Front Page Titles (by Subject) ASSOCIATED EFFORT - Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
ASSOCIATED EFFORT - William Leggett, Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy 
Democratic Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy, Foreword by Lawrence H. White (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1984).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
January 14, 1837.
The views which have been expressed in this journal, on the subject of associated effort, have provoked some animadversion. Among other papers that have expressed disapprobation of our sentiments is the Montreal Transcript, which has recorded its dissent in the following courteous and complimentary terms:
. . .
The Montreal Transcript may rest assured that it is by no means our desire, on the subject of combinations, or on any other subject, to throw dust into the eyes of our readers. If we even possessed such power of argument and such felicitous command of language as it ascribes to us, and could easily make the worse appear the better reason, we trust we should be governed by too just a sense of the duties and responsibilities of our vocation, ever to lend ourselves to the support of errour, for the sake of displaying our ingenuity, or the copiousness of our logical resources. What we have said on the subject of combination we fully believe is the true doctrine; but we are inclined to think, from some of the phrases in the foregoing paragraph, that the Montreal paper understands our remarks in a wider sense than they we[re] intended. On one point it is plain that we are misapprehended.
The maxim that the end justifies the means is one which we utterly repudiate. Not only did the Plaindealer never avow nor act upon that sentiment; but it cannot be found in anything written by its conductor, in any other medium of communicating with the publick. We hold that the saying is in direct opposition to the soundest and most obvious principles of morals, and ought never to be countenanced, in any possible circumstances, nor for the attainment of any possible object. The means must justify themselves; or no end, however desirable, and no exigency, however pressing, can wholly excuse their being employed. In the case adverted to, we considered that a combination on the part of those who suffer from the fraudulent practice of paying operatives their wages in depreciated paper would be justified, not as an exception to a general rule, but as in entire conformity with the universal, invariable, and immutable rule of right. It is on this ground, and on this alone, that we wish the propriety of our counsel to be judged.
The broad and comprehensive position we maintain on the subject of combinations is this: that the means are proper in themselves; and that it is the end alone which, in any case, is obnoxious to censure. We hold that both the principles of free trade, and the plainest principles of natural equity require, that men should be left at liberty to pursue by concert, if they choose, any object they have a right to achieve by individual action. The safety of the community against extortionate and intolerant combinations is sufficiently insured by the effect of competition and the influence of publick opinion.
It seems to us that the Montreal Transcript, in making an exception in favour of a combination of operative mechanicks against the extortionate and fraudulent practices of employers, surrenders the whole ground of argument. The admission is fatal to the position it assumes. It is equivalent to an acknowledgement that the propriety or impropriety of a combination depends on the character of the object which it is sought to accomplish. This is precisely the ground we maintain. We assert the right to combine, but do not defend the abuse of that right; as, in the same way, we assert the right of free discussion, but shall never be found among the apologists of an intemperate and pernicious exercise of that right.
But if we admit that the line may be distinctly drawn (which it cannot be) between combinations for a good purpose, and combinations for a bad purpose, the question then comes up whether we would make those in the latter category punishable by law. We answer no. We would punish by law those persons who undertook to achieve by combination, what it would be punishable by law to undertake to achieve by separate unconcerted action, and no others.
The Montreal journalist might suppose a variety of cases in which the community would be great sufferers from a combination of persons to effect certain objects, which never could be effected by spontaneous individual action. We should then answer him by supposing cases in which the action of a single extortionate individual, without transcending his undoubted legal rights, might be productive of great evil; and we should further show that the steady influence of publick opinion is the best law to regulate the conduct of associations and individuals in both classes of cases. A combination of a hundred wealthy men might, under peculiar circumstances of season, monopolize all the provisions in this city, and refuse to sell a starving inhabitant a mouthful of food, unless he paid its weight in gold. A single individual without wealth, a poor fisherman, for example, might have it in his power to rescue a hundred men from certain death at sea, and might refuse to do so, unless each promised to pay him his weight in gold for the service. The fisherman does not do so, because publick opinion, composed of the general sentiment of humanity as applicable to the subject, his own notions of humanity included, is a supreme law to regulate his conduct. The hundred rich men, in the same way, do not monopolize all the food, and retail it at a dollar an ounce, because they are restrained by the same supreme law.
The Montreal Transcript will yet discover, we hope, that it egregiously misapprehends the real tendency of our doctrines. We are quite willing to admit that combinations to regulate prices are, for the most part, very foolish and expensive undertakings, and, in familiar phrase, cost much more than they come to. But this very fact furnishes a reason why the combiners should be left to themselves. If they have a taste for expensive amusements, let them indulge themselves; for those who pay the piper surely have a right to dance.
All that we have here said is comprehended in a very brief sentence, which was once, a long time since, uttered by the leading men of the mercantile community of France, when they were asked by the minister what they desired the government to do to promote their interests. Their reply, though it consists of but three words, comprises a whole volume of political wisdom. It was, Laissez nous faire.