‘It is your duty to get rich’

I’ve been researching the Chautauqua movement in the US, which was an adult education movement that began in the late 19th century and really blossomed in the first two decades of the 20th century. It typically involved groups of lecturers and entertainers touring rural America, setting up a big tent, and then giving talks and performances to the locals.

Apparently, the most popular talk was one called ‘Acres of Diamonds’, by a Baptist minister called Russell Conwell. He delivered it over 5,000 times, all over the country. It began with an anecdote about a man who wanted to find diamonds so badly that he sold his property and went off in futile search for them; the new owner of his home discovered that a rich diamond mine was located right there on the property. Conwell elaborates on the theme through examples of success, genius, service, or other virtues involving ordinary Americans contemporary to his audience: “dig in your own back-yard!”.

Here’s a paragraph of it. It’s an amazing glimpse into the history of American self-help, and the remarkable way it twisted the message of Christianity into the moral duty to get rich:

I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich…. The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community. Let me say here clearly .. . ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. That is why they carry on great enterprises and find plenty of people to work with them. It is because they are honest men. … … I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be sympathised with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins … is to do wrong…. let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings. …

What a knobhead!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *