THIS is not a country of equal fortunes; outside a Socialist’s dream no such country exists or can exist. But as nearly as possible this is a country of equal opportunities for those who begin life with nothing but nature’s endowments—and of such is the kingdom of success.
In nine instances in ten successful Americans—that is Americans who have succeeded in any worthy ambition or legitimate field of endeavor—have started with nothing but the skin they stood in.
It almost may be said, indeed, that to begin with nothing is a main condition of success—in America.
To a young man there is no such hopeless impediment as wealth or the expectation of wealth. Here a man and there a man will be born so abundantly endowed by nature as to overcome the handicap of artificial “advantages,” but that is not the rule; usually the chap “born with a gold spoon in his mouth” puts in his time sucking that spoon, and without other employment. Counting possession of the spoon success, why should he bestir himself to achieve what he already has?
The real curled darling of opportunity has nothing in his mouth but his teeth and his appetite—he knows, or is likely to know, what it is to feel his belly sticking to his back. If he have brains a-plenty he will get on, for he must be up and doing—the penalty of indiligence is famine. If he have not, he may up and do to the uttermost satisfaction of his mind and heart, but the end of that man is failure, with possibly Socialism, that last resort of conscious incompetence. It fatigues, this talk of the narrowing opportunities of today, the “closed avenues to success,” and the rest of it. Doubtless it serves its purpose of making mischief for the tyrant trusts and the wicked rich generally, but in a six months’ bound volume of it there is not enough of truth to float a religion.
Men of brains never had a better chance than now to accomplish all that it is desirable that they should accomplish; and men of no brains never did have much of a chance, nor under any possible conditions can have in this country, nor in any other. They are nature’s failures, God’s botchwork. Let us be sorry for them, treating them justly and generously; but the Socialism that would level us all down to their plane of achievement and reward is a proposal of which they are themselves the only proponents.
Opportunity, indeed! Who is holding me from composing a great opera that would make me rich and famous?
What oppressive laws forbade me to work my passage up the Yukon as deckhand on a steamboat and discover the gold along Bonanza creek?
What is there in our industrial system that conceals from me the secret of making diamonds from charcoal?
Why was it not I who, entering a lawyer’s office as a suitable person to sweep it out, left it as an appointed Justice of the Supreme Court?
The number of actual and possible sources of profit and methods of distinction is infinite. Not all the trusts in the world combined in one trust of trusts could appreciably reduce it—could condemn to permanent failure one man with the talent and the will to succeed. They can abolish that doubtful benefactor of the “small dealer,” who lives by charging too much, and that very thickly disguised blessing the “drummer,” whom they have to add to the price of everything they sell; but for every opportunity they close they open a new one and leave untouched a thousand actual and a million possible ones. As to their dishonest practices, these are conspicuous and striking, because “lumped,” but no worse than the silent, steady aggregate of cheating; by which their constituent firms and individuals, formerly consumed the consumer without his special wonder.