The Defense That Is Made For The Louisiana State Lottery
I find there is a defender for everything and anything. It matters not what may be its moral complexion, it will have a friend. I heard once of a pamphlet or book written in the defense of Judas Iscariot, and there is even information of a man who defended the course of the devil. Remembering this, it is not surprising that we shall hear of arguments of defense made for the Lottery Company.
One defense put forth is that this is a free country. There is no doubt that this a free country. Sometimes I think it is a little too free. Some people here feel so free that they own allegiance and obedience to neither God nor man. They feel free to use dynamite and blow up their fellow-creatures at any time; they feel free to shoot down the President of the United States; and free to take twenty wives; and free to trample all commandments under foot, whether human or divine. But the thoughtful will tell you that this is not freedom, but a self-assumed license to do wrong. Our country is free in regard to our being protected from wrong and oppression of every kind, whether the outrage is directed to the purse or person or conscience. There is no freedom hinted at or expressed in this land, that is given to individual, corporation, ring, or syndicate to oppress or afflict in person or property an American citizen. According to the inherent rights of man, according to the spirit and letter of the Constitution of the United States we should enjoy immunity and deliverance here. When the people of the Mayflower came over, it was not to found oppressive systems, but to escape from them. The exodus from Europe to America is a flight from social and financial oppression; not to be met on the so-called shores of liberty by a corporation that is to take from them, slowly but surely, the slim resources with which they ventured over, and leave them impoverished and helpless in a new and strange world. There is no spot in the universe where a person is free to injure another unless that place is Hell. But this is not Hell. This is a grace-redeemed planet, and overarched by the law and providence of God, without a single sheltering spot for Tyranny. All over the breadth and beauty of the universe there is no spot devoted to wrong-doing; in a word, we are never free to do wrong.
Another defense that I hear is, that the Lottery exists legally. To this I reply that a thing can be legally right and morally wrong. It is legally right for certain evil houses to exist in this city, but they are morally wrong for all that. Slavery existed legally, but the spirit of the gospel was against it. There are people all around us holding property by some technicality — protected in its enjoyment by law, and yet it is known, both in heaven and earth, that the money is not theirs, and that they have not the shadow of a moral right. There is something higher and broader than State or National law, and that is God’s law. Your duty and mine is to be posted about that law. If God says a thing is wrong, as He does of all forms of gambling, no law made by man can make that wrong right. All the Parliaments and Legislatures of the Nations might meet and legislate until Dooms-day, but they could never make right that, which God, in His Word, declares to be wrong. Moreover, if men make laws contrary to Divine commandments, it is our duty utterly to ignore them.
A third defense made for the Lottery is, that it does much, good, especially in the line of charity.
When I hear this, I candidly confess to you that I grow sick. Here is an institution that says to the State: I will give your invalids and unfortunates forty thousand dollars, if you will allow me to exist as a gambling corporation in your midst, and thereby receive millions. I want you to take in this most wonderful business proposition. Suppose you wait upon a certain gentleman, and thus deliver yourself: “Sir, I will promise to hand your old sick grandmother one dollar every evening, provided you will give me a thousand every morning.” We will suppose that he finds a man foolish and senseless enough to agree to this amazing proposition. He receives a thousand dollars and distributes one to the aged relative of his benefactor. Now, what if, in addition to this, he poses before the community as a man of great charity! Words would fail to describe your amusement and indignation. And yet this is the identical action of the Louisiana State Lottery. Its proposition to the country is, you give me millions of dollars in the morning and I will give you back some thousands in the evening. Make me rich, and I will give a pittance to your sick. Done! replies the State to this most brilliant proposition; and done it is.
But here comes in the nauseous portion, in that we are required to call this a great charity upon the part of the Louisiana Lottery.
