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The practice of usury is so general, and it is apparently so fully approved and sanctioned by many of the most intelligent and virtuous of our people, that those who believe in its prohibition and are disposed to pessimism may be utterly discouraged.

Truth must eventually prevail. Any custom or system built upon falsehood must sooner or later yield. The house built upon the sand must in time fall. It may be undermined by years of instruction and so gradually give way that the date of its overthrow can hardly be determined, or it may in its strength be taken in a storm and fall. The whole commercial credit system built on this monstrous falsehood must either crumble or tumble.

The prophet Isaiah was hopeful and happy in the midst of the most unfavorable conditions of corruption and alienation from the truth, for he was able with his prophetic eye to catch a glimpse of the good time coming, when righteousness should completely triumph. “He shall teach us of His ways and we shall walk in His steps.” “With righteousness shall He judge the poor.” “Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins.”

No prophet has fixed a date for the suppression of usury, yet no intelligent man of faith, familiar with the reforms of the past, when as thoroughly entrenched and as giant evils were attacked and overthrown, need be in despair.

We were enslaved by superstitions. Haunted houses were numerous and the bewitching of people was frequent. Two hundred arrests for witchcraft were made in a single year, 1692, and twenty of these persons were put to death. These persecutions were urged and defended by Cotton Mather, a representative of the highest intelligence and culture of the times. His mother was a daughter of John Cotton, and his father the President of Harvard College. Now black cats and epilepsy inspire no fear, and ghost stories do not now terrify and unnerve our children.

Duelling prevailed among men of honor. Public opinion made it compulsory that personal differences between gentlemen should be settled in this way. Persons were branded as cowards who would not put their lives in jeopardy. Few had the courage to resist. Duels were common among the political leaders at Washington. Many a shot rang out at sunrise in the little valley at Bladensburg, the noted duelling ground. Jackson and Benton and Clay and De Witt Clinton were duellists. After the killing of Alexander Hamilton by Aaron Burr, in 1804, the whole country was aroused and an agitation began against the custom, but it yielded slowly. In 1838 and 1841 there were duels between distinguished congressmen. But now public opinion is so transformed that the “honorable and brave” duellist is a moral coward.

Gambling was a common sin. There were lotteries organized for the raising of funds for state and municipal expenses. There were raffles at church fairs to support the ordinances in the sanctuary. The rules of the games were protected by the laws of the state. No one who had lost in a game could recover by law unless he proved that the rules of the game had not been followed. The rules for gambling were regarded as legitimate as the regulations of any business. The gambler was only a law-breaker when he “cheated.” Now gambling is unlawful in every state and territory, and any newspaper advertising a lottery is shut out of our mails. Even an “honest” gambler is now classed among robbers.

Intemperance was rampant through the eighteenth century and more than half the nineteenth. Whisky was king. Through a false physiology it became the almost universal opinion that in the great portion of the United States the climate required the use of “ardent spirit.” Ministers and all classes of the people were thus deluded, and almost every person, adult or child, was a consumer.

Upon rising in the morning a glass of liquor must be taken to give an appetite for breakfast. At eleven oclock the merchant in his counting-room, the blacksmith at his forge, the mower in the hay field, took a dram to give them strength till the ringing of the bell or the sounding of the horn for dinner. In mid-afternoon they drank again. When work for the day was done, before going to bed, they quaffed another glass. It was the regular routine of drinking in well-regulated and temperate families. Hospitalities began with drinking. What will you take? was the question of host to visitor. Not to accept the proffered hospitality was disrespectful. Was there the raising of a meeting house, there must be hospitality for all the parish: no lack of liquor; and when the last timber was in its place a bottle of rum must be broken upon the ridge-place. In winter men drank to keep themselves warm; in summer to keep themselves cool; on rainy days to keep out the wet, and on dry days to keep the body in moisture. Friends, meeting or parting, drank to perpetuate their friendship. Huskers around the corn-stack, workmen in the field, master and apprentice in the shop, passed the brown jug from lip to lip. The lawyer drank before writing his brief or pleading at the bar; the minister, while preparing his sermon or before delivering it from the pulpit. At weddings bridegroom, bride, groomsman, and guest quaffed sparkling wines. At funerals minister, friend, neighbor, mourner, all except the corpse, drank of the bountiful supply of liquors always provided. Not to drink was disrespectful to living and dead, and depriving themselves of comfort and consolation. In every community there were blear-eyed men with bloated, haggard faces; weeping women, starving children.

