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New Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. 1, sermon 24 - CAPITAL AND LABOR

By T. De Witt Talmage

      "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."--MATT. vii: 12.

      The greatest war the world has ever seen is between capital and labor. The strife is not like that which in history is called the Thirty Years' War, for it is a war of centuries, it is a war of the five continents, it is a war hemispheric. The middle classes in this country, upon whom the nation has depended for holding the balance of power and for acting as mediators between the two extremes, are diminishing; and if things go on at the same ratio as they are now going, it will not be very long before there will be no middle class in this country, but all will be very rich or very poor, princes or paupers, and the country will be given up to palaces and hovels.

      The antagonistic forces are closing in upon each other. The telegraphic operators' strikes, the railroad employes' strikes, the Pennsylvania miners' strikes, the movements of the Boycotters and the dynamiters are only skirmishes before a general engagement, or, if you prefer it, escapes through the safety-valves of an imprisoned force which promises the explosion of society. You may pooh-pooh it; you may say that this trouble, like an angry child, will cry itself to sleep; you may belittle it by calling it Fourierism, or Socialism, or St. Simonism, or Nihilism, or Communism; but that will not hinder the fact that it is the mightiest, the darkest, the most terrific threat of this century. All attempts at pacification have been dead failures, and monopoly is more arrogant, and the trades unions more bitter. "Give us more wages," cry the employes. "You shall have less," say the capitalists. "Compel us to do fewer hours of toil in a day." "You shall toil more hours," say the others. "Then, under certain conditions, we will not work at all," say these. "Then you shall starve," say those, and the workmen gradually using up that which they accumulated in better times, unless there be some radical change, we shall have soon in this country three million hungry men and women. Now, three million hungry people can not be kept quiet. All the enactments of legislatures and all the constabularies of the cities, and all the army and navy of the United States can not keep three million hungry people quiet. What then? Will this war between capital and labor be settled by human wisdom? Never. The brow of the one becomes more rigid, the fist of the other more clinched.

      But that which human wisdom can not achieve will be accomplished by Christianity if it be given full sway. You have heard of medicines so powerful that one drop would stop a disease and restore a patient; and I have to tell you that one drop of my text properly administered will stop all those woes of society and give convalescence and complete health to all classes. "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."

      I shall first show you this morning how this quarrel between monopoly and hard work can not be stopped, and then I will show you how this controversy will be settled.

      Futile remedies. In the first place, there will come no pacification to this trouble through an outcry against rich men merely because they are rich. There is no member of a trades-union on earth that would not be rich if he could be. Sometimes through a fortunate invention, or through some accident of prosperity, a man who had nothing comes to large estate, and we see him arrogant and supercilious, and taking people by the throat just as other people took him by the throat. There is something very mean about human nature when it comes to the top. But it is no more a sin to be rich than it is a sin to be poor. There are those who have gathered a great estate through fraud, and then there are millionaires who have gathered their fortune through foresight in regard to changes in the markets, and through brilliant business faculty, and every dollar of their estate is as honest as the dollar which the plumber gets for mending a pipe, or the mason gets for building a wall. There are those who keep in poverty because of their own fault. They might have been well-off, but they smoked or chewed up their earnings, or they lived beyond their means, while others on the same wages and on the same salaries went on to competency. I know a man who is all the time complaining of his poverty and crying out against rich men, while he himself keeps two dogs, and chews and smokes, and is filled to the chin with whisky and beer!

      Micawber said to David Copperfield: "Copperfield, my boy, one pound income, twenty shillings and sixpence expenses: result misery. But, Copperfield, my boy, one pound income, expenses nineteen shillings and sixpence; result, happiness." And there are vast multitudes of people who are kept poor because they are the victims of their own improvidence. It is no sin to be rich, and it is no sin to be poor. I protest against this outcry which I hear against those who, through economy and self-denial and assiduity, have come to large fortune. This bombardment of commercial success will never stop this quarrel between capital and labor.

      Neither will the contest be settled by cynical and unsympathetic treatment of the laboring classes. There are those who speak of them as though they were only cattle or draught horses. Their nerves are nothing, their domestic comfort is nothing, their happiness is nothing. They have no more sympathy for them than a hound has for a hare, or a hawk for a hen, or a tiger for a calf. When Jean Valjean, the greatest hero of Victor Hugo's writings, after a life of suffering and brave endurance, goes into incarceration and death, they clap the book shut and say, "Good for him!" They stamp their feet with indignation and say just the opposite of "Save the working-classes." They have all their sympathies with Shylock, and not with Antonio and Portia. They are plutocrats, and their feelings are infernal. They are filled with irritation and irascibility on this subject. To stop this awful imbroglio between capital and labor they will lift not so much as the tip end of the little finger.

