we have one thing without the other? We might, perhaps. But does human
nature differ in different longitudes? Do the laws of production and distribution,
inexorable in their sphere as the law of gravitation in its lose their
power in a country where no rain falls in the summer time?
For years the high rate of interest and the
high rate of wages prevailing in California have been special subjects
for the lamentation of a certain school of local political economists,
who could not see that high wages and high interest were indications that
the natural wealth of the country was not yet monopolized, that great opportunities
were open to all-who did not know that these were evidences of social health,
and that it were as wise to lament them as for the maiden to wish to exchange
the natural bloom on her cheek for the interesting pallor of the invalid?
But however this be, it is certain that the tendency of the new era-the
more dense population and more thorough development of the wealth of the
State-will be to a reduction both of the rate of interest and the rate of
wages, particularly the latter. This tendency may not, probably will not,
be shown immediately; but it will be before long, and that powerfully, unless
balanced and counteracted by other influences which we are not now considering,
which do not yet appear, and which it is probable will not appear for some
The truth is, that the completion of the railroad
and the consequent great increase of business and population, will not
be a benefit to all of us, but only to a portion. As a general rule (liable
of course to exceptions) those who have it will make wealthier; for those
who have not, it will make it more difficult to get. Those who have lands,
mines, established businesses, special abilities of certain kinds, will
become richer for it and find increased opportunities; those who have only
their own labor will be come poorer, and find it harder to get ahead-first,
because it will take more capital to buy land or to get into business; and
second, because as competition reduces the wages of labor, this capital will
be harder for them to obtain.
What, for instance, does the rise in land
mean? Several things, but certainly and prominently this: that it will
be harder in future for a poor man to get a farm or a homestead lot. In
some sections of the State, land which twelve months ago could have been
had for a dollar an acre, cannot now be had for less than fifteen dollars.
In other words, the settler who last year might have had at once a farm
of his own, must now either go to work on wages for some one else, pay
rent or buy on time; in either case being compelled to give to the capitalist
a large proportion of the earnings which, had he arrived a year ago, he
might have had all for of himself. And as proprietorship is thus rendered
more difficult and less profitable to the poor, more are forced into the
labor market to compete with each other, and cut down the rate of wages-that
is, to make the division of their joint production between labor and capital
more in favor of capital and less in favor of labor.
And so in San Francisco the rise in building
lots means, that it will be harder for a poor man to get a house and lot
for himself, and if he has none that he will have to use more of his earnings
for rent; means a crowding of the poorer classes together; signifies courts,
slums, tenement-houses, squalor and vice.
San Francisco has one great advantage-there
is probably a larger proportion of her population owning homesteads and
homestead lots than in any other city of the United States. The product
of the rise of real estate will thus be more evenly distributed, and the
great social and political advantages of this diffused proprietorship cannot
be overestimated. Nor can it be too much regretted that the princely domain
which San Francisco inherited as the successor of the pueblo was not appropriated
to furnishing free, or almost free, homesteads to actual settlers, instead
of being allowed to pass into the hands of a few, to make more millionaires.
Had the matter been taken up in time and in a proper spirit, this disposition
might easily have been secured, and the great city of the future would have
had a population bound to her by the strongest ties-a population better,
freer, more virtuous, independent and public spirited than any great city
the world has ever had.
To say that "Power is constantly stealing
from the many to the few," is only to state in another form the law that
wealth tends to concentration. In the new era into which the world has
entered since the application of steam, this law is more potent than ever;
in the new era into which California is entering, its operations will be
more marked here than ever before. The locomotive is a great centralizer.
It kills towns and builds up great cities, and in the same way kills little
businesses and builds up great ones. We have had comparatively but few rich
men; no very rich ones, in the meaning "very rich" has in these times. But
the process is going on. The great city that is to be will have its Astors,
Vanderbilts, Stewarts and Spragues, and he who looks a few years ahead may
even now read their names as he passes along Montgomery, California or Front
streets.-With the protection which property gets in modern times-with stocks,
bonds, burglar-proof safes and policemen; with the railroad and the telegraph
after a man gets a certain amount of money it is plain sailing, and he
need take no risks. Astor said that to get his first thousand dollars was
his toughest struggle; but when one gets a million, if he has ordinary
prudence, how much he will have is only a question of life. Nor can we
rely on the absence of laws of primogeniture and entail to dissipate these
large fortunes so menacing to the general weal. Any large fortune will,
of course, become dissipated in time, even in spite of laws of primogeniture
and entail; but every aggregation of wealth implies and necessitates others,
and so that the aggregations remain, it matters little in what particular
hands. Stewart, in the natural course of things, will die before long, and
being childless, his wealth will be dissipated, or at least go out of the
dry goods business. But will this avail the smaller dealers whom he has crushed
or is crushing out? Not at all. Some one else will step in, take his place
in the trade, and run the great money-making machine which he has organized,
or some other similar one.
