A Celebration of Women Writers

"Industrial Revolution of the Last Century." by Mrs. Eliza Stowe Twitchell (1845-).
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 495-499.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 495] 



It is estimated by those who have studied the subject, that the advance which the world has made industrially within the last one hundred and fifty years, is greater than that of the previous two thousand. And when we remember how many very important scientific discoveries and labor-saving inventions have been given to the world since 1870, it is perhaps not too much to say that the industrial advance which the world has made within the last twenty or thirty years is equal to the previous one hundred and fifty.

It is always difficult to understand our own times. We live too near to view them broadly. We scarcely appreciate our friends, until the grave has hidden them from us; and our men and women of genius must be dead fifty years, before the world attains to their clear breadth of vision, even by the aid of the desperate, thankless struggle they make to show the world "the things that belong to its peace." To take a glance of the past and (then) compare it with the present, is often helpful in gaining a broader view of our own times.

The year 1776 is a very easy one to remember, in that it witnessed two great events: Our Declaration of Independence, and also the publication of Adam Smith's great book, "The Wealth of Nations." This book is illumined on almost every page with two great thoughts: First. As our declaration affirms, each man's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, i.e., civil liberty; and second. Each man's right to exchange the result of his own labor in any market where he pleases, i.e., free trade, or industrial liberty. Within ten years from the publication of the book, four great inventions were given to the world: James Watt invented the steam engine, Hargreaves the spinning jenny, Arkwright the water frame, and Cartwright the power loom. These four inventions, together with the fact that about that time coal was used in place of wood in smelting iron ore, making iron both cheap and abundant, revolutionized all industry, and made, in less than a century, Great Britain the work-shop of the world. In order to clearly understand the effects which these inventions produced, it will be necessary to form a picture of the condition of society before this time. The aristocracy then constituted the most important class; they obtained their revenue from the rent of their large estates, which centuries before had possessed but little or no value, and were given in most cases to their ancestors for bravery in battle. There were two advantages which they possessed over the others; First, as chief owners of the soil, [Page 496]  which was now constantly growing in value; and second, as makers of the laws. These two advantages gave them leisure for study and improvement; wealth, for charity, for refinement and luxuries. The condition of those who tilled the soil had formerly been that of mere serfs, who had neither civil, religious, nor industrial liberty. Everything the serf produced belonged to his lord. One hundred and fifty years ago, then, most of the land of England was divided into small holdings, and titled by lease or copy-holders, i.e., those who obtained their lands of the lords upon long leases; or free-holders, those who purchased their lands, yet continued to pay annually a small rent. The chief difference between the copy-holder and the free-holder was, the free-holder's rent could not be raised as the land rose in value. These, with the farm laborers, who lived in the family, ate at the same table, and shared the same coarse fare and rude society, constituted the sturdy yeomanry of England. Then, dotted over all England, in lanes and byways, were cottages surrounded by an acre of land each. In the cottage was the hand-loom, at which sat the master-workman (then called the manufacturer), who, assisted by his apprentices, wove the woolen, silk, linen and cotton cloth of England.

Then as the population was sparse, and there was land enough for all, the poorer or common lands were allotted to a still poorer class of farmers. Each man had three strips, one for barley, one for wheat and one for grass, besides a right to pasture a cow or a pig and obtain fuel from the common fields. The philosopher's stone, so long in vain sought, was at length found in the huge beds of coal and iron ore that lay side by side just under the surface of English soil, and that "labor" was soon to place England at the head of industrial Europe. This was only one hundred and fifty years ago. The intolerance and bigotry of those times is well illustrated by the manner in which the great inventions of Watt, Hargreaves and Crompton were received and requited.

Rioters burst into their houses and broke in pieces their machines, with the cry, "Men, not machines!" They believed they could regulate the price of wages by breaking labor-saving machines, just as it is now imagined that by restricting the number of laborers wages will rise. Both methods only reduce the amount of wealth produced, and in the end works injury to all. When cloth began to be woven by machinery, moved by the forces of nature, the first effect upon the master-workmen and their apprentices was to gradually destroy both their industry and their capital, for their looms became so much useless lumber. Henceforth if they would weave cloth they must go to the machines, and become a part of them.

