The commoner. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-1923, November 11, 1910, Image 1

Below is the OCR text representation for this newspapers page. It is also available as plain text as well as XML.

    ' 'tlfH''fmfW''ykm-''''.
The Commoner.
VOL. 10, NO. 44
Lincoln, Nebraska, November 11, 1910
Whole Number 512
"Thou Shalt Not Steal"
Editor The Commoner: Will Tho Commoner
kindly reprint In its valued columns, tho speech
Mr. Bryan made a few years ago at Carnegie
hall, New York City, entitled "Thou Shalt Not
Steal?" The hest and most useful instructions
in The, Commoner are Mr. Bryan's editorials
and speeches. Trusting I am not presuming on
your good graces, I am, Respectfully,
Brooklyn, New York.
Under the auspices of the Civic Forum, Car
negie Hall, New York, on tho evening of Feb
ruary 4, 1908, Mr. Bryan delivered an address
entitled "Thou shalt not steal." Tho address
I appreciate the opportunity which tho Civic
Forum has given me of presenting in this great
center of trade and finance a subject which
however hackneyed It may seem, still forces
itself upon us, namely tho subject of larceny.
The commandment "Thou shalt not steal" pre
sents as clearly as it can bo presented a moral
truth that may be classed among the self-evident
truths. The greatest service that one can render
a truth is to state it so plainly that it can be
understood. I do not mean .that any truth can
bo stated so plainly that it will not be denied
by those who And it to their .interest to deny it.
I believe that it. was Lord Macaulay who said
that eloquent and learned men could be found
to dispute the law of gravitation if any pecuniary
advantage were to be gained hy it. What I mean
to say is',, that a truth can be stated bo plainly
that those who desire to see it, can see it, and
that when it is seen, it needs no defense. If, for
instance, you may say to a man that it is wrong
to steal and he replies,-"Oh, I don't know about
that," don't argue with him, search him and you
will probably find the reason in his pocket.
I have not selected this subject with any In
tention of presenting an argument against steal
ing. I am going to assuirte that those who listen
to me agree that the commandment should be
obeyed. It is my purpose rather to make some
applications of the commandment to present con
' ditions, for I am satisfied that many are guilty
without really being conscious of disobedience
to the commandment or of committing a wrong.
To steal or to commit larceny may be de
fined as the wrongful taking of another's prop
erty. Law writers have divided larceny into
two classes petit larceny and grand larceny,
the former term being used when the property
stolen is of little value and the latter when tho'
value is greater. There is a tendency in modern
times to divide grand larceny into two classes,
sp that now we are inclined to think larceny
as petit larceny, grand larceny and glorious
latceny. By glorious larceny I do not refer
to tho policy which nations havo Indulged in
of taking the property of other nations by forco
an act that is sometimes described as not
only innocent but even patriotic; I refer rather
to that tendency quite discernible at tho present
day to regard stealing upon a largo scalo as
less reprehensible than stealing upon a small
scale. If a man picks your pocket or enters
your houso in the dark or accosts you upon
tho highway and takes from you a' few dollars,
you regard him as a vulgar thief. No ono can
have respect for such a person, and tho punish
ments of the law are in such cases Bwift and
sure If tho offender is caught. Even in tho caso
of grand larceny if the amount taken is not
very great, tho thief finds It difficult to escapo,
for he has no influential friends and ho cannot
hire skillful lawyers to presont technicalities
in his defense. If, however, ho steals a largo
sum, It becomes quite a different matter, and
the sum may bo so largo that wo overlook tho
man's rascality in our amazement at the genius
Which ho has displayed. As a rule, tho man
who steals a million dollars has a better chanco
of escapo than tho man who steals a thousand.
So true is this that It has been suggested that
we amend tho commandment to read, "Thou
shalt not steal upon a small scale." Judgo Joro
Black, tho celebrated Pennsylvania lawyer, In
his argument In tho Credit Mobiller caso quoted
a man of affairs as saying that to rob on indi
vidual was criminal, to rob a corporation was
reprehensible, to rob a municipality was a mat
ter of doubtful morality, to rob a state was
meritorious but to rob tho United States was
tho highest achievement of human virtue. Wo
should attempt to cultlvato a public opinion
which will remove tho distinction between grand
larceny and glorious larceny and insure tho
enforcement of tho criminal law against all
offenders alike, regardless of tho amount stolen
-and regardless of the social, business or political
position of the thief.
But my object tonight is rather to draw
your attention to tho various ways in which
larceny may bo committed. There is a distinc
tion that can bo drawn between direct and in
direct larceny; that is, between tho ono who
does the stealing himself and tho ono who does
it through another, and this Is a larger subject
than at first appears, for those who produce con
ditions which result in such gross injustico that
tho victims of the Injustice are driven to desti
tution, to despair, to desperation and finally to
theft those who produce these conditions aro
not entirely guiltless. But tho discussion of
this subject would lead us Into sociology, and I
want to confine myself to criminology.
