Margaret Sanger, "Politicians vs. Birth Control," May 1921.
Source: " Birth Control Review, May 1921, pp. 3-4 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S70:0901.."
Advocates of Birth Control must possess the power to face facts and to analyze them. Only upon the basis of tested experience and actual scientific knowledge can we overcome the ignorance, the stupidity and the prejudices which are the only formidable forces standing in our way. Our recent legislative campaign at Albany, an account of which may be found on another page of this number, has revealed in striking fashion the antagonistic attitude of the typical American politician to the pivotal problem of society today. To expect aid or even intelligent understanding of Birth Control from the typical Albany politician; to be disappointed because of the ignorance of these so-called "legislators;" to be discouraged because of their failure to remove the coercive and criminally obscene insult to American womanhood from the statute books--this would be to succumb to emotion rather than to profit by the knowledge, the invaluable knowledge, we have gained from our experience at Albany. The great fact is this: we can expect nothing of the politician of today. If we must use the weapon of politics to further the progress of Birth Control, it must be the politics created by ourselves.
When the first Birth Control clinic in America was declared a "public nuisance," by the courts, we were advised by well-meaning friends that the legal way, the political way, the legislative way, was the only safe and sane method of propaganda. This has now been put to the test. And we discover that the successful politician is not only mentally unable to understand the aim of Birth Control, but, moreover, he himself is the very product of those sinister forces we are aiming to eradicate from human society.
As manifested in the United States today, current politics is the very outgrowth of overcrowding and underfeeding: mental and physical. Your successful politician is the demagogue who knows the best tricks to catch the greatest number of votes. He is the hypnotist of great, docile, submissive, sheep-like majorities. He is interested in number, not intelligence. Therefore, to expect such masters who, by hook or crook, ride roughshod into public office or slide into seats of the state legislature to understand or support a program which aims at the creation of self-reliant, self-governing independent men and women, would be to neglect one of the most important factors among the resources of our opponents. But we did at least expect something more among men elected to public office than the embarrassed giggle of the adolescent, the cynical indecency of the gangster, in the consideration of a serious sexual and social problem.
Perhaps, moreover, we failed to take into consideration the vast power wielded today by the politicians in the control and administration of the public charities, hospitals and "correctional" institutions. Politician and office-holder indirectly benefit through these institutions for the support and maintenance of the victims of compulsory motherhood. Impartial statistics make this evident. Exclusive of privately supported industries and charities, New York City alone spends annually approximately sixteen million dollars to maintain its various departments of charities, hospitals and "corrections." In 146 of the largest American cities, the total expenditure for the support of the dependent population amounts annually to no less than fifty millions of dollars.
Our politicians today profit from human misery. They have an interest, direct or indirect, in the production through uncontrolled fecundity, of the unfit, the underfed, the feebleminded and the incurably diseased. Their interest, financially, is in the increase of our institution populations, with their insistent demands for appropriations from the city and state, as well as their unending appeals to public and private sentimental generosity. Most eugenists dub the victims of out legal and social barbarism "the unfit." But as William Bateson has recently shown, we need to revise and re-interpret our definition of the "unfit." The victims are not the "unfit," but these blind leaders of the blind--the politician, the profiteer, the war-making patriot, the criminal moralist who is urging men and women to " increase and multiply." "The crimes of the prison population," declared Professor Bateson in his recent Galton lecture, " are petty offences by comparison, and the significance we attach to them is a survival of other days. Felonies may be great offences locally, but they do not induce catastrophes. The proclivities of the war-makers are infinitely more dangerous than those of the beings whom from time to time the law may dub as criminals. Consistent and portentous selfishness, combined with dullness of imagination are probably just as transmissible as want of self-control, though destitute of the amiable qualities not rarely associated with the genetic composition of persons of unstable mind. "
In delegating important powers to near-sighted, unimaginative, politicians and acquisitive office-grabbers, the American public is submitting, with deplorable docility, to every sort of injurious and grossly coercive legislation. Laws are passed as penalties for those who dare to disagree with us. Our passivity in this respect is in effect placing upon the shoulders of the next generation not merely the helpless victims of indiscriminate and uncontrolled breeding, but the political parasites who wax so fat on the public charities and "corrections," who, consciously or unconsciously, aim to foster and uphold this disastrous custom of compulsory motherhood.
How closely bound up with the enfranchisement of the mentally deficient is the deterioration of American politics and politicians is indicated in Alleyne Ireland's recent study of the situation, "Democracy and the Human Equation." Mr. Ireland is inevitably driven to the conclusion that there must be some improvement in the quality of the American voter and the American politician before we can expect anything of political action. The only hope he discovers on the horizon is eugenics. But eugenics is futile and impractical, a vague flapping of wings, unless it is allied and strengthened by Birth Control. Otherwise eugenics can only suggest a cradle competition between the "fit" and the "unfit." In this mad race in over-population, the fit would very soon become the unfit; and we would be on the road to a universal imbecility.
Thus we face the interesting possibility--a vision that should give us new strength and coverage: If politicians cannot and will not help Birth Control, Birth Control must and will improve politics.
The most amazing aspect of the present situation is to be found in the great overwhelming fact that the women of America, especially the mothers of America, are demanding the sex hygiene and education which the practice of Birth Control would bring to them. Letters from the over-burdened mothers reach us in thousands; typical examples are presented in issues of the REVIEW. Superficial critics often remark that it is impossible to carry the message of Birth Control to the women who need it most. This claim is belied in all the heart-rending appeals from the victims of barbarous laws and outworn prejudices. If these indomitable and courageous mothers were finally freed from the bondage of compulsory maternity, we should witness the gradual but certain lifting of the curse of the "unfit" and the subnormal. It is the pressure, the ceaseless constant pressure upon American womanhood that is productive of the subnormal and mentally defective. This cursed section of humanity is not a matter of chance. It is the inevitable result of a pressure upon the normal and healthy, a pressure--or cramping restriction--that must somewhere find its outlet.
What the reactionary politicians fail to recognize is that human society possesses in itself, if it were not impeded by outworn customs and barbarous laws, the power of regeneration, of recreation. More and more evidence is coming to light that the number of enlightened and intelligent women is increasing. American women are realizing that first and foremost the problem of bringing children into this world is a personal and physical one. They are refusing to submit any longer to the self-appointed dictatorship of the politician, who, instead of clearing the way for the great march of civilization, is attempting to impede progress by defending decrepit statute and writing into the laws of the land coercive measures.
When women awaken to the necessity of organizing a political method of their own, instead of relying upon or expecting understanding and help from the man-made brand, the politician as he expresses himself today will no longer be tolerated, and with the even of self-reliance and self-government, the race of politicians will, fortunately for humanity, become as extinct as that of the dinosaur.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project