Gambar halaman

especially in vital statistics. What proportion of the national product of families meets an untimely erd? Take those which are judicially dissolved. I regret that I must write several months before the results of the important investigation into the statistics of and relating to marriage and divorce, ordered by the last Congress, can be known. But let me give some facts that we do know, with more or less completeness of detail, concerning fifteen or more states and territories. In two or three of them the divorces have never risen to five per cent of the marriages for the same period. In a few they have been between five and ten per cent. In some three or four they have been repeatedly as high as ten per cent, and there is good reason to believe that in California, and perhaps in other states or territories, they have reached twelve or even fourteen per cent of the marriages.

Now these facts amount to a practical confession that five, ten, twelve, and even fourteen per cent of the families in certain large communities are beyond the reach of all Christian or philanthropic or civil means of relief, and the only thing that can now be done is for the state to put them out of the way, somewhat as ancient society used to relieve itself of its defective classes, or to set free persons who have failed in one or more marriages, to make a new experiment. And to this percentage actually granted to show the extent of the disease, we must add a fourth to represent those whose petitions for divorce are denied, though these do not all belong exactly to the class I am speaking of. But we must add something, and a good deal larger figure than those who have not looked into this particular phase may guess, to cover the numbers of families dissolved by desertion and other means without legal process. In some cities and towns, investigation shows that considerable numbers discard the legal steps out of one marriage into another, and that illicit unions as substitutes for marriage are of dangerous frequency. This practice is not unknown in country towns.

Here, then, in many communities, through the courts or in open disregard of law, something fatal to the very existence of the fam- , ily occurs to from one-tenth to one-fifth of the families, before they have lived one-half of their appointed years.

But what shall we find when we add to this number those other families where the formal existence is continued, but among whom unchastity, adultery, intemperance, cruelty and other loveless rela

tions have robbed domestic life of its virtue and made many unions a living death ? Here statistics fail. We can only observe and reflect on that which forces itself upon our minds.

The declining fruitfulness of the family—to take up the second test-especially among people of the so-called native stock, has become a matter of serious concern. In Massachusetts, the mother of foreign birth has on the average fifty per cent more children than the mother born in this country. It is true that the death-rate among children of foreign parentage is much greater than among the others, but after all allowance for this, the parent of foreign birth rears a much larger percentage of children than the other. And notwithstanding the presence of the foreign element, the birthrate in some of the older states is lower than in most European countries, and is steadily declining. France is the only country in Europe whose birth-rate is as low as that of Massachusetts, and France is alarmed at her condition. Massachusetts is indifferent. For she can still recruit her population from Ireland and Canada. But other states are doubtless just as badly off. No well informed physician believes that this low birth-rate is to any great degree due to loss in reproductive powers, though there is something in this—more, however, as effect than as cause of a declining birth-rate. In three or four sections, and these are large enough to be seriously indicative, the physicians are of the opinion that legitimate children would be fifty per cent more numerous but for criminal deeds. This refers to all classes of people as a whole. In some of our cities, and among intelligent and even Christian people, and very widely too in rural communities, it looks as if there is a prevalent and growing intention, even at the cost, if need be, both of good morals and law, to let the inferior classes rear most of the children. Many of the families which are best fitted so far as pecuniary means and social opportunity are concerned, are deliberately choosing to be unfruitful. And it is the testimony of gynæcologists that more of their patients come from this class than from those women to whom maternity has brought its natural ills.

We must not shut our eyes to the fact that there is a very strong tendency among us to turn over the work of rearing the children who are to be the parents of the next century, to the classes who are least fitted for the task, and that we are thus greatly adding to the burdens of state and church. The so-called dangerous classes multiply. We accept the increase and try to care for it, but without seeking to cleanse the fountain or to increase the forces of the good through the laws of nature as well as by special grace.

It is difficult to speak now with confidence on the marriage-rate, for most of the states publish no trustworthy statistics, and this rate rises and falls within certain periods following the fluctuations of business and other social disturbances. But in the older communities it is probably steadily declining. There is also an undoubted increase in cities, and probably elsewhere, of those who deliberately forsake marriage for illicit relations.

The paper that is to follow will deal with the vice that touches the physical basis of the family. I will simply say, that our general failure to look at this subject squarely and frankly, our popular disregard of its true point of view—from the family as well as from the individual—and forgetfulness of its effect on the most sacred and organic relations, take this vice entirely out of the ordinary categories and make its perils far greater than those of other vices, as judged through any ordinary comparisons by count of instances.

