Origin of Crime in Society (Part I)

The first installment in a sociologist’s three-part study

This is part one of a three-part series. Read part two here and part three here.

In the study of the causes which regulate the existence of crime, the first influence to be taken into account is that of environment. Examples are necessary to set forth what environment does for crime, and a good illustration is found in Defoe’s Journal of the Plague in London. In stating its effect upon the population, he says, “There were a great many robberies committed even in this dreadful time. … Particularly in houses where all the families or inhabitants had been dead and carried out, they would break in at all hazards, and, without regard to the danger of infection, take even the clothes off the dead bodies. … It is, indeed, to be observed that the women were, in all this calamity, the most rash, fearless, and desperate creatures; and, as there were vast numbers that went about as nurses, to tend those that were sick, they committed a great many petty thieveries in the houses where they were employed; till at length the parish officers were sent to recommend nurses to the sick, and always took an account who it was they sent, so as that they might call them to account if the house had been abused where they were placed. … But these robberies extended chiefly to wearing clothes … and what rings and money they could come at, … but not to a general plundering of the houses.” Describing the robbery of a warehouse in Swan Alley of “high-crowned hats” by women, the journalist continues: “’What business, mistress,’ said I, ‘have you had there?’ ‘There are more people there,’ said she; ‘I have had no more business there than they.’ But just as I came to the gate I saw two more coming across the yard to come out, with hats also on their heads, and under their arms; and turning to the women, ‘Forsooth,’ said I, ‘what are you doing here?’ ... One of them, who, I confess, did not look like a thief, ‘Indeed,’ says she, ‘we are all wrong; but we were told they were goods that had no owner. Be pleased to take them again, and look yonder; there are more such customers as we.’ … They all told me they were neighbors, that they had heard any one might take them, that they were nobody’s goods, and the like.”

Those who recall the incidents of the yellow-fever epidemic in Memphis during 1879 will remember that thefts were committed in a similar way; that in one instance the health officers found the stolen goods scattered several miles away, and that a committee of safety had to be organized to prevent the plunder of the closed stores and dwellings.

When these incidents are analyzed, they show that the disturbance of social order which leaves property unprotected promotes unlawful appropriation. It was the women in London who were chiefly engaged in pilfering. They had free access to the houses as nurses, and could not resist the temptation which was presented to them within doors. But the rise in crime was not general; in fact, the vigilance of the police was such that property was more carefully guarded during the epidemic than before or after. Nor could those who thus stole be classed with common criminals. They were chiefly persons who, under ordinary circumstances, were held to be honest; but neither the fear of contagion nor the fact that the owner was living served as a restraint when the rumor came that the things coveted were “nobody’s goods.” Effective temptation becoming enhanced, offenses multiplied responsively, extending the circle of offenders beyond the habitually criminal to those usually honest. But an epidemic is not the only disturbance which diffuses crime. It may spring out of speculation with other people’s money. This was the case during our late war. While the currency was in process of inflation, the continuous rise in prices presented such chances to become suddenly rich that numberless clerks, trustees, and directors in public institutions pledged other people’s collaterals in order to borrow money for their speculations. With the sure decline of prices the extent of their demoralization was revealed by a numerous crop of embezzlements and defalcations, which led to the statement that defalcation was the crime of the day, just as highway robbery was the terror of travelers in the days of Fielding. These breaches of trust were not committed by the criminal class. They were mainly confined to the greatly tempted among lawyers, bankers, directors of monetary institutions, and members of churches, all of whom knew the ethical wrong of their acts. Every one of their offenses was punishable by a state-prison sentence, and yet men in good standing in the community, men who had the confidence of the people on the very ground of their fidelity to important trusts, did not hesitate, with the prospect of reaping great profits, to risk in unlawful enterprises the funds intrusted to them, and in doing thus entered upon a criminal career. The so-called fear of the law had no essential part in their calculations.