The second effect was to tear the people up by the roots and carry them away from the soil to the town, with lives reduced to the one monstrous purpose – that of tending a machine. Many did leave their homes to find employment; but many were left to eke out a miserable existence as best they could. Now what was the effect of all this upon the manufacturer? This word has now a new meaning.

The gulf has widened between him and his apprentices or day laborers.

Obtaining his labor cheap (the price of wages being fixed by law), his profits were large, and he soon amassed an enormous fortune. Others, seeing his large profits, engaged in the same business, and then the competition between one manufacturer and another gradually reduced the price of cloth, until the profits of the business amounted to only a fair rate of interest on the capital invested, and the effect of this was to so cheapen production that the goods were within the reach of nearly all, and this so stimulated trade and foreign commerce that it opened up new avenues to labor, and capital sprang up as if by magic. Where before one yard of cloth was produced, now there were many greater comforts, and a higher standard of living was the result, until these machines were a blessing to all, except those whose toil they were intended to lighten. They lived a hard, monotonous life, slaves both to the machines and to the firms or corporations what employed them. Since that time population in England has increased tenfold, and wealth far more. So that had there been a just (not equal, but a just) distribution of the wealth produced, all classes would have been benefited. [Page 497] 

Not one of these machines could turn out a yard of woolen cloth except fed by wool from the backs of sheep that fed upon the lands. In the same way the cotton, silk and linen came from the land. Also, the increasing population in these rapidly growing cities must all be fed from products that grew upon the land, and even if people dwelt in five-story tenement-houses, or pursued their business in an office on the tenth floor, its foundation must rest upon the land.

The first effect, then, upon the farmer, was of great prosperity, since everything that he raised was in great demand. So well off did he soon become, that he refused to board the day-laborer in his family, since now he was as good as gentle folk; thus the gulf again widened between the classes. But the second effect was, that land being in such demand, its value rose enormously, and when the long leases expired, the landlords refused to rent again upon the old terms; so that all this increase in prosperity, though it went for a time to capital, for a time to the farmer, ended in raising the value of land, making it yearly harder either to buy land or to rent it, and those who owned the land reaped the cream of all this prosperity. A proof of this is seen in the fact that both wages and interest on capital are not nearly as high today as one hundred and fifty years ago, when compared with the amount of wealth they produced; yet the price of land is vastly higher; farming lands, some fifty times their former price; manufacturing sites, seventy times, mineral lands and city lots, many thousand times. So the final effect upon the farmer was, that since his extra profits must now to go pay the increased rent, the small farmer was crushed out, and became a day-laborer or small trader, again drawing more away from the country to the city, and gradually concentrating the land in the hands of a few. Slowly the sturdy yeomanry of England disappeared – that class which made England invincible in war and prosperous in peace. As this class has disappeared in England, the wealthy and retired merchant or manufacturer now coveted a title, but as this could not be granted except to the possessor of broad lands, a bill was passed through parliament called the "Law of Inclosures," inclosing the land held in common by the poor people.

By this some seven millions of acres of the common lands were "inclosed," i.e. taken away from the poor and given to the rich to found (?) families, who did not pay the poor for their land, but who paid the government for their titles of nobility.

At length, so great was the distress and suffering in England, that riots were common; houses and factories were burned; the sky was lurid with the approach of a coming revolution. The law of settlement was repealed in time to save coming disaster. Since then some twelve millions have found their way to the cheap or free lands of Canada and the United States, and have been able to protect themselves. But there is still poverty in England. They still give them scorn, pity, and charity; and if anyone will know the cause of the present submerged tenth, let him reflect upon this fact.

