THE WORKING-CLASSES IN THE UNITED STATES. BY ROBERT OONINOSBY.
TN most European countries, the middle-class, the " comfort- 1 able " people, represent the nation. This is the class with which most travellers mix, and consequently have most to tell about when they return home. But in the United States— although, strictly speaking, there is no working-class at all—the people who hew and draw are "everybody," the rest being out- siders, without either real or apparent power. Birth beyond Massachusetts goes for nothing, and the dollar is far from being almighty, a million of them not being able to purchase one ounce of respect for the person of their owner. I think many of the popular mistakes about America have arisen frem the fact that the uneasy and grasping " middle-class " has too often had to sit for the national portrait. I thought so before I went to America, and although many other ideas I had cherished were shaken severely, this one was strengthened every day. To take one instance, the question of American sobriety, how much has been said on both sides of this ? I was most curious upon the point, and, as the result of my observations, am as well satisfied that the charge of intemperance so generally brought against Americans is a false one, as I am with the evidence that the earth is not flat. The working people in the United States are beyond comparison more temperate than ours ; the middle and upper classes, as remarked just now, infinitely less representative than the same strata of society are here—are beyond comparison more intemperate than ours. Of course there is much hard drinking among the American working- classes ; but, as far as outside appearances go, it would almost seem that everybody, except the workman, goes to the whisky shop. The highest in office and deepest in pocket all take their drains. It would not be becoming to speak of the President or his Cabinet, but, in the interest of truth, I may perhaps be allowed to observe that "gin-slings" and "cocktails" have, to my certain knowledge, been taken in the front of a bar—which was not that of public opinion—with gentlemen who have ruled America—say, within the memory of man. I regret to say that I remember once—but that was in the Far West—going "odd man" for " eye-openers " with a judge and a popular candidate for the governorship of a state, and the judge being "let in for the three," insisted upon having "another fire," and was unfortunately "let in" again. Perhaps if the sobriety of the workpeople were balanced against the general habit of dram-drinking among the wealthier minority, it would be found that Englishmen and Americans are about on a par in the matter of intemperance, but I cannot for one moment believe that they are more intemperate than we. The German labourers drink a great deal of beer, and the Irish spirits, and to be enabled to continue to do so most of them belong to the " Democratic " party, which systematically opposes the passage of any laws to regulate or prohibit the sale of strong drinks. The " Republican " party—which really means the working-man's party—the Great Ungenteel,—are too strong for them, and with a firm but gentle hand, the nation is removing the temptation from the men whose want of self-control dis- graces it. I am not a teetotaler, and should be sorry to see anything like a Maine Liquor Law imposed upon the majority here by ever so well-meaning a minority ; but if I were an American, for reasons which would take up too much space to set forth here, I should be with those who are labouring to make the sale of spirits a crime. In several states it is already forbidden by law, and as far as my observation went, the law is in accordance with the wishes of the most respectable portion of the inhabitants. Of course, it is systematically evaded, so is our law which closes public-houses on Sunday mornings, and evaded by the same class of people, i. e., the less respectable tradesmen, and the less re- putable among their customers. Instead of keeping the bottles on a row in the shop, they are kept in a cupboard at the back, and the constant reminder that an illegal thing is being done when a glass of whisky is sold has, I am persuaded, a more salu- tary effect in the long run, than the natural desire for "for- bidden fruit," which is more spasmodic than lasting, has power to neutralize. A man, too, does not like to be for ever asking a favour, for it is one to be served with spirits where the sale is prohibited. There are more deaths in America from delirium tremens than in England; but this can be accounted for in many
ways. Climate especially alters the conditions under which hard drinking may be indulged in with impunity, and the tempera- ment of a people makes a difference. In 1860 it was found that 518 men and 57 women had fallen victims to this drunkard's disease ; it is not stated, however, how many of these were people newly arrived from other countries.
