The Right And The Left Hand

[Report to the King.]

SIRE--When we see these men of the Libre Echange audaciously

disseminating their doctrines, and maintaining that the right of buying

and selling is implied by that of ownership (a piece of insolence that

M. Billault has criticised like a true lawyer), we may be allowed to

entertain serious fears as to the destiny of national labor; for what

will Frenchmen do with their arms and intel
igences when they are free?

The Ministry which you have honored with your confidence has naturally

paid great attention to so serious a subject, and has sought in its

wisdom for a protection which might be substituted for that which

appears compromised. It proposes to you to forbid your faithful subjects

the use of the right hand.

Sire, do not wrong us so far as to think that we lightly adopted a

measure which, at the first glance, may appear odd. Deep study of the

protective system has revealed to us this syllogism, on which it

entirely rests:

The more one labors, the richer one is.

The more difficulties one has to conquer, the more one labors.

Ergo, the more difficulties one has to conquer, the richer one is.

What is protection, really, but an ingenious application of this

formal reasoning, which is so compact that it would resist the subtlety

of M. Billault himself?

Let us personify the country. Let us look on it as a collective being,

with thirty million mouths, and, consequently, sixty million arms. This

being makes a clock, which he proposes to exchange in Belgium for ten

quintals of iron. But, we say to him, make the iron yourself. I

cannot, says he; it would take me too much time, and I could not make

five quintals while I can make one clock. Utopist! we reply; for

this very reason we forbid your making the clock, and order you to make

the iron. Do not you see that we create you labor?

Sire, it will not have escaped your sagacity, that it is just as if we

said to the country, Labor with the left hand, and not with the right.

The creation of obstacles to furnish labor an opportunity to develop

itself, is the principle of the restriction which is dying. It is also

the principle of the restriction which is about to be created. Sire,

to make such regulations is not to innovate, but to preserve.

The efficacy of the measure is incontestable. It is difficult--much more

difficult than one thinks--to do with the left hand what one was

accustomed to do with the right. You will convince yourself of it, Sire,

if you will condescend to try our system on something which is familiar

to you,--like shuffling cards, for instance. We can then flatter

ourselves that we have opened an illimitable career to labor.

When workmen of all kinds are reduced to their left hands, consider,

Sire, the immense number that will be required to meet the present

consumption, supposing it to be invariable, which we always do when we

compare differing systems of production. So prodigious a demand for

manual labor cannot fail to bring about a considerable increase in

wages; and pauperism will disappear from the country as if by


Sire, your paternal heart will rejoice at the thought that the benefits

of this regulation will extend over that interesting portion of the

great family whose fate excites your liveliest solicitude.

What is the destiny of women in France? That sex which is the boldest

and most hardened to fatigue, is, insensibly, driving them from all

fields of labor.

Formerly they found a refuge in the lottery offices. These have been

closed by a pitiless philanthropy; and under what pretext? To save,

said they, the money of the poor. Alas! has a poor man ever obtained

from a piece of money enjoyments as sweet and innocent as those which

the mysterious urn of fortune contained for him? Cut off from all the

sweets of life, how many delicious hours did he introduce into the bosom

of his family when, every two weeks, he put the value of a day's labor

on a quatern. Hope had always her place at the domestic hearth. The

garret was peopled with illusions; the wife promised herself that she

would eclipse her neighbors with the splendor of her attire; the son saw

himself drum-major, and the daughter felt herself carried toward the

altar in the arms of her betrothed. To have a beautiful dream is

certainly something.

The lottery was the poetry of the poor, and we have allowed it to escape


The lottery dead, what means have we of providing for our

proteges?--tobacco, and the postal service.

Tobacco, certainly; it progresses, thanks to Heaven, and the

distinguished habits which august examples have been enabled to

introduce among our elegant youth.

But the postal service! We will say nothing of that, but make it the

subject of a special report.

Then what is left to your female subjects except tobacco? Nothing,

except embroidery, knitting, and sewing, pitiful resources, which are

more and more restricted by that barbarous science, mechanics.

But as soon as your ordinance has appeared, as soon as the right hands

are cut off or tied up, everything will change face. Twenty, thirty

times more embroiderers, washers and ironers, seamstresses and

shirt-makers, would not meet the consumption (honi soit qui mal y

pense) of the kingdom; always assuming that it is invariable, according

to our way of reasoning.

It is true that this supposition might be denied by cold-blooded

theorists, for dresses and shirts would be dearer. But they say the

same thing of the iron which France gets from our mines, compared to the

vintage it could get on our hillsides. This argument can, therefore, be

no more entertained against left-handedness than against protection;

for this very dearness is the result and the sign of the excess of

efforts and of labors, which is precisely the basis on which, in one

case, as in the other, we claim to found the prosperity of the working


Yes, we make a touching picture of the prosperity of the sewing

business. What movement! What activity! What life! Each dress will busy

a hundred fingers instead of ten. No longer will there be an idle young

girl, and we need not, Sire, point out to your perspicacity the moral

results of this great revolution. Not only will there be more women

employed, but each one of them will earn more, for they cannot meet the

demand, and if competition still shows itself, it will no longer be

among the workingwomen who make the dresses, but the beautiful ladies

who wear them.

