Andrew Carnegie: Organizer for Service

Title: Andrew Carnegie: Organizer for Service

Date: April 28, 1921

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Context: Address at the Founders’ Day Celebration of Carnegie Institute, Coolidge praises the accomplishments and morality of Carnegie 

(Original document available here)

There is a greatness that is distinctly American, a true greatness which enlarges man’s dominion. It is an achievement which comes from obedience to that admonition given on creation morn to subdue the earth. It has meant the bringing of the forces of nature under control, loosing their gigantic powers and setting them to do the work of the world. Obedience to that Word, spoken at the beginning, is still showing forth to man, from revelation to revelation, his power, his dignity, and his ever-increasing mastery. Those who have been inspired by this motive, those finishers of creation, represent a type of greatness which is peculiarly American.

This is still a new and young country. The frontier still lingers. The hardy pioneer still defends the outworks of civilization. The tide of immigration still sets toward our shores. America is still the land of opportunity. But strong as are these characteristics, powerful as are these influences, in the first half of the nineteenth century they were yet stronger and more powerful. This city of Pittsburgh, so rich in an abundant colonial history, was then a frontier town. It was just touching its metal development, but the vast resources that lay at its feet were unrecognized and undeveloped. Around it, beneath it, clustered stores of coal, of ore, of oil, of gas waiting for the touch of genius, for obedience to the Word, to marshal them into new forms and send them forth toiling in the cause of civilization, the responsive and more responsive servants of mankind.

Into these surroundings, in 1848, came the twelve-year-old Andrew Carnegie and his family, weavers of cloth by trade, handicraftsmen who had found themselves displaced by the power of machinery. This was the undoing of the crafts, it meant want and distress, or readjustment. It was the steam-engine that drove this family out of Scotland to America. Thereby was to be more cloth for their homeland, and a yet untold addition to the prosperity, convenience, and welfare of the human race, flowing out from the land of their adoption. A remarkable achievement for a steam-engine. So great is the power of an idea let loose upon the world. Men can reject it and perish, or obey it and prosper.

Two continents know well the success of the founder of this institute. There is scarce a youth in either land who would not wish a career ending where his ended. That may be a vain wish, but it may have some measure of accomplishment, if youth would but begin where he began. His family came here with scanty earthly possessions but well endowed with character. His father was a man of broad but deep piety, who believed in the gospel of hard work. His mother was a woman of marked nobility of purpose, with a great pride in well-doing, brave, loyal, who reared her sons to a high sense of honor. A great man comes from the devotion of a great mother. About that household were cherished those virtues, homely yet supreme, described by Robert Burns in “The Cotter’s Saturday Night.” They hated privilege and loved liberty. From amid such circumstances come those marked by destiny for the high places of the earth, prepared for great services to mankind.

Everybody knows that Andrew Carnegie began life at very humble toil for very meagre pay. But it is a recollection that may well be refreshed by frequent contemplation. Many others have had that experience. But by application, by attention to his own work, by learning the work of his superiors, he rose to messenger-boy, to telegraph operator, to superintendent of the Pittsburgh division of the Pennsylvania Railroad at the age of twenty-five, and soon after made his first venture in the iron trade. At the end of forty years he sold out the steel business and retired from accumulation to take up the task of distribution, the distribution of more than three hundred million dollars in public benefactions. In this effort of bestowal he was not without success.

Such were the attainments of this Scotch boy, nurtured on the doctrine of equal rights, who hallowed the memory of Bruce, not because he was a king but because he was a patriot, but who held to Wallace as his ideal, because he was a patriot without the taint of privilege; this boy who had seen his father beg for work amid conditions of distress, who had seen his mother toiling for a pittance to maintain their home, and yet was reared to hold that not want but idleness was a disgrace; this boy who despised rank and cherished liberty, who wanted a republic and found himself in a kingdom, yet withheld nothing in affectionate loyalty and devotion, throughout all his years, to the land of his birth and to its duly constituted authority; this boy who glorified in being born and bred a Scotchman, and remained a Scotchman all his life, and yet, pre-eminently cherishing and exemplifying our ideals, is entitled to be called a great American.