While upon the subject of intemperance, I may remark that the Americans have one novelty which, as far as I am aware of, has not yet been introduced on any great scale into this country. I allude to the inebriate institutions to which persons who labour under the disease of drunkenness are sent for scientific treatment and exhortation. Some patients are committed to these places by the authorities, and others sent there by friends. I was told that the results were very encouraging, cases of complete reformation being quite common. I went over one of the largest of these buildings at Ward Island, which, with a sardonic appro- priateness of site, looks out upon "Hell Gate," in New York Bay. It is a fine building, of about 500 feet in length, with the interior admirably arranged and completely fitted for the purpose it is designed for. Strong padded cells for the more violent of the inmates were the only uncomfortable-looking apartments to be seen, while some seventy rooms for private patients were quite luxuriously furnished. There is also a chapel with five or six hundred seats, where a service is held every day. When I was there, there happened to be only some fifty or sixty inebriates, on whose woebegone and sottish appearance it will be unnecessary to dwell. The rest of the space in the hospital was temporarily devoted to a number of sick children.
The whole American system in dealing with fallen humanity seems based more upon Christian charity than ours is. In the United States a criminal is regarded as a patient whose moral nature is sick, a fever-stricken brother to be kept apart and restrained, but also to be cured. There is even an agitation for the administration of chloroform to criminals about to be executed.
There are exceptions, however, to this wide-spread feeling of long- suffering with crime. In Pennsylvania, for instance, there are
still remote places were the pillory is a recognized "institution," and even the public whipping-post is regularly used twice a year. In accordance with the general desire of Americans to make things pay, some of their prisons are conducted on strictly economic principles. Thus, one in Boston, the "Massachusetts' State Prison," clears something like 15,000 a year out of the forced labour of its inmates. All the convicts are there engaged in some useful work. Some of them are employed in the foundry, others make iron bedsteads, brushes, lamps, whips, &c. The expenses of this prison for the year 1866-1867 were about 122,000, while the receipts from the sale of articles manu- factured were over 127,000. This seems to my mind the correct theory of imprisonment, to let society get something back out of what it has lost by its criminals, and not be fined as much for keeping them under lock and key as it costs to leave them at large.
After all, perhaps, the most interesting question for English workmen is not the morality, piety, or culture of their fellows in America, but will they be likely to better themselves by going there? I think most of them will. I think, taking all things into consideration, most people who have no property would be more likely to get some in the United States than here. It should, however, be borne in mind that precisely the same sort of people who improve their position somewhat here improve it there, only they get on faster and further. Self-denial, energy, and all the
other helps to fortune, seem everywhere to be gifts confined to
the comparatively few, and therefore the poor will always be with the Americans as with us. The great majority of the human race spend exactly as much as they earn, and although perhaps more
"new leaves" are turned over, in what may par excellence be termed the land of good intentions, the rule will in most cases be
found to hold, that those who have never saved money here will not do it there, and those who are content to serve a master—as why shouldn't they be?—in England, will have to be " bossed " in America.
It is entirely according to a man's temperament whether, on the whole, he gets more satisfaction out of life as an arranger or one who has matters arranged for him, whether he serves or is served. All men like to command, but all are not equally fond of ease. Taking it, then, for granted that a man intends to live by his labour, under the direction of others, I think unskilled labourers of every description, agricultural labourers especially, would do well to go to the United States. I say the United States, instead of America, advisedly, because, from all I have heard and the little I saw of Canada, I think emigration there
for Englishmen about as mistaken a proceeding as can well be imagined. Very few of the men sent out lately will remain in the Dominion ; they will cross over into the States as naturally as energetic Scotchmen come South of the Tweed, and for the same reasons. I am not sure that highly skilled mechanics are better off in the United States than they are here. There is so much com- petition from men who are half mechanics,—labourers, perhaps, in some other land, who have become mechanics since their arrival in America. And most kinds of skilled work are so fluctuating, and the winter is so long, and the summer so hot, and life as a whole is so much less comfortable in the great cities of the Union than here, and I think the difference between the two rates of wages is very nearly balanced by the high prices of provisions, clothing, and house-rent. An agricultural labourer can always find work and treble the pay he gets here. In five years, with ordinary industry and economy, he may be the proprietor of a good farm. In Iowa, and I dare say in other States, there are farmers who will build a house for any steady man with a family, lend him implements, cattle, and seeds, and receive their rent in the shape of a portion of the crops. There are a great many of these small-fain tenants, and they generally manage to save money enough in a few years to emancipate themselves from their landlords, who then fence in fresh farms and seek new tenants. So vast is the field of labour for the agriculturists, that if all the farm labourers in Great Britain could be landed in America this year, every man of them could go to work at once and be found next autumn harvesting. It is an indescribable sensation to roll in a railway car over hundreds of miles of soft springy soil covered with rich grass, and to know that the meadow stretches as far in every direction, where no man ever lays the sickle or inserts a spade. If our "bold peasantry" knew their true interests, every one of their places here would very soon have to be supplied.
