Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/682

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When the universal sentiment of a free people is opposed to a statute, it might as well not be written; it is practically a dead letter. It therefore seems to be of little avail to contend about the adoption of laws distasteful to the community in which they are to be enforced, and little use in passing them. The only true mode of obtaining beneficial legislation is to educate the people, who are to enforce the laws among themselves, to understand their necessity or usefulness. Most communities, when left free to act, understand their own wants and necessities better than anybody else.

Still, it does not seem so absurd for intelligent and benevolent people of New York and New England to disturb themselves about the laws affecting the marriage relation of negroes with white people in the South (say in North and South Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia), as it would seem for a colored congregation, or a meeting of field hands in Louisiana, to pass resolutions condemning the divorce laws of Connecticut or Maine.

With the lawgiver, the contract of marriage—the most important of all contracts—may be supposed to rest upon the gravest considerations, and give rise to the most serious deliberations. He may well inquire:

1. What relations must be prohibited from marrying each other?
2. At how early an age may marriage be permitted, and what relations must be called upon to assent to the marriage of minors?
3. Ought the insane who have lucid intervals to be permitted to marry?
4. Are there any diseases—such as leprosy, elephantiasis, scrofula, or others—which ought to prevent the marriage of such diseased persons?
5. Ought marriage with inveterate drunkards to be prohibited?
6. Are there any crimes which ought to be considered as a bar to the marriage of the criminal?
7. Assuming, according to the prejudices of the largest number, that the white is the superior race, ought laws to be passed prohibiting marriage between white persons and Indians, negroes, Australians, or Chinese?

What will be the effect of such marriages on the welfare of the State? Will they drag down the assumed superior race, while they tend to build up the other race? Will such marriages offend the race prejudices alike of the black and white races? Or will such marriages be pleasing to the one race and displeasing to the other? Will not the violation of race prejudices by such marriages occasion unhappiness, and is there any advantage to the State to compensate the misery? What has been the result of the marriages of white women with negro men on the happiness of the wives and their offspring?

Such questions as these, it may be assumed, are in the mind and province of the Legislatures when marriage laws are framed, and who