The Menace of Privilege

Chapter 9:
Privilege Causes Criminality to Grow

Henry George Jr.


...While social environments are molding some into obsequious, servile lackeys, they are driving others to suicide, to insanity and to all manner of crime.

Professor Frederick L. Hoffmann's investigations for the information of one of the large insurance companies find that the numbers of suicides is great and progressive. In fifty of the principal cities of the United States the suicide rate for the eleven years of 1893 to 1903, inclusive, was 16.30 to every 100,000 inhabitants; in 1903 it was 18.39 (In New York (Boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx) the rate during the period of 1892 to 1902, inclusive, was 21.6 per 100,000; in Hoboken, just across the Hudson River, 27.14; in Chicago, 23.64; in St. Louis 25.87).

Mr. George P. Upton of Chicago, for years one of the recognized authorities on the subject in America, last year published a table showing 77,617 cases of suicide reported in the newspapers of the country. ("The Facts about Suicide1" The Independent, New York, April 7, 1904. Among other things, Mr. Upton says: "Between the ages of ten and twenty-five, suicides of women are more numerous than those of men. It is one of the saddest features of the case that suicides of women increasing faster than those of men. Half a century ago five times as many men committed suicide as women. A quarter of a century ago the proportion was three men to one woman. During the last three years the ratio has been about 2 1/2 to one. Another sad feature of the suicide situation is the increasing number of children who kill themselves. These suicides are almost without sufficient cause, and sometimes without any.")

Poverty, with all that it means, is a sufficient cause.

And it is a sufficient cause for the growth of insanity. The statistics of the insane outside the precincts of the public and private asylums are scarce and hardly reliable, since there is a natural tendency to hide it wherever possible. Yet the number of insane in the asylums is on the increase, and is greatest among those of highest temperament, who are most quickly distracted by the savage battling for a living.

(Official reports for Washington, District of Columbia, give 277 cases for the year ending June 20, 1899; 247, for 1900; 283, for 1901; 336, for 1902; 290, for 1903; and 373, for 1904, with indications that those for 1905 will quite equal the figures of the preceding year. These figures include only those patients sent to the Government Hospital for the Insane by the municipal authorities, and not patients sent by the United States Government from the soldiers' homes, army and navy, etc. Nor do these figures include such cases as recover before a formal hearing. It appears probable that if the temporary aberration cases were included, they would increase the foregoing figures about ten per cent.)

Dr. V. H. Podstata of the Dunning Insane Asylum for Chicago is reported to have stated that in his judgment one in every 150 of that city's inhabitants is insane. Dr. H. N. Moyer, the eminent alienist of that city, is more moderate. He thinks that the insane of Chicago number one to 400 of the population; in New York, one to 340; in Boston and New England, one to 320. "There is no doubt about the cause of the increase of insanity," he observes. "Poor food, poor homes, with no sun and bad air, improper clothing, worrying about the rent, drive people crazy."

Whatever will produce these results on the more sensitive will brutalize the more stolid. Behold the development of the brute nature in a long catalogue of manifestations, ending with woman beaters and the ruthless trampling upon the weaker sex by men in car and steamboat accidents.

Jefferson said that within the space of ten years he had not heard of a single highway robbery in any of the States, except in New York and Philadelphia immediately following the departure of the British army, some deserters from which infested "those cities for a time." (Letter to M. Claviere, Paris, July 6, 1787, Jefferson's Writings, Ford Edition, vol. IV, p.402.) How odd this now sounds, when tramps are scattered all over our country, even through the newest of our States, and thieves infest our cities; when every manner of crime known to poverty is to be met with in our legal procedure, and when special courts have been created for child-offenders.

Thievery of every sort and description, from stealthy filching to house-breaking, bank blowing and train-robbing, is to be found generally upon our criminal court calendars. Train robbers are nowadays hunted and shot down like wild beasts. Some of the railroad and express systems centering in Chicago announced subsequent to a couple of hold-ups that a dead train robber is worth $1000, and that they will give that sum to the man that does the shooting. One of the officials of the Burlington Railroad is reported to have stated, touching this: "All of our conductors and trainmen carry revolvers, and we are encouraging them to do so, and to learn to shoot straight. I am in favor of a concerted action on the part of the railroad managements and express companies which shall have for its object the hounding of train robbers to the ends of the earth."