I read once of a bandit in Italy who enjoyed the reputation of being exceedingly benevolent. True, he plundered everybody that came along the highway, but, then, he was never known to refuse a penny to a beggar! So he was counted to be kind. Does not this cover the case? Here is a gambling institution that has laid its grasp upon every purse in the country, enriched itself by its immoral methods on our very highways, had, as clear profits in the last twenty years, not less than thirty-six millions of dollars; and, lo! because occasionally it flings a few thousand dollars to the Charity Hospital, or gives a few pitiful hundreds to some other institution, it is straightway called benevolent! I think of the bandit. Do you remember this quotation? — “Yes, sir; he is as kind a man as ever scuttled a ship or cut a throat.” Let me tell you something that occurred in a certain community that shall be nameless. I know the parties well. A certain lady, with a trifling husband and two dependent children, has, to my knowledge, had a weary struggle. She has fed, clothed and educated the children without the least help from her husband. He is often gone for months, but she remains at the post of duty and meets responsibilities that naturally should not press upon her. Lately the husband returned on a visit to his family after an absence of two years. He took the children on his knee, and, in a spasm of generosity, gave each one of them a quarter of a dollar. Delighted, the two children slipped from their perch, rushed into the mother’s room, and cried out to her, “See what papa has given us! O mamma! isn’t papa good!” The unutterably sick feeling, the returning rush of contempt and indignation that filled that woman’s heart you can only faintly conceive. And yet this is the very feeling that is bound to arise in the heart of every proper thinking person when told of the goodness of the Louisiana State Lottery. Here is a firm or company that has not paid a dollar of taxes or license to the city since it began its career; is owing the city today over a million dollars; it has coined its millions; had fortunes rained into it; and yet, because once in a while it contributes some little trifling sum to something or somebody, at once persons, as thoughtless and silly as the children I have mentioned, cry out in ecstacy: “Look what the Lottery is doing for us! O! isn’t the Louisiana State Lottery good!”
A fourth defense made for the Lottery is, that it is financially profitable. The question might be asked with great force, and properly, “To whom?” — and the answer would open many eyes. We will treat of this under another point.*
There are some people in this world that never ask another question about a business enterprise when they are assured there is money in it. That fact settles the entire matter; the whole thing becomes right at once. I suppose this was the case with the stockholders in this Company, and it was the case with the Legislature of 1868, and with the voters who confirmed the matter. They thought, as it brought forty thousand dollars into the Treasury, it was a profitable business and, therefore, right. In a few moments I will call your attention to the shortsightedness of the voters and the Legislature, and that we never made a greater financial mistake than when we granted the charter to this famous — not to say infamous — Lottery. But here I call attention to the peculiar effect that money has on some people’s moral judgments. As soon as they hear the ring of a dollar, they can not hear the voice of conscience any more. Gold and silver tints hide moral blemishes and discolorations in any transaction, while bank bills puff up the attenuated falsehood until it possesses the roundness of the beautiful form of Truth. Then when we protest against certain dividend-paying evils, the answer is, “We see no harm in them.” The profit has eliminated apparently the immoral feature. Ask the saloonist, “How can you carry on a business that is destructive to the souls and bodies of your fellow-creatures?” His reply is, “It is my living,” or, “There is money in it.” Ask the slave-dealer, “How could you sell a fellow-being into a lifetime of hopeless toil?” The reply was, “It is profitable.” Doubtless, conscience uttered such an appeal to Judas — “How can you sell your Savior, the Prince of Life;” and his reply was, “I will obtain thirty pieces of silver.”
This seems to have been the reasoning of the legislators of the State. But what a reason to urge; and what an amazing justification of the fastening of a gambling institution upon our city and State, because it brought money into the public coffers!
If such a principle as this is adopted, what is to become of honor and honesty and virtue itself. According to the course pursued in the Lottery matter, where State honor is bartered away for money, a man may dispose of the virtue of his family and defend his course.
O, the shame! Let no man here who voted for the incorporation of this Lottery, and who apologizes for its presence in our midst and, worse still, justifies its existence — let him never condemn a fallen woman again. All she did was to sell her honor for money, and that was what the Legislature did in 1868; and what you do who approve their course. Let none such ever express horror at the act of Judas Iscariot. He sold Christ, the everlasting Truth, for a handful of silver, and we sold the honor and integrity of a great State for forty thousand dollars.
