THE
ENDING
OF
HEREDITARY
AMERICAN FORTUNES

BY
GUSTAVUS MYERS
[1939]



ent growth and change of statutory law, the erudite lawyer has been conversant with the facts.  He has known of the great transformation made by the abolition of primogeniture and entail, and of the interdicting of certain kinds of perpetuities then considered ominous.  And, in modern times, it has been the progressive-minded lawyer who, in the capacity of legislator, has often invoked the guidance of those early measures in their relevant and timely application to eradicating present-day hereditary powers.  The principles of Revolutionary times reassert themselves as those of the present.  With this observation there is no need of recounting the successive blows administered by the American people at large or by dominant portions to hereditary privilege or fate.

Bent upon still further breaking up great family concentrations of wealth, President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged Congress to use its taxing power to the limit.  In addition to Federal estate taxes, he called for still more levies in the shape of inheritance, succession and legacy taxes on large amounts received by any one legatee or beneficiary.  And to prevent possible evasion, heavier taxes on gifts.  When the Knights of Labor, decades back, had demanded the taxing of great private wealth out of existence, few dreamed that the time would ever come witnessing two Presidents of the United States, each of a different political party, and at widely separate intervals, virtually advocating such a program.  More forceful in this than his predecessor in question, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was, however, somewhat in advance of Congress.  Leaders in this thought that it had gone as far in the direction of heavy taxes as seemed expedient or desirable at the time.




Epilogue


UP TO this point this book has restricted itself to a narrative of historic fact, the whole forming a definite connecting link with the present.  With propriety we may now independently branch off into examining some phases of the nature and prerogatives of hereditary wealth.

How was that wealth acquired ?  This projects itself as the first question.  Whatever veneer of respectability the trick of Time has imparted to great private fortunes, that fortuitous circumstance does not vitiate consideration of the methods by which they were acquired.  But to spread here the evidences of the abominations by which so many were variously amassed would be supererogative.  This illumination we have supplied in other books and additionally in this work.  Withal, the amount of information thus furnished is only part of a vast record.  Despite the irrefutable documentary facts, the old justification in behalf of great private wealth is still audaciously made.  Need we say what the claim is ?  To renew understanding, yes.  That wealth, it is maintained, came from honest endeavor, remarkable enterprise and superlative ability, and wholly from those qualities and services.

Even though that legend is now widely disbelieved it still has its tenacious spokesmen who reiterate it as solemn truth.  And who, of all men, essay this ?  Not so much the rich themselves.  Whatever front they may assume, some heirs—the second generation at least—have known only too well the methods used in getting the wealth together.  Not infrequently have fortune founders boasted to their sons of their finesse in consummating this or that plundering scheme.  More than one of such scions has so told this author.  But granting that most very wealthy inheritors are innocent of all knowledge of the real origin of their riches, they do not have to bestir themselves to advocate their cause.  They have personages, in the character of some leading educators, to do it for them.

Libraries, not excluding Columbia University’s library itself, are full of reports of official investigations proving the fraudulent and downright corrupt means by which fortune after fortune was secured.  Yet Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University, in an address at the Parish Art Museum, at Southampton, L.I., on September 4, 1938, unreservedly postulated all of the fortunes as the rewards of honest creation.  Speaking, if you please, in the name of “our American democracy” he vocalized his fear that “it may be undermined subtly” and one of the ways was “by revolution in taxation.”  And, as will be seen by the following excerpt, great individual or family wealth was to him not such at all ;  it was represented as “national savings.”  Quoth he :  “The moment that the power of taxation is used in an attempt to redistribute the national savings and to penalize as though they were criminals those individuals whose honest accumulations [my italics] are large, that moment taxation has departed from the principles upon which a democracy rests....”  The only difference between this speech and the utterances of oracular college presidents of a century or more ago was that in such past times the interests of aristocracy were openly and avowedly espoused ;  there was no using of the name of democracy as a leverage.

A query, however, remains.  What of the fortunes which no records can show were based upon fraud and theft ?  Upon briberies of legislative bodies, spoliation of natural resources, procuring of privileged laws, outpouring of watered stock, shameless exploitation of the public, ruthless oppression of workers ?  Any or all of these and other methods ?  Such fortunes have been exceptional enough.  But the point arises whether or not they are or deserve to be in a special and honorary class by themselves.