The activity of burglars is notorious. Little boys and little girls engage in hold-ups. And behold the cool deliberation marking some of our highway robberies! Edwin Tale, twenty-five years old, an athlete and a member of the Fourth New Jersey Volunteers during the Spanish War, was arrested in Chicago for holding up a man. He said in confession: "I rode on the elevated trains between eleven P.M. and one A.M. When I saw a man who looked easy to rob, I got off the train ahead of him and lay in wait."

Criminal gangs flourish in particular localities until their too brash operations at last raise such a public outcry as to cause them to be routed out by the police. For that matter, it is too plain to be ignored or denied that the police organization itself in the greater cities is made largely particeps criminis. Many police chiefs, superintendents, inspectors and captains, not in New York alone, but in most of the cities, have, with but brief interruption, regularly demanded and regularly received heavy blackmail as the price of blindness to vice and crime.

What fosters the police blackmail evil is the policy so prevalent in this country of late years of using criminals to catch criminals. This makes a back-door connection between the police and what might be called "the instituted criminals." It is told as illustrative of this connection that a certain judge complained at New York Police Headquarters that he had had his pocket picked while crossing Brooklyn Bridge, and had lost his watch, the number of which he gave. A detective was put upon the case. A few hours later report was made to the judge that he must have been mistaken; that he must have lost his watch somewhere else; that the department had means of locating every watch stolen on the bridge during the last forty-eight hours and that no watch bearing the number he had given was among them!

It is furthermore a solemn fact that corruption money is actually used by the Police Department and the District Attorney's Office in New York City to get evidence against infractors of the liquor laws and against disreputable houses. On file in the Controller's office in New York may be seen the approved and paid bills of "plain clothes men " and "special detectives" for clothing outfits, theater tickets, suppers, carriages, wines and women. Controller Eddward M,. Grout early in his administration made a vigorous and indignant public protest against this use of public moneys, but the District Attorney's office and the Police Department said the practice was necessary, and discussion of the matter soon dropped; but not the practice, which has continued.

It is true that the infraction of puritanical sumptuary laws, which is made a penal offense, is the cause of many arrests. Yet, being on the statute books, they should be obeyed. And it should be the duty and practice of the law's municipal servants to see to their enforcement. But it is seriously and credibly charged that while the arrests in the city of Philadelphia for the year 1903 amounted to the enormous number of 75,699 cases, a great number of most serious cases of vice and crime were overlooked by the police for blood-money.

The ratio of arrests in Philadelphia for 1903 was one person out of every seventeen of the population.

That is exceeded by New York and Chicago only in the greater gravity of offense.

The cases of four young men in the latter city illustrates the nature of these crimes. Gustav Marx, age twenty-one; Peter Niedermeyer, age thirty-two; Harvery van Dine, age twenty-one; and Emil Roeski, age nineteen, acting together, committed eight murders and at least one hundred hold-ups. The most significant fact in relation to these young men was that they were American born, and belonged to what many might regard as middle-class families. They but imitated those driven to such things by poverty, or the fear of it.

And if present tendencies continue, we shall soon have among us a horrible practice which has caused such grave scandal in England -- the crime of murdering children for the insurance placed on their lives. Not only have such atrocities been detected of late, but also cases where men, without their knowledge, were insured for a few hundred dollars, and then mysteriously died. A series of such cold-blooded crimes occurred recently in Bayonne, New Jersey, one of the commercial and industrial suburbs of New York City.

Mr. S. S. McClure shocked the thoughtful of the country by quoting, in McClure's Magazine, for December, 1904, a summary of statistics on murders and homicides throughout the country, collected by the Chicago Tribune, and covering twelve years ending 1902. These figures seemed to prove that in 1904 there were four and a half times as many murders and homicides for each million of people in the United States as there were in 1881.

