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Robert Ingersoll Three Philanthropists

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Three Philanthropists

Robert Green Ingersoll



"Well, while I am a beggar, I will rail,
And say there is no sin but to be rich."

MR. A. lived in the kingdom of ---. He was a sincere
professional philanthropist. He was absolutely certain that he
loved his fellow-men, and that his views were humane and
scientific. He concluded to turn his attention to taking care of
people less fortunate than himself.

With this object in view he investigated the common people
that lived about him, and he found that they were extremely
ignorant, that many of them seemed to take no particular interest
in life or in business, that few of them had any theories of their
own, and that, while many had muscle, there was only now and then
one who had any mind worth speaking of. Nearly all of them were
destitute of ambition. They were satisfied if they got something to
eat, a place to sleep, and could now and then indulge in some form
of dissipation. They seemed to have great confidence in to-morrow
-- trusted to luck, and took no thought for the future. Many of
them were extravagant, most of them dissipated, and a good many

Mr. A. found that many of the husbands not only failed to
support their families, but that some of them lived on the labor of
their wives; that many of the wives were careless of their
obligations, knew nothing about the art of cooking, nothing about
keeping house; and that parents, as a general thing, neglected
their children or treated them with cruelty. He also found that
many of the people were so shiftless that they died of want and

After having obtained this information Mr. A. made up his mind
to do what little be could to better their condition. He petitioned
the king to assist him, and asked that he be allowed to take
control of five hundred people in consideration that he would pay
a certain amount into the treasury of the kingdom. The king being
satisfied that Mr. A. could take care of these people better than
they were taking care of themselves, granted the petition.

Mr. A., with the assistance of a few soldiers, took these
people from their old homes and haunts to a plantation of his own.
He divided them into groups, and over each group placed a
superintendent. He made certain rules and regulations for their
conduct. They were only compelled to work from twelve to fourteen
hours a day, leaving ten hours for sleep and recreation. Good and
substantial food was provided. Their houses were comfortable and
their clothing sufficient. Their work was laid out from day to day
and from month to month, so that they knew exactly what they were
to do in each hour of every day. These rules were made for the good
of the people, to the end that they might not interfere with each
other, that they might attend to their duties, and enjoy themselves
in a reasonable way. They were not allowed to waste their time, or
to use stimulants or profane language. They were told to be
respectful to the superintendents, and especially to Mr. A.; to be
obedient, and, above all, to accept the position in which

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Providence had placed them, without complaining, and to cheerfully
perform their tasks.

Mr. A. had found out all that the five hundred persons had
earned the year before they were taken control of by him -- just
how much they had added to the wealth of the world. He had
statistics taken for the year before with great care showing the
number of deaths, the cases of sickness and of destitution, the
number who had committed suicide, how many had been convicted of
crimes and misdemeanors, how many days they had been idle, and how
much time and money they had spent in drink and for worthless

During the first year of their enslavement he kept like
statistics. He found that they had earned several times as much;
that there had been no cases of destitution, no drunkenness; that
no crimes had been committed; that there had been but little
sickness, owing to the regular course of their lives; that few had
been guilty of misdemeanors, owing to the certainty of punishment;
and that they had been so watched and superintended that for the
most part they had traveled the highway of virtue and industry.

Mr. A. was delighted, and with a vast deal of pride showed
these statistics to his friends. He not only demonstrated that the
five hundred people were better off than they had been before, but
that his own income was very largely increased. He congratulated
himself that he had added to the well-being of these people not
only, but had laid the foundation of a great fortune for himself.
On these facts and these figures he claimed not only to be a
philanthropist, but a philosopher; and all the people who had a
mind to go into the same business agreed with him.

Some denounced the entire proceeding as unwarranted, as
contrary to reason and justice. These insisted that the five
hundred people had a right to live in their own way provided they
did not interfere with others; that they had the right to go
through the world with little food and with poor clothes, and to
live in huts, if such was their choice. But Mr. A. had no trouble
in answering these objectors. He insisted that well-being is the
only good, and that every human being is under obligation, not only
to take care of himself, but to do what little he can towards
taking care of others; that where five hundred people neglect to
take care of themselves, it is the duty of somebody else, who has
more intelligence and more means, to take care of them; that the
man who takes five hundred people and improves their condition,
gives them on the average better food, better clothes, and keeps
them out of mischief, is a benefactor.

