The Menace of Privilege, by Henry George Jr.
Installment 48

We are pleased to present, in installments, a very rare yet significant book written by former Congressman Henry George Jr. in 1905.

Earlier installments are available at the Progress Report Archive.


Trying to Justify Evil

Some, like Blougram, may

Others are like a distinguished Methodist preacher, now bishop, who, called to officiate at the funeral ceremonies over the heir of a Western railroad king, compared the youth alive to the boy Christ. Or like the Presbyterian doctor of divinity, who, over the body of one of the worst political corruptionists Pennsylvania ever knew, calmly declared that the deceased "was always on the right side of every moral question." Or, like the Unitarian minister, who, delivering an oration in the United States Senate-chamber beside the casket of a man who had become Senator by sheer bribery and who had boasted that he carried the "larger business methods" into national politics, eulogized this "whole-souled child of God who believed in success and who knew how to succeed by using the infinite powers."

There are others, many others, who resemble Bishop Hopkins of the Protestant Episcopal diocese of Vermont, who just before the Civil War was one of those who quoted the scriptures to uphold slavery : -

And then said this Vermont bishop of fifty years ago

But none of these things can be said of the great part of those teachers of morality who fail to be bold against the master evils of to-day. They simply realize their dependent position. This makes them silent about things which otherwise it would be their first aim to arraign. They reason that if they are to be of any help to mankind they must not antagonize those special interests which will contribute liberally toward that part of the moral work as to which there may be no dispute. And so the body of the clergy holds its peace.

This raises what The Evangelical Messenger (Cleveland, Ohio) calls a "knotty problem of casuistry." Yet it probably was what caused the Prudential Committee of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (Congregational) to solicit and accept the famous $100,000 contribution of Mr. John D. Rockefeller. Against the storm of criticism from independent clergymen this action produced, the committee said merely that "to prevent a man from doing good is a wrong way in which to condemn him for doing evil. It is as wrong to condemn him when he is doing a good deed as not to condemn him for doing a bad deed." Baptist, Methodist and other denominational bodies took virtually the same stand. They said in substance that it was not their business, as ministers of the Christian gospel, to inquire whence comes the money, but simply to consider in what way the most good can be done when they get it.

To that resolve Dr. Washington Gladden, moderator of the Council of the Congregational Church, cries with icy irony: "No discrimination is henceforth to be made. The pirate or train robber may bring his booty . . . and it will be thankfully received; and if sufficiently large it will be described as a 'magnificent gift'!" Says Dr. Josiah Strong of the same denomination, "One has no right to accept a gift which the donor has no right to give."

"But," retorts the other side, "all this implies that Mr. Rockefeller had no legal right to gather his money as he did, which is unjust to him. He was within the statutes. There was no law against rebates when he commenced their use." Mr. Henry H. Rogers, Mr. Rockefeller's associate in the Standard Oil Company, puts the matter in specific terms: "Slavery in certain sections of the United States was legal until President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Rebates on railroads were just as legal until the passage of the Inter-State Commerce Commission Act." (Statement to the press, March 31, 1905.)

While it is true, as a daily paper caustically remarks, that "Mr. Rogers simply shows that his moral vision is bounded, east, west, north and south, by the penal code," it may also be said that Mr. Rockefeller's use of the railroad rebate made a prohibitory law necessary. Before that the rebate was legal negatively. There was no statute, and no thought of a statute, against it. But in his hands it became a club to beat out the brains of competitors. Congress then had to declare it unlawful. Witness the contract between the Standard Oil Company and the Pennsylvania Railroad, October 17, 1877. In that instrument the Standard Oil Company, by William Rockefeller, vice-president, accepts a ten per cent. "commission [rebate] provided that no other shipper of oil by your line shall pay less than the rate fixed for us before such rate is deducted." ("The History of the Standard Oil Company," by Ida Tarbell, Vol.1, p.372.) The Standard contracted for a fixed low rate for itself, but a fixed high rate for its competitors over the privately owned public highway!