While “temperate” men were grieved at the tide of wretchedness and protested, they did not think it possible to get on without whisky. Dr. Prime, for so many years editor of the New York Observer, told of the meeting of the family physician and the pastor at his father’s home in a case of severe illness. When the physician took his leave the pastor followed him into the yard, where they had a long consultation. The pastor was anxiously seeking advice. Three drinks made his head swim, and the problem was how he could make more than three calls and not become unsteady. The doctor gave directions and Dr. Prime said that neither the minister nor the physician thought of the simple remedy, “not drinking.”

It has taken two generations, but the transformation is marvelous. The minister can now call in every home in his parish and never once have an opportunity to drink. If Rev. John Pierpont was yet living, who was put out of his pulpit in Boston by an ecclesiastical council because he publicly protested against the use of the basement of his church as a storeroom for whisky, he would see every minister losing his pulpit who would not publicly protest against such a desecration. Rev. George B. Cheever, the dreamer, in 1830, woke up the stupid consciences of the fuddled men and women; he wrote out his dream and published it, “Deacon Giles’ Distillery,” and went to jail for it, but even he never dreamed of the greatness of the temperance reform that has followed.

The overthrow of chattel slavery is complete and the human rights of the inferior peoples are recognized. Human slavery was of old, as ancient as history; it was widespread over the world; there was an immense and profitable commerce in human flesh; luxurious wealth and ease was secured by appropriating labor without compensation; it was thought that the Scriptures in both Testaments approved the holding of bondmen; there was a consciousness of superior gifts; there was a firm belief that the negroes, especially, needed the care of the superior race; that they were better off and happier than they would be in freedom; there was a deep-seated race prejudice that remains unyielding till this day. Yet the slave trade has ceased, stopped by armed vessels patroling the seas. The slaves, eight hundred thousand, in the West Indies were set free; the shackles were stricken off by the sword in the United States; Brazil adopted gradual emancipation, and chattel slavery disappeared forever from the civilized world.

The reform battles fought and won are assurances that victory shall also reward those who contend against this sin of usury. There are also other good grounds for confidence.

1. They are seeking only a return a reform: “a restoration to a former state;” they are not seeking for the establishment of some new and untried theory, but they are seeking a return to the faith and conduct of the righteous from the beginning and up seventeen centuries of the Christian era. The race is but temporarily deflected to the worship of the golden calf.

2. There is coming forward a great army of intelligent, virtuous young people. They are made intelligent by our high schools, seminaries and colleges. They are made students of the Bible and stimulated in righteousness by Sunday Schools, Christian Associations, Endeavors, Leagues and Unions. From these there shall rise up defenders of the truth, free from the burden of debt and unbiassed by life-long association with conditions familiar to those older. The reformers in all ages have been young, and this reform will be no exception. There is a rashness in youth that needs direction, but there is also a dash and hope and confidence that is necessary to break away from old customs. One generation of intelligent, virtuous young people could give this evil its fatal blow.

Usury cannot flourish among the vicious and the unreliable. Other evils may flourish among the idle, the indolent, the treacherous, the deceitful and the dishonest, but industry and economy and integrity and faithfulness and honor and even God-fearing piety are desirable qualities in the usurer’s victims. The higher the civilization, yes Christian civilization, the more is produced and the richer the harvest. The usurer has no use for a savage. This worm thrives in the living body and sucks its vitality. It cannot flourish in putrid flesh. Let the highest types of our young manhood avoid this sin and its death knell is sounded.

3. Present conditions stimulate an interest in this question. The unequal distribution of the vast wealth now being produced: the earnings of the many turned into the coffers of a few; the struggles between the employers and their employees; organized labor and combinations of wealth; lead to a closer study of this and allied economic questions than they have ever received before. The solution of these questions will expose the fraud of usury.

