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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/January 1890/Public Schools as Affecting Crime and Vice

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 36‎ | January 1890


THE political and material progress of the nineteenth century have been truly wonderful. The past year was memorable as the anniversary of the inauguration of the first President of this great republic, and what a record of bewildering changes do those hundred years unfold! Thirteen States have been increased to forty-two, and the center of population has moved back from the seaboard to a point nearly a thousand miles in the interior. The lakes of the North have given birth to gigantic commercial marts, which rival in trade, wealth, and culture those seats of ancient pomp, and empires and cities of mediæval grandeur, which flourished on the shores of the Mediterranean.

The affairs of the remotest portions of this immense domain, together with the world's more notable events, are regularly recorded in the daily press and read the morning following at the breakfast table. The traveler boards the train at New York, having telegraphed his friend in Chicago to meet him at the station twenty-four hours later, giving the exact minute of his arrival at a place a thousand miles distant from his starting-point. A change of cars is made for San Francisco, and after riding over hundreds of miles of fertile prairie covered with growing crops, crossing wide rivers spanned by bridges which fifty years ago were deemed impossible, across boundless plains where countless herds of cattle and flocks of sheep are fed, and passing through vast mountain ranges pierced by tunneled passage-ways, the traveler reaches his destination upon the shores of the Pacific Ocean the very minute of the day announced to him by the ticket agent in New York.

If we turn our thoughts seaward the development is no less remarkable; for the long, dangerous, and uncertain voyages once made by sail to Europe are now conducted with almost equal regularity and safety, and the mammoth steamers of the Clyde accomplish in days the trips which formerly took months to perform, and, within an hour of the safe landing of the passengers, the electric telegraph through the media of lines and ocean cables discloses to friends at home the news of their safe arrival. In the political world the progress of the century has not been less marked. England, which during the reign of George III so persisted in tyrannical measures of taxation as to push its American colonies into a successful struggle for freedom, has extended the utmost liberty of action to its remaining American dependencies and Australian colonies; so, when Britain was threatened with hostilities in the East, she moved to the scene of action the dusky warriors of her Indian empire, while the impetuous youth of her distant colonies volunteered to do her service on the desert sands of Africa or in the mountain fastnesses of Asiatic Russia. "Within a generation has been witnessed the voluntary liberation of the serfs of Russia, the slaves of Cuba and South America, and in our own country chattel slavery was forever extinguished by the sword.

The growth of liberal ideas and the love of liberty have been very marked. Hungary has been granted the right to legislate upon its own affairs; a republic has been established in France, and in spite of dire forebodings and prophecies of evil it has withstood every shock and weathered every storm; while the greatest of English parliamentary leaders, in his declining years exhibiting all the ardor of youth, combined with the vigor of robust manhood and the matured wisdom of old age, has brought his fellow countrymen to a recognition of Ireland's wrongs, and is moving the English masses to extend the principles of Anglo-Saxon liberty and home rule to Ireland, which for centuries has been inthralled. But volumes would be required for the mere enumeration of the growth and development which have come with extended knowledge and the more general schooling of the people. Is it any wonder that statesmen unstintingly provide for the wants of our public schools; that divines dwell with rapture upon the blessings they have brought us; that political orators eulogize them as the foundation of our prosperity and the mainstays of our liberties; that agitators vehemently demand an extension of their benefits; or that the people feel an honest and unquestioning pride in this governmental institution of their own creation, which has promoted religious tolerance, extended the bounds of political liberty, enhanced the nation's wealth, and contributed so largely to its power?

It, however, is further claimed, and almost universally allowed, that the instruction of our public schools serves to ennoble the emotions and to moderate the passions, to regenerate the viciously inclined, and to correct and subdue the tendency to crime. Devoutly as such a result is to be desired, the facts unhappily flatly contradict the theory, and unless the glaring inconsistencies are reconciled, and contravening evidence is satisfactorily explained, the claim must be abandoned as unfounded.

At a session of the National Prison Congress, held in Boston during 1888, Mr. Brooker, chairman of the Board of Directors of the South Carolina Penitentiary, having made the statement that of a thousand convicts in the State not more than fifty were whites, it was asked by a delegate, "What is the condition of the education of the colored people?" To this question Mr. Brooker made the following reply: "Before emancipation, the colored people had no opportunity for education. When made suddenly free, all negroes were illiterate and ignorant. Since that time a young generation has grown up, and of them a very considerable number are well educated. But it is a fearful fact that a large proportion of our prison population is of the educated class. This is so much the case that the idea has become prevalent that to educate the negro is to make him a rascal. But this idea is of course superficial, and does not find lodgment in the minds of thoughtful men. I am totally averse to it myself, and think that all reasonable means should be exerted toward their enlightenment and education." ("Proceedings of the National Prison Association" 1888, p. 72.)

The constructing engineer is to our industrial, commercial, and mechanical development all that the statesman and student of sociology is to our moral, social, and political progress. If in a convention of engineers a verified report had been made that bridges of accepted form were showing visible signs of weakness, the report would have been listened to with the greatest consternation and dismay. The convention would have instituted the closest inquiry and most searching examinations; it would have stopped the construction of such bridges until the causes of failure had been determined and the remedy ascertained, and failing in this the construction of such bridges would have been permanently abandoned and more perfect structures substituted.

But here was the most astounding fact that in South Carolina, which in 1880 had more than half its population returned as illiterate, the educated negroes furnished a large proportion of its criminals, pressed upon a representative body of philanthropists, publicists, and statesmen, and it did not so much as provoke a comment, while the author of the statement boldly affirmed his unshaken faith in a theory the facts of which he had himself impugned. What deference should we pay to thought unless based upon correct observations, and of what utility are facts and experiences unless their teachings are heeded and their meaning properly interpreted?

In his "Political Science" Woolsey tells us that "the fall of the Roman Empire was an effect of a moral ruin." Yet all will admit that Rome and the other civilizations of antiquity were richer and more learned in the time of their decay than during the period of their infancy and growth; but the moral correlative being wanting, they tottered to their fall.

Just look at the records of our mentally and morally deranged as exhibited in our statistics of insanity and crime and vice, and they alone are enough to cast doubt upon the claim that a publicschool education for our illiterates is sufficient to insure a decrease of mental and moral delinquency. For it remains to be explained why, in the decade ending with 1880, population having increased thirty per cent and illiteracy only ten per cent, a relative decrease; that the number of criminals during the same period present the alarming increase of eighty-two per cent, while of insane persons there appears the enormous addition of one hundred and forty-five[1] per cent?

Can it be possible that with greater educational facilities there is to be increased crime, and that every enlargement in the seating capacity of our schools is to be followed by a larger corresponding demand for insane accommodations, and additional felons' cells? Perish the thought! Yet if the instruction of our common schools subdues the tendency to crime, why is it that the ratio of prisoners,[2] being one in 3,442 inhabitants in 1850, rose to one in every 1,647 in 1860, one in 1,021 in 1870, and one in 837 in 1880; while, upon the authority of the Rev. S. W. Dicke, the amount of liquor consumed per capita was three times as great in 1883 as in 1840?

One naturally looks to the large and constant influx of foreign immigrants as a partial explanation of this growing disproportionate increase of crime; but the facts deny the hope, for the great increase is to be found among the native-born. The Rev. F. H. Wines, who conducted this branch of the "Tenth Census Report," says that, while in 1850 the ratio of foreign criminals to population was five times that of the native-born, in 1880 the ratio was only two to one; and if we deduct the commitments for disorder and immorality, the ratio of foreign criminals is but little in excess of that for native whites. So clearly is this indicated by facts and figures, that Mr. Wines arrives at the conclusion that "the foreign disregard for law shows itself far more in immorality and disorder than in dishonesty and violence."[3]

An examination of the "Compendium of the Tenth Census" of the United States discloses some novel and threatening facts. The illiterates of the United States comprise seventeen per cent of the total population. The morally and mentally deranged, as shown by the number of criminal and insane persons, bear the ratio of one to every 332 inhabitants. The general average of illiteracy is exceeded by every one of the original slave States with the exception of Missouri, but the average ratio of the mentally and morally unsound is only reached in the State of Maryland. South Carolina, which shows the highest percentage of illiterates, viz., 554/10 per cent, presents the lowest average of any State in the Union as regards insanity and crime, having but one delinquent in every 568 inhabitants as compared with one in every 167 in California, one in 205 in Massachusetts, and one in every 222 in the State of New York. With the single exception of the State of Maine, every Northern State east of Indiana has a larger ratio of insane and criminals than the average for the Union, while the States west of Ohio, those on the Pacific slope excepted, fall below the general average.