"These people," said Mr. A., "were tried. They were found
incapable of taking care of themselves. They lacked intelligence or
will or honesty or industry or ambition or something, so that in
the struggle for existence they fell behind, became stragglers,
dropped by the wayside, died in gutters; while many were destined
to end their days either in dungeons or on scaffolds. Besides all
this, they were a nuisance to their prosperous fellow-citizens, a
perpetual menace to the peace of society. They increased the burden
of taxation; they filled the ranks of the criminal classes, they

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made it necessary to build more jails, to employ more policemen and
judges; so that I, by enslaving them, not only assisted them, not
only protected them against themselves, not only bettered their
condition, not only added to the well-being of society at large,
but greatly increased my own fortune."

Mr. A. also took the ground that Providence, by giving him
superior intelligence, the genius of command, the aptitude for
taking charge of others, had made it his duty to exercise these
faculties for the well-being of the people and for the glory of
God. Mr. A. frequently declared that he was God's steward. He often
said he thanked God that he was not governed by a sickly sentiment,
but that he was a man of sense, of judgment, of force of character,
and that the means employed by him were in accordance with the
logic of facts.

Some of the people thus enslaved objected, saying that they
had the same right to control themselves that Mr. A. had to control
himself. But it only required a little discipline to satisfy them
that they were wrong. Some of the people were quite happy, and
declared that nothing gave them such perfect contentment as the
absence of all responsibility. Mr. A. insisted that all men had not
been endowed with the same capacity; that the weak ought to be
cared for by the strong; that such was evidently the design of the
Creator, and that he intended to do what little he could to carry
that design into effect.

Mr. A. was very successful. In a few years he had several
thousands of men, women, and children working for him, He amassed
a large fortune. He felt that he had been intrusted with this money
by Providence. He therefore built several churches, and once in a
while gave large sums to societies for the spread of civilization.
He passed away regretted by a great many people -- not including
those who had lived under his immediate administration. He was
buried with great pomp, the king being one of the pall-bearers, and
on his tomb was this:



"And, being rich, my virtue then shall be
To say there is no vice but beggary."

Mr. B. did not believe in slavery. He despised the institution
with every drop of his blood, and was an advocate of universal
freedom. He held all the ideas of Mr. A. in supreme contempt, and
frequently spent whole evenings in denouncing the inhumanity and
injustice of the whole business. He even went so far as to contend
that many of A.'s slaves had more intelligence than A. himself, and
that, whether they had intelligence or not, they had the right to
be free. He insisted that Mr. A.'s philanthropy was a sham; that he
never bought a human being for the purpose of bettering that
being's condition; that he went into the business simply to make
money for himself; and that his talk about his slaves committing

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less crime than when they were free was simply to justify the crime
committed by himself in enslaving his fellow-men.

Mr. B. was a manufacturer, and he employed some five or six
thousand men. He used to say that these men were not forced to work
for him; that they were at perfect liberty to accept or reject the
terms; that, so far as he was concerned, he would just as soon
commit larceny or robbery as to force a man to work for him. "Every
laborer under my roof," he used to say, "is as free to choose as I

Mr. B. believed in absolutely free trade; thought it an
outrage to interfere with the free interplay of forces; said that
every man should buy, or at least have the privilege of buying,
where be could buy cheapest, and should have the privilege of
selling where he could get the most. He insisted that a man who has
labor to sell has the right to sell it to the best advantage, and
that the purchaser has the right to buy it at the lowest price. He
did not enslave men -- he hired them. Some said that he took
advantage of their necessities; but he answered that he created no
necessities, that he was not responsible for their condition, that
he did not make them poor, that he found them poor and gave them
work, and gave them the same wages that he could employ others for.
He insisted that he was absolutely just to all; he did not give one
man more than another, and he never refused to employ a man on
account of the man's religion or politics; all that he did was
simply to employ that man if the man wished to be employed, and
give him the wages, no more and no less, that some other man of
like capacity was willing to work for.

Mr. B. also said that the price of the article manufactured by
him fixed the wages of the persons employed, and that he, Mr. B.,
was not responsible for the price of the article he manufactured;
consequently he was not responsible for the wages of the workmen.
He agreed to pay them a certain price, he taking the risk of
selling his articles, and he paid them regularly just on the day he
agreed to pay them, and if they were not satisfied with the wages,
they were at perfect liberty to leave. One of his private sayings
was: "The poor ye have always with you." And from this he argued
that some men were made poor so that others could be generous.
"Take poverty and suffering from the world," he said, "and you
destroy sympathy and generosity."