The memorable “draft riots” of July, 1863, in New York city, developed similar results from the disturbance of the social order. On Tuesday, July 14th, the second day of the riot, the New York Tribune had the following: “Bands of thieves are everywhere, mixed up in every crowd, and carrying off plunder in every direction. To them it was a free day, and they made themselves comfortable as to terms.” “A vast horde followed the rioters,” says Mr. Headley, “for the sole purpose of plunder, and, loaded down with their spoils, could be seen hastening home in every direction.” “The lawlessness that prevailed not only let loose all the thieves and burglars of the city, but attracted those from other places, who practiced their vocation with impunity.” The Tribune adds that “highway robberies were perpetrated in every part of the city.” On the night of the third day of the riot, Chief Young ordered detectives to raid all the “lushing cribs” frequented by thieves within a short distance of the central police office, and to arrest every person found. The Tribune says, “They belong to Boston, Providence, and Baltimore.” Again, “John Fay, Montgomery, Myer, and Marsh, said to be Philadelphia thieves, were set at liberty” by the notorious Judge McCunn, and at the trials of the one hundred and fifty persons arrested on account of the riots several were proved to belong to other cities. It is also significant that in this riot as in the “strike” riots of 1877 no professional thief was reported among the killed. They always worked at a safe distance from the fight. For several weeks after the disturbance of the New York draft-riots was quelled, the police searched for plunder. “In dirty cellars and squalid apartments,” says Mr. Headley, “were piled away the richest stuffs, brocaded silks, cashmere shawls, elegant chairs, brasses, bronzes, and articles of vertu, huddled promiscuously together;” and the amount paid by the authorities for damages to merchants and private citizens was nearly $2,500,000.

These incidents concur in their essential features with those of Defoe’s narrative, but with the addition, in the case of the riot, that the thieves, knowing that their market was ready, were on hand before the police and the soldiers. According to the Tribune, one Colman, arrested for larceny, “was heard to say previous to the riot, that the store of Brooks Brothers was to be forced open and sacked, and that he should be one of the first to do it. It shows conclusively that he knew there was to be a riot, the chief object of which was to rob and plunder.” The loss at the sacking of their store was between $80,000 and $100,000. There is to be noticed the temporary flocking of the criminals from other points to the centre of opportunity, so that the crime ratio in New York city rose in proportion to the knowledge, given through the press and the telegraph, that superior inducements were offered during the riot for breaking into houses and engaging in wholesale plunder. Had the riot lasted long enough to exhaust all possibility of plunder, the thieves would have dispersed as spontaneously as they gathered; and the ratio of crime and criminals in New York would then have sunk to a level below the average before the disturbance.

Here we have a new feature: the immigration of criminals from one section of country to another, the outside professional entering into competition with the native cut-purse; showing that the distribution of criminals within the community follows the law of supply and demand which obtains in the commercial world. But the parallel goes further: it was not the forgers and counterfeiters who gathered, but those who practiced house-breaking and pocket-picking. It is seen, in this case, that the ratio of criminals rises selectively, as the nature of the opportunity corresponds to the character and habits of the criminal or of the person tempted to commit crime.

Thus far our illustrations show that the ratio fluctuates by force of certain external circumstances. But the existence of temptation does not fully account for the suddenness of the rise in the crime ratio of a nation. Some other effective element must coöperate with the opportunity, and this effective something must he latent, ever present, and highly susceptible of excitation. This element is best studied in that aspect of the history of subsistence which relates to the metamorphoses of national character resulting from the changes in the mode of acquiring and distributing property.

