Benjamin Morgan Palmer served a long pastorate in the city of New Orleans and had a fruitful ministry there. His was an important voice in the larger community outside the church, as well. When gambling interests sought to re-establish and continue a lottery in that city, he spoke against it. What follows is the report of Rev. Palmer’s efforts, as found in C. W. Grafton’s history of Presbyterianism in Mississippi. The title to this account is a bit misleading in that, of course, the lottery was not something sponsored by the Synod of Mississippi, but rather was a grievous concern occurring within their borders.
[Note: Grafton’s work was never published, but we are pleased to have a photostatic copy of the original typescript here at the PCA Historical Center, received by the kind donation of the Rev. Vaughn Hathaway.]
Lottery in the Synod of Mississippi
At the very beginning of the Presbyterian church in Mississippi a strong decided attitude was taken against all ungodly amusements.
The Presbytery of Mississippi was organized in 1816 and in the second or third meeting it passed strong resolutions against card playing and games of chance. They say “All games of chance are so many inconsiderate and irreverent appeals to divine providence. If we may not take the name of God in vain, neither may we trifle with his providence, or make sport of it for our amusement. Games of chance being abused for the purposes of gain are odious to the feelings of the moral and upright. Christian feeling has long since proscribed games of chance and all forms of gambling. There is but one sentiment on this subject among the truly pious and it has become the moral sense of the Christian church. To offend this sentiment is to offend the church.”
For a long time in early days the habit of raising money by lottery prevailed throughout the land. But it proved to be a most vicious and destructive agency in polluting the morals of the people.
The city of New Orleans and the whole state of Louisiana, we must continue to remember, were a part of the Synod of Mississippi and did not become separated from the Mississippi Synod till 1901, when the Synod of Louisiana was organized.
The Legislature of Louisiana had chartered a corporation in the state to raise money by lottery. In 1891 the license was about to expire and its promoters throughout the state were inaugurating a big effort to have the charter of the company renewed. It was a critical period in the history of the state. The evil effects of the lottery had been set forth during a long period of years and there was a growing spirit in Louisiana against renewing the license.
The Christian citizens all over the state agitated the question and were outspoken against it. The money power in favor of the lottery was very strong and it seemed as if the great evil was about to be fastened anew upon the state. The good people of all the neighboring states sympathized with Louisiana and they held meetings far and wide condemning the lottery.
In the fall of 1891 a great meeting was held in New Orleans in order to stir up the heart of the people and warn them to use all efforts to arrest the spirit of public gambling.
Some fine addresses were delivered, but Dr. Palmer of the Synod of Mississippi delivered the crowning address. His whole heart was aflame with the subject and the sympathy of the big congregation was with him. His address struck the right chord at the right time and it broke the backbone of the lottery. It was a great address and for the purpose of embalming it in the memory of our young people, we are giving it word for word as delivered that night. We leave out the cheers and the plaudits and the handclapping which were in evidence all through the speech.
When you read the address take your place in our big city. Think of the occasion and you will have something in your mind that will help you always. It is scriptural, patriotic and convincing to the highest degree and we make no apology in bringing it before you. It accomplished the grand result for which it was delivered. The address now follows:
Mr. Chairman and fellow citizens of Louisiana.
“I lay the indictment against the Lottery Company of Louisiana, that it is essentially an immoral institution whose business and avowed aim it is to propagate gambling throughout the state and throughout the country. This being not simply a nuisance but even a crime, no Legislature as the creature of the people nor even the people themselves in convention assembled, have the power to legitimate it either by legislative enactment upon the one hand or by fundamental charter upon the other. In other words, I lay the indictment against the Louisiana Lottery Company that its continued existence is incompatible not only with the safety but with the being of the state.
In saying this, sir, I desire to be understood as not simply uttering the language of denunciation. I frame the indictment and I propose to support each of its specifications by adequate proof; and I do this the more distinctly from the conviction that there are many citizens throughout our bounds, who, having been accustomed to look at the lottery simply as a means of revenue either public or private, have not sufficiently considered the inherent viciousness of this system itself.
And it is that class which I hope this night to reach and to range upon our side in this great controversy.
Indeed, sir, if the worst should come to the worst in this present campaign, I for one could wish that, all technicalities being swept away, there might be some method by which the question might be carried up to the Supreme Court of the United States whether it is competent to any state in the union to commit suicide. And if that venerable court should return an answer, which I think they would not for a moment consider as possible, I would then for my part make the appeal to the virtues and common sense of the masses of our people, that the very instinct of self-preservation may stamp out of existence an institution which is fatal to the liberties and the life of the commonwealth.