There was no secret about his success, he was an idealist. He had the genius of hard work and careful saving. But his chief aim in life was not acquisition but bestowal. When he was earning his first modest wages he was telling his mother that she should yet ride in her carriage. He amassed one of the stupendous fortunes of all history, yet it is not as a merely rich man that he is so grandly placed in history, but as the benefactor of his fellow men in the New World and the Old.

The means by which he wrought his magic lay for the most part in organization. As an organizer of men, as a judge of human nature, as a leader, he has had few equals. He boasted that he did not know the mechanics of his business, but that he did know men. No wonder he was called the iron master. That mastery came from the ability to organize.

There has been great hesitation in our country to accept fully and work out to its logical conclusion the principle of organization. We have adopted it as the foundation of our government after a great struggle and continued opposition to nationalism. But it is naturally irksome. It is forever under assault from all radical sources as a limitation of our liberty. As a matter of fact, under government it enlarges and supports liberty, and under industry enlarges and supports production.

We Americans have been individualists. We are individualists still. That sturdy spirit which makes the pioneer is self-reliance. Without it no people ever achieved liberty. With it no people can be held in subjection. In the protection of the rights of the individual our Constitution and our laws set up a new standard, guaranteeing their maintenance against all the forces of society, or even of government itself. Nothing must be permitted to encroach upon those rights. They are the foundation upon which stands the whole edifice of our institutions. If ever the citizen comes to feel that our government does not protect him in the free and equal assertion of his rights at home and abroad, he will withdraw his allegiance from that government, as he ought to, and bestow it on some more worthy object. It is idle to assume that the privilege of the strong has been destroyed unless the rights of the weak are preserved. The American theory of government means that back of the humblest citizen, supporting him in all his rights, organized for his protection, stands the whole force of the nation. That is the warrant and the sole warrant of his freedom. He can assert it in the face of all the world. The individual has rights, but only the citizen has the power to protect rights. And the protection of rights is righteous.

Likewise in industry to secure the maximum results of effort there must be an organization, there must be cooperation. There are those who have resisted this tendency, but it has gone steadily on. They have resisted it when it related to ownership, they have resisted it when it related to employment. There have been many errors and many bad motives manifested in each, and actions which it has been well to check with the stern hand of the law, but the desirability of organization, the natural and inevitable development of the unification of effort, remains.

But society must and will judge the purpose, the intent, and must and will finally conclude, that organization for service is right, but that organization for oppression is wrong. Organization for oppression carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. It cannot succeed. Organization for service works with an inspired purpose. It cannot fail. Some time this rule will be applied, alike to capital and labor, to employer and employed. It will hasten the adjustment of many difficulties when each recognizes his duty to act under it.

The organization which Andrew Carnegie perfected was for service. How great that service was, its far-reaching effects, its relation to the every-day life of the men and women of the nation, can scarcely be comprehended. The development of the steel industry is in itself an epic. This city knows it too well to need more than a reminder of it. But it is an epic in which the whole nation is glorified. The contribution which it has made to the cause of civilization in the past sixty years surpasses that of any other industry. It has crossed rivers and levelled mountains. It has broken the barrier between the Atlantic and the Pacific. It has descended into the depths and brought up precious metals. It has wrought new and wonderful forms of architecture. It has been man’s chief instrument in subduing the earth. As a benefactor of the race it were fame enough for any man to have been the foremost in developing that industry in America. More than that fame belongs to Andrew Carnegie.

As a part of his organization he did not neglect science. When his competitors thought they could not afford a chemist he thought he could not afford to be without one. He knew the power of knowledge. Cut off with little schooling in his early life, he was yet a student all his days. No one knew better than he that the achievements of our modern days were the results of exact science, that all progress lies in a directing intelligence. It is not the mere force of work, not the power alone of labor, but the vitalizing force of trained minds that maintains and advances civilization. Without that he knew that all effort had been and would be in vain. The greatest benefit that can be bestowed upon those who toil is skilled and wise management. That has always meant and always will mean an opportunity to help themselves. There can never be any success in any plan of economic and industrial relationship which leaves out the element of brains.