4. The patriotic spirit has not decayed in our people and rulers. They are as strongly attached to our free, popular institutions as were the patriots of ’76. There is alarm at the tendency to slip away from the early traditions, at the centralization of power, at class legislation. The influence of usury is so strong to promote a favored class and to concentrate power, that it must be resisted as an enemy to our republican institutions. It gradually undermined and then destroyed the republic of Venice, and it is now doing its first work with us. It must soon emerge from its cover. Then our people will arouse with their patriotic fervor and fell it with one blow, and then bury it with the other enemies of the government that have from time to time arisen.

5. In the studies in sociology there is now a strong current toward Socialism. There is a desire to preserve the individual’s interests and yet a stronger disposition to merge him in the general welfare.

There is a conviction that the privileges of individuals have been unduly guarded while the rights of the public were neglected, that the rights of individuals have received an excess of protection while the welfare of the great mass of the people has been sacrificed. The present problem of the student of sociology is, How can the rights of individuals be adjusted, yet so as to maintain the superior interests of all the people? This can be accomplished largely, if not completely, by the abolition of usury.

Let the Government receive on deposit the surplus wealth of the individuals for safe keeping and subject to their orders. Let the Postal Savings Bank be established. The Government is the best possible security. The certificates of deposit would be as good as Government bonds. They could take the place of the National Bank currency. The Postal Department now transfers money and in a manner receives deposits and issues postal notes.

These deposits as they accumulated would lift from the people the burden of the interest bearing debt. As they increased the Government could invest them in public utilities to be operated for the general welfare. The Government thus caring for the surplus wealth the people are entitled to any benefits that may accrue from its use. All would have an interest in preserving and all would share in the advantages of the property thus cared for by the State, while each would have his individual earnings subject to draft for his personal needs or pleasure.

This would preserve the rights of the individual and secure to him perfectly his surplus earnings, and at the same time the whole people, through the Government, would have the use of this accumulated wealth for its safe-keeping. This will preserve the stimulating incentives of individualism and also gain, practically, the blessings of Socialism. This will be the natural conclusion in the balancing and adjustment of the present sociological discussion.

6. The prohibition of usury would be to the material advantage of the great mass of our people. It would be a blessing to all, though it might hinder the material gain of a few, but the hindered would not be a tithe of our people. It is not easy to forsake the wrong when appetite or passion or selfish interests plead for it. The martyrs who will stand by the right “though the heavens fall” are not a majority of our people. The paths of righteousness are easy, broad and smooth, and crowded with enthusiastic shouters when self-interest can walk hand in hand with a reform. Opposition to usury is self-defense to the poor, the pensioners, the producers, and they form a mighty, irresistible army.

7. Reason remains. The laws of logic have not changed nor has the human mind lost its power of tracing premises to their conclusion. The custom of usury was never reasoned into practice, but was permitted to creep in while reason was diverted to abstract, abstruse, scholastic subjects by those who claimed to be scholars. Had the fathers reasoned more about practical subjects, and scolded less, this sin would never have appeared in Christian society and claimed respectability. When the people begin to think and to turn their reasoning powers to this subject, as light dispels darkness, this gross error will flee away.

8. The conscience is yet alert to condemn the wrong and to approve the right. The public conscience was never more tender nor more delicately adjusted, but it is wanting in intelligence in this matter. The eye cannot see to determine the nature of an object without light, so the conscience must be enlightened, or made intelligent by the reason, to enable it to give a right decision. Conscience is the same in all ages among all peoples, and when informed by investigation and reasoning, the condemnation of usury will be as unanimous as in the centuries of the past.

Prayer is also a means to this righteous end. God is still on His throne. His ear is not heavy. He hears the cry of the raven and sparrows and lions. He hears the cry of His suffering children and will not fail to come to their relief. In all the past, man’s extremity has been God’s opportunity. Relief has come at unexpected times and by ways that were not known. Sometimes by means that were insignificant and inadequate in order to show that it was not by human might or power; sometimes by the faith of one humble believer.

This writer has been familiar with the story of David and Goliath from his infancy. To him, Mammon, whose head is usury, is the giant Philistine who now stalks forth to defy “the armies of the living God,” and with a grain of David’s faith, he flings this stone.