If subsistence failed the Teutonic savages, they provided it by rapine and divided it by lot, the strongest wresting an undue share. The vanquished might become the food of the conquerors; the division of the feast might he attended with patricide; the surfeit of the banquet might be succeeded by the stupor of gluttony. The primary instinct was self-preservation, but it was attended by self-indulgence in every extreme of uncultured vice. Its effect was to produce predatory habits, a mind stolid to the torture of others, and a character marked by indolence, fickleness, and treachery. The incursion of an alien tribe on the customary hunting-ground was a threat of famine, and had to be met by war to oust the trespasser. But if the increase of the tribe required a wider area for subsistence, it was obtained by the dispossession of a neighboring enemy or of a feeble ally, by massacre or by slavery. This is the substantial history of the successive Germanic invasions which overthrew the Roman civilization and practically extinguished it in England, where the historical evidence survives that the present title to all land was acquired by the forcible despoiling of the former occupants, who were themselves invaders. At that time the right of private war was unquestioned, and a knight’s right arm “gave a better title than any deed of grant or Court of Thanes.” The law, recognizing the custom of forcible-appropriation, borrowed its vocabulary from the facts, and spoke of the possessor being seised of the realty; and if he were ousted, the act was spoken of as disseisin. The maxims of law declared that actual entry was necessary to possession, thus ignoring a rightful owner too weak to hold his own, and that possession is nine points of the law, thus favoring a successful brigand. In this way the law perpetuated acts of spoliation by acknowledging possession as the best evidence of right. Forcible entry was continued in the early civilization of England as a rightful mode of maintaining legal titles. Even down to the fourteenth century it is perplexing to draw the line which separates the acts of criminals from the deeds of nobles and dignitaries. “The knights, or, in other words, the class corresponding to our modern gentry, were commonly engaged in exploits which it is extremely difficult to distinguish from brigandage; and the clergy, from the abbots down to the chaplains, followed the example set them by the knights.” The history of the time is crowded with instances of this sort of lawlessness. “The Countess of Lincoln had a free warren and chase at Kingston Lacy. A band, more than fifty in number, entered, killed the game, deliberately cut down the timber to the value of two thousand pounds of ancient currency, and carried it off. Among the accused were the Abbot of Sherborne, the Abbot of Middleton, and the Prior of Horton. Three knights and a force more than sixty strong, with many chaplains in its ranks, broke a close belonging to the Archbishop of Canterbury, drove off his cattle, cut down his trees, reaped his corn, and marched quietly away with the plunder. … The Prior of Bollington was charged with the robbery of horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs.” These instances are found in the rolls of a single year, among a hundred more of the same general character. So ineffectual were the statutes to suppress this tendency that we find in a roll for 1701 “no less than eleven cases of violent seizure or detention of land were mentioned.” Even when disseisin ceased to be practiced in fact, the laws relating to fines and recoveries, which gave sanction to mediæval fraud and force, were regarded by the conveyancers as necessary legal fictions. “Both fines and recoveries were originally actions at law, in which the opposing parties acted in collusion for the purpose of effecting that which they could not legally effect by straightforward and honorable dealing. In the recovery there was the allegation of a disseisin or forcible entry, which was purely fictitious, a fictitious warranty, and a fictitious default of the warrantor. In later times, of course, no deception was practiced, and the law practically gave its countenance to that which had once been the evasion of law.” In this incomplete historical sketch we see that the other essential element of crime to which we have alluded is the character of the people. Underlying national metamorphoses, the deep-seated habits of the savage, ever decreasing as we approach the present time, have reached down through eleven centuries of English history, and the acts of burglary, robbery, larceny, and murder which, five hundred years ago, were the customary life of the nobles are now practiced chiefly by criminal reprobates.

But in tracing the modification of individual and national character there is another point to look at. In the transfer of property by violence, what the victor gains the vanquished loses; but the transfer of property by exchange, which implies gain to both parties by the transaction, gradually supersedes the former, and modifies human character in that way which we call civilization. Labor is the point around which the social metamorphosis primarily revolves. It is one of the chief forces in modern life, the most effective moderator of license, impulse, and intemperance; it provides with certainty for the well-being of the citizen and the commonwealth. The accumulation of wealth from labor involves a vital process which affects society at three points: primarily, by controlling the emotional and magnifying the mental life of the laborer; secondarily, by producing a social organization dependent upon the change of character thus induced in the laborer; and, thirdly, by the product of the labor itself becoming an agent, in the hands of those who have created it, to expand the purposes of civilization. Labor enters mysteriously into the physical basis of morality. It organizes perseverance, foresight, moderation, and the power to forego present pleasure for prospective profit, all of which are attributes of character. It requires and secures peace under liberty, which encourages commercial contracts, strengthens responsibility, and facilitates exchange which involves equity. Labor thus moulds the national metamorphoses into the form of an international brotherhood, and progressively increases the allotment of material, social, and moral rewards which are distributed among thrifty people. In this arrangement of social forces, arbitrary vindictiveness finds no place. The march of civilization is not by savage conquest or by private war. It is a perpetual persuasion, carried forward to an intensely practical result, and becoming an organic, constructive, and inexorable compulsion, “the simple non-collection of reward performing the office of punishment.”

