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A True American Leader.

Mercy to animals is mercy to mankind- Henry Bergh.

Amanda N Llerena
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Amanda Llerena

Professor Rachlin

BUS 109

4 November 2017

Henry Bergh: A True American Leader

What is leadership? According to, leadership can be defined as the

position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group. The website also

defines the word leader as a person or thing that leads. However, I believe true leadership goes

much deeper than the black and white definition. The person I chose to write about was Henry

Bergh, the founder of the first humane society in North America: the American Society for the

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, also known as ASPCA. It was found in 1866, and currently in

2017, remains one of the largest in the world.

A leader doesnt always mean somebody who is trying to do good, for example, Adolf

Hitler. A worthy inspirational leader should obtain these important characteristics: conviction,

competence, direction, and assertiveness. However, most importantly they should hold integrity,

empathy, humility, and of course, passion. I wanted to do my research on somebody who not

only changed our world for the better, but the defenseless as well. Bergh was able to accomplish

this when he started ASPCA on April 10th, 1866 changing America forever.

Henry Bergh was a philanthropist and diplomat. According to Tammy Kiter, he was born

in 1813 and raised in the Lower East Side of New York. His father, Christian Bergh, left a

substantial fortune to his son when he died. Because of his inheritance, Bergh could stop

working, live very comfortable, and travel the world with his wife. Bergh was also very involved

with politics; mentioned in the article written by Stephen Zawistowskis, in 1863 Abraham
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Lincoln appointed him to the United States Embassy in Russia, serving as a secretary of the

delegation. What Bergh didnt know was that this trip was going to be a trip that would change

the way Americans viewed animals forever. Its important to remember that back in the 1800s,

animals were just viewed as property to most people. It was one night in Russia that Bergh was a

witness to the heinous act: the beat down of a defenseless horse by a Russian. This was

something that was normal back then, but Bergh didnt see it like that any longer. He felt

empathy for this horse, resulting in him to bravely dismount from his own carriage and

intervene, saving that horses life. This was the moment that Bergh believed he could have a

positive influence on this world. After this event, Bergh resigned from his position in Russia to

go back to America because he believed it was his calling to work on behalf of these mute

servants of mankind. On his way back, he stopped in England to meet the President of the

Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). He did this to become more

competent in what he was going to address when he came back to the states and learn how the

RSPCA worked.

On February 8th, 1866, almost immediately after his return, Henry Bergh took an

independent stand for the voiceless at the Clinton Hall. According to, Berghs

speech closed with the following.... This is a matter purely of conscience; it has no perplexing

side issues. Politics has no more to do with it than astronomy. No, it is a moral question in all its

aspects. This closing, along with multiple horrific stories he had been a witness to, is what

inspired many dignitaries to sign his Declaration of the Rights of Animals. Not long after, on

April 10th, 1866, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals came to

existence. And just nine days after that, America passed its first anti-cruelty law, launching the

capability for the ASPCA to investigate complaints and to make arrests.

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The ASPCA was something that Henry was passionate about. He was very proactive in

his organization because he wanted to change the world and you cant change the world if you sit

on the side lines. Henry Bergh took hands on action in his work, Kiter states in her article how

Henry was known to physically and verbally intervene when he saw something relating to animal

abuse. Not only did he put himself in danger, he also showed humility by using his own inherited

resources to support the ASPCA. He gained the support of many Americans by taking a stand,

and not only being assertive in the change he wanted to see but informational about it as well.

Bergh also had support by notable figures like the writers, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo

Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. To many, Henry Bergh was an astounding hero,

somebody who was changing this world for the better. Theres a popular saying that what goes

up, must come down. Metaphorically, this was the case with ASPCA, specifically Henry Bergh.

He quickly became known as the great meddler to those whose businesses he interfered

because of his noble movement. Did this stop him? Absolutely not! He recognized the abuse he

received, but instead of fighting back and losing focus, he decided to forget about himself

completely. He disconnected the ridicule, the death threats, and the abuse resulting of his mission

and never lost focus on what mattered or his real goal in life: to change the perception of others

when it came to animals wellbeing.

The snowball effect happened relatively quickly. After the finding of the ASPCA,

multiple laws came into existence shortly after, spreading to other states as well. The first animal

ambulance was invented a year later in 1867 and by 1870 there were drinking fountains in public

areas for animals as well, according to Kiter. When ASPCA began, the start of a second SPCA

formed in Buffalo the next year, following another in Philadelphia, and then Boston a year after

that. Bergh believed that since humans relied so much on animals, that animals deserve
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acknowledgement of their rights for humane treatment. It started with horses, and now look at

the ASPCA over a century later. The voice for the defenseless wasnt only for animals because

by the year 1874, Bergh influenced activists to find the New York Society for the Prevent of

Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC), where he also served as their first vice president.

Henry Bergh was only the beginning, and the ASPCA is his legacy. He was a model for

others to start humane organizations and by the year 1888 (the year Bergh passed), 37 out of the

38 then states had passed anti-cruelty laws. Though he couldnt see that last state pass their law,

Im sure he knows he accomplished his goal and the incredible difference he has made in this

planet today. I chose Henry Bergh as a historical leader because I believe he made the biggest

difference of all: helping the helpless. He showed constant integrity, empathy, humility, passion;

as well as conviction, competence, direction, and assertiveness everything that makes great

leadership. Im an activist myself when it comes to saving/recusing animals, and my life goal is

to start a sanctuary of my own. Everybody knows about the ASPCA, but I never knew about

Henry Bergh, I dont believe most people do, and its ashamed. After doing an abundance of

research on him, he deserves more recognition than given. The ASPCA was the first organization

that involved the protection of animals and because of him, thousands of SPCAs exist today.

Henry Bergh, I thank you, you are not only a true American leader, you are a hero.

Fig 1. Above you can see a brief timeline of the ASPCA since the finding in 1867. Anything after

1866, is all thanks to Henry Bergh. (Gagnon02,

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Work Cited

April 10, 1866: ASPCA is Founded. History. A&E Networks, 2009. Web. 02 Nov 2017

Eschner, Kat. The ASPCAs Founder Was Known as the The Great Meddler.

Smithsonianmag. Np, 10 April 2017. Web. 02 Nov 2017.

Gagnon02. History of the ASPCA. Timetoast. Np, Nd. Web. 01 Nov 2017.

History of the ASPCA. ASPCA. Np, 2017. Web. 01 Nov 2017.

Kiter, Tammy. Henry Bergh: Angel in Top Hat or the Great Meddler? Blog.NYhistory. Edward

OReilly, 21 Mar 2012. Web. 01 Nov 2017.

Zawistowski, Stephen. Bergh, Henry. Learningtogive.. Praeger Publishers, 2007. Web. 01 Nov