While listening to a lecture by Eric Daniels, The History of America – Part 4: The Industrial Republic, 1877-1920, I was intrigued by a topic he mentioned so I looked up the speech he was referring to.
The speech Acres of Diamonds by Christian minister Russell H. Conwell is concerned with, essentially, encouraging people to become successful by their own efforts, wherever they happen to be. While I don’t agree with all that is in the speech, the view of wealth and the wealthy it expresses was quite refreshing. Sadly, it is from about 100 years ago.
I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich. How many of my pious brethren say to me, “Do you, a Christian minister, spend your time going up and down the country advising young people to get rich, to get money?” “Yes, of course I do.” They say, “Isn’t that awful! Why don’t you preach the gospel instead of preaching about man’s making money?” “Because to make money honestly is to preach the gospel.” That is the reason. The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community.
“Oh,” but says some young man here tonight, “I have been told all my life that if a person has money he is very dishonest and dishonorable and mean and contemptible. “My friend, that is the reason why you have none, because you have that idea of people. The foundation of your faith is altogether false. Let me say here clearly, and say it briefly, though subject to discussion which I have not time for here, ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. That is why they carry on great enterprises and find plenty of people to work with them. It is because they are honest men.
Says another young man, “I hear sometimes of men that get millions of dollars dishonestly.” Yes, of course you do, and so do I. But they are so rare a thing in fact that the newspapers talk about them all the time as a matter of news until you get the idea that all the other rich men got rich dishonestly.
Compare this to how the rich are view today. As a group they a considered by default to be evil and exploitive and must be hemmed in by a heavy burden of taxes and regulations.