Abraham Lincoln on labor and capital

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Nov 24 11:27:10 MST 1999

It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in
favor of popular institutions; but there is one point, with its connection,
not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention.

It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above,
labor, is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors
unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him
to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that
capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own
consent. Having proceeded thus far, it is naturally concluded that all
laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And, further, it
is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition
for life.

Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is
there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of
a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false and all inferences from
them are groundless.

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit
of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.
Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

Abraham Lincoln, annual message to Congress, Dec. 3, 1861

Louis Proyect
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