Decades back it was the custom to draw a sharp division between what was branded as “tainted money” and what was viewed as “honest wealth.”  In the first category were fortunes which were being sensationally exposed in investigations.  The second and far larger list was a composite.  It included two kinds of fortunes.  One type had aforetime been similarly exposed but the particulars and stigma had altogether lapsed in public memory in the haze of Time and, accelerated by puffery, these fortunes became accepted as having been rightfully acquired.  The other type was in general the large fortunes from manufacturing.  These seemed unaccompanied by the corrupt and grabbing methods marking fortunes extracted from railroads, public domain, franchises, utilities and other such agencies.

Yet underneath appearances, the progress of the successful manufacturer too often ran in lines somewhat approximate.  As the records attest, he often bilked the inventor and thus appropriated valuable inventions ;  he lobbied and bribed for advantageous tariff laws ;  he waxed on secret rebates from railroads ;  he thrived on an output not uncommonly of deceitful make, and on systematic misrepresentation of his wares ;  he or rather his corporation poured forth watered stock ;  he combined low wages and long hours for his working force with exaction of high prices from the consumer.  But although these were recognized facts some of which led to attempts at restraining laws and frequently to great strikes, the group manufacturing staple goods contrived, as a body, to have a special standing in respect to legitimacy of its wealth.  With it none of the elements signalizing the overtly plundered fortunes seemed to be connected ;  its sphere was the regular, normal one of making and selling goods ; and, on the whole, much of public opinion was inclined to regard it as entitled to its wealth by reason of its accredited skilfully-directed activity and pushful enterprise.

That acceptation, as we have seen, was disavowed by the Populist Party, in 1892.  Its pronouncement that “every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery” was at least the American political opening of exploration into the real merits of the matter.  For ill-defined as was the pronouncement it brought into question the right of industry’s overlords to their massed private wealth.  But scrutiny along this line was shelved by the protracted era of anti-Trust agitation.  This busied itself with the powers and evils of those consolidations, and in no sense with attacking the intrinsic right of beneficiaries to their wealth.  Indeed, so far away from this vital point did thought swing, that a President of the United States could then see his politic way to making a distinction between “good Trusts” and “bad Trusts.”  Attention was largely upon abuses and practices in industry, and it was to control these and seek to ensure fair dealing that laws were passed and such a body as the Federal Trade Commission finally established.

Not until these present times has a President of the United States launched the decisive proposition as to the actual creators of great wealth vested in a small radius of ownership.  One long-disseminated claim was that it came exclusively from individual effort.  Auxiliary to this was the extolling of capitalist or corporation for providing work opportunities.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt went far in reversing these encrusted ideas.  In his message to Congress, in 1935, on hereditary wealth he did not touch upon the genesis of great fortunes.  Taking great wealth as an objective entirety, he showed its dependence upon the exertions of the generality of the people.  Largely from them, he contended, was such wealth derived.  The question was not how the people would have fared without capitalists, but what these could have done without the collective help of the people and its aggregate yield.

Strange that this simple fact should have been so long ignored or perverted !  President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed the situation :  “Therefore, in spite of the great importance in our national life of the efforts and ingenuity of unusual individuals, the people in the mass have inevitably helped to make the large fortunes possible.  Without mass co-operation, great accumulations of wealth would be impossible save by unhealthy speculation.”  And further in that message he amplified :  “Wealth in the modern world does not come merely from individual effort ;  it results from a combination of individual effort and the manifold uses to which the community puts that effort.  The individual does not create the product of his industry with his own hands ;  he utilizes the many processes and forces of mass production to meet the demands of a national and international market.”

If to the abundantly proved facts of the origin and expansion of the multitude of fortunes we add the force of this truth, then does not the preponderant social title to wealth fundamentally rest in the people at large ?  In the formulation of rules of social justice there can be no statute of limitations, else the evils of the past would forever impose themselves upon the present.  That the methods, illegitimate or otherwise, used in amassing great private wealth often occurred long ago, does not hallow that wealth nor preclude its restoration to those who were instruments in its accumulation.  Laws are, of course, not immutable ;  social standards of more enlightened times reject the old and translate themselves into new and equitable statutes.  Every allowance can be made for personal incentive in the development of industry.  To deny its existence or importance would be to be blind to a fact.  Yet it is equally fatuous to judge incentive as synonymous with success.  Had it been there would not have been the immense number of industrial, mercantile and other failures of men who unquestionably had incentive.  To produce success other and paramount factors had to be superadded to incentive, and what some of those extraneous factors were has already been noted.

