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CHAPTER XXV

ADDRESS OF THE GRADUATES

 

"Here at the mellows of age. At that period in life when men enter reluctantly upon untried schemes, and when they cling most tenaciously to their possessions, you generously consecrated the bulk of the fortune you had been patiently accumulating for half a century, to found the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art—an institution that in the present and all after time shall stand as a workingman's legacy to his countrymen, at once 'royal in magnitude and beneficent in design.'

"The grand and solid success which has attended it in the past will be vastly strengthened and extended in the future, by the crowning act of your life—your noble birthday offering of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, to establish, in connection with the institution, a valuable reference and lending library.

"Henceforth, through its School of Design, its School of Science and Art, its reading room, library, lectures, and laboratories, it will be the radiating center of mighty forces, from which, year after year, as they deepen their channels and wisely their sweep, will proceed influences which can never be fully estimated.

"But among the substantial results will be the advancement and diffusion of that larger culture of hand, and head, and heart, that molds the skilled artisan and upright, intelligent citizen, without whom our country need hope for no broad and thorough development of its boundless resources, nor elevation and permanency to its free institutions.

"The mission of the Cooper Union comprehends more than this. It has lessons for the rich as well as for those in the humblest ranks of life. Rising here in the midst of the metropolis of a continent, it is an 'everlasting protest' against the avarice and ambition which rear overshadowing fortunes for mere personal gratification. It teaches such how they may become the 'masters and not the slaves' of their wealth; how they may render it an imperishable memorial of their love, and a perpetual source of public good; so that when they shall be seen no more forever in the walls of men, they shall live on, through their benefactions, in the embalming love and gratitude of mankind.

"As past and present students, we welcome this opportunity to express, however inadequately, still publicly and collectively, our profound appreciation of our obligations to you. We fervently thank you, not only for the precious educational facilities you have provided for us, but also for the ennobling example of a long life, extending through either extreme of fortune, yet marred by no vices and enshrouded by no dishonor.

"Prepared through that knowledge, and inspired by that example, may each of us, and those who shall throng these halls after us, pass through life, animated by deeper love of country, broader sympathies for man, and loftier allegiance to God!

"In conclusion, sir, we can but renew our congratulations that you have been spared to see the day that completes, under such promising auspices, the twelfth annual commencement of an institution that long years ago rose before your vision in distant and shadowy outlines; that you have lived in a period without parallel in the annals of time, for that wonderful progress in the industrial arts and physical sciences which heralds the dawn of a brighter era for the toiling millions; and that you have labored so devotedly and effectual for its realization.

"A learner, so permanently useful and illustrious, is the prelude to a fame neither transient nor uncertain. While virtue, patriotism, and philanthropy, are honored on earth and recorded in heaven, your deeds shall not drop from the memory nor your name fade from the lips of men. In love and gratitude they shall nevermore dedicate to you an exalted station in the Pantheon where, from every age and clime, are enshrined in holy keeping that royal brotherhood, the benefactors of humanity."

To this Mr. Cooper replied:

"MY YOUNG FRIENDS: If I needed any reward for my humble efforts to benefit my fellowmen, the touching language of your address, and this expression of your affection and gratitude, would be ample compensation for labors however exacting and sacrifices however great. Happily, however, works of benevolence carry with them their own recompense, even though they do not meet with the recognition which has fallen to my lot, and which makes me feel that this occasion is the crowning happiness of a life which has passed the eightieth anniversary.

"In that long experience I have learned lessons which, if I could induce you, my young friends, who have your future before you, and others who have left their past behind them, to lay them to heart, and to practice in the conduct of life, would greatly lessen the evils of society and improve the condition of the land and the time in which we live. While yet a child, I learned that the hand of the diligent machete rich,' and whatever of wealth I had achieved has been due, primarily, to habits of patient industry formed at the outset of my career. I soon learned that 'waste-makers want,' and I therefore saved what I earned; and, by taking 'stitches in time,' guarded against the loss which unavoidably attends upon neglect and want of foresight. It did not take long for me to learn that drunkenness was the parent of the larger portion of the poverty, vice, and, crime which afflict the American people; and hence, until advancing age seemed to demand moderate stimulants, I carefully avoided alcoholic liquors as the greatest curse of the young, and the most deadly foe to domestic happiness and the public welfare.