Looking to the effect of these initial causes, we should expect that the free cities established during the Middle Ages, fostering industrial growth by insuring security for life and property, would muster the peaceful citizens of the rural districts, and leave the idle and turbulent elements behind. This was the fact, and the industrial selection favored the survival of savage instincts and customs in the suburban districts, while it effaced them in the cities.

Labor thus displaces the savage system of spoliation, and introduces the new element of coöperation. The two processes act with unequal force on different individuals, one retarding, the other accelerating, in differing degrees and diverse directions; so that various individuals and different localities depart more or less widely from the original savage type. In this way, innumerable grades have arisen, each conforming more or less to the civilization of their time; and the difference in capacity which marks the boor from the skilled mechanic and professional expert, or the criminal outcast from the honest man, grows largely out of the incapacity of the boor and criminal to grasp the nature of exchange, or to fit themselves to become productive laborers.

Modern society has thus become a harp of a thousand strings, many of which are discords waiting to be keyed up to concert pitch. There are striking examples of the active operation of this process of selection in the economic and criminal history of England during the first half of this century. In 1848 Plint observed that the increase of crime in England from 1801 to 1848 had been 200 per cent., but that this increase was in a rapidly diminishing ratio. From 1801 to 1821 it was 112 per cent.; from 1821 to 1831 it was 27 per cent.; while from 1831 to 1845 it was only 7 per cent. This showed “either that some powerful causes [were] in operation, retarding crime, or that crime … has its limits, and that in particular localities it is approaching such limits.” How well he understood the matter appears by the diminishing increase of the first half of the century becoming an actual decrease of 33 per cent. in indictable offenses between the years 1858 and 1875.

In his observations on the diminishing ratio in the increase of crime, the higher relative augmentation was in the agricultural and mining counties, where it ranged, between the years 1821 and 1845, from 100 to 207 per cent.; while it was but 35 per cent. for all England. In the mixed manufacturing and mining counties there was an intermediate excess, while there was an increase below the average of all England, or an absolute decrease, in 1821, in the counties which contained the centres of manufactures, trade, and wealth. The increase in Middlesex was only 5-3 per cent.; while Lancashire showed a decrease of 5 and Nottingham of 22 per cent. And this is not all. The county constabulary, which makes criminal returns for 56 per cent. of the population of England and Wales, 18 per cent. being in towns, reported that in three years, ending in 1873, 53 per cent. of the attempts to murder, 62 per cent. of the proved murders, which includes the most atrocious cases, and 88 per cent. of the arsons committed took place in the rural districts. Aside from numerous secondary causes which contribute to these results, the retardation of hereditable quality is conspicuous. The rustic population suffers a double deprivation. The intelligent and aspiring, flocking to the centres of manufacture, cease to. endow with their virtues the posterity of their native neighborhoods, and by their absence subtract the civilizing environment they would otherwise generate. Class endogamy1 ensuing, the lineal descendant and contingent remainder of the savage survives, in the rural district, in the persons of the habitual criminal and pauper, who pour forth in a perpetual stream to swell the criminal ranks of the cities.

The Irish form a conspicuous example of this law on an international scale. For two hundred years England has avoided civil war, and organized those social and political habits which are best described as respect for law. But the people of Ireland, partly by reason of their derivation from a barbarous race, and largely by reason of English misrule, have remained up to very recent times a prey to faction fights, to insecurity of land tenure, to industrial stagnation, and to uncertainty of food products frequently threatening actual famine. Their history has been one of protracted revolt, now smothered, and again breaking out at fitful intervals, so that industry has never been established upon a fixed and certain basis. In correspondence with these historical facts we find that grave crime in Ireland is more frequent than in England. In 1873, the English stood charged with 37 per cent. less offenses in the malicious destruction of property, and with 41 per cent. fewer murders of persons above one year of age, than the Irish; while the offenses against property without violence were 49 per cent. less among the Irish than among the English. Offenses against property without violence are the mark of civilization. When the Irish emigrate to countries which have long since outgrown savage life, their proclivities become still more marked; they actually supplant the native offender. More than 8 per cent. of the graver crimes committed in England are traced to the Irish, who, in 1873, were less than 2.5 per cent. of the whole population. In the northern counties, while the percentage of the Irish population was 6.6 per cent. of the whole, the number of Irish imprisoned was 25 per cent., or four times as great as the native population.