Thus fairly viewed, did not many of the men who (as the phrase goes) founded the great fortunes have reason to felicitate themselves upon their combined overweening wealth and immunity ?  Considering their own lifetime alone, did they not enjoy an enormous privilege ?  Most assuredly.  For, in stern reality, if criminal law had been impartially enforced, a large list would have languished in prison cells instead of luxuriating in palaces.  With this a verity, their wealth had unwarranted enough heyday in their own time without its passing on to successive heirs.

It is this hereditary continuity, more than the inception of great wealth, which is herein the salient point.  Indefensibly it sticks out at variance with all of the other canons of American life.  The man or woman of small or moderate means does exercise the transmitting process in leaving funds to children.  Self-evidently, however, this modest provision is in no way comparable to the fortunes which convey great economic and social power lasting generation after generation ;  fortunes so immense and so maneuvered that often great-grandchildren come into the world already endowed as millionaires or multimillionaires.

Here, at the outset, is a legalized evil conflicting with every principle of equality in America.  Of this evil President Theodore Roosevelt, in his message to Congress, on December 3, 1906, and in other expressions, proclaimed two pernicious results.  These denied equality of opportunity “for the people of the generations growing to manhood.”  At the same time, they fixed great fortunes in permanence.  “The prime object,” he urged upon Congress, “should be to put a constantly increasing burden on the inheritance of these swollen fortunes which it is certainly no benefit to this country to perpetuate.”  And dealing with the heirs he declared :  “No advantage comes either to the country or to the individuals inheriting the money by permitting the transmission in their entirety of the enormous fortunes.”  The plan advocated by President Theodore Roosevelt was that of proceeding step by step in disrupting “the enormous fortunes” by ever-increasing taxation, although whether or not this would have the desired final effect “it is not necessary to discuss at present.”  His counsel to Congress was :  “It is wise that progress in this direction should be gradual.”1

Beginning at a later time, it is needless to say here, cumulative taxation has taken considerable of the great fortune estates.  We have sufficiently experimented with the gradual method.  As seen by the examples given in this book, enough of those estates is left to vest decendants as possessors of millions.  Relative to the condition of the mass of people, the disparity still remains iniquitously great.  Above all, the hereditary feature is in sanctioned operation as a matter of statutory right.

Hereditary transmission of wealth inflicts more injustices upon the community than inequality of opportunity.  Removal of this is essential.  But there are other consequential even if apparently intangible aspects.  In a country which extended human rights to the point of abolishing all other kinds of inequality ordained by law appertaining to accident of birth, the passing on of great wealth to heirs is one extant survival.  Wealth thus has a special and sacred power founded neither upon reason nor right, but wholly upon the artificial mandate of law.

Furthermore, great hereditary wealth is a license to social irresponsibility.  All others must regulate their lives as responsible members of the community, with definite duties to be performed and obligations in common to be met.  But very rich inheritors are held by no limitations.  Their wealth allows them the privileged latitude to do as they please and they usually do it to excess.  Not only in addiction to vagaries and self-indulgence but all too often in affront of manners and wantonness of conduct.  If, let us say, there are those among the non-rich who by nature may be disposed to arrogance, it is tempered, perhaps corrected, by the circumstances of their life and the force of surroundings.  But what are the constraints upon the possessors of wealth ?  They know none and acknowledge none.  Wealth is their passport to arrogance and snobbishness, and if the way of expressing these varies from the open and crude to the invidious these manifestations are in obnoxious evidence, nevertheless.

Here and there, the claim may be made, are those among the extremely rich some who do recognize a sense of social responsibility and seek to conform thereto.  Yet in no degree is this entailed upon them as a necessity or duty.  It is purely an arbitrary choice or concession, and the same wealth which afforded them an opportunity to exhibit it gives them the equal power of turning about and, should they choose, becoming votaries of complete irresponsibility.  We recently were confronted with a noteworthy case of how vicarious social responsibility can be made.  Announcing that it was making a great innovation in the line of service to the public, one of the largest corporations brought into its managerial fold an educator as an adviser on matters of social responsibility.  Yet at that very time a principal adult heir to a great fortune flowing from that corporation was being exposed in the newspapers as a notorious and thoroughly irresponsible rounder who had no actuating idea except that of prodigal living.

