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Anthony Comstock

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Anthony Comstock Photo: Garver Graver / findagrave.com

Born:

March 7, 1844 in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Died:

September 21, 1915 in New York, New York.

Historical Significance:

The most notorious prude in U.S. history, Anthony Comstock used his power as U.S. Postal Inspector to target pornographers, religious freethinkers, and public health advocates—most notably Margaret Sanger—for criminal prosecution. Comstock was motivated by a puritanical zeal that would be echoed in the work of future culture warriors such as Jerry Falwell, and his effect on the culture was so profound that a word named after him, "Comstockery," is still occasionally used to describe the behavior of people who take it upon themselves to rid the world of material that they consider immoral.

In His Own Words:

"The daily papers are turned out by hundreds of thousands each day, and while the ink is not yet dry the United States mails, the express and railroad companies, catch them up, and with almost lightening rapidity scatter them from Maine to California. Into every city, and from every city, this daily stream of printed matter pours, reaching every village, town, hamlet, and almost every home in the land. These publications are mighty educators, either for good or for evil. Sold at a cheap price, from one to five cents each, they are within the reach of all classes. More: they enter the homes—often files of them are preserved—and are especially within the reach of children, to be read and re-read by them. The father looks over his paper in the morning to ascertain the state of the market, to inform himself as to the news of the day. His attention is attracted by the heavy headlines designed to call especial attention to some disgusting detail of crime. A glance discloses its true character. He turns away in disgust, and thoughtlessly throws down in the library or parlor, within reach of his children, this hateful, debauching article, and goes off to business little thinking that what he thus turns from his child will read with avidity." — from Traps for the Young (1883), p. 13.

"And these are the new exponents of 'liberty' and 'freedom.' Freedom, to them, is not that which soars aloft in the ethereal regions of truth and basks in the sunlight of God's love—that which elevates man above the sordid things of earth and breaks the chain of sin asunder, causing the soul to rejoice in that freedom wherewith Christ Jesus makes us free ... The freedom sought by our forefathers to worship God did not mean to serve the devil. Freedom to have a home does not mean or imply that the parent may not defend that home against the Liberal obscenity peddler who seeks to ruin the child. Freedom to speak or print does not imply the right to say or print that which shocks decency, corrupts the morals of the young, or destroys all faith in God." — from Traps for the Young (1883), pp. 198-199.

"Where is the life, or property interest to debauch the morals of the young to be found in the Constitution? No man will dare libel our forefathers by suggesting that even for one moment they dreamed that such a claim could be made under their form of government ... The liberty they fought for, and declared to be our inalienable right, never was so mean a thing as to harbor such a parasite as obscenity. Can Congress legislate in no manner other than as approved by these so-called Liberals?—liberal to vice and crime, liberal to license wrong-doing, liberal to blaspheme the holy name of God, liberal to abrogate laws designed to preserve the Sabbath and prevent the morals of the young from becoming debauched, liberal to turn loose the appetites and passions of men, while this license sinks them below the level of the brute! ... No, Liberals! the morals of the children first." — from Traps for the Young (1883), p. 223.

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