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deeply fixed in the minds of large numbers of great men, who chiefly control the higher business of nations than this, that it is impossible to apply the moral laws which govern private affairs to the administration of public policy. Nearly all statesmen hold in practice that the prospect of immediate advantage in power or wealth to states and kingdoms furnishes a sufficient excuse for deliberate deceit, selfishness, or cruelty. Conduct which the statesmen of Europe would agree to denounce as infamous in a private individual, they openly defend in the walks of diplomacy and intrigue. Thus it was that M. Guizot abetted the unfathomable wickedness of the Spanish marriages--that Cavour supported, by deliberate falsehood, the plot for the annexation of Savoy that our own statesmen, in the opium traffic of India and of China, persistently maintain, for the sake of revenue and trade, a course of procedure which they would denounce, without measure, in the criminal who poisoned his neighbour, or incited him to intoxication. The same tendency appears in the management of the higher finance. If a poor woman who lived in the neighbourhood of one of the country houses of our City magnates, were to trust her savings with their wives or daughters, they would doubtless insist that the person who so confided in the honour of their family, should never at any time have cause to regret her confidence. The deposit would be guarded with absolute fidelity. Or if a member of a great discount-house had occasion to sell some superfluous milk from his cows at Oxbridge to a wealthy brother nabob, it would never occur to him to take payment for a bucket of milk from the nabob's messenger, but, instead of sending the milk, to inclose him a receipt for the money, and afterwards to proceed to raise some fresh capital “irregularly,” by obtaining an advance of another two shillings on the same bucket of milk from a much poorer neighbour. Yet the very man who would scorn to commit such an act of meanness and wickedness on a small scale will sometimes go to London after breakfast by first-class express, and embody precisely such a condemnable morality as this in a course of dealing with the public in much larger affairs. Such inconsistency can spring only from a deeply rooted conviction that it is impossible and unnecessary to apply the same law of fair dealing which is demanded in private business and in an account of a few shillings to concerns in which the total is summed up by millions.
La grande politique and the high finance, however, must bow their heads to the eternal laws. There is one law for small and great-for the man who sells hot potatoes at the corner of Tottenham Court Road, and for the mighty bankers at the corner of Lombard Street. If the hot-potato-salesman parts with his
business and stock to another of his fraternity, and conceals or misrepresents the debts with which the concern is chargeable, so as to involve his successor in speedy ruin, he is a rascal of the same order, though not nearly so prodigious in his rascality, as the discounting firm which sells to a “company limited,” under conditions which ensure destruction to the miserable shareholders before the expiry of a twelvemonth. And when the criminal law shall come to be made by statesmen who have cleared their own minds of the cant that a wrong principle of action in great affairs is less punishable than in small, the penalty for obtaining money under false pretences in one case will be at least equal to the same offence in the other. Indeed, so far as moral esteem is concerned, one begins to feel a kind of comparative respect for those brave men who “raise capital irregularly” by crimes of violence. The burglar, who earnestly wishes for your plate or jewellery, at least risks his own valuable life in the attempt to take possession of your property, and is ready to encounter the chance of a pistol-shot, which, in a moment of excitement, fearing for Mrs. Proudy's safety, you may wildly discharge into the darkness. But it is impossible to feel the same sentiment of qualified admiration for the sleek, philanthropic quaker, or evangelical, or anti-pædobaptist, or decorative high-church Christian, who allows his religious name to act as a decoy-flame by which the poor moths are attracted to their perdition, while behind the scenes he puts in jeopardy, through scandalous enterprizes, the precious savings of the orphan and the widow.
2. The modern system of credit being nothing else than trust in men's veracity and honour, must collapse and perish when men cease to speak the truth. The moment you pass beyond the system of barter or cash payments, you enter upon a constitution of things in which truth and fidelity become matters not less of obligation than of self-interest. The vast system of English enterprize being founded on credit and on paper promises, requires for its conservation and security, not only a certain sum of metallic money in the cellars of the banks, but the far more important reserve of national veracity and honour! As soon as it is discovered that even the greatest names in the City may represent men who, in fact, are capable of ruthless dealings with the deposits of their shareholders, or of obtaining the use of the accumulated savings of those shareholders by offering delusive securities, panic begins, shares decline, distrust spreads on every side, capital retires into its shell, hoarding proceeds, enterprize languishes,—the great name of England is covered with a cloud. The innocent, moreover, suffer with the guilty. Joint-stock enterprizes which have been conducted with strict regard to the measure of their capital and the interests of their proprietors, lose their proper estimation along with adventures of the baser sort. One great railway fiasco drags down all the rest; the discovery and exposure of one wicked bank manager raises suspicion of a hundred others who may not be wicked. The circles of sorrow extend and widen over the troubled waters, until the whole surface of society is agitated, as by a submarine earthquake, by fears which know no limit, or is convulsed by storms which leave wreck on every shore. A single falsehood in trade or commerce or the higher finance does not end with the transaction which occasioned it. It propagates a malign influence over the system of business throughout the country and the world. “One sinner destroyeth much good.” There are some single actions of certain individual men placed in positions of eminent authority, or distinguished by a peculiar religious renown, which are capable of inflicting on the whole of society a shock that rives it to its foundations. The evil cannot be represented by millions of money, though a depreciation of stock to the amount of even scores of millions often follows from proceedings of the quality now alluded to; but the chief, because irreparable, loss is in the department of national character. The brightest jewel in every crown is the honour of the people; and if the Queen should sink so low as to pawn the Koh-i-noor to supply aliment to the luxury of the Court, she would do a deed of virtue in comparison with those of her subjects who sell the birthright of England's commercial renown for such a mess of pottage as the income of a branch railway, or a ten per cent. bank dividend.