Moreover, as Dr. Gladden has observed: -

"Great heavens !" Rev. Artemus Jean Hayes of New Haven exclaims in a sermon, "is there nothing certain in this world until some court of law has passed upon it? Even among lawyers is there not such a thing as prima facie evidence?" And then comes the New York Evening Post with the dissecting knife:

The early Fathers of the Christian Church had clear things to say on this head and they said them. Lecture 6 of Book IV of the Apostolic Constitutions, which are at least fourteen hundred years old, treats of the question, "Whose oblations are to be received and whose not to be received." In this straightforward way the word is given:

Is it because there are what Professor E. A. Ross calls "new varieties of sin," the "tropical belt of sin we are now sweeping into" being "largely impersonal" and impossible of discernment, that clergymen come forward in such evident good faith as that manifested by Rev. John Hutchins, of Litchfield, Conn., to assure the world of the simple Christian life Mr. Rockefeller lives; or that causes Rev. Dr. R. S. MacArthur of New York to declare that "the coarse, cruel and perhaps criminal criticisms of Mr. John D. Rockefeller have maligned the entire Baptist denomination"?

Be these things as they may and also be it true or otherwise that Mr. Rockefeller has broken State or United States statutes - all such matters fade into insignificance beside the question of political economy involved. "Given the railway and economic conditions, the progress of the Standard Oil Company was quite inevitable," says Mr. Gilbert Holland Montague in his "Rise and Progress of the Standard Oil Company," the book which Mr. Rockefeller is reported to have sent gratuitously to a large part of the clergy of the country. To admit the premises is to accept the conclusion. For what else can follow if the oil lands can be made private property, and public highways (railroads and pipe lines) can be made private possessions? It only needs a genius for organization, coupled with a nature bereft of mercy, to carry everything before it.

But it is blasphemy of the worst kind to call this the work of God Almighty. Mr. Rockefeller, nevertheless, implies that it is; and President Baer of the Anthracite Coal Combination is reported to have said: "God in His infinite wisdom has given the business interests of the country" into the hands of certain "Christian men" who will take care of every one else. But in what manner shall this care be bestowed? Does young Mr. Rockefeller -John D. Rockefeller, Jr., - explain? He gave his Bible class at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in New York a parable, presumably to make clear economic conditions. "The American Beauty rose," said he, "can be produced in all its glory only by sacrificing the early buds that grow up around it"!

"In his economic argument," scornfully replied Dr. Newell Dwight Hillis, of Brooklyn (Congregational), "this young man tells the working classes brutally that 999 businesses must be snipped off in order to produce one American Beauty, namely, his trust." Rev. Herbert S. Johnson, of Boston (Baptist), came closer to the bone in remarking that "the Church's failing popularity with laboring men is due in large measure to her reputation for economic injustice." Rev. Thomas A. Ducey, of New York (Catholic), touched the very marrow in saying that "no organization of wealth may corner the bounties of nature and escape unscathed." But does the Christian Church generally say these things? Alas, it does not.

For there are givers of oblations who have acquired great wealth by means contrary to the laws. These may, in seasons of great excitement, be arraigned and chastened. But there are other and larger givers who enjoy legal and social sanction, whose process of heaping up is, nevertheless, in utter conflict with morals, since it is through possession of government-made advantages, which work injustice by taking from the many much that is rightfully theirs. Why decry Mr. Rockefeller's use of the rebate, if he may without question possess the railroad and the pipe line, both properly public highways? Why charge Mr. Rockefeller with acts of tyranny or villany in the producing and refining fields, if he have full warrant to monopolize the oil-bearing soil? If the one thing is wrong, surely the other and larger is wrong also. If it is wrong, it is against morals. If it is against morals, it is the duty of teachers of morals to condemn and denounce. Some do, but how can the many, when the Nobles of Privilege are the chief patrons of the Church and have an overmastering influence?

Next Week: What Happens as a Result of the Centralization and Growth of Government

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