Mr. B. made a large amount of money. Many of his workmen
complained that their wages did not allow them to live in comfort.
Many had large families, and therefore but little to eat. Some of
them lived in crowded rooms. Many of the children were carried off
by disease; but Mr. B. took the ground that all these people had
the right to go, that he did not force them to remain, that if they
were not healthy it was not his fault, and that whenever it pleased
Providence to remove a child, or one of the parents, he, Mr. B.,
was not responsible.

Mr. B. insisted that many of his workmen were extravagant;
that they bought things that they did not need; that they wasted in
beer and tobacco, money that they should save for funerals; that
many of them visited places of amusement when they should have been
thinking about death, and that others bought toys to please the

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children when they hardly had bread enough to eat. He felt that he
was in no way accountable for this extravagance, nor for the fact
that their wages did not give them the necessaries of life, because
he not only gave them the same wages that other manufacturers gave,
but the same wages that other workmen were willing to work for.

Mr. B. said, -- and he always said this as though it ended the
argument, -- and he generally stood up to say it: "The great law of
supply and demand is of divine origin; it is the only law that will
work in all possible or conceivable cases; and this law fixes the
price of all labor, and from it there is no appeal. If people are
not satisfied with the operation of the law, then let them make a
new world for themselves."

Some of Mr. B.'s friends reported that on several occasions,
forgetting what he had said on others, he did declare that his
confidence was somewhat weakened in the law of supply and demand;
but this was only when there seemed to be an over-production of the
things he was engaged in manufacturing, and at such times he seemed
to doubt the absolute equity of the great law.

Mr. B. made even a larger fortune than Mr. A., because when
his workmen got old he did not have to care for them, when they
were sick he paid no doctors, and when their children died he
bought no coffins. In this way he was relieved of a large part of
the expenses that had to be borne by Mr. A. When his workmen became
too old, they were sent to the poorhouse; when they were sick, they
were assisted by charitable societies; and when they died, they
were buried by pity.

In a few years Mr. B. was the owner of many millions. He also
considered himself as one of God's stewards; felt that Providence
had given him the intelligence to combine interests, to carry out
great schemes, and that he was specially raised up to give
employment to many thousands of people. He often regretted that he
could do no more for his laborers without lessening his own
profits, or, rather, without lessening his fund for the blessing of
mankind -- the blessing to begin immediately after his death. He
was so anxious to be the providence of posterity that he was
sometimes almost heartless in his dealings with contemporaries. He
felt that it was necessary for him to be economical, to save every
dollar that he could, because in this way he could increase the
fund that was finally to bless mankind, He also felt that in this
way he could lay the foundations of a permanent fame -- that he
could build, through his executors, an asylum to be called the "B.
Asylum," that he could fill a building with books to be called the
"B Library," and that he could also build and endow an institution
of learning to be called the "B. College," and that, in addition,
a large amount of money could be given for the purpose of
civilizing the citizens of less fortunate countries, to the end
that they might become imbued with that spirit of combination and
manufacture that results in putting large fortunes in the hands of
those who have been selected by Providence, on account of their
talents, to make a better distribution of wealth than those who
earned it could have done.

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Mr. B. spent many thousands of dollars to procure such
legislation as would protect him from foreign competition. He did
not believe the law of supply and demand would work when interfered
with by manufacturers living in other countries.

Mr. B., like Mr. A., was a man of judgment. He had what is
called a level head, was not easily turned aside from his purpose,
and felt that he was in accord with the general sentiment of his
time. By his own exertions he rose from poverty to wealth, He was
born in a hut and died in a palace. He was a patron of art and
enriched his walls with the works of the masters. He insisted that
others could and should follow his example. For those who failed or
refused he had no sympathy. He accounted for their poverty and
wretchedness by saying: "These paupers have only themselves to
blame." He died without ever having lost a dollar. His funeral was
magnificent, and clergymen vied with each other in laudation of the
dead. Over his dust rises a monument of marble with the words:



"But there are men who steal, and vainly try
To gild the crime with pompous charity."

