The Social Problems of 1905 America: Ominous Social Phenomena Associated With Want of Sunday Rest

drunks-in-1899

– 6 August 2016 –

Barzillai “19th Century” Bozarth:

19th-century-barzillaiThe following article attributes many of the social ills of the United States in 1905, such as they were, to a widespread lack of Sunday laws, otherwise called “blue” laws.

That the author of the article, Dr. Alexander Jackson, can demonstrate the degenerative state of America in the year 1905 should illustrate to those who today believe that the decline of the U.S. began in the 1950’s or 1960’s that they possess too narrow a perspective of history. Rather, civilization in the West in general has declined steadily at least since the time of the Enlightenment in the Eighteenth Century, not necessarily following a linear path, nor the same path in each stratum of every Western nation, but certainly following a reliable downward trend in the West overall.

Historically, Sunday laws in the United States have lacked consistency in their application, both geographically and in severity. Naturally the Puritan founders of New England, having rejected the feasts and holidays of the Anglican church, adopted the stern character of the Jewish Sabbath to what they called a Christian Sabbath. Over time, governments loosened the terms of these laws as the public held the Sabbath with less intensity. Then, at various times and places in Nineteenth Century America, moralists called for a return to the strictness of colonial New England’s Blue Laws, often meeting with success. State after state, particularly in the South, adopted some form of Sunday laws. Typically, such laws forbade the sale of liquor and prevented other forms of retail. Often they restricted the public activities of the citizenry. The stringency of such laws tended to ebb and flow in relation to periods of religious zeal and passivity, but the Christian apathy of today’s world has seen the slow erosion of Sunday laws to their lowest levels in our history, though they still do commonly exist.

Dr. Jackson’s notions concerning blue laws likely strike the present-day reader as absurd. Yet do the events of history not validate the societal concerns of Jackson and men like him? A mere fifteen years after this article, the Lost generation, after suffering in the trenches of the First World War, ushered in the decadence of the Roaring Twenties, with its speakeasies and flappers and raucous jazz music. The austerity of the Great Depression and the Second World War reversed some of these excesses, yet the supposed greatest generation of World War II, the most secular generation in the history of America up to that time, failed to instill in their children the moral integrity to preserve the fundamentals of their civilization. The decline of Christian moral standards has only accelerated since those spoiled children have grown to adulthood and now elderhood.

Had the moralists of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries won in their days, then they, at a minimum, could have delayed the spread of decadence that we see today, if not averting it altogether.

OMINOUS SOCIAL PHENOMENA OF TO-DAY ASSOCIATED WITH WANT OF SUNDAY REST.

Alexander Jackson, A. M., Ph. D.

There are several social phenomena of to-day that are ominous in the extreme. They have been frequently noticed in an incidental way; but they have not been carefully or scientifically examined, and what explanations have been suggested are superficial and unsatisfactory. Let us collate a few of these facts and then seek for an explanation of them:

I. The Facts:

(a) There is the vast increase of insanity. There has been no opportunity to arrange statistics, but the fact that insanity has increased at an appalling rate is not to be questioned. Probate Courts and superintendents of asylums have echoed the statement. It is only too true.

(b) There is the vast increase of crime. We have no statistics more recent than those collected in the census of 1890; but they show that crime had increased up to that time at an immensely greater rate than the population; and it will not be questioned that the increase since 1890 has been even greater than it was previously. In 1890, Arizona had more than four per cent of its population in jail; Montana and Nevada had more than three per cent; Colorado, California, Massachusetts, Texas, and the District of Columbia had more than two per cent; twenty-five other States had more than one per cent; while the remaining fourteen States had less than one per cent.

[. . .]

(c) There is the vast increase of accidents of a more or less disastrous character. According to Public Opinion, 57,500 lives are annually lost in the United States by accidents and injuries. ”The death rolls of the railroads, industry in general, and disastrous fires, show that killing human beings is a common incident of life in this country.” And the evil appears to be rapidly on the increase. Recently the Hungarian consul at Pittsburg took official notice of the frequent and large slaughter of his fellow countrymen in the mills and workshops of Pittsburg and neighborhood. The average losses in the mines of the United States are 1,500 killed and 3,600 injured. There were 64½ per cent more deaths of passengers in train accidents in 1904 than there were in 1903. It is said that the Interstate Commerce Commission has been moved to recommend the compulsory use of the block-signal system; but the nonuse of the block-signal system does not explain this appalling increase in killing passengers in railroad accidents. The real cause lies further back than the signal system.

