This letter was written by Joseph D. Drinker (1772-1834). He was married to Ann Bartow (1779-1819). We learn from this letter that Drinker had at least three girls attending the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; — Elizabeth, Martha and Mary.
Drinker wrote the letter to Rev. Charles Frederick Seidel (1778-1861) who came to the United States from Dresden, Saxony. He studied theology, taught at Gnadenfeld, Silesia, and in 1860 received a call as assistant minister at Salem, N.C. In 1809 he married Sophia D. Reichel, and served as Principal of Nazareth Hall, as minister at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and for 14 years as Principal of the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies, until the Synod of 1836. Later he was elected a member of the Provincial Helpers’ Conference, and retired in 1856.
Addressed to Charles F. Seidel, Esq., Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Poplar Grove [Burlington, New Jersey]
25 February 1823
I am favored with yours of 17th inst. to which you desire my answer. Give me leave, in the first place, to assure you that I was aware, from general information, that the individual interest or emolument of yourself could have no agency in, or in any degree enter into the motives for raising the price of board &c. at Bethlehem School. I make this explanatory remark now, that I may be understood, in some remarks I may have made, as well as what I may make that may wear the semblance of personality, as neither having meant, nor meaning them as such, except in so far only as as you may be influential or concerned conjointly with others in managing the affairs of the Institution, in which I have no doubt your views are exclusively directed to its advantage, however mistaken you may possibly be, this the fallibility of human judgment, in some of the means to this end.
You tell me you have to wait years for payment in many instances, and in others sustain total losses, and instance the losses of the last year as amounting to $2,000. This has absolutely amazed me, and undoubtedly cries aloud for a remedy. It is true I have occasionally heard of complaints from other boarding schools of a general dilatoriness in payment, and of total losses in some instances, but never anything like this before. A remedy for this evil, I have no hesitation to admit, ought severely to be applied, but it should be effectual without violating any principle of moral rectitude, and such a remedy readily suggests itself. But the expedient of advancing the price of board &c. which you intimate as having been caused by the evil in question, appears to me not consonant to sound policy because calculated rather to defeat than promote the end in view. For with respect to those who do not mean to pay, it is of no consequence how much the price is advanced, while those habitually regular & systematic in their monies operations, being in general calculating men, attentive to good management & economy, will naturally look about them to see where they can be as well served at less cost. Thus it may be that while the number of those who pay are diminishing, the number of those who do not may be increased in supplying their places, so that the means intended as a remedy might consequently turn out a two-fold injury, like a two-edged sword — cutting both ways.
But if this remedy is forbid by sound policy, it seems to me ever still more objectionable in a moral point of view. My meaning herein may be best illustrated by putting a supposed case. Suppose then that on a well digested view & accurate calculation the cost of board &c. of 100 scholars, salaries of teachers & all contingent expenses, should amount to $9,000, that $1000 should be deemed a satisfactory profit, and that on this basis 100 pupils were accordingly received at $100 annum. This would produce $10,000 — the sum required to discharge all the expenses attending the establishment and have the required profit. But suppose further that 50 of those scholars should be paid for and the remaining 50 not paid for, and that the managers determine in consequence to make up the defalcation by raising the price of board &c. to $200, as the means to attain this end. Thereby, in this direct way, exacting from those who do pay $110 profit with $90 cost, instead of $10 profit & $90 cost, as originally agreed on, thereby obliging the correct not only to pay for their own children, but also for an equal number of the children of the incorrect — thereby looking to an indemnity from the pockets of the honest for the losses sustained thro’ the dishonest. Thereby, in short, seeking a desirable end through unjust means; not however as some politicians who, with their eyes upon open, have held the pernicious maxim that “the end justifies the means” — for I take your Society, generally speaking, to be too much under the influence of religious obligation to be capable of a moral wrong (seeing it as such) towards anyone.
Let us then enquire whether a resort to such expedient would not operate a moral wrong toward those whose conduct rather entitled them to reciprocal justice? And if so, is not the principle equally applicable to a greater or lesser wrong? Surely an affirmative can be the only answer — but this matter may not have been viewed in the light in which it has presented itself to my mind; and very possibly I may in some degree have been deluding myself by refining over much, tho’ I cannot persuade myself that the ground I have taken is altogether untenable. Be that however, as it may, I believe I ought to apologize for so heavily taxing your time with (what you will probably think) needless & unprofitable scribbling; but in answering this point of your letter, I was led into a train of thought that insensibly carried me further than I intended.
I regard the proposition contained in your letter of rescinding & annulling — as far as it relates to me — your resolution enhancing the price for board &c. and continuing with one the term I originally agreed to, as tho’ no enhancement of price had since then been made, I answer that as I have yet taken no decisive step to divest myself of the power, I — in like manner — rescind & annul my intention of removing my children from Bethlehem School at an earlier period that previously contemplated, viz: Mary in the spring, Martha in the fall or following spring, and Elizabeth undetermined, but perhaps not till one or two younger ones are old enough to be placed out at school.
As in my last letter to Martha, I intimated the probability of my bringing them all home in the spring, and as I find by a letter just received from Elizabeth that she & Martha calculate on it as a certainty, I now think it right to receive them in this particular, and have accordingly written to Elizabeth for this purpose a few lines, heron enclosed, which pray deliver.
Very respectfully yours, — J. D. Drinker