Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg: Victory for Strangers, Heathens, Wastrels!

Roundup: Historians' Take

Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg are professors of History at LSU and coauthors of "Madison and Jefferson" (Random House),

Before we get to the persistence of class warfare in our politics, let’s talk about Skinch Painter. In 1900, when the San Francisco Examiner tracked him down, he was 78, “hale, hearty, and contented.” He hadn’t inherited a penny, but neither had he worked a day in his life. “He has never borrowed a dollar, nor stolen one,” the column read. “He has never been a tramp nor a beggar. He has never done a day’s work in exchange for money … Yet he has lived.”

One day, when he was in his teens, he said to himself, “Look here, Skinch Painter, this old world owes you a living, and all you’ve got to do is collect it.” Wandering the Ozarks of Missouri, he inhabited a cave and relied on nature for his food and clothing. He hunted, fished and gathered nuts and berries, wearing only animal skins and going barefoot.

“Labor is a useless sin,” said Skinch. “The time a man spends working is just so much time lost from living.”

We can just about see Fox News sending a camera crew out to interview Skinch, and one of its handsomely paid straight men wrapping up the piece with an offhand, “See, you don’t need government handouts. If you don’t want to work, you can do what this guy does. At least he’s not a taker. The rest of us in this country, we’ll continue to work for a living.”...

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