WEB-train-wreck

“In 1897, the government of Belgium proceeded to reduce all freight trains until, at the present time, there are 2,227 less on Sunday than on other days. As a result of this cessation of freight traffic on Sunday there has been a reduction of 54 per cent in the accidents occasioned by the fault of railroad employees.”

(d) There is the vast increase in the amount of liquor consumed, although there never was a time when temperance sentiment was so widespread and so strong. Official reports of the United States Bureau of Statistics show that the use of whisky has steadily increased from 1.01 gallons per capita in 1896, to 1.48 gallons in 1904, a gain in nine years of over 46½ per cent. The consumption of wine for the same period shows an increase of 100 per cent; beer, 18 4/5; all alcoholic drinks combined, 21 4/5. Coffee shows a per capita gain of 44.88 per cent since 1896; tea about the same. This shows that the use of the milder stimulants, — wine, beer, coffee, and tea, — has not been able to check the increasing use of spirituous liquors. The total revenue of the United States Government in 1904 from spirituous and malt liquor licenses, etc., was $184,893474.

(e) There is the deluge of strong drugs and patent medicines, the consumption of which in such vast quantities is one of the most alarming factors in the problem of modern life. Many of these drugs are more dangerous than any liquor sold over the saloon counter; and many of the patent medicines have more alcohol than any alcoholic liquor.

(f) Then, there is the widespread degeneracy, which is more and more pressing itself upon the attention of thoughtful men. We have been told that it was with considerable difficulty enough young men could be had to pass the medical examinations to make up the little army necessary to fight Spain in Cuba. And yet our boys and young men were volunteering by the million. Our country was settled by the best blood of the best races; and the blending of these ought to have given us a race of young men and maidens the perfection of manly and womanly development. Instead, we have widespread degeneracy.

What does it all mean?

II. The Explanation.

(a) The American people are living on high pressure. It is doubtful if any nation ever was so high-strung and so intense in all its life as ours. This being the case, on simple sociological grounds no country has ever had so much need of the old-fashioned, quiet, reverent Sabbath rest.

(b) But with us it has come to be that Sunday has about as much mental and nervous strain as any day of the week. There is no criticism of concerts, games, entertainments, excursions, social parties, etc., etc., as things bad in themselves. It is only that, when practiced on Sunday, the benefits from the quiet, reverent rest-day are lost to the people, and there is consequently a premature exhaustion of vitality and nervous and mental power. Even those who wish to keep the day in quiet are not allowed to do so by the intrusion of Sunday newspapers, Sunday traders, Sunday excursions, and Sunday sports. All this lands in nervous and mental exhaustion. The person is “run down,” and in the strain of business or social life a “bracer” is called for; or, if too conscientious to use liquor, he falls back on some drug or patent medicine which may be more dangerous than any alcoholic liquor. The time comes when the bankrupted brain and nervous system succumbs to some deadly disorder or collapses in insanity or nervous impotency.

(c) As showing the relation between a quiet and reverent Sabbath and law-and-order, I quote the following significant comment from the distinguished French statesman, Comte de Montalembert: “Men are surprised sometimes by the ease with which the immense city of London is kept in order by a garrison of three small battalions and two squadrons, while to control the capital of France, which is half the size, forty thousand troops of the line and sixty thousand national guards are necessary. But the stranger who arrives in London on a Sunday morning, when he sees everything of commerce suspended in that gigantic capital in obedience to God; when in the center of that colossal business he finds silence and repose scarcely interrupted by the bells which call to prayer, and the immense crowd on their way to church, — then his astonishment ceases. He understands that there is another curb for a Christian people besides that of bayonets, and that where the law of God is fulfilled with such solemn submissiveness, God Himself, if I dare use the words, charges Himself with the police arrangements.”

(d) As indicating a similar close relation between a quiet and reverent Sabbath and the morality of the people, the following may be quoted: The Registrar-General for Scotland tells us that there is four per cent of illegitimacy in London with all its badness; but thirty-two per cent in Milan; thirty-three per cent in Brussels; thirty-five per cent in Munich ; forty-eight per cent in Paris, and fifty-one per cent in Vienna, — or nearly one thousand per cent more illegitimacy in cities where the Sunday is spent in sport or work than in the greatest city in the world which honors the Sabbath to that extent that it will not allow the publication of a newspaper or collect or deliver mail on that day.

(e) The investigations of Messrs. Imbert and Mestre, two French scientists, have shown that accidents occur most frequently to workmen late in the afternoon, and are least frequent in the morning. This indicates that accidents are largely the result of the workmen being tired. Science also advises us that as nature demands sleep when the person is tired, a part of the mental faculties, or a section of the brain, may take a nap longer or shorter, as the case may be, while otherwise the man is apparently wide-awake. The part of the brain that has been most strained calls for and takes some of the needed rest. Thus the capacity of hearing sounds or of distinguishing colors may be asleep, while the man is otherwise awake. Many of the mistakes of railroaders, in the last analysis, may be thus explained.

