This article appeared in The Philistine magazine in April 1907. The author is believed to be Elbert Hubbard.
“Heart to Heart Talks with Philistines by the Pastor of his Flock”
The other day I heard a sermon – a sermon by a layman to a hundred and twenty preachers. There were also present about fifteen hundred business men. All had come by special invitation, or more properly by urgent request. The audience included the Common Council, the Chamber of Commerce, practically all of the clergy, most of the doctors and the rest were men of influence and worth, acknowledging it themselves – all of Dayton, which is in the state of Ohio.
These men got a spiritual keel-hauling such as probably was never given to an audience of intelligent people, more or less, but an intelligent man, in America or elsewhere.
That little incident of driving the money changers from the Temple with a scourge of small cords, was not a circumstance to it. This man had a scourge of nettles that hissed thru the air and fell upon the bare backs of the victims. Then he rubbed cantharides into the wounds.
The talk was oratorically violent, and tensely dramatic.
Nobody could leave – they dare not. No one talked back – they were not allowed to.
The speaker was John H. Patterson, and his topic was, “Why the National Cash Register Company will leave Dayton.”
He made no apologies, nor did he seek to soften his remarks to suit the ears of his hearers.
He rammed this umbrella down their throats – and raised it.
Had the meeting been anywhere else than in a hall owned by the speaker he certainly would have been interrupted, probably hissed and he might have been mobbed. As it was, Patterson was supreme – his audience was cowed, dazed, undone. An audience is usually a brutal thing – a thousand-legged beast with its myriad goggle eyes, pitting itself against the speaker and hoping for his fall.
This time it crouched at the feet of the orator, silent, abashed. The atmosphere was so tense that some shed tears, just as they did when Huxley arose and replied to the Bishop of Oxford who had offered an insult to Darwin.
Many men in this audience had for years been offering continual insult to the National Cash Register Company.
Now they were face to face with its manager, with the sun and wind to his back.
They listened. They had to.
Some tried to smile, but the smirk pulled tight on the corners of their mouths and they soon abandoned the effort, and slipped down low into their seats.
The speaker called things by their proper titles, and mentioned men by name; and not content with this he threw pictures of them on the screen.
He gave facts, figures, statistics, quotations. He spared neither living nor dead, but flashed upon the canvas the names of men in the Common Council and upon the School Board or in the other official positions, who had robbed the people of their rights and grown swag on graft and loot. There were men who had stolen franchises, fraught park improvements, blocked kindergartens, opposed manual training in the public school; alderman who had refused switch facilities to the N.C.R.; street railway officials who had said, “Let your people quit work at four o’clock if they want to get home by seven;” fat gentlemen with collars buttoned behind who had called a cash register “A scheme for spying upon and entrapping an employee;” others who had encouraged a strike because the towels were laundered by non-union women. He gave pictures of Dayton dives and dens, and then told who held the titles to them, explaining that the owners were fond parents – deacons, vestrymen, senior wardens, members of the School Board; and how these men were shouting that they were sick of hearing Aristides called “The Just.”
He met the argument of a local paper that the talk of moving was all a bluff, and that the N.C.R. could not move even if it wanted to. A photograph of a letter was flashed on the curtain, from the Rochester Chamber of Commerce offering two hundred acres of land and a cash bonus of half a million dollars.
As to what could be done with the present buildings, it was shown that the Liter Fertilizer Company would buy them at thirty cents on the dollar, and the Omaha Packing Company was willing to do even better. Dayton is now known as the home of the National Cash Register, but if the N.C.R. moved, it would be known to the round world as the place that had inaugurated a persecution that had driven away an enterprise employing over six thousand people, that had a capital of ten million dollars, and which had done more for the uplifting of labor than any other one concern in the world.
He showed views of the residences where certain of the auditors lived, and next revealed some of the homes of the people who worked for them. He gave glimpses into the unsightly backyards of the houses where lived people who called themselves “Christians.”
Over against these were views of homes with flowers, vines, trees, gardens, grass-plots, all owned by N.C.R. workers. Then he gave quotations from the sermons and conversation of some of the gentlemen who owned the unsightly backyards wherein the N.C.R. was referred to as a “Purely Commercial Institution,” as if that were an offense. One preacher had declared in a sermon that Patterson did things for his workers simply because it paid. Patterson pleaded guilty, and moved for a writ de lunatico enquirendo for the man who had said it.
As for the preacher, the speaker declared they had done nothing, and were doing nothing for the benefit of humanity – that their presence was an encumbrance, and that thru their smug, self-satisfied, sneering attitude they had made life difficult for those who were actually working for human betterment. While the clergy were talking about ancient history, dead men, mummies, death, damnation, and mansions in the skies, the city was being overrun by gamblers, saloons, beggars, petty thieves and giant grafters. Poor sewers, bad water, miasma, rotting tenements, acres of garbage, slums filled with the ignorant, dirty, depraved and the morally dead and dying were on every hand; and the one institution in the city that was working for beauty and betterment, received merely clerical sneers and hints about “Paternalism” and “beneficent autocracy.” And so the National Cash Register Company was going to leave Dayton, the birthplace of its founder, because the city was controlled by corner-grocer setters; whittlers of sticks; expert expectorators; bewhiskered Has-Beens; charter members of the I-Told-You-So Club; founders of the I-Knew-Him-When Inner Circle; pin-headed newspaper men – jealous, mean, small; whiffling paragraphers; pestiferous attorneys; picayune bankers; cantankerous preachers of an outgrown and obsolete religion, straw respectability that an overgrown, mossback village can supply.
And the mock righteous sons of Mendax who had made war on a man of enterprise, and fought projects which they themselves could never imagine, much less master, looked straight out in front with lack-lustre, beady eyes, fletcherizing upon the unpalatable truth. The audience listened – listened in a silence that gripped every auditor.
Finally, a man in the gallery laughed, laughed right out.
The speaker paused and smiled.
And then the audience found relief in a tremendous burst of applause.
The orator had won.
All present were invited to dinner.
Two hundred young men in spotless white suits were soon seating sixteen hundred guests, just as if to show what order, system, intelligence and business thrift can do.
The diners mostly munched in silence—few cared to discuss the arraignment to which they had just listened. The indictment was too sternly, awfully true even to be mentioned.
And all the time the healthy, handsome, active young men in spotless white piled the plates.
And the Scribes and Pharisees munched and munched and munched.
They were trying to forget it.