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Robert Green Ingersoll
ORGANIZED CHARITIES. I HAVE no great confidence in organized charities. Money is left and buildings are erected and sinecures provided for a good many worthless people. Those in immediate control are almost, or when they were appointed were almost, in want themselves, and they naturally hate other beggars. They regard persons who ask assistance as their enemies. There is an old story of a tramp who begged a breakfast. After breakfast another tramp came to the same place to beg his breakfast, and the first tramp with blows and curses drove him away, saying at the same time: "I expect to get dinner here myself." This is the general attitude of beggar toward beggar. Another trouble with organized charities is the machinery, the various methods they have adopted to prevent what they call fraud. They are exceedingly anxious that the needy, that those who ask help, who have been without fault, shall be attended to, their rule apparently being to assist only the unfortunate perfect. The trouble is that Nature produces very few specimens of that kind. As a rule, men come to want on account of their imperfections, on account of their ignorance, on account of their vices, and their vices are born of their lack of capacity, of their want of brain. In other words, they are failures of Nature, and the fact that they need help is not their own fault, but the fault of their construction, their surroundings. Very few people have the opportunity of selecting their parents, and it is exceedingly difficult in the matter of grandparents. Consequently, I do not hold people responsible for hereditary tendencies, traits and vices. Neither do I praise them for having hereditary virtues. A man going to one of these various charitable establishments is cross-examined. He must give his biography. And after he has answered all the supercilious, impudent questions, he is asked for references. Then the people referred to are sought out, to find whether the statements made by the applicant are true. By the time the thing is settled the man who asked aid has either gotten it somewhere else or has, in the language of the Spiritualists, "passed over to the other side." Of course this does not trouble the persons in charge of the organized charities, because their salaries are going on. As a rule, these charities were commenced by the best of people. Some generous, philanthropic man or woman gave a life to establish a "house," it may be, for aged women, for orphans, for the waifs of the pavements. These generous people, filled with the spirit of charity, raised a little money, succeeded in hiring or erecting a humble building, and the money they collected, so honestly given, they Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 14 ORGANIZED CHARITIES. honestly used to bind up the wounds and wipe away the tears of the unfortunate, and to save, if possible, some who had been wrecked on the rocks and reefs of crime. Then some very rich man dies who had no charity and who would not have left a dollar could he have taken his money with him. This rich man, who hated his relatives and the people he actually knew, gives a large sum of money to some particular charity -- not that he had any charity, but because he wanted to be remembered as a philanthropist. Then the organized charity becomes rich, and the richer the meaner, the richer the harder of heart and the closer of fist. Now, I believe that Trinity Church, in this city, would be called an organized charity. The church was started to save, if possible, a few souls from eternal torment, and on the plea of saving these souls money was given to the church. Finally the church became rich. It is now a landlord -- has many buildings to rent. And if what I hear is true there is no harder landlord in the city of New York. So, I have heard it said of Dublin University, that it is about the hardest landlord in Ireland. I think you will find that all such institutions try to collect the very last cent, and, in the name of pity, drive pity from their hearts. I think it is Shakespeare who says, "Pity drives out pity," and he must have had organized charities in his mind when he uttered this remark. Of course a great many really good and philanthropic people leave vast sums of money to charities. I find that it is sometimes very difficult to get an injured man, or one seized with some sudden illness, taken into a city hospital. There are so many rules and so many regulations, so many things necessary to be done, that while the rules are being complied with the soul of the sick or injured man, weary of the waiting, takes its flight. And after the man is dead, the doctors are kind enough to certify that he died of heart failure. So -- in a general way -- I speak of all the asylums, of all the homes for orphans. When I see one of those buildings I feel that it is full of petty tyranny, of what might be called pious meanness, devout deviltry, where the object is to break the will of every recipient of public favor. I may be all wrong. I hope I am. At the same time I fear that I am somewhere near right. You may take our prisons; the treatment of prisoners is often infamous. The Elmira Reformatory is a worthy successor of the Inquisition, a disgrace, in my judgment, to the State of New York, to the civilization of our day. Every little while something comes to light showing the cruelty, the tyranny, the meanness, of these Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 15 ORGANIZED CHARITIES. professional distributors of public charity -- of these professed reformers. I know that they are visited now and then by committees from the Legislature, and I know that the keepers of these places know when the "committee" may be expected. I know that everything is scoured and swept and burnished for the occasion; and I know that the poor devils that have been abused or whipped or starved, fear to open their mouths, knowing that if they do they may not be believed and that they will be treated afterward as though they were wild beasts, I think these public institutions ought to be open to inspection at all times. I think the very best men ought to be put in control of them. I think only those doctors who have passed, and recently passed, examinations as to their fitness, as to their intelligence and professional acquirements, ought to be put in charge, I do not think that hospitals should be places for young doctors to practice sawing off the arms and legs of paupers or hunting in the stomachs of old women for tumors. I think only the skillful, the experienced, should be employed in such places. Neither do I think hospitals should be places where medicine is distributed by students to the poor. Ignorance is a poor doctor, even for the poor, and if we pretend to be charitable we ought to carry it out. I would like to see tyranny done away with in prisons, in the reformatories, and in all places under the government or supervision of the State. I would like to have all corporal punishment abolished, and I would also like to see the money that is given to charity distributed by charity and by intelligence. I hope all these institutions will be overhauled. I hope all places where people are pretending to take care of the poor and for which they collect money from the public, will be visited, and will be visited unexpectedly and the truth told. In my judgment there is some better way. I think every hospital, every asylum, every house for waifs and orphans should be supported by taxation, not by charity; should be under the care and control of the State absolutely. I do not believe in these institutions being managed by any individual or by any society, religious or secular, but by the State. I would no more have hospitals and asylums depend on charity than I would have the public school depend on voluntary contributions. I want the schools supported by taxation and to be controlled by the State, and I want the hospitals and asylums and charitable institutions founded and controlled and carried on in the same way. Let the property of the State do it. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 16 ORGANIZED CHARITIES. Let those pay the taxes who are able. And let us do away forever with the idea that to take care of the sick of the helpless, is a charity. It is not a charity. It is a duty. It is something to be done for our own sakes. It is no more a charity than it is to pave or light the streets, no more a charity than it is to have a system of sewers. It is all for the purpose of protecting society and of civilizing ourselves. END
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