[. . .]

Two reports from Europe strengthen our contention that lack of Sunday rest is a great cause of the calamitous accidents which have been so frequent. After the International Congress on Sunday Rest, which was held in Brussels in 1897, the government of Belgium proceeded to reduce all freight trains until, at the present time, there are 2,227 less on Sunday than on other days. As a result of this cessation of freight traffic on Sunday there has been a reduction of 54 per cent in the accidents occasioned by the fault of railroad employees. While in the United States one passenger in 2,316,648 is killed, there is only one passenger in 8,461,309 killed in Great Britain. English railways carry twice as many passengers annually as those of America, but only one-tenth as many of these passengers are killed or injured. In 1904, 10,000 people were killed on American railroads and 75,000 injured; but on English railroads there were only 1,150 killed and 6,785 injured. Sunday rest for railroad men in Belgium and England gives the railroads, the passengers, and the employees a larger immunity from calamitous accidents. If calamitous accidents would be reduced 54 per cent, the sooner our railroads adopt Sunday rest as a principle in railroading, the better. It would save more lives and property from accidents than all the mechanical devices that ever were invented.

(f) But there is still another principle involved. No fair-minded observer will question the great influence of the Christian Church in building up character and educating moral principle. This education is largely done through the public or private services on Sunday, Sunday-schools, Young People’s Societies, and other Christian agencies. In proportion as a man is conscientious in observing the Sabbath as the Lord’s Day, and attending the services in Church as meeting with God, will he be conscientious and reliable in ordinary life. The presence in church of persons who use it for dishonest purposes, no more impairs the truthfulness of this principle than does the forgery of a bank-note impair the worth of the standard currency. This being the case, it is a fair deduction that those who neither observe Sunday nor attend on the public Christian services of worship or work, must deteriorate in moral character. Universal experience corroborates this deduction. Those who are faithful in taking advantage of the means of grace, improve in character, other things being equal; and those who use Sunday the same as other days, and are never found in attendance on Church, deteriorate in moral character. A man who is not faithful to his Divine Maker can not long remain faithful to his fellow-man.

sunday_ban_off_prem_map_2013

Bans on Off-Premises Sunday Sales as of January 1, 2015: Some blue laws have managed to survive till the present day.

Back of all the ominous phenomena which is exciting the alarm of thoughtful men, is the wholesale degradation of the Sabbath. That may not be all the explanation, but no explanation will satisfy that leaves it out. The want of Sunday rest exhausts the vitality; stimulants are resorted to; the exhaustion becomes bankruptcy, and the man yields to physical or mental disease. His children, too, inherit impaired constitutions and distorted organisms. The want of Sunday rest also means the loss of regular Church privileges; and there is a corresponding loss of moral character. The man may not become openly vicious, but he is not as highly conscientious as he who has been regularly taught from Sabbath to Sabbath to recognize the constant presence of the All-seeing One. Then, too, the want of Sunday rest means such exhaustion as compels tired nature to steal snatches of needed rest for exhausted faculties or functions, and these impair the reliability of the operator. In fact, no man can be an efficient officer who does not honor the weekly Sabbath. We unhesitatingly insist that, in this matter of Sabbath observance, the man who is most faithful to his spiritual obligations will be found most efficient and faithful to the duties and responsibilities placed upon him by his fellows.

III. What Is to be Done About It?

That is the main question after all. Statesmen and political economists on the Continent have been so impressed by these and other considerations bearing in the same direction, that they have been trying to restore Sunday rest to their respective peoples, and this without respect to its religious relations. Eleven European countries have, within the last dozen years, placed laws on their statute-books with this object in view. Last year, the Government of Spain, acting under authority of a law passed by the Cortes, inaugurated a national plan for restoring Sunday as a rest-day to the people, and, curiously, in their first practical application of the law they forbade bull-fights and the publication and sale of newspapers on Sunday.

In many cases, public-spirited citizens have not waited for the Government to act. In Marseilles, France, the newspaper proprietors and editors came together, and after conference determined to try the experiment of having no Sunday issue of their newspapers. After three months’ trial, all parties were so satisfied with the situation that, on last May, they agreed to permanently discontinue the publication of Sunday newspapers, and to-day Marseilles has no Sunday newspaper.

