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The Memoirs Of Frederick T. Gates
April 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 3
I think the controversy in the end did Mr. Rockefeller more good than harm. But it hurt missions. All the great missionary boards, except the Baptist, were frightened off. All continued for many years to do their work with meager resources and in a crippled way. Of the minor boards, two or three dared to come to us, always armed with a resolution of their boards of control unanimously approving and directing the appeal. To all such Mr. Rockefeller gave freely. But it was fully ten years before the greater foreign boards were ready to co-operate with Mr. Rockefeller’s philanthropic foundations which had been by that time established, and to accept their great gifts for medicine and education in foreign lands.
Up to 1902, when we sold out Mr. Rockefeller’s great iron mining and transportation companies, my time and energy had been so engrossed with Mr. Rockefeller’s business interests and current benevolence as to leave me little time for the working out of any plans of world benefaction.
I did, indeed, use my leisure in reading and study, and perhaps I could not have hastened matters much even if I had been more free. I was studying civilization, its origin and history, trying to analyze it, separate it into its elements, and find out as best I might in what human progress really consists and in what ways progress is to be promoted.
For the study of world philanthropies, Mr. Rockefeller’s office was an excellent laboratory. For we received appeals daily from every sort of agency of human progress and well-being, not only in the United States but in all civilized foreign lands. Not only so, but we were favored with the views and often the elaborate plans of distinguished social reformers and dreamers the world over. These letters and appeals passed through my hands and it was my duty to study them, to inquire about them, to reflect on them, and to encourage such of them as I thought worthy by favorable report to Mr. Rockefeller.
Along with these studies and reflections I was confronted with Mr. Rockefeller’s fortune. He continued, as do all men, in the habits and feelings of earlier life. He did not seem to realize, as I sometimes thought, the immensity of his fortune. He was a born money-maker, and a born money-saver. But even had it not been so, even if he had become alarmed at his colossal and every year more colossal accumulation, it was no longer in his power, from the time I first knew him, to prevent or hinder the incoming flood.
And what oppressed me was not merely that Mr. Rockefeller was being inundated with money. I trembled as I witnessed the unreasoning popular resentment at Mr. Rockefeller’s riches, to the mass of the people a national menace.
It was not, however, the unreasoning public prejudice against Mr. Rockefeller but what was to be the destiny of his vast fortune that chiefly troubled me. Was it to be handed on to posterity as other great fortunes have been handed down by their possessors, with scandalous results to their descendants and powerful tendencies to social demoralization? I saw no other course but for Mr. Rockefeller and his son to form a series of great corporate philanthropies for forwarding civilization in all its elements in this land and in all lands; philanthropies, if possible, limitless in time and amount, broad in scope, and self-perpetuating.
I knew very well that Mr. Rockefeller’s mind would not work on mere abstract theories. He required concrete practical suggestions and I set about framing them.
It was not until 1905 that I ventured with many misgivings to approach Mr. Rockefeller with the question of the use and disposition to be made of his fortune. It might be urged that I was trespassing on a domain in which I had no proper business. But to myself it was very intimately my business, for I had come clearly to see that unless Mr. Rockefeller were to make some such disposition of his fortune, or a great part of it, my life was doing more harm than good.
So at last I broke my silence. The Rockefeller philanthropies have become world-wide and world-famous for their efficiency. If I were asked to make an estimate of the aggregate benefactions to date of the two Rockefellers—father and son—I could not venture a guess of less than a thousand million dollars, and under the present direction of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his great and varied staff, the outflow of annual benefaction is ever broadening and enlarging.
A study of the Rockefeller benefactions will show that they form a comprehensive and carefully studied plan, comprising quite precisely the elements of civilization as analyzed by distinguished authors. Professor William C. Morey, for illustration, in his summary of the elements of civilization reduced them to six. These consisted of progress in (1) the Means of Subsistence; (2) Government and Law; (3) Language and Literature; (4) Philosophy and Science; (5) Art and Refinement; (6) Morality and Religion. To these I venture to add two more. They are (7) Health and Hygiene; and (8) Reproduction and Eugenics. The Rockefeller philanthropies at home and abroad will be found to fall quite consciously and precisely into these eight categories of civilization.