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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/505

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ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF LIFE INSURANCE.

insurance schemes, most of which were ridiculous, while many were intentional frauds. The failures that necessarily followed created distrust and retarded the efforts that were just beginning to be made to introduce legitimate life insurance.

But a new era had begun in the history of the English people. The cessation of internal strife, the settlement of fundamental, constitutional questions, the increase of material prosperity, the greater power and intelligence of the people, and the growth of large towns, particularly London, had completely changed the conditions of society as compared with previous centuries. Selfishness and brutality gradually yielded to more forethought and refined feeling; family ties grew warmer and more generous. Comforts were greater, life and property more secure, and everything tended to a more vivid desire in thoughtful men to provide for their families in the contingency of their own death. The feeling was most pronounced among the clergy and other professional classes, and associations began to form to accomplish that purpose. The conditions on which they were based were somewhat similar to those even now in vogue, with benevolent institutions having the same object in view. On the death of a member, his heirs would receive a certain contribution from the surviving members.

Such arrangements, when a mere subordinate feature of benevolent societies, may work well for a time, but they can not serve as substitutes for life-insurance companies. These can only be founded on scientific principles, and all other devices must be futile and short-lived, as a century's experience has amply shown. The difficulties to be encountered were clearly foreseen and explained by the mathematicians of the day, and their labors did not prove in vain. In 1761 a number of gentlemen petitioned Parliament for a charter for a life-insurance association. They met with opposition, on the ground that the undertaking was purely speculative, devoid of any merit, and sure to fail. The charter not being granted, they organized in 1765, as a mutual insurance company, under the title of "The Equitable Society."

They were the first to issue policies for life, for a fixed amount, and at premiums not merely conjectural. Still, for a number of years their progress was very slow. But the public mind was agitated on the subject, and many men of superior ability were absorbed by it. Most prominent among these was Dr. Price, an unsuccessful Unitarian preacher, who had contributed many excellent papers to the "Philosophical Transactions," and published treatises on annuity values. He was consulted by one of the many insurance societies then forming, all of which he found started on a basis sure to lead to ruin. As he expressed it, "All London seems to be entering societies of this sort," and he determined to examine the subject thoroughly. What appeared an easy task proved the arduous labor of many years. The London mortality bills could not serve as a proper basis for insurance