The Price of a Soul
William Jennings Bryan
Abstract of an address delivered, first at the Northwestern Law School
Banquet in Chicago, then as a Commencement Oration at the Pierce School
in Philadelphia and, in 1909, extended into a lecture.
THE fact that Christ dealt with this subject is proof conclusive that it
is important, for He never dealt with trivial things. When Christ focused
attention upon a theme it was because it was worthy of consideration—and
Christ weighed the soul. He presented the subject, too, with surpassing
force; no one will ever add emphasis to what He said. He understood the
value of the question in argument. If you will examine the great orations
delivered at crises in the world’s history, you will find that in nearly
every case the speaker condensed the whole subject into a question, and
in that question embodied what he regarded as an unanswerable argument.
Christ used the question to give force to the thought which he presented
in regard to the soul’s value.
On one side He put the world and all that the world can contain—all the
wealth that one can accumulate, all the fame to which one can aspire, and
all the happiness that one can covet; and on the other side he put the
soul, and asked the question that has come ringing down the centuries:
“What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own
There is no compromise here—no partial statement of the matter. He leaves us to write one term of the equation ourselves. He gives us all the time we desire, and allows the imagination to work to the limit, and when we have gathered together into one sum all things but the soul, He asks—What if you gain it all—all—ALL, and lose the soul? What is the profit?
Some have thought the soul question a question of the next world only, but it is a question of this world also; some have thought the soul question a Sabbath-day question only, but it is a week-day question as well; some have thought the soul question a question for the ministers alone, but it is a question which we all must meet. Every day and every week, every month and every year, from the time we reach the period of accountability until we die, we—each of us—all of us, weigh the soul; and just in proportion as we put the soul above all things else we build character; the moment we allow the soul to become a matter of merchandise, we start on the downward way.
Tolstoy says that if you would investigate the career of a criminal it
is not sufficient to begin with the commission of a crime; that you must
go back to that day in his life when he deliberately trampled upon his
conscience and did that which he knew to be wrong. And so with all of us,
the turning point in the life is the day when we surrender the soul for
something that for the time being seems more desirable.
Most of the temptations that come to us to sell the soul come in. connection with the getting of money. The Bible says, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” If I had been making the statement, I think I would have said that the love of money is the root of nearly all evil. But that is probably due to the fact that I am so conservative in thought and in method of statement, that I prefer to leave a margin in the statement of a proposition, so that if anybody disputes it I can bring proof of more than I said. But the Bible says, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” and I shall not attempt to weaken the statement. If it is a mistake at all it is so slight a mistake that we need not spend time in correcting it.
And because so many of our temptations come through the love of money and
the desire to obtain it, it is worth while to consider the laws of accumulation.
We must all have money; we need food and clothing and shelter, and money
is necessary for the purchase of these things. Money is not an evil in
itself—money is, in fact, a very useful servant. It is bad only when it
becomes the master, and the love of it is hurtful only because it can,
and often does, crowd out the love of nobler things.
But since we must all use money and must in our active days store up money
for the days when our strength fails, let us see if we can agree upon the
rules that should govern us in the accumulation of the money that we need.
How much money can a man rightfully collect from society? Surely, there
can be no disagreement here. He cannot rightfully collect more than he
honestly earns. If a man collect more than he honestly earns, he collects
what somebody else has earned, and we call it stealing if a man takes that
which belongs to another. Not only is a man limited in his collections
of what he honestly earns, but no honest man will desire to collect more
than he earns.
If a man cannot rightfully collect more than he honestly earns, it is,
then, a matter of the utmost importance to know how much money a man can
honestly earn. I venture an answer to this and say that a man cannot honestly
earn more than fairly measures the service which he renders to society.
I cannot conceive of any way of earning money except to give to society
a service equivalent in value to the money collected. This is a fundamental
proposition and it is important that it should be clearly understood, for
if one desires to collect largely from society he must be prepared to render
a large service to society; and our schools and colleges, our churches
and all other organizations for the improvement of man have for one of
their chief objects the enlargement of the capacity for service.
There is an apparent exception in the case of an inheritance, but it is not a real exception, for if the man who leaves the money has honestly earned it, he has already given society a service of equivalent value and, therefore, has a right to distribute it. And money received by inheritance is either payment for service already rendered, or payment in advance for service to be rendered. No right-minded person will accept money, even by inheritance, without recognizing the obligation it imposes to render a service in return. This service is not always rendered to the one from whom this money is received, but often to society in general. In fact, most of the blessings which we receive come to us in such a way that we cannot distinguish the donors and must make our return to the whole public.