We are now witnessing the effects of fraud on every hand. The Times itself confesses that the financial name of England stinks so awfully in the nostrils of the Continent that men fear to buy or sell in our markets. Russia can obtain a loan of £6,000,000, while capital shrinks from almost every new enterprize at home. Oh, it is a grievous and a bitter ending to years of inflation and prosperity! But there are some who regard the catastrophe without surprise. When “half England," in Mr. Baldwin Brown's language at Sheffield,“ believes that half the clergy lie unto God as to their solemn subscriptions to the standard of the Church,” who can feign astonishment that the taught come to resemble their teachers in "such a nation'as this?” The income tax has for twenty years educated the bulk of the people to habits of deliberate falsehood, through putting upon individual virtue a greater strain than it could bear. The license given to non-natural interpretation in religious affairs has afforded an authoritative example of unveracity in the very teachers of morality and religion; and the general haste to be
rich, and determination to make an appearance, has completed the curriculum of delusion.
At length the nation beholds its danger. It sees that truth alone can save it. May every Englishman resolve that at least his part shall not be lacking in the general reformation.
With truth, and justice, and moderate desires, prosperity will return, and with prosperity strength and honour.
3. The new development of the principle of association demands fresh and higher measures of personal independence and courage, for the maintenance of both individual and social integrity.A proverb lingers in the precincts of cathedrals that a chapter of canons would divide the guilt of a murder between them. Certain it is that there is no severer test of any man's probity than his conduct in affairs when he forms a member of a body charged with joint responsibility. No delusion gains easier access to the judgment than the impression that responsibility is divided by combination. The law in morals undoubtedly is, that each man is fully answerable for the policy to which he gives his assent, even when that policy has been wholly projected by others. Each individual, whose conscience objects to the course determined on, is required to express his dissent with the utmost resolution and publicity, if he would escape the penalties of wrong-doing. It was this which obtained for Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea exemption from the guilt of the Sanbedrim in the murder of Christ. “The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them.” It is not enough to offer a silent protest. There must be open opposition, and an open disclaimer, and in many cases absolute secession, self-sacrifice, and ruin, in order to maintain the right. But such courses of action demand nothing less than a really heroic and inspired virtue, and it is here that common Christians break down. There is many a man who might safely be trusted to act rightly, if acting alone, and even to act with honour under the trying condition of secrecy, who is unequal to the strain of offering persistent opposition to the will of an unrighteous majority. So readily do men assent to the delusion that joint responsibility signifies the same thing with divided responsibility—that the guilt of a bad action is distributed in minute portions among the whole number of persons who consented to it, so that each man supports but a trifling fraction of the incident weight, even in a case of robbery, or judicial murder,—that it requires a special enlightenment in the conscience, and a special lucidity in the understanding to insure that a man shall be proof against this most prevalent of sophisms. The influences brought to bear upon an individual when acting in an association of coadjutors are such as to deceive all but the very elect. It is at boards and councils that vanity persuades to gigantic wrongdoing many a man who is incapable of deliberate fraud, just as many a fast talker will utter, in the heat of a convivial hour, a boastful lie respecting himself or his connections, who would shrink from a similar utterance in a private conversation with a single friend. It is not a valid argument that a man who has not greatly gained has not greatly sinned. Vanity leads astray as many as intentional fraud or reckless avarice. Friendship drags along the weak man to a deed of financial cruelty, because he cannot endure to see his brother director go alone into the abyss. A spurious courage incites others to share enormous risks, and to keep up one another's comfort by desperate and mutual assurances of final success. And lastly, the spirit of gambling generally burns fiercely among men who have obtained from Parliament the right to administer subscribed millions, and to borrow millions more. A railway board in difficulties resembles a gambling hall at Baden or Homburg, where men, wrought up to a red fever of intoxication, will risk the fortunes of wives, children, or orphans, upon the last desperate throw. In such an atmosphere a person who is not governed by Invisible Power is nearly certain to be borne off his feet, and to be moved by an impulse given by the crowd. None but a man who possesses within him a mind stronger than any social force which can be brought against it will come out unconquered from such a trial. The first principles of morality are usually the last things learned by the generality of men, and to apply those principles in business is the loftiest triumph of personal integrity, foresight, and courage. Considering then of what material the ordinary men are compacted, there is little ground for surprise, if an age in which it has been almost re-discovered that, in relation to material things union is strength, and in which the principle of co-operation threatens nearly to annihilate individual enterprize, is also an age in which it should be discovered that this same union is also prejudicial to moral integrity. The individual is taught to join his material resources with those of others, in order to attain large results, but the conditions of the partnership are unfavourable to personal character and independence. A committee, a Board of Directors, has no corporate conscience, and unless the individuals who are present possess consciences of double force, the current of their proceedings is nearly certain to be infected with wrong.