Baltimore Evening Sun (23 November 1912): 6.


The Hon. Charles J. Bonaparte, arising in his accustomed place this day, reads me a severe lecture upon the mortal sin of law-breaking, and pleads eloquently that full faith and credit be given to each and every enactment of the Legislature of Maryland, however boozy the Legislature and however idiotic the enactment. A virtuous doctrine, surely, and I am certainly not one to dispute its theoretical soundness. But the trouble with this wicked old world is that it forces us to make constant compromises between theoretical virtue and bitter necessity, and this happens no less in the domain of public duty than in the domain of private conduct. In brief, we must often choose between our duty to the fools who rule us and our duty to ourselves, and if we sometimes perform the latter rather than the former, that is only saying that our patriotism is benignantly mitigated by a globule or two of common sense.

In the case now before the house, the Legislature of Maryland has adorned the statute books with a law which is as completely unenforceable, in the last analysis. as an act forbidding the smoking of cigarettes. If any attempt were made to put it into full effect tomorrow the only result would be a public scandal. Most of the persons who now violate it would continue to violate it, and many of them would try to buy immunity from the police. In the face of such temptation, I daresay , not a few policemen would fall, and so we would have the condition of affairs that now exists in New York, and, in less measure, in Chicago and other cities.

But fortunately for the public security, the men charged with the enforcement of such laws--i. e., the members of the Police Board and of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City--are usually men of considerable experience in the world, and in consequence, men with small respect for platitudes. And so, at the risk of being denounced by purists, they strike a sagacious compromise. That is to say, they enforce to the letter those parts of the law which happen to be enforceable, and let the other parts go unenforced. The result, I freely admit and they themselves admit, is a lamentable defiance of the Legislature of Maryland, that camorra of Solomons. But the excuse for the said defiance is that the theoretical damage it does is vastly less costly than the actual damage that would be done by any attempt at complete compliance. In brief, it is better for a few judges to risk their hides and souls by overlooking one form of lawbreaking than it would be for them to practice virtue and so bring about a larger and worse form of lawbreaking.

the Hon. Mr. Bonaparte, however, sticks to his sterling silver guns. Any violation of the law, no matter how benign, brings before him an appalling vision of the decay of the republic. And why? Because he regards every law as an expression of the people’s will. The fact that it is on the statute books proves to him that the people who are charged with obeying it, or a majority of them, are actually in favor of it. And so, any violation of it appears as the contumacious act of a lewd and lawless minority, and that act heralds the -end of free government among us.

Unluckily for the Hon. Mr. Bonaparte, an appeal to the facts fails to give support to his fears and his prophecies. The laws which govern the people of Baltimore are not actually made by the people of Baltimore, nor even by a majority of them, but by a majority of the politicians assembled at Annapolis, and two-thirds of those politicians are countrymen who have little more understanding of the needs and hazards of life in a large city than so many Esquimaux or Zulus. In all their law-making they proceed constantly upon the fallacy that what is workable in the country is also workable in the city, that what the farmers want the city folks will think nice, and so the statutes they pass, particularly in the department of morals, are often hopelessly and ineradicably stupid and ridiculous.

Because a farmer, for example, is physically tired on Sunday and wants nothing more than a chance to snooze by daylight, they pass a Sunday law forbidding any exercise or other recreation by the city man, who is commonly tied to a desk or work-bench all week and wants activity beyond all things on Sunday. And because it is an easy matter in a small and isolated commurity, where strangers are few and every resident knows all other residents, to track down and tar and feather any frail lady who strays in, they assume that the benevolent enterprise is equally simple in a large city, where strangers are innumerable and most persons do not even know their next-door neighbors. Thus they saddle us with Blue Laws, and thus we are afflicted by the vain effort to enforce such laws.

It is true enough, of course, that city members of the Legislature often vote for such laws, or at any rate, that they make no effort to repeal them. But that is only saying that an unspeakable ass is very apt to be a coward--that he is afraid to carry out the wishes of the majority pro because of the superior violence of the minority con--that he would rather be wrong than submit to attack by moralists, the most cruel and uncharitable of all men. As Havelock Elis says:

No public man likes to take up a position which his enemies may interpret as favorable to vice and probably due to an anxiety to secure legal opportunities for his own enjoyment of vice. This consideration especially applies to professional politicians. A member of Parliament, who must cultivate an immaculately pure reputation, feels that he is also bound to record by his vote how anxious he is to suppress other people’s immorality. Thus the Philistine and the hypocrite join hands with the simple-minded idealist. Very few are left to point out that, however desirable it is to prevent immorality, that end can never be obtained by law.

And if this to true of the English member of Parliament, who is commonly an educated and self-respecting man, how much more true it must be of the Maryland legislator, who is commonly no more than a man-like member of the pediculidæ! Are we to obey this clown when he sets us tasks that are not only evil and repulsive, but also downright impossible? I think not. Let the Court of Appeals decide all it pleases that his acts, however asinine, are legal. Most sane men knew it before the Court of Appeals ever declared it. But most sane men also know that a vicious and unrepealable law is dangerous to peace and security, and that the only way to maintain civilized government is to draw its teeth.

Let the Hon. Mr. Bonaparte have done with his platitudes and get to the truth. He must know, as all of us know, that if we suffer acutely from the social evil in Baltimore, that suffering is chiefly caused, not so much by the prostitute herself as by her political brothers and fellow-craftsmen at Annapolis.