You see, Sire, that our proposition is not only conformable to the

economic traditions of the government, but it is also essentially moral

and democratic.

To appreciate its effect, let us suppose it realized; let us transport

ourselves in thought into the future; let us imagine the system in

action for twenty years. Idleness is banished from the country; ease

and concord, contentment and morality, have entered all families

together with labor; there is no more misery and no more prostitution.

The left hand being very clumsy at its work, there is a superabundance

of labor, and the pay is satisfactory. Everything is based on this, and,

as a consequence, the workshops are filled. Is it not true, Sire, that

if Utopians were to suddenly demand the freedom of the right hand, they

would spread alarm throughout the country? Is it not true that this

pretended reform would overthrow all existences? Then our system is

good, since it cannot be overthrown without causing great distress.

However, we have a sad presentiment that some day (so great is the

perversity of man) an association will be organized to secure the

liberty of right hands.

It seems to us that we already hear these free-right-handers speak as

follows in the Salle Montesquieu:

People, you believe yourselves richer because they have taken from you

one hand; you see but the increase of labor which results to you from

it. But look also at the dearness it causes, and the forced decrease in

the consumption of all articles. This measure has not made capital,

which is the source of wages, more abundant. The waters which flow from

this great reservoir are directed into other channels; the quantity is

not increased, and the definite result is, for the nation, as a whole, a

loss of comfort equal to the excess of the production of several

millions of right hands, over several millions of left hands. Then let

us form a league, and, at the expense of some inevitable disturbances,

let us conquer the right of working with both hands.

Happily, Sire, there will be organized an association for the defense

of left-handed labor, and the Sinistrists will have no trouble in

reducing to nothing all these generalities and realities, suppositions

and abstractions, reveries and Utopias. They need only to exhume the

Moniteur Industriel of 1846, and they will find, ready-made, arguments

against free trade, which destroy so admirably this liberty of the

right hand, that all that is required is to substitute one word for


The Parisian Free Trade League never doubted but that it would have

the assistance of the workingmen. But the workingmen can no longer be

led by the nose. They have their eyes open, and they know political

economy better than our diplomaed professors. Free trade, they

replied, will take from us our labor, and labor is our real, great,

sovereign property; with labor, with much labor, the price of articles

of merchandise is never beyond reach. But without labor, even if bread

should cost but a penny a pound, the workingman is compelled to die of

hunger. Now, your doctrines, instead of increasing the amount of labor

in France, diminish it; that is to say, you reduce us to misery.

(Number of October 13, 1846.)

It is true, that when there are too many manufactured articles to sell,

their price falls; but as wages decrease when these articles sink in

value, the result is, that, instead of being able to buy them, we can

buy nothing. Thus, when they are cheapest, the workingman is most

unhappy. (Gauthier de Rumilly, Moniteur Industriel of November 17.)

It would not be ill for the Sinistrists to mingle some threats with

their beautiful theories. This is a sample:

What! to desire to substitute the labor of the right hand for that of

the left, and thus to cause a forced reduction, if not an annihilation

of wages, the sole resource of almost the entire nation!

And this at the moment when poor harvests already impose painful

sacrifices on the workingman, disquiet him as to his future, and make

him more accessible to bad counsels and ready to abandon the wise course

of conduct he had hitherto adhered to!

We are confident, Sire, that thanks to such wise reasonings, if a

struggle takes place, the left hand will come out of it victorious.

Perhaps, also, an association will be formed in order to ascertain

whether the right and the left hand are not both wrong, and if there is

not a third hand between them, in order to conciliate all.

After having described the Dexterists as seduced by the apparent

liberality of a principle, the correctness of which has not yet been

verified by experience, and the Sinistrists as encamping in the

positions they have gained, it will say:

And yet they deny that there is a third course to pursue in the

midst of the conflict; and they do not see that the working classes

have to defend themselves, at the same moment, against those who wish

to change nothing in the present situation, because they find their

advantage in it, and against those who dream of an economic

revolution of which they have calculated neither the extent nor the

significance. (National of October 16.)

We do not desire, however, to hide from your Majesty the fact that our

plan has a vulnerable side. They may say to us: In twenty years all left

hands will be as skilled as right ones are now, and you can no longer

count on left-handedness to increase the national labor.

We reply to this, that, according to learned physicians, the left side

of the body has a natural weakness, which is very reassuring for the

future of labor.

Finally, Sire, consent to sign the law, and a great principle will have

prevailed: All wealth comes from the intensity of labor. It will be

easy for us to extend it, and vary its application. We will declare,

for instance, that it shall be allowable to work only with the feet.

This is no more impossible (for there have been instances) than to

extract iron from the mud of the Seine. There have even been men who

wrote with their backs. You see, Sire, that we do not lack means of

increasing national labor. If they do begin to fail us, there remains

the boundless resource of amputation.

If this report, Sire, was not intended for publication, we would call

your attention to the great influence which systems analogous to the one

we submit to you, are capable of giving to men in power. But this is a

subject which we reserve for consideration in private counsel.