Read Chapter XXIV - Usury enslaves the borrower of Usury A Scriptural‚ Ethical and Economic View , free online book, by Calvin Elliott, on

Timon of Athens said, “No usurer, but has a fool for a slave.”

The borrower without usury loses his free and independent spirit and becomes cringing and servile, but when interest is paid it increases the severity of the servile service.

The lackey must not only care for the game taken, but he must add to the bag from his own hunting. He not only cares for the fish his master caught but must add to the basket from his own catching. The valet must not only perfectly preserve the clothes of his master, but must add to his wardrobe.

The borrower of the usurer must protect and preserve every farthing in value of the property or goods, and must also increase the amount.

The estimate put upon the mental condition of the person who will submit to such an imposition, by “Timon of Athens,” must be admitted as fairly just, for a heathen. From the almost universal practice of usury, and the vast numbers enslaved, we must also admit that Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived, knew what he was saying, when he slyly called us all fools in his proverb, “A wise man’s heart is at his right hand but a fool’s heart is at his left.”

The object of the usurer in making a loan is to secure the service of the borrower; it may be called a favor, an opportunity, an accommodation, but that is its purpose and its effect. It may be called capital or a tool for production, but the appropriation of the service of the borrower is the result sought and secured.

To secure the service of a horse, there must be an outgo of wealth in its purchase price and in its harness and the vehicle. The service received is the return, the compensation for the payment made. That is money invested and repaid in service. The price was in accordance with the service the animal would be able to render. For more and better service a higher price must be paid.

There must be an expenditure to secure the service of a chattel slave. The purchase price must be paid and the tools and material or plantation must be supplied before his services are available. The price paid is in accordance with a reasonable estimate of the service the slave will be able to render during life. The outlay is made in consideration of an equivalent in service.

A loan is made for the same purpose and secures the same result. The price of the horse or slave must be paid before the service can be claimed. The loan must be made before there can be a pretext of a claim upon the services of the borrower.

There is this difference, however, that the purchaser pays for the services he expects to receive; he makes a real outlay for what is to be given him. The usurer pays nothing, he does not give a farthing; he makes no outlay; he merely changes the deposit from the bank vault, or his strong box, to his victim, and requires from him such an ample security that it is as safe in his hands as remaining in the vault. That he has bought the service of the borrower as another bought the service of the horse or chattel slave is untrue. He has given no equivalent. He retains every farthing of his wealth safely deposited with his victim. The service he receives does not diminish the value of his property nor discharge any portion of his claim.

The usurer, like all those who appropriate the labors of their slaves, claims that he is a real benefit to his borrower. He has given him an opportunity of advancement that he could not otherwise have had. He points to him possibly with some degree of pride, especially if he seems greatly prospered. The owner of colored slaves pointed to his well-fed and well-clothed and happy people, merry in their cabins, and made a claim that was equally plausible; that these people are far better off and far happier than they could be in freedom.

Their well-kept, happy, care-free condition did not make them freemen. They were slaves, though they may have been happy. They were slaves, though they preferred bondage to being their own masters. The usurer’s prosperous victim is not therefore a freeman. Though he should prefer debt to independence, that does not make him free.

No one prefers to be in debt. Debts are chosen as the least of the evils. The natural resources are occupied and the opportunities of life are denied. Lands and all tools of production are withheld and the horns of the dilemma are debt or privation. The independent spirit shrinks from debt until the struggle of life becomes desperate, when he turns to the other evil and is enslaved.

This is not a temptation that comes to the idle and vicious. They could not secure a loan though they tried. An indolent, dissipated and vicious chattel slave would not find a purchaser in the market.

It is the industrious, virtuous and economical young man that is of value to the usurer, and the better his character, the greater his worth. For this reason their virtues are cried up to the usurers, as the favorable qualities of the chattel were presented in the slave marts. To secure a loan is an evidence of confidence in his business ability, and an evidence of the appreciation of his character. It is a flattering compliment, and promising relief to a condition that seems hopeless, he permits the yoke of bondage to be fastened upon him.

