Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 55.djvu/94

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
FROM SERFDOM TO FREEDOM.
By EDWARD BICKNELL.

HOWEVER keen our interest in the problems arising out of the recent Spanish war, and however earnest our study of the policy to be pursued toward our new dependencies, we should not forget that the problems pressing for a solution before the war are still with us. The labor question, which then commanded so much of our thought, is still unsettled, and is by no means dwarfed by the subjects now upon every lip. Rather, as has been shown in an article in a recent number of this magazine, this question really forms one of the most important elements of the present situation, and should not be lost sight of in shaping public policy. We are entering upon an untilled field as far as our institutions are concerned, and we have the opportunity to start on a higher level in treating the relations of capital and labor in our new possessions, if we have the wisdom to know how, and the courage to do as well as we know.

It will help us in a consideration of the present status of the laborer and of his future if we study his past, beginning, if not with Adam, at least with the laborer's entrance into English history as a distinct class. Any one at all familiar with Green's Short History of the English People will see how much use I have made of that instructive and fascinating work. And if I tell only an old story, it may still be of value to many of us in recalling facts almost forgotten, and a help to others whose vision into the past is limited. Brushing away the cobwebs in the old attic of our father's house usually brings to light treasures the recollection of which had slipped from our minds.

The free laborer, the man who works for wages, for whom and where he chooses, did not exist as a class until within about six hundred years. In the early days the laborer was tied to the soil where he was born, Such a thing as a laborer going about to seek work where he would, or having much to say about his master or his wages, was usually out of the question.

At a very early day the towns or boroughs of England had preserved old rights, or regained them, which the rural part of England had lost, and in general serfage could not exist there as it did in the country round them. Trade and manufacture, such as they were in that day, did not make the demand for labor which was made by the agricultural pursuits of the country or in the castles of the nobility. So we do not find in the towns of the eleventh or twelfth century the large labor class we do to-day. In general we may fairly say that the labor class began in the country.

The manorial system had divided the rural part of England for