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A History of American Christianity by Bacon

The era following the war was preeminently a building era


We

have seen how, only forty years before the return of peace, in the days of a humble equality in moderate estates, ardent souls exulted together in the inauguration of the era of democracy in beneficence, when every humblest giver might, through association and organization, have part in magnificent enterprises of Christian charity such as had theretofore been possible "only to princes or to men of princely possessions."[359:2] But with the return of civil peace we began to recognize that among ourselves was growing up a class of "men of princely possessions"--a class such as the American Republic never before had known.[359:3] Among those whose fortunes were reckoned by many millions or many tens of millions were men of sordid nature, whose wealth, ignobly won, was selfishly hoarded, and to whose names, as to that of the late Jay Gould, there is attached in the mind of the people a distinct note of infamy. But this was not in general the character of the American millionaire. There were those of nobler strain who felt a responsibility commensurate with the great power conferred by great riches, and held their wealth as in trust for mankind. Through the fidelity of men of this sort it has come to pass that the era of great fortunes in America has become conspicuous in the history of the whole world as the era of magnificent donations to benevolent ends. Within a few months of each other, from the little State of Connecticut, came the fund of a million given by John F. Slater in
his lifetime for the benefit of the freedmen, the gift of a like sum for the like purpose from Daniel Hand, and the legacy of a million and a half for foreign missions from Deacon Otis of New London. Great gifts like these were frequently directed to objects which could not easily have been attained by the painful process of accumulating small donations. It was a period not only of splendid gifts to existing institutions, but of foundations for new universities, libraries, hospitals, and other institutions of the highest public service, foundations without parallel in human history for large munificence. To this period belong the beginnings of the Johns Hopkins University and Hospital at Baltimore, the University of Chicago, the Clarke University at Worcester, the Vanderbilt University at Nashville, the Leland Stanford, Jr., University of California, the Peabody and Enoch Pratt Libraries at Baltimore, the Lenox Library at New York, the great endowed libraries of Chicago, the Drexel Institute at Philadelphia, and the Armour Institute at Chicago. These are some of the names that most readily occur of foundations due mainly to individual liberality, set down at the risk of omitting others with equal claim for mention. Not all of these are to be referred to a religious spirit in the founders, but none of them can fail of a Christian influence and result. They prepare a foothold for such a forward stride of Christian civilization as our continent has never before known.

The sum of these gifts of millions, added to the great aggregates of contribution to the national missionary boards and societies, falls far short of the total contributions expended in cities, towns, and villages for the building of churches and the maintenance of the countless charities that cluster around them. The era following the war was preeminently a "building era." Every one knows that religious devotion is only one of the mingled motives that work together in such an enterprise as the building of a church; but, after all deductions, the voluntary gifts of Christian people for Christ's sake in the promotion of such works, when added to the grand totals already referred to, would make an amount that would overtax the ordinary imagination to conceive.


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