From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the United States

By Robert H. Bremner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Charitable Impulse

Give alms: the needy sink with pain; The orphans mourn, the crushed complain. Give freely: hoarded gold is curst, A prey to robbers and to rust. Christ, through his poor, a claim doth make, Give gladly, for thy Saviour's sake.

ROBERT HARTLEY, Eighth Annual Report of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, 1851.

Oh, pause in your pleasures, ye wealthy and grand, remember that hunger's abroad; Oh, turn to the needy and stretch forth a hand, oh, now listen to sympathy's chord; Its sweet holy strain encircles the soul, of the ragged, the fallen and low; So pause in your pleasures, seek charity's goal, when poverty's tears ebb and flow.

EDWARD HARRIGAN, "Poverty's Tears Ebb and Flow."

T HROUGHOUT the nineteenth century the charitable response of the American people was almost as generous as their pursuit of gain was selfish. The two streams of giving and getting converged, at the end of the century, in the gospel of wealth. This doctrine harmonized with the major tenets of individualism and, through the idea of stewardship, endowed individualism with moral sanctity. Earlier writers had taken the stand that the rich were God's agents in relieving the distress of the poor, but it was Andrew Carnegie who in word and deed gave the gospel of wealth its classic expression.1 Believing that enormous differences in the economic conditions of men were normal and beneficent, Carnegie asserted

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