Two Aristocracies

Southern Homestead

Editor’s note: This piece was originally printed as an unsigned piece in DeBow’s Review in 1866. The author had already recognized that the deal struck between Midwestern farmers and Northeastern merchants would in short order ruin agriculture and by default a more Jeffersonian economy in the “farm belt” of America. His call for Southern and Midwestern farmers to unite against the “moneyed aristocracy” predates the Populist revolt of the 1880s and finds its intellectual origins in the writings of Jefferson and John Taylor of Caroline. More than anything, it is both an honest review of antebellum and early postbellum American history and of the problems generated by the Northern victory in the War. The massive expansion of the Yankee Leviathan during Reconstruction would not have been possible before Reconstruction.

The term Aristocracy is usually considered only to be strictly applicable to an hereditary nobility. To a class of men entitled to govern, not because of superior wisdom or merit of any kind, nor of superior wealth, but by virtue of blood or descent. Yet the advocates of such an aristocracy contend with great force of argument and powerful array of facts and authorities, that an aristocracy of blood, founded, as such aristocracies always are, on the courage, bearing, wisdom, and wealth of its original members, will furnish better and far safer rulers, than the people at large would ever select. Practically, this difference of opinion between the Democratic and Aristocratic theories of government seems compromised in Europe, by leaving the chief executive department of government to be filled on the principle of hereditary aristocracy of blood, whilst most of the inferior offices, especially the legislative, shall be selected for presumed merit, either directly or indirectly, by the people.

Such an aristocracy as this has never existed in our America; and no institution is so odious to us, nor so little understood by us. Yet, in the metaphorical sense, we have thousands of aristocracies among us, none the less real, and many of them far more insidious and dangerous because metaphorical. All wealth is hereditary, all a special privilege, and confers actual power——power of the most odious kind——that of commanding the labor of the working classes, without paying for it; for the rich retain their capital, only employing it as a means or instrument to command labor without paying for it. Wherever this process is seen, and can be understood by the people, it becomes extremely unpopular, as in the case of domestic slavery at the South—and is dubbed in derision aristocracy. No doubt the slaveholders of the South did constitute an aristocracy, and one that united much of hereditary merit, to hereditary descent. They generally controlled the administration of Federal affairs, except when pecuniary advantages were to be had, on which occasions the North predominated. The splendid career of the Republic, its vast expansion, and its rapid increase in wealth and population, attest the merit, the energy, and the wisdom of this ruling power, the slaveholding aristocracy of the South. A more honest and incorruptible set of men never directed the affairs of a nation. They were jealous guardians of the treasury, opponents of heavy taxation, lavish expenditure, and especially of all partial legislation. We never may see their like again. They did not tax, exploit, or in any way make, or seek to make a profit out of the North, but were her best customers, buying her manufactures, with forty per cent, added to their open market value by protective legislation, and selling to her, cheap, corn, wheat, rice, tobacco, cotton, and various other agricultural products and raw materials, cheap, because at their open market value, unprotected by partial legislation. Thus, the North did tax, exploit, and make a profit out of the slaveholding aristocracy. Our only sin was that we did tax, exploit, and make a profit out of the labor of our slaves, commanding their labor, not as capitalists, but as masters. For this sin…the South has suffered most grievously, and, if Radical rule be continued, must in the future suffer still more grievously….

Whilst the chivalry of the North and of Europe, essentially aided by the negroes, were scotching the Southern Hydra, a monster ten times more terrible grew up at the North-East, more rapidly and in grander proportion than ‘Jack’s Bean.’ The moneyed power appeared upon the political arena. A monster, unprincipled, rapacious, cruel, exacting, vulgar, thievish, omnipresent, and almost omnipotent. Now domestic slavery is abolished, and there is no political slavery in America——but slavery to capital such as never existed anywhere in this world before, is grinding down into the dust every laboring man in America. If you doubt it, calculate your taxes, and compare them with the taxes you paid before the war. Are they not ten times as great? Or go to a store and buy the necessaries of life, do they not cost twice as much? If you be a laborer, have your wages risen proportionally? Certainly not! Fifty per cent, in bad money, has been added, perhaps, to your wages, and a hundred per cent to your expenses. And for whose benefit? Certainly not for that of the Government, or of the people at large, and as certainly for the benefit of the vulgar, vicious, parvenu moneyed aristocracy, that, mushroom-like, have grown up out of the ruin of both North and South. The Federal Government has become a mere agent to collect interest for the Government creditors, and to enact protective tariffs to increase the profits of North-Eastern manufacturers.