      Neither will there be any pacification of this angry controversy through violence. God never blessed murder.

      The poorest use you can put a man to is to kill him. Blow up to-morrow all the country-seats on the banks of the Hudson, and all the fine houses on Madison Square, and Brooklyn Heights, and Bunker Hill, and Rittenhouse Square, and Beacon Street, and all the bricks and timber and stone will just fall back on the bare head of American labor. The worst enemies of the working-classes in the United States and Ireland are their demented coadjutors. Assassination--the assassination of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke in Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland, in the attempt to avenge the wrongs of Ireland, only turned away from that afflicted people millions of sympathizers. The recent attempt to blow up the House of Commons, in London, had only this effect: to throw out of employment tens of thousands of innocent Irish people in England.

      In this country the torch put to the factories that have discharged hands for good or bad reason; obstructions on the rail-track in front of midnight express trains because the offenders do not like the president of the company; strikes on shipboard the hour they were going to sail, or in printing-offices the hour the paper was to go to press, or in mines the day the coal was to be delivered, or on house scaffoldings so the builder fails in keeping his contract--all these are only a hard blow on the head of American labor, and cripple its arms, and lame its feet, and pierce its heart. Take the last great strike in America--the telegraph operators' strike--and you have to find that the operators lost four hundred thousand dollars' worth of wages, and have had poorer wages ever since. Traps sprung suddenly upon employers, and violence, never took one knot out of the knuckle of toil, or put one farthing of wages into a callous palm. Barbarism will never cure the wrongs of civilization. Mark that!

      Frederick the Great admired some land near his palace at Potsdam, and he resolved to get it. It was owned by a miller. He offered the miller three times the value of the property. The miller would not take it, because it was the old homestead, and he felt about as Naboth felt about his vineyard when Ahab wanted it. Frederick the Great was a rough and terrible man, and he ordered the miller into his presence; and the king, with a stick, in his hand--a stick with which he sometimes struck his officers of state--said to this miller: "Now, I have offered you three times the value of that property, and if you won't sell it I'll take it anyhow." The miller said, "Your majesty, you won't." "Yes," said the king, "I will take it." "Then," said the miller, "if your majesty does take it, I will sue you in the Chancery Court." At that threat Frederick the Great yielded his infamous demand. And the most imperious outrage against the working-classes will yet cower before the law. Violence and contrary to the law will never accomplish anything, but righteousness and according to law will accomplish it.

      Well, if this controversy between Capital and Labor can not be settled by human wisdom, if to-day Capital and Labor stand with their thumbs on each other's throat--as they do--it is time for us to look somewhere else for relief, and it points from my text roseate and jubilant, and puts one hand on the broadcloth shoulder of Capital, and puts the other hand on the homespun-covered shoulder of Toil, and says, with a voice that will grandly and gloriously settle this, and settle everything, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." That is, the lady of the household will say: "I must treat the maid in the kitchen just as I would like to be treated if I were down-stairs, and it were my work to wash, and cook, and sweep, and it were the duty of the maid in the kitchen to preside in this parlor." The maid in the kitchen must say: "If my employer seems to be more prosperous than I, that is no fault of hers; I shall not treat her as an enemy. I will have the same industry and fidelity down-stairs as I would expect from my subordinates, if I happened to be the wife of a silk importer."

      The owner of an iron mill, having taken a dose of my text before leaving home in the morning, will go into his foundry, and, passing into what is called the puddling-room, he will see a man there stripped to the waist, and besweated and exhausted with the labor and the toil, and he will say to him: "Why, it seems to be very hot in here. You look very much exhausted. I hear your child is sick with scarlet fever. If you want your wages a little earlier this week, so as to pay the nurse and get the medicines, just come into my office any time."

      After awhile, crash goes the money market, and there is no more demand for the articles manufactured in that iron mill, and the owner does not know what to do. He says, "Shall I stop the mill, or shall I run it on half time, or shall I cut down the men's wages?" He walks the floor of his counting-room all day, hardly knowing what to do. Toward evening he calls all the laborers together. They stand all around, some with arms akimbo, some with folded arms, wondering what the boss is going to do now. The manufacturer says: "Men, times are very hard; I don't make twenty dollars where I used to make one hundred. Somehow, there is no demand now for what we manufacture, or but very little demand. You see I am at vast expense, and I have called you together this afternoon to see what you would advise. I don't want to shut up the mill, because that would force you out of work, and you have always been very faithful, and I like you, and you seem to like me, and the bairns must be looked after, and your wife will after awhile want a new dress. I don't know what to do."

