Professed philanthropy is a very cheap and common commodity. There is an exceedingly plentiful amount of wordy sympathy at the present day for working people, hence great swelling articles about the" dignity of labor" are paraded with extraordinary frequency and in prolific abundance. Being the professed advocates of industry, we at once say that there is neither dignity nor disgrace connected with labor—mental or physical—in itself apart from the object ot labor. If physical labor is of a dignifying nature, then the horse, ox, and steam engine possess a greater amount of it than man. If mere mental labor is of a dignifying nature in itselt, then forgers and plotting gamesters must stand on very elevated positions on the ladder of dignity. The majority of articles which we have read on the dignity of labor are calculated to deceive our working people ; it is for them they are intended, and their tendency is injurious. Idleness is an evil, and industry as its counterpart is a righteous duty, but at the same time, intense labor in any cause, or at any business, whereby evil is done, cannot dignify the actor, however assiduously he may toil to accomplish his infamous ends. Mechanical and mental toil are honorable and dignified only because of the aims and objects of the laborers; the noble man (not titled) confers dignity upon the labor in which he is engaged—the labor cannot confer dignity upon him. We know it is no uncommon feeling among all classes of rich and poor, to make wide distinctions, one looking down or up to another because of its particular profession or trade. Great excellence in mechanism, skill of hand, and mental ability will always command admiration, but the feeling we would desire to see generally cultivated, is respect for all wise and honest men irrespective of their kind of labor. At the same time let us say that this feeling is more prevalent than some frothy philanthropists would have us believe. The great difficulty with many men is to make them respect themselves—they have not the correct idea of true dignity. A man cannot always choose his trade or profession, but he certainly can choose his character. It is as easy for a mechanic to be a gentleman, and work amid oil, steam, and iron every day, as it is for a man who is worth his tens of thousands. It is also as incumbent upon every American mechanic to be a gentleman, as if he were a minister or professor; there is no excuse for any of our mechanics being less than gentlemen, and certainly some of them are much finer gentlemen than many who ride in their carriages. " 'Tis worth that makes the man," and nothing else. Every man should live in such an atmosphere as to feel independent of his kind o: labor, his dignity lies in his character—the man. To every working man we would say, look upon yourselt with respect,be intelligent, honest, industrious, with grace in your speech and conduct, and never give yourself a thought about the dignity ot labor. If you are poor, none but fools will look down upon you as wanting in dignity because of your kind of labor. If a man is poor, not by his own fault, it is his misfortune, he cannot help that. A man may also be very illiterate from the lack of opportunities to improve his mind, that is also not his fault; if he strives to do well, he labors with a dignified aim, and for this he should be respected. In civilized communities, intelligent and moral worth exert the greatest influence; it is a law of the mind, that the civil qualities command respect, and for this reason, we often, as part of our duty, have to direct the attention of many of our readers to those qualities which dignify the man, in order that they may not be led astray from the true path of duty. At the present day there is no excuse for ignorance on the part of any young man in America, whatever his occupabion may be, —whether a mechanic or merchant; if he is . not intelligent he is wanting in an essential ejement of true dignity.
This article was originally published with the title "The Dignity of Labor" in Scientific American 8, 42, 333 (July 1853)