Transcending equality of opportunity is the need of establishing that inherent equality of standing which is in nowise determined by gauge of wealth.  This course is a requisite of the spirit of American life and the conclusion of a series of steps thus far taken in American progress.  So long as caste of money, adventitiously perpetuated by heredity persists, the finale remains strangely incomplete.  All other kinds of caste have been disposed of, but this has adhered, and if its resources have been weakened by taxation the malign workings are still in effectual execution.

And they are unmistakably malign.  They subvert what should be the civilized and proper order of valuing those genuine human qualities which alone can give character.  The inherent dignity and all of the other essentials which make real manhood and womanhood are obscured, perhaps depreciated.  A premium is put upon the purely exterior thing of wealth.  This and nothing but this demarcates its line of possessors from the rest of the community and allows them to thrust themselves into a special and dominating position.  Not only in vested command of economic power, assured security, luxurious surroundings, and service of retinues to minister to their wants and moods ;  as wealth descends from generation to generation an aura of high prestige is fabricated for the benefit of the lineage.  The inheritors exalt themselves, or are exalted by a procession of subservient eulogists, into a rarefied zone of “distinguished families.”

If we be accused of attributing all of this to the sheer possession of wealth, the cogent question here occurs :  If that wealth were to disappear from their hold, what would be the status of those now privileged hereditary holders ?  They would have to scramble for a livelihood the same as other folk.  How many are qualified to do so ?  How many could attain distinction ?

It is therein among the kin of the ultra wealthy that the worst kind of nepotism often flourishes.

By the hardest application, the aspiring young man may equip himself for administrative or other duties in large corporate business.  But lacking powerful family connections what are his prospects and what does he have to face ?  He has to—if he possibly can get the opportunity—content himself with the most subordinate beginning, while by favoritism well-paying posts frequently go to relatives of owners or of head officials.  Such relatives have nothing to recommend them except family connections, and can afford to be superior to any deep sense of responsibility.  This is thrown upon the qualified men who have to see to it that the machinery functions or suffer the consequences.  Their jobs are not sinecures.  If incentive be so potent a force, it is almost nonexistent among the favored and usually flabby interlopers who are thus eased into important places.  Inherited wealth, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., once publicly deplored, tended to deprive the owner of incentive.  “Creative enterprise,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, “is not stimulated by vast inheritances.  They bless neither those who bequeath them nor those who receive.”  If the beneficiaries of the aforesaid nepotism are not the principal heirs, they, as collaterals, have the backing of family wealth, and the effect upon their ways and attitude is generally much the same as those of the heirs themselves.  Here we see a modern parallel in another field of conditions in the time of primogeniture and entail when relatives of the landed rich were foisted into political sinecures.

However, we have somewhat wandered from the main point.  This is the easy power of wealth to purchase a social celebrity devolving upon the family name as a heritage of honor.  Everybody relishes applause.  If we do good work we are pleased to be told so and are stimulated.  Beyond this rises the desire for fame.  The philosopher may smile at fame, but it is a lodestar nevertheless, and who is there to prove that it is not a laudable ambition ?  All others save the very rich have to strive painfully hard to attain even the recognition of merit, not to speak of the more enduring bestowal of fame.  These things cannot be bought by the writer, artist, music composer, dramatist and others in an extensive list.  And if contemporaneously acquired, that fame has to run the gantlet of Time the severe test of which may confirm or tarnish it, or in the phantasmagoria of events it may be quite or altogether entombed.

But by the mere routine of signing a check or deed, or by the single act of bequest, the “founders” of great fortunes or their heirs can buy a fame to be perpetuated in marbled edifices and reverberating eulogy.  Regardless of the enormities by which the wealth was flung together or those attending its expansion, the donating of a part of it for charitable, philanthropic, or other such purposes magically transmutes the giver into a “noble benefactor of mankind.”  Up are reared imposing institutions with his name conspicuously inscribed or otherwise obtrusively associated.  Thereafter he and his deed are extolled in editorials and lauded in oratorical panegyrics and effusive books.  This ranks as eclat of its own particular and shining kind.  It imparts a glamour to a family name, and settles into an hereditary possession, pride or boast.  Even if the origin of the family’s wealth is tolerably known to some or many, this method of self-endowed fame may conspire to gloss over the inimical factors.  So that the donor—and by reflection his heirs—tend to loom in wide public estimation as personages who, irrespective of the sources of their money, have used it to “do much good.”