But I need not dwell upon this, because in this country more than anywhere
else in the world we appreciate the dignity of labor and understand that
it is honorable to serve. And yet there is room for improvement, for all
over our land there are, scattered here and there, young men and young
women—and even parents—who still think that it is more respectable for
a young man to spend in idleness the money some one else has earned than
to be himself a producer of wealth. And as long as this sentiment is to
be found anywhere there is educational work to be done, for public opinion
will never be what it ought to be until it puts the badge of disgrace upon
the idler, no matter how rich he may be, rather than upon the man who with
brain or muscle contributes to the Nation’s wealth, the Nation’s strength
and the Nation’s progress. But, as I said, the inheritance is an apparent,
not an actual, exception, and we will return to the original proposition—that
one’s earnings must be measured by the service rendered. This is so important
a proposition that I beg leave to dwell upon it a moment longer, to ask
whether it is possible to fix in dollars and cents a maximum limit to the
amount one can earn in a lifetime.
Let us begin with one hundred thousand dollars. If we estimate a working
life at thirty-three years—and I think this is a fair estimate—a man must
earn a little more than three thousand dollars per year for thirty-three
years to earn one hundred thousand dollars in a lifetime. I take it for
granted that no one will deny that it is possible for one to earn this
sum by rendering a service equal to it in value. What shall we say of a
million dollars? Can a man earn that much? To do so he must earn a little
more than thirty thousand dollars a year for thirty-three years. Is it
possible for one to render so large a service? I believe that it is. Well,
what shall we say of ten millions? To earn that much one must earn on an
average a little more than three hundred thousand a year for thirty-three
years. Is it possible for one to render a service so large as to earn so
vast a sum? At the risk of shocking some of my radical friends I am going
to affirm that it is possible. But can one earn a hundred million? Yes,
I believe that it is even possible to serve society to such an extent as
to earn a hundred million in the span of a human life, or an average of
three million a year for thirty-three years. We have one man in this country
who is said to be worth five hundred million. To earn five hundred million
one must earn on an average fifteen million a year for thirty-three years.
Is this within the range of human possibility? I believe that it is. Now,
I have gone as high as any one has yet gone in collecting, but if there
is any young man with an ambition to render a larger service to the world,
I will raise it another notch, if necessary, to encourage him. So almost
limitless are the possibilities of service in this age that I am not willing
to fix a maximum to the sum a man can honestly and legitimately earn.
Not only do I believe that a man can earn five hundred million, but I believe
that men have earned it. I believe that Thomas Jefferson earned more than
five hundred millions. The service that he rendered to the world was of
such great value that had he collected for it five hundred millions of
dollars, he would not have been overpaid. I believe that Abraham Lincoln
earned more than five hundred millions, and I could go back through history
and give you the name of man after man who rendered a service so large
as to entitle him to collect more than five hundred million from society,
but if I presented a list containing the name of every man, who, since
time began, earned such an enormous sum, one thing would be true of all
of them, namely: that in not a single case did the man collect the full
amount. The men who have earned five million dollars have been so busy
earning it that they have not had time to collect it; and the men who have
collected five hundred million have been so busy collecting it that they
have not had time to earn it.
Jefferson did not collect all he earned; in fact, he began public life
well to do for a man of that period, and died poor—impoverished by visits
of those who called to tell him how much they loved him and how much they
appreciated his work. Lincoln did not collect the full amount; neither
Jefferson nor Lincoln would have cared to collect five hundred million.
What would either one have done with such a sum? Or, what is more important,
what would five hundred millions of dollars have done with Jefferson or
In that wonderful parable of the sower, Christ speaks of the seeds that fell and of the thorns that sprang up and choked them, and He himself explained what he meant by this illustration, namely: That the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the truth. If the great benefactors of the race had been burdened with the care of big fortunes, they could not have devoted themselves to the nobler things that gave them a place in the affection of their people and in history.
It seems, therefore, that while one cannot rightfully collect more than
he honestly earns, he may earn more than it would be wise for him to collect.
And that brings us to the next question: How much should one desire to
collect from society? I answer, that no matter how large a service he may
render or how much he may earn, one should not desire to collect more than
he can wisely spend.
And how much can one wisely spend? Not as much as you might think, and not nearly as much as some have tried to spend. No matter how honestly money may be acquired, one is not free to spend it at will. We are hedged about by certain restrictions that we can neither remove nor ignore. God has written certain laws in our nature—laws that no legislature can repeal—laws that no court can declare unconstitutional, and these laws limit us in our expenditures.
Let us consider some of the things for which we can properly spend money.
We need food—we all need food, and we need about the same amount; not exactly,
but the difference in quantity is not great. The range in expenditure is
greater than the range in quantity, for expenditure covers kind and quality
as well as quantity. But there is a limit even to expenditure. If a man
eats too much he suffers for it. If he squanders his money on high-priced
foods, he wears his stomach out. There is an old saying which we have all
heard, that “The poor man is looking for food for his stomach, while the
rich man is going from one watering place to another looking for a stomach
for his food.” This is only a witty way of expressing the sober truth,
namely, that one is limited in the amount of money he can wisely spend
We need clothing—we all need clothing, and we need the same amount. The
difference in quantity is not great. The range in expenditure for clothing
is greater than the range in quantity, because expenditure covers style
and variety as well as quantity, but there is a limit to the amount of
money one can wisely spend for clothing. If a man has so much clothing
that it takes all of his time to change his clothes, he has more than he
needs and more than he can wisely spend money for.
