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NOAH HUNT SCHENCK
TRUTH AND TRADE
(Speech of Rev. Dr. Noah Hunt Schenck at the iroth annual banquet of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, New York City, May 14, 1878. In introducing Dr. Schenck, the President, Samuel D. Babcock, said: “The loose manner in which the Dinner Committee have conducted their business is now becoming evident. The chairman has got considerably mixed on the toasts. You may recollect that the toast to which Dr. Chapin responded referred to twins (Rev. Dr. Edwin H. Chapin had spoken to the toast Commerce and Capital, twin forerunners of civilization and philanthropy '), and here is one that refers to matrimony, and it is very evident that this one ought to have preceded the other. (Laughter and applause.) Eighth regular toast, ' Truth and Trade: those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.'"]
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN:
It were an ambitious effort to hold the attention of this distinguished body directly after its ears had been ravished by the eloquent deliverances of the finished orators who have just preceded me. In fact, I can scarcely imagine why you enlist another voice from Brooklyn, unless it be to show that there is a possibility of exhausting Brooklyn, and you would make it my sad office to afford you the illustration. [Applause.]
The Chairman said at the beginning that the best speeches were to be at the last. You have already discovered that this was designed for irony, for thus far the speeches have been incomparable, but mine is to be the beginning of the end. [Laughter and applause.]
I know that what I say is true when I charge the Chairman with irony, for do not I feel his iron entering my soul? (Laughter and applause.] It is an act of considerable temerity, even though the ground has been so gracefully broken
by the Rev. Dr. Chapin, for a clergyman to rise before this common-sense body of three hundred business men (unless we had you in our churches), for you well know that this precious quality of common sense is supposed to have its habitat almost entirely with business men, and rarely with the clergy.
I know full well that the men of the pulpit are held to be wanting in practical knowledge, and that we know but little of the dark and devious ways of this naughty world. So that, rising here, I feel as if I were but a little one among a thousand, and yet I would venture to submit that the clergy are not wholly unpractical. Nay, I sometimes am led to think that the men of my cloth are the most practical, common-sense business men in the world. [Laughter and applause.)
There is certainly no class of men who can make so little go so far, who can live so comfortably on such small incomes, who can fatten on pastures where the members of this Chamber of Commerce would starve. [Applause and laughter.] There is no class of men that go through life in such large proportion without bankruptcy. [Laughter and applause.]
While 25,000 merchants in the United States during the four years from 1871 to 1875 failed in business, with liabilities amounting to $800,000,000 (I quote statistics from accepted authority), I do not believe that one-quarter of that number of clergymen failed [laughter and applause), or that their liabilities amounted to anything like that sum. [Laughter and applause.] I have seen the estimate that eighty-five per cent. of merchants fail within two years after they embark in business, notwithstanding their common sense, and that only three per cent. make more money in the long run than is enough for a comfortable livelihood.
Having thus attempted to fortify my waning “Dutch courage” by an off-hand attack upon my hospitable entertainers, and having in some sense, even though it be Pickwickian, vindicated my cloth, let me go on for a moment and cut my garment according to it. (Laughter and applause.]
I have been asked to say a word upon the wedlock of Truth and Trade, and advocate the idea that what in the nature of things has been joined together of God, should not, should never be sundered by man. We know that Truth
is eternal. Trade, thank God, is not. [Laughter and applause.] Still
, so far as time and earth are concerned, trade endures from first to last and everywhere. God married it to truth with the fiat that men should eat bread in the sweat of their faces. From that moment men have been wrangling in every court of conscience and society to secure decrees of divorce. How manifold and multitudinous the tricks, dodges, and evasions to which men have resorted to be rid of the work which conditions bread. (Laughter and applause.] The great art of life in the estimate of the general, said a great economist, is to have others do the face-sweating and themselves the bread-eating. [Laughter and applause.]
But all along the line of the centuries the divine utterances have given forth with clarion clearness that God would have men illustrate morals and religion in the routine of business life. And so in all the upper levels of civilization we observe that society points with pride to the integrity that is proof against the temptations of trade. The men who have honored sublime relations of business and religion are they whom the world has delighted to honor. With but rare exceptions trade, wherever it has been prosperous, has had truth for its wedded partner. For the most part, wherever men have achieved high success in traffic, it has been not upon the principle that “Honesty is the best policy,” for honesty is never policy, but upon the basis of fidelity to truth and right under every possible condition of things. The man who is honest from motives of policy will be dishonest when policy beckons in that direction. The men who have illumined the annals of trade are those who have bought the truth and sold it not, who held it only to dispense it for the welfare of others.
We cannot too highly honor the temper of that generation of business men who half a century ago sternly refused to compromise with any form of deceit in the details of traffic, visiting with the severest penalties those who at all impinged upon the well-accepted morals of trade. The story is told of a young merchant who, beginning business some fifty years ago, overheard one day a clerk misrepresenting the quality of some merchandise. He was instantly reprimarded and the article was unsold. The clerk resigned
his position at once, and told his employer that the man who did business that way could not last long. But the merchant did last, and but lately died the possessor of the largest wealth ever gathered in a single lifetime.
Permit me another incident and this not from New York, but Philadelphia. One of the Copes had but just written his check for $50 for some local charity, when a messenger announced the wreck of an East Indiaman belonging to the firm, and that the ship and cargo were a total loss. Another check for $500 was substituted at once, and given to the agent of the hospital with the remark: “What I have God gave me, and before it all goes, I had better put some of it where it can never be lost.” [Applause.]
Such illustrations as these are not infrequent in the biographies of those noble men who in days gone by as well as in our own times, have never divorced truth from trade, but have always reverenced the sacred relations. I dare venture the remark that the prosperity of a nation is more largely dependent upon the probity of its merchants than upon any other one class of men. [Applause.] This because of their numbers, their influence over so many who are subject to them in business, and their close relation to, and important control over, the financial interests of the country.
What a wide area of opportunity is afforded in the counting-room, where so many students of trade are preparing for the uncertain future! Accept, I beseech you, the responsibility of moulding the characters of your young men and so prepare a generation of merchants who shall know of nothing but honesty and honor, and who will cherish nobility of sentiment in all their business transactions. [Applause.]
And can you not help the world abroad as well as at home? I believe that merchants engaged in commerce with foreign nations, have it within the scope and purview of their business relations to do as much for the propagation of Christian truth as the Church itself. If your ventures are intrusted to the direction of men of character; if your agents are men who recognize in practice the morals of the religion they profess, you will not only not negative as now, alas! but too often the efforts of the Church's envoys, by the frequent violations of Christian law, on the part of those who propose to be governed by it; but through the illustrations you can send out of Christian consistency—by the living representatives of our higher civilization, which you can furnish to remote nations, to say nothing of the voluntary agency in scattering the printed powers of our faith in all quarters of the globe, how much may not be accomplished in this and in other ways by your men and your ships—Trade thus travelling round the world with Truth by her side, helping each other and healing the nations. [Applause.)