The usurer’s slave is cheaper than the chattel. It requires less wealth to secure an equal amount of service. A loan of five thousand dollars at the prevailing rate of seven per cent. will bring to the usurer more than one dollar, clear gain, for every working day. That is as much as any one man, not professional or specially skilled, can hope to produce with that amount of capital, after caring for himself and his home. The borrower secures the lender from all loss, he largely relieves him from oversight, he directs his own labors, supports himself wholly; if sick, he supplies a substitute that the service does not stop, and when from the infirmities of age he is no longer able to give the required amount of service, one dollar per day, he returns the loan in full, which may be bound upon another victim, and thus continued forever.

In the days of chattel slavery labor was not so cheap. The price of a strong, faithful young colored slave, and the value of the tools for him to use, and the proportionate part of the plantation necessary for him to work, was about equal to the above loan. Then he must be clothed and fed; his work must be directed; if sick his labor was lost, and he must receive medical and other care; all risks of harvest from drouth or flood must be incurred by the owner, and the slave’s term of service was limited by his death, when his purchase cost was lost, and there must be an outlay by a new purchase. One chattel slave could not bring his master such enormous returns.

Not only does financial slavery exact more labor for the amount invested, but it is more heartless than chattel bondage. The master had a personal interest in the slave he bought. His health and strength was an object of his care and his death a great loss. There was also often a mutual affection developed, as is sometimes found between a man and his horse or affectionate dog. There was sometimes real unfeigned mutual love. The master had a tender care over his slaves in their sicknesses and in their decrepit age, and sorrowed at their graves. The slaves were inconsolable in their grief at the death of their master.

The usurer has no personal interest in his slave. He has no care for his health or his life; they are of no interest to him. He may live in a distant state and has no anxiety about those who serve him. Their personal ills give him no concern. When they die, there is no loss nor any additional outlay required; the bonds are simply transferred to others, and the service is not interrupted.

Many faithful, industrial and honest borrowers are unable to return the loan. It is as difficult to retain property as it is to earn it. New inventions, new processes, new methods, new legislation and the changing fashions and customs, often sweep property from the shrewd and careful. “Riches make themselves wings; they fly away.” If for any cause the borrower fails there is scant sympathy from the usurer. He charges him with being deficient in business management and thriftless. If the yoke of bondage galls and becomes so painful that in his distress the debtor turns from the struggle in one direction to struggle in another in hope of relief, he calls him fickle; and if at last, after a long and hard service, he is unable to return the loan in full, he calls him dishonest. His ear is deaf to the voice, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free.”

There are those in debt yet struggling against hope to be free. They are slaving at work, but making no progress toward relief. The crisis must come. In the race with biting usury that knows no rest, night nor day, year in and year out, that knows no sickness nor delay, that keeps step with time, there is but one possible result. There can be but one final result, though the debtor may have a start far in advance, but if in the race it has become neck and neck, the end is near. Usury will sweep on with full wind, and unslacking pace, when the debtor falls exhausted. There is comfort, however, though the race be lost, for the distress of poverty is less than the agony of hopeless debt.

The old and ruined, who have lived honorable and industrious lives, who have endeavored to do their part in all the relations of life, yet have been in the slavery of debt all their days, and when their powers began to fail were stripped of the earnings of years, and besides, are compelled to bear the name of dishonorable debtors, are the most worthy of sympathy of any the world knows. The decrepit old chattel slave had hope of a home until the end, and a decent burial, but the debtor has nothing, not even an honorable name.

The young, who are yet free from personal debt, should be warned, and should not permit themselves to be beguiled by any of the allurements held out, nor by flatteries. As one prizes his independent spirit and freedom from the dictation of others, as he desires a successful life and a peaceful old age, he should avoid debt. As a Christian, who desires unrestrained Christian fellowship, whose benevolence will be from the kindness and love of his own heart, as one who wishes to bless all he meets, and to leave a name associated only with hallowed memories, he should avoid debt.

“Owe no man anything, but love one another.”