About Labor and Property” is on a subject dear to the heart of Robert Merry’s Museum’s founder, Samuel Griswold Goodrich: that wealth is the result of work, and that it’s important that people can keep what they earn. Bedeviled by copyright infringers, Goodrich campaigned for stricter copyright laws.

“About Labor and Property” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, January 1841; pp. 3-4)

All the things we see around us belong to somebody; and these things have been got by labor or working. It has been by labor, that every article has been procured. If nobody had ever done any labor, there would have been no houses, no cultivated fields, no bread to eat, no clothes to wear, no books to read, and the whole world would have been in a poor and wild state, not fit for human beings to live happily in.

Men possess all things in consequence of some person having wrought for these things. Some men are rich, and have many things, although they never wrought much for them; but the ancestors, or fathers and grandfathers, of these men, wrought hard for the things, and have left them to their children. But all young persons must not think that they will get things given to them in this way; all, except a few, must work diligently when they grow up, to get things for themselves.

After any one has wrought to make a thing, or after he has a thing given to him, that thing is his own, and no person

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must take it form him. If a boy get a piece of clay, and make the clay into a small ball or marble to play with, then he has labored or wrought for it, and no other boy has any right to take it from him. The marble is the property of the boy who made it. Some boys are fond of keeping rabbits. If a boy have a pair of these animals, they are his property; and if he gather food for them, and take care of them till they have young ones, then the young rabbits are his property also. He would not like to find, that some bad boy wished to take his rabbits from him! He would say to the bad boy, “I claim these rabbits as my property; they are mine. You never wrought for them; they are not yours.” And if the bad boy still would take the rabbits, then the owner would go to a magistrate, and tell him of the bad boy’s conduct, and the bad boy would be punished. All things are the property of some persons, and these persons claim their property in the same way that the boy claims the marble that he has made, or the rabbits that he has reared. It is very just and proper that every person should be allowed to keep his own property: because, when a poor man knows that he can get property by working for it, and that no one dares to take it from him, then he will work to have things for his own use. If he knew that things would be taken from him, then he would not work much, and perhaps not at all. He would spend many of his days in idleness, and live very poorly.

When one person wishes to have a thing which belongs to another, he must ask permission to take it, or he must offer to buy it; he must never, on any account, take the thing secretly, or by violence, or by fraud; for that would be stealing, and he would be a thief. God has said, “Thou shalt not steal;” and every one should keep his hands from picking and stealing. Some boys think, that, because they find things that are lost, they may keep these things to themselves. But the thing that is found is the property of the loser, and should be immediately restored to him without reward; it is just as bad as stealing to keep it, if you can find the owner.

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