The statement is frequently made that “the Americans have everywhere been driven out of the factory.” It is true that they have almost universally quitted the lower grades of work in cotton-mills, but it must not be hastily assumed that they left in any such manner as would justify the use of the expression that they were driven from it. To say that they were driven seems to imply that if their departure were not actually compulsory, it was at any rate an experience which would not have come to them had their social and national life developed in an orderly way. The phrase would also warrant the inference that the movement out of the factory was downward, towards a less satisfactory condition and towards inferior sorts of labor.
It should not be said that the Americans were driven, if it can be shown that their passage into the factory, through it and away from it, was due to a spontaneous and a measurably successful effort to accomplish results and obtain objects which they desired. The entire process then takes its place among those oscillations of the masses which conduce to the healthy growth of society. The matter is worthy of conscientious study, since the world is beginning to demand that all institutions shall have a moral as well as an economical or political justification for existence. If it be found that a people are inevitably degraded through mill service, and that they are nearly certain, in the course of succeeding generations, to sink rather than to rise, then the factory must be condemned by all persons who believe that the purpose of being on this planet is ethical, and that it is immoral to foster practices and methods which deteriorate the human race. If, on the other hand, an examination of the subject shall lead to the conclusion that certain classes of mill people have not been vitally injured by their life, it will become proper to inquire into the causes which have preserved them, in order to learn whether their salvation be due to their association with the factory, or whether it is consequent upon particular characteristics which they have themselves brought into that association. The student must also be careful to remember that if the latter be the case with any race or class which is sharply distinguished in its nature from other classes, some of these different races or classes, not possessing the same preservative qualities, might be less favorably affected by factory life, and might be finally moulded into a very dissimilar shape by experience of that mode of work and existence. The study of the subject is the more valuable, as it may serve to suggest that if the factory is not always wholly harmful to all its workers, it might be possible, by intelligent effort, to render it less harmful to any laborers. It may prove that this object is to be attained through some modification of the system, which will help the operatives to surround themselves with such influences as will tend to develop in them the characteristics which have been efficacious in elevating other classes. There is need of such effort, for even if every body of factory employees have not suffered vitally because of their connection with the institutions of manufacturing, moreover, even if some of them have been able to rise through that connection, it still does not follow that these institutions have ever been rendered as innoxious or as beneficial as they might have been had they been founded, or were they now administered, with conscientious reference to ethical laws.