Stewart and other great houses have concentrated
the business, and it will remain concentrated. Nor is it worth while to
shut our eyes to the effects of this concentration of wealth. One millionaire
involves the little existence of just so many proletarians. It is the great
tree and the saplings over again. We need not look far from the palace to
find the hovel. When people can charter special steamboats to take them to
watering places, pay four thousand dollars for the summer rental of a cottage,
build marble stables for their horses, and give dinner parties which cost
by the thousand dollars a head, we may know that there are poor girls on
the streets pondering between starvation and dishonor.
When liveries appear, look out for bare-footed
children. A few liveries are now to be seen on our streets; we think their
appearance coincides in date with the establishment of the almshouse. They
are few, plain and modest now; they will grow more numerous and gaudy-and
then we will not wait long for the children-their corollaries.
But there is another side: we are to become
a great, populous, wealthy community. And in such a community many good
things are possible that are not possible in a community such as ours
has been. There have been artists, scholars, and men of special knowledge
and ability among us, who could and some of whom have since won distinction
and wealth in older and larger cities, but who here could only make a
living by digging sand, peddling vegetables, or washing dishes in restaurants.
It will not be so in the San Francisco of the future. We shall keep such
men with us, and reward them, instead of driving them away. We shall have
our noble charities, great museums, libraries and universities; a class
of men who have leisure for thought and culture; magnificent theatres and
opera houses; parks and pleasure gardens.
We shall develop a literature of our own,
issue books which will be read wherever the English language is spoken,
and maintain periodicals which will rank with those of the East and Europe.
The Bulletin, Times and Alta, good as they are, must become, or must yield
to, journals of the type of the New York Herald or the Chicago Tribune.
The railroads which will carry the San Francisco newspapers over a wide
extent of country the same day that they are issued, will place them on
a par, or almost on a par in point of time, with journals printed in the
interior, while their metropolitan circulation and business will enable
them to publish more and later news than interior papers can.
The same law of concentration will work in
other businesses in the same way. The railroads may benefit Sacramento and
Stockton by making of them workshops, but no one will stop there to buy
goods when he can go to San Francisco, make his choice from larger stocks,
and return the same day.
But again comes the question: will this California
of the future, with its facilities for travel and transportation; its huge
metropolis and pleasant watering places; its noble literature and great
newspapers; universities, libraries and museums; parks and operas; fleets
of yachts and miles of villas, possess still the charme which makes Californians
prefer their State, even as it is, to places where all these things are
to be found?
What constitutes the peculiar charm of California,
which all who have lived here long enough feel? Not the climate alone.
Heresy though it be to say so, there are climates as good; some that on the
whole are better. Not merely that there is less social restraint, for there
are parts of the Union and parts from which tourists occasionally come to
lecture us where there is much less social restraint than in California.
Not simply that the opportunities of making money have been better here;
for the opportunities for making large fortunes have not been so good as
in some other places, and there are many who have not made money here, who
prefer this country to any other; many who after leaving us throw away certainty
of profit to return and "take the chances" of California. It certainly is
not in the growth of local attachment, for the Californian has even less local
attachment than the average American, and will move about from one end of
the State to the other with perfect indifference. It is not that we have
the culture or the opportunities to gratify luxurious and cultivated tastes
that older countries afford, and yet those who leave us on this account as
a general thing come back again.
No: the potent charm of California, which
all feel but few analyze, has been more in the character, habits and modes
of thought of her people-called forth by the peculiar conditions of the
young State-than in anything else. In California there has been a certain
cosmopolitanism, a certain freedom and breadth of common thought and feeling,
natural to a community made up from so many different sources, to which
every man and woman had been transplanted-all travellers to some extent,
and with native angularities of prejudice and habit more or less worn off.
Then there has been a feeling of personal independence and equality, a general
hopefulness and self-reliance, and a certain large-heartedness and open-handedness
which were born of the comparative evenness with which property was distributed,
the high standard of wages and of comfort, and the latent feeling of every
one that he might "make a strike," and certainly could not be kept down
While we have had no very rich class, we have
had no really poor class. There have been enough "dead brokes," and how
many Californians are there who have not gone through that experience; but
there never was a better country to be "broken" in, and where almost every
man, even the most successful, had been in the same position, it did not
involve the humiliation and loss of hope which attaches to utter poverty
in older and more settled communities.
