For several weeks past a sad spectacle has been witnessed in New York and other large citiesthe spectacle of thousands of mechanics and working men parading the streets and assembling in the parks, out of employment, and destitute of the meaus of providing for themselves and their families. The recent financial crisis, which fell upon ns so suddenly, has been very disastrous in its results to the industry of our country. Manufactures have been paralyzed, and no one but an eye-witness can havc a conception of thair completc and ovcrwhclming prostration. We have visited some manufacturing districts, where the chcerful sounds of busy industry used to be heard in every street " from early morn till dewy eve;" now all is sad, dreary and deserted. Factories arc closcd, forge fires are extinguished ; tho hammer, tho saw, the spin-dIe and loom, are silent ; and men walk about the streets with anxious, care-worn countenances, for although they have willing hearts and ready hands, there is no work for them to do ; and want stares them in the face, especially as the winter is at hand, and they had entirely depended on their daily toil for their daily bread. In our largest cities these evils are more concentrated, assume the worst phases, and attain to the greatest magnitude. This has been especially felt to be the case in this cityNew Yorkwhere the number of nnemployed persons is greatcr at present than at any other period of its history. Last week, multitudes of them held meetings, at some of which violent speeches were made, and threats uttered in reference to plundering thc United States Sub-Treasury in Wall street, which contains many millions in specie. These threatcning exhibitions were not the expression of the mass of our unemployed people (who arc peaceably disposed, and more ready to protect than attack the property of others), but the expression of some fanatics, probably, in-sited by evil-disposcd persons, snch as thieves aud burglars, who, in cases of such mobs, always contrive to secure the largest share of plnnder, and adroitly evade detection. Some anxiety was felt, as to the security of property, and a call was made for the United States' soldiers for protection; but such feelings were more fanciful than sensible. The police force of our city, properly organized and handled, is perfectly capable of protecting the property of our citizens against the most violent mobs. The workingmen who are idle only want work ; and, as the experience of all countries proves that times of public deprcssion in business are prolific with crimes, the best way to provide against such is to find employment for the idle. Onr city government has wisely directed its policy to secure this end, in a measure, by voting a large sum for their immediate employment on the grounds in the Central Park. The city government is not bound by any political right to find employment for those who are ont of work ; but as it is the moral duty of government to provide for the poor, surely it is the most wise policy which can be pursued, to obviate the necessity of incurring vast eleemosynary expense and aid, by giving employment in the cxecution of public works in which all are publicly benefited. From the days of ancient Home during her republican and despotic governments, the muncipalities of all civilized countries have been obliged to pursue this policy in such exigencies as will occur, from time to time, as long as the world lasts. In all onr cities, where there arc large numbers of persons out of employment at present, we recommend this policy to be immediately adopted, so far as it can possibly be ^a done, by the municipal authorities. IJU As the question of nnemployed labor and w C its wants is one of a very complicated charac-ter and of vast importance, we will take the opportunity of recurring to it on a future occasion. On refercnce to another articlc in this paper, it will be seen stated that there are signs of improvement evident in various quarters, which are certainly cheering, yet the sufferings of the unemployed in this and other citics are pressing, and, of coursc, they cannot subsist mcrely upon futnre hopcs. Somcthing must be done for them at oncc in the way of temporary support. In a few more weeks it is believed that many will be employed, and thus placed beyond the need of benevolence.
This article was originally published with the title "Work for the Unemployed" in Scientific American 13, 11, 85 (November 1857)