Baltimore Evening Sun (11 January 1913): 6.
Shanghai dispatch in this morning’s Sunpaper:
Thirty-nine lepers were recently put to death in an atrocious manner by order of the provisional authorities of Nanning, Province of Kwang-Si. The sufferers from the dread disease were first shot, and then their bodies were burned to a huge trench.
Another proof of that “enlightened public opinion” of which the torquamadan suffragettes have been discoursing so eloquently!
Discoursing lately, with great rage and eloquence, upon the moral mania which now afflicts this fair land, and particularly this fair city, I ventured the view that a plain fallacy was at the bottom of it, but did not go to the length of revealing that fallacy. In response to many polite requests from the clergy and laity, I now do so. It is the fallacy of assuming, as an axiom of morals, that a man’s duty to his neighbors is superior to his duty to himself, that whenever his own desires come into conflict with theirs, he is bound to yield to theirs.
As a matter of fact no such grotesque and homicidal excess of social responsibility is laid upon the individual by any really civilized society. He has, true enough, a duty to his neighbors, but it is a duty rigidly limited and defined. He is bound to do nothing that will endanger their lives or imperil their property. He is bound to respect their liberties so long as the exercise of those liberties does not invade his own. But he is not bound to yield himself docilely to their mere whims and prejudices. He is not bound to obey their mandates in his private life. He is not bound to put their theory of what he ought to do above his own theory of what he wants to do.
Many moralists forget, or, if they remember it, try to conceal it, that this republic was founded as a protest against the very militant morality they now advocate. The colonists who came here did not object to respecting the rights of the majority they left at home; what they did object to was the need of respecting the mere opinions of the majority. Those opinions, it happened, were chiefly of a theological nature, and so it was religious freedom that attracted the rebels to the New World. But opinions of a purely moral nature may be just as gratuitous and just as tyrannical, and the battle against them, by the same token, may be just as worthy the enterprise and sacrifice of a civilized white man.
It is moral tyranny that now afflicts These States, and the worst of the matter is that thousands of Americans seem disposed to submit to it without protest.. If theological tyranny were revived tomorrow, they would loose a bellow loud enough to shake the earth, but in the face of moral tyranny they remain silent and sit still. Thus it is that militant moralists, moved by that will to power which is universal in man, have proceeded from excess to excess, until now an almost endless roll of wholly harmless acts is under the ban of the law.
It is unlawful in Baltimore for a citizen to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the Sabbath. It is unlawful for him to buy a cigar. It is unlawful for him to have his hair cut. It is unlawful for him, on a summer Sunday, to recreate himself by playing baseball. In various large areas of his city he is forbidden to buy a bottle of wine, even on a week-day. Many plays that he may want to see, indubitable works of art, are barred from the theatres he patronizes. He is forbidden to possess certain great and valuable books, or to send them to his friends by mail. The law decides what games of chance he shall play and what games of chance he shall not play, and the division is purely arbitrary and nonsensical.
What is more, this invasion of his common rights is still going on. Here in Baltimore there are half a dozen organizations devoted exclusively to the concoction and prohibition of new and wholly artificial crimes. And in Washington the Congress of the United States is preparing to pass a law making it a crime for a man to have a bottle of beer in his possession--not to sell it or give it away, remember, but merely to have it.
What is the theory at the bottom of all this oppressive and intolerable legislation? Simply the theory that no man shall do, even in his own house, anything which the majority of his fellow-citizens do not care to do in their houses. His act need not be vicious in itself; it need not be dangerous; it need not be disturbing to his neighbors. All it need be is abhorrent to the opinion of those neighbors, or, to be more exact, to the opinion of 51 per cent. of them. This is the theory at the bottom of moral snouting and moral legislation, and this was also the theory at the bottom of the hanging of Jews and Quakers, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew and the Inquisition in Spain.
No sane man, I take it, objects to laws necessary to the public security, even when they limit his own liberties. I have never heard anyone defend burglary, or arson, or rape. I doubt that any such defense has ever been made in Christendom. But is it necessary to the public security that boys who work hard all week be forbidden to take reasonable recreation on Sunday? Is it necessary to the public security that a sane man, fully competent to take care of himself, be forbidden to drink a bottle of beer? Is it necessary to the public security that a good citizen be forbidden to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony one day out of every seven, or that he be forbidden to read the books he wants to read, or to see the plays be wants to see?
I think not. On the contrary, it seems to me that such prohibitions are wholly intolerable and indecent. It seems to me that any person who essays to enforce them upon free citizens is a far more dangerous criminal than that poor wretch who essays to pick their pockets. The pickpocket steals only a watch, and a man without a watch is still a man. But the militant moralist tries to steal liberty and self-respect, and the man who has lost both is a man who has lost everything that separates a civilized freeman from a convict in a chain-gang.
If the super-Mahon is really as miraculously efficient as he says he is, why doesn’t he try his hand at squeezing that mazuma out the ex-sheriffs?--Adv.
From the assiduous Hot Towel of this morning:
To prove his statement, Mr. Coyle then exhibited a photograph of the section now known as Mt. Vernon Place taken in 1809.
Baltimore, it must be obvious, was a very progressive town in those days. The first photographs of MM. Daguerre and Niepce did not appear until 30 years later.