Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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LOTTERY is a game of chance whose origin dates back to the time of ancient Rome. Contrived first as a means of amusement for the people, it was gradually introduced into their customs, then into their laws; individuals used it as a means of speculation, governments as a fiscal resource; and lotteries figure even to-day in the budget of a great many states.


—The lotteries organized under the Roman emperors after the manner of those which date from the saturnalia, belong to the system of largesses and amusements by which Augustus and his successors controlled the people of Rome. They were the complement of the representations of the circus, and constituted one of the expenses to be paid from the public treasury. From Rome the use of lotteries extended to the cities of Italy and into distant colonies. The eagerness with which the passion for play responded to this at first innocent appeal, suggested to speculators the idea of establishing lotteries on their own account, trusting to the popular cupidity for their support. Thus lotteries outlived the Roman empire and multiplied in Italy, especially in Venice, Genoa and Pisa, where commerce had, in the middle ages, accumulated great wealth, developed luxury, and cultivated an over-great love for gain.


—Lotteries were imported from Italy into France and Germany in the sixteenth century. The instance is cited of a lottery authorized by Francis I. in 1539, to help to defray the expenses of war. Under the following reigns, parliament endeavored to resist them, by addressing remonstrances to the sovereigns, and refusing to record the letters patent which authorized private lotteries. But Mazarin carefully refrained from forbidding the amusement of gaming. The lottery was therefore in great favor in the time of Louis XIII. Finally, under Louis XIV. it was definitely adopted and sanctioned by an edict in the year 1700. "His majesty having noticed the natural inclination of his subjects to risk their money in private lotteries, * * and desiring to afford them an agreeable and easy means of procuring for themselves a sure and considerable revenue for the remainder of their lives, and even of enriching their families, by risking sums so small that they can not cause them any inconvenience, has judged it opportune to establish at the Hótel de Ville at Paris a royal lottery, with prizes to the amount of ten million francs." France was then involved in negotiations concerning the Spanish succession; it was necessary to prepare for new wars and to husband the country's resources which could not be increased in the way of regular taxes already completely drained by the lamentable expedients of the minister Pontchartrain. It was not, therefore, to gratify the natural inclination of his subjects that Louis XIV. established a lottery, it was merely an expedient of the depleted treasury; and it is amusing to observe with what arguments, as false as they are contemptible, the absolute monarch endeavors to justify the edict of 1700.


—After this kind of approval, how could private lotteries, which pretended, after the example of the royal lottery, to offer to good fathers of families an agreeable and easy means of enriching their children, be forbidden? Speculators set vigorously to work, and lotteries were multiplied under every pretext, sometimes for the erection of buildings of public utility, sometimes for the endowment of pious foundations or for the erection of churches. The church of St. Sulpice, in Paris, was built in part from the proceeds of a lottery. This manner of investing money "by intrusting it to chance" had become so popular that it was with the greatest difficulty the government resisted the temptation to establish lotteries itself. If honest Turgot refused to introduce this new item of revenue into his financial plan, his successor Clugny was less scrupulous, and, June 30, 1776, the royal lottery was created, to replace all private lotteries. The state thus assumed the privilege of allowing tax payers to play; a privilege as productive for the state as it was ruinous for the people, for it is estimated that during the last years of the reign of Louis XIV. it brought into the treasury a revenue of from ten to twelve millions.


—By a law of the 22d brumaire of the year II. of the republic (Nov. 12, 1793), the convention abolished the lottery of France "as an invention of despotism to make men silent about their misery, by enticing them on with a hope which aggravates their distress." This suppression lasted but a short time. Four months later a law of the 29th germinal of the year II. (April 18, 1794) established the lottery of the Biens Nationaux, and finally, by a decree of the 9th vendémiatre of the year VI. (Oct. 1, 1797), the directory re-established the lottery on its ancient basis. Governments are like individuals: the want of money demoralizes them. The lottery offered a revenue so sure and convenient that the republicans of the convention, who had exhausted their fiscal resources, began to repent of the laudable inspiration that had induced them to renounce it, and it was again given a place on the budget, of which it was finally deprived only by the law of April 21, 1832, which was promulgated by the government of July. In virtue of this law the royal lottery was suppressed from Jan. 1, 1836, and the same year (1836) a second law, under date of May 21, prohibited private lotteries, which were already beginning to succeed to the inheritance left vacant by the recent suppression of the royal lottery, and which would doubtless have continued much more relentlessly the work of demoralization of which the state would no longer accept either the responsibility or the profits. Lotteries of personal property, the products of which were to be applied to works of charity or to the encouragement of the arts, were excepted from the operation of this law, though subjected to various conditions enumerated later on in the ordinance of May 29, 1844.


—Lotteries were interdicted in England by a statute enacted during the reign of George II., and suppressed in Belgium in 1830, but were maintained in most of the countries of Germany, in Holland, Spain and Italy. But, in the course of the discussions which the French legislation provoked, discussions which, as we have already seen, ended in prohibition, we may say that this tax (for it was a tax, and the lottery appears in the budgets under this title) was condemned in principle, and that it will, sooner or later, disappear from all the countries where it still exists—"The legislators who sanction such a tax," says J. B. Say, "vote a certain number of thefts and suicides every year: there is no pretext of expense that can justify provocation to crime." This anathema so energetically pronounced in the name of political economy, is but the echo of moral sentiment. The lottery is nothing else than a gambling house. Now, would any one believe that the state could become the partner of gamblers, hold the dice or the cards, and incite the passions which rage around the gaming table! It is useless to discuss such a question. Every sort of governmental lottery should be absolutely proscribed.


—But if it is not lawful for the state itself to engage in lotteries, can it interfere in the carrying on of lotteries organized outside of itself for private speculation? Has it here a right to exercise, a duty to perform; or is it, rather, bound to respect the principle of liberty, by abstaining from all interference in the matter, and allowing every one the privilege to act according to his passion or interest? We do not hesitate to declare that liberty does not seem to use to have anything to do in the matter. In the first place, it is a question of moral interest. Now, the principle of liberty ought to be subordinate to the moral law, which rules and inspires all laws. If it be evident that the lottery is an incitement to one of the worst passions which sway the heart of man, that it encourages base cupidity, and is calculated to provoke public scandal, the legislature naturally interferes, and it would fail of its duty if it did not exercise the right it possesses to prevent and repress evil. From an economic point of view it is equally proper to proscribe a business based upon chance, in which wealth, when acquired, is not the fruit of any labor, is acquired only by another's ruin, and is incapable of creating anything. Finally, if considered politically, it should not leave open a school of demoralization, which attracts particularly the poorer classes, and which most frequently deceives their credulity and covetousness, encourages in them only the worst instincts, and embitters their poverty with despair. We do not know whether lotteries have ever served to amuse the people; but they certainly corrupt them.


—To sum up, lotteries under whatever form, whether governmental or private, are blamable and should be forbidden. England, France and Belgium have acted wisely in proscribing them, and it is to be hoped their example will be followed by those countries in which the lottery, retained for fiscal reasons, still resists the reprobation in which it is held. The legislature should not, under any circumstances, recognize or sanction the triumph of chance.


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