A fifth defense I hear made for the Lottery is that its drawings are carried on fairly. This is certainly calculated to make the public smile. It makes me think of a hangman putting out the following notice: “All hanging done by me is performed with strict impartiality.” That is, he chokes all alike. I want you to think of a brigand sending such a notice as this to various cities in Italy — to Naples and Florence and Rome: “This is to certify that while I am plundering the traveling public in the mountains, yet it is done fairly and impartially. I rob everybody — taking all I can get from prince and peasant alike.” Certainly that would come with refreshing power to the reading Nation, and especially to travelers.
Done fairly! O, yes; but there is a great region of possibility, or, rather impossibility, beyond the word that puts us all to pondering. To bring out the thought, let me suggest a business enterprise to some of your stock-concern projectors. Suppose, for instance, we purchase the great African Desert, running three or four thousand miles in length and one thousand in width. Having circulated the intelligence that some company is proposing to introduce the Mediterranean Sea into its borders, we will get it at a low figure. We will then purchase a number of camels and, taking three hundred jewels with us, we scatter them over that sandy expanse. One is worth an hundred thousand dollars; the others range from ten to five hundred. After this we invite the population of Europe to come in and hunt for the jewels; price of full admission into the desert, which we now call a Golconda mine, being ten dollars a head; or if we raise the jewels in value, we charge for the privilege of sifting the sands of Sahara, and gasping, fainting, despairing and dying upon its burning wastes, the paltry sum of forty dollars. The invitation now is, Come and be enriched. What is the use of working any longer. Remember the golden, gem-flashing sands of Sahara. But one thing more is to be done, and that is write a placard as long and broad as Morocco and lean it up against the Equator, saying, “All this is done fairly!”
There is just as much likelihood this cloudless, beautiful morning that you will be struck by lightning as that you would find one of these jewels; and it is just as probable that you would find that one hundred thousand dollar gem in the desert as that you will draw the capital prize in the Louisiana State Lottery.
Dickens presents a character in one of his works who often introduced himself, in substance, as honest Codlin. “Don’t you believe in anybody but me. I am the friend. I do things square.” This perpetual challenge to observe his fairness gradually brought a scrutiny that was not altogether favorable to “honest Codlin.” When I see these oft-repeated notices about fair drawings, I have visions of a doubting public, and a profound conviction that a person or business that is perfectly upright need never declare its integrity; that the very declaration, especially if frequently repeated, causes men to doubt from the very depths of the soul.
A sixth defense for this Lottery that is urged is, that quite a number of people draw prizes.
Why, certainly they do. Don’t you see their names in the paper every month. This is to certify that I, John Jones, runner in a certain bank, and I, Peter Robinson, clerk in a certain warehouse, held one-tenth of such a number that drew one of the capital prizes. The vocations of the fortunate gentlemen are a study just here, and quite significant. How many there are; just count — there must be fully ten or twelve. But what of the ten or twelve hundred thousand — the multitudes — that drew nothing, that never did draw anything, and that never will draw anything — except a long countenance? This parading of Jones and Robinson and the ten other fortunates so frequently before the country, and thereby puffing the Lottery, and reassuring the departing faith of the people, reminds me of a scene that recently took place in the little kingdom of Siam. There was a great famine in that country; thousands were dying of starvation. The king and the court circle did not desire that this fact should be known to the outside world. So strict orders, under penalty of death, were issued to the starving country people to stay out from the capital city, and refrain from exhibiting their ghastly, attenuated bodies to the eyes of foreign visitors. On the other hand, the people of the capital were highly fed and gaily clothed, and the impression made upon travelers from afar that health and prosperity presided over the land.
The identical principle is observed by the Lottery. Smith and Robinson are gaily clothed, covered with smiles as with a garment, made to appear at the footlights every month in our great journals, kiss their hands to a deluded public — and retire for another thirty days to the intense relief of thousands of morally sickened people. But, mark you, it was so managed that, what with the hurrahs of the fortunate twelve, and the thunder of orchestral newspapers, the hollow groan of vast multitudes of cheated, bamboozled and disappointed people was not heard. Back of the grinning corporal’s guard of lucky ones, what an innumerable army of ghastly, hollow-eyed, despairing men and women!
It takes two columns to publish the names of the few who are successful. But what if these journals had to print instead the names of those who have not drawn anything — and never did — and, what is more, never will? Surely the world would not contain the books.