"Oh, well, but," comes the reply, "the thing is explained by the fact that latterly there has been a little more systematic publication of murders and homicides." But why should newspapers pay more attention to such things now than they did a dozen years ago? And how explain away the increasing murders and homicides on the court records? An experienced magistrate, Recorder John W. Goff of New York, told me not long since that in his judgment the course of crime in this country is not only toward more frequency and gravity, but that it is changing its old hot impulsiveness, openness and directness, for cold calculation, secretiveness and deliberate intention to strike without being discovered. This progress and difference he attributes mediately and immediately to extending and deepening poverty.

Not a few are ready to charge any disadvantageous developments among us to immigration -- to the "foreigner." But this would imply that murders and homicides are more frequent in foreign countries than here, which is not the case. (Mr. McClure says that, taking the census for 1900 as a basis, from only one country sending us emigrants - Russia, which sent us only 1/23 part of all that came that year - was there a higher murder and homicide rate than in the United States. And even in Russia the rate but slightly exceeded ours. The remaining 22/23 of the immigrants came from countries no one of which has half as many murders and homicides per million population as we have. See McClure's Magazine, December, 1904.)

What John Stuart Mill wrote years ago has singular applicability to us in this country now --

If the bulk of the human race are always to remain as at present, slaves to toil in which they have no interest, and therefore feel no interest - drudging from early morning till late at night for bare necessities and with all the intellectual and moral deficiencies which that implies-without resources either in mind or feeling-untaught, for they cannot be better taught than fed; selfish, for all their thoughts are required for themselves; without interests or sentiments as citizens and members of society, and with a sense of injustice rankling in their minds, equally for what they have not and what others have; I know not what there is which should make a person of any capacity of reason concern himself about the destinies of the human race. (Principles of Political Economy," Bk. II, Chap. XIII.)

Does not this suggest why the President of the United States is now attended by more or less of a body-guard? Behind the fear is something more real than a phantom. Four years ago a President was killed by a young man who called him a despot. The assassin, Leon F. Czolgosz, was twenty-eight years old, and a native-born citizen, his birthplace being the Western city of Detroit. He had attended the public schools at Alpine, Michigan, and had received a fair instruction in the common branches. He worked in various cities of the country. He was the son of an honest, hard-working father and an earnest mother, and the brother of a United States soldier in the Spanish War. But for all this he had seen trusts and monopolies and combinations rise and exalt some to great power, while the masses of the people were reduced to an intensifying competition among themselves for a living. He became what the Socialists call "class-conscious." He confusedly said to himself that the working masses are getting so little of the fruits of production because another class is "exploiting" them. And he became so far "class-conscious" that he forfeited his life to strike a death-blow at the Chief Executive of this Nation. That Chief Executive, he believed, was not really the servant of all the people, but the creature of some.

I do not understand that this confirms those of the Lombroso school who assert that a criminal "type" has been established in this country, and that that "type," by mere generation, is reproducing and multiplying itself. To my understanding it rather upholds the view brilliantly set forth before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, by Dr. Edward A. Spitzka of New York, that there are now social conditions in the United States that engender most of the crimes (meeting at Philadelphia, Dec.28, 1904). For there are hordes of American men, women and children, who, like Longfellow's outcast in "The Legend Beautiful," gaze

With that terror in the eye
That is only seen in those
Who amid their wants and woes
Hear the sound of doors that close,
And of feet that pass them by;
Grown familiar with disfavor,
Grown familiar with the savor
Of the bread by which men die.

Man is made up of a threefold nature, mental, physical and moral. If the physical man starves, the mental and moral man must die.

When employment is made artificially scarce, as the existence of privilege is making it, some of our people must suffer poverty. They must deteriorate physically, mentally and morally. Then ignorant, unthinking, vicious, volatile mobs must supplant the body of intelligent, upright, self-respecting, patriotic American citizenship; and "mobs in great cities," observed Jefferson, "add just as much to pure government as sores do to the health of the human body." As Privilege extends its control, the forces of deterioration must extend, until the whole community will directly or indirectly become infected.