Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/43

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SUMPTUARY LAWS AND THEIR SOCIAL INFLUENCE.

SUMPTUARY LAWS AND THEIR SOCIAL INFLUENCE.[1]
By WILLIAM A. HAMMOND, M. D.

THERE are many persons who have what they conceive to be the good of their fellow-creatures so greatly at heart that, when they can not succeed in making them conform to a standard of right and wrong that they have set up for themselves, endeavor to accomplish their object by legal enactments. It is true they are very apt to do this under the fiction of insuring the public welfare; but it is none the less a fact, even if we admit the force of their alleged motive, that such laws as those to which I refer interfere with the personal liberty of those against whom they are aimed, and this to an extent incompatible with that degree of freedom of will and of action which is inseparable from the individual in all communities founded upon what we call liberty. Moreover, they are inquisitorial in their nature, and, what is perhaps a point of even still greater importance, they fail to accomplish the object in view; and being continually evaded on one pretext or another, tend to diminish that respect for the majesty of law which all well-ordered citizens should entertain.

The history of sumptuary laws, or laws tending to limit luxury and expense, shows how truly the remarks just made are founded on fact; and yet in all ages of the world such laws have been passed, to be disobeyed, held in contempt, remaining on the statute-book unenforced, and finally either passing into oblivion or being formally repealed. As we are apparently passing through a stage of our national existence in which sumptuary laws are making their appearance, it seemed to me that the Society for Medical Jurisprudence and State Medicine might very properly have its attention directed to the subject.

Among the first within our knowledge to provide by law for the regulation of the appetite, the taste, the affections, the dress, and the most minute details in the life of a citizen was Sparta, Sparta was a small country and its people were few; they were surrounded by powerful neighbors. The first principle instilled into the mind of every individual was, that the state had a claim upon him superior to that of parents or of any relational or social bond. He was from the very cradle trained for war; luxury, being regarded as incompatible with true manliness, was to be suppressed at all hazards. Foreigners, being liable to become a disturbing factor in the system of discipline enforced, were not allowed to enter Sparta; even the feeble children, as being unfit

  1. Read before the New York Society for Medical Jurisprudence and State Medicine, June 3, 1889.