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The outcome of both of these matters will probably be manifest before this article can see the light, but at this present writing it is altogether uncertain. We wish the President could know how entirely the people are with him in this struggle with the boss of the machine, and how much obliged they would be to him for killing him off as a power in the State of New York. Bosses and machine politics are constantly in the way. They are not only in the President's way; they are in the people's way. The President cannot get the men he wants to execute his will, and the people are denied their most earnest wishes, all out of deference to the supposed interests of the machine. If President Garfield wishes to make himself unmistakably and undeniably the most popular man in America, he will make short work with every political boss who lays his insolent hands on him and his prerogatives. There is no mistaking the temper of the people in this matter. They are tired of the dictation of the machine, and they resent its interference with the legitimate sphere of power upon which the man of their choice has entered. Men may hereafter try to ruin where they cannot rule, from revenge, but the edifice which they may succeed in pulling down is sure to crush them in its fall, and so accomplish one great public good, much needed and warmly desired.
P. S. Since the above was placed in type, Mr. Conkling has resigned his place as Senator, and in his absence from the Senate Chamber, Judge Robertson has been confirmed by acclamation; and, at this writing, the question whether Mr. Conkling is to be returned to the Senate, " vindicated" by a legislature that took early occasion to indorse the nomination of Robertson, is undecided. We devoutly trust that he will receive liberty to remain at home. He has been a hindrance, a burden, a political nuisance, ever since the inauguration of Mr. Garfield's administration, and in his voluntary withdrawal from a fight in which he foresaw that he would be worsted, he has given a fearful blow to the machine of which he was the "boss." The talk that some of even Mr. Garfield's friends have indulged in, in regard to the anti-civil-service reform attitude of the President as illustrated in the dismissal of Gen. Merritt, does not seem forcible to us. Anything that mends the machine is in favor of reform. Anything that cripples Conkling is in favor of reform. Gen. Merritt's services in public life have been retained in another field, and a man fully his equal has been appointed as collector. The President, for reasons sufficient for himself, preferred Judge Robertson to Gen. Merritt for this office, and there is no good reason why, preferring him, he should not appoint him. We cannot see how the good of the public service has in any way been compromised by this change.
The Comstock Laws.
WE publish in this number of the magazine an article from the pen of Mr. Courtlandt Palmer, on what are called "The Comstock Laws." He writes
in opposition to those laws, in the interest of "Liberalism," and we publish his article, not because we are convinced by his arguments, but in the interest of fair play; and because the article is, on the whole, the best we have seen on that side of the question. Of the argument on the unconstitutionality of the laws we have nothing to say. There are tribunals where that matter can be settled. It can hardly be settled between Mr. Palmer and the editor; but there are other points that call for comment. plea that it is difficult to define obscenity is, it seems to us, quite frivolous. Laws against obscenity have long existed. The test of obscenity was long ago established by the highest court in England, and the decision has been sustained in America in all the cases tried under our laws. Mr. Palmer's illustration of the prudish maiden and the traveled dame proves, if it prove anything, that one may get so used to dirt that he will not recognize it when he sees it. Mr. Palmer is a man of pure instincts, and there could hardly be a difference of opinion between him and any sensible Christian on any given case involving a charge of obscenity. Practically it is not at all a hard crime to define, and the danger that any one would ever suffer from a loose definition of the word is not worth considering. The difference between a sound apple and a rotten one is too great to permit mistakes to be made.
It is frequently the case that the reasoning of the doctrinaire seems plausible and even sound when facts are kept out of view. If the readers of Mr. Palmer's article will notice the omission, they will see that not one of the evils which, in his view, are involved in the Comstock laws, has been realized. Mr. Comstock, as special agent of the Post-Office, has never profaned a seal in the prosecution of his work, and, so far as individuals or the public are concerned, nobody has been unjustly dealt by. innocent man has suffered through the Comstock laws, but it is quite demonstrable that great good has come to the great public through them. Schemes of fraud that were cruelly preying upon the community have been broken up and banished, in repeated instances. Villains who were robbing their dupes far and wide have been detected through the mails, and the mails themselves have been purged of their lies and their wares, by the aid of these laws. Theoretically, we do not doubt that Mr. Palmer sees great danger in these laws; practically, there is none. Practically, they have demonstrably done great good. If Mr. Palmer will look through Mr. Comstock's recent book, he will find that by the aid of the laws which he condemns great evils have been remedied.
There should something be said, too, in regard to the matter of decoy, of which Mr. Palmer says so much. It so happens that the decoy business is all on the other side. When a man sends a missive through the mails, offering to the simpleton who reads it something very valuable or very desirable for quite an inadequate consideration, his offer is a decoy, as much as the wooden duck which the hunter places in the water to attract the silly flock. When a man accepts his offer, he is befooled by the
decoy. If Mr. Comstock, mistrusting the decoy, tests it by the means which the advertiser himself establishes, it is ridiculous to call him a
and a tempter. Nothing, in our judgment, can be more legitimate than to catch a rogue in his own trap; and to speak of the performance as mean or immoral is to trifle with the facts. The iniquities that have been stopped by this means-the floods of fraud and impurity that have been turned back on their inventors through this machinery-are sufficiently notable to earn the gratitude of the public, and vindicate the right of the Comstock laws to remain upon the statute-book.
It is through the means of these laws that Mr. Comstock has been enabled to do his beneficent work in this community. There has been a great reform in the matter of obscene publications,-in their production and their dissemination,—and this reform has been wrought almost entirely by Mr. Comstock and the society which he represents, through the instrumentality of the laws with which Congress and the State legislature have armed them. We are sorry that Rev. Dr. Potter should sneer at the Society for the Prevention of Crime, and furnish thus an argument against the Society for the Suppression of Vice. It is all very well to pass the maintenance of the laws over to the officers of the law, but suppose the officers of the law do not care, and will not, or do not, do their duty? How important an office did the Committee of Seventy perform in ridding this city of "the Ring"! Why should such a committee have been formed? The laws against peculation and bribery were all in existence, and all the necessary machinery of justice was established. What an impertinence the Committee of Seventy must have been!
is, while we write, a committee of twenty-one in existence, who have undertaken to get the streets cleaned. But there are laws relating to this business, and there are men already whose duty it is to have the streets cleaned. Why not put the work where it belongs? We cannot, for the life of us, see why citizens may not associate themselves for special purposes in securing good laws and looking after their enforcement by the appointed officers. Mr. Wakeman's proposed bill against obscenity does not improve the laws already in existence, but shows its purpose in the fourth clause, which wipes out the legal functions of the Society for the Suppression of Vice.
Mr. Palmer is displeased with our identification of "liberalism" with the love of moral dirt. Will he pardon us if we call his attention to what one of his brethren has been careful to speak upon the subject, as a man inside of the liberal host, knowing the element intimately that was engaged in the movement for the repeal of the Comstock laws? speaking of the efforts of those advocating the repeal, President Abbott said in 1879:
"For some time they [the repealers] had looked with longing eyes at the National Liberal League, whose growing size and importance began to make it a prize in their estimation. The cunning demand for repeal of the postal-law,' originally inspired by VOL. XXII.-35.
Wakeman, and industriously echoed by Bennett, and his free-love associates, was exactly what they needed to carry their point. By a year of such unscrupulous falsification as we never saw equaled, and such as can be appreciated only by those who have waded through it, the vicious and sensual type of liberalism contrived most absurdly to identify itself in myriad credulous minds with the love of liberty; the higher type of liberalism remained apathetic and indifferent to clear and repeated warnings; and the consequence was that the National service to the liberal cause, was suffered to fall into Liberal League, with all its splendid possibilities of the hands of the free-love ring by the mere abstention of those who ought to have been present. From that day, it sank lower, until now it threatens to render its name of 'liberal' a hissing and a byword for years."
Has anybody among Christian people said anything harder than this? Has anybody more thoroughly identified the majority of liberals with the love of obscenity than the old president of the liberals themselves? "The vicious and sensual type of liberalism" went against the Comstock laws. Repeal was the rallying cry by which they carried their victory. Their prominent organ announced “Our platform to be " 'Immediate, unconditional, and permanent repeal of all laws against obscenity, whether municipal, State, or national." Pure and honest as Mr. Palmer undoubtedly is, we quote Mr. Abbott's authority for the statement that he is in bad company in the company of those who have no sympathy with his pure aims, and who scorn his careful argument in their behalf in the support of a position which they take through natural taste and vicious inclination.
The Rich and the Poor.
THERE are many and various indications, in the state of affairs all over the civilized world, that a struggle has been initiated, on the part of the poor, for a better chance to win competence or wealth. The trades unions and their influence form one of these indications. We have no faith in them whatever. They have been in the main mischievous. They are wrong in principle, and particularly wrong in method and operation. They have been led by demagogues, and led more frequently to disaster than to any other issue. They have been short-sighted, despotic, illiberal, and inconsiderate. Their tendency has always been to make a breach between labor and capital, and destroy the sympathy between employers and employed; and there is no question that any agency is bad and impolitic that tends to alienate the sympathy of these two classes from each other. Still, it is a notable indication of the deep discontent of the laborer with his lot, and, as such, deserves the serious attention of all political economists and all patriots.
The granger movement in the West was, in its very recent day, a significant indication in the same direction. The producers of grain saw the profits of their labor melt away under the grasping demands of great corporations-corporations which enriched their stockholders and left the farming and produc
ing interest insufficiently rewarded. It is true that demagogues seized upon this movement, as they do upon all movements of the kind, for the furthering of their own selfish purposes, but, after all, the indication of discontent was genuine, however much of injustice may have been involved in the considerations on which it was based. The farmers worked hard and did not get rich-did not get the mortgages off their farms-while railroad men grew into railroad kings, with millions at their command, and with the power, by the writing of their names, or by breathing a word, or by making a combination with other kings, to squeeze every bushel that passed through their hands still tighter in their exactions of toll.
A few weeks or months ago, a large meeting was held in this city in the interest of an "anti-monopoly" movement. No matter how unwise its declarations may have been, it was an indication of the same discontent in which the granger movement originated. It was the protest of private persons, helpless against the exactions and despotisms of monopolies and combinations of monopolies. They had seen great corporations doubling their capitalstock, and insisting on filching dividends out of the people for that which cost them absolutely nothing. They had seen this again and again. They had seen men made superfluously rich at their expense. They had felt the exercise of the power of monopolies upon their prosperity, and they protested against this power. They felt that they had no chance against these gigantic combinations, which not only had the power at any moment to deprive them of the profits of their industry, but also to purchase or dictate the laws necessary to keep them secure in their enormous privileges.`
A more notable indication of popular discontent is the present position of what is known as the Irish Land Question. Not that the Irish land question is very different from the land question in any country, for the Irish are not sinned against more than others-more, indeed, than the English and the Welsh. The Irish laborer finds that he cannot possibly get a living out of the land of Ireland in the way in which he is obliged to manage and work it; and, with plenty all around him, he starves because he has absolutely nothing to buy food with. That is what makes the Irish land question, and that is what is destined to keep it a question until it is settled in such a way that Pat and Bridget can get a living off the land. No temporizing measure can settle this question. Not even good harvests can settle it for long, for a people living on the frightful edge of starvation cannot possibly be quiet, particularly if they live out-of-doors. Mr. Henry George has a prescription for this evil, but it is quite too radical for this generation, and it is doubtful whether the world will ever be ready for it, namely, the relegation of all landlord rights to the state, and making Ireland and all lands public property, with the absolute destruction of all private property in land. We have no space here to give a sketch of
the reasoning by which he arrives at this startling conclusion, but his pamphlet on "The Irish Land Question" is worth any man's reading. One thing is certain: this question will never be settled until it is settled right. It may take many years for the British Government to find out what the right mode of settlement is, but it may be certain that there is constant trouble before it until the right mode shall be found.