One-half the land of Great Britain – land upon which thirty-seven millions of people must live, is owned by some twenty-seven hundred landlords. The many must pay the few – their brothers, for a right to live upon England's soil – pay for the right to live upon the land where God has placed them. Why if such were the condition in Heaven there would be distress and suffering. Now how do those times and events compare with the present? Against the steam-engine, the spinning jenny, the power loom, water frame and cheap iron, we have cheap steel, the electric motor, the reaping machine, ocean cable, telephone, photography, the modern printing-press, capable of printing a book of 288 pages in one revolution, or 5,000 books an hour! In short, so multitudinous are now the inventions that today only one-third of the labor of the world is performed by muscle.

Every new invention, in proportion to its importance, produces like economic results as have been detailed at length. First, it destroys somebody's industry and makes some capital, for a time, useless; next, it changes the location of the social units of society. Then it increases the profits of those who possess exclusive control of the invention; but as soon as exclusive control ceases, competition steps in and [Page 498]  reduces both the price and the profits, until the invested capital usually receives only a fair rate of interest, and the effect of this is to so stimulate all industry that it opens up new avenues to commerce, subdivides labor, and lifts the standard of living, until this increasing demand for more and more wealth finally increases the demand for land, the original source of all wealth.

This increasing demand for land has led to great improvements in rapid and cheap transportation, in order to bring rich but distant land into use; so today, railroads, built mostly of cheap steel, light and strong, trains can move with great swiftness and comparative safety. Our railroads are the greatest labor-saving machines we have, and as instruments of traffic, they are a blessing inestimable to all. It is only in their franchise that they are monopolies, and in the power of land held out of use that they are able to grind the lives of their employes. Our best roads can, and do, carry at a profit a ton of freight a mile for less than one cent. Neither is it in doing things on a large scale that constitutes a monopoly. By means of modern inventions, by manufacturing in large quantities, sugar is produced at a profit of only one-sixteenth of a cent a pound. By recent improvements in agricultural implements, steam-plows, reaping, sowing and threshing machines, three men can in a year produce grain enough to feed one thousand. In short, there is hardly an industry that can not, in six months' time, supply the market for a year, so that the great cry today is over-production. There was too much wheat raised last year, too much cotton, too many shoes made; our iron, copper and coal mines all have to shut down because there is an over-supply. Why, then, do not these men, toiling in mine and mill, stop and rest awhile, if they are producing too much? Why do not the thirty thousand women and seventy-five hundred children in the cotton factories of Massachusetts take a vacation? Who is it that turns pale at a talk of shut-down for six weeks? Why is it that men consider it a privilege to work long and hard, often where life is in danger, and yet they cling to their places as a drowning man clings to a floating spar in mid-ocean, if it be not that the land has been pulled out from under them, while the machines are doing their labor?

We have already reached a time when the small farms are rapidly disappearing and land is being concentrated into the hands of a few. In the West, farms of thirty thousand acres are quite common. Foreign noblemen already own land enough to give one hundred and fifty thousand families one hundred and sixty acres apiece. There is much said, lately, about America for Americans. What we ought to claim is American soil for American citizens. In this way we shall soon be paying to English landlords a greater tax than we refused to pay to King George III. 'Tis said that four millionaires own land enough to form for each a state the size of Massachusetts. This concentration of land in the hands of a few produces a seeming scarcity; yet, if the inhabitants of the globe were placed in the United States alone, the population to the square mile would not be nearly as great as today in Belgium. Notwithstanding the vast extent of land now owned by private individuals or large monopolies, the injury to the masses is not felt in inclosing from them vast tracts of land so much as from shutting them out from more bountiful portions of nature – such as rich oil or mineral lands, or giving them no share in the valuable trading sites in every large city which their presence has helped to create. No one expects to divide the land equally, or to prevent it from being bought and sold as now, or to take it away from anybody. Yet affairs must be so adjusted that the veriest little sickly girl baby, with all others in the value of the land where God has placed her. To deny her this is to deny her right to the wealth which her Heavenly Father has created for her. Here is a steamboat plying between New York and Liverpool. Its owner recently died, and left this property to his sons and daughters. If they divide it into equal parts they will destroy it; but if they allow it to sail back and forth, and divide its annual earnings equally they will each share alike. So we are sailing upon a boat through space, rushing at the rate of sixty-eight thousand miles an hour. Our boat is loaded down with the materials of untold and inexhaustible wealth. This [Page 499]  wealth, it may be said (commonly speaking), is of two forms. First, that which is produced by skill and labor, which, as we have seen, grows cheaper and cheaper as civilization advances; and, second, that which is produced by the growth of society – i.e. the value that attaches to land by reason of population or ground rents, which grow dearer and dearer as civilization advances. Men need wealth individually. This each one produces by his individual labor, and his right to it is inviolate.

