A Message To Garcia

By Elbert Green Hubbard

The following is an article by Elbert Green Hubbard, a businessman, printer and writer whose most successful publication was A Message to Garcia (1899). It was reprinted in the millions at the time. You will enjoy reading it. 

Elbert Hubbard

      In all this Cuban business there is one man stands out on the horizon of memory like Mars at perihelion.

      When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain fastnesses of Cuba – no one knew where. No mail or telegraph message could reach him. The President must secure his co-operation, and quickly.

      What to do!

      Someone said to the President, “This is a fellow by the name of Rowan who will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.”

      Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How the “fellow by the name of Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in an oilskin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the island, having traversed a hostile country on foot and delivered his letter to Garcia – are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail. the point that I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?”

      By the Eternal! There is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing – “Carry a message to Garcia.”

      General Garcia is dead now, but there are other Garcias. No man who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise where many hands were needed, but has been well-nigh appalled at times by the imbecility of the average man – the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it.

      Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook or threat he forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God in His goodness performs a miracle, and sends him an Angel of Light for an assistant.

      You, reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office – six clerks are within call. Summon any one and make a request: “Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio.”

      Will the clerk quietly say, “yes, sir,” and go and do the task?

      On your life he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask one or more of the following questions:

      Who was he?

      Which encyclopedia?

      Was I hired for that?

      Don’t you mean Bismark?

      What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?

      Is he dead?

      Is there any hurry?

      Shan’t I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?

      What do you want to know for?

      And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him try to find Garcia – and then come back and tell you there is no such man. Of course I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Averages I will not.

     Now, if you are wise, you will not bother to explain to your “assistant” that Correggio is indexed under C’s, not K’s, but you will smile sweetly and say, “never mind,” and go look it up yourself. And this incapacity of independent action, the moral stupidity, the infirmity of the will, this unwillingness to cheerfully catch hold and lift – these are the things that put pure Socialism so far into the future. If men will not act for themselves, what will they do when the benefit of their effort is for all?

      A first mate with knotted club seems necessary; and the dread of getting “the bounce” Saturday night holds many a worker in place. Advertise for a stenographer, and nine out of ten who apply can neither spell or punctuate – and do not think it necessary to do so.

      Can such a one write a letter to Garcia?

      “You see that book-keeper,” said the foreman to me in a large factory.

      “Yes; what about him?”

      “Well, he’s a fine accountant, but if I’d send him up town on an errand, he might accomplish the errand all right, and on the other hand, might stop at four saloons on the way, and when he got to Main Street would forget what he had been sent for.”

      Can such a man be entrusted to carry a message to Garcia?

      We have recently been hearing much maudlin sympathy expressed for the “downtrodden denizens of the sweatshop” and the “homeless wanderer searching for honest employment,” and with it all often go many hard words for the men in power.

      Nothing is said about the employer who grows old before his time in a vain attempt to get frowzy ne’er-do-wells to do intelligent work; and his long, patient striving after “help” that does nothing but loaf when his back is turned. In every store and factory there is a constant weeding-out process going on. The employer is constantly sending away “help” that have shown their incapacity to further the interests of the business, and others are being taken on. No matter how good times are, this sorting continues: only, if times are hard and work is scarce, the sorting is done finer – but out and forever out the incompetent and unworthy go. It is survival of the fittest. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the best – those who can carry a message to Garcia.

      I know one man of really brilliant parts who has not the ability to manage a business of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to anyone else, because he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his employer is oppressing, or intending to oppress him. He cannot give orders, and will not receive them. Should a message be given to take to Garcia, his answer would probably be, “Take it yourself!”

      Of course, I know that one so morally deformed is no less to be pitied than a physical cripple; but in our pitying let us drop a tear, too, for the men who are striving to carry on a great enterprise, whose hair is fast turning white through the struggle to hold in line dowdy indifference, slipshod imbecility, and the heartless ingratitude which, but for their enterprise, would be both hungry and homeless.

      Have I put the matter too strongly? Possibly I have; but when all the world has gone a-slumming I wish to speak a word of sympathy for the man who succeeds – the man who, against all odds, has directed the efforts of others, and having succeeded, finds there’s nothing in it: nothing but bare board and cloths. I have carried a dinner-pail and worked for day’s wages, and I have also been an employer of labour, and I know there is something to be said on both sides. There is no excellence per se, in poverty; rags are no recommendation; and all employers are not rapacious and highhanded, any more than all poor men are virtuous. My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the “boss” is away, as well as when he is home. And the man who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking for any idiotic questions, and with no lurking intention of chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets “laid off,” nor has to go on strike for higher wages. Civilization is one long, anxious search for such individuals. Anything such a man asks shall be granted. He is wanted in every city, town and village – in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such; he is needed and needed badly – the man who can “Carry a Message to Garcia.”


aught: anything; whatever.

Bismark: Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), German political leader    and first chancellor (chief of government) of Germany from        1871 to 1890.

board: meals provided for pay.

bounce, the: (slang) a discharge from a job.

Correggio: Antonio Allegri da Correggio (1494-1534), Italian painter. His works are mostly on religious subjects.Cuban business: reference to the involvement of Cuba in the events of the Spanish-American War. See also Spanish-American War in this glossary.

denizens: people who frequent or inhabit particular places.

dinner-pail: a pail, bucket or lunch box in which the worker carries his dinner with him.

dowdy: not neat, shabby

.Eternal, by the: (Colloquial) a variation of by God, a mild exclamation expressing surprise, wonder, puzzlement, pleasure or the like. The Eternal is another name for God.

fastesses:strong, safe places, strongholds.

firebrand: a person who arouses angry feelings in others, agitator.

fishy: doubtful or suspicious.

frowzy: slovenly, dirty.

Garcia: Calixto Garcia Iniguez (1836?-1898), Cuban lawyer, soldier and revolutionist. He led the Cuban force in a battle in the Spanish-American War (1898) and was appointed to represent Cuba in the negotiations with the United States for Cuban Independence (1898).

highhanded: domineering; overbearing.

hook or crook, by: (informal) by any means possible. This derives from a law in England in the Middle Ages which restricted peasants from gathering firewood and only allowed them to gather wood easily obtained, such as that that hung low enough in the trees which could be pulled down or cut off with a shepherd’s crook (a staff with a hooked end) or a bill-hook (a hatchet with a hook-shaped blade.)

lay (someone) ten to one:(slang) bet (someone) ten to one; i.e., if proved wrong about the outcome 9of something), pay ten for every one wagered.

life, on your:(informal) you can be sure; certainly. variation of you bet your life.

Mars at perihelion, like: very clearly. Perihelion is the point nearest the Sun in the orbit of a planet. When mars is at perihelion it can be viewed very clearly because Earth is between Mars and the Sun.

maudlin: sentimental in a weak or foolish way.


Mckinley: William McKinley (1843-1901), twenty-fifth president of the United States (1897-1901); US president during the Spanish-American War.

missive: a written message.

ne-er-do-wells: worthless fellows. “Ne’er” is short for “never.”

Number Nine:references to a shoe size.

oilskin: a cloth treated with oil to make it waterproof.

rapacious: greedy.

Rowan: Lieutenant Andrew Summers Rowan (1857-1943).

shan’t: (colloquial) contraction of shall not.

Spanish-American War: a war fought in 1898 between Spain and the United States. Accounts of Spanish mistreatment of Cuban natives had aroused much resentment in the US. The war began as an intervention by the United States on behalf of Cuba, and the US won the war easily.

sweatshop: a place where employees work long hours for low pay under poor working conditions.

well-nigh: very nearly, almost.

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