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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Superfluous Riches

By Horace Mann (1796–1859)

[Born in Franklin, Mass., 1796. Died at Yellow Springs, Ohio, 1859. A Few Thoughts for a Young Man. 1850.]

GREAT wealth is a misfortune, because it makes generosity impossible. There can be no generosity where there is no sacrifice; and a man who is worth a million of dollars, though he gives half of it away, no more makes a sacrifice, than (if I may make such a supposition) a dropsical man, whose skin holds a hogshead of water, makes a sacrifice when he is tapped for a barrel. He is in a healthier condition after the operation than before it. If a donkey would be considered a fool among donkeys, for desiring to double the burden of gold that is already breaking his back, I see not why the shorter-eared variety should be judged by a different rule. The literal declaration, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven, not only stands upon sacred authority, but is confirmed by all human reasoning. For, what kingdom of heaven can there possibly be, from which love and sympathy, and the tenderness of a common brotherhood, are excluded? And the man who hoards superfluous wealth, while there is famishing in the next street; the man who revels in luxuries, while the houseless and breadless are driven from his door; the man who, through an ostentation of literature, walls himself in with libraries which he cannot read, while thousands of children around him are destitute even of school-books,—the very seed-wheat of all knowledge,—such a man has no love, nor sympathy, nor feeling of brotherhood, for his race; and, therefore, go where he will, the kingdom of heaven must be his antipode. One point in the circumference of a revolving wheel may as well attempt to overtake the opposite point, as he to reach that kingdom. The casting off of his loved burdens will alone give him the agility to attain it.

All above a fortune is usually the greatest of misfortunes to children. By taking away the stimulus to effort, and, especially, by taking away the restraints from indulgence, it takes the muscles out of the limbs, the brain out of the head, and virtue out of the heart. The same young man, who, with a moderate fortune, might retain the full vigor of his system till sixty, and be a blessing to the world all his life-long, is likely, under the depraving influence of a vast patrimony, to die a sot or a debauchee at forty-five, if he does not shoot himself as a non compos at thirty. The father may feel proud of his twenty per cent. or thirty per cent. stocks; but when the devil clutches the son for guiltily spending what he clutched the father for guiltily amassing, he doubles his capital by a single operation. Universal experience shows that the inheritor of a penny has a better chance for success in life than the inheritor of a “plum.” But better far than either is the golden mean of Agur’s perfect prayer.

Vast fortunes are a misfortune to the State. They confer irresponsible power; and human nature, except in the rarest instances, has proved incapable of wielding irresponsible power, without abuse. The feudalism of Capital is not a whit less formidable than the feudalism of Force. The millionnaire is as dangerous to the welfare of the community, in our day, as was the baronial lord of the Middle Ages. Both supply the means of shelter and of raiment on the same conditions; both hold their retainers in service by the same tenure,—their necessity for bread; both use their superiority to keep themselves superior. The power of money is as imperial as the power of the sword; and I may as well depend upon another for my head, as for my bread. The day is sure to come, when men will look back upon the prerogatives of Capital, at the present time, with as severe and as just a condemnation as we now look back upon the predatory Chieftains of the Dark Ages. Weighed in the balances of the sanctuary, or even in the clumsy scales of human justice, there is no equity in the allotments which assign to one man but a dollar a day, with working, while another has an income of a dollar a minute, without working. Under the reign of Force, or under the reign of Money, there may be here and there a good man who uses his power for blessing and not for oppressing his race; but all their natural tendencies are exclusively bad. In England, we see the feudalism of Capital approaching its catastrophe. In Ireland, we see the catastrophe consummated. Unhappy Ireland! where the objects of human existence and the purposes of human government have all been reversed; where rulers, for centuries, have ruled for the aggrandizement of themselves, and not for the happiness of their subjects; where misgovernment has reigned so long, so supremely, and so atrociously, that, at the present time, the “Three Estates” of the realm are Crime, Famine, and Death!