Menace of Privilege

Menace of Privilege
Catalog # SKU0779
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Henry George Jr.


The Menace of Privilege

Congressman Henry George Jr.

TGS Historical Reprint Series
New Edition!
Large Print 13 point font



NOTHING can be more surprising to the thoughtful observer than the social inequality existing in the United States--a country which Mr. Bryce says Europeans early in the nineteenth century deemed to be preëminently the land of equality; which inspired De Tocqueville's descriptions and speculations; and which provoked Americans themselves to constant boastings.

Except for the slaves and Indians, there was at the beginning of the Republic full political and approximate social equality. The country was new and unappropriated. Beyond the narrow rim of settlement along the Atlantic seaboard lay the free, virgin and seemingly illimitable West. All who would might come; and coming, could find opportunity to make for themselves and their families an independent, if rugged, living.

The American Commonwealth was then in the pioneer stage. Few material privileges existed. Nature, being for the most part unappropriated, offered her milk and honey freely and bountifully to all.

Work was the rule. It was the common means of subsistence, the badge of responsibility and respectability. The printer, Benjamin Franklin, the surveyor, George Washington, the lawyer, Thomas Jefferson, the sailor, John Paul Jones, the merchant, John Hancock, were American types of manhood and practical citizenship. "In America people do not ask, 'What is he?' but 'What can he do?'" wrote Franklin in 1782, while representing the Republic in Europe.

"In short," he continued, "land being cheap in that country, from the vast forests still void of inhabitants, and not likely to be occupied in an age to come, in so much that the property of a hundred acres of fertile soil full of wood may he obtained near the frontiers (in many places, for eight or ten guineas) hearty young laboring men who understand the husbandry of corn and cattle, which is nearly the same in that country as in Europe, may easily establish themselves there. A little money saved of the good wages they receive there while they work for others enables them to buy the land and begin the plantation, in which they are assisted by the good will of their neighbors and some credit. Multitudes of poor people from England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany have by this means in a few years become [relatively] wealthy farmers, who, in their own countries, where all the lands were fully occupied and the wages of labor low, could never have emerged from the poor condition wherein they were born." ("Information to those who would remove to America," Franklin's Writings, Bigelow Edition, Vol. VIII, pp. 175-176.)

The precepts of industry, honesty and thrift of Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac" pointed to the almost certain road to competence and respite from toil in old age. And even though this meant living in the pioneer state for many, it did not mean want and suffering. "In every part of North America," wrote Franklin in 1788, while President of the Supreme Council, virtually Governor, of Pennsylvania, "necessaries of life are cheaper than in England. Scarcity is unknown there. . . . The price of labor in money being higher than in England, and provisions cheaper, the actual wages, that is, the amount of necessary articles which the day laborer can buy, is so much the greater." ("Reflections on the Augmentation of Wages which will be occasioned in Europe by the American Revolution," Franklin's Writings, Bigelow Edition, Vol. X, p. 53.)

And thus, while the mass of men by their labor could obtain a living that afforded all the necessaries and many of the comforts of life, with independence and self-respect, there were no private fortunes as we speak of private fortunes to-day. "The truth is," said Franklin, "that though there are in that country few people so miserable as the poor of Europe, there are also very few that in Europe would be called very rich; it is rather a happy mediocrity that prevails. There are few great proprietors of the soil and few tenants. Most people cultivate their own lands, or follow some handicraft or merchandise, and few are rich enough to live idly upon their rents and incomes." (Franklin's Writings, Bigelow Edition, Vol. VIII, p. 172.)

John Adams, writing to a friend in Massachusetts at the time of Washington's election as commander-in-chief in 1775, described the latter as "a gentleman of one of the finest fortunes upon the continent." Washington's Virginia plantations, his homestead at Mount Vernon, his slaves, and his lots in the future city of Washington were the chief parts of his possessions, and were worth perhaps half a million dollars. He had, moreover, various tracts of land in other parts of Virginia, and also in Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky and the Northwest Territory. It is probable that, all told, his estate was at the time of his death worth about three-quarters of a million -- a considerable fortune in those days of general equality, but comparatively no fortune at all in these days.

End excerpt.

TGS Historical Reprint Series
Written in 1905

Softbound, 490+pages, Large Print 13 point font

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