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Our Cabmen


OUR CABMEN in 1855

This article was taken from

The Home and Foreign Record of the Free Church of Scotland
Volume 5 - August 1854 - July 1855

I first learned about Cabmen while reading a short biography of George McRobert which started me on a hunt to find out more.

In all periods of her history, the Church of Scotland has been distinguished for her popular sympathies. She exists for the people. She recognises the people as an intrinsic part of herself. For the people her great battles have been fought. For die people her sacrifices of status and emolument have been made. For the people her blood has been freely poured out; and when she ceases to care for them—to defend their rights and privileges—to make their wrongs her wrongs, she loses her hereditary feelings, and falls from her hereditary renown; and whatever she may be in point of legal standing or of outward title, she has ceased to be the popularly-organised Institute which Knox founded, and is no longer the church of the people of Scotland.

The Free Church has evinced, since the eventful era of the Disruption, no diminution of her ancient sympathies, no cooling of her former love. For whom but for the people of Scotland was the great struggle of the ten years? and for whom but for the people was the great sacrifice of the Disruption? Had the ministers sought only power for themselves, they would have been saved both the struggle and the sacrifice. True, the struggle was for the crown rights of Christ; but when translated into fact, these just meant the rights and privileges of the people. And since the Disruption, the Free Church has laboured to gather under her wing the outcast and heathen masses of our land, for whose souls no man cared. She has discovered herself to be the mother, by displaying the yearnings of a mother’s heart. Were our rulers to sit in judgment, like the wise king of old, on the question which is the true mother, or to whom should the outcast be committed to be gathered in, instructed, and cared for, they could have little difficulty in coming to the old verdict, as regards the disestablished Church of Scotland, “Give her the child, for she is the mother thereof.”

A new and important movement has just arisen; and we rejoice to see that our Church, through several of her leading ministers, has been the first to extend a helping hand to it. The cabmen have resolved to discontinue their Sabbath traffic; and have appealed to the Christian public for support in their movement. We deprecate that this movement should ever come to have the aspect of a mere party movement. Let all Churches and all Christian men hasten to its relief. We feel assured they will do so. It is a movement which combines in one two sacred causes—the cause of Humanity and the cause of the Sabbath.

It is the cause of humanity. We scarce can name a class who have endured more unmitigated, ceaseless, never-ending drudgery and toil than our cabmen. We scarce know a class who have been more unsparingly shorn and robbed of every intellectual and spiritual opportunity and enjoyment. Every rag of privilege has been tom from them. “A remonstrance and appeal ” was published in 1850 by the carnage and cab-drivers of Glasgow, which gives us a glimpse into the slavery of their condition. They state that their average time on watch and work, from Monday morning to Saturday night, is seventeen hours a-day: that on Sabbath they are on the stand from nine in the morning till nine at night. “The consequence of this practice,” say they, “is in many respects deplorable, and is felt by many of us to be an infliction of a most grievous and humiliating kind. There are many of us who subscribe our names to this paper who have not had an opportunity of being in a place of worship during the last four, five, six, and seven years; although, with but few exceptions, we have been regularly once, twice, or three times attending, with our cattle and machines, at some or other of the church doors, every Sabbath, during the whole of these respective periods; and further, we can prove, that, but for the attendance we have to give at these church doors, we would not be employed on the Sabbath at all! it would not pay!" This may be taken as a fair picture of the condition of their brethren in Edinburgh, and in all towns where cabs are employed. Could anything be more deplorable? Their toil has nothing intellectual about it, nothing to excite their faculties; but very much to weary, to deaden, to degrade, and to drive to unlawful stimulants. And how ceaselessly and hopelessly is that avocation prosecuted. They are chained to their stand in the summer’s heat and the winter’s cold. They hear the Sabbath-bell; but they cannot join in the Sabbath song. That day, whose blessed footsteps are to others the sound of liberty and rest, only calls them to labour. They are banished from the sanctuary; they are banished from their own homes,—from their wives and families,—banished from the usual opportunities of intellectual and spiritual improvement. If the rest of the seventh day be necessary to the sound bodily and mental state of man—and we need not remind our readers of the unanswerable demonstration of Professor Miller on this head—surely that rest is needed most of all by those who endure such protracted, continuous, and depressing drudgery on the six days.

But in the second place, this is especially the cause of the Sabbath. We are sure every friend of that blessed institution will rejoice to mark this advancement in the appreciation of its value —that even our cabmen have come to see that this day has obligations which they are bound to respect, privileges which they should seek to enjoy, and a rest which they need. Our cabmen seek to recover their Sabbath. On the ground of equity they are entitled to this. All other professions and trades rest on that day,—our merchants, our artizans, all are free—our cabmen alone are compelled to carry on their usual avocations. Though the Divine law were silent on the subject, equity would condemn this invidious exception. Society may require, on the Sabbath, the use of cabs in cases of "necessity and mercy" and the law of God allows this; but society does not require, and the law of God does not allow, that cabmen, as a class, should ply their avocations on that day. It no more requires this, than It requires that bankers, merchants, and artizans should prosecute their usual avocations on that day. Society might find it convenient to have all trades and professions going on on that day as on others; but in obedience to the Decalogue, and for the blessings of the Sabbath, it submits to inconvenience (if so it can be called), and closes all trades, exempting only cabmen, from this beneficent arrangement. Now in doing so, it acts with manifest unfairness and injustice. In perfect equity, it ought to require all trades to work on that day, or require none.