There was another man, Mr. C., who also had the genius for
combination. He understood the value of capital, the value of
labor; knew exactly how much could be done with machinery;
understood the economy of things; knew how to do everything in the
easiest and shortest way. And he, too, was a manufacturer and had
in his employ many thousands of men, women, and children. He was
what is called a visionary, a sentimentalist, rather weak in his
will, not very obstinate, had but little egotism; and it never
occurred to him that he had been selected by Providence, or any
supernatural power, to divide the property of others. It did not
seem to him that he had any right to take from other men their
labor without giving them a full equivalent. He felt that if he had
more intelligence than his fellow-men he ought to use that
intelligence not only for his own good but for theirs; that he
certainly ought not to use it for the purpose of gaining an
advantage over those who were his intellectual inferiors. He used
to say that a man strong intellectually had no more right to take
advantage of a man weak intellectually than the physically strong
had to rob the physically weak.

He also insisted that we should not take advantage of each
other's necessities; that you should not ask a drowning man a
greater price for lumber than you would if he stood on the shore;
that if you took into consideration the necessities of your fellow-
man, it should be only to lessen the price of that which you would
sell to him, not to increase it. He insisted that honest men do not
take advantage of their fellows. He was so weak that he had not
perfect confidence in the great law of supply and demand as applied
to flesh and blood. He took into consideration another law of
supply and demand; he knew that the workingman had to be supplied
with food, and that his nature demanded something to eat, a house
to live in, clothes to wear.

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Mr. C. used to think about this law of supply and demand as
applicable to individuals. He found that men would work for
exceedingly small wages when pressed for the necessaries of life;
that under some circumstances they would give their labor for half
of what it was worth to the employer, because they were in a
position where they must do something for wife or child. He
concluded that he had no right to take advantage of the necessities
of others, and that he should in the first place honestly find what
the work was worth to him, and then give to the man who did the
work that amount.

Other manufacturers regarded Mr. C. as substantially insane,
white most of his workmen looked upon him as an exceedingly good-
natured man, without any particular genius for business. Mr. C.,
however, cared little about the opinions of others, so long as he
maintained his respect for himself.

At the end of the first year he found that he had made a large
profit, and thereupon he divided this profit with the people who
had earned it. Some of his friends said to him that he ought to
endow some public institution; that there should be a college in
his native town; but Mr. C. was of such a peculiar turn of mind
that he thought justice ought to go before charity, and a little in
front of egotism, and a desire to immortalize one's self. He said
that it seemed to him that of all persons in the world entitled to
this profit were the men who had earned it, the men who had made it
by their labor, by days of actual toil. He insisted that, as they
had earned it, it was really theirs, and if it was theirs, they
should have it and should spend it in their own way.

Mr. C. was told that he would make the workmen in other
factories dissatisfied, that other manufacturers would become his
enemies, and that his course would scandalize some of the greatest
men who had done so much for the civilization of the world and for
the spread of intelligence. Mr. C. became extremely unpopular with
men of talent, with those who had a genius for business. He,
however, pursued his way, and carried on his business with the idea
that the men who did the work were entitled to a fair share of the
profits; that, after all, money was not as sacred as men, and that
the law of supply and demand, as understood, did not apply to flesh
and blood.

Mr. C. said: "I cannot be happy if those who work for me are
defrauded. If I feel I am taking what belongs to them, then my life
becomes miserable. To feel that I have done justice is one of the
necessities of my nature. I do not wish to establish colleges. I
wish to establish no public institution. My desire is to enable
those who work for me to establish a few thousand homes for
themselves. My ambition is to enable them to buy the books they
really want to read. I do not wish to establish a hospital, but I
want to make it possible for my workmen to have the services of the
best physicians -- physicians of their own choice.

It is not for me to take their money and use it for the good
of others or for my own glory. It is for me to give what they have
earned to them. After I have given them the money that belongs to
them, I can give them my advice -- I can tell them how I hope they

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will use it; and after I have advised them, they will use it as
they please. You cannot make great men and great women by
suppression, Slavery is not the school in which genius is born.
Every human being must make his own mistakes for himself, must
learn for himself, must have his own experience; and if the world
improves, it must be from choice, not from force; and every man who
does justice, who sets the example of fair dealing, hastens the
coming of universal honesty, of universal civilization."

Mr. C. carried his doctrine out to the fullest extent,
honestly and faithfully. When he died, there were at the funeral
those who had worked for him, their wives and their children. Their
tears fell upon his grave. They planted flowers and paid to him the
tribute of their love. Above his silent dust they erected a
monument with this inscription:


North American Review, December, 1891.

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