"Intelligence Tests for Legislators"




"Intelligence Tests for Legislators," Birth Control Review, May 1923, pp. 107-108
Margaret Sanger Microfilm Edition, Smith College Collections S70:1001



Intelligence Tests for Legislators

The failure of the Codes Committee of the New York State Legislature to approve our proposed amendment to the existing statute forbidding the dissemination of Birth Control information is no cause for discouragement. These lawmakers at Albany may have exposed themselves as incapable of unprejudiced and clearsighted thinking concerning the problem of population, but the representatives of our cause were given an excellent opportunity to study State legislators at close range. The pessimistic observer of such democratic institutions as the New York Assembly might cite our experience in the legislative halls at Albany on April tenth as an example of the utter hopelessness of effecting any beneficial change in our statute books through the medium of such a body. But those of us who "carry on," absolutely convinced of the final and inevitable triumph of the program for Birth Control, know that such opposition, immovable and hopeless as it seems to the inexperienced observer, can, with courageous effort, be dissipated.

Ten years ago the very words "Birth Control" were taboo in the press. Today the subject is not only discussed by the press of the world, but intelligently presented and without the former bias. This is due to the ever-growing body of enlightened public opinion which is throwing into the Birth Control movement the weight of its valuable support. A State Legislature represents the last bulwark of prejudice, superstition and ignorance. The task of battling against these forces is one that demands all that we possess of courage and faith in our convictions. To be discouraged because the Codes Committee, a small group of adolescent minds, expresses its disapproval of a doctrine which has won the adherence of the finest intellects in the world, would be a confession of our own lack of faith. The battle for a better race and a greater America must go on, because our final triumph is inevitable.

One great truth lifts its head above all the interesting facts thrust upon us during our recent pilgrimage to Albany. This is the immediate and pressing need for intelligence tests for legislators. American schools have begun to test the intelligence of school children. Likewise, employers examine applicants for work as to their capability to fill the jobs they are seeking. There are mental as well as physical tests for recruits in the American army. Even the poor immigrant is refused admission to this country if he cannot show that his intelligence is equal to the complex problem of gaining a livelihood in these United States. Yet with a serene and bland indifference to the social well-being of the state and nation, American voters send to Congress and legislative halls noisy and ill-mannered politicians whose one outstanding talent seems to be their shrewd ability to catch votes. To understand the importance, the implications and the organic relationship of Birth Control to public health and racial strength, these men are apparently mentally and constitutionally unfit. This truth our Albany "hearing" has irrefutably demonstrated.

We enclose the word "hearing" in quotation marks, because most of the members of that august committee refused us even the courtesy of listening to our arguments. Their attitude was that of schoolboys impatient to return to their game of marbles. When it came time to reply to the exponents of Birth Control, in support of which we had mobilized and marshalled the finest forces of reason, logic, science, public health, idealism and ethics, our opponents resorted to the weapons of vulgar personal abuse. A question which has compelled the attention, for at least a century, of the greatest economists, sociologists, scientists and thinkers in all fields of life, which has been formulated and crystallized upon the firmest foundations of logic, reason and vision, a problem which is daily coming to be recognized not merely as one of the greatest problems confronting contemporary civilization, but which, to quote the distinguished French savant, Richet, is basically the only problem--this question not only failed to penetrate into the consciousness of these legislators, but it was dismissed with a gesture that lacked even the redeeming merit of dignity. It is our duty to record this fact: that in this year 1923 our chosen representatives in the legislative body of the Empire State have exposed their mental inability to grasp even the elements of a great pressing problem of the most incalculable and immediate importance to the individual and the community at large. Moreover, the gentlemen of the Codes Committee were to all appearances completely impervious to the fine example of patience, tact and persuasion offered by those who presented the case for Birth Control. Intelligence tests for legislators might also include a certain rudimentary realization of the value of dignity, courtesy and good manners.

The situation is not so hopeless as at first glance it might appear. There is one way in which the intelligent voters in this and other states may appraise the fitness, not merely of candidates to the State Legislatures, but of all candidates for public office who appeal for the support of constituencies of American voters. There is no more certain manner in which to test the intelligence and honesty of such candidates than by asking for a public statement of their attitude toward the problems of public health and racial hygiene; whether they are ready and willing to safeguard and protect the child-life of the State or the nation from the widespread abuses and evils which have grown out of criminal neglect. Let us never forget that if we are not brave enough to express our own convictions on these matters, we cannot expect our legislative representatives to take the initiative.

As long as vast amounts are drawn from the public and philanthropic treasuries--moneys collected not merely from taxpayers but from the pockets of every self-supporting member of the community--for the support of the delinquent, the defective and the incurably diseased elements of the community, as long as the diseased and unfit classes are urged irresponsibly to reproduce themselves, Birth Control must remain a question of the utmost political significance. Birth Control is not merely a personal and marital problem. Reckless breeding is a root evil that manifests itself in innumerable ways. And none of these is more costly, more extravagantly wasteful, than the expenditure of public funds for the upkeep and the perpetuation of unfortunate thousands whose very existence is a burden to themselves and to the vigorous and normal sections of human society. Such a procedure wilfully cheats the children of the next generation of their most sacred birthright, while it protects and coddles those defective stocks that should be in all kindness as rapidly extirpated from the human garden as is consistent with humane decency.

Here, then, is a problem of the most immediate concern to every man, woman and child in these United States. It demands in particular the immediate attention of the woman voter--for in the final analysis, we women bear the burden and make the sacrifices that must be made as long as laws are made or mended by men who are elected to office by the very power of their own ignorance and by their skill in manipulating the prejudices and superstitions of the vast majority of American voters. But let us go one step farther: it is not enough for the enlightened and the intelligent merely to bemoan the lamentable condition of American politics. Such conditions will continue--and the evils must grow instead of diminishing--as long as we fail to make the intelligence tests I have indicated. The task is a long and discouraging one. But with coordination and concentration of effort, with a growing interest in watching and measuring the results of organization, the power of even a small minority standing back of such an organization as the American Birth Control League, forcing upon all candidates this problem and asking for a definite opinion on the matter, could not fail to make itself felt as a beneficent and directing force in American life.

Convinced of the necessity of such tactics, we reiterate our call for Intelligence Tests for Legislators.