We need homes—we all need shelter and we need about the same amount. In fact, God was very democratic in the distribution of our needs, for he so created us that our needs are about the same. The range of expenditure for homes is probably wider than in the case of either food or clothing. We are interested in the home. I never pass a little house where two young people are starting out in life without feeling a sympathetic interest in that home; I never pass a house where a room is being added without feeling interested, for I know the occupants have planned it, and looked forward to it and waited for it; I like to see a little house moved back and a larger house built, for I know it is the fulfillment of a dream. I have had some of these dreams myself, and I know how they lead us on and inspire us to larger effort and greater endeavor, and yet there is a limit to the amount one can wisely spend even for so good a thing as a home.
If a man gets too big a house it becomes a burden to him, and some have
had this experience. Not infrequently a young couple will start out poor
and struggle along in a little house, looking forward to the time when
they can build a big house. After a while the time arrives and they build
a big house, larger, possibly, than they intended to and it nearly always
costs more than they thought they would, and then they struggle along the
rest of their lives looking back to the time when they lived in a little
We speak of people being independently rich. That is a mistake; they are
dependently rich. The richer a man is the more dependent he is—the more
people be depends upon to help him collect his income, and the more people
he depends upon to help him spend his income. Sometimes a couple will start
out doing their own work—the wife doing the work inside the house and the
man outside; but they prosper, and after a while they are able to afford
help. They get a girl to help the wife inside and a man to help the husband
outside; then they prosper more—and they get two girls to help inside and
two men to help outside, then three girls inside and three men outside.
Finally they have so many girls helping inside and so many men helping
outside that they cannot leave the house—they have to stay at home and
look after the establishment. And this is not a new condition. One of the
Latin poets complained of “the cares that hover about the fretted ceilings
of the rich,” and it was this condition that inspired Charles Wagner to
write his little book entitled “The Simple Life,” in which he entered an
eloquent protest against the materialism which makes man the slave of his
possessions and presented an earnest plea for the raising of the spiritual
above the purely physical. I repeat, there is a limit to the amount a man
can wisely spend upon a home.
But a man can give his money away. Yes, and no one who has ever tried it
will deny that more pleasure is to be derived from the giving of money
to a cause in which one’s heart is interested, than can be obtained from
the expenditure of the same amount in selfish indulgence. But if one is
going to give largely he must spend a great deal of time in investigating
and in comparing the merits of the different enterprises, and I am persuaded
that there is a better life than the life led by those who spend nearly
all the time accumulating beyond their needs and then employ the last few
days in giving it away. What the world needs is not a few men of great
wealth, doling out their money in anticipation of death—what the world
needs is that these men should link themselves in sympathetic interest
with struggling humanity and help to solve the problems of today, instead
of creating problems for the next generation to solve.
But you say, a man can leave his money to his children? He can, if he dares.
But a large fortune, in anticipation, has ruined more sons than it has
ever helped. If a young man has so much money coming to him that he knows
he will never have to work, the chances are that it will sap his energy,
even if it does not undermine his character, and leave him a curse rather
than a blessing to those who brought him into the world. And it is scarcely
safer to leave the money to a daughter. For if a young woman has a prospective
inheritance so large that, when a young man calls upon her, she cannot
tell whether he is calling upon her or her father, it is embarrassing—especially
so if she finds after marriage that he married the wrong member of the
family. And, I may add, that the daughters of the very rich are usually
hedged about by a social environment which prevents their making the acquaintance
of the best young men. The men who, twenty-five years from now, will be
the leaders in business, in society, in government, and in the Church,
are not the pampered sons of the rich, but the young men who, with good
health and good habits, with high ideals and strong ambition, are, under
the spur of necessity, laying the foundation for future achievements, and
these young men do not have a chance to become acquainted with the daughters
of the very rich. Even if they did know them they might hesitate to enter
upon the scale of expenditure to which these daughters are accustomed.
I have spoken at length in regard to these limitations, although we all
know of them or ought to. The ministers tell us about these things Sunday
after Sunday, or should, and yet we find men chasing the almighty dollar
until they fall exhausted into the grave. A few years ago I read a sermon
by Dr. Talmage on this subject; he said a man who wore himself out getting
money that he did not need would finally drop dead, and that his pastor
would tell a group of sorrowing friends that, by a mysterious dispensation
of Providence, the good man had been cut off in his prime. Dr. Talmage
said that Providence had nothing to do with it, and that the minister ought
to tell the truth about it and say that the man had been kicked to death
by the golden calf.
A few weeks ago I read a story by Tolstoy, and I did not notice until I
had completed it that the title of the story was, “What shall it profit?”