We also have need of a social fund to defray the common expenses of government, such as schools, public bridges, roads, care of the sick and aged, the unfortunate who are now left to the humiliations of charity, or worse still, the mortification of alms. Ground rents are produced socially. To use this social fund to defray the expenses of society would, in reality, consist in all sharing equally in the value of the land, or in other words, would restore the land of the world to the people of the world. We would collect these ground rents by means of a single tax, placed not upon land, for all land does not rent for the same price, but upon land according to its value.

Hon. Wm. P. Saunders, of London, says: "This would in reality be no tax at all, but a pension for everybody." Let this simple yet radical change be adopted, and how soon would our present unjust standard of social equality disappear. Then respect for the aged, pity, tenderness and love for the blind, crippled and unfortunate would be accorded, whatever their social rank. Then hearts would count as high as heads, and heads as high as gold. Hear the words of one, who dwelt so long in the thought upon the misery and injustice in the world, and this remedy, until in prophetic vision he at length caught a glimpse of the future –

"Far as human eye can see;
 Saw the vision of the world and all the wonders that would be."
And as he gazed he wrote this picture for our comfort and hope. So earnest and intense was his soul, so inspired his thought, that between the lines, for ages, will be heard the very sound of his heart-throbs. The fiat has gone forth. With steam and electricity, and the new powers born of progress, forces that have entered the world that will either compel us to a higher plane or overwhelm us as nation after nation, as civilization after civilization have been overwhelmed before. Even now, in old bottles, the new wine begins to ferment, and elemental forces gather for the strife. But if, while there is yet time, we turn to Justice and obey her, if we trust Liberty and follow her, the dangers that now threaten must disappear, the forces that now menace will turn to agencies of elevation. Think of the powers now wasted; of the infinite fields of knowledge yet to be explored; of the possibilities of which the wondrous inventions of this century give us but a hint. With want destroyed; with greed changed to noble passions; with the fraternity that is born of equality, taking the place of the jealousy and fear that now array men against each other; with mental power loosed by conditions that give to the humblest comfort and leisure, and who shall measure the heights to which our civilization may soar? Words fail the thought!

It is the Golden Age of which poets have sung and high raised seers have told in metaphor. It is the glorious vision which has always haunted men with gleams of fitful splendor. It is what he saw, whose eyes at Patmos were closed in a trance. It is the culmination of Christianity – the city of God on earth, with its walls of jasper and its gates of pearl! It is the reign of the Prince of Peace!

[Page 495] 

Mrs. Eliza Stowe Twitchell was born at Jamestown, N. Y., January, 1845. Her parents were natives of Worcester, Mass. In addition to a common-school education she spent three years at Waterford Academy and three at Lake Erie Seminary, graduating from the latter in 1867. In 1874 she married Edward Twitchell, of Boston, residing in Boston until 1891, then located at Wollaston Heights, one of its suburbs. In society, for its social features merely, she was never especially interested; church, benevolent societies, flower missions and day-nurseries received her thought and attention. Books were her delight; the public library to her a continual feast, which aided by Miss Ticknor's "Society for Home Study," established mental discipline of a superior order. Two tracts, "Justice and Charity," and "Wealth and its Factors," are among her best writings. Her postoffice address is Wollaston Heights, Mass.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Nola Johns.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom