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man, cheating men out of their senses and money with a face of gravity; or like an Iudian, shooting from behind a bush, himself in no danger. Trade, traffic, contracts, bargains-all these words imply parity, equivalency, common risk, mutual advantage; and he who can arrange a commercial operation, by which he is certain to realize great profits and to inflict great losses, is a taker of merchandise, but can hardly be said to be a trader in it.
I am sensible that this is the nice and difficult point in the whole discussion. But, I put it to the calm reflection and to the consciences of my hearers, whether they would not feel easier in their business, if all use of superior and certain knowledge were entirely excluded from it. Long as this use has obtained, and warmly as it is sometimes defended, yet, I ask, if the moral sentiments of the trading community itself would not be relieved by giving it up? This, if it be true, is certainly a weighty consideration. I admit, indeed, as I have before done, that no vague sentiment is to settle the question. But when I find that there is, even in vague sentiment, something like a hook that holds the mind in suspense, or will not let the mind be satisfied with departure from it, that circumstance deserves, I think, to arrest attention. I will frankly confess, that my own mind has been in this very situation. I did not see, at one time, how the case of general information and opi. nion, which it is lawful to use, could be separated from the case of particular knowledge; but I now entertain a different and a more decided opinion; and the consideration, with me, which has changed uneasiness into doubt, and doubt into a new, and, as I think, corrected judgment, is that which I have last stated—it is the consideration, that is to say, of the cery nature of a contract. A contract does not imply equal powers, equal general information, equal shrewdness, in the contracting parties; but it does imply, as it appears to me, equal actual knowledge. My neighbour may think himself superior to me in all other respects, and he may tell me so, and yet I will trade with him; we will stand upon ground that I am willing to consider equal. But let him tell me that he knows something touching the manufacture, quality, condition, or relations of the article to be sold, which I do not know, and which affects the value of the article, and I stop upon the threshold; we cannot traffic; there may be a game of hazard which he and I consent to play ; but there is an end of all trading. If this be true, then the condition of a regular and lawful contract is, that there be no secrets in it; no secrets, either in the kind or quality of the merchandise, or in the breast, or in the pocket of the dealer. Let them all be swept away; let them be swept out, all secrets from all hiding-places, from all coverts of subterfuge and chicanery; and this, at least, I am certain of, that business would occasion fewer wounds of conscience to all honourable and virtuous communities.
APPENDIX TO THE FOREGOING DISCOURSE.
SOME remarks upon the foregoing discourse, which had reached the author's ear during the weekly interval before the delivery of the next discourse, lead him, before entering upon it, to offer the following observations.
It may be thought that, in my discourse of the last Sunday evening, I have leaned to a view of the principles of trade which is too indulgent to its questionable practices. I am most anxious to guard against such an inference; and yet I must hesitate to yield exactly to the tone of objection which may possibly be adopted by some of my hearers. The pulpit is not to speak any peculiar language on this subject, because it is the pulpit. The language of truth is what we seek, the language which would be true anywhere. Neither is the pulpit to be looked upon as a post of duty, which is to serve only the purpose of assault, whose business it is to assail any particular class of persons, merchants
, or others; nor is the church a proper place for men to come to, in order to enjoy the gratification of seeing other men attacked. Nor is it the only business of the moral teacher to denounce the sins of a violated conscience; it is sometimes quite as important to defend weak consciences. Nothing can be worse for a man than to act upon a principle of which he doubts the correctness. He is then doing wrong, even when the thing he does may be right. His conscience becomes weakened by wounds without cause; it is floating on a sea of doubt, and may be borne far beyond the bounds of rectitude. It is thus that there arises in a community a general and pernicious babit of paltering with conscience; of talking about certain principles as very good in theory, but as impracticable in fact; of slurring over the Christian rule with inuendoes; of commending it, indeed, and in a sort—but how? Why, of treacherously commending it, with those ironical praises, and ambiguous hints, and knowing glances of eye, which more effectually than anything else break down all principle.