The great Russian graphically presented the very thought that I have been
trying to impress upon your minds. He told of a Russian peasant who had
land hunger—who added farm to farm and land to land, but could never get
enough. After a while he heard of a place where land was cheaper and he
sold his land and went and bought more land. But he had no more than settled
there until he heard of another place among a half civilized people where
land was cheaper still. He took a servant and went into this distant country
and hunted up the head man of the tribe, who offered him all the land he
could walk around in a day for a thousand rubles—told him he could put
the money down on any spot and walk in any direction as far and as fast
as he would, and that if he was back by sunset he could have all the land
he could encompass during the day. He put the money down upon the ground
and started at sunrise to get, at last, enough land. He started leisurely,
but as he looked upon the land it looked so good that he hurried a little—and
then he hurried more, and then he went faster still. Before he turned he
had gone further in that direction than he had intended, but he spurred
himself on and started on the second side. Before he turned again the sun
had crossed the meridian and he had two sides yet to cover. As the sun
was slowly sinking in the west he constantly accelerated his pace, alarmed
at last for fear he might have undertaken too much and might lose it all.
He reached the starting point, however, just as the sun went down, but
he had overtaxed his strength and fell dead upon the spot. Then his servant
dug a grave for him and he only needed six feet of ground then, the same
that others needed—and the rest of the land was of no use to him. Thus
far Tolstoy told the story of many a life—not the life of the very rich
only, but the story of every life in which the love of money is the controlling
force and in which the desire for gain shrivels the soul and leaves the
life a failure at last.
I desire to show you how practical this subject is. If time permitted I
could take up every occupation, every avocation, every profession and every
calling, and show you that no matter which way we turn—no matter what we
do—we are always and everywhere weighing the Soul.
In the brief time that it is proper for me to occupy, I shall apply the
thought to those departments of human activity in which the sale of a soul
affects others largely as well as the individual who makes the bargain.
Take the occupation in which I am engaged, journalism. It presents a great field—a growing field; in fact, there are few fields so large. The journalist is both a news gatherer and a molder of thought. He informs his readers as to what is going on, and he points out the relation between cause and effect—interprets current history. Public opinion is the controlling force in a republic, and the newspaper gives to the journalist, beyond every one else, the opportunity to affect public opinion. Others reach his readers through the courtesy of the newspaper, but the owner of the paper has full access to his own columns, and does not fear the blue pencil. The journalist occupies the position of a watchman upon a tower. He is often able to see dangers which are not observed by the general public, and because he can see these dangers he is in a position of greater responsibility. Is he discharging the duty which superior opportunity imposes upon him? I might mention a number of temptations which come to the journalist, but I shall content myself with a few. First, there is the temptation to conceal the name of the real owner of the paper. The proprietor of a paper should be known, but his identity is not always disclosed. The corporate entity which plays so large a part in the business world has entered the newspaper field. The names of the stockholders are not published and we do not always know what individuality directs the paper’s policy. Year by year the disclosures are bringing to light the fact that the predatory interests are using the newspapers and even some magazines for the defense of commercial iniquity and for the purpose of attacking those who lift their voices against favoritism and privilege. A financial magnate interested in the exploitation of the public secures control of a paper; he employs business managers, managing editors, and a reportorial staff. He does not act openly or in the daylight but through a group of employees who are the visible but not the real directors. The reporters are instructed to bring in the kind of news which will advance the enterprises owned by the man who stands back of the paper, and if the news brought in is not entirely satisfactory it is doctored in the office. The columns of the paper are filled with matter, written not for the purpose of presenting facts as they exist, but for the purpose of distorting facts and misleading the public. The editorial writers, whose names are generally unknown to the public, are told what to say and what subjects to avoid. They are instructed to extol the merits of those who are subservient to the interests represented by the paper, and to misrepresent and traduce those who dare to criticize or oppose the plans of those who hide behind the paper. Such journalists are members of a kind of “Blackhand society”; they are assassins, hiding in ambush and striking in the dark; and the worst of it is that the readers have no way of knowing when a change takes place in the ownership of such a paper. Editorial poison, like other poisons, can be administered more successfully if the victim is in ignorance as to who administers it.
There are degrees of culpability and some are disposed to hold an editorial
writer guiltless even when they visit condemnation upon the secret director
of the paper’s policy. I present to you a different—and I believe higher—ideal
of journalism. If we are going to make any progress in morals we must abandon
the idea that morals are defined by the statutes; we must recognize that
there is a wide margin between that which the law prohibits and that which
an enlightened conscience can approve. We do not legislate against the
man who uses the printed page for the purpose of deception but, viewed
from the standpoint of morals, the man who, whether voluntarily or under
instructions, writes what he knows to be untrue or purposely misleads his
readers as to the character of a proposition upon which they have to act,
is as guilty of wrong-doing as the man who assists in any other swindling
Another method employed to mislead the public is the publication of editorial
matter supplied by those who have an interest to serve. This evil is even
more common than secrecy as to the ownership of the paper. In the case
of the weekly papers and the smaller dailies, the proprietor is generally
known, and it is understood that the editorial pages represent his views.
His standing and character give weight to that which appears with his endorsement.
A few years ago, when the railroad rate bill was before Congress, a number
of railroads joined in an effort to create a public sentiment against the
bill. Bureaus were established for the dissemination of literature, and
a number of newspapers entered into contract to publish as editorial matter
the material furnished by these bureaus. This can not be defended in ethics.
The purchase of the editorial columns is a crime against the public and
a disgrace to journalism, and yet we have frequent occasion to note this
degradation of the newspaper. A few days ago Senator Carter, of Montana,
speaking in the United States Senate. read several printed slips which
were sent out by a bankers’ association to local bankers with the request
that they be inserted in the local papers, suggestion being made that the
instructions to the local bankers be removed before they were handed to
the papers. The purpose of the bankers’ association was to stimulate opposition
to the postal savings bank, a policy endorsed affirmatively by the Republican
party and, conditionally, by the Democratic party, the two platforms being
supported at the polls by more than ninety per cent. of the voters. The
bankers’ associations are opposing the policy, and, in sending out its
literature, they are endeavoring to conceal the source of that literature
and to make it appear that the printed matter represents the opinion of
some one in the community.
The journalist who would fully perform his duty must be not only incorruptible,
but ever alert, for those who are trying to misuse the newspapers are able
to deceive “the very elect.” Whenever any movement is on foot for the securing
of legislation desired by the predatory interests, or when restraining
legislation is threatened, news bureaus are established at Washington,
and these news bureaus furnish to such papers, as will use them, free reports,
daily or weekly as the case may be, from the national capitol—reports which
purport to give general news, but which in fact contain arguments in support
of the schemes which the bureaus are organized to advance. This ingenious
method of misleading the public is only a part of the general plan which
favor-holding and favor-seeking corporations pursue.
Demosthenes declared that the man who refuses a bribe conquers the man who offers it. According to this, the journalist who resists the many temptations which come to him to surrender his ideals has the consciousness of winning a moral victory as well as the satisfaction of knowing that he is rendering a real service to his fellows.
The profession for which I was trained—the law—presents another line of
temptations. The courtroom is a soul’s market where many barter away their
ideals in the hope of winning wealth or fame. Lawyers sometimes boast of
the number of men whose acquittal they have secured when they knew them
to be guilty, and of advantages won which they knew their clients did not
deserve. I do not understand how a lawyer can so boast, for he is an officer
of the court and, as such, is sworn to assist in the administration of
justice. When a lawyer has helped his client to obtain all that his client
is entitled to, he has done his full duty as a lawyer, and if he goes beyond
this, he goes at his own peril. Show me a lawyer who has spent a lifetime
trying to obscure the line between right and wrong, trying to prove that
to be just which he knew to be unjust, and I will show you a man who has
grown weaker in character year by year, and whose advice, at last, will
be of no value to his clients, for he will have lost the power to discern
between right and wrong. Show me, on the other hand, a lawyer who has spent
a lifetime in the search for truth, determined to follow where it leads,
and I will show you a man who has grown stronger in character day by day
and whose advice constantly becomes more valuable to his client, because
the power to discern the truth increases with the honest search for it.
Not only in the court room, but in the consultation chamber the lawyer
sometimes yields to the temptation to turn his talents to a sordid use.
The schemes of spoliation that defy the officers of the law are, for the
most part, inaugurated and directed by legal minds. President Roosevelt,
speaking at Harvard a few years ago, complained that the graduates of that
great university frequently furnished the brains for conspiracies against
the public welfare. I was speaking on this very subject in one of the great
cities of the country some months ago, and at the close of the address,
a judge commended my criticism and declared that most of the lawyers practicing
in his court were constantly selling their souls. The lawyer’s position
is scarcely less responsible than the position of the journalist, and if
the journalists and lawyers of the country could be brought to abstain
from the practices by which the general public is overreached, it would
be an easy matter to secure the remedial legislation necessary to protect
the producing masses from the constant spoliation to which they are now
subjected by the privileged classes.
If a man who is planning a train-robbery takes another along to hold a horse at a convenient distance, we say that the man who holds the horse is equally guilty with the man who robs the train; and the time will come when public opinion will hold as equally guilty with the plunderers of society the lawyers and journalists who assist the plunderers to escape.
Most of you, I presume, will engage in what is known as business, although
I confess that I have no sympathy with the narrow definition which is often
given to the word business. Every person who contributes by brain or muscle
to the nation’s wealth and greatness is engaged in business and is a necessary
factor in the world’s progress.
Commerce is an increasing factor in the business world. It includes both
exchange and transportation and stands next in importance to production.
Production comes first, but production could only be carried on on a limited
scale without the exchange of merchandise. To desire to gain an honorable
distinction in this department of labor is a worthy ambition. He who improves
the instruments of trade brings purchaser and consumer nearer together,
and thus facilitates exchange, may count himself a real benefactor. But
even here there are temptations to be avoided. Let me suggest three. First,
speculation. I do not mean to say that the element of chance can be entirely
eliminated from any kind of business. The farmer take his chances upon
the seasons; the merchant takes his chance upon the market; the railroad
owner takes his chances upon both the season and the market; and we all
take our chances upon sickness and death. Uncertainty enters into every
human calculation, but a distinction can be drawn between those uncertainties
which are unavoidable and those uncertainties which are of the very essence
of the transaction. There is a legitimate work for the stock exchange and
for the chamber of commerce, but there is an illegitimate and vicious speculation
on the stock exchange and the produce market which has lured many business
men to their fall. The ordinary methods of accumulation are necessarily
slow when competition is left free to regulate profits, while the gambler
is spurred on by the hope of quickly realizing a large profit upon a small
investment. It is not strange that many are charmed by the siren song of
the stock ticker, but it means ruin, and to the extent that a man yields
to the temptation his morals are weakened. There is but one sure measure
of rewards, viz., one that compensates each in proportion as he serves
society. The securing of something for nothing by a lucky turn of a card,
or by a sudden change in the market paralyzes one’s purpose, and, in time,
renders him unfit for patient and persistent effort. I might emphasize
the fact that gambling in stocks and farm products often leads to embezzlement,
larceny and suicide, for these are the fruits of speculation when it becomes
a disease. But I prefer to put my argument against gambling upon the broader
ground that it is, in all cases, a demoralizing influence, whether the
gambler wins or loses.
I might dwell upon the evil effects of speculation upon innocent parties
whose property is juggled up or juggled down by the manipulations of the
market, but I would appeal, not only to the innocent outsider, but to those
who may be tempted by the profits promised to the inside ring. I would
suggest, however, that those who by cornering the market suspend the law
of supply and demand, add crime to vice and defraud those who are induced
to invest in a “chance” which has no actual existence.
Monopoly is the second commercial temptation. Monopolies have been attempted
ever since trading began, and they are more common today than ever before
because more money can be made out of them. Many well-meaning business
men permit themselves to be drawn into practices which are not only indefensible
in the realm of conscience, but which violate the statutes. The officers
of the law are constantly engaged in an effort to prevent the monopolizing
It is strange that anyone should attempt to defend a private monopoly,
for its plan and operation can be easily understood by any one who knows
either human nature or history. No judge would be permitted to preside
in his own case; no juror would be allowed to serve in a suit to which
he was a party, and yet the head of a monopoly arbitrarily decides every
day questions where his interests are on one side and public interests
on the other. Can he be trusted to decide impartially and to exact only
a reasonable profit? It is absurd to expect him to do justice to those
with whom he deals. The student of history knows that the monopolist has
always been an outlaw. Three centuries ago, under Queen Elizabeth, the
House of Commons protested against the monopolies which she had authorized,
and I found, when in the Holy Land, that a very complete monopoly existed
there some seventeen hundred years ago. Josephus tells how John of Gishala
secured a monopoly in olive oil and charged ten times as much for the oil
as he paid for it. For the benefit of those who think that all monopolies
are traceable to the rebate, I venture to suggest that the oil trust of
Palestine was successfully operated before railroads existed. But even
though John had nothing better than a fast freight line of donkeys and
distributed the oil in goat skins, he showed as correct an understanding
of the possibilities of monopoly as any trust magnate has today, and I
have wondered whether our John secured his idea of an oil trust from John
We need laws making the private monopoly impossible, but we must have back
of these laws a moral sentiment which will condemn the club wielded by
the monopolist, as moral sentiment now condemns the highwayman’s bludgeon.
The third temptation to which the commercial man is subjected is the corruption of politics. Just in proportion as a corporation secures a monopoly of the business in which it is engaged, in that proportion the necessity for government regulation increases, and I may add, the difficulty of securing regulation increases in proportion to the necessity for it. Municipal corruption has become a byword, and the lobbyist has made his evil presence felt at the national and State capitals. Bribery is becoming a fine art, and neither the voter nor his representative is spared. The one lesson that must be taught is that the man who gives a bribe is as wicked as the man who accepts it—I am not sure but that he is more wicked, for the necessities of the man who accepts the bribe—if need can palliate such an offense—are usually greater than those of the man who offers it. I appeal to you to assist, in every possible way, in the creation of a public sentiment which will ostracize the business man who purchases legislation with the profits derived from privileges already secured, or who advances corruption money in anticipation of the profits which governmental favors promise.
In the counting room as well as in the editor’s library and in the lawyer’s
office one hears the heart-searching question: “What shall it profit a
man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”—and happiness,
honor and usefulness all hang upon the answer.
I would not be forgiven if I failed to apply my theme to the work of the
instructor. The purpose of education is not merely to develop the mind;
it is to prepare men and women for society’s work and for citizenship.
The ideals of the teacher, therefore, are of the first importance. The
pupil is apt to be as much influenced by what his teacher is as by what
the teacher says or does. The measure of a school can not be gathered from
an inspection of the examination papers; the conception of life which the
graduate carries away must be counted in estimating the benefits conferred.
The pecuniary rewards of the teacher are usually small when compared with
the rewards of business. This may be due in part to our failure to properly
appreciate the work which the teacher does, but it may be partially accounted
for by the fact that the teacher derives from his work a satisfaction greater
than that obtained from most other employments.
The teacher comes into contact with the life of the student and, as our
greatest joy is derived from the consciousness of having benefited others,
the teacher rightly counts as a part of his compensation the continuing
pleasure to be found in the knowledge that he is projecting his influence
through future generations. The heart plays as large a part as the head
in the teacher’s work, because the heart is an important factor in every
life and in the shaping of the destiny of the race. I fear the plutocracy
of wealth; I respect the aristocracy of learning; but I thank God for the
democracy of the heart. It is upon the heart-level that we meet; it is
by the characteristics of the heart that we best know and best remember
each other. Astronomers tell us the distance of each star from the earth,
but no mathematician can calculate the influence which a noble teacher
may exert upon posterity. And yet even the teacher may fall from his high
estate, and, forgetting his immeasurable responsibility, yield to the temptation
to estimate his work by its pecuniary reward.
Let me turn for a moment from the profession and the occupation to the
calling. I am sure I shall not be accused of departing from the truth when
I say that even those who minister to our spiritual wants and, as our religious
leaders, help to fix our standards of morality, sometimes prove unfaithful
to their trust. They are human, and the frailties of man obscure the light
which shines from within, even when that light is a reflection from the
throne of God. The ministers have for years considered the liquor question
a moral question, and I would not chide them for their activity; but I
think too little emphasis has been placed upon the importance of total
abstinence. Whether a Christian can drink in moderation without harm to
himself is purely a physical question, and some Christians have overestimated
their ability to confine their drinking within safe limits; but there is
a moral question which is much larger, namely, can a Christian afford to
indulge the appetite for drink if his example leads weaker men to ruin?
The great apostle said that, if eating meat made his brother to offend,
he would eat no meat. It is a part of the minister’s work to cultivate
such a love of brother in the Christian heart that the Christian will paraphrase
the language of the apostle and say: If drinking maketh my brother to offend,
I shall not drink.
Then, too, we have not sufficiently considered man’s social needs. Man
must have communion with his friends, and we have left the saloon to furnish
about the only meeting place in the cities and towns. Rooms should be opened
where men can meet with wholesome surroundings and free from the temptations
that are ever present where men meet in a room provided by one who has
a pecuniary interest in cultivating an appetite for drink.
The ministers must deal with all questions that involve morals, and every
great question is in its final analysis a question of ethics.
We need more Elijahs in the pulpit today—more men who will dare to upbraid
an Ahab and defy a Jezebel. It is possible, aye, probable, that even now,
as of old, persecution would follow such boldness of speech, but he who
consecrates himself to religion must smite evil wherever he finds it, although
in smiting it he may risk his salary and his social position. It is easy
enough to denounce the petty thief and the back-alley gambler; it is easy
enough to condemn the friendless rogue and the penniless wrong-doer, but
what about the rich tax-dodger, the big law-breaker and the corrupter of
government? The soul that is warmed by divine fire will be satisfied with
nothing less than the complete performance of duty; it must cry aloud and
spare not, to the end that the creed of the Christ may be exemplified in
the life of the nation.
Not only does the soul question present itself to individuals, but it presents itself to groups of individuals as well.
Let us consider the party. A political party can not be better than its
ideal; in fact, it is good in proportion as its ideal is worthy, and its
place in history is determined by its adherence to a high purpose. The
party is made for its members, not the members for the party; and a party
is useful, therefore, only as it is a means through which one may protect
his rights, guard his interests and promote the public welfare. The best
service that a man can render his party is to raise its ideals He basely
betrays his party’s hopes and is recreant to his duty to his party associates
who seeks to barter away a noble party purpose for temporary advantages
or for the spoils of office. It would be a reflection upon the intelligence
and patriotism of the people to assert, or even to assume, that lasting
benefit could be secured for a party by the lowering of its standards.
He serves his party most loyally who serves his country most faithfully;
it is a fatal error to suppose that a party can be permanently benefited
by a betrayal of the nation’s interests.
In every act of party life and party strife we weigh the soul. That the
people have a right to have what they want is a fundamental principle in
free government. Corruption in government comes from the attempt to substitute
the will of a minority for the will of the majority. Every measure which
comes up for consideration involves justice and injustice—right and wrong—and
is, therefore, a question of conscience. As justice is the basis of a nation’s
strength and gives it hope of perpetuity, and, as the seeds of decay are
sown whenever injustice enters into government, patriotism as well as conscience
leads us to analyze every public question, ascertain the moral principle
involved and then cast our influence, whether it be great or small, on
the side of justice.
The patriot must desire the triumph of that which is right above the triumph
of that which he may think to be right if he is, in fact, mistaken; and
so the partisan, if he be an intelligent partisan, must be prepared to
rejoice in his party’s defeat if by that defeat his country is the gainer.
