Trade, Reputation, and Child Labor

The Bobbin Girl

Little Laborers Of New York City, continued

Envelope Makers

Envelope Makers

of a poor boy is found in all countries to be willing to neglect his education, if he can put him at profitable work. Neither his affection for his offspring nor his unselfishness can be relied upon as guarding his child's future. The law is forced to protect the minor.

In Great Britain the evils of this great army of infant workers had, a few years since, increased to an alarming extent. Hundreds of thousands of little ones were found growing up without any education, except the petty practical experience of the small branch of factory labor in which they were engaged, without any full development of body, their little forms bent and rickety, their countenances pale, their growth stunted by premature labor, and arriving at manhood utterly unfitted either to be citizens or the heads of new families. Vast numbers of them also died under this youthful slavery; and the mines and factories were discovered to be an immense slaughter-house for these unfortunate children. At length a band of devoted reformers and philanthropists arose, who were determined that this burning shame of their country should be wiped out, who felt that the wealth and culture of England rested on a hideous foundation when the labor of oppressed children built up the structure. They began an incessant agitation against the overlabor of factory children. They wrote for the press, printed documents, held public meetings, petitioned Parliament, and sought in every way to rouse the public feeling and conscience. They had against them the indifference of the poor parents themselves, and an enormous factory interest which made rich profits out of the toil of these unhappy children of poverty. Every where the specious arguments were brought forward that the poor themselves most of all needed the labor, that the earnings of the children supported the families of the laborers, and if these were excluded from factories they would all come upon the unions or the public almshouses. It was claimed that it was better to support the children of the laborers even by their own overwork than to keep them in poor-houses. It was urged that it was an oppression on the parents, who had brought these children into the world, not to allow them to use their earnings. The production of England would be diminished, it was said, and she would lose in the markets of the world, if this great source from children's labor were dried up. Even the education of the factory was lauded, and it was claimed that the incessant labor on one object was better for a poor child than the training it would get in the streets. To direct the manufacturer where to procure labor and where not was an interference with "freedom of trade." Capital and labor, even child's labor, should be left to natural laws.

Against all these sophistical arguments, however, the great humanity of England asserted itself. It saw it was the manifest duty of the state to guard the children of the poor and unfortunate against the greed of capital and the indifference of their own parents. It felt that these little beings were the wards of the public; that they ought not to be dwarfed in body and cramped in mind by the covetousness of others; that they had a claim on the protection of the fortunate. It was more and more seen, also, that it was not for the interest of England that a great multitude of human beings should grow up among the people ignorant in mind, weakened in body, and unfit for the duties of manhood. There were "danger-

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