Politically we are free, but the moneyed aristocracy of the North-East lords it over us of the South and of the North-West, and, indeed, of the whole agricultural and laboring interest, wherever situated, with ten times the cruelty, and twenty times the rapacity that ever Imperial Russia lorded it over abjectly enslaved Poland. This new aristocracy that has arisen on the ruins of the slave aristocracy knows no distinctions of race or color; it tyrannizes over and robs them all alike. The National debt belongs to this new aristocracy; most of the State and Corporation debts are due to them; the Banks all over the Union, in great part, are owned by them; so are the Railroads and Canals, and the factories of various manufactures, and the great mercantile interest is theirs. Through all these agencies they tax the agricultural and working interests of the nation. They do not labor, they are non-producers, but tax the whole productive labor of the nation so heavily as to take away from it more than half its products. Are men thus taxed freemen or slaves? What matters it whether you call the man who takes away, under the forms of law, without compensation, half the proceeds of your labor, Master or Fellow-Citizen? Does not North-Eastern capital now tax white labor more heavily than ever masters taxed negro slaves? Is not the new aristocracy of capital situated mostly at the North-East, ten times as rapacious and exacting as ever was the slave aristocracy? Is not the Federal Government in their hands, and do they not employ it as a mere engine to tax, fleece, rob, and exploit the South and the North-West? Have they not ten times the wealth of Croesus, and did they ever labor, did they ever make an honest cent? Is not all their wealth the result of the mere tricks of trade? Like the Faro Banker, they cut, shuffle, and deal the cards, and rob everybody’s pocket, and nobody can understand how.

In way of profits of trade, interest derived from National debt, from State and Corporate debts, and dividends on Stocks, more than two thousand millions of dollars a year is transferred from the pockets of the laboring producers of the North-West and of the South to the capitalists, the idle nonproducers of the North-East. Such is the aristocracy that has succeeded to the slaveholding aristocracy, and that now rules and tyrannizes over the nation. We are the most heavily taxed people upon the face of the earth, and, therefore, the least free. We begin to feel it, but do not see it and understand it.

The North-West and the South, the whole agricultural and laboring interests of the nation, must combine to check the aggressions and mitigate the cruel exactions of North-Eastern fictitious capital, or universal bankruptcy and bloody anarchy will soon ensue. The capital that oppresses us is fictitious; it represents no real values; it has not, and never had, a real existence; ’tis the mere creature of legal construction and of legislative and financial legerdemain. ’Tis a mere power of taxation conferred by law——not property, not wealth, nothing real, substantial, visible or tangible whatever. This aristocracy have no money and never had any. The law has made their otherwise worthless credit subserve the purposes of money. They have the power of taxation—nothing more. The real material wealth, the actual visible and tangible capital, and all, or almost all the productive industry of the country is to be found in the North-West and the South, but all the profits of this wealth and this industry are transferred by the tricks of trade, by legislative contrivance, and financial legerdemain, to the holders of fictitious capital in the North-East. Aristocracy! why the world has never seen an aristocracy half so powerful, half so corrupt, so unprincipled, and rapacious, nor one-tenth so vulgar and so ignorant, as the moneyed aristocracy of the North-East.

The North-West is taxed, cheated, exploited, enslaved by it yet continues to glorify a Union that has built up and sustains this aristocracy, and to abuse and fight the shades of defunct slavery, and of a defunct Southern aristocracy. Better change their tactics, unite with the South, always their best friends and customers, and make war upon our common enemies, the moneyed aristocracy of the North-East. Nay: the whole agricultural and laboring interests of the nation should unite, and, as one compact party, strenuously endeavor to check the aggressions and mitigate the tyranny of this new aristocracy. For we stake our honor as a man, and our reputation as a philosopher and political economist, to the truth of the statement, “that if slavery consist in the fact that one set of men labor, whilst another set, without paying an equivalent, appropriate great part of the results or products of that labor,’ that then the agriculturists, we mean the laboring class of them, of America, are at this day and hour more grievously, cruelly and degradingly enslaved than ever were the negroes of the South.

None but a fool will deny the proposition. Everybody knows that the white agricultural laborers the men who own but little or no land, and cannot command other people’s labor, are virtually enslaved. But nobody cares for or sympathizes with, white slavery. It is unfashionable to, deny or oppose such slavery, and fashion rules and regulates our sympathies, feelings and opinions, just as it regulates the cut an color of our clothes. All common laborers stand on the same footing with agricultural laborers, and all should unite to oppose an put down the rule of the North-Eastern moneyed aristocracy.

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