Twelve Causes of Dishonesty
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DIFFICULTIES, by Hannah Whitall Smith.
GAMBLERS AND GAMBLING, by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.
HAVE FAITH IN GOD, by Rev. Andrew Murray.
TWELVE CAUSES OF DISHONESTY, by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.
THE CHRIST IN WHOM CHRISTIANS BELIEVE, by Rt. Rev. Phillips Brooks.
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SIX WARNINGS, by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.
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By Rev. Henry
by HENRY ALTEMUS
Henry Altemus, Manufacturer
TWELVE CAUSES OF DISHONESTY
Only extraordinary circumstances can give the appearance of dishonesty toan honest man. Usually, not to seem honest, is not to be so. Thequality must not be doubtful like twilight, lingering between night andday and taking hues from both; it must be day-light, clear, and effulgent.This is the doctrine of the Bible: Providing for honest things, not onlyin the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. In general it maybe said that no one has honesty without dross, until he has honestywithout suspicion.
We are passing through times upon which the seeds of dishonesty have beensown broadcast, and they have brought forth a hundred-fold. These timeswill pass away; but like ones will come again. As[Pg 4] physicians study thecauses and record the phenomena of plagues and pestilences, to draw fromthem an antidote against their recurrence, so should we leave to anothergeneration a history of moral plagues, as the best antidote to theirrecurring malignity.
Upon a land,—capacious beyond measure, whose prodigal soil rewards laborwith an unharvestable abundance of exuberant fruits, occupied by a peoplesignalized by enterprise and industry—there came a summer of prosperitywhich lingered so long and shone so brightly, that men forgot that wintercould ever come. Each day grew brighter. No reins were put upon theimagination. Its dreams passed for realities. Even sober men, touched withwildness, seemed to expect a realization of oriental tales. Upon thisbright day came sudden frosts, storms, and blight. Men awoke from gorgeousdreams in the midst of desolation. The harvests of years were swept awayin a day. The strongest firms were rent as easily as the oak by lightning.Speculating companies were dispersed as seared leaves from a tree inautumn. Merchants were ruined by thousands; clerks turned adrift by tenthousands. Mechanics were left in idleness. Farmers sighed over flocks andwheat as useless as the stones and dirt. The wide sea of commerce wasstagnant;[Pg 5] upon the realm of Industry settled down a sullen lethargy.
Out of this reverse swarmed an unnumbered host of dishonest men, likevermin from a carcass. Banks were exploded,—or robbed,—or fleeced byastounding forgeries. Mighty companies, without cohesion, went to pieces,and hordes of wretches snatched up every bale that came ashore. Citieswere ransacked by troops of villains. The unparalleled frauds, whichsprung like mines on every hand, set every man to trembling lest the nextexplosion should be under his own feet. Fidelity seemed to have forsakenmen. Many that had earned a reputation for sterling honesty were cast sosuddenly headlong into wickedness, that man shrank from man. Suspicionovergrew confidence, and the heart bristled with the nettles and thorns offear and jealousy. Then had almost come to pass the divine delineation ofancient wickedness: The good man is perished out of the earth: and thereis none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt everyman his brother with a net. That they may do evil with both handsearnestly, the prince and the judge ask for a reward: and the great manuttereth his mischievous desire; so they wrap it up. The best of them is abrier; the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge. The[Pg 6] world lookedupon a continent of inexhaustible fertility, (whose harvest had gluttedthe markets, and rotted in disuse,) filled with lamentation, and itsinhabitants wandering like bereaved citizens among the ruins of anearthquake, mourning for children, for houses crushed, and property buriedforever.
That no measure might be put to the calamity, the Church of God, whichrises a stately tower of refuge to desponding men, seemed now to have lostits power of protection. When the solemn voice of Religion should havegone over the land, as the call of God to guilty man to seek in him theirstrength; in this time when Religion should have restored sight to theblind, made the lame to walk, and bound up the broken-hearted, she washerself mourning in sackcloth. Out of her courts came the noise of warringsects; some contending against others with bitter warfare; and some,possessed of a demon, wallowed upon the ground foaming and rendingthemselves. In a time of panic, and disaster, and distress, and crime, thefountain which should have been for the healing of men, cast up itssediments, and gave out a bitter stream of pollution.
In every age, an universal pestilence has hushed the clamor of contention,and cooled[Pg 7] the heats of parties; but the greatness of our nationalcalamity seemed only to enkindle the fury of political parties.Contentions never ran with such deep streams and impetuous currents, asamidst the ruin of our industry and prosperity. States were greaterdebtors to foreign nations, than their citizens were to each other. Bothstates and citizens shrunk back from their debts, and yet more dishonestlyfrom the taxes necessary to discharge them. The General Government did notescape, but lay becalmed, or pursued its course, like a ship, at everyfurlong touching the rocks, or beating against the sands. The Capitoltrembled with the first waves of a question which is yet to shake thewhole land. New questions of exciting qualities perplexed the realm oflegislation, and of morals. To all this must be added a manifest declineof family government; an increase of the ratio of popular ignorance; adecrease of reverence for law, and an effeminate administration of it.Popular tumults have been as frequent as freshets in our rivers; and likethem, have swept over the land with desolation, and left their filthyslime in the highest places:—upon the press;—upon the legislature;—inthe halls of our courts;—and even upon the sacred bench of Justice. Ifunsettled times foster[Pg 8] dishonesty, it should have flourished among us.And it has.
