Page:Earth-Hunger and Other Essays.djvu/67

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EARTH HUNGER 41 has never been feudal. It is really a class of enriched citizens who have retired and become landholders, so that their power is in wealth. They have, therefore, with few exceptions, come up from the lower, and in the great majority of cases from the lowest, classes, as would be seen if the ancestral stream were followed far enough back. Having once passed the barrier, they are counted and count themselves amongst the nobles; and since the noble class, as a class, has continued, the movement of emancipation, enfranchisement, and enrichment, which has been acting on the labor class through its most efficient families, is lost sight of. There has been a counter-movement which is also almost universally unknown or ignored — that of impoverished families and persons of the nobility down into the ranks of trade and labor.

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In the enumeration of the great forces of class change which operated in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, I have reserved one for more special attention. The adventurous voyagers who began to explore the outlying parts of the earth in the fifteenth century thought little and cared less about the peasants and artisans at home; but it was they more than any others who were fighting for the fortunes of those classes in the future. The very greatest, but, so far as I have seen, least noticed significance of the discovery of America was the winning of a new continent for the labor class. This effect was not distinctly visible until the nineteenth century, because this new patrimony of the labor class was not available until the arts of transportation were improved up to the requisite point at which the movement of men and products could be easily accomplished. Then, as we have seen in our time, the movement of men one way and food the other developed to great proportions. Is it not true,