The givers of this largess, it may be said in excuse, do not insist upon the glorification of their names.  But their clear aim is often shown by memorial Foundations to commemorate a wife or a child.  The names of these are definitely affixed.  And during the lifetime of these multimillionaires their own names are also often an integral of the titles of institutions then endowed.  As for legacies establishing institutional philanthropies, the will may not expressly stipulate perpetuation of the donor’s name but that is the implicit condition and is almost always religiously followed.

That the aim to establish Foundations or other such institutions proceeded from motives entirely independent of the effect of heavy income and estate-tax laws was shown by the list of such endowments created considerably before such laws.  As, for instance, the Rockefeller and the Carnegie Foundations.  Under the impetus of the present tax levies there is an increasing tendency on the part of multimillionaires to divert their wealth into endowments which will inure to the acclamation of themselves and their heirs.

Indeed, competition for this blazoning of name, either during life or in posterity, has been such that cases have not been unknown where no alternative was allowed.  Unless the name were enshrined, the endowment would not be made ;  each was an inseparable proviso of the other.

The most coercive instance of this kind was that of James B. Duke.  In 1924 he set aside a $40,000,000 fund in securities for the benefit of Trinity College, at Durham, N.C., on condition that it change its name to Duke University ;  if it declined, the fund was to be used in creating a new university bearing his name.  The trustees of Trinity College, an old and worthy institution, were overwhelmed by the extent of the allurement, and unanimously voted to make the change.  Widespread and caustic was the criticism of their action, and equally so of Duke.  But he cared no more about this than he had about the numerous official exposures of the ways in which he had accumulated his wealth.  In upshot, he, like others of his stripe, who saw in mankind nothing but a mass from which to extort multimillions, became duly transformed in legend into a great philanthropist whose aim was “to uplift mankind.”  This was the smug and unqualified eulogy made, in 1934, by the Dean of Duke University Medical School.  Could a more vivid example of the purchase of reputation and renown be presented ?  It is but a typical even if more brazen case.

As noted, Duke’s endowment was in the form of securities.  This takes us back to the pronouncement made by the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations, in 1915.  The report of that body, it will be recalled, told how the funds of Foundations were largely invested in corporation securities.  These—we shall here repeat the affirmation—“represent largely the result either of the exploitation of the American workers through the payment of low wages or the exploitation of the American public through the exaction of high prices.”  Supplementing this by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s declaration that the whole people have participated in the creation of great fortunes enduring to a favored few, a prime fact clearly emerges.  The funds upon which private philanthropies were created and individual names memorialized were and are basically to a great extent the intrinsic property of the people from whom they were drawn.  With a portion of the wealth so appropriated, the holders have been able to establish themselves in the role of benefactors of the very people whose cumulative and compulsory contributions were used in the process.  Of all of the superfine artifices by which a people have been imposed upon and effectively deceived this rates as the foremost.  They are called upon to applaud their very exploiters as arch philanthropists who, by this method, content themselves with having acquired social absolution.

Into the question of the good or the degree of good such privately-endowed institutions do there is no need of entering.  This, at least in regard to certain kinds of institutions, has been disputed ground.

The majority of the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations saw especially in the Foundations a positive danger in their power to shape education and mold public opinion.  It reported the “large amount of evidence in the possession of the Commission” showing “a degree of control over the teachings of professors in our colleges and universities which constitutes a most serious menace.”  At a later date, Congress, as we have already related, incorporated another point of wider scope in legislation and made it of sweeping pertinence.  In the gift and estate tax-laws, as amended in 1934, deductions were disallowed to any privately-endowed institution which substantially engaged in propaganda activities or otherwise sought to influence legislation.  This interdiction was not limited to one kind of institution.  It was an omnibus clause.  To cite the exact phraseology, it applied to “a corporation, or trust, or Community Chest, Fund or Foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes, including the encouragement of art and the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.”  Congress was on guard against the insidious uses open to great massed endowments.  And how great they were was shown by a survey made three years previously.  Of Foundations alone in America there were 91, with capital resources aggregating $800,000,000, of which $673,000,000 was concentrated in New York City.  The resources of the various Rockefeller endowed organizations were placed at $250,000,000, and those of the Carnegie organizations at $237,000,000.  In a single year the 91 Foundations had disbursed $52,000,000.