If we measure the extent of unrecorded vice by the proportion of saloons to population, the showing is no less remarkable. The "Report of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue for the Year 1887," page xxxiii, shows that, for the entire country during that year, a retail license for selling liquor was granted for every 329 inhabitants. Of the fifteen States showing more than the average number of illiterates that ratio was only exceeded in the State of Louisiana; while the lowest average in the country was to be found in Mississippi, which, with 495/10-per cent of its inhabitants returned in 1880 as being illiterate, supported but one saloon for every 1,695 persons. Even the prohibition States of Maine and Kansas secured licenses for the sale of intoxicants at retail to an extent only equaled by four of the fifteen super-illiterate States. The proportion of saloons to population throughout the fifteen super-illiterate States is one for every 700 inhabitants, while of the other States California heads the list with one to every 99 persons, New Jersey coming next with one license to every 171 inhabitants, followed closely by New York with one to every 179.

The table which follows presents some disquieting facts, which should serve as a salutary warning to those who expect to find in mental stimulation an equivalent for moral growth and culture:

Compiled from Compendium of Tenth Census, and other official sources.

Illiterates ten
years of age
and over.
per capita.
Ratio of
insane and
Ratio of
saloons to
1880.[5] 1880. 1880. 1887.
Percentage. Amt. per capita.
Fifteen illiterate States[6] 40 4/10 $145 1 in 402 1 in 700
Northern States west of Ohio 7 297 1 in 379 1 in 308
Northern States east of Indiana. 5 3/10 551 1 in 265 1 in 227
Average 17 $340 1 in 332 1 in 329

The table unmistakably shows a greater per capita of wealth where the fewest illiterates are enumerated, but it no less clearly shows that this augmentation of riches has been accompanied by increased insanity and crime and more wide-spread vice.

But we need not confine ourselves to the general statistics of the United States, for the records of New York present similar conditions, which can be analyzed more in detail. The "Annual Report of the Superintendent of the New York State Prisons, 1886," records that the prisons of Auburn and Sing Sing contained 2,610 convicts; of these, 1,801 are credited with a common-school education, 373 are classed as being able to read and write, 19 are returned as collegiates, 10 as having received classical and 78 academic educations, 97 as being able to read only, and 238 as having no education. Is it not contrary to our most confident predictions and undoubted expectations that the common schools should furnish eighty-three per cent and the colleges and academies over four per cent of the inmates of Auburn and Sing Sing?[7]

When it is remembered that the detected illiterate generally finds his way to prison, while the highly educated or well-to-do are frequently saved by friends, who compound the felony to escape exposure and consequent family disgrace; that many are saved from conviction by the ability of counsel whose services are far beyond the means of the illiterate poor, while still many others escape into voluntary exile to avoid imprisonment, it will be seen that even the figures given inadequately portray the extent of crime which, in strict justice, is properly chargeable to the educated classes. Of the prisoners of Auburn and Sing Sing it is further noted that twenty per cent were total abstainers from intoxicants, showing very clearly that a perfect mastery of self is by no means necessarily allied with an honest regard for the rights and property of others.

But if the education of the masses is accompanied by no diminution of vice, crime, and insanity, what shall we say of the effect illiteracy may have upon our institutions by the abuse or misuse of the suffrage? The following extract from the address of the Rev. J. C. Hartzall, delivered before the National Education Assembly at Ocean Grove, in August, 1885, which, with other extracts, is incorporated in the speech of Senator Blair on his Educational Bill, delivered in the Senate, February 8, 1886, presents a fair example of the rather extravagant statements often made by publicists and statesmen concerning the dangers attending the exercise of the elective franchise by illiterate voters. The reverend doctor thus appealed to the Assembly: "I simply call your attention to what may be the injurious effect of their (illiterates) silent action at the polls. The members of our respective political parties believe in the Tightness of their principles, and seek to make their appeal to the reason and the consciences of the people; but the figures disclose the alarming fact that in eleven States these illiterate voters outnumber the votes cast in the last presidential (1884) election by either of the political parties. Thus, should they unite under any strong, impassioned, successful leader, they would have absolute control of legislation and offices in those States, and of the election of twenty-two members of the United States Senate."

