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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49

Has the State a Right to Compel the Rest ?

Has the State a Right to Compel the Rest ?

At once the question rises, Can the Rest be kept secure save by a law like that upon the Massachusetts statute book, for instance, which peremptorily shuts the sale-shop and the work-shop, and forbids "any manner of labor, business, or work, except works of necessity and charity"? It is a question between the liberty to work and the liberty to rest. And it moves a previous ques page 71 tion, whether the State, in order to guard the many from acts of general ill-consequence, has a right to invade the individual's liberty. For one who believes that the State has such rights,—that the liberty of the many involves the restraint of the few,—that the citizen as "citizen" is always less, as well as more, than the "individual,"—that society exists only in virtue of partial self-surrenders, each member exchanging some of his liberty for security to the rest of it, and for a thousand helps that practically make his life of far more worth to him than liberty unaided but complete could make it,—and that that government is wise and good which secures as much and as equal liberty as possible at as small cost of individual liberty as possible; for one believing this, it then remains to answer the question asked above, whether the law depriving working-men of the liberty to work on Sunday be necessary to secure to them the liberty to rest on that day.

The public thinks Yes, seeing no way to prevent great breaks, if it begin professedly to authorize the little cracks of custom. I know the danger in answering No. Labor is still so much at the mercy of Capital that we may well pause at thought of leaving the multitude of working-men without legal bulwark against the money-hunter. The danger is nowhere greater, perhaps, than here in democratic, money-making America. Remove the Sunday prohibition, and in pressures of business a natural recourse would be had to Sunday-work as now to night-work. Or some hard and grasping man, defying public opinion, may open his shop or factory, and force his clerks and hands to give him Sunday-work or yield their places to others who will give it; and competition' is sa sharp, business chances are so balanced, that what one man does, all in his trade are tempted to do, to keep their places in the race. The danger is real; not, indeed, that Sunday-work would become the general custom, but that it would be page 72 so much extended that thousands would lose the day's rest who have it now.