Roscher's figures about firms in Stettin may or may not have a significant bearing upon the social classes of that city. The presumption is that the families that formerly owned these firms had, 120 years later, fallen out of the ranks of firm owner. What is not shown is (1) how many of the descendants were owners of new firms, (2) how many had migrated to America, and (3) how many family lines had died out for want of progeny. Facts about social class descent and ascent are not revealed by reference to lists of company names.Next Page
Nor are Engel's statistics concerning the high percentage of all employers who were once workers very enlightening. It may have been that eighty per cent of the employers were small independent craftsmen, all of whom were once apprentices. What is not shown is how many of the larger industrialists started at the bottom.
Historians describe events of the early nineteenth century in such a way as to give a different set of facts upon which to base one's opinion of that era. See, for instance, says: 13
During the nineteenth century the conception of social classes and the consciousness of their existence on the part of individuals became ever more marked . . . . The class of influential merchants and great captains of industry acquired higher importance. The gap between employers and employees became more marked.
Such is the verdict of one of the few scholars of great repute ever to devote most of his career to this very epoch.
Binder, who belongs among the pioneer sociologists of this country and whose familiarity with history is well known, makes the following observation: 14
After the industrial revolution had gotten well on its way, men and women begging for work or for alms were besieging the offices and houses of the well-to-do. It is only on this basis that an explanation for the long hours in factories is possible.
If, as everyone knows, this was a period of excessive hours and much child labor, it was perforce not an epoch of opportunity and advantage to any significant number of the working classes. Although it was an age without legal barriers to social mobility, and "although anyone might now rise in the world . . . it was necessary that not every one should rise." 15 Property, experience, connections, education (particularly the last-mentioned item) all worked to hold the masses of men down.
Concerning the new city dwellers, the noted authority on labor, Hoxie, says: 16
Morality degenerated to the lowest possible depths. Poverty, drunkenness and vice held undisputed sway. Thus, within a generation, was the industrial worker of England, from an independent, skilled, tool-owning producer of goods for sale, or a worker in process of becoming such, a country or small town dweller, comfortably housed, fed and clothed, living a life governed by definite customs, based on definite religious, ethical and social concepts, protected by an intricate legal code, reduced to an unskilled wage-worker dependent upon a master to whom he was merely a part in the process of production, ill-paid, ill-housed, ill-fed, deprived of the ordinary conditions and standards of life -- the basis of a new and distinct class in society.
To anyone of middle class background, quite as much as to one of the upper classes, these conditions were already not conducive to "most intensive social mobility," at least not from the base of the social class pyramid, the working masses. It was truer that those "somebodies," the master craftsmen, became "nobodies" than the reverse.
In 1802 the "Health and Morals Act" forbade the apprenticeship of children under nine in the mills and reduced the hours of child labor to twelve per day. 17 Such conditions must have been the basis for the remark by Alexis de Tocqueville, a most observing gentleman, that "the poor have few means of escaping from their condition and becoming rich . . . . " 18 This same popular writer states also that "the elements of which the class of the poor is composed are fixed . . . " 19 and that "the manufacturing aristocracy of our age first impoverishes and debases the men who serve it, and then abandons them to be supported by the charity of the public." 20
12. Loc. cit.
13. Henri See, The Economic and Social Conditions in France in the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1931) p. 231.
14. Rudolph M. Binder, Principles of Sociology (New York, 1928) p. 45.
15. Gretton, op. cit., p. 159.
16. C. H. Cooley, R. C. Angell, and L. J. Carr, Introductory Sociology (New York, 1933) p. 317, adapted from R. F. Hoxie, Trade Unionism in the United States.
17. Russell A. Dixon and E. Kingman Eberhart, Economics and Cultural Change (New York, 1938) p. 451.
18. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. II (New York, 1900) p. 170.
19. Loc. cit.
20. Ibid., p. 171.