There is no intention here of making a dissertation on the pros and cons of such endowments.  The sole desideratum is the way in which they are implemented in acclamation of wealth, hereditary and other.  Private philanthropy, its dispensers and retainers have smoothly declared, “is vital to democracy.”  But, of course, this is phrase-mongering to make it appear that the givers and the giving are interwoven with the spirit of democracy.  Whereas the precise opposite is the truth.  The terrific inequalities arising from the aggrandizement of great wealth and from the arbitrary power to direct and bestow that wealth are noxiously antagonistic to the elemental principles of democracy.

And since when, forsooth, was democracy dependent upon the bounty of the rich for its advancement culturally or otherwise ?  From the community came the sponsoring of the arts which attained so flourishing a state in the ancient democracies of Greece and Rome.  And at a later time in Florence.  When America was still largely wilderness, the settlers, from New England to South Carolina, were proclaiming education a public necessity and establishing schools.  This aim was greatly enlarged after the Revolution.  Democracy endowed itself with the equivalent of enormous funds for cultural needs.  “Schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged.”  Thus resolved the Continental Congress, in 1783, and its ordinance of 1785, followed by another of 1789, perpetually reserved an area of public lands, ultimately reaching more than 116,000,000 acres, for the establishment and support of schools, colleges and universities.  In addition to this great gift, States granted the net proceeds of lands owned by them for the same purpose.  America’s vast educational system of today, defrayed at public expense, is democracy’s own creation and development.

And, at a time when libraries in Europe were collegiate or caste, it was American democracy which provided thousands of public libraries throughout a great extent of the country.2  Rich men who gave or bequeathed the sums for public libraries and other institutions were merely falling in line with the American democratic standards.  That their object was to gain applause and enhancement of name, either in life or in posterity, or both, was fully recognized in critical magazine articles and other comments of the mid-nineteenth century.

That same craving for applause was seen in a peculiar and more pretentious way in the patronage of the fine arts.  There were groups who were genuinely interested in promoting the cause of art, and with no thought of self-exaltation.  But merchants whose entire passion had been that of amassing money sought to invest themselves with a refined air by becoming “patrons” of fine arts academies—as they were then styled.  In Europe collections of paintings had long been cloistered in royal or princely palaces.  That practice was now imitated by various of the American rich despite the fact that well through the nineteenth century the advancing democratic spirit in many European countries was causing the creation of public museums of art, either nationally or municipally owned.  In these were placed for public view collections bought or otherwise obtained from those age-long owners.  In America an “art gallery,” as has been sufficiently shown in the body of this book, long remained a vaunted part of mansions of the very rich, and far overlapped the fast-spreading movement for the establishment in city after city, of public museums of art.  Often, in finally contributing their works of art to these, the rich were merely much belated conceders to a democratic institution, and in turn used the occasion for the perpetuation of their names either by museums being named after them, as sometimes happened, or by the conspicuous attachment of their names to the collections donated.

Abstaining from elaboration upon other features, we can now arrive at the crucial point.  To recapitulate :  The definite aim, as expressed in national sentiment and in legislation, has been to break up great estates by heavy taxation upon inheritances.  By the same course, in still wider and heavier ways, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the erasure of all hereditary economic power.  But, it may well be asked, is taxation an absolutely dependable method ?  As we have convincingly seen, that process may be fluctuating.  There was, in a former era, repeal of legacy taxes.  Estate or inheritance taxes have been reduced before and may be again.  At this writing there is a business associations’ campaign to bring about lessening of income and some other kinds of taxation.

Is not the wise and permanent course the following of that taken when America rid itself of primogeniture and entail ?  That there were complexities involved in this had no weight with legislatures.  Enactment of the principle was the one and only thing considered, and it was done in simple and drastic statutes which proved effective.  Why not do the same with great hereditary wealth ?  Why not definitely abolish it as a statutory right ?  And at the same time completely recast laws so as to prohibit trusts for heirs and all other devices allowing transmission of large fortunes ?  Determination of what is wealth and what is not is anything but insuperable.  The differentiations between wealth and moderate means are already defined in our income-tax and inheritance laws.  Abolition of hereditary fortunes will not complete that fuller economic equality toward which the spirit of the age is here progressing, but it commends itself an important and bounden step, and it now stands as first on the calendar of Unfinished Business.




1 “The Congressional Record,” Fifty-ninth Congress, Second Session, pp. 27-28.

2 According to Rhee’s “Manual of Public Libraries,” published in 1859, there were in the United States a reported and estimated 50,890 libraries.  Of these 2,890 were general public libraries, 18,000 common school libraries, and 30,000 were Sunday School libraries, the whole having an estimated 12,720,686 volumes.