In order to avoid possible error in these figures, arising out of race prejudice in England acting unfavorably to the conviction of the Irish, it is well to note that in the city of New York, where neither the juries nor the judges can be supposed to have a bias against the Irish, the proportion of convicts in Sing Sing prison who are Irish or of Irish parentage is almost 66 per cent., while the Irish population of the city of New York is only 44 per cent., and that of the rural districts which send their convicts to that prison is not one fifth of the number.

This strikingly establishes the force of hereditary tendencies in the formation of the criminal character. We have confined ourselves, in all that precedes, entirely to the influence of hunger upon crime, excluding, for obvious reasons, the illustrations which might be drawn from the sexual appetite, — illustrations which, if duly taken into account, would immensely strengthen the argument.

It is now time to turn to the question of relative temptation as developed under commercial and industrial crises. These tend to restore the chronic conditions of savage life, — war and hunger, — which produce reversions toward barbaric impulse among a race fairly civilized. No country presents a more favorable example for this study than England. it has been so long at peace internally that the forces of civilization are uppermost; and yet the external wars she has frequently waged have reacted on the social prosperity of the nation, and can be noted like a pulse in its crime ratio. For eight years before the close of the twenty years’ war in 1815, a commercial and industrial panic was impending; but when the industries incident to the supply of war materials were checked, and 120,000 soldiers, mostly unskilled laborers or criminals, either pressed into the army, or deliberately committed to its ranks by the magistrate, were turned loose as free laborers, the catastrophe could no longer be averted. The crisis culminated in 1816. Eighty-nine banks failed; the inflated currency fell to half its face value; the price of food went up; and the 120,000 helpless soldiers found no place among artisans as helpless as themselves. They were compelled to fight in a new direction. In two years, from 1815 to 1817, the rise in crime culminated, going up to 72 per cent., which was 173 per cent. more than it was in 1806, notwithstanding the executions in 1817 were double those of 1815, and the death penalty was inflicted for two hundred and thirty-three distinct offenses, including larcenies to the value of five shillings. The same results, only in a less degree, were noticed after the Crimean war. Want always follows in the wake of war. The ability to give employment is curtailed; the purchasing power of workmen is reduced; and a relative famine substantially exists among the poor, even though there may be an abundant harvest. Usually during the period of crises the operatives are selectively dismissed from employment, those turned off being less skillful, less reliable, less honest, less steady, or less industrious than the workmen who are retained. The discharged men thus approximate nearer to the savage type. Famine, an essential condition of savage life, looms up before them, and becomes to those most closely allied to the savage character their most effective temptation. If they fail in the capacity and training which command employment in the handicrafts in which they have been bred, they are still less able to readapt themselves to the new industries which grow out of the changes of modern life; they feel obliged to fall back upon a set of capacities which enables them to enter into a destructive competition with thieves for a portion of the decreased income which may now be secured by theft. This competition forces the habitual criminals to share in the general retrenchment, and the evidence of this very retrenchment may be seen in the reduction of arrests for drunkenness. Thus, one of the results of a commercial crisis is the compulsory temperance of the criminal class. The general result is on the one hand a rise in the number of graver crimes and in the proportionate number of criminals, and on the other hand the curbing of vices which lead to assaults and misdemeanors, and a reduction in the number of commitments for these causes.

Yet, upon the return of commercial prosperity, a fall in the crime ratio and a rise in the misdemeanors will take place. The call now is for additional operatives, and those who took up criminal callings in adversity are the first to reënter the ranks of honest industry. Thus, whenever commercial panics, without war, have occurred, a rise has taken place in the crime-ratio. Whenever abundant harvests and industrial prosperity have concurred, the ratio has fallen. There is no exception to this rule. But while the advent of prosperity reduces the number of criminals and of crimes, it also enlarges the possible income of the persistently dishonest, and tends to keep up the number of hereditary criminals to the point which society itself tolerates. This perpetuation of a criminal stock, however,

need not be a cause of alarm or an occasion of wonder. Speaking in a general way, the survival of these hereditary criminals represents not a destructive but a conservative force. They measure the maximum number of persons whom civilization has so far failed to improve. They point out the enormous power of the slow social growth, by which the vast antecedent army of self-indulgent men has been reduced until it has shrunk to a corporal’s guard of professional offenders. The fact that they are hereditary offenders, perpetuated mainly by class intermarriage, restricts their social influence by narrowing down the field of entailment, and makes them more and more a controllable element as to numbers and social influence.

