James A. Field, Jr., and

Tim Matthewson

The idea of philanthropy, of concern for the welfare of the human race, has from the beginning been so tightly interwoven with other aspects of the American experience that the strand is difficult to disentangle. To many, the survival of the colonies and the success of the new nation were works of philanthropy: John Winthrop, colonial governor of Massachusetts, spoke of the "city on a hill"; aspiring revolutionaries felt themselves to be forwarding "humanity's extended cause"; to the young Herman Melville "national selfishness [was] unbounded philanthropy"; to Abraham Lincoln the nation was the last best hope of earth. In the active sense, as well, the philanthropic purpose appeared with the first attempts at colonization. The Virginia Company and Massachusetts Bay Company charters included the propagation of the Christian religion among the principal ends of these enterprises; this aim was reflected in the work of John Eliot, the apostle to the Indians, and in the concern of Cotton Mather and Samuel Sewall for the evangelization of Mexico.

Despite this background, accomplishments during the colonial period were small: the requirements of survival governed; missionary work among the Indians proved unrewarding and among black slaves was precluded as an interference with local self-government. The development of active American philanthropy dates from the first half-century of independence, which in this area, as in so many others, imposed an abiding structure upon American attitudes and institutions. Success in the Revolution produced a confidence in an American worldview in which philanthropy and self-interest happily appeared to coincide, and which led, in the external sphere, to a beginning export of American answers to the problems of the human race. In politics this brought forth a bias in favor of liberal revolution, self-determination, and economic freedom that would inform the conduct of foreign affairs through the period of Woodrow Wilson's missionary diplomacy, and beyond.

Faith in applied science and in the educability of mankind encouraged Americans to take service with foreign rulers in order to teach a generalized modernity, which focused in the early years on military skills, agriculture, and the mechanic arts. While proffering the gift of salvation, the greatest gift of all, an expanding foreign missionary movement took with it powerful cultural influences: literacy, educational systems, new techniques, civil servants, and advisers. With the growing wealth of America there developed a notable philanthropy in the narrower sense of the giving of money or goods or skills, first for the relief of disaster and subsequently for measures of constructive social policy and cultural preservation. Originally manifested in extemporized individual or group activity, these endeavors in time became institutionalized in such organizations as the American Red Cross and the major foundations, while their political and modernizing aspects attracted increased government participation.

The efforts to transfer American ideas, skills, and institutions to those "dwelling in darkness" had, prior to the development of American funding agencies, an inevitable admixture of careerism; nevertheless, the early work of individuals established precedents on which organized philanthropy, with its inherited assumption of the malleability of mankind, could subsequently build. The latter years of the eighteenth century saw the work of the American Tory, Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, in Bavarian administrative reform, and John Paul Jones's brief command of the Russian Black Sea fleet. The French Revolution attracted the helpful efforts of Joel Barlow, Thomas Paine, and Robert Fulton. New waves of revolution, first in the New World and then in the Old World, emphasized the relation between military skills and the universal benefits of freedom and self-determination: Americans held important posts in the revolutionary navies of Argentina and Mexico; the Greek War of Independence drew American philhellenes across the Atlantic; American naval constructors rebuilt the Ottoman navy after Navarino.


Anheier, Helmut K., and Stefan Toepler, eds. Private Funds, Public Purpose: Philanthropic Foundations in International Perspective. New York, 1999.

Arnove, Robert F., ed. Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad. Bloomington, Ind., 1980.

Chambers, Clarke A., and Beverly Stadum. An Exploration of New Themes in the Study of American Philanthropy Arising from Archival Research. Bloomington, Ind., 1998.

Curti, Merle Eugene. American Philanthropy Abroad: A History. New Brunswick, N.J., 1963. Though dated regarding its context and inclusiveness, still the best survey.

Curti, Merle Eugene, and Kendall Birr. Prelude to Point Four: American Technical Missions Overseas, 1838–1938. Madison, Wis., 1954.

Daniel, Robert L. American Philanthropy in the Near East, 1820–1960. Athens, Ohio, 1970.

Davis, David Brion. The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture. Ithaca, N.Y., 1966.

β€”β€”. The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770–1823. New York, 1999. This work and the preceding book discuss the antislavery movement as a form of philanthropy.

DeConde, Alexander. Ethnicity, Race and American Foreign Policy: A History. Boston, 1992. Provides fresh insight on politics of foreign policy.

Dennis, James S. Christian Missions and Social Progress: A Sociological Study of Foreign Missions. 3 vols. New York, 1898–1906. Discusses nineteenth-century philanthropy.

Field, James A., Jr. America and the Mediterranean World, 1776–1882. Princeton, N.J., 1969. Information on early American philanthropy.

Ilchman, Warren F., Stanley N. Katz, and Edward L. Queen II, eds. Philanthropy in the World's Traditions. Philanthropic Studies Series. Bloomington, Ind., 1998. Information on philanthropy in Western and non-Western societies.

Jordan, Winthrop D. White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550–1812. New York, 1977.

King, Kenneth. Pan-Africanism and Education: A Study of Race Philanthropy and Education in the Southern States of America and East Africa. Oxford, 1971.

Lewis, Robert Ellsworth. The Educational Conquest of the Far East. New York, 1903.

Maren, Michael. The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity. Glencoe, Ill., 1996. Twentieth-century philanthropy.

Miller, Christopher L. Prophetic Worlds: Indians and Whites on the Columbia Plateau. New Brunswick, N.J., 1985.

Morris, David. Gift from America: The First Fifty Years of CARE. Atlanta, 1996.

Nichols, Bruce, and Gil Loescher, eds. The Moral Nation: Humanitarianism and U.S. Foreign Policy Today. South Bend, Ind., 1989.

Osgood, Robert Endicott. Ideals and Self-Interest in America's Foreign Relations: The Great Transformation of the Twentieth Century. Chicago, 1953.

Saillant, John. Black, White and "The Charitable Blessed": Race and Philanthropy in the American Early Republic. Bloomington, Ind., 1998.

Schneewind, Jerome B., ed. Giving: Western Ideas of Philanthropy. Bloomington, Ind., 1996.

Schrift, Alan D., ed. The Logic of the Gift: Toward an Ethic of Generosity. New York, 1997. Provides anthropological perspectives on gift giving.

Schwantes, Robert S. Japanese and Americans: A Century of Cultural Relations. New York, 1955.

Wall, Joseph Frazier. Andrew Carnegie. 2d ed. Pittsburgh, 1989.

See also Cultural Relations and Policies ; Foreign Aid ; Humanitarian Intervention and Relief ; Religion ; Wilsonian Missionary Diplomacy .

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