America’s Economic Injustice


Fecund America, today,

Interlink’d, food-yielding lands!
Land of cotton, sugar, rice! land of wheat, fish, beef, pork!
Land of wool and hemp! land of the apple and the grape!
Land of materials—land of coal and iron! land of gold!
As rain falls from the heaven and vapors rise from earth,
So have the precious values fallen upon thee and risen out of thee.

No limit here to land, help, opportunities, products, demands, supplies;
Productiveness, wealth, population, improvements, material activity, success, results—beyond all measure, all precedent,
Upon scales of extent, variety, vitality, and continuity, rivaling those of nature,

Everything is teeming and busy amid these days of order, ease, prosperity—
Intestinal agitation I call it.

If I could speak to personified America I should say:
Thou, bathed, choked, swimming in plenty,
Thy wealth clothes thee as a swathing-garment,
Thou laughest loud with ache of great possessions,
Thou groan’st with riches, must indeed own the riches of the summer and winter,
And need never be bankrupt while corn grows from the ground or the orchards drop apples or the bays contain fish or men beget children upon women.
But I do not consider it of so much importance, in themselves merely, what amount of wealth you and yours have, nor what spread of territory, nor the curious arts and inventions, nor the crowded cities and produce-bearing farms.
What American humanity is most in danger of is an overwhelming prosperity, business, worldliness, materialism,
The greatest evil to the land is the strife for gain which of late has marked, and now marks, the American people.

We of the states are the most materialistic and money-making people ever known,
The current that bears us is one broadly and deeply materialistic,
An age tyrannically regulated with reference to the manufacturer, the merchant, the financier, the politician.

Now business does it all, the tie and interchange of all the peoples of the earth,
This unholy spirit seems to have no bound or check,
The seething materialistic and business vortices of the United States, in their present devouring relations, controlling and belittling everything else.

In business, (this all-devouring modern word, business,) the one sole object is, by any means, pecuniary gain;
It is the feverish anxiety after riches that leads to the establishment of those immense moneyed institutions, which so impudently practices frauds and violations that ought to make the cheek of every truly upright man burn with indignation.
Reckless and unprincipled—controlled by persons who make them complete engines of selfishness—these bubbles are kept afloat solely and wholly by the fever for gaining wealth.

As in Europe the wealth of to-day mainly results from, and represents, the rapine, murder, outrages, treachery, hoggishness, of hundreds of years ago, and onward,—later, so in America, after the same token,
Not yet so bad, perhaps, or at any rate not so palpable—we have not existed long enough—but we seem to be doing our best to make it up.
The depravity of the business classes of our country (forming a vulgar aristocracy, full as bad as anything in the British or European castes)—the enormous greed for worldly wealth, with the trickeries of gaining it, all through society our day—is not less than has been supposed, but infinitely greater. The great cities reek with respectable as much as non-respectable robbery and scoundrelism.

We are in danger of being the cutest, trickiest, slyest, most cheating people that ever lived,
Those qualities are all getting in our business, politics, literature, manners, and are filtering steadily in our essential character.
All the great cities exhibit them—probably New York most of all, characterized by an unparalleled fierceness in money-chasing—
They taint our splendid and healthy qualities, and had better be understood like a threatening danger, exposed, and well confronted.

Stifled O days! O lands! In every public and private corruption,
Smother’d in thievery, impotence, shamelessness, mountain high;
Brazen effrontery, scheming, scrofulous wealth, the surfeit of prosperity, the demonism of greed, rolling like ocean’s waves around and upon you, O my days! my lands!

What is more terrible, more alarming, than the highly artificial and materialistic bases of modern civilization, with the corresponding arrangements and methods of living—the total want of any fusion and mutuality of love, belief, and rapport of interest, between the comparatively few successful rich, and the great masses of the unsuccessful, the poor? As a mixed political and social question, is not this full of dark significance?

All the questions of progress, strength, tariffs, finance, etc., really evolve themselves more or less directly out of the poverty question,
The many thousands of decent working-people trying to keep up a good appearance, but living daily by toil, from hand to mouth, with nothing ahead—the increasing aggregation of capital in the hands of a few—the depraving influences of riches just as much as poverty;
If the United States are to grow vast crops of poor, desperate, dissatisfied, nomadic, miserably-waged populations, such as we see looming upon us of late years—steadily, if slowly, eating into them like a cancer—then our republican experiment, notwithstanding all its surface-successes, is at heart an unhealthy failure.

The immense problem of the relation, adjustment, conflict between labor and its status and pay, on the one side, and the capital of employers on  other side, is looming up over these states like an ominous, limitless, murky cloud, perhaps before long to overshadow all;
Although I think it will be solved, I confess I do not yet see any solution or indications of solution.
Democracy on New World soil, having established itself in politics, now waits for its thorough percolation in the social intercourse of all classes, and especially that between employers and employed persons, capital and labor. These only will breathe into that corpus the breath of life and make it a living, throbbing, talking, acting soul.

In vain do we march with unprecedented strides to empire so colossal, endow’d with a vast and more and more thoroughly-appointed body,  a vast and varied community, prosperous and fat with wealth of money and products and business ventures—plenty of mere intellectuality too—
And then left with little or no soul, utterly without the sound, prevailing, moral and æsthetic health-action beyond all the money and mere intellect of the world.

Our country seems to be threatened with a sort of ossification of the spirit.—Amid all the advanced grandeurs of these times beyond any other of which we know—amid the universal accessibility of riches and personal comforts—all the days of its life it solves never the simple riddle why it has not a good time.—The public countenance lacks its bloom of love and its freshness of faith.—For want of these, it is cadaverous as a corpse.
Death is without emergencies here, but life is perpetual emergencies here.

I say of all this tremendous and dominant play of solely materialistic bearings upon current life in the United States, that they must either be confronted and met by at least an equally subtle and tremendous force-infusion for purposes of spiritualization, for the pure conscience, for genuine esthetics, and for absolute and primal manliness and womanliness—or else our modern civilization, with all its improvements, is in vain, and we are on the road to a destiny, a status, equivalent, in its real world, to that of the fabled damned.

NEXT: America: BOTH Evil AND Good