Only a moment's thought is necessary to expose the folly of such ill-founded fears, for the suggested peril is contravened by the very conditions set forth as dangerous, as the inability to read and write affords a complete and absolute bar against the possibility of such concerted action; for what means of communication are to be employed to unite, for a single purpose, the illiterates of eleven States, who can neither read letters, circulars, documents, nor newspapers, and, still further, are unable to write answers in return? It requires the most perfect organization, careful canvass, and the expenditure of vast sums of money, to bring out a full vote where conditions are the most favorable for it, in the enlightened and thickly settled portions of the Union, and only where States are very evenly divided is the organization so perfected, at great cost, as to make a full vote possible.

But the election returns themselves are sufficient to prove that the voters in the illiterate States adhere more closely to the two great parties which are said to "appeal to the reason and consciences of men" than do the voters of the States affording the best facilities for the education of the masses; and in the election referred to in the address, the fifteen super-illiterate States combined cast but twenty-five per cent of the Greenback vote polled by the single State of Michigan, while in the late presidential election the same fifteen States cast but ten per cent more Labor Union votes than were cast in the State of Kansas alone, and nine of the super-illiterate States fail to record the polling of a Union-Labor vote.

Far from mental stimulation being essential to moral development, the most perfect order and deepest sense of justice are often found associated with the densest ignorance among the lowest races of humanity. Turn your attention to the Papuan-Islanders,[8] the Veddahs,[9] the Dyaks of Borneo,[10] the Fuegians,[11] and other barbarous races which, in the absence of rulers or organized societies, with no learning and but little acquaintance with even the rude arts of many primitive people, have developed the highest degree of tribal piety, integrity, chastity, and regard for covenants almost unknown to civilized man. The testimony of early travelers proves conclusively that intense poverty and deep ignorance are by no means incompatible with honesty, integrity, and virtue.

The table shows that where the extremes of poverty and wealth prevail, as in the Eastern States, there is found a maximum of moral and mental derangement, as exhibited in insanity, crime, and vice. Where wealth is more evenly distributed, as in the Western States, there are noted less insanity and crime, but almost as high a ratio of saloons as in the East. In the Southern States, although having a low per capita of wealth, yet the mental and moral forces of development are more nearly in adjustment with the material environment; hence the average of crime and vice is shown by the table to be relatively low.

The Rev. F. H. Wines, statistician and philanthropist, who has made questions of crime and criminals the study of a lifetime, was selected by the authorities at Washington to compile the statistics bearing on delinquents in the tenth census; and after a careful study of the mass of figures returned, but few of which appear in the compendium, he makes this very remarkable statement concerning the facts collected and enumerated: "If a comparison is made between offenses against public morals and against public peace, the smallest amount of disorder and the largest of immorality, relatively, are found among the native whites, the most disorder and least immorality among the negroes; and the foreigners occupy a middle ground between the two." ("American Prisons in the Tenth Census," "Proceedings of the National Prison Association for 1888," p. 268.) When it is realized that the native whites represent the better educated portion of our population, and the negroes the more illiterate, while the foreigners are on an educational scale between the two, the significance of the statement can neither be gainsaid nor belittled.

We are, then, confronted by facts which reveal a condition of decreasing illiteracy and increasing crime, of augmenting wealth with more wide-spread destitution. While inventors and engineers have united continents by steamship lines and cables, States by telegraph and railway lines, and cities by bridges, statesmen have vainly sought to unite the interests of employers and employe's, of railway managers and shippers, of producers and consumers; and every legislative measure intended to harmonize the interests of these conflicting elements has given rise to greater irritation and more complicated evils.

Since the record of material progress and mechanical construction has been one of unvarying certainty and triumph, while legislation has so often led to failure in the investigation of this educational problem, will it not be well to reject the hap-hazard devices of the legislator, and confine ourselves to the scientific methods so successfully employed by the constructing engineer and mechanical inventor? Take, for illustration, the history of Bessemer steel railway-bars. The introduction and use of these bars for our railway-tracks so cheapened the cost of transportation that it made possible the development of the far Western States and Territories, which find themselves enabled to profitably market produce thousands of miles away.

