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Robert Ingersoll Organized Charities

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Organized Charities

Robert Green Ingersoll


I HAVE no great confidence in organized charities.

Money is left and buildings are erected and sinecures provided
for a good many worthless people. Those in immediate control are
almost, or when they were appointed were almost, in want
themselves, and they naturally hate other beggars.

They regard persons who ask assistance as their enemies. There
is an old story of a tramp who begged a breakfast. After breakfast
another tramp came to the same place to beg his breakfast, and the
first tramp with blows and curses drove him away, saying at the
same time: "I expect to get dinner here myself."

This is the general attitude of beggar toward beggar.

Another trouble with organized charities is the machinery, the
various methods they have adopted to prevent what they call fraud.
They are exceedingly anxious that the needy, that those who ask
help, who have been without fault, shall be attended to, their rule
apparently being to assist only the unfortunate perfect.

The trouble is that Nature produces very few specimens of that
kind. As a rule, men come to want on account of their
imperfections, on account of their ignorance, on account of their
vices, and their vices are born of their lack of capacity, of their
want of brain. In other words, they are failures of Nature, and the
fact that they need help is not their own fault, but the fault of
their construction, their surroundings.

Very few people have the opportunity of selecting their
parents, and it is exceedingly difficult in the matter of
grandparents. Consequently, I do not hold people responsible for
hereditary tendencies, traits and vices. Neither do I praise them
for having hereditary virtues.

A man going to one of these various charitable establishments
is cross-examined. He must give his biography. And after he has
answered all the supercilious, impudent questions, he is asked for

Then the people referred to are sought out, to find whether
the statements made by the applicant are true. By the time the
thing is settled the man who asked aid has either gotten it
somewhere else or has, in the language of the Spiritualists,
"passed over to the other side."

Of course this does not trouble the persons in charge of the
organized charities, because their salaries are going on.

As a rule, these charities were commenced by the best of
people. Some generous, philanthropic man or woman gave a life to
establish a "house," it may be, for aged women, for orphans, for
the waifs of the pavements.

These generous people, filled with the spirit of charity,
raised a little money, succeeded in hiring or erecting a humble
building, and the money they collected, so honestly given, they

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honestly used to bind up the wounds and wipe away the tears of the
unfortunate, and to save, if possible, some who had been wrecked on
the rocks and reefs of crime.

Then some very rich man dies who had no charity and who would
not have left a dollar could he have taken his money with him. This
rich man, who hated his relatives and the people he actually knew,
gives a large sum of money to some particular charity -- not that
he had any charity, but because he wanted to be remembered as a

Then the organized charity becomes rich, and the richer the
meaner, the richer the harder of heart and the closer of fist.

Now, I believe that Trinity Church, in this city, would be
called an organized charity. The church was started to save, if
possible, a few souls from eternal torment, and on the plea of
saving these souls money was given to the church.

Finally the church became rich. It is now a landlord -- has
many buildings to rent. And if what I hear is true there is no
harder landlord in the city of New York.

So, I have heard it said of Dublin University, that it is
about the hardest landlord in Ireland.

I think you will find that all such institutions try to
collect the very last cent, and, in the name of pity, drive pity
from their hearts.

I think it is Shakespeare who says, "Pity drives out pity,"
and he must have had organized charities in his mind when he
uttered this remark. Of course a great many really good and
philanthropic people leave vast sums of money to charities.

I find that it is sometimes very difficult to get an injured
man, or one seized with some sudden illness, taken into a city
hospital. There are so many rules and so many regulations, so many
things necessary to be done, that while the rules are being
complied with the soul of the sick or injured man, weary of the
waiting, takes its flight. And after the man is dead, the doctors
are kind enough to certify that he died of heart failure.

So -- in a general way -- I speak of all the asylums, of all
the homes for orphans. When I see one of those buildings I feel
that it is full of petty tyranny, of what might be called pious
meanness, devout deviltry, where the object is to break the will of
every recipient of public favor.

I may be all wrong. I hope I am. At the same time I fear that
I am somewhere near right.

You may take our prisons; the treatment of prisoners is often
infamous. The Elmira Reformatory is a worthy successor of the
Inquisition, a disgrace, in my judgment, to the State of New York,
to the civilization of our day. Every little while something comes
to light showing the cruelty, the tyranny, the meanness, of these

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professional distributors of public charity -- of these professed

I know that they are visited now and then by committees from
the Legislature, and I know that the keepers of these places know
when the "committee" may be expected.

I know that everything is scoured and swept and burnished for
the occasion; and I know that the poor devils that have been abused
or whipped or starved, fear to open their mouths, knowing that if
they do they may not be believed and that they will be treated
afterward as though they were wild beasts,

I think these public institutions ought to be open to
inspection at all times. I think the very best men ought to be put
in control of them. I think only those doctors who have passed, and
recently passed, examinations as to their fitness, as to their
intelligence and professional acquirements, ought to be put in

I do not think that hospitals should be places for young
doctors to practice sawing off the arms and legs of paupers or
hunting in the stomachs of old women for tumors. I think only the
skillful, the experienced, should be employed in such places.
Neither do I think hospitals should be places where medicine is
distributed by students to the poor.

Ignorance is a poor doctor, even for the poor, and if we
pretend to be charitable we ought to carry it out.

I would like to see tyranny done away with in prisons, in the
reformatories, and in all places under the government or
supervision of the State.

I would like to have all corporal punishment abolished, and I
would also like to see the money that is given to charity
distributed by charity and by intelligence. I hope all these
institutions will be overhauled.

I hope all places where people are pretending to take care of
the poor and for which they collect money from the public, will be
visited, and will be visited unexpectedly and the truth told.

In my judgment there is some better way. I think every
hospital, every asylum, every house for waifs and orphans should be
supported by taxation, not by charity; should be under the care and
control of the State absolutely.

I do not believe in these institutions being managed by any
individual or by any society, religious or secular, but by the
State. I would no more have hospitals and asylums depend on charity
than I would have the public school depend on voluntary

I want the schools supported by taxation and to be controlled
by the State, and I want the hospitals and asylums and charitable
institutions founded and controlled and carried on in the same way.
Let the property of the State do it.

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Let those pay the taxes who are able. And let us do away
forever with the idea that to take care of the sick of the
helpless, is a charity. It is not a charity. It is a duty. It is
something to be done for our own sakes. It is no more a charity
than it is to pave or light the streets, no more a charity than it
is to have a system of sewers.

It is all for the purpose of protecting society and of
civilizing ourselves.


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