Fair. Balanced. American.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Lincoln on labor

Says Brown University's Ted Widmer: "If his earlier comments on the balanced budget held out inspiration for today’s Tea Party, here was some red meat for Occupy Wall Street."

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital, producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation.”

Davis had made the contest personal; now Lincoln answered in a deeply personal way; not by attacking Davis, but by remembering his own poverty. If we can wonder why this Southern-born politician developed such a powerful hostility to slavery, we need only listen to him on the value of working for oneself:

“Many independent men everywhere in these States, a few years back in their lives, were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just, and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way to all — gives hope to all, and consequent energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty — none less inclined to take, or touch, aught which they have not honestly earned.”

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