Town fltourers of all sorts, handy men who work in factories and about wharves, the doers of all sorts of odd jobs, provided they are afraid of rest, and are not fastidious about thenature of their employment, will also, I think, be sure to find work in the United States. They should not stop in the large cities, but push on into the small and rising ones. Railway excavators, too, are always on demand, at rates varying from six shillings to seven and six- pence a day. In every large town placards are to be seen posted up announcing the want of so many thousands of these men. I was told, however, by more than one English navvy whom I found at work on American railways, that they are more driven and have to work harder in the States than in England. "They don't swear at yer so much as our gangers does at home, but they've got a quiet way o' continually shoving yer on like, till it almost breaks yer 'art to keep up to the work," said one of these to me. Another informed me that in breaking up new ground there was a system of picking out the very strongest man of the gang, and putting him to work in front, while the next strongest was selected for the rear, an d then urging on the ones between with this reasonable and polite reminder, "Come, gentlemen, come, come ! You are letting So-and-So walk away from you ; he will lose himself if we don't keep a little nearer to him." And to those further back, "Come, come boys ! See how you are hindering So-and-So ; he can't get on at all for you!"
Carpenters, engine-fitters, and men of all trades earning from thirty-five to thirty-nine shillings per week in London, will get in the principal cities of the Union from four to five dollars currency per day, the currency dollar being worth about three shillings. Before the war the United States must have been almost a paradise for working-men. Wages were within a third as high as at present, and provisions and clothing only half their present prices. There is much complaining going on all over the Union of the difficulty of making ends meet on mechanics' wages. I was assured by every English family with whom I spoke on the matter, that the four dollars do not go further in purchasing home comforts than the five or six shillings in England used to do. Of course, the margin for savings is greater, and this is especially advantageous to bachelor mechanics. Rent is very high, and BO is coal in most places. A small house can scarcely ever be got, and apartments such as decent artisans like to see their families occupy are charged for at least double what they would be here. This scarcity of house-room in the cities is a great hardship on the working-classes, especially the lower sort of labourers. London, large as it is, can scarcely compete with New York in a show of wretchedness and overcrowding. The Fourth Ward would be a dis- grace to any civilized community. I remember going through it one hot summer's evening, and it struck me that it was a very sink, where the depravity and misery of the world had settled
and was seething, after the flood of immigration had poured over the city. I shall never forget the horribleeights, sounds, and smells, which I encountered. All along, Cherry, Water, and James Streets, and in the alleys and great tenement houses as well as the numerous beer saloons, vice and human degradation in the worst forms were everywhere rampant. In the cellars where oysters, clams, and drink were sold, brazen and gaudily-bedizened women —called in sickening irony " pretty " beer-jerkers—plied their infamous business clad in dresses which began under the armpits, and finished just below the knees; while in the garrets, three or four families of men, women, and children were frequently lodged in one room, the atmosphere of which was unbearable. In one tenement block known as "Double Alley "there were said to be six hundred people, and the place, if it had been sound and clean, instead of rotten with filth, might have decently housed about fifty. The other cities seem to be following the example of New York in respect to these slums. Chicago is nearly as bad as the metropolis, with still higher rents—for I forgot to mention that for one room in the rookeries I saw in New York, ten dollars a month, or about 7s. 6d. a week, was the sum demanded. Boston and Philadelphia seem better, but at Pittsburgh, again, I was taken through some vile neighbourhoods. It seems strange that with such a vast and unoccupied continent behind them, it should be necessary for a dozen people to huddle together in one small room.