On the contrary, let us come out fairly, and establish the true doctrine on independent grounds, with fair reasoning, without any bias against men of business, or for them, and then shall we stand upon the stable basis of conscience and principle, and be able to define its boundaries. If it be expedient and inevitable that men should, in business as in everything else, act, to a certain extent, upon their own superior sagacity, power, and information, let us plainly say so; and then let us faithfully warn them against going too far
. Now, nobody doubts, I presume, that they may go too far; that the man of sagacity may overreach an idiot; that the monopolist and the usurer may abuse his power; and that he who possesses superior information may dishonestly and cruelly use it. And, therefore, it was less necessary to insist upon these points, than it was to discuss the great question, and the only question, viz. whether these advantages may be used at all
. If they may not be used at all, then all commerce, in its actual, and, I think, inevitable procedures, is a system of knavery. 'If it is not a system of knavery, then it is important to defend it from that charge. And it is the more important, because, against merchants, from their acquiring greater wealth probably, there are peculiar prejudices in the community. The manufacturer may use his superior information, his particular invention, that is, he may get a patent for it, i.e. a monopoly, and every other profession may do substantially the same thing, and not a word is said against it. But if the merchant does this, he is called into serious question; and, influenced by this general distrust, he calls himself in question too. But unfortunately for him, instead of thinking deeply upon the matter, and settling himself upon some foundation of general principle, he is liable to give himself up to the suggestions of temporary expediency. He is not quite satisfied, perhaps, with what he is doing, and yet, he says, that he must do it, or he cannot get along a way of reasoning that I hold to be most injurious to his character. Let him then, I say, settle some just principle, and conscientiously act upon it.
They are general principles, I must desire you to observe, which I have attempted to establish. The questions that arise upon the application of these principles, are, of course, numerous and complicated. I could not enter into them. My inexperience disqualified me; and besides, it was impossible to meet the questions of every man's mind. But, by way of guarding against any false inferences from what I have said, let me offer two suggestions. In the first place, I have not intended to touch any questions about corporations, or about combinations and conspiracies to defraud. My discussion has been occupied with simple and single-handed dealings of man with man. In the next place, if my views have seemed to any one to lean to an unjust decision of any case, then I say, that they are to be limited and restrained by that very case. The very principle I adopt, is that of restricting the fair action of trade within the boundaries of justice and philanthropy.
I must add, in fine, that in defending the right in trade, the impression upon the popular ear may, naturally enough, have been, that I have not sufficiently considered the wrong. The wrong, let me observe here, will properly come under our consideration in another place. What I say now is, that if the principles I have laid down, have seemed to any one to verge towards an undue licence, I must most earnestly protest against his inference. That very licence, I say, is the point to which the principle shall not go. And I say more explicitly, that although the vender of any goods is not bound to assist the buyer with his judgment, yet that he is bound to point out any latent defect, and he is bound, by the general trust reposed in him on that point, to sell at the market price: and again, that monopoly, whether of money or other commodities, although it must inevitably raise the prices, although it must be governed in all ordinary cases by the market value, yet when it can control the market price, is bound to use its power with moderation; and finally, that he who acts upon superior information, though he may lawfully do so, shall not press his advantage to the extent of any frandulent use, or to the infliction of any gross and undeserved injury; that he shall not press it farther than is necessary, reasonably to reward vigilance and admonish indolence; that he shall not press it farther than the wholesome action of trade, and the true welfare of the whole community requires.
ON THE MORAL END OF BUSINESS.
PROVERBS XX. 15: “There is gold and a multitude of rubies, but the lips of
knowledge (i. e. of rectitude) is a precious jewel." My subject this evening is the moral end of business. Let me first attempt to define my meaning in the use of this phrase—the moral end of business.
It is not the end for which property should be sought. It is not the moral purpose to be answered by the acquisition, but by the process of acquisition. And again, it is not the end of industry in general—that is a more comprehensive subject, but it is the end of business in particular, of barter, of commerce. - The end of business!” some one may say; "why, the end of business is to obtain property; the end of the process of acquisition is acquisition.” If I addressed any person whose mind had not gone behind that ready and obvious answer to ultimate and deeper reasons, I should venture to say, that a revelation is to be made to him of a more exalted aim in business, of a higher, and, at the same time, more perilous scene of action in its pursuits, than he has yet imagined. In other words, I hold that the ultimate end of all business is a moral end. I believe that business-I mean not labour, but barter, traffic-would never have existed, if there bad been no end but sustenance. The animal races obtain subsistence upon an easier and simpler plan; but for man there is a higher end, and that is moral.