      There is a dead halt for a minute or two, and then one of the workmen steps out from the ranks of his fellows, and says: "Boss, you have been very good to us, and when you prospered we prospered, and now you are in a tight place and I am sorry, and we have got to sympathize with you. I don't know how the others feel, but I propose that we take off twenty per cent. from our wages, and that when the times get good you will remember us and raise them again." The workman looks around to his comrades, and says: "Boys, what do you say to this? all in favor of my proposition will say ay." "Ay! ay! ay!" shout two hundred voices.

      But the mill-owner, getting in some new machinery, exposes himself very much, and takes cold, and it settles into pneumonia, and he dies. In the procession to the tomb are all the workmen, tears rolling down their cheeks, and off upon the ground; but an hour before the procession gets to the cemetery the wives and the children of those workmen are at the grave waiting for the arrival of the funeral pageant. The minister of religion may have delivered an eloquent eulogium before they started from the house, but the most impressive things are said that day by the working-classes standing around the tomb.

      That night in all the cabins of the working-people where they have family prayers the widowhood and the orphanage in the mansion are remembered. No glaring populations look over the iron fence of the cemetery; but, hovering over the scene, the benediction of God and man is coming for the fulfillment of the Christlike injunction, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."

      "Oh," says some man here, "that is all Utopian, that is apocryphal, that is impossible." No. Yesterday, I cut out of a paper this: "One of the pleasantest incidents recorded in a long time is reported from Sheffield, England. The wages of the men in the iron works at Sheffield are regulated by a board of arbitration, by whose decision both masters and men are bound. For some time past the iron and steel trade has been extremely unprofitable, and the employers can not, without much loss, pay the wages fixed by the board, which neither employers nor employed have the power to change. To avoid this difficulty, the workmen in one of the largest steel works in Sheffield hit upon a device as rare as it was generous. They offered to work for their employers one week without any pay whatever. How much better that plan is than a strike would be."

      But you go with me and I will show you--not so far off as Sheffield, England--factories, banking-houses, storehouses, and costly enterprises where this Christ-like injunction of my text is fully kept, and you could no more get the employer to practice an injustice upon his men, or the men to conspire against the employer, than you could get your right hand and your left hand, your right eye and your left eye, your right ear and your left ear, into physiological antagonism. Now, where is this to begin? In our homes, in our stores, on our farms--not waiting for other people to do their duty. Is there a divergence now between the parlor and the kitchen? Then there is something wrong, either in the parlor or the kitchen, perhaps in both. Are the clerks in your store irate against the firm? Then there is something wrong, either behind the counter, or in the private office, or perhaps in both.

      The great want of the world to-day is the fulfillment of this Christ-like injunction, that which He promulgated in His sermon Olivetic. All the political economists under the arch or vault of the heavens in convention for a thousand years can not settle this controversy between monopoly and hard work, between capital and labor. During the Revolutionary War there was a heavy piece of timber to be lifted, perhaps for some fortress, and a corporal was overseeing the work, and he was giving commands to some soldiers as they lifted: "Heave away, there! yo heave!" Well, the timber was too heavy; they could not get it up. There was a gentleman riding by on a horse, and he stopped and said to this corporal, "Why don't you help them lift? That timber is too heavy for them to lift." "No," he said, "I won't; I am a corporal." The gentleman got off his horse and came up to the place. "Now," he said to the soldiers, "all together--yo heave!" and the timber went to its place. "Now," said the gentleman to the corporal, "when you have a piece of timber too heavy for the men to lift, and you want help, you send to your commander-in-chief." It was Washington. Now, that is about all the Gospel I know--the Gospel of giving somebody a lift, a lift out of darkness, a lift out of earth into heaven. That is all the Gospel I know--the Gospel of helping somebody else to lift.