I have laid down a proposition sufficiently broad; now for the proof. What would you say if any syndicate should be formed in this state or any other state in the union for the avowed purpose of propagating leprosy throughout the land, sending their agents with the utmost activity in order to impregnate every woman, man and child in all the country with the virus of that dreadful disease?
Is there a legislature that is competent to enact such an association into existence? Or would the people themselves in the exercise of their high sovereignty in convention assembled undertake to render lawful the existence of such a corporation as that? Or to vary the illustration: Suppose that a university should be endowed with many millions in this state or elsewhere, in order to persuade the people throughout the land of the great advantage of lying and of stealing, sending out their agents in all the avenues of life in order to indoctrinate the people both as to the methods and the advantages of these practices.
Is there a legislature in the land, or any people in themselves in convention assembled, who would not immediately recognize that in chartering such an institution, they simply dissolve the state? For how can society hold together if confidence be destroyed in the veracity of man to man, or if there be no security whatever in our earthly possession?
Permit me to vary the illustration still farther. Suppose there should be an organization effective in this city for Thuggery—and, by the way, we have had some little experience of that of late: when all the machinery of human justice proving inadequate to defend the safety and life of the commonwealth, extra legal measures were necessitated under the instinct of self-preservation to stamp out the existence of the Mafia in our midst. Now, sir, I put the lottery on the same moral plane with these cases I have mentioned. In every view which you take of it, it is an institution that antagonizes the state and society in all their interests, and there is but one issue before this people and I announce it without hesitation upon this platform, either the Lottery must go or Louisiana is lost. And with the point of my finger I write upon the walls of every house in this city and throughout the state “Carthago Delenda est.” Carthage and Rome could not exist side by side on the same planet and Rome must conquer and Carthage must fall.
If I am asked to sustain by adequate proof the proposition which I have announced as to the inherent viciousness of the Lottery system, permit me to say that the first physical matter which forms a basis upon which human society rests is the law of labor. There are moral laws underlying society, as for example, that law which demands truth and righteousness between man and man, but as the physical basis upon which all society and government must rest, we find that basis in the law of labor.
It was ordained from the beginning by the great Creator when he placed man in his primal innocence in the garden to dress and to keep it, and when after the fall that light labor deepened into the curse and it became under the decree of heaven necessary that a man should earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, Divine grace coming after it ameliorated the curse and from that day to this under the providence of a kind heaven, labor proves a blessing, hides within its folds and under its forbidding aspect the highest blessings which can be conferred upon the human race.
It is written in the best of books that if a man will not work neither shall he eat. So that from the creation to the time of Christ’s appearance upon earth it has been the fundamental and universal law under which society exists, that each unit in society lives by his individual and personal labor. The farmer harrows the ground, plants the seed in it and reaps the abundant harvest. He blends his industry with the fertility of the soil and with the beneficence of heaven in giving the early and latter rain and the dews and the sunshine. The common carrier takes the cotton bloom and bears it from the barn of the planter to the distant manufacturer and in the transportation he stamps a new value upon the original product of the field, and lives by that value which he has attached.
The manufacturer brings his industry and his skill and his invention, spinning the staple into thread and weaving it into cloth and stamps upon the cotton bloom a value a thousand fold more than it originally had, and the manufacturer lives upon the value which he has contributed to the plant. And so the wholesale merchant and the retail merchant lifting the pile of goods from under the manufacturer’s hands, transports them over the land until they are found in the remotest hamlet and are sold by the yard, and the price paid by the consumer measures all the successive values which have been imparted to the original product of the fields, and each class lives by the value which he has himself imparted to the same.
Mr. Chairman, I am almost ashamed to repeat this earliest and simplest lesson in our political economy, but I do it for the purpose now of asking the searching question. “What value does the gambler ever create? What new value does he ever stamp upon the value which existed antecedently?” What does the Lottery do in all of its manipulations but simply shift the products of a preceding industry from one hand to another hand without imparting in the process one particle of value to that which is thus transferred? It may be said that there are consumers, who not being producers, are under the same charge of using up what they do not create. It only emphasizes the position already taken, for even the non-producing class, as for example professional men, live upon that which in a sense they create. The lawyer may not create a material product, but man being as he is, there could be no security of personal property without the machinery of justice and he is the representative and organ of that justice and just in so far as he conserves that which others create and protects them in the enjoyment of the same, he is worth his living though he may not be a creator of a new material product.
The physician who restores health to one who is incapacitated by disease from labor, or who ameliorates the suffering which disease inflicts, becomes by virtue of his calling a necessity to society and is worth in the exercise of his profession all that it costs to maintain him; and the preacher, of whom I stand before you a representative, taking even the lowest economic view of his profession as a consumer and not a producer, he is an important part of that necessary police force, without which the order and peace and prosperity of society cannot be preserved. All not being then producers but consumers, yet in the exercise of their several callings, add to the value of what is created and render secure the enjoyment of the same. But what value does the Lottery Company protect? Not to say what value does the Lottery Company create?
