial co-operation of our brethren throughout the state in favour of this great object, so essential to our happiness as freemen. All must be aware of the necessity of the prompt interference of the people in behalf of those cardinal principles of republican liberty which were declared in '76, and which can only be sustained by the adoption of an ample system of public instruction, calculated to impart equality as well as mental culture-the establishment of institutions where the children of the poor and the rich may meet at that period of life, when the pomp and circumstance of wealth have not engendered pride; when the only distinction known, will be the celebrity each may acquire by their acts of good fellowship; when the best opportunity is afforded for forming associations that will endure through life, and where the obloquy attending the present system will not attach. The objection that the children of the wealthy will not be sent to these schools, is one of minor importance. Our main object is to secure the benefits of education for those who would otherwise be destitute, and to place them mentally on a level with the most favored in the world's gifts. As poverty is not a crime, neither is wealth a virtue. Why then so much anxiety to be associated with a particular portion of our citizens merely on account of their wealth? They form but a small portion of the entire population of our country, and as its safety must depend upon the majority, 'tis there our duty and our exertions should be directed.
It has been remarked, and with much plausibility, that if common schools were established, and provided with suitable instructors in the various departments of a thorough education, the numbers attending "colleges" would be much diminished. This position we admit and cheerfully assent to. Our object is not to raise the hue and cry against colleges-it is not to drag down and chain the intellect of others to the common extent of learning by endeavoring to enlist the public voice against them, but it is to make each avenue of learning the certain pathway to the entire field of science.
Let us unite then, fellow citizens, on a measure fraught with such momentous consequences-a measure involving the happiness or misery of posterity. We are all equally interested in preventing crime by contributing to the means of knowledge and virtue. Consider the responsibility which rests upon us as parents and citizens of a free state. We should constantly bear in mind that the prosperity and happiness of our beloved country essentially depend on the speedy adoption of an equal and republican system of mental instruction. Let it no longer be said that the people of Pennsylvania, with the most unbounded resources, should be the last to embark in the glorious work of providing for the intellectual emancipation of her offspring.
It may perhaps be owing to the non-existence of this desirable object, that we have to complain of other evils, affecting the interests of the Working Man in a pecuniary point, in respectability, and not unfrequently his personal liberty.
We shall particularly call your attention to the practice of granting special favours in charters and monopolies, by which the profits arising from any branch of trade, are taken from the community and given to favorites. This practice originated in monarchies whose features were in the extreme despotic. The British practised it previous to the settlement of this country, and most, if not all, of our states were settled in consequence of charters or grants to particular men. Unfortunately for our country, these insidious features of despotism were soon engrafted on our institutions, and from use have become a constituent portion of our government. The natural resistance to these subtle communities, is founded in the dislike to distinctions, totally opposed to republican opinions, of equality, and to the blasting effects on the productive portion of the community. There can be no doubt that all chartered monopolies are infringements on the rights of the citizen, however we may be disposed to accede to their usefulness, when confined to necessary objects unattainable by individual enterprise.
The moment they pass these bounds, and commence to accumulate wealth and power in the hands of a few, it is at the expense of those who have not the inclination or means to participate, and falls eventually upon those who are the only producers of the necessaries, luxuries, and comforts of life.
The objections against monopolies apply with tenfold force to banks. Without discussing the question of how far the emission of paper money is an infraction of the United States Constitution, it is an undeniable fact, that these emissions are of great injury to the people, by its unequal, fluctuating and easily imitated currency. We cannot but weep over that policy of our legislature, which transplanted from a foreign soil an evil so great, and so opposite to the spirit of liberty. The declinationthe ruin of republican governments may follow the existence of two classes, the immensely rich and the miserably poor. The existence of banks is an evil which we cannot expect soon to overcome; but as they do exist, the stockholders should at least be made answerable for all debts, and the payment of all forged notes; for as they are the only gainers, others should not be the only losers.
An appendage, if not a component part of chartered monopolies, will be found in the lottery system-a system calculated to endow the rich with the hard earnings of the poor-to enable the hand of oppression to grasp from the palm of penury its poor pittance, and to make the wealthy more powerful, while it enslaves the needy. To the practice of speculation, which has been instrumental in producing, and the policy that has continued, so great an evil, we particularly object. There are at present not less than 200 lottery offices in Philadelphia, and as many if not more persons engaged in hawking tickets. Against the former we say naught. Theirs are voluntary purchasers, whilst the itinerant vender assails the poor man at his labour, enters the abode of the needy, and by holding out false promises of wealth, induces him to hazard his little all on the demoralizing system, which costs the City of Philadelphia alone $500,000 per annum.