The broad grounds of this position I find in the obvious designs of Providence, and in the evident adaptation to this moral end, of business itself.
There is, then, a design for which all things were made and ordained, going beyond the things themselves. To say that things were made, or that the arrangements and relations of things were ordained, for their own sake, is a proposition without meaning. The world, its structure, productions, laws, and events, have no good nor evil in them -none, but as they produce these results in the experience of living creatures. The end, then, of the inanimate creation is the welfare of the living, and, therefore, especially of the intelligent creation. But the welfare of human beings lies essentially in their moral culture. All is wrong, everywhere, if all is not right there. All of design that there is in this lower creation, presses upon that point. The universe is a moral chaos without that design, and it is a moral desolation to every mind in which that design is not accomplished. Life, then, has an ultimate purpose. We are not appointed to pass through this life barely that we may live. We are not impelled, both by disposition and necessity, to buy and sell, barely that we may do it; nor to get gain, barely that we may get it. There is an end in business beyond supply. There is an object in the acquisition of wealth beyond success. There is a final cause of human traffic, and that is virtue.
With this view of the moral end of business, falls in the constant doctrine of all elevated philosophy and true religion. Life, say the expounders of every creed, is a probation. The circumstances in which we are placed; the events, the scenes of our mortal lot; the bright visions that cheer us, the dark clouds that overshadow us
all these are not an idle show, nor do they exist for themselves alone, nor because they must exist by the fiat of some blind chance; but they have a purpose; and that purpose is expressed in the word probation. Now, if anything deserves to be considered as a part of that probation, it is business. Life, say the wise, is a school. In this school there are lessons: toil is a lesson; trial is a lesson; and business, too, is a lesson. But the end of a lesson is, that something be learned; and the end of business is, that truth, rectitude, virtue, be learned. This is the ultimate design proposed by Heaven, aud it is a design which every wise man, engaged in that calling, will propose to himself.
It is no extravagance, therefore, but the simple assertion of a truth, to say to a man so engaged, and to say emphatically, “ You have an end to gain beyond success, and that is the moral rectitude of your own mind."
That business is so exquisitely adapted to accomplish that purpose, is another argument with me to prove that such is the intention of its Ordainer, was its design. I can conceive that things might have been ordered otherwise; that human beings might have been formed for industry, and not for traffic. I can conceive man and nature to have been so constituted, that each individual should, by solitary labour, have drawn from the earth his sustenance; and that a vesture, softer, richer, and more graceful than is ever wrought in the looms of our manufactories, might have been woven upon his body, by the same invisible hands that have thus clothed the beasts of the desert, and the birds of the air, and the lilies of the field, so that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of them. Then might man have held only the sweet counsel of society with his fellow, and never have been called to engage with him in the strife of business. Then, too, would he have been saved from all the dangers and vices of human traffic; but then, too, would the lofty virtues cultivated in this sphere of life, never have bad an existence. For business, I repeat, is admirably adapted to form such virtues. It is apt, I know it is said, to corrupt men; but the truth is, it corrupts only those who are willing to be corrupted. An honest man, a man who sincerely desires to attain to a lofty and unbending uprightness, could scarcely seek a discipline more perfectly fitted to that end, than the discipline of trade. For what is trade? It is the constant adjustment of the claims of different parties, a man's self being one of the parties. This competition of rights and interests might not invade the solitary study, or the separate tasks of the workshop, or the labours of the silent field, once a day; but it presses upon the merchant and trader continually,
Do you say that it presses too hard? Then, I reply, must the sense of rectitude be made the stronger to meet the trial. Every plea of this nature is an argument for strenuous moral effort. Shall I be told that the questions which often arise are very perplexing; that the case to b3 decided comes, oftentimes, not under å definite rule, but under a