Criminals are not found to be isolated factors in modern life, and the prevalence of crime is no fortuitous accident, but follows a law similar to that of mortality, though illustrated by facts of a somewhat different order.

We can now readily understand that want, as a constant cause, will produce an analogous constant equivalent, modified as to kind by the changes wrought in the national character and by other civilizing agencies, and restricted as to degree by the moderation or severity of the struggle for existence. In other words, whenever, in a savage state of society, famine threatens a tribe, it incites to the massacre and pillage of the adjacent people as the means of procuring food; sometimes it ends in cannibalism. If it stops short of these acts of violence among the civilized, it is because the progressive accumulation and wider distribution of wealth enables the community to submit without resistance to a temporarily increased loss from depredation, and offers to the needy an easier relief from want by means of theft. The existence of a food reserve, which multiplies the opportunities for theft, relieves the thief of the temptation to effect the transfer by the additional crime of the murder of the holder of the supply. Herein you have an illustration of the persuasions of civilization in the extinguishing of the necessity for an absolute reversion to the savage type. There is also an illustration of the inexorableness of civilization in the fact that by checking the impulse to murder the non-exercise provides for the extinction of a characteristic of brutality, which would otherwise be indefinitely continued. Slowly, brutality as an hereditary entailment becomes an ever-weakening force.

So far, the attention has been directed chiefly to the fluctuations of the crime-ratio when the comparison is made at different periods of time. But when particular crimes in countries or localities of homogeneous social, industrial, and political organization are compared with one another at the same time, it is found that the ratios are nearly uniform. The gradual decrease of serious offenses and the change in the character of the crimes themselves are also points to be noted. In Turpin’s day travelers carried coin to meet the requirements of their journey, which involved the highwayman in a personal contest with his victim, — a contest fatal or not according to the degree of the victim’s resistance. In our own day the universal use of checks and letters of credit, of railroad trains stopping only at regular and frequented stations, instead of stage-coaches with “irregular stoppages,” has cut off the forms of opportunity which tempted the Dick Turpin of old. The intensity of crime has thus decreased by losing the characteristics of violence, and embezzlements, pocket-picking, false pretenses, and counterfeiting, which avoid violence, are in the ascendant. In other words, fraud and dexterity are superseding force as the auxiliaries of the criminal, and contrivance is becoming essential to criminal success. But fraud, dexterity, and contrivance imply intellectual and manual training, sometimes training of the highest order; so that the forms of crime are conforming in certain essential features to the conditions of organized labor. Just so far the training of the expert criminal lays the foundation for his potential drafting into the army of the industrious. Crime, therefore, is itself becoming civilized, and by reason of this infusion of the element of industry is perpetually providing for the extinction of some of its own forms. It is thus seen to be less true that civilization creates new crimes than that it makes old crimes more and more impossible.

The present argument is purposely confined to the consideration of crimes against property with or without violence. Murders committed for gain are included, because they follow the general laws already mentioned; but offenses committed by the insane or idiotic are excluded, because they present certain features which do not obviously follow these laws, and need a separate treatment to show how they conform to and differ from the present subject. Crimes against the person embrace motives which do not enter into the commission of crimes against property (excepting malicious mischief), and require a special examination. They are, for this reason, here left out.

In so short a space it is impossible to give a full exposition of all the laws governing the crime ratio. This would call for an analysis of the emotions which prompt to gratification by acts involving the invasion of the property of others. But as these emotions are to a great extent either resolvable into two master appetites, hunger and sexual passion, or intimately allied to them, it is thought best to suggest that the sum of these emotions be thought of by the reader as the inspiring and prompting element of the criminal career. On the other hand, the illustrations and explanation of the general laws of crime have been confined specifically to hunger, in order to avoid the necessity of discussing the uxorial problem, and the complexities growing out of collateral though highly important issues of less prominent motives.