It has been said that our cabmen are not prepared to make a good use of the Sabbath. If so, that is their sin, and will not justify us in committing another sin. Do cabmen at present make a good use of the Sabbath? And are we justified, because they may possibly abuse the Sabbath in one way, in compelling them to abuse it in another? Does a man's right to a privilege depend upon the use he makes of it? There are many who abuse health, property, and liberty; would we therefore be justified in robbing them of these rights? Are cabmen the only parties who make an improper use of the Sabbath, and are we prepared to take away the Sabbath from all by whom it is abused? Besides, has not a practical refutation been given of this argument in the large attendance of cabmen on worship since they desisted from Sabbath labour?

The cabmen are entitled to the Sabbath on the ground of the Divine law. As we are here arguing with Christian men, the matter is plain. All agree in recognising a broad line, drawn by a Divine finger, above which the claims of our cabmen cannot rise, and below which they dare [20th of last month. For other facts illustrating the severe character of the week-day labour of our cabmen, see report of that meeting]. not fall—no work, except in cases of necessity and mercy. The rule of the cabman must be no work, and he must be the judge of the exceptional cases, because he is responsible in the doing of that work. On this rule society acts as regards all other professions. I may feel it to be a real work of44 necessity and mercy” to have a writing executed on the Sabbath, or to have an article of merchandise, or a piece of work done on the Sabbath; but my rights only extend to making a statement of my case, that the other party may judge of it. I have no power to compel him to do the service I require, even though I feel justified in requiring it; for if I claim a power to compel the shopkeeper to open his shop, or the artizan to ply his tools for me, I take away his responsibility; and what I may do, another is entitled to do, all men may do— and what, in that case, becomes of his Sabbath? And as regards those exceptional cases, invalids for instance, that may require the use of a conveyance on Sabbath, their right extends only to a statement of their case. The cabman must judge whether the case justifies working on the Sabbath; for if you claim the power of compelling him, you destroy his responsibility, and take away his Sabbath. As regards invalids, we think all reasonable men will allow that it is only in certain circumstances that it is a work of necessity and mercy that they should be carried to church at the cost of preventing another gojng to church. Much will depend upon the length of their invalidity; much upon its extent, whether they are unable to walk the same distance on a week-day: in short, on a variety of circumstances, of which the parties only can be the judge. But all Christian men will agree, that to keep up a regular and stated system of Sabbath labonr to meet these few exceptionable cases, is utterly indefensible. Here, with men admitting the fourth commandment, there can be no argument.

We make our appeal in behalf of this movement. We make our appeal to tw o parties, because there are two parties on whom mainly its success will depend. The first are the cabmen themselves. Much will depend on the union, perseverance, and sobriety with which they prosecute a movement which we rejoice they have originated. We say to them, Your claims are just; they are irresistible: they are irresistible on the grounds of equity and of the Divine law, and if temperately, yet firmly pressed, they must succeed. The Sabbath is yours : you may voluntarily surrender it, or lose it by your own indifference ; but in this land no man dare take it from you. We appeal, in the second place, to professing Christians. The Glasgow “Remonstrance and Appeal,” quoted above, distinctly sets forth that it is you who keep up the Sabbath cab traffic. "But for the attendance toe have to give at these church doors say they, we would not he employed on the Sabbath at a"—it would not pay If it was so before the shutting up of the public houses on the Sabbath, much more must it be so now, when, as all admit, Sabbath pleasure-driving has much diminished. On you, then, rests the fearful responsibility of this Sabbath traffic. We shall grant that yours is indeed a case of 11 necessity and mercy.” What then? You say it is the duty of this class of men to provide for it. We deny that it is their duty; it is your own. I have no right to require of others, especially to require of a class, that they provide for cases of necessity and mercy that may. happen to me ; I must provide for them myself. I may ask the help of others when they do occur, and very probably I shall not a9k in vain; but if I require them to provide for these, I shift on them a burden I ought to bear myself.

But may not a case of “necessity and mercy” be such absolutely, but not relatively f It comes in many cases to be a question of which is the greater “necessity and mercy,”—whether I, who have leisure, books, religious society, it may be, and who wa3 at church possibly a few Sabbaths ago,—or this man who has not been at church for years, who has neither books nor society suitable to the Sabbath, and who, in addition to the slavery of the six days, has to endure that of the seventh also. u Necessity and mercy !” Who is it, we ask, who has the best right to use that plea? Besides, it is not one man who is kept from church; but a system involving, in Edinburgh alone, some three hundred men, with their families, amounting in all to not less than fifteen hundred souls, which is kept up by our using a cab on Sabbath. Is there no room for self-denial here? That man must have a very clear, and a very strong case, who should insist that his spiritual interests shall be attended to in preference to those of all these other individuals. We may thirst for ordinances, as did David for the water of the well of Bethlehem, and the draught may be to us, as was that other to David, sweet and refreshing; but it is impossible to forget, as we drink, that this water has been brought us at the peril of the blood of souls.


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