Twenty years ago, under a traffic which constituted but a small fraction of the mileage which the same roads are performing to-day, iron rails became worn down and laminated with such rapidity that the cost of track repairs was enormous, and it was by no means uncommon for iron rails to be removed from the track worn out before they bad been subjected to a single season's wear. About that time the Bessemer steel rail was introduced, and its hard, homogeneous metal offered great resistance to the wear and abrasion of the rolling wheels. But a new difficulty appeared; for, while the steel rails suffered but little from wear, they developed a provoking tendency to break without giving any previous warning, which served to increase the danger of railroad traveling. Upon the discovery of this evil, the engineers in charge neither discarded the Bessemer rails, nor did they close their eyes to its obvious defects, but, in imitation of our social concerns, they kept acuratestatistics of the life and breakage of the rails, and finally discovered that, in the effort to resist the tendency to wear, they had gone so far as to make the metal brittle; hence the saving to wear was partly lost because of the failure of rails by breaking. Less carbon was put into the steel, and a softer metal was produced, which, while vastly superior to iron as against lamination and abrasion, was sufficiently soft to avoid the breaking, with its attendant dangers.

Do not the facts disclosed by our social statistics cause it to appear that, in the adjustment of our schools, we have gone too far in our aim for material advancement and development of wealth, and that we are correspondingly losing in the direction of moral growth and culture? Let us, then, imitate the prudence of the railway engineer, and, though seeking to retain the advantages which are already ours, let us not be blind to the visible defects and besetting dangers of our present system. Let us determine the composition of the training of our public schools; let us see if its parts are well proportioned and the compound skillfully wrought, and a thorough analysis may prove, as with the Bessemer steel rail, that, by a judicious change in the nature or proportion of the ingredients, our rapid increase of wealth may suffer a trifling diminution, but the moral balance of education will be restored, and material, political, and moral progress will move forward together.


Is his presidential address to the Royal Geographical Society, President Strachey, assuming that the last barrier excluding us from unknown regions would soon he broken through, named the establishment of the supremacy of modern civilization and progress over Africa as the next geographical problem. That continent presents wholly different conditions from any other land that has been brought under civilization, and will call for different methods of management. It can not be directly colonized, as were North America and Australia, or administered as India is; and amalgamation between European settlers and the indigenous races is wholly out of the question. The operation will necessarily be a long and, in some respects, a painful one.
  1. It is but fair to state that this enormous increase of insanity has led the compiler to question the accuracy of the returns of insane persons made in 1870, yet it is admitted that, after making every allowance, the ratio of increase is out of all proportion to that of population. (See page 1660, "Compendium of the Tenth Census.")
  2. "Proceedings of the National Prison Congress," 1886, p. 134.
  3. "Proceedings of the National Prison Association," 1888, p. 255.
  4. Retail licenses issued by United States in 1887, taken from Report of Internal Revenue Commissioner. Population for 1887 from "World Almanac," 1888.
  5. Computed from tables in Compendium of the Tenth Census.
  6. Includes all States having a percentage of illiteracy above seventeen per cent, the average for the entire country.
  7. The report for Clinton Prison simply classified the prisoners received during the year, and it could not be included with Auburn and Sing Sing, which classify all inmates.
  8. "It is worthy of remark that these simple islanders, without hope of reward or fear of future punishment after death, live in such peace and brotherly love with one another, and that they recognize the right of property in the fullest sense of the word, without there being any authority among them other than the decision of their elders, according to the customs of their forefathers, which are held in the highest regard." (Earl Kolff's "Voyages of the Dogma," p. 161.)
  9. "The Rock Veddahs are divided into small clans, or families, associated for relationship, who agree, partitioning the forests among themselves for hunting-grounds, the limits of each family's possession being marked by streams, hills, rocks, or some well-known trees, and these conventional allotments are always honorably recognized and mutually preserved from violation. Each party has a head man, the most energetic senior of the tribe, but who exercises no authority except distributing at a particular season the honey captured by the members of the clan." (Tennant, ii, p. 440.)
  10. "The Dyaks' minds are as healthy as their bodies; theft, brawling, and adultery are unknown to them." (Boyle's "Borneo," p. 335.)

    "The Dyaks are manly, hospitable, honest, kindly, and humane to a degree which might well shame ourselves." (Ibid, p. 215.)

  11. "Nothing like a chief could be made out among the Fuegians of Blunder Cove, nor did they seem to require one for the peace of their society, for their behavior one to another was most affectionate, and all property seemed to be possessed in common." (Weddell's "Voyages toward the South Pole," p. 168.)