Baltimore Evening Sun (28 June 1911): 6.


Boil your drinking water! Beware of soft crabs and ice cream! Send your money to the boomers! Don’t be afraid of the bathtub! Swat the fly!

Mr. Anderson’s criticism of mortality statistics, printed among today’s Editorials by the People, is so fully supported by the facts that I, for one, am content to let it stand. It is true enough that in this column Monday I tried to show a distinction between the official returns of death from alcoholism and that of arrests for drunkenness and to demonstrate the greater accuracy of the former. I still believe, indeed, that such a distinction exists, but I freely confess that it is probably one between degrees of error rather than one between error and truth. In brief, all such statistics, of whatever sort, are apt to be inaccurate and unreliable. Whenever they are compiled or quoted by a prohibitionist they infallibly prove that the Rum Demon is the father of all our ills, and whenever they are brought forward by one of the Demon’s apologists they infallibly prove the very reverse.

But this is exactly what I tried to show when the present exchange of pleasantries began. That is to say, I started out with the doctrine that the statistical proofs of the two sides were equally confusing and valueless—that the prohibitionists no less than the brewers, and the brewers no less than the prohibitionists, rested their arguments upon figures which, in all probability, were inaccurate, and which, even admitting their accuracy, proved nothing. And to this doctrine I cling.

The fact is that human life is an extremely complex thing and that no single element ever completely conditions it. The exact influence of alcohol upon civilized societies is something which no man will ever measure. Even its influence upon the individual man is extremely hard to estimate. You may point to a drunkard in the House of Correction and say that he would have escaped that bastile had there been no alcohol in the world—but how do you know? Perhaps a lack of strong drink might have brought him not to the House of Correction, but to the penitentiary or the gallows. Alcohol, indeed, to most men is a sedative rather than an excitant. Drunkards are commonly long on misdemeanors but short on felonies. The majority of serious anti-social crimes are committed by sober men. Most burglars, Black Hand men, highwaymen, green-goods men, professional politicians and other such incorrigible and deliberate lawbreakers are teetotalers. If you don’t belleve it, ask any detective.

Hasty and romantic generalization is the bane of the statisticians. Mr. Anderson himself has fallen into this error more than once, despite his healthy distrust of figures. In The Evening Sun of last Monday, for example, he made much of the fact that, on a visit to the Maine Penitentiary (Maine being a dry State), he found but 225 prisoners there. “This number,” said he, “was only about one-third as many in proportion to population as Maryland had.”

So it was. But Mr. Anderson forgot—as statisticians often forget—to differentiate between the character of Maine’s population and the character of Maryland’s population. The complete racial figures for 1910 are not yet announced for all the States, but in 1900 Maryland had about 19% per cent. of negroes, as it still has today, while Maine had just one-fifth of 1 per cent. Let us see what this means: In the Maryland Penitentiary, at noon yesterday, there were 1,038 prisoners, but only 359 of them were white, while 667 of them were colored! In other words, the black folk of Maryland, though they constitute but 19.3 per cent. of the State’s population, furnish more than 64 per cent. of the State’s criminals.

There are in Maryland at present about 955,000 white inhabitants—and 371 of them are in the penitentiary. There are in Maine about 740,000 white inhabitants—and 225 of them, according to Mr. Anderson, are in the penitentiary. The ratio in Maryland is thus about 1 to 2,575, and in Maine about 1 to 3,290. And the ratio between the two States, counting only white prisoners, is not 3 to 1, as Mr. Anderson says, but 1.26 to 1—a difference so slight that it may be safely dismissed, perhaps, as due to local or temporary causes.

True enough, the negroes of Maryland are citizens of Maryland—just as much so, indeed, as the white folk—but the unfairness of counting them in when criminal statistics are being reckoned must be obvious to everyone. They constitute a class apart, a separate caste of abnormally vicious and disorderly citizens. In Maryland 1 negro out of every 322 is in the penitentiary, while among the white inhabitants of the State but 1 person out of every 2,575 is so confined. The ratio of criminality is thus about 1 to 7.8. You will find some such high ratio prevailing in every State of large negro population, whether it be “dry” Georgia or “wet” Maryland. In Georgia, indeed, I believe it is much higher than in Maryland—perhaps 1 to 10 or even 1 to 16.

I plow through all these tedious figures merely to show that the statistics of Mr. Anderson, like those he so justly attacks, are far from reliable. The obvious aim of his reference to Maine was to make a comparison between a “dry” State and a “wet” State, and yet what he really did was to make a comparison between a white State and a black-and-white State. That is precisely what the statisticians of the two camps are constantly doing—proving one thing, and then assuming blithely that they have proved some other and entirely unrelated thing.

As for Mr. Anderson’s pamphlet of testimonials from “prominent business men” of the Eastern Shore, I respectfully protest against being compelled to read it. The function of “prominent business men” is to be prominent, and not to inquire into complex matters of government and morals.

In the damp midst, not long ago, of a hard day’s work, I referred to Jamestown, N. Y., as an “obscure” town. Now comes a flaming letter from some Jamestownian, written (believe me!) with a red pencil, objecting to that term. Jamestown, argues this correspondent, cannot be called “obscure,” for it was there that the first American Chautauqua was set up. The point is well taken. I withdrew “obscure” and substitute “inhuman.”

More specimens of the noble American language:

The beefsteak wasn’t hardly done, but the potatoes was doner.

Who pitched for youse?

Them things don’t hardly amount to nothing.

Contributions to the new dictionary of synonyms for bald head:

Conch, Portico,
Porte-cochere, Aventaile.

H. L. Mencken