Let me illustrate this so that it shall be understood by all present tonight.
That company issues, if you please, a thousand tickets of $500 apiece, creating thus within its vaults a fund of $500,000. It has first got to take $250,000 of that and deposit it safely in its own locker as its portion of the plunder. It then takes the other half, the $250,000 and divides it into twenty-five shares of $10,000 each and puts these into the wheel and the five hundred men may take their chances as to which of them shall get the twenty-five prizes. When at last the prizes are realized, what has been accomplished? Simply the transfer of $500,000 out the pockets of one thousand individuals, one half of it to enrich those who run the machine and the other half divided among twenty-five men, leaving four hundred and seventy-five men to hold the empty bag and suffer the loss.
Mr. Chairman, I do not wish to appear harsh, but will you draw for me the line between this and absolute stealing? If twenty-five men can put their hands into the pockets of four hundred and seventy-five men and take the $250,000, by which they are enriched without giving to those four hundred and seventy-five any equivalent, where is the distinction any other than barely a metaphysical distinction without even a hair breadth’s width to mark it between that and what we call in common style a theft? Now, Sir, I know the reply to this. There are but two methods by which we acquire the property of another: either by gift or purchase.
Now I ask whether these four hundred and seventy-five men have made a gift to the successful winners of the prizes? Each one of the four hundred and seventy-five men, so far from being willing to donate their loss so that it shall become the other’s gain, each one of them has been hoping and wishing that he might put into his own pocket the coveted pleasure. Was there any goodwill in the transfer from the loser to the gainer? Next, is it a purchase? What equivalent has been rendered?
It is simply grotesque to speak of that being purchase money which does not amount to one-twentieth of the value of the thing purchased.
But it is urged in answer to this that the parties contract and make the bargain between themselves as to this gain and loss, and that as the losers agree to take their chances with the rest, it is constructively although not actually a gift on their part.
Now it appears to me, Mr. Chairman and fellow citizens, one of the plainest principles of ethics that what a man has no right to do, he has no right to bargain to do. And no contract between man and man to do a thing that is unlawful, can ever be made right in the sight of man or God simply by the fact that it is a contract between them.
I go beyond this and say that the deliberateness of the act when two or more sit down together and combine to do a thing, which in itself is not right to do, the deliberateness of the act makes it more criminal than if it sprung from the spontaneous and sudden act of an individual. And more than all, you have in the contract to do the wrong thing, not only this deliberate thing but you have the concurrence of two wills, doubling the crime on the part of both. The man who staked his property had no right to stake that property on a chance and the man who won that property upon that stake, has no original right to take it. It was neither a gift nor a purchase and consequently the agreement between the parties to stand simply by the chance was an immoral agreement. Here then is my first position against the Lottery. I say that it disorganizes society and is incompatible with the safety of the state. It strikes at that fundamental law of labor : it has said to these one thousand men, “There is no need for you to work. There is a shorter way by which you can enrich yourselves and your families.” Those one thousand men are called away from their proper duties and they fail in meeting that fundamental obligation to live either by the toil of their hands or by the work of their understanding.
But more than this side. When I have said there is no equivalent given and no new value imparted when there is no transfer of money from one hand to another through the lottery and its agents, it is a lesson industriously taught the people not only to live by luck by to live upon the misfortune of their neighbors. I beg the attention of the audience to the announcement of this principle. Sir, it is a solemn thing for any body of men to inculcate it as at all right and proper that we should live simply and alone upon the losses of those that were unlucky. If I win the $10,000 prize, those that entered into the chance with me, have lost just that much and I am enriched through their poverty. Now, Sir, let the Lottery exist five and twenty years. If only twenty-five men out of the five hundred succeed in gaining what the Lottery promises, how long will it take to transfer the entire wealth of the state of Louisiana into the hands of one out of twenty of its citizens? What will be the condition of things when one twentieth of the population own everything upon the soil? And let me ask, Sir, how long is any community going to stand that sort of a thing? When the country has been led straight up to the very verge of the precipice, do you suppose that like a herd of buffaloes all the people of this state are going to leap that precipice into the boiling and hissing depths below? No, Sir, they must and they will recoil and if this Lottery cannot be destroyed by forms of law, it must unquestionably be destroyed by actual revolution.
I fear that I may be trespassing upon the time of the other speakers.
