The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
To the R. W. Grand Lodge, I. O. O. F'., of the United States:
To the R. W. Grand Lodge, I. O. O. F'., of the United States:
Representatives,—I have the honor to submit for your consideration a report of my official acts for the past year, during which time we have been highly favored as a people with abundant harvests, hopeful signs of a revival in the trades and industries of the country; and as a society, with entire harmony and good order pervading all its branches. At no time probably within the history of this nation has the husbandman been so richly rewarded in his efforts as in the past year. And representing, as we do, a constituency engaged actively and largely in industrial pursuits, the happiness, welfare, and comforts of whose families engage so much of our sympathy, our interest will be greatly promoted in the abundance and cheapness of the food supplies with which we have been and are now so highly favored, that we should not fail to make with grateful hearts the proper acknowledgments to a kind Providence for these manifold blessings. Whilst the annual returns exhibit an increase in the Lodges and Encampments, and in the amount paid for relief over last year, they indicate, for the first time since 1863, a falling off in the membership and revenue.
The annual loss to the Order in prosperous as well as in adverse times of members for non-payment of dues is a subject eminently worthy the best consideration that we can give it, and whilst large accessions of new and untried material is being constantly added to our numbers, we find it occasionally counterbalanced (especially so at the present time) by the loss of members, who through neglect or inability are dropped or suspended for the above cause; and if the Lodges and Encampments will take a glance at their list of suspended members, they will doubtless find in this great, inactive, and, I might add, neglected if not forgotten constituency, a very large number of worthy men that could be restored, if proper efforts were put forth to effect it.
Some of these thoughts have been suggested in a letter before me from my distinguished brother, Schuyler Colfax, to Bro. James L. Ridgely, Grand Secretary, in which he says that if "a concerted and systematic effort all over the country was made, with liberal inducements as to the payment of their arrearages, it would win back to active membership a large number of this class," and I most cordially indorse the suggestion and recommend it to your favorable consideration.
The general returns give the following condition of the Order at the present time:page 2
A review of these official reports for the last half century discloses the sad but sure effects that periodical revulsions in trade and business have invariably had upon the growth and increase of the Order. And a revival of these industries has as unmistakably exhibited an appreciation of its reliability and usefulness during such depressions by witnessing large accessions to our ranks, thus presenting the most hopeful and encouraging outlook for the future. There has rarely, if ever, been within the experience of the oldest of us now living, a depression so general and protracted as the one from which we appear to be gradually and I trust surely emerging.
There are doubtless some that are willing, and probably with some reason, to ascribe this temporary falling off to other causes, to some of which I will for a moment briefly allude.
The unparalleled success and popularity of Odd Fellowship in America, it would seem, has given rise to a general desire to emulate its example, by creating, under various names, organizations ostensibly similar in design, until secret beneficial Orders have been multiplied in some localities far beyond the wants or ability of the people to sustain them, temporarily retarding the progress and success of Odd Fellowship, and rendering the existence of each other precarious and uncertain, thus entailing loss and disappointment upon the people that have been drawn into them by promises of large weekly and funeral benefits, endowment policies, and life insurance, upon the payment of small dues; which a moment's reflection would show could not, under the most favorable circumstances, and that whilst their members are young and healthy, be paid but for a few years at most. A glance at the tables of mortality and the laws of our being, will reveal to us the unalterable decrees of Providence, that death will sooner or later come to us all. And the money promised to be paid to the members and their families on these sad occasions cannot be realized.
The funds of all beneficial associations must be steadily contributed in properly adjusted proportion to their promises, so as to make it certain that those with the longest expectations of life can safely and surely rely upon it. Some may and do, of course, die early, and their families may get a much greater amount than they have paid in. This must be expected, it is in fact the capital upon which they expect to do business, and is used as an inducement, indeed I might add as an allurement, to obtain members; but the heirs of those that die late will not only get much less than the amount paid, but run the risk of getting nothing at all.
The abundant caution heretofore practised by the G. L. of U. S. in this particular, and the rigid enforcement of wholesome and judicious laws in our Order against vice and immorality of all kinds, is the real secret of our great success, and enables us to point with pride and satisfaction to our past record as exhibiting to the criticism of a scrutinizing and intelligent people that our best efforts are put forth in upholding a reliable, exemplary, and useful organization. I therefore feel it to be my duty, with the experience that nearly half a century has afforded, to encourage the members of our Order to an increased interest and zeal in its maintenance, and if possible to inspire them with a higher and better appreciation of the advantages they enjoy in holding membership with such a large, reliable, and harmonious body of men banded together for mutual relief, the preservation of their manhood, and the elevation of the race; whose boasted pride is in seeing the promises of their brethren everywhere and at all times fulfilled, and their misfortunes alleviated; and to warn them to beware of all organizations and associations that make large promises upon small consideration. If but little is contributed to the funds and large sums are to be drawn out, some one in the end is sure to be disappointed; rely upon it, it cannot be done, and I beg the members of this great brotherhood will be admonished in time. Again I would call your especial attention to the great objects of our organization; bear in mind that its earnest and persistent purpose is to assist each other with stipulated and reliable weekly payments (which we have proclaimed to the world to be the peculiar characteristics of our Order), at such page 3 times as they may be unable to help themselves, blended with the further, broader, and grander purpose of Benevolence and Charity, whenever and wherever misfortune shall lay its heavy hand upon any part or portion of the brotherhood. Any attempt to divert it from the fulfilment of these sacred engagements or to embrace other features altogether foreign to the original design, must result in weakness if not in disaster and ruin. Never let it be hampered with seductive schemes of life insurance, which may have nothing but the good name and reputation of the Order they seek to use to recommend them, and that has cost us half a century in the pursuit of a single purpose to establish.
I know that we have abundance of the material in our ranks that would seem to warrant success in whatever they undertook,—indeed it is this element that has made Odd Fellowship such a prominent and assured success,—but all this will not warrant us in indulging in doubtful experiments, and above all we should not allow ourselves to neglect or forsake it for new and untried schemes, which the simple tests of reason and experience will explode at the first touch.
No one organization can expect or should undertake to provide properly for all the ills and misfortunes of life. Let us therefore keep a single eye to the purposes of the organization, and leave all outside of that to other associations, each one of which may have a special mission or service to render to their fellow-men. And in all such good work they will have our best wishes and cordial co-operation and sympathy.
We have Mutual Aid, Relief, and other similar associations, composed entirely of members of the Order, but not otherwise connected in any way with the organization, to which specific contributions are made, that have been in successful operation in many localities long enough to test their nature and to establish a reliability for their engagements, which have already received the indorsement of your R. W. Body, and I submit with these recognized and reliable adjuncts the members of the Order will find all that the ability of the ordinary business and working man is able to sustain. And never attempt, I pray you, to counteract the influence, opposition, or competition of what appears to be rival associations or orders, by promising more than you honestly intend to perform; or in attempting to graft upon our system, measures that will jeopardize the health, growth, and beauty of the parent stalk; but so adjust your dues and benefits, and manage your financial affairs, as to inspire a confidence that it can be perpetuated to all time.