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Long ago it was said that “one half of the world does not know how the other half lives.” That was true then. The half that was on top cared little for the struggles, and less for the fate of those who were underneath, so long as it was able to hold them there and keep its own seat.Greed and reckless selfishness wrought like results here as in the cities of older lands.
The boundary line lies there because, while the forces for good on one side vastly outweigh the bad—it were not well otherwise—in the tenements all the influences make for evil; because they are the hot-beds of the epidemics that carry death to rich and poor alike; the nurseries of pauperism and crime that fill our jails and police courts; that throw off a scum of forty thousand human wrecks to the island asylums and workhouses year by year; that turned out in the last eight years a round half million beggars to prey upon our charities; that maintain a standing army of ten thousand tramps with all that that implies; because, above all, they touch the family life with deadly moral contagion.
This is their worst crime, inseparable from the system. It was asked once of our city in taunting defiance by a band of political cutthroats, the legitimate outgrowth of life on the tenement-house level. Law and order found the answer then and prevailed.
The greed of capital that wrought the evil must itself undo it, as far as it can now be undone.
Homes must be built for the working masses by those who employ their labor; but tenements must cease to be “good property” in the old, heartless sense.
“When the great riot occurred in 1863,” so reads the testimony of the Secretary of the Prison Association of New York before a legislative committee appointed to investigate causes of the increase of crime in the State twenty-five years ago, “every hiding-place and nursery of crime discovered itself by immediate and active participation in the operations of the mob.
Those very places and domiciles, and all that are like them, are to-day nurseries of crime, and of the vices and disorderly courses which lead to crime. at least—of crimes against property and against the person are perpetrated by individuals who have either lost connection with home life, or never had any, or whose ....The younger criminals seem to come almost exclusively from the worst tenement house districts, that is, when traced back to the very places where they had their homes in the city here.” Of one thing New York made sure at that early stage of the inquiry: the boundary line of the Other Half lies through the tenements.It is ten years and over, now, since that line divided New York’s population evenly.It was the stir and bustle of trade, together with the tremendous immigration that followed upon the war of 1812 that dislodged them.In thirty-five years the city of less than a hundred thousand came to harbor half a million souls, for whom homes had to be found.“Philanthropy and five per cent.” is the penance exacted.If this is true from a purely economic point of view, what then of the outlook from the Christian standpoint?” The first tenement New York knew bore the mark of Cain from its birth, though a generation passed before the writing was deciphered.It was the “rear house,” infamous ever after in our city’s history.The story is dark enough, drawn from the plain public records, to send a chill to any heart.If it shall appear that the sufferings and the sins of the “other half,” and the evil they breed, are but as a just punishment upon the community that gave it no other choice, it will be because that is the truth.