      "Oh," says some wiseacre, "talk as you will, the law of demand and supply will regulate these things until the end of time." No, they will not, unless God dies and the batteries of the Judgment Day are spiked, and Pluto and Proserpine, king and queen of the infernal regions, take full possession of this world. Do you know who Supply and Demand are? They have gone into partnership, and they propose to swindle this earth and are swindling it. You are drowning. Supply and Demand stand on the shore, one on one side, the other on the other side, of the life-boat, and they cry out to you, "Now, you pay us what we ask you for getting you to shore, or go to the bottom!" If you can borrow $5000 you can keep from failing in business. Supply and Demand say, "Now, you pay us exorbitant usury, or you go into bankruptcy." This robber firm of Supply and Demand say to you: "The crops are short. We bought up all the wheat and it is in our bin. Now, you pay our price or starve." That is your magnificent law of supply and demand.

      Supply and Demand own the largest mill on earth, and all the rivers roll over their wheel, and into their hopper they put all the men, women, and children they can shovel out of the centuries, and the blood and the bones redden the valley while the mill grinds. That diabolic law of supply and demand will yet have to stand aside, and instead thereof will come the law of love, the law of cooperation, the law of kindness, the law of sympathy, the law of Christ.

      Have you no idea of the coming of such a time? Then you do not believe the Bible. All the Bible is full of promises on this subject, and as the ages roll on the time will come when men or fortune will be giving larger sums to humanitarian and evangelistic purposes, and there will be more James Lenoxes and Peter Coopers and William E. Dodges and George Peabodys. As that time comes there will be more parks, more picture-galleries, more gardens thrown open for the holiday people and the working-classes.

      I was reading only this morning in regard to a charge that had been made in England against Lambeth Palace, that it was exclusive; and that charge demonstrated the sublime fact that to the grounds of that wealthy estate eight hundred poor families have free passes, and forty croquet companies, and on the hall-day holidays four thousand poor people recline on the grass, walk through the paths, and sit under the trees. That is Gospel--Gospel on the wing, Gospel out-of-doors worth just as much as in-doors. That time is going to come.

      That is only a hint of what is going to be. The time is going to come when, if you have anything in your house worth looking at--pictures, pieces of sculpture--you are going to invite me to come and see it, you are going to invite my friends to come and see it, and you will say, "See what I have been blessed with. God has given me this, and so far as enjoying it, it is yours also." That is Gospel.

      In crossing the Alleghany Mountains, many years ago, the stage halted, and Henry Clay dismounted from the stage, and went out on a rock at the very verge of the cliff, and he stood there with his cloak wrapped about him, and he seemed to be listening for something. Some one said to him, "What are you listening for?" Standing there, on the top of the mountain, he said: "I am listening to the tramp of the footsteps of the coming millions of this continent." A sublime posture for an American statesman! You and I to-day stand on the mountain-top of privilege, and on the Rock of Ages, and we look off, and we hear coming from the future the happy industries, and smiling populations, and the consecrated fortunes, and the innumerable prosperities of the closing nineteenth and the opening twentieth century.

      While I speak this morning, there lies in state the dead author and patriot of France, Victor Hugo. The ten thousand dollars in his will he has given to the poor of the city are only a hint of the work he has done for all nations and for all times. I wonder not that they allow eleven days to pass between his death and his burial, his body meantime kept under triumphal arch, for the world can hardly afford to let go this man who for more than eight decades has by his unparalleled genius blessed it. His name shall be a terror to all despots, and an encouragement to all the struggling. He has made the world's burden lighter, and its darkness less dense, and its chain less galling, and its thrones of iniquity less secure. Farewell, patriot, genius of the century, Victor Hugo! But he was not the overtowering friend of mankind.

      The greatest friend of capitalist and toiler, and the one who will yet bring them together in complete accord, was born one Christmas night while the curtains of heaven swung, stirred by the wings angelic. Owner of all things--all the continents, all worlds, and all the islands of light. Capitalist of immensity, crossing over to our condition. Coming into our world, not by gate of palace, but by door of barn. Spending His first night amid the shepherds. Gathering after around Him the fishermen to be His chief attendants. With adze, and saw, and chisel, and ax, and in a carpenter-shop showing himself brother with the tradesmen. Owner of all things, and yet on a hillock back of Jerusalem one day resigning everything for others, keeping not so much as a shekel to pay for His obsequies, by charity buried in the suburbs of a city that had cast Him out. Before the cross of such a capitalist, and such a carpenter, all men can afford to shake hands and worship. Here is the every man's Christ. None so high, but He was higher. None so poor, but He was poorer. At His feet the hostile extremes will yet renounce their animosities, and countenances which have glowered with the prejudices and revenge of centuries shall brighten with the smile of heaven as He commands: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."

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