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Elmira Reformatory

Order books by and about Robert Ingersoll now.

Robert Green Ingersoll                        


IN my judgment, no human being was ever made better, nobler, by being whipped or clubbed.

Mr. Brockway, according to his own testimony, is simply a savage. He belongs to the Dark Ages — to the Inquisition, to the torture-chamber, and he needs reforming more than any prisoner under his control. To put any man within his power is in itself a crime. Mr. Brockway is a believer in cruelty — an apostle of brutality. He beats and bruises flesh to satisfy his conscience — his sense of duty. He wields the club himself because he enjoys the agony he inflicts.

When a poor wretch, having reached the limit of endurance, submits or becomes unconscious, he is regarded as reformed. During the remainder of his term he trembles and obeys. But he is not reformed. In his heart is the flame of hatred, the desire for revenge; and he returns to society far worse than when he entered the prison.

Mr. Brockway should either be removed or locked up, and the Elmira Reformatory should be superintended by some civilized man — some man with brain enough to know, and heart enough to feel.

I do not believe that one brute, by whipping, beating and lacerating the flesh of another, can reform him. The lash will neither develop the brain nor cultivate the heart. There should be no bruising, no scarring of the body in families, in schools, in reformatories, or prisons. A civilized man does not believe in the methods of savagery. Brutality has been tried for thousands of years and through all these years it has been a failure.

Criminals have been flogged, mutilated and maimed, tortured in a thousand ways, and the only effect was to demoralize, harden and degrade society and increase the number of crimes. In the army and navy, soldiers and sailors were flogged to death, and everywhere by church and state the torture of the helpless was practiced and upheld.

Only a few years ago there were two hundred and twenty-three offenses punished with death in England. Those who wished to reform this savage code were denounced as the enemies of morality and law. They were regarded as weak and sentimental.

At last the English code was reformed through the efforts of men who had brain and heart. But it is a significant fact that no bishop of the Episcopal Church, sitting in the House of Lords, ever voted for the repeal of one of those savage laws. Possibly this fact throws light on the recent poetic and Christian declaration by Bishop Potter to the effect that “there are certain criminals who can only be made to realize through their hides the fact that the State has laws to which the individual must be obedient.”

This orthodox remark has the true apostolic ring, and is in perfect accord with the history of the church. But it does not accord with the intelligence and philanthropy of our time. Let us develop the brain by education, the heart by kindness. Let us remember that criminals are produced by conditions, and let us do what we can to change the conditions and to reform the criminals.

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