Coöperation is another indication of the popular discontent. This indication is one of an encouraging, rather than a menacing, character. In Great Britain, coöperation in production and commerce has made great headway, and is now recognized as an important feature of the national life. The people saw that manufacturers and merchants became rich on the profits of goods sold to them, while they remained poor and helpless. So they set their brains to work to secure for themselves the fruit of their own labor, and the coöperative stores and factories are the healthful and fruitful result. The day for the exercise of irresponsible power over the souls, bodies, and material interests of men has passed by. The body of the dead Tsar bears witness to this, and the protests that come to us from the various movements to which we have called attention are a warning to governments and monopolies that henceforward the people are to be considered; that universal human right to the products of the soil must be recognized, and that every man must have a fair chance to win for himself and his family a competent portion of the world's goods.
We believe the winning of wealth to be a perfectly legitimate pursuit. Wealth has great and beneficent uses, and the world would go very slowly if money could not be accumulated in wise and enterprising hands; but wealth may be used to make all men near it prosperous and happy, or it may be used to make them poor and miserable. When a rich man is only excited by his wealth with the desire to be richer, and goes on to exact larger profits and to grind the faces of the poor, in order that he may be superfluously rich, he becomes inhuman and unchristian. The Christian use of wealth is what we need in this country and in all countries. It is not that wealth does not give in charity. It is not that wealth is not sufficiently taxed for the support of those who are wrecked in health or fortune, but it is that wealth does not give the people a chance to escape from poverty; that it does not share its chances with the poor, and point the pathway for the poor toward prosperity. As a rule, wealth is only brotherly toward wealth, and the poor man feels himself cut off from sympathy with those who have the power of winning money. We may rest assured of one thing, namely, that the poor in the future will insist on being recognized. If they are not recognized-if they are ignored in the mad greed for wealth at any cost to them-they will make the future a troubled and terrible one for our children and our children's children.
The Comstock Postal-Laws.
EDITOR OF SCRIBNER'S MONTHLY.
SIR: In SCRIBNER'S MONTHLY for April, page 950, in a notice of Mr. Anthony Comstock's book, "Frauds Exposed," occurs the following passage:
"He [Mr. Comstock] has done these things [i. e. suppress obscenity] with great faithfulness, and deserves the thanks of all good people for his beneficent work. For this he has been persecuted, not only by the men and women whose business he has disturbed or destroyed, but by a large class of people who call themselves 'liberals.' Liberalism,' as the word is used by those who profess it, is another name for infidelity, and if infidelity naturally sympathizes with dirt, it is well that we all know it. any rate, liberals' are the only professed and open defenders of dirt, as it is represented by the men who are interested in pushing impure literature through the mails and distributing the means of debauching the children of the country through the same channels. They are the only people who have labored for the repeal of what are called 'the Comstock laws'-laws which form the only barriers between a set of unclean scoundrels and the youthful innocence of the land. No class in society defends the swindler; a large class defends the dispenser of moral filth, and raves about his right to make of the United States mails a gutter through which to pour his abominations upon the youth of the country. They are all as bad as the man they defend. They are not only sympathetic with his foul spirit, but they do their best to defend and help him. Christianity can afford this exhibition of the spirit and tendency of infidelity; can 'liberalism'? If giving up Christianity means taking on dirt, among longhaired men and short-haired women,' then it strikes us that 'liberalism' has not a very brilliant prospect in America."
This extract is of the same character as a longer article published in a previous issue of SCRIBNER, entitled "The Apotheosis of Dirt," and both are a fair exemplification of the general and complete misunderstanding concerning the position of the liberals on this subject-a misunderstanding which is natural enough on the mere superficial presumption that the Comstock postal-laws "form the only barriers between a set of unclean scoundrels and the youthful innocence of the land."