Surely, surely our American business men are not all so lost to the principles of the higher manhood that they will continue a course which is so threatening to all that is best in the life of the nation! At least one large Insurance Company is planning to recognize these principles. It is arranging to place a question in the interrogatories of candidates for insurance, and if a man is found to be working regularly seven days a week, he will be refused insurance. There is no doubt that the time is coming when, from simple self-preservation, it will be insisted that every worker shall have one day of rest each week, and when the day will be so safe-guarded from mental and physical dissipation that it will afford real rest and refreshment to tired men.

Sunday Rest in the Twentieth Century, ed., Dr. Alexander Jackson, 63-71. Cleveland: The International Federation of Sunday Rest Associations of America, 1905.

Patulcius:

Patulcius-sqAlthough it would be useless to create stricter blue laws with the idea to improve the moral character of the rotten public, a secular case for such laws can be made on the basis of public rejuvenation and well-being.

Germany has some of the strictest shopping hour restrictions in the world. And not just on Sunday, but throughout the week. The country remains productive and fruitfully employed, yet the frantic rush of all-day shopping and consumption is avoided. Parents can spend time with their children; workers don’t have to slave away at all hours to earn a living. Certainly socialist Germany has several flaws, but the restrictions on work hours benefit the German people whether they believe in Christ or not.

When employers in a society run rampant with the hours they demand of their employees, families suffer. Individuals suffer. Japan is a fine example of a country where parents often spend very little time with one another or their children. As a result, their birthrate is disastrous and their stress rate can kill. A generation of young men and women don’t even know how to engage the opposite sex.

Even the concept of Work Life Balance, Left-wing though it may be in many respects, has some merit because of these reasons.

Clusivius:

Clusivius-sqThere is little point to pushing for stricter blue laws in today’s America. The population has grown so decadent that such laws would only enrage the people without improving their characters.

It makes little sense to impose restrictions on business hours or hours of employment even for secular reasons.

Personally, I prefer to shop, when I have to, during off-peak hours in order to avoid the crowds. (And so do you, Patulcius! Haw! Haw!) Restricted shopping hours would force more people to shop during available hours, increasing crowds.

Likewise, some people in today’s wretched economy depend on irregular hours to make their livings. How many people would lose their jobs if evening or third-shift work disappeared? Sure, some of them could help with increased demand during the allotted hours, but certainly not all.

I doubt the country would benefit enough from blue laws or ‘work life balance’ laws to justify the intrusion of more government in private business.

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5 Comments

  1. I remember when everything was closed on Sundays, it was nice. I do my best not to work on Saturdays and never on Sunday.

    If I were king (or despot if you’re a libertarian!) I’d shut everything down Sat and Sun and all week for Christmas and Easter.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • When I was a kid in Ohio, blue laws were few but most businesses kept restricted hours if they were open at all. But we used to regularly visit relatives in Kentucky and nothing was open there, like you describe. Moral laws, I suppose, had more strength in the Bible Belt South. Such laws don’t improve peoples’ characters, but they definitely reinforce a Christian society’s overall characters and slow potential decline. Along with a side-effect of forcing people to slow down a little, if nothing else.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      • I remember at first everything was closed, then things began opening at 1:00 and closing early and slowly the hours got longer and longer. Now Sunday is no different than any other day-except barbecue joints, they’re still closed on Sundays. Who would have thought barbecue joints would be the last bastion of Christianity. On the the other hand, it is pork!

        I’m not sure that ‘blue laws’ have no effect on a peoples’ character, it says that this day is special (even better if it says this day is Holy) and removes some access to temptation. Individuals may vary, but I think (or is it feel?) that outward signs of societal piety can have a positive effect, especially on children.

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  2. Someone once told me, law flows downstream from culture. The fact that we don’t regard any day of the week, Sunday or otherwise, as a time for spending with family, and in devotion, that is a sad indictment of our consumerist society. Passing a law would not address the underlying spiritual problems.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    • Sometimes I like to bring up these old moral issues to illustrate the fallen state of today’s society. Formerly such issues fell under civil jurisdiction, issues like gambling, fornication, recognition of Christian holidays, divorce and remarriage, interest on loans, etc.

      It wouldn’t do any good to try to regulate such matters today for the general public, you’re absolutely right.

      However, these issues are pertinent if one is trying to build a civilizational seed that will keep a small Christian population intact, possibly for centuries. To preserve these seeds and to serve as the foundational values of those future societies, or nations, then one should remember the old moral codes that served us when we were healthy and then find ways to enforce them among the seed population. Something like what the Amish have done.

      Increasingly, I have given up on working to save Western civilization and instead focus more of my thoughts and energy on what I can do to help create these civilizational seeds of traditional Christian groups.

      I intend to write more on the subject when I’ve better organized my thoughts about it.

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      Reply

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