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Primary Sources: Lewis Tappan: Is It Right to Be Rich?
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The devout merchant who invented credit reporting published his thoughts on the ethics and obligations of wealth just a few years before his death in 1873.

Men say it is impossible to know, from year to year, what one's income is. Now, although men in business may not be able, at all times, each week or month, to know what their income is, yet this does not prevent their making provision for household and personal expenses, agreeably to some standard they have in their own minds. At the end of each year they can, if their business is well conducted, make a near estimate, and thus be able to give in some recognized proportion to their actual income...

Thus much has been said on this head to show how unreasonable it is that Christians should give less than a tenth of their income, and how preposterous the excuse is, that it is difficult or impossible to ascertain how much one's income is. But no one should be content to give only a tenth, if his income allows him to give more. A Christian is bound to give as the Lord prospers him, and the Lord will hold him to this...

...My own observation in mercantile life, of more than half a century, has convinced me:

1. That eagerness to amass property usually robs a man and his family of much rational enjoyment; tempts to doubtful and disreputable acts; enslaves a man to business and corroding care; injures his disposition and temper; makes him selfish, unsocial, mean, tyrannical, a bad neighbor, and but a nominal Christian.

2. That it destroys that calmness of mind and that sound judgment which are requisite to success in business; that it tempts men to take hazardous risks which often involve themselves and others in perplexity and ruin; that it leads to suretyships, which produce inquietude, and often result in bankruptcy.

3. That it leads to neglect of domestic, social, and neighborly obligations; neglect of children; neglect of prayer and the Scriptures, and neglect of one's health of body and soul....

We may treasure up learning, integrity, honor, piety, and manliness, and children will not be injured by such hoarding; but if we amass wealth or strive to do it, children, as a general rule, will be injured if not ruined by such a course. "Give liberally," said a clergyman in a charity sermon, "give liberally, and you will have enough left to ruin all your children." When will parents learn, and act upon the knowledge acquired, that industry, integrity, and piety are the best safeguards in educating their children, and the best inheritance they can bequeath to them, and that extravagant living, affluence, hoarding money, or even a free use of it, on ourselves or children, is most dangerous and almost always ruinous.

It would be wise in parents to inculcate upon their children, while in a course of education, and as a part of it, the superior advantages of industrial and benevolent pursuits to the acquisition of property, both as it relates to usefulness and happiness, here and hereafter. And if children, after attaining to maturity, should devote a considerable portion of their time to labor for the improvement of those less favored than themselves, to the increase of their rational enjoyments, their educational culture, their moral and religious advancement, they would find a source of gratification and happiness that the pursuits and attainment of wealth will never yield."


Excerpt from Lewis Tappan, Is It Right to be Rich?. New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Co. 1869, pp. 11-23.



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