Why Some Succeed While Others Fail: Amos Lawrence

Amos Lawrence was born April 22nd, 1786. He was a weak child, consequently could not attend school, but his mother did not neglect him. When only thirteen years old he became a clerk in a country store. In this store was kept everything in the hardware line, from a plow to a needle; in the textile line, from a horse-blanket to a pocket handkerchief; then you could buy the productions usually found in a vegetable garden,—everything was kept, even to Jamaica rum and drugs for the sick; a good place, indeed, for a bright, active boy to gain new ideas. Each country store, in those days, had its bar, and the clerks were as likely to be called on to mix drinks, as they were to be asked to measure off dry goods, and it was considered as honorable. Not only this, but it was customary for clerks to take a drink themselves, but young Lawrence determined to neither drink nor smoke. True, he liked the taste of liquor, and enjoyed a quiet smoke, but he argued that such pleasures, not only eat up profits already earned, but left the system in a poor condition to earn more. When we consider that he was a mere lad of thirteen, or at best fourteen, when he had decided upon this honorable course, and when we think that at least, for the time being, these luxuries would have cost nothing, we are constrained to say, no wonder he became a rich man.

If our young men would only save the money they yearly smoke up and spend for other needless things, we would have clearer headed and much wealthier men. Our young men all desire to gain wealth and the highest enjoyments possible in this world, but are not willing to pay for them. If they would examine the lives of a great many of our most wealthy and influential men of to-day, they would be surprised to learn how few even smoke.

If you see a man with a high hat, gaudily dressed, smoking and seemingly inviting your attention at some horse trot, where he is making a great display of wealth in the way of bets, you can set it down as pretty certain that that man is a clerk working for $10 or $15 per week, or at best, a mere curb-stone broker who will never rise to anything higher. Real wealth and distinction never invite your attention. One would hardly take that plain old gentleman, walking along the street yonder, for other than a country deacon, yet the check of Russell Sage will be recognized and honored to the amount of millions. Jay Gould never enjoys himself more than when at home.

We spend as a nation now, every year, nine hundred millions for liquor and three hundred and fifty millions for tobacco. Total, one billion, two hundred and fifty millions. One billion, two hundred and fifty millions thrown away. More than twice what we use for bread and meat. Then look at that vast waste of unearned wages. Man can’t do two things well at one time. In our large cities we have, of late, seen drunken men, with pipes in their mouths, carrying about the streets a banner inscribed, “bread or blood.” They propose to make those who have worked intelligently for money, now divide. Would it not look far more sensible if the banner bore the inscription, henceforth, I will boycott the tobacconist, and will vote for no man who is not pledged to suppress the saloon oligarchy?

Amos Lawrence had not the benefit of the philanthropic teaching of our age, but he had a common sense, and a sense of taste and judgment far in advance of his time. These were the principles with which he laid the foundation to that great fortune and enviable reputation which he lived to enjoy, and which his name will ever recall. We have seen that good habits were the foundation of his success. He also improved his opportunities. He became perfectly familiar with the drug department of the store. He determined early in life to become a wealthy and influential man. To determine to do anything is half the battle. “Doubt indulged becomes doubt realized.” “To think a thing impossible is to make it so.” “Courage is victory, timidity is defeat.” Men who understand these maxims are men who invariably succeed. I say invariably—a man may think he understands when he is groping in midnight darkness. A young man who really is destined to succeed, not only intends to become a rich man, or whatever he aspires to be, but lays plans to that end, and is not discouraged if they are blasted. He only recognizes that he is foiled, for the time being, and never doubts his ability to succeed ultimately. There is a difference between a blustering braggadocio and a quiet, unassuming confidence in one’s self. One leads to certain victory, the other, to as certain defeat.

Young Lawrence had served his seven long years of apprenticeship, and had no better opportunity presented itself, he would have succeeded, for he had his plans carefully laid to remain in Groton, and if he had, he would have succeeded. But a merchant who had seen him at the store of his employer, no sooner learned of his release than he immediately hired him to come to Boston to enter his store there. “Seest thou a man diligent in his business, he shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men.” Thither he went part of the way on foot; the rest of the way with an accommodating neighbor who was driving in that direction. He determined to make for himself here a record for honesty, and so well did he succeed, that the next year he started business for himself, his principal capital being his reputation and acknowledged ability. He developed a system in his business; he paid every bill on the spot; if he could not pay cash, instead of the regular custom of book accounts, he gave his note, thus no complications could arise to embarrass him. He knew when the money was expected on every bill, and made his calculation, and was never known to be taken by surprise. He was reasonably cautious—he never would promise to do what he might possibly be unable to accomplish. He prospered—of course he would. Such business principles, pushed by system as Lawrence pushed them, must bring success to any young man.

Another thing, to any one who may now imagine he, perhaps, entered business on the tide of prosperity, we desire simply to say, on the contrary, from 1808 to 1815 was one of the dullest periods our mercantile history can recount. No, “luck” did not favor him, but “pluck” did. He pushed his mercantile business for years, amassing an immense fortune. Our country was then new, and he had to import most of his merchandise from England, but as he ever made a study of his business, concluded that he would start manufacturing industries here, which would prove not only profitable to himself, but of inestimable value to us as a nation. In accordance with these motives, he was largely instrumental in connection with the Lowells in building up the flourishing cities of Lowell and Lawrence.

He never speculated in stocks. Young men, there is no money in stocks to the average man. Not even in legitimate stock dealing, to say nothing of the numerous watered concerns. We were looking over a paper recently when our attention was attracted to a paragraph which explained that in a transaction which involved 8,000 bushels of wheat, it was found that the odds against the buyer was over 22 per cent. While wheat is not stocks, still a good rule would be never to go into anything unless the chances are at least equal.

Amos Lawrence once said: “Young man, base all your actions upon a sense of right, and in doing so, never reckon the cost.” What a glorious principle for any young man—a principle he would find hard to follow in many stock speculations. “Even exchange is no robbery.” It is not even exchange to bet and take a man’s money; and it makes little difference whether you bet on a horse’s gait or the grain he will eat next month. At another time he said: “Good principles, good temper, and good manners will carry a young man through the world much better than he can get along with the absence of either.” His sayings are numerous, yet every one is worthy of attention; all of them have a golden thought for old and young.

Mr. Lawrence did not give away in large amounts to institutions of learning, but he kept two rooms in his house wholly for the storage of articles designed to relieve poor people. One contained clothing of every description; the other, food and other necessaries of life. He gave away during his life, over $700,000, and when he died people mourned that he had gone, for there were none left that could take his place. Ah! this is success. He died December 31st, 1852.