Our nation must expect a periodical return of such convulsions; butexperience should steadily curtail their ravages, and remedy their immoraltendencies. Young men have before them lessons of manifold wisdom taughtby the severest of masters—experience. They should be studied; and thatthey may be, I shall, from this general survey, turn to a specificenumeration of the causes of dishonesty.
1. Some men find in their bosom from the first, a vehement inclination todishonest ways. Knavish propensities are inherent: born with the child andtransmissible from parent to son. The children of a sturdy thief, if takenfrom him at birth and reared by honest men, would, doubtless, have tocontend against a strongly dishonest inclination. Foundlings and orphansunder public charitable charge, are more apt to become vicious than otherchildren. They are usually born of low and vicious parents, and inherittheir parents’ propensities. Only the most thorough moral training canoverrule this innate depravity.
2. A child naturally fair-minded, may become dishonest by parentalexample. He is early taught to be sharp in bargains, and[Pg 9] vigilant forevery advantage. Little is said about honesty, and much upon shrewdtraffic. A dexterous trick, becomes a family anecdote; visitors areregaled with the boy’s precocious keenness. Hearing the praise of hisexploits, he studies craft, and seeks parental admiration by adroitknaveries. He is taught, for his safety, that he must not range beyond thelaw: that would be unprofitable. He calculates his morality thus: Legalhonesty is the best policy,—dishonesty, then, is a bad bargain—andtherefore wrong—everything is wrong which is unthrifty. Whatever profitbreaks no legal statute—though it is gained by falsehood, by unfairness,by gloss; through dishonor, unkindness, and an unscrupulous conscience—heconsiders fair, and says: The law allows it. Men may spend a long lifewithout an indictable action, and without an honest one. No law can reachthe insidious ways of subtle craft. The law allows, and religion forbidsmen, to profit by others’ misfortunes, to prowl for prey among theignorant, to over-reach the simple, to suck the last life-drops from thebleeding; to hover over men as a vulture over herds, swooping down uponthe weak, the straggling, and the weary. The infernal craft of cunningmen, turns the law itself to piracy, and works outrageous[Pg 10] fraud in thehall of Courts, by the decision of judges, and under the seal of Justice.
3. Dishonesty is learned from one’s employers. The boy of honest parentsand honestly bred, goes to a trade, or a store, where the employerpractises legal frauds. The plain honesty of the boy excites roars oflaughter among the better taught clerks. The master tells them that suchblundering truthfulness must be pitied; the boy evidently has beenneglected, and is not to be ridiculed for what he could not help. Atfirst, it verily pains the youth’s scruples, and tinges his face to framea deliberate dishonesty, to finish, and to polish it. His tongue stammersat a lie; but the example of a rich master, the jeers and gibes ofshopmates, with gradual practice, cure all this. He becomes adroit infleecing customers for his master’s sake, and equally dexterous infleecing his master for his own sake.
4. Extravagance is a prolific source of dishonesty. Extravagance,—whichis foolish expense, or expense disproportionate to one’s means,—may befound in all grades of society; but it is chiefly apparent among the rich,those aspiring to wealth, and those wishing to be thought affluent. Manya young man cheats his business, by transferring his means to theatres,race-courses,[Pg 11] expensive parties, and to the nameless and numberlessprojects of pleasure. The enterprise of others is baffled by theextravagance of their family; for few men can make as much in a year as anextravagant woman can carry on her back in one winter. Some are ambitiousof fashionable society, and will gratify their vanity at any expense. Thisdisproportion between means and expense soon brings on a crisis. Thevictim is straitened for money; without it he must abandon his rank; forfashionable society remorselessly rejects all butterflies which have losttheir brilliant colors. Which shall he choose, honesty and mortifyingexclusion, or gaiety purchased by dishonesty? The severity of this choicesometimes sobers the intoxicated brain; and a young man shrinks from thegulf, appalled at the darkness of dishonesty. But to excessive vanity,high-life with or without fraud, is Paradise; and any other lifePurgatory. Here many resort to dishonesty without a scruple. It is at thispoint that public sentiment half sustains dishonesty. It scourges thethief of Necessity, and pities the thief of Fashion.
The struggle with others is on the very ground of honor. A wife led fromaffluence to frigid penury and neglect; from leisure and luxury to toiland want; daughters,[Pg 12] once courted as rich, to be disesteemed whenpoor,—this is the gloomy