The general induction seems to be that the more important fluctuations in the crime ratio primarily depend on the entailment of the savage nature. Whenever war and want affect a partly cultured nation, the environment of its less favored people approximates to savage forms, and their latent savage traits break forth into theft and brutality. If the want comes from a commercial crisis, the reversion is toward crimes against property without violence. If peace and plenty reign, and the environment promotes steady industry, the savage features of the character subside, and the moral attributes become fixed and extend civilized habits to a new contingent of hitherto unimproved people. The rewards of labor play an important part at this point. Whenever civilization ceases to dispense rewards, the backward movement toward barbarism again sets in, because the average man cares less for life than for the things for which he lives. But where there is an hereditary criminal class, crime will be proportionate to the degree of effective temptation, and no sort of arbitrary punishment can avail to check it. The temptation depends upon two conditions, — the character, necessities, and caprices of the thief, and the vigilance of his victims. If for a sufficient time the vigilance be relaxed by social disturbance, the crime ratio will rise; if it be increased, the ratio will fall.

The number of criminals who will prey upon property, at any given time, is determined by the degree of competition for the plunder which is within the possibility of capture, the amount of which is gauged by the standard of living habitual to those among whom the plunder is to be divided. Nor is this all. The competition for plunder excludes many men and women from the criminal class, because the point of successful resistance to depredation has been reached and the point of the possible distribution of the spoil attained, thereby extinguishing the conditions of success in a criminal career.

The absolute reduction of the crime ratio seems largely to be effected by three methods. The first method is the offer of rewards for industry in the form of wages or social and moral consideration, presenting greater inducements than the possible gains by theft. These inducements are offered at first with severe and irksome conditions of contract, expressed or implied, and these conditions give rise to habits which gradually organize into moral sentiments. These sentiments are in accord with the habits, at first unwillingly accepted, but afterwards loyally and cheerfully carried out, and at last are performed as duties, bringing with them the satisfactions of right doing. The second method is the gradual preparation of the criminal class to enter upon legitimate occupation. There is a certain sort of compulsion in this. Civilization makes it necessary for the criminal to fit himself by an appropriate education to cope with the devices created by monetary and property relationships. He must be able to use the instruments and methods of culture, and this knowledge is one of the first steps in moral conduct, and most favorable to its development. The third method is the gradual multiplication of grades of society, one insensibly merging into the other. This prepares a continuous social medium for transitions from one extreme group, the criminal, to the other extreme group, the gentleman, by the law of imitation, admirably expounded by the late Walter Bagehot in his Physics and Politics. This law is found to operate quite freely with that very large class in every community, the unpunished criminals, who, beginning business with a capital obtained by fraud or theft, or by pandering to the vices of their fellows, gradually amass fortunes, and, prompted by social aspiration, endeavor to enter a circle of society from which they would be excluded were their antecedents known or their former practices continued. Nor is this change simply an act of hypocrisy. It is so often the determination to give their posterity a social start which they did not have themselves that the origin is sunk in the aim. Taking in all time, however, the disparagement of the origin is no greater because recent than is that of the analogous ancestry of the pious and upright citizens, whose forefathers, are revered because their short-comings are effaced by the remoteness of their misdoings. The time was when the high and mighty claimed to be the children of the gods. Few to-day will dare to deny that they are the posterity of the savage emerging into the light.

Since the crimes here treated are chiefly against property, the aspects of education intimately connected with the rise, conditions, and requirements of property have been chiefly dwelt upon, not because there are no other phases of education bearing upon the crime ratio, but because those adduced are fundamental to the subject. In future papers it is intended to consider the limits of punishment, the efficacy of prevention, the possibilities of education specifically applied to the training of juvenile offenders and the children of habitual criminals and paupers. The chief object of the present paper has been to show that there are inevitable laws regulating crime which are above legislative statutes, and that civilization is in the ascendant, whether people are fervent adorers at its altar, or unwilling but compulsory pilgrims towards its shrine.

This is part one of a three-part series. Read part two here and part three here.
  1. Intermarriage between relations or persons of the same classs.