On Labor and Capital
[A message to the U.S. Congress, 3 December 1861.
Reprinted from Land and Freedom, September-0ctober 1937]
"It is not needed, nor fitting here (message to Congress in re
the civil war) that a general argument should be made in favor of
popular institutions; but there is one point, with its connections,
not so hackneyed as most others to which I ask a brief attention. It
is the effect to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above,
labor, in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is
available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless
somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to
labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that
capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own
consent, or buy them, and drive them to it without their consent.
Having proceeded thus far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers
are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is
assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that
condition for life.
Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed,
nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the
condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and
all inferences from them are groundless.
Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the
fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first
existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the
higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of
protection as any other rights."