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Evolution Or Revolution
by [?]

THE PLUTOCRAT AND THE PAUPER

“For Christ’s sake, Cap, give me the price of a sandwich!”

I stopped and surveyed the speaker, not because the request was unusual, but because the applicant for aid had not acquired the beggar’s whine. He was a large, powerful man, evidently a mechanic, for every trade leaves its peculiar stamp upon its followers.

“Why should I give you a dime? You are far more able to work than I. A man with half your strength should be ashamed to beg.”

“Work?” he retorted bitterly. “Give me a job–at anything– and see if I do not prove myself a man.”

“But I have nothing for you to do.”

“A dozen men have told me that to-day . You sneer at me because I do not earn the bread I eat, yet decline to give me an opportunity to do so.”

I steered him against a lunch counter and watched him chisel desolation into a silver dollar, then listened to his story–one that I had heard a hundred times within the year. Thrown out of employment by the business depression, he had tramped in search of work until he found himself penniless, starving in the streets of a strange city. He handed me a letter, dated St. Louis, written by his wife. Some of the words were misspelled and the bad chirography was blotted as if by falling tears, but it breathed the spirit of a Roman matron, of a Spartan mother. Both the children were ill. She had obtained a little sewing and provided food and some medicine, but two months’ rent was due and the landlord would turn them out unless it was promptly paid. She would do the best she could, and knew that her husband would do the same. Then through the blinding tears came a flash of nether fire. Transformed into respectable English it read:

“Were I a man I would not tramp from city to city begging employment only to be refused. Were I a man I would not see my babies starve while people are piling up millions of money which they can never need. In this country there should be an opportunity for every man to make a living. Were I a man I would make an effort to release myself and my unhappy fellows from this brutal industrial bondage, this chronic pauperism–if it cost my life. I have two sons, whom God knows I do dearly love; but I would consecrate them to the holy cause of human liberty if I knew they would perish on the scaffold. I would rather see them die like dogs than live like slaves.”

He sat a long time silent after returning the letter to his pocket, then said as though speaking to himself:

“I wonder if the rich people ever pause to reflect that there’s a million brawny men in my condition to-night–a million men who only lack a leader? I wonder if they think we’ll stand this kind o’ thing forever? Don’t talk to me about patriotism,” he interrupted, fiercely. “No man can be a patriot on an empty stomach! Why should I care for the preservation of a government of, for and by the plutocrat? Let it go to the devil across lots! D–n a flag beneath which a competent and industrious mechanic cannot make a living. Anarchy? Is anarchy worse than starvation? When conditions become such that a workingman is half the time an ill-fed serf, and the other half a wretched vagabond, he’s ready for a change of any kind–by any means. I am supposed to be entitled to ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.’ I have Liberty–to starve–and I can pursue Happiness–or rainbows–to my heart’s content. There’s absolutely no law prohibiting my using the horns of the moon for a hatrack if I feel so disposed!”