Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/602

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
586
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

many liquor stores and shops for the public drinking of liquor in our fair land as there were upon that date. Various causes have doubtless operated to produce this enormous increase. But one cause which may have done its contributive share toward the result, perhaps, is that, under rigid statutes, any moral obligation not to use liquor which may have existed on January 15, 1832, has become a sort of moral obligation to use it as a sort of Declaration of Independence of laws which interfere with the personal liberty of the subject; which exist not by consent of those whom those laws govern, but by the consent of those whom they do not govern, and who never come within their operation; whose prosecution, since it can only be achieved by recourse to the services of the spy, the informer, and the "smeller," is persecution, and tends to bring all law into contempt and into public disgust.

That these laws do exist by reason of the judgments of appellate courts (even the Supreme Court of the United States having affirmed their "constitutionality") is not to militate against their injustice or their inconvenience. Those decisions are not as to the expediency, but only as to the technicality, of these statutes; all that those decisions amount to is that as between the individual—the citizen—in their breach, and the State, the State has a right to enact the law under its special (State) Constitution, and that the question of internal traffic—so long as it is not interstate traffic—is not one with which the Federal jurisdiction concerns itself. Legally a State has a right to do what it will within its own boundaries, so long as it does not interfere with the rights of its neighboring States or violate the Federal Constitution. And however absurd its local statutes may be, once legally enacted they must be reviewed at the polls, not in the Federal courts. But there is a question beyond the polls.

Laws are for the greatest good of the greatest number, at least in republics, where the paternal jurisdiction of States is not invited and will not be tolerated. Granting everything that can be said as to the bad effect of liquor itself, every logician will admit that if it can be proved that in a single instance or class of instances the effect of liquor is salutary, that it cures as well as kills (as, for example, in a case of partial drowning or of rattlesnake bite), then to prevent its sale is not only illogical but oppressive. A law can not be judged as benign or harmful accordingly as it is negatively inoffensive. If in a single instance it refuses to save life, then it has ceased to operate benignly and has commenced to operate fatally. No law can exist without a reason for its existence, and when the reason for it fails the law disappears. But when a law operates not only unreasonably but fatally, there should not be much hesitation as to its doom. It is illegal. And this is another case where liquor