The writer for two years was the treasurer of the National Liberal League, which is the special liberal organization referred to in the above quotation. He is so reported in Mr. Comstock's book, and he feels that it is due to the public and to himself that the motives, aims, and objects of the liberals in this matter should be correctly represented; so in default of an abler champion, he proposes herewith, as best he can, and in as an impersonal and dispassionate a manner as possible, to state the liberals' side of the question.
The writer will take it for granted, in common with the panegyrist of Mr. Comstock and his book,
that Christianity indorses the Comstock postal-laws and that liberalism opposes them.
That the liberals are, from the stand-point of Christian orthodoxy, "infidels," they do not hesitate to acknowledge, but they maintain that they, therefore, no more sympathize with "dirt" than do the great masters they variously learn of, such as Herbert Spencer, Auguste Comte, Victor Hugo, George Eliot, Harriet Martineau, Profs. Draper, Huxley, Tyndall, Haeckel, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the immortal poet, Goethe, not to mention others of the greatest souls of our times, whose minds and hearts are, and have been, given to mankind. All true liberals are quite willing to be stigmatized as "infidels" in such companionship, but in none less noteworthy.
Let me now, in a categorical manner, state some of the reasons why liberals and infidels oppose Mr. Comstock's methods. I say his methods, for they do not oppose his aims and objects. In no announcement or official publication of the National Liberal League can any indorsement or support of indecency or obscenity be found. On the contrary, in every resolution that bears upon this subject, the utmost detestation of all such nastiness is expressed in the strongest terms. I proceed, then, to state, one by one, the objections which liberals entertain toward these so-called Comstock postal-laws.
First. Liberals believe them to be unconstitutional. In spite of the general belief to the contrary, these laws have not yet been authoritatively pronounced constitutional by the Supreme Court sitting in full bench. They have only been sustained by what lawyers call an obiter dictum, delivered in another, and we think irrelative, case, on the subject of lotteries. We feel convinced that, when they come to be fairly argued, this obiter dictum will be reversed, or, in default of that, that the people themselves will reverse it as they did the Dred Scott decision.
And liberals believe this because our great charter of American liberty simply confers on Congress in this connection the power "to establish post-offices and post-roads," and no more. Of course, the duty to do this carries with it every incidental and necessary power to conduct that department, but gives no authority beyond. For postal reasons, that is, for the "conveniency" of the service, the Government may properly discriminate concerning mailable matter. Dynamite may be excluded; liquors may be excluded, because they endanger the fulfillment of the contract with all other senders of mail matter. But the Government is not called upon to sit in judgment upon the moral character or intellectual quality of the parcels intrusted to it." The efficiency and not the morality of the post-office is what the Government has alone to consider. If these words are insufficient on this point, let me cite in their support the authority of some of America's most notable
Judge Story says in his work on the Constitu
tion that "Congress cannot use this power [viz., "to establish post-offices and post-roads"] for any other ulterior purpose." In 1836, the principle involved in this exclusion of obscene matter from the mails was brought up in Congress when alleged attempts to circulate insurrectionary matter among the slaves was charged. Mr. John C. Calhoun, though he evidently wished for power to exclude such publications and supervise the mails in the interest of slavery, still felt that the most that he could ask was that, by the comity of nations,' the United States should restrain the postmasters from delivering such matter in the States which had made its circulation illegal. The question was fully discussed in a Senate of unequaled ability, and even this limited restraint, as proposed by Mr. Calhoun, was held by a vote of twenty-five to nineteen to be impossible under the Constitution. ("Con. Globe,'
1836, pp. 36, 150, 237, 239, 288, etc.) In the debate, Henry Clay said:
"When I saw that the exercise of a most extraordinary and dangerous power had been announced by the head of the post-office, and that it had been sustained by the President's message, I turned my attention to the subject and inquired whether it was necessary that the General Government should, under any circumstances, exercise such a power, and whether they possessed it. After much reflection, I have come to the conclusion that they could not pass any law interfering with the subject in any shape or form whatever. The evil complained of was the circulation of papers having a certain tendency. The papers, unless circulated, and while in the post-office, could do no harm; it is the circulation solely the taking out of the mail and the use to be made of them-that constitutes the evil. Then it is perfectly competent to the State authorities to apply the remedy. The instant that a prohibited paper is handed out, whether to a citizen or to a sojourner, he is subject to the laws which compel him either to surrender or burn it.""