For tho purposes of this discussion let .-us
divide larceny into two classes larceny in viola
tion of the law and larceny through tho opera
tion of law. While both branches of the subject
aro important, the second branch is tho larger
and the less considered. I think I am within
tho truth when I say that measured by tho
value of the property taken, stealing through
tho operation of law, if not so frequent, reaches
a larger aggregate than stealing in violation of
tho law. But the stealing which Is done In
violation of law is enormous aud the methods
employed many. Tako for illustration the ad
ministration of our tax laws. Let us suppose
that tho law is mado by well-meaning legisla
tors and -in its requirements approaches justice
as closely aB Infallible man can approach justice.
The assessor Is sometimes corrupted not al
ways by money but moro often by influence.
That is, the person favored does not always
pay tho assessor a fixed sum but helps to elect
him or re-elect him and thus becomes respon
sible for tho continuation of his salary.
Inequality In taxation is merely a form of
larceny. If two men llvo side by side and one
contributes in taxation ten dollars when his
just share is only five dollars and the other
only pays flvo whon ho ought to pay ton, ono
loses flvo dollars that ho ought to keep whiio
tho other keeps flvo dollars that ho ought to
give to tho government. Tho effect in this caso
Is just tho samo as if ono man took tho other
man's property and applied it to his own uso.
Tho fact that tlio government, acting as. a col
lector, took the five dollars from tho man who
is overburdened and gavo it to tho man who
is undcrburdened docs not change tho character
of tho transaction.
If equality in taxation is duo to tho act of
an assessor who, at tho solicitation of a property
owner undor-asHestJcs him, then tho assessor and
tho man favored aro guilty of tho wrongful
taking of tho property of another. If wo ox
amlno tho assessment books In any city, wo
will find many instances such as that abovo
mentioned. Ono piece of property will bo as
sessed at half Its value, another piece of property
at a third of its value, and still anothor at a
fourth of its value, and whoro thoro Is this
difference in the basis of assessment, tho dis
crimination Is usually in favor of tho largo
proporty holder who Is able to qxort an Influence
upon the assessor to bias him In favor of an
Not only is tho largo business block often
favored at tho expenso of the small home, but
tho property of big corporations is ofton favored
at tho expense of Individual holders. Tako, for
instance, a street car company, a wator plant
or a gas plant. On tho stock markot theso
franchise-holding corporations never forget to
count in tho valuo of tho franchise, and this
intanglhlo asset is sometimes as valuable as
tho physical properties owned by tho corpora
tion. Taxes aro generally estimated on tho
basis of. physical property while tho dividends
aro paid upon the faco valuo of tho stocks and
bonds. It seems strango that a corporation
which receives a valuable franchise from tho
public as a gift should refuse to pay taxes in
proportion to the market valuo of its stocks and
bonds, and yet there is scarcely a city or state
In which the public is not in a constant struggle
to compel franchise-holding corporations to pay
their share of the taxes, and oven then tho basis
upon which they pay Is notoriously lower than
tho basis upon which tho Individual property
owner, especially the small property owner pays.
If a certain sum Is to bo collected In taxes
and some pay less than they should, the others
must pay moro than their share. Is It not worth
while to insist that both tho under-assessed
citizen and tho unscrupulous official shall obey
tho commandment, "Thou shalt not steal?"
I need not waste time on the tax dodger or
the smuggler, for those who, by concealment,
deliberately deceive tho assessor or collector aro
as guilty of larceny as if they boldly took tho
property of others.
But what If the fault Is In tho law Itself?
What shall wo say If those who make the law
write it with the Intention of overburdening
some and releasing others from just obligations?
Time does not permit an extended discussion
of the various systems of taxation. If we wero
discussing the question of taxation In a funda
mental way, wo would havo to consider the
claims of all systems, existing and proposed,
but I am not now considering new systems but
rather tho Injustice connected with tho systems
in operation. In local taxation wo aro constant
ly confronted with the question "Shall personal
property bo taxed?" and there are many who
arguo that because personal property Is difficult
to locate, it should be exempt. This argument
Is based upon the theory that it Is better not to
attempt to collect a tax upon personal property
than to make an unsuccessful attempt. While I
recognize that it is easier to collect taxes on
visible than on Invisible property, I am con
vinced that tho owners of visible property should
not pay their own taxes and in addition thereto
ft ttjllfr MAki&tiitffV-.Jiti'A tfih rfil ,V MHni'V, iff fojforfHtg riajrt:3jgggjfofc yii-A g If jjfti ft j uyf & ' j
, - luto r - &4 ' .- Mj 4- 4iA j aj fi. .