Thursday, April 23, 2009

Achievements of a Businessman

In our society, politicians are remembered and eulogized and idolized out of all proportion to their accomplishments. Businesspeople, especially, get the short end of the stick when it comes to recognizing contributions. At worst, they are viewed as parasites; at best, as necessary evils.

I was therefore pleased to come across U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story's dedication of his 1845 treatise on the law of promissory notes. The treatise is dedicated to the wealthy merchant Thomas H. Perkins and includes the following:

You justly stand at the head of our commercial community; and you have achieved this enviable distinction by a life of successful enterprise, in which one knows not which most to praise, the skill, and intelligence, and integrity which have deserved that success, or the liberal spirit and unostentatious hospitality which have constantly been its accompaniments.

Interestingly, while Justice Story notes Perkins's generosity (his "liberal spirit"), the dedication contains no pieties about "giving back to the community" or being a "public servant" in his spare time. Instead, Perkins's success in business is itself a sufficient reason for honoring him.

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