To the militia system we call your particular attention. We would ask if a plan could be produced less likely to effect its object, than that which now degrades the state? What benefits result from it? Are the citizens who are not attached to a volunteer corps at all advanced in a knowledge of the military science? Could the government, in the event of an invasion, depend upon the discipline it enforces? Is it not a heavy tax upon the state, without the shadow of a benefit? Does not a compliance with its provisions cause annually great inconvenience, and promote scenes of debauchery, collecting the depraved and the vicious, and contributing largely to a continuance of their degradation? Has not every parade a tendency to bring the system more into disrepute, and does it not receive the censure of every intelligent man in the community? If the coercive militia trainings were abandoned entirely, is there any probability that the numbers of our volunteer soldiers would be diminished? And is it not evident that the discipline, and effective power of a soldier proceeds solely from a becoming spirit, which cannot exist when he is coerced into the ranks? The answers to these queries exist in the breast of every observer of our "spring trainings," and although it is universally admitted to be an evil of great magnitude, suitable efforts have not been made for its removal: it still exists, a monument of the gross ignorance, or wilful neglect of those sent to represent our interests.
In its place we would recommend a total abandonment of the disgraceful militia musters, calculated to cast a blot on our country's military escutcheon, and that legislative encouragement be given to "our chief reliance in the moment of danger," our volunteers.
Past experience has convinced us of the impolicy of requiring heavy pecuniary securities, for the fulfillment of trusts reposed in public officers. We look upon the system, as having a direct tendency towards building up a monied aristocracy; as the man of limited means, no matter how eminent his talents or unimpeached his integrity, is debarred the opportunity of attaining any lucrative office, for the want of sufficient surities, or else he must become the pliant tool of those who will reap all the benefits of his appointment. By reducing the pecuniary securities, and making a public defalcation a penal offence, the poor as well as the wealthy would be eligible to offices of profit and of honour.
There is one more subject to which we wish to call your attention, before we close this address. It is the subject of imprisonment for debt; it is one in which all who have a regard for the rights of their fellow men will unite, and all whose bosoms glow with philanthropy, will rejoice to see its abolition. How long fellow citizens, shall the fair page of our history be blemished by this foul blot? How long shall it be the policy of our government, to add oppression and insult to the wounded feeling of the unfortunate man? The existing laws on this subject are very defective. The creditor is not rightly protected against the swindler, and the poor man is burthened with the expense to procure bail, &c, to get through. We say the creditor is not protected, because he is at all times made to prove that the applicant has property. We would have that every man, when he contracts a debt, should make it appear that he is solvent, (if the creditor should require it) and that such declaration should be used as evidence against him, and that the court should not allow the applicant, in account for loss actually sustained, any extravagant living, horse and gig hire, &c, only allowing him to account for reasonable wearing apparel and other reasonable domestic expenses and actual losses. If such were the case, there would be but a limited number of applicants for the benefit of the insolvent laws. The industrious trader and working man would not be so often robbed of their substance, to keep in idleness the host of swindlers and knaves that now prey upon their very vitals.
In closing this address, it will be necessary to propose some general course, whereby the evils of which we complain may be remedied, and to secure the adoption of measures calculated to promote the interest and enhance the happiness of each and every class in society. This has one remedy: select honest, fearless, and capable agents-vote for no proud patrician who cannot subscribe to the precepts and principles of the Working Men-consider all against, whose pride prevents him from ackowledging himself for us, and, by a manly, prudent, and united action, oppose the selection of improper men to places of power and trust, by the election of those more honest and capable possessing principles of pure republicanism, and thereby eventually secure the passage of just and equitable laws-let difficulties and disappointments but add fresh determination to our zeal, endeavouring to make each contest a victory. Let us bear in mind, that in obtaining an equal system of education, we will rid ourselves of every existing evillet us dispel the objections against sending children to public schools-the thought that it is disreputable, should not, for a moment, be permitted to dwell within our bosoms; it is the offspring of a narrow-minded prejudice, originating in pride and cherished by feelings incompatible with the existence of perfect equality. The noblest minded of our citizens, accept, without hesitation, any office in the gift of the public or its authorities, the emoluments of which are paid to them out of taxes levied on the citizens generally. The most wealthy deem it not derogatory to have their children educated at the public expense, at our National School at West Point, and none refuse a similar benefit from the Navy; and wherein, we would ask, are the principles we advocate, less worthy than those practised by the "dignitaries" and "patricians" of our country?
Education is alone the banner on which our civil and religious freedom can be inscribed, never to be defaced; and whilst borne in triumph by the support of each citizen, every succeeding anniversary of our political independence will proclaim an "All's Well."
John Aston, Junior; John Thompson; John S. Warner; William J. Crans; William J. Young; Joseph A. M'clintock; Richard P. Risdon
Mechanics' Free Press, July 10, 1830 (J. R. Commons etal., A Documentary History of American Industrial Society, Vol. 5: The Labor Movement )