home | many pasts | evidence | www.history | blackboard | reference
talking history | syllabi | students | teachers | puzzle | about us
search: go!
advanced search - go!

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth: Workers Protest Carnegie Library

In his essay “Wealth,” published in the North American Review in 1889, industrialist Andrew Carnegie argued that individual capitalists were bound by duty to play a broader cultural and social role and thus improve the world. (The essay later became famous under the title “The Gospel of Wealth.”) But not everyone agreed with Carnegie’s perspective. As shown by this newspaper article from 1901, the philanthropic gestures of such captains of industry as Andrew Carnegie were not always greeted with enthusiasm by the workers whose low-paid toil effectively underwrote such extravagant "gifts."


Andrew Carnegie offered the town of New Castle, Pennsylvania, fifty thousand dollars for a public library in 1901, and, following similar action by the city Trades Assembly, Division 89 of the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees passed the following resolution.

That such donations are inimical to that independence American manhood is assumed to possess (on general principles) and especially so in this case where such flagrant injustice, even to murder, has been done to those whose toil is represented in every dollar of the money thus tendered. It was well said by a delegate that between the lines of the books thus obtained one could easily see the sweat and blood of thousands of workers and on the margins of every page the tragedy of Homestead.

The spirit of hero-worship that prompts the acceptance of such gifts and that looks upon structures thus erected as monuments to the memory of the donor is only another form of manifesting the spirit for the monarch: a recognition of the divine right of kings on the one hand and utter disregard of how the money was made on the other.

To erect such a library here and by its partisan, outspoken influence induce our children to look upon it as a logical, necessary and unavoidable method of obtaining certain benefits, tends to destroy in the minds any idea of national justice or human rights and makes of them willing supplicants at the mercy of this system of corporate greed which deals out a part of the sum in charity it originally appropriated from the producer to whom it alone rightfully belongs, which sum if they had fully received would have enabled them to have owned a library instead of now being, as are all others who are similarly robbed, the objects of charity.

It would be something like a semblance of justice if these donations were made to the widows and orphans at Homestead. We deem them as worthy of remembrance as the Maine. A city will enrich enormously a few men and then be itself an object of charity. We, therefore, condemn this library move as an insult to him it is said will benefit most, the working man; he does not want charity but justice.

Source: New Castle Dispatch. Reprinted in New York World, 25 March 1901.

See Also:A Workingman’s Prayer for the Masses

The Gospel According to Andrew: Carnegie’s Hymn to Wealth

Carnegie Speaks: A Recording of the Gospel of Wealth