Excerpt from Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, Dec. 3, 1861


This is an excerpt from Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to
Congress, December 3, 1861.
My reason for providing this text is because it is the source of
Lincoln's remark, often quoted by socialists in the U.S., that
"capital is only the fruit of labor...." Socialists do not assert
that Lincoln was an adherent of socialism. "Capital has its
rights....", Lincoln indicates here. Capitalism became fully
obsolete shortly after the Lincoln era. Lincoln's perception of
two mutually contradictory ideas, that social wealth is produced
only by labor, and yet capitalists are somehow entitled to part
of that which labor alone produces, is likely an expression of
the age in which Lincoln lived. It was the time of capitalism's
rapid movement into its present obsolete phase.
-- Opinion by M. Lepore
Italics indicated here are in the original.
Reference: Roy P. Basler, Abraham Lincoln : His
Speeches and Writings
, Cleveland and New York: World
Publishing Company, 3rd printing, 1946, pp. 633-634

It is not needed, not fitting here, that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions; but there is one point, with its connexions, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention.

It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above labor, in the structure of government.

It is assumed that labor is available only in connexion with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it, induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them, and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers, or what we call slaves. And further it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer, is fixed in that condition for life.

Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital, producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation.

A few men own capital, and with that avoid labor themselves, and, with their capital, hire or buy another few to labor for them.

A large majority belong to neither class -- neither work for others, nor have others working for them. In most of the southern states, a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters; while in the northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men with their families -- wives, sons and daughters -- work for themselves, on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand, nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other.