Power and Dignity of Labour

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER I (3) start of chapter

In such a country man is most conscious of his value: he is the architect of his country's greatness, the author of her civilisation, the miracle-worker by whom all has been or can be accomplished. Where a few years since a forest waved in mournful grandeur, there are cultivated fields, blooming orchards, comfortable homesteads, cheerful hamlets—churches, schools, civilisation; where but the other day a few huts stood on a river's bank, by the shore of a lake, or on some estuary of the sea, swelling domes and lofty spires and broad porticoes now meet the eye; and the waters but recently skimmed by the light bark of the Indian are ploughed into foam by countless steamers. And the same man who performed these miracles of a few years since—of yesterday—has the same power of to-morrow achieving the same wondrous results of patience and energy, courage and skill. But for him, and his hands to toil and his brain to plan, the vast country whose commerce is on every sea, and whose influence is felt in every court, would be still the abode of savage tribes, dwelling in perpetual conflict and steeped in the grossest ignorance.

Labour is thus a thing to be honoured, not a badge of inferiority. Nor is the poor man here a drug, a social nuisance, something to be legislated against or got rid of, regarded with suspicion because of his probable motives or intentions, or with aversion as a possible burden on property. In the old countries, the ordinary lot of the man born to poverty is that poverty shall be his doom—that he shall die in the condition in which he was brought into the world, and that he shall transmit hard toil and scanty remuneration as a legacy to his children. But in a new country, especially one of limitless fields for enterprise, the rudest implements of labour may be the means of advancement to wealth, honour and distinction, if not for those who use them, at least for those who spring from their loins. Labour, rightly understood, being the great miracle-worker, the mighty civiliser is regarded with respect, not looked down upon, or loftily patronised; and though birth and position and superior intelligence will always have their influence, even in the newest state of society, still honest industry appreciates its own dignity, and holds high its head amidst the proudest or the best. Therefore America, of all countries, is the one most suited to the successful transplanting of a race which has in it every essential element of greatness—alertness and vigour of intellect, strength and energy of body, patient industry, courage and daring in battle, cheerful endurance of adversity and privation, quickness of invention, profound faith, with firm reliance in the wisdom and goodness of God, and a faculty of thoroughly identifying itself with the institutions, interests, and honour of its adopted home.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America