Prefatory Note.

From: The Laboring Classes (1840)
Author: O. A. Brownson
Published: Benjamin H. Greene 1840 Boston



The following article is republished from the Boston Quarterly Review to meet the pressing demand for it, which a needless excitement about it has produced.

  The writer of the article makes it his duty to read all that he can find written against either him or his doctrines; but he feels under no obligations to reply. The doctrines of the article in question have been objected to, but he will now enter into no defence of them. He will only say that he has seen no criticism upon them, that indicates that the critic had even the most distant conception of the thought of his author. The majority of those who object to the article, are respectfully commended to the cure of the instructors in our primary schools; for if they could read they would find that the article itself refutes most of the objections they urge.

  In regard to what is said of the hereditary descent of property, it may be well for readers to bear in mind that the article contains but a brief statement of a doctrine without any explanations or details; and also that in proposing the abolition of hereditary property, it merely does it as a prospective measure, as a measure which will ultimately be found necessary to the complete enfranchisement of the proletary. The writer of the article recognises in its fullest extent man’s natural right to property, and he would be the last to suffer the legislature to interfere with any of the natural rights of man. He advocates no wild scheme of a community of goods; he holds to individual property. Within the limits or the moral law, he would leave every man free to do what he will with his own. But it is an admitted principle, that a man’s natural right to property ceases when he ceases to exist. In other words, man can own property only during his life. It is also an admitted principle, that it is not by virtue of a natural right that the child inherits from the father. Consequently, the right by which a man disposes of his property by a will effective after his death, and by which a child succeeds to the paternal estate, is not a natural right, but a legal right. It exists by virtue of positive law, which society has enacted. Now, the writer of the article in question objects to this law, and contends that another and better law regulating the descent of property from one generation to another, may be devised, and must he before the true elevation and independence of the laboring classes can be effected. This point he will make good hereafter. All that he would say now is that he makes no attack on the right of property, that he proposes to disturb no man in his possessions, nor to plunder any man of aught he has. He simply contends that in the future progress of the race it will be necessary to change the mode by which property descends. The change he contends for is precisely the same in principle with that by which primogeniture and entail were abolished. By contending that property should go to the state at a man’s decease, he by no means intends to convey the idea, that the private, property of a man on his decease becomes public property, and may therefore go into the public treasury, or he used for public purposes. It goes to the state in point of fact no more than now. All the writer means is, that the state so far takes the control of the matter, as by a uniform and equitable law, to say how what has ceased to be one man’s property shall be reappropriated, or become the property of another. This would in reality give the state no more control over property, than it now in theory claims and is admitted lo have.

  But however this all may be, no one can read the article without perceiving that the writer would by no means propose this as a measure for the immediate action of the community. There is a time for all things. The time for discussion is whenever the public can be interested in the subject discussed. The time for carrying a measure into execution is only when the public very generally demand it, when the public conscience cannot do without it, and when it can be introduced with some prospect of its being permanent and effective. But the writer is pleased that he has alarmed our staunch conservatives. It will do them good, and compel them by and by to set their faces towards the future,

Boston, July 23, 1840.O. A. B.

All Sub-Works of The Laboring Classes (1840):
PDF Sub-Works open in a new tab. Close the tab when done viewing to return here.