The evil of divorce has increased with alarming rapidity within twenty or thirty years. In some states the greatest increase has taken place within twenty years. In some it has reached a high rate, and now increases slowly or not at all. And in these it has permeated very thoroughly all classes outside the churches, and made sad inroads in the church itself. I incline to think that the divorce-rate in this country, in most states, is double what it was thirty or even less years ago. It certainly has doubled in Europe within that period, though the highest rate there is only five per cent of the marriages. But here, unlike the case in Europe, the highest rates in many of the states are not to be found in the largest cities, but in rural counties. Intelligent New England has repeatedly granted over 2,000 in a single year, and Ohio alone has nearly reached that number. The evils of democracies seem democratic in their hold on the people. The Roman Catholic population everywhere, probably, and the foreign population generally in the East, is comparatively free from divorces. But in the West the foreign element, especially the non-Catholic, seems to vie with the rest in the resort to courts. There is, also, reason to think that heedless marriages, a decrease in the whole number of marriages and of children, with an increase in illegiti

mate births, and a great increase in the various offenses against chastity, have accompanied the increase of divorces.

I have no time to speak of Mormon polygamy. It is hardly necessary lo do so; for it is simply an open and defiant challenge of the monogamous family in theory and practice. Its very nature and gross concentration make its evils obvious, and really less of a menace to our social order than the secret sapping of the theory of the family through the silent working of divorce and these other evils, from their general diffusion.

Looking, then, at the family, simply as a product of society, we find grave perils. They vary in different states. In some, divorces are notoriously frequent; in others, disorderly marriages and the like are more numerous than the divorces, and divorces tend to increase in those states formerly most free from them. With the increase of common interests all the states suffer through the evils of any one. Comparisons are of little use among ourselves or with Europe, whose social morality affects us more deeply every year. We have seen enough to know that our own society falls far short, in producing a maximum of sound families that attain those great objects, and reach that natural end which marks the termination of a successful life.

The present state of the law that regulates and protects the family is a very great source of danger. Our marriage laws are simply inadequate. Compare the legal protection of the family with that given to real estate. Every woman who owns real property finds ample legal protection. She may have a bond for a deed. The written deed duly made out, with the assurance of a perfect title, signed, sealed, witnessed and fully recorded, with every transfer properly noted, so that not only those immediately concerned, but the entire public, may know at any time the exact legal condition of every piece of real estate in the land, with laws aimed at protection against fraud, abuse of trust, theft, incendiarism and other injuries—and reasonably well enforced too—these are the protections which every woman has for her property. But her hold on the family in marriage is a very different thing. In more than one-third of the states and territories a marriage is legal without a scrap of writing, or a witness, or even the intervention of an official of any sort. No decent system of public record exists in many states, while very few both keep and publish these records. Where licenses are required, the mere word or the oath of an interested party. is the basis of the permit, and no evidence is demanded to prove freedom from a former marriage. We have to take the people who move into our communities, and the immigrants from Europe, simply on trust in respect to their domestic ties; and this is frequently shamefully abused. And our laws protecting chastity are probably less frequently enforced than those of any other class, unless we except those in defense of the Sabbath. The legal protection of property is infinitely superior to that of the family.

Our divorce laws are almost as various as the number of legislatures that make them. Divorces can be obtained for a dozen legal causes in some states, and they are often made elastic enough to cover every conceivable reason for divorce. They can be obtained in 2,700 courts in the United States, and in some legislatures besides. These courts sit frequently, and sometimes constantly, in open court or private chambers. The procedure is often so easy that fraud is frequent; and disregard of the rights of others, haste and the eager hurry to marry another, can be readily gratified, and in some states divorce can be had by either husband or wife, almost for the asking. The conflicting marriage and divorce laws of the country have less to do with the increase of divorces than most people think, but they are a great evil in their opportunities for fraud, and in the uncertainty they give to the legal status of the married or divorced, as they pass from state to state, and of their children. And not the least of the evils is their effect on the popular ideas of what marriage and the family are. And then the national government has allowed the crude territorial legislatures to make their own laws on this subject, and these in many cases stamp upon a future state an exceedingly loose system of domestic law. This has been done; while Congress is directly responsible for the laws of the District of Columbia, whose effects have long been an offense to her best citizens, and against whose compulsory administration high-minded judges have inwardly revolted, and sometimes openly complained. Congress has regulated marriage and divorce in Utah, but neglects Dakota and the Capital of the country.

If the condition of public law be an indication of social condition, and it is usually so regarded, I do not believe there is any considerable civilized people in the world that is taking so great risks with the family as we are in these United States. Property

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »