( Originally Published 1879 )
EVERY device that suddenly changes money or property from one person to another without a quid pro quo, or leaving an equivalent, produces individual embarrassment—often extreme misery. More pernicious is that plan, if it changes property and money from the hands of the many to the few.
Gambling does this, and often inflicts a still greater injury, by poisoning its victims with vice, that eventually lead to crimes of the darkest hue. Usually, the money basely filched from its victims, is the smallest part of the injury inflicted. It almost inevitably, leads to intemperance. Every species of offense, on the black catalogue of crime, may be traced to the gambling table, as the entering wedge to its perpetration.
This alarming evil is as wide-spread as our country. It is practiced from the humblest water craft that floats on our canals up to the majestic steamboat on our mighty rivers; from the lowest groggeries that curse the community, up to the most fashionable hotels that claim respectability; from the hod carrier in his bespattered rags, up to the honorable members of congress in their ruffles. ' Like a mighty maelstrom, its motion, at the outside, is scarcely perceptible, but soon increases to a fearful velocity; suddenly the awful center is reached—the victim is lost in the vortex. Interested friends may warn, the wife may entreat, with all the eloquence of tears; children may cling and cry for bread—once in the fatal snare, the victim of gamblers is seldom saved. He combines the deafness of the adder with the desperation of a maniac, and rushes on, regardless of danger—reckless of consequences.
To the fashionable of our country, who play cards and other games as an innocent amusement, we may trace the most aggravated injuries resulting from gambling. It is there that young men of talents, education, and wealth, take the degree of entered apprentice. The example of men in high life, men in public stations and responsible offices, has a powerful and corrupting influence on society, and does much to increase the evil, and forward, as well as sanction the high-handed robbery of fine dressed blacklegs. The gambling hells in our cities, tolerated and patronized, are a disgrace to a nation bearing a Christian name, and would be banished from a Pagan community.
Gambling assumes a great variety of forms, from the flipping of a cent in the bar room for a glass of whisky, up to the splendidly furnished faro bank room, where men are occasionally swindled to the tune of "ten thousand a year," and sometimes a much larger amount. In addition to these varieties, we have legalized lotteries and fancy stock brokers, and among those who manage them, professors of religion are . not unfrequently found.
Thousands who carefully shun the monster under any other form, pay a willing tribute to the tyrant at the shrine of lotteries. Persons from all classes throw their money into this vault of uncertainty, this whirl-pool of speculation, with a less chance to regain it than when at the detested faro bank. It is here that the poor man spends his last dollar; it is here that the rich often become poor, for a man has ten chances to be killed by lightning where he has one to draw a capital prize. The ostensible objects of lotteries are always praiseworthy. Meeting houses, hospitals, seminaries of learning, internal improvement, some laudable enter-prize, may always be found first and foremost in a lottery scheme; the most ingenious and most fatal gull trap ever invented by man or devil.
Gaming cowers in darkness, and often blots out all the nobler powers of the heart, paralyzes its sensibilities to human woe, severs the sacred ties that bind man to man, to woman, to family, to community, to morals, to religion, to social order, and to country. It trans forms men to brutes, desperadoes, maniacs, misanthropists, and strips human nature of all its native dignity. The gamester forfeits the happiness of this life and endures the penalties of sin in both worlds. His profession is the scavenger of avarice, haggard and filthy, badly fed, poorly clad, and worse paid.
Let me entreat all to shun the monster, under all his borrowed and deceptive forms. Remember that gambling for amusement is the wicket gate into the labyrinth, and when once . in, you may find it difficult to get out. Ruin is marked in blazing capitals over the door of the gambler; his hell is the vestibule to that eternal hell where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. If you regard your own, and the happiness of your family and friends, and the salvation of your immortal soul, recoil from even the shadow of a shade reflected by this heaven-daring, heart-breaking, soul-destroying, fashionable, but ruinous vice.
An evil that starts upon a wrong principle, the vital element of which is injustice, must have a vast productive force in creating other evils. It is necessarily a mighty agency in destroying all that is good in the soul; vitiating the whole character, and dragging down every lofty purpose and noble aspiration. And we find that the gambler is rapidly qualified for every other species of wickedness. The fiery excitement to which he yields himself in the game-room inflames every other passion. It produces a state of mind that can be satisfied only with intense and forbidden pleasures. It virtually takes him out of the circle of refined, rational enjoyment and plunges him into scenes more congenial to a corrupt taste. He would gladly witness as a pastime bull fights, pugilistic contests; and perhaps his craving for excitement could only be fully satisfied by scenes such as Roman persecutors and heathen spectators formerly feasted upon, in which men and women were torn in pieces by wild ' beasts. Such bloody encounters and horrid tragedies might come up to his standard of amusement.
Thus does the giant vice uncivilize a man and throw him back into a state of barbarism. It revolutionizes his tastes at the same time that it casts down his moral principles. If its victim has been in early life under the influence of religious sentiment, it speedily obliterates those sentiments from the mind. If the voice of conscience has been in the past years heard, that voice is now silenced. If feelings of humanity once had influence, their power is now gone. If visions of extensive usefulness and honorable achievement once floated in the imagination they have vanished; vanished in the distance, never to return.
Nor should the youth forget that if he is once taken in the coils of this vice, the hope of extricating himself, or of realizing his visions of wealth and happiness, is exceedingly faint. He has no rational grounds to expect that he can escape the terrible consequences that are inseparably connected with this sin. If he does not become bankrupt in property, he is sure to become one in character and in moral principle; he becomes a debauched, debased, friendless vagabond.