To the question of Senator Buchanan of Pennsylvania, to the effect that the post-office did give Congress the right to regulate morally what shall be carried in the mails, he replied in the negative, saying if such doctrine prevailed, the Government may designate the persons or parties or classes who shall have the benefit of the mails, excluding all others. "Honest John" Davis said, during this debate:
"It would be claiming, on the part of the Government, a monopoly and exclusive right either to send such papers as it pleased or to deny the privilege of sending them through the mail. Once establish the precedent and where will it lead to? The Government may take it into its head to prohibit the transmission of political, religious, or even moral or philosophical publications, in which it might fancy there was something offensive; and under this reserved right, contended for in this report, it would be the duty of the Government to carry it into effect."
Daniel Webster expressed himself as " "shocked" at the unconstitutional character of the whole proceeding, and said:
go into the mails, founded on the sentiments of the paper, and making the deputy-postmaster a judge, he should say was expressly unconstitutional." *
Second. Because, even were the Comstock postallaws constitutional, their operation and enforcement involve the methods of all others most hateful to freemen-I mean a system of decoy and espionage such as the "Sun" newspaper, in its issue of March 22, 1881, in a leading article entitled "The Espionage of the Mails," said "the British people would not quietly submit to for a single week." By these obnoxious methods the special agent of the post-office (Mr. Comstock), "or any other officer of the postal service," instead of being limited in his postal duty to seeing that the weight and postage are correct, etc., etc., has also imposed upon him the moral duty of censor of the press; that is, he or the deputy-postmaster is, "upon his own inspection,"-so says the dictum of the Supreme Court in the Jackson case,— to see that the printed matter "is not objectionable." If this is not an inquisition, by what name can it be called?
Third. These laws are useless. The forbidden articles can be sent everywhere by express, by railroad, by mercantile agencies, by commercial travelers, and even by the mails themselves when sent as first-class matter, that is, in sealed envelopes; though some contend that the Government, in certain instances, invades and disregards even the sanctity of a seal.
Fourth. Because these laws involve the inherent
difficulty of reaching any proper definition of what obscenity is.
Chancellor Livingston, one of the greatest of American jurists, in his task of codifying the laws of Louisiana, confessed, on this very point, that one of his embarrassments arose from "the difficulty of defining the offense." It is certain that the prim and prudent village maiden will blush in shame at a group like the Laocoön or a statue like the Venus of Melos, before which the traveled metropolitan dame would stand enraptured. Mr. James Parton aptly says in this regard that "it is not possible to put into human language a definition of the word obscene which shall let the Song of Solomon, Rabelais, Juvenal, and Tom Jones pass, and keep out works intended and calculated to corrupt."
Fifth. Because these laws confer upon the United States courts a dangerous, because indefinite, enlargement of their criminal jurisdiction.
The criminal jurisdiction of the United States courts is very strictly defined, and it is only intended that such jurisdiction shall apply under the most exact constructions; but now comes in a law, hurriedly passed, I am told, at the close of an exciting session of Congress, which, among other clauses, prohibits from the mails "anything intended or adapted for any indecent or immoral use." Think of it! What vast indefiniteness! what ample opportunity for persecution! If the views of the village
* I have quoted all of the above commanding authorities from the Faneuil Hall speech of Mr. T. B. Wakeman, who has made an exhaustive examination of the whole subject. And I shall have occasion on other points to rely on his learning.