For fully twenty years the American churches felt the impetus of the stewardship movement of 1850-1855. It was well that the underlying principles of stewardship had been urged so strongly; it was not well that the urgency ceased. And yet it was humanly inevitable. Four years of civil war left the nation fevered and sick. The passions of men, fed by blood and battle, had vitiated the finer spiritual fiber of an entire generation. The courage of prowess was everywhere praised, the courage of patience was little worth. Men became opportunists. In religion, statecraft, and business they demanded quick returns. They disliked perspective, and seemed unfitted to take the long look.

During the generation that followed the war there was swift material increase—indeed, an expansion that was almost fabulous. Church, politics, and trade were under pressure to drive the present issue, and this they did at daring cost. If there was scant consideration for the root principles of greatness, it was because men became obsessed with the idea of "bigness." Wide-ness of spread was more esteemed than fineness of grain or strength of texture. In such an atmosphere stewardship was stifled like an oak tree in a hothouse; for stewardship is a hardy growth; it requires stiff soil, a wide sky, and the years.

We do not gird at the achievements of a great era. If any would contend that the social and religious development from 1865 to 1900 was wholly normal, and the natural expression of its own generation, we cordially consent. We are even prepared to affirm that an era of immoderate expansion was necessary at that time. Nevertheless, the solemn menace of this present hour is that same huge but unbalanced social and economic fabric which was builded after the Civil War. It is the task of our own day to hold the social and economic structure, which we have inherited, strong and unshaken, lest the threatening menace of our generation be accomplished in a social and industrial collapse. Much of the hasty construction of the last generation must be torn down, some of it must be remodeled, while the whole of it must be underlaid with foundations that shall reach the living rock. In such a task failure to appreciate the problem of the last generation would prophesy failure to understand our own.

We have said that the men of the last generation became opportunists, but we have not written of the intense human compulsion which made such a result almost inevitable. In the first place, there was the church. The task which confronted her at the close of the war was appalling. Nor could the problem wait while wise men pondered; something must be done, and done quickly. Four millions of freedmen needed the training of the schools, but, for them, there were neither schools nor teachers. Both must be provided. A task no less exacting awaited her on the Western frontier; home-seekers were filling the fertile prairies, and this new empire must be preempted for the kingdom of God. Educational foundations were to be provided in the older States, commodious and modern church buildings to be erected in the centers of population, a constantly enlarging work in the foreign mission fields to be supported, the newly launched women's missionary enterprises and the work of temperance to be strengthened and encouraged—these were some of the responsibilities which began to press upon the leadership of the church, responsibilities which could not be voided.

The demand was for money. In all faith, when the people's money flows freely for the vital purposes of the Kingdom, it is the surest token that the heart of the people is drawn out toward righteousness. But money may be had at far too high a cost. When the administrator of trust funds confuses the title of property, and imagines he owns what he can only administer, the generous intent of any gift which he may bestow becomes an ethical indirection. The gift itself may perform an actual and permanent service, but the failure to recognize rightful ownership vitiates the soil, and honorable stewardship shrivels at the root.

Thus it came about that the American churches, during the last third of the nineteenth century, pressed a winning campaign for immediate financial advance, but neglected to teach the primary ethics of property. The really great stewardship literature, which was produced from 1850 to 1855, was permitted to lapse, and presently fell out of print. "The Great Reform," as the stewardship revival had been ably characterized, and which had begun with such genuine promise before the war, faded into a dim memory. Various financial expedients for raising supplies were practiced by the churches. During that earlier stewardship revival the folly and weakness of such expedients were clearly recognized and plainly pointed out, but, in the absence of stewardship teaching, they were again adopted.

Church finance now came to be a veritable fine art. "Money-raising" was an essential part of a minister's program; indeed, without some gift as a "financier" a minister had scant opportunity for success or preferment. In the larger sphere of general church extension there was demand and opportunity for the development of actual financial genius. Here it was that shrewdness and finesse took the place of frank statements and plain accounts. The very skill and success of the great "money-raisers" of the last generation obscured the basal meaning of stewardship. The tender song, the rousing address, the moving appeal, all this became part of the method by which men were persuaded to "give." But a thoughtful reckoning of one's stewardship, and a deep life-purpose of loyalty in the discharge of it—these were not easily adjusted to the overwhelming pressure for an immediate offering.

The plan of annual or other stated "collections," with special attractions for the day in music, program, or speech, became the accepted method of educating the churches. The stewardship teaching of the early fifties had pointed out how wholly futile such a method must be, and had earnestly warned the churches against it; nevertheless, as an expedient for producing immediate revenue, it became widely popular. That it brought about its own inevitable reaction is a matter of current history. Collections in the churches multiplied. "Missionary Day" or "Freedmen's Day" no longer stirred the jaded interest of the people. An annual budget to cover all congregational expenses and all benevolent offerings presently succeeded the plan of special collections. In many churches the responsibility of "raising the apportionments" became a burden if not a drudgery, and many a minister found himself unhappily engaged in a quest for money rather than for men. It has been a cruel awakening for more than one minister to discover that the man and his money were both alienated from him.

In the aggregate, great sums have been contributed by the American churches. Individuals here and there, and occasionally an entire congregation, have understood that property is a trust and money the token of it; but when one remembers the vast wealth of the American people and the unmeasured needs of the modern Christian advance, it is easily apparent that the principles and methods of stewardship are as yet but dimly recognized. Had church leaders at the close of the Civil War resumed their interrupted plan of education, so that a new generation, beginning with the children, could have received Christian training in the meaning of money and of stewardship, our own day would have been far advanced in a Christian program of finance. Expediency, as a substitute for ethics, is costly business.

It is not our purpose to write political history. Therefore a paragraph must record what volumes could scarce contain—the political opportunism which characterized the last generation. If the days of national reconstruction were marked by bitterness, if partisan politics held full mastery, if commercialism in national life controlled the Congress and the Legislatures, if, in a word, great principles of state were dwarfed to fit a passing expediency, it was because there was but small recognition of our place of stewardship among the nations. Vital idealism, which marked the beginnings of the republic, and which swelled to a passion of consecration in the days before the Civil War, had been cheapened into the question of the stock-pit—"What margin of profit will there be, and how soon can we realize?"

But God was mindful of us and of his Kingdom. He placed other lands, as wards, in our hands, and said: "Fulfill ye this stewardship, and ye shall have yet other burdens." To-day the man or the party that expects the suffrage of the American people must know and understand this new vitalism which is permeating American politics. It is the New Stewardship.