In this letter, sent to the editor of the Columbus, Georgia, Daily Sun, an unknown laborer challenges an editorial from a competing newspaper, the Enquirer. The letter1 provides a window on the class consciousness of workers in the Confederacy and also the resentment at the broken promises about the gains that ordinary people would receive from the war.From Voices of A People's History, edited by Zinn and Arnove
Editor Daily Sum—I notice in the Enquirer, of Friday evening, an article complaining bitterly of the people voting by classes, in which both classes are accused of clannishness, but the burden of his complaint seems to rest on mechanics and workingmen. He says, "there is certainly no ground for any antagonism in the city." In this the Enquirer is mistaken, for any man, woman or child can see that the people are dividing into two classes, just as fast as the pressure of the times can force them on. As for example; class No. 1, in their thirst for gain, in their worship of Mammon, and in their mighty efforts to appropriate every dollar on earth to their own account, have lost sight of every principle of humanity, patriotism, and virtue itself, and seem to have forgotten that the very treasures they are now heaping up are the price of blood, and unless this mania ceases, will be the price of liberty itself, for we know something of the feeling which now exists in the army, as well as in our work-shops at home. The men know well enough that their helpless families are not cared for, as they were promised at the beginning of the war. They know that the depreciation of our currency is only a trick of our enemies at home, else why should they strive so hard to secure it all? They know, too, that every day they remain from home, reduces them more and more in circumstances, and that by the close of the war a large majority of the soldiery will be unable to live, in fact, many of them are ruined now, as many of their homes and other effects are passing into the hands of speculators and extortioners, for subsistence to their families. Thus you see, that all the capital, both in money and property, in the South, is passing into the hands of class No. 1 while class No. 2 are traveling down, soon to take their station among the descendants of Ham. You can easily perceive who are class No. 2. The soldiery, the mechanics, and the workingmen, not only of Columbus, but of all the Confederate States. In view of these things, is it not time that our class should awake to a sense of their danger, and in the mildest possible manner begin the work of self-defense, and endeavor to escape a bondage more servile than that imposed by the Aristocracy of England on their poor peasantry? Then we claim the right, as the first alternative, to try and avert the great calamity, by electing such men to the councils of the nation as we think will best represent our interests. If this should fail, we must then try more potent remedies.
As the Enquirer is ignorant of the evils we complain of, and the cause of our alienation, I will briefly enumerate some of them, though we thought they were plain enough to all who wish to see.
In the first place, there has been an effort made to fix a price on labor without the consent of the mechanics or workingmen, whilst the producers of the necessaries of life, and the speculators, are left to extortion without stint or limit, until nothing less that fifteen hundred per cent profit will satisfy the most of them.
Let us compare a few figures before we close, and you can see that we have justifiable cause of complaint. I once could get 75 pounds of flour for a day's work, what do I get now? I once got 25 pounds of bacon for a day's work. What do I get now? Only two. I once could get 50 pounds of beef for a day's work. What do I get now? Only six. I once could get eight bushels of sweet potatoes for a day's work. What can I get now? Not one. And at the same rate through the whole catalogue of family supplies. Thus you see the Enquirer is again mistaken, when he says that "labor is independent of capital, and always commands remunerative prices." Wonder if he would work for three dollars per day, and board himself, at the present prices of provisions?
But, notwithstanding the mechanics and working men can barely sustain animal life, their condition is much better than the poor soldiers', who are fighting the rich mans fight, for they suffer all of the privations and hardships incident to the life of a soldier, with a perfect knowledge of the sufferings of their families at home, who are (many of them) without a comfortable shelter; many of them refugees in a strange land, despised, persecuted and insulted, because a merciless foe has driven them into exile, and because their husbands, brothers and natural protectors are engaged in the noble cause of liberty. True, they are sometimes offered assistance at the sacrifice of their honor, and that by men who occupy high places both in church and State. Then is there not an "organization of hostility" against the interests of our class, which justice and honor demand that we should guard with unceasing vigilance? The Enquirer speaks of equality, which is denied us by class No. 1, in the doctrine of property qualification, or disenfranchisement, which is gradually working its way (secretly) into the circles of the rich, which I, for one, have heard strongly advocated.
Footnotes1 "Mechanic" (Unknown), "Voting by Classes" (October 13, 1863) . In Columbus [Georgia] Daily Sun, October 13,1863, p. 1.