In a country where all had started from the
same level-where the banker had been a year or two before a journeyman
carpenter, the merchant a foremast hand; the restaurant waiter had perhaps
been educated for the bar or the church, and the laborer once counted his
"pile," and where the wheel of fortune had been constantly revolving with
a rapidity in other places unknown, social lines could not be sharply drawn,
nor a reverse dispirit. There was something in the great possibilities of
the country; in the feeling that it was one of immense latent wealth; which
furnished a background of which a better filled and more thoroughly developed
country is destitute, and which contributed not a little to the active,
generous, independent social tone.
The characteristics of the principal business-mining-gave
a color to all California thought and feeling. It fostered a reckless,
generous, independent spirit, with a strong disposition to " take chances"
and "trust to luck." Than the placer mining, no more independent business
could be conceived. The miner working for himself, owned no master; worked
when and only when he pleased; took out his earnings each day in the shining
particles which depended for their value on no fluctuations of the market,
but would pass current and supply all wants the world over. When his claim
gave out, or for any reason he desired to move, he had but to shoulder his
pick and move on. Mining of this kind developed its virtues as well as its
vices. If it could have been united with ownership of land and the comforts
and restraints of home, it would have given us a class of citizens of the
utmost value to a republican state. But the "honest miner" of the placers
has passed away in California. The Chinaman, the millioner and his laborers,
the mine superintendent and his gang, are his successors.
This crowding of people into immense cities,
this aggregation of wealth into large lumps, this marshalling of men into
big gangs under the control of the great "captains of industry," does not
tend to foster personal independence-the basis of all virtues-nor will it
tend to preserve the characteristics which particularly have made Californians
proud of their State. However, we shall have some real social gains, with
some that are only apparent. We shall have more of home influences, a
deeper religious sentiment, less of the unrest that is bred of an adventurous
and reckless life. We shall have fewer shooting and stabbing affrays, but
we will have probably something worse, from which, thank God, we have hitherto
been exempt-the low, brutal, cowardly rowdyism of the great Eastern cities.
We shall hear less of highway robberies in the mountains, but more, perhaps,
of pickpockets, burglars and sneak thieves. That we can look forward to
any political improvement is, to say the least,-doubtful. There is nothing
in the changes which are coming that of itself promises that. There will
be a more permanent population, more who will look on California as their
home; but we would not aver that there will be a larger proportion of the
population who will take an intelligent interest in public affairs. In San
Francisco the political future is full of danger. As surely as San Francisco
is destined to become as large as New York, as certain is it that her political
condition is destined to become as bad as that of New York, unless her citizens
are aroused in time to the necessity of preventive or rather palliative measures.
And in the growth of large corporations and other special interests is
an element of great danger. Of these great corporations and interests we
shall have many. Look, for instance, at the Central Pacific Railroad Company,
as it will be, with a line running to Salt Lake, controlling more capital
and employing more men than any of the great eastern railroads who manage
legislatures as they manage their workshops, and name governors, senators
and judges almost as they name their own engineers clerks! Can we rely upon
sufficient intelligence, independence and virtue among the many to resist
the political effects of the concentration of great wealth in the hands
of a few?
And this in general is the tendency of the
time, and of the new era opening before us: to the great development of
wealth; to concentration; to the differentiation of classes; to less personal
independence among the many and the greater power of the few. We shall lose
much which gave a charm to California life; much that was valuable in the
character of our people, while we will also wear off defects, and gain some
things that we lacked.
With our gains and our losses will come new
duties and new responsibilities. Connected more closely with the rest
of the nation, we will feel more quickly and keenly all that affects it.
We will have to deal, in time, with all the social problems that are forcing
themselves on older communities, (like the riddles of a Sphinx, which not
to answer is death) with one of them, the labor question, rendered peculiarly
complex by our proximity to Asia. Public spirit, public virtue, the high
resolve of men and women who are capable of feeling the "enthusiasm of humanity,"
will be need ed in the future more than ever.
A great change is coming over our State. We
should not prevent it if we could, and could not if we would, but we can
view it in all its bearings-look at the dark as well as the bright side,
and endeavor to hasten that which is good and retard or prevent that which
is bad. A great State is forming; let us see to it that its foundations
are laid firm and true.
And as California becomes populous rich, let
us not forget that the character of a people counts for more than their
numbers; that the distribution of wealth is even a more important matter
than its production. Let us not imagine ourselves in a fools' paradise, where
the golden apples will drop into our mouths; let us not think that after the
stormy seas and head gales of all the ages, our ship has at last struck the
trade winds of time. The future of our State, of our nation, of our race,
looks fair and bright; perhaps the future looked so to the philosophers
who once sat in the porches of Athens-to the unremembered men who-raised
the cities whose ruins lie south of us. Our modern civilization strikes broad
and deep and looks high. So did the tower which men once built almost unto