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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/347

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PROBLEMS OF PROPERTY.

a nation enjoying universal suffrage, nor were Utopias ever before 'preached to men who might practically attempt their establishment. The wide diffusion of popular knowledge through the schools, the press, and the platform, in these latter days, has made the discussion of such questions as that before us very general and very earnest. Workingmen's newspapers of wide circulation debate the pros and cons of the land and other problems fearlessly and with much good sense. The extension of the suffrage and the progress of political reform have taken such subjects out of the small circle where only speculative thinkers used to discuss them, and brought them home to the great masses of the working population, into whose hands the reins of legislation must more and more directly come. Trades-unions have made workmen sensible of the power of union and organization, and the benefits they have derived from their combinations have led to a wide-spread capacity for acting in concert scarcely known among them until this generation.

While in England and on the Continent of Europe property is much more unequally held than in America, it is evident that there are forces at work in the New World which are creating problems similar to those in the Old. Competent observers declare that wealth is passing more and more into the hands of the wealthy, the manners of the wealthy class are improving—they are gradually becoming an aristocracy in all but name; and, as the societies of the older cities become more and more cultivated, I think we may see a large proportion of wealthy families retaining their possessions for generations as they do abroad. It used to be thought that the sons or grandsons of rich Americans could be relied upon to give back to the community their inherited wealth through demoralization and incompetence; but that reliance is proved baseless in a noteworthy proportion of cases in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. Fifty years ago the wealthiest man in America had a fortune of ten millions, let us say; now, the wealthiest citizen of the United States has a fortune estimated at from' ten to fifteen times as much; and the proportionate increase in the extent of fortunes of the second and third magnitude has been similar. Has the wealth of the average citizen increased in anything like this degree? And such democratic social intercourse as we possess has its dangers—the intermingling in society in this country of people comparatively poor with those comparatively rich implants in those of restricted incomes a desire to live expensively, which would less often be the Case were class lines as distinctly drawn here as they are across the Atlantic.

Into the question of the social advantages to a community of a very wealthy and leisured class I do not enter, but in passing would note that perhaps the worthiness and manliness, as a rule, of the British aristocracy have done very much toward their privileges being respected in these times of radicalism. And contrariwise, the sharpest