Clothing, for men, women, and children is, at least, double the price in America it is here, and more of it is wanted, for working-men and their families are better dressed. A suit of broadcloth such as may be got in London for seventy shillings or four pounds will cost seven or eight pounds in New York, and so on with respect to all other articles of dress. There is one very creditable practice of American workmen which should put our own labourers to the blush ; as a rule, they seem to allow their families to share in all their luxuries as well a% neces- saries. In England too many men are in the habit of reserving a certain sum—frequently no inconsiderable portion of their wages—to expend upon luxuries outside their home. I have known men, for instance, who were not ashamed to boast of keeping back as much as ten shillings a week out of forty or fifty—sober men, too—to lay out upon themselves in extras ! There is more respect paid to women among every class in America than there is here ; in fact, if I were not afraid that some of them might possibly see this, I should almost be tempted to say that I think they are just a little spoilt by the extreme deference with which they are treated. For instance, before I was used to American ways, it seemed strange to me to be parasol-spiked out of my seat in a street car one day by an elegant young lady, who only vouchsafed the explanation that she would "Sit right there !"
The retail system is not so highly developed as it is here ; coster- mongering, for instance, seems to be almost unknown, and small storekeepers place such a high value upon their time and capital, and consequently demand so much profit, that there is in most cases a wide difference between the wholesale and retail prices. It may be all very well for apples to remain quiet in the market lists at fabulously low prices per bushel, but if one costs a penny on the apple stalls, that is nearer the price which the poor have to pay for them.
It should not be forgotten that thousands of good mechanics are unable to find work at their own trades in America. The case of these men is very pitiable when, after having exhausted the means taken with them from Europe, they are compelled to undertake the roughest descriptions of labour for a living. Cast down in spirits and weary in body—for field work comes harder to a man who has been brought up in a close factory, than it would to a professional man whose body, if it had not been strengthened by hard work, would at least preserve more of its original adaptability—I have known such men to cry like children while telling of their bitter disappointments. I have been over and over again implored to warn people who are in situations here not to give them up upon the prospect of better things in America, and as far as the advice applies to mechanics I think it sound.
As regards the question of the best place to go to in America, I think if I were about to cross the Atlantic to seek employment at any handicraft I should push right through to California. The railway fare from New York for immigrants is only £.7 103., and the journey is a bagatelle. I have not been further on the way than the sum- mit of the Rocky Mountains, to the end of the rail as finished when I was there, but that part of the trip was so enjoyable that the other half, if like it, which I am assured it is, may certainly be
• recommended. Gold is more plentiful on the Pacific seaboard, and the rush of emigration has scarcely yet set in from the east. Wages are higher there than in any of the elder States of the
Union. I have a list now before me, and letters from trustworthy people, showing that the rate of wages is about the same as in the Eastern States, with this important difference, that the dollar there means a gold coin instead of a paper promise to pay, and is just now worth a shilling more ! Also the eight-hour system is more generally adopted in California, and, as a rule, most men prefer eight to ten hours' hard labour every day. Among the draw- backs to a factory workman's life in America must be placed the absence of the Saturday half-holiday, which has not yet been introduced. In many places indeed the hours of labour are still eleven instead of ten per day, and but three-quarters of an hour are allowed for dinner.
If I were an agriculturist—either labourer or small capitalist —I think I should make my way to the eastern side of Iowa, a few miles the other side of the Mississippi. There are a great number of English people settled there, and the undulating prairie and healthy, invigorating climate are very tempting. At a place called Lowmoor, some twenty miles from Clinton—the great lumber station on the river—there is a colony of English farmers, who left Lincolnshire to settle there some fifteen or sixteen years ago. Every one is doing well, and has a good name and balance at the bank (in America all the world knows how much money everybody else has—a public return having to be annually made), and, notwithstanding the affection still cherished for the old country, is - heartily glad he left it. The pleasant sight of English hedgerows and the neatly farmed fields go far towards curing that dreadful home-sickness which even dollars cannot always relieve.
A business man desirous of settling in America should, I think, choose Chicago. It is the most enterprising and rapidly growing city I have ever visited. Standing, as it does, on the great lake shore, whose endless blue waters look exactly like those of a sea ; with railways to every town of importance in the Union, from Boston to San Francisco, starting from it as from a common centre ; old enough to have millionaire merchants, young enough to offer a splendid commercial career to any number of young men with capital and intelligence enough to enable them to take advantage of the numerous openings around them, I think Chicago is destined to be the future metropolis of the Union.