I sometimes hear the apology for the Lottery after this sort: “Oh it is all wrong. It is immoral, we grant that. But then it is one of the evils to which society is incident and we cannot help ourselves. It is just like drinking. The state knows that the saloon is a deep injury to the state and if in her power would gladly suppress it. But as men must and will drink, it is wise for the state to throw around existing evils such restriction as shall diminish the harm and make the evil less as it bears upon the society at large.”
Now the analogy is drawn. “Gambling is in human nature.” Men will gamble and why should not the state deal with the Lottery exactly as it deals with the saloons? Give it license to do its work? But, Sir, without dwelling too long upon this statement, let me dissipate the illusion by showing where the analogy fails. Saloons exist, but they exist under protest. They exist under not only the protest of the government but under the restraints such as the state will be able to throw around them. It stands by itself and simply answers the wishes and demands which are made upon it by those who desire the liquor which is sold them. But if you want the parallel to be exact you must convert all the saloons in the country into one grand saloon syndicate. And that syndicate must go to the Legislature and demand a charter. And in order that their rights may be beyond invasion ever afterwards, it must be imbedded in the constitution that they and they alone shall have the right to satisfy the thirst of the people.
What next? They open their tap-rooms upon every corner in every city where they gain access, and they hang out their prices from the pint earthen mug quite up to the gallon and the hogshead. And according to the money the parties are willing to pay, this saloon syndicate will drown the country with what they desire and what proves their ruin.
Not only that, but they have their agents walking the streets thrusting invitations into your face as you walk quietly in your citizenship along the streets of this city, tell you how cheap you may get this drink that you wish and so they become propagandists of the saloon.
That is the crime which I charge now against the Lottery. It is not only a gambling place such as other gambling places are in this city, meeting under the cover of might to satisfy the wishes and expectations of those who love the gambling, but it becomes the apostle of gambling. It becomes the propagandist of gambling. It goes forth under the charter of the state to persuade man, woman or child, wherever they meet them, to gamble. It carries the solicitation in our very homes. It meets our cooks when they are going with the basket to get the master’s breakfast and induces them to gamble. How long, Sir, would the country stand this syndicate of saloons? And I ask how long will Louisiana or the country stand this syndicate of gamblers? What I charge therefore upon the Lottery is not simply that it is a gambling concern but that it is a university for the instruction in gambling and a high endowment in order to stimulate the process of gambling by and through the country at large.
I have only one more thing to say and I am done. I have said the Lottery must go because the state cannot be allowed to perish. Why, Sir, before the half of twenty-five years have elapsed—should this Lottery gain its charter—every man that is able to leave the state of Louisiana will abandon it. Whilst you are holding out your invitations to invite capital and invite population who shall drain your morasses and stimulate industry and create the wealth of the state, you are holding up this forbidden thing to drive every desirable citizen from Louisiana. Worse than that, Sir, when you have an institution that goes openly before the Legislature and seeks to bribe it, then in less than ten years after its re-charter, it will carry in its pocket every governor of the state, remove every honest Judge from the bench and put their men in the place to do their bidding. What then will Louisiana be worth?
I, Sir, was not born upon the soil of Louisiana. But I am her son by adoption. I have spent thirty-five years, almost the half of a long life in what I believe is honest and virtuous labor for the good of this people. It will not be in my power to abandon this state, even though I might, to desire to escape the odium attaching to it. My dead are here and the narrow house is already built, in which after a year or two of active service, I expect to be laid aside to enjoy the quiet repose which heaven has allotted to them. But before that event takes place, I desire to see this land of my adoption redeemed. I want her redemption to be accomplished by her own act. These beautiful plains, this delicious climate taken the year around superior to any other upon this continent, these beautiful streams, which like silver threads almost convert a portion of our state into a modern Venice, are we, Sir, to abandon such a land as this, created by beneficent Heaven, and secured by the patriotism of the fathers that went before us? Are we to deliver her, bound hand and foot, to such an enemy as this? Unless she be redeemed by her own act, then the appeal must be made to the virtue and intelligence of the entire country.
Mr. Chairman, I need not say to one like you, so versed in moral truths, that the world is ruled by ideas, and it is not competent to any isolated community to live against the moral convictions of the world.
Scarce recovered, as a people, from the blow inflicted upon us, coming in that precise way, the moral sentiment of the world, right or wrong, was arrayed against the institution of slavery and it went down. The moral sentiment of mankind is against the Lottery and all the countries that have given it a temporary existence have found that it exhausted the resources of the land, and have more or less divested themselves of the curse. But if notwithstanding all these things, the curse should still be inflicted upon us, Louisiana must become a lost pleiad in the sisterhood of states; and she will go forth an outcast pariah, with the scarlet letter of shame branded forever upon her forehead.”