THE GIST OF THE TEN-HOUR BILL.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR.
Loudon, 234 May 1844.
SIR—I will trouble you merely with a few brief remarks on what appears to me to have been the main fallacy of the reasoning on the Short-time Bill, in conclusion to the letter I addressed to you last week. I will merely add as to the practical hearing of the subject, that the error seems to consist chiefly in the belief that produce is always in proportion to duration of labour. No such proportion exists in manufacture. I endeavoured to show in my last letter that such loss could he prevented, no less by the increased energy of labour than by the employment of disused machinery. I cannot but think that this has been demonstrated by Lord ASHLEY; who in his last speech showed that a larga increase of produce had followed the first reduction of working-hours from fifteen to twelve. There is no answer to this.
The true ground which justifies interference with the power of parents to work children as long as they please, is that the parents have not in general sufficient discretion to exercise that power beneficially for the child, and with regard to the interest of society in the education and moral progress of the working-classes. It is objected to this, that if the people had more employ- ment, through the removal of restrictions on commerce and food, their im- proved means would insure better and fuller instruction for their children; that, in fact, Free-trade would fill schools. But it is not so. Free-trade and ampler means for the people are very needful as steps to mental improvement ; but they are negative, not positive means to moral effects. They remove an obstacle, but they supply no inducement. In theory it is clear that ignorance cannot appreciate the evil of ignorance or the benefit of enlightenment ; and ignorance is not dispelled by food per se. By experience the truth of this is amply attested. Any one may satisfy himself that it is so by inquiry as to the actual result of improved trade when it occurs on the schools of our large towns. I have done so in many places, and have almost always found that its tendency is to thin schools, and not to MI them. The House of Lords may or may not reopen this discussion : be this as it may, it lives in the public mind ; and there is a vital benefit in exposing the growing trickeries of party which debase our statesmanship and perplex great principles. These trickeries have been very rife in the late debate.
With how prompt a cunning was the popularity of freedom for industry espoused and used by the very men who forged and maintain its fetters ! With what alacrity they dunned a horror of that "interference " with "the rights of labour" which in corn and food-laws they uphold in its bitterest shape! How subtilely and effectively was protection to the young and helpless jostled and confounded with the odium of protection to the strong monopolist ! These were the nets set to catch the Free-traders. " If "—it was plausibly put—"if the restrictions on trade now existingare condemnable, do not add another to their number." And this from men who screen rich landlords from the poor man's right to daily bread I Thus, the odium of a law which protects the strong at the sacrifice of the weak is made an argument why the weakest of the weak are to be left defenceless against the effects of a power among the mightiest in the land; abetted, moreover, by the ignorance and avarice of those who are the natural protectors of the class for whom protection is sought ! But the Ten-hour Bill is "an interference with labour." So far as labour is rendered an injury to the labourer and through him to society, labour becomes a wrong, with which interference is a duty; just as much as is interference with such a use of a man's natural rights or powers as incommodes his neigh- bours, or affects interests even purely individual and nowise essential to the community. But the Ten-hour Bill protects interests in which society. has the deepest stake ; for are we not all concerned in the moral and bodily vigour of our artisan youth, which it is the sole object of this measure to " protect," and with the assaults on it to "interfere "? Does any one (always saving and excepting Mr. BAINES of Leeds) deny that a vast canker is preying on the minds and bodies of the working-classes? We hold that twelve-hour labour for young persons prevents the removal of that evil, and is therefore wrong. Is it wrong to interfere with a wrong ? Clearly, there are shoals of sine and evils which it were folly to make laws to interfere with. But why ? Simply be- cause laws could not prevent them. But is that the case with twelve hour labour in factories? Is not the practicability of interference matter of expe- rience? The logic to catch the Free traders is this—" You say Corn-laws are wrong because they interfere with and restrict industry ; but so does a short- labour bill ; ergo it is wrong." It is kept out of sight that the one restriction restricts what is right and fruitful, the other what is wrong and hurtful. But the Corn-laws were also held forth as the cause of that pressure which neces- sitates long hours of labour: so that they become, according to the logic of the House, no less the origin of the evil than the argument for its maintenance. A wiser philosophy would teach that one wrong is no reason for another; al- though the removal of the offspring-wrong may be well urged as a sound argu- ment for abolishing the parent evil. The House of Commons has not improved in reason by its return from the intoxication of its accidental benevolence to the sobriety of its ordinary judgment.
The manufacturers are too much blamed for the ignorance of the people. It is their province to manufacture and not to teach. They who run down the power or the indispensable value of manufacture and machinery to England and its highest prospects, read our condition with perverted or hoodwinked eyes. Manufacture is a mighty and fruitful power; but in order that its benefits be realized to society, it requires attendant powers of another kind. Its agencies are purely physical. Whereas the welfare of men is dependent on moral as well as physical agencies ; and the latter, when allowed to act alone, have a na- tural tendency to exclude the former, and, as in this caw, to absorb the morale of men and assimilate them to the machinery of which they practically be- come a part. It is neither the fitting work of machinery nor of manufac- turers to apply moral agencies; and therefore is it that "interference " becomes the duty of others. Heartily will the friends of principle rejoice in your excellent strictures on the " habits of Party." They require to be regenerated; for they lie in the threshold of all sterling reform. These habits are powerful in pro- portion to the debasement of the persons who degrade and constitute " Party" at this time. Our history gives few instances of a larger proportion of men without mark or character holding a busy position and practical ascendancy in its ranks • mere " ahoy-boys of Reform, with its vapid Shibboleth in their mouths, and their own paltry interests at their hearts. With no newer of thoughtful effort in themselves, they decry every result of re- flection and principle in others, if it differs from the Syntagma of their own parrot-creed, and crosses some by-path to the purlieus of power. Lord JOHN Russer..t. basset a worthy example of independent thought and action in this Factory question ; and the votes of MACAULAY, PALMERSTON, SHER, BULLER, and O'CONNELL, have at least vindicated the freedom of intellect, on a question decided, nevertheless, as all questions now are, by the herd in whose eyes society is a machine, moral influences moonshine, political inquiry a presumptive evidence of heresy, and identity with party the measure of sense and test of virtue.
I feel a deep interest in all questions which affect the elevation of the work- ing-classes; which I can alone plead as an excuse for troubling you with these" remarks ; and beg to remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
J. C. SIMONS.