"Next, I observed that most of the shipwrecks in life were due to debts hastily contracted, and not of proportion to the means of the debtor, and hence I always avoided debt, and endeavored to keep some ready money on hand to avail of a favorable opportunity for its profitable use. With economy and industry, it is easy to do this in this favored land; and in my case the result has been that, amid all the financial revolutions through which I have passed, no obligation of mine has ever been a day in areas. Debt is a slavery which every young man ought to avoid, or, if assumed, ought not to endure for one day beyond the shortest time necessary to set him free. Shunning intemperance and debt, and practicing industry, rigid economy, and self-denial, it was easy to be honest, and to acquire such knowledge as the opportunities of this city offered in the days of my youth. But these opportunities were so limited—there being no free schools by day, nor any night-schools whatever—that I found it far more difficult to learn what I wanted to know, than to be industrious, temperate, and prudent. Hence, I decided, if I should prosper in the acquisition of worldly means, to found an institution to which all young people of the working-class, who desired to be good citizens and to rise in life, could resort without money and without price, in order to acquire that knowledge of their business and science which, in these days, is absolutely indispensable to a successful career. Providence, in accordance with the declaration that to 'faith all things are possible,' did bless my efforts; and this institution, and these encouraging evidences of its value and its fruits presented here tonight, is the result of this resolution, never lost sight of during a business career of nearly sixty years, in which I was cheered, comforted, sustained, and encouraged by the greatest of human blessings—a diligent, wise, industrious, faithful, and affectionate wife; and in the work of founding this institution, aided by the earnest sympathy and active cooperation of my children, who justly regarded as the richest portion of their inheritance that part of my wealth which I desired to consecrate to the public welfare. Hence, my last lesson for the young is to marry at the proper age, when, aged not before, they can see the way clear to a decent and comfortable support, and thus fulfill the first law of Nature with a high and holy sense of its happiness and its duties, the greatest and most serious in the path of life. Love and duty I have ever found to be the passwords of all that is true and noble in life, and, when they are separated, the fires on the family altar die out, and life loses all its charms, never to be compensated by the false jewels which are often worn in the public gaze.

"These are, indeed, simple truths, which I have endeavored to set forth in words equally simple, because I feel sure from a very long experience that they will do good to every young man and young woman who will firmly resolve to make them the rule of life, and because I began life without means, and know the truth of what I affirm.

"But, having also acquired what is regarded as riches, have I earned the right, by the use I have made of them, to give any advice or speak a word of encouragement to others, who, by the will of God, are in trusted with the great responsibility of wealth? Whether I have this right or not, I feel impelled to record my conviction, derived from personal experience, that the rich man who regards his wealth as a sacred trust, to be used for the welfare of his fellowmen, will assuredly derive more true enjoyment from it in this world than from the most lavish expenditure on mere personal enjoyments and social display. I do not pretend to prescribe any standard of expenditure for others; and I am quite ready to subscribe to the doctrine that a just and faithful trustee should be liberally paid for his services, and should not be restricted in the reasonable gratification of his desires, so long as the rights of others are not thereby infringed; and I desire to give the fullest recognition to the sacredness of private property, and the conservation of capital, as for the best interests of society and all the members thereof: But I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that the production of wealth is not the work of any one man, and the acquisition of great fortunes is not possible without the cooperation of multitudes of men; and that, therefore, the individuals to whose lot these fortunes fall, whether by inheritance or the laws of production and trade, should never lose sight of the fact that, as they hold them only by the of society, expressed in statute law, so they should administer them as trustees for the benefit of society, as inculcated by the moral law.

"When rich men are thus brought to regard themselves as trustees, and poor men learn to be industrious, economical, temperate, self-denying, and diligent in the acquisition of knowledge, then the deplorable strife between capital and labor, tending to destroy their fundamental, necessary, and harmony, will cease; and the world will be no longer afflicted with such unnatural industrial conflicts as we have seen during the past century in every quarter of the civilized globe, and latterly on so great a scale in this country, arraying those whom Nature intended to be firm allies and inseparable friends into hostile camps, in which the great law of love and mutual forbearance is extinguished by selfish passions.

"The law of force, whether expressed in trade associations, preventing other men from exercising their inalienable right to labor where they can find work, or in combinations of capitalists, seeking by lockouts to close up the avenues of labor, are equally reprehensible, and should never be allowed, under any provocation whatever, to take the place of the Divine law, 'whatsoever they would that men should do unto you, do even so unto them;' nor will such an unnatural and criminal substitution ever be possible, if poor men will remember that it is the duty, and therefore the right, of every poor man to strive to become rich by honest, intelligent, and patient labor; and if rich men will remember that the possession of wealth, which is the fruit of the general effort, confers no right to its use, as an engine of oppression or coercion, upon any class which is concerned in its production. Let me, then, record that, during a long life passed in active business, I have never known any but evil consequences to all classes, and especially to the innocent, to result from strikes, lockouts, or other forcible measures, designed to interfere with the steady and regular march of productive industry; and I feel justified in an earnest appeal to both workmen and capitalists, need to, to regard each other as equals and friends; and to imitate the great example, so recently set by the enlightened Governments of Great Britain and the United States, in the submission of their differences to arbitration; and not to expect to reform social evils by combinations designed to force either side into the acceptance of unpalatable terms by the stern logic of starvation and indiscriminate ruin.

"Reform, to be of any permanent value, must be based upon personal virtue, not force; and it seems to me that the millennium will not be far off when each individual shall set about reforming himself, rather than society, and conforming his life to the great law of loving God and his fellowman.

"While I thank you again, my young friends (I had almost said my children), for this manifestation of your respect and gratitude, so touching because so full of love, let me ask you to accept of this feeble but heartfelt reply, as a kind of last will and testy of the garnered experience of an old friend, whose days are almost numbered, and who asks only to be remembered as 'one who loved his fellowmen.'"


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