One can afford to be in a minority, but he cannot afford to be wrong; if
he is in a minority and right, he will some day be in the majority.
The activities of politics center about the election of candidates to office, and the official, under our system, represents both the party to which he belongs and the whole body of his constituency. He has two temptations to withstand, first, the temptation to substitute his own judgment for the judgment of his constituents, and second, the temptation to put his pecuniary interests above the interests of those for whom he acts. According to the aristocratic idea, the representative thinks for his constituents; according to the Democratic idea, the representative thinks with his constituents. A representative has no right to defeat the wishes of those who elect him, if he knows their wishes.
But a representative is not liable to knowingly misrepresent his constituents
unless he has pecuniary interests adverse to theirs. This is the temptation
to be resisted—this is the sin to be avoided. The official who uses his
position to secure a pecuniary advantage at the expense of those for whom
he acts is an embezzler of power—and an embezzler of power is as guilty
of moral turpitude as the embezzler of money. There is no better motto
for the public official than that given by Solomon: “A good name is rather
to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and
gold.” And there is no better rule for the public official to follow than
this—to do nothing that he would not be willing to have printed in the
newspaper next day.
One who exercises authority conferred upon him by the suffrages of his fellows ought to be fortified in his integrity by the consciousness of the fact that a betrayal of his trust is hurtful to the party which honors him and unjust to the people whom he serves, as well as injurious to himself. Nothing that he can gain, not even the whole world, can compensate him for the loss that he suffers in the surrender of a high ideal of public duty.
Permit me, in conclusion, to say that the nation, as well as the individual
and the party, must be measured by its purpose, its ideals and its service.
“Let him who would be chiefest among you, be the servant of all,” was intended
for nations as well as for citizens. Our nation is the greatest in the
world and the greatest of all time, because it is rendering a larger service
than any other nation is rendering or has rendered. It is giving the world
ideals in education, in social life, in government and in religion. It
is the teacher of nations, it is the world’s torch-bearer. Here the people
are more free than elsewhere to “try all things and hold fast that which
is good;” “to know the truth” and to find freedom in that knowledge. No
material considerations should blind us to our nation’s mission, or turn
us aside from the accomplishment of the great work which has been reserved
for us. Our fields bring forth abundantly and the products of our farms
furnish food for many in the Old World. Our mills and looms supply an increasing
export, but these are not our greatest asset. Our most fertile soil is
to be found in the minds and the hearts of our people, and our most important
manufacturing plants are not our factories, with their smoking chimneys,
but our schools, our colleges and our churches, which take in a priceless
raw material and turn out the most valuable finished product that the world
We enjoy by inheritance, or by choice, the blessings of American citizenship;
let us not be unmindful of the obligations which these blessings impose.
Let us not become so occupied in the struggle for wealth or in the contest
for honors as to repudiate the debt that we owe to those who have gone
before us and to those who bear with us the responsibilities that rest
upon the present generation. Society has claims upon us; our country makes
demands upon our time, our thought and our purpose. We cannot shirk these
duties without disgrace to ourselves and injury to those who come after
us. If one is tempted to complain of the burdens borne by American citizens,
let him compare them with the much larger burdens imposed by despots upon
I challenge the doctrine, now being taught, that we must enter into a mad
rivalry with the Old World in the building of battleships—the doctrine
that the only way to preserve peace is to get ready for wars that ought
never to come! It is a barbarous, brutal, unchristian doctrine—the doctrine
of the darkness, not the doctrine of the dawn.
Nation after nation, when at the zenith of its power, has proclaimed itself
invincible because its army could shake the earth with its tread and its
ships could fill the seas, but these nations are dead, and we must build
upon a different foundation if we would avoid their fate.
Carlyle, in the closing chapters of his “French Revolution” says that thought
is stronger than artillery parks and at least molds the world like soft
clay, and then he adds that back of thought is love. Carlyle is right.
Love is the greatest power in the world. The nations that are dead boasted
that their flag was feared; let it be our boast that our flag is loved.
The nations that are dead boasted that people bowed before their flag,
let us not be content until our flag represents sentiments so high and
holy that the oppressed of every land will turn their faces toward that
flag and thank God that there is one flag that stands for self-government
and for the rights of man.
The enlightened conscience of our nation should proclaim as the country’s creed that “righteousness exalteth a nation” and that justice is a nation’s surest defense. If there ever was a nation it is ours; if there ever was a time it is now, to put God’s truth to the test. With an ocean rolling on either side and a mountain range along either coast that all the armies of the world could never climb we ought not to be afraid to trust in “the wisdom of doing right.”
Our government, conceived in liberty and purchased with blood, can be preserved only by constant vigilance. May we guard it as our children’s richest legacy, for what shall it profit our nation if it shall gain the whole world and loss “the spirit that prizes liberty as the heritage of all men in all lands everywhere?”
[NOTE : This address is not copyrighted, and can be republished by anyone
desiring to do so.]