Bourgeois Charity

Serious Thoughts for the Consideration of Our Saving-at-the-Spigot Philanthropists.

The New York Female Assistance society held its seventy-fourth anniversary in the chapel of the Collegiate Reformed church, 5th avenue and 29th street, yesterday afternoon. The annual report of the secretary, Miss Kate Hoffman, said that the number of people visited during the year had been over 3,000, and that more than 1,800 garments had been distributed by the society and its auxiliary, the New York Dress society. An urgent appeal was made for more helpers and more donations of money and garments.

More than 3,000 visits made, and over 1,800 garments distributed in a year, and yet the working people of New York—strange, discontented, ungrateful people that they are—do not seem to be at all satisfied, but go on forming trades unions, striking, boycotting, and altogether behaving in a manner calculated to wound the feelings of their charitable friends.

Let us give a few moments’ serious attention to this subject of bourgeois charity, and see how much it is calculated to lighten the burdens of the people. It, bourgeois charity, assumes in the first place that these burdens are the result of individual misfortune, laziness, drunkenness, etc., and that they are therefore to be relieved by individual efforts. But when we come to examine this society of ours, which requires for its maintenance police armed with Winchester rifles, militia men trained to sweep four streets at once, a standing army, and a vast array of Pinkerton detectives and thugs, we find that these wretched, outcast people requiring visits and garments are a necessary part of its organization, and will not and cannot be got rid of except by a complete change in our system of distribution.

This age is pre-eminently the age of division of labor, and consequently of exchange. No one any longer produces, either unaided or with the aid of his hirelings, articles intended for his own consumption, but always with a view to exchange. The capitalist, unlike the slaveholder of old, does not employ his slaves to make luxuries which he himself intends to consume, but employs them for the most part in producing goods for the market, necessaries rather than luxuries. Of course, the capitalist, desiring to make profit on the investment which he has made (i.e. to make something out of nothing) places the embodied labor of his workmen on the market at a higher price than he had paid them for their labor. As a necessary consequence, the laborer, going into the market with the wages he has received, finds himself unable to buy back his own product, and consequently part of it remains unsold. He nevertheless goes on producing, the products accumulate, cannot be disposed of (all other laborers being in a similar condition). The demand for products not being in proportion to the amount of products on the market, the demand for labor is lessened, the hours of work are reduced, and with them the pay; some of the workers thrown entirely out of employment, and then the demand for products becomes less and less, increasing still further the stagnation in labor and business circles. Then come the strikes and the lock-outs, for the manufacturers, finding their profits lessened and being unable to increase their sales, have no other manner left to uphold their dividends than a reduction of the wages of the employees, which they are usually readily enough enabled to do, as the number of men willing to work at any wages in order to preserve life for a time at least in themselves and their families is being constantly increased by the continued depression. The tramp and the pauper and the criminals multiply, and virtuous, well-dressed, well-behaved society raises its hands in holy horror at the increasing viciousness of the people, increases the police force, so that, as the Sun tells us, a mass of 300 or 400 can be concentrated in a single disaffected spot in a few minutes, teaches its militia how to clear four streets at once, hangs now some Molly Maguires in Pennsylvania and again some anarchists in Chicago, and sets to work preparing new schemes for exacting further dividends from the people. Fashionable women, whose consciences are perhaps a little quickened by the sight of the misery around them, or whose senses palled by the unending round of pleasure, seeking perhaps a new sensation, now start forth to form Dorcas societies, and White Cross societies, and temperance boards, and clubs for working girls, and Helping Hands for women, and homes for aged men, and hospitals for the sick, and foundling asylums for orphans, and hope for glorious rewards both here and hereafter for attempting to alleviate in a very minor degree the sufferings of these wrecks of humanity, made wrecks by the business methods of their fathers and husbands and brothers. Ought not the people to be duly grateful and humbly satisfied with the condition to which it has pleased God to call them?

Where packed in one reeking chamber, Man, maid, another and little ones lay; While the rain pattered in on the rotting hide bed, And the walls let in the day.

When we lay in a burning fever In the mud of the old clay floor Till you parted us all for three mouths, esquire, At the dreary workhouse door.

We quarreled like brutes, and who wonders? What self-respect could we keep, Worse housed than your horses and your pointers, Worse fed than your hogs and your sheep?

Our daughters with base-born babies Have wandered away in their shame; If your misses had slept, squire, where they did, Your misses might do the same.

Can your lady patch hearts that are breaking, With handfuls of coal and of rice, Or by dealing out flannel and sheeting A little below cost price?

You may tire of the jail and the workhouse, And take to allotements and schools, But you’ve run up a debt that will never Be paid us by penny-club rules.

Charles Kingsley.

Gertrude B. Kelly