It was the clear perception of these fundamental principles that caused the great benefactor to endow his fellow men not with the things that perish, but with the things that abide. He was always seeking out the realities. He offered opportunity. He knew it was all his beneficiaries could profitably receive. If they were to have life more abundantly he knew it could come only through their own effort. He could not give the means by which others could provide these for themselves. He did not pauperize. He ennobled. He did not undertake to support persons, but to endow a cause. Governments everywhere, in State and nation, may profitably study his example. His benefactions were real. They will be written into the soul of all who come in contact with them. There they will last through eternity.

There is little wonder that he turned his thoughts toward education. The great need of it must have appealed to him both as one who loved his fellow man and one who loved his country. How great that need is has recently been disclosed by the records of the draft army. They represented the best type of the youth of the nation, yet nearly one-fourth of them are said to have been unable to read and write in any language. This was not confined to any locality, it was fairly general. The reason was twofold, bad school laws and immigration.

There is no more pressing need than popular education. There is no greater blessing that can be bestowed upon the youth of the land. As a call of humanity it strikes a sympathetic chord in every heart. But the other side is also of great importance. The very foundation of the republic breaks down unless it is supported by an intelligent and informed electorate. Whatever may have been the case in past generations, with the present resources of society there must be found means to meet this call of humanity and supply this defense for our republic.

But, great as have been the benefactions of Andrew Carnegie in the development of the material and the intellectual welfare of his fellow men, it is not by these that he makes his greatest appeal for a place in history. His greatest achievement lies in the addition he made to the moral force of his fellow men. This came by precept and by example.

The question of human welfare is not an economic question. It is a moral question. There is no difficulty with the present advance of scientific knowledge in providing for the welfare of the race. The ability is not lacking even if no further advance were made in discovery and invention. The material and intellectual force are sufficient. They could be much greater-must be made much greater, but the present deficiency is not there. It is the disposition-the moral force that is lacking. Men are not doing as well as they can with what they have. Our civilization perishes unless the great powers it has developed are directed by a greater moral force.

It was on this force that he depended. To it he made his appeal. By it he guided his action. He sometimes told his men that he would not fight them but he would sit down. He appealed to their sense of justice and held their deep affection. His shops had differences with their workmen; one was serious, but temporary. It can be said that he never developed a labor problem. He put his trust not in force but in reason. It was that which gave him a vision of world peace, it was that which gave him the power to believe in its ultimate accomplishment under some form.

Here was a man who represents American ideals. The whole nation-yes, the whole world-following out his plan can advance the cause of civilization. Under it the conditions of life have steadily grown better, there has been a wider and wider distribution of property, a higher and higher standard of education, a deeper and deeper appreciation of the obligation of self-sacrificing service. Of all these results Andrew Carnegie is a prominent example.

There are those who would discard this plan and substitute they know not what. They would turn from a certainty, tested by time, approved by experience, to some vague experiment. They point out imperfections, for even Americans have not fully realized their ideals. There are imperfections. But the ideal is right. It is everlastingly right. What our country needs is the moral power to hold to it.

There are readjustments to be accomplished. There are sacrifices to be made. They cannot be evaded. They cannot be made vicariously. They must be made by all the people. It is no time for bickerings. We must go back to work, in accordance with the best standard that the public can maintain, but we must go back to work. That done, the rest will take care of itself. Beneath the wrangling, beneath the tumult, is the sturdy, hard-working, home-loving American. He decided things in this country and his decision stands. He has decided to cast his lot where Andrew Carnegie cast his. In that decision, made in his spirit, calm, courageous, final, lies the greatest hope of a stricken world.

Calvin Coolidge, The Price of Freedom, Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1924

The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of David Dao, who prepared this document for digital publication.

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