Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/47

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37
SUMPTUARY LAWS AND THEIR SOCIAL INFLUENCE.

taken that not only was the individual to be benefited, but that society as a whole was to be improved. Prohibitory laws relative to the manufacture and sale of alcoholic liquors which have been enacted in this country in our own times are based upon this assumption, but the arguments that have been used by those advocating such laws show that this is not the only motive by which they are governed. It has been and still is repeatedly asserted in the speeches and writings of these people that those who indulge in alcoholic liquors or in the use of tobacco spend money which could otherwise be more profitably used, and that indulgence in the habit of drinking or smoking directly conduces to idleness and luxurious habits. These assertions are probably true, and the laws against which the practices in question are directed are essentially sumptuary laws.

The laws which several States have enacted relative to the manufacture and sale of alcoholic liquors are true sumptuary laws, notwithstanding the fact that it is claimed by their adherents that they are measures which every independent State having a regard for the welfare of society is in duty bound to enforce. On that ground there are many other acknowledged evils against which the law-making power might very properly direct its energies, and which would interfere scarcely less with personal rights. One chief difficulty with such laws is that if thoroughly enforced, they do harm to those who never under any circumstances drink intoxicating liquors to excess, and yet who are benefited by their moderate use. As a matter of fact they never are enforced equally upon all classes of the community. In the most severe of all the States it is perfectly practicable for any person with pecuniary means to import as much alcoholic liquor for his own use and that of his family and friends as he chooses. The poor man, to whom a glass of beer or of wine taken decently and in order might not only do no harm, but might supply a positive want of his system, has to go without, or else resort to all kinds of deceit and subterfuge to get what he wants. States exceed their legitimate powers when they undertake to prevent a person doing that which is beneficial to him, and which does no harm to any one else. Moreover, as I have already said, such laws, being in this age of the world impossible of enforcement, tend to bring all law into contempt. It is not necessary for me to go into detail on this point; every one who hears me knows how the prohibitory liquor laws of the various States that have passed them are disregarded and ridiculed. Every now and then we hear of some instance where an offender is arrested and punished, but for every one brought before the courts a thousand go unnoticed. In the States of Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island I know from my own personal experience that, notwithstanding the stringent liquor