The Incident at Williamstown




"The Incident at Williamstown," Birth Control Review, Sept. 1925, pp. 246-47.
Margaret Sanger Microfilm Edition, Smith College Collections, S71:32


Geneticist Edward Murray East was leading a round table on "Agriculture population issues at the Institute of Politics on the campus of Williams College in August East,appalled at the Fascist's statements offered a widely covered rebuttal.


Cippico, Antonio



The Incident At Williamstown

We are rejoicing in the incident at Williamstown. Great good will come of it. We mean the clash between Count Antonio Cippico, a typical representative of Mussolini's Fascist regime in Italy and our friend Edward M. East of Harvard, on the question of Italy's overpopulation. This duel of ideas took place at the Institute of Politics, an annual gathering of eminent authorities on problems of international importance, a conference conservative, academic, and in the opinion of the New York Herald-Tribune, somewhat theoretical in its speculations. Its deliberations are reported in the daily press; but seldom do they awaken any intense public interest. Now–-all thanks to Professor East–-that is changed. He has transmuted public lethargy into burning interest. He has demonstrated how closely bound up with the great question of international policy are the profoundly personal problems of contraception and Birth Control. Not one of the distinguished authorities gathered last month at Williamstown can return to his desk or post without feeling the influence of Professor East's stimulating and life-giving ideas.

First let us trace the origin of the Williamstown duel. Senator Cippico, who is the spokesman and the astute apologist of the Mussolini policies, bravely and blandly undertook to offer the world a solution for Italy's ever-growing problem of over-population. The world in general, and the United States in particular, were invited by the Count to contribute land, opportunity and prosperity to Italy's swarming, spawning surplus millions. We must open wide our doors to emigrants from Southern Italy–-to all those teeming millions deprived of a foothold in their own country. These immigrants, the Count suggested, are to remain Italians in foreign climes, while Americans, for instance, are advised to move on to make room for these alien hordes. The alternative is more land, more colonies by conquest, for Italy's "explosive expansion." The threat of war, of "expansion" was thinly veiled in Count Cippico's address. Mussolini's government desired to avoid the "cruel necessity of war." In brief, we were invited to take care of the hapless fruits of Italy's reckless and uncontrolled procreative activity.

Professor East answered Count Cippico's extraordinary chauvinist threat--answered it promptly, courageously, forcibly, and his voice has been heard not merely by the two hundred scientists, economists and statesmen gathered at Williamstown, but by the world at large. It is of tremendous educational value. The world, asserted Professor East in effect, asks Italy to set her house in order. Instead of spawning children with reckless rapidity and haphazard irresponsibility, when there is no opportunity for these unfortunates to create a life of usefulness or happiness, Italy should encourage families to restrict their numbers in accordance with opportunity. This, as we all know, is the only safe avenue to national peace, prosperity and the progress of civilization. It is a truth, and a feasible policy of national ethics; applicable not only to overcrowded Italy, but to all enlightened nations. It is the only alternative to war, pestilence and famine-–those inevitable convoys of overpopulation.

There was nothing in Professor East's vigorous, forceful and brilliantly expressed utterance to which any student-–even a freshman--of economics or history might take offense–nothing offensive, nothing shocking, nothing impudent, nothing harsh nor crude nor impractical. It was, as Professor East subsequently suggested in an interview, the counsel of a benevolent family physician who does not want to see a great career ruined by foolhardy indiscretion. But to Count Cippico, a perfect representative of Fascist psychology, this suggestion was one of "cool impudence." Let us here recall that the Fascist mind resents criticism and cannot forgive those who puncture its own delusions of grandeur. In Rome liberal newspapers which criticize the policies of Mussolini's sinister régime are instantly suppressed. Foreign newspaper correspondents who try to cable the impartial truth have been expelled from Italy. Senator Cippico met Professor East's counter-attack in much the same official Fascist manner. He denounced the "infamous theories of Malthus ." He condemned advocates of Birth Control as "apostles of infanticide." His angry, out-of-date utterances suggest that he should have gone to Dayton, Tennessee, instead of Williamstown; for to denounce the Malthusian law of population is no less absurd than to legislate against evolution, and to speak of the "infamous theories of Malthus" is as ridiculous as to condemn the law of gravitation as immoral and materialistic. Any college freshman could inform the illustrious and astute Count and Senator that Rev. Thomas Malthus offered no infamous remedies for overpopulation, and that Birth Control is not infanticide, but the only remedy for the practice of abortion and infanticide. Before undertaking to offer solutions for the problem of Italy's overpopulation, the Fascist would do well to take an elementary course in what was once known as "political economy." Before blaming the misfortunes of his country upon France, England or America, he might profitably investigate the sources of its own national ills.

But instead, like a schoolboy unused to the weapons of mature and impartial thought, discovering in spite of himself that the balloon of his own pet delusions had been suddenly and skillfully punctured, Count Cippico could resort only to angry words, and like a spoiled child had to be appeased and quieted by those who were more interested in diplomatic politeness than in invigorating and thus often stinging truths.

But great good has come of this amusing and educational incident. Professor East's brilliant advocacy of Birth Control as the only sane, enlightened and peaceable avenue to international amity and equilibrium aroused national interest and comment. All of the metropolitan dailies published editorial comment, most of it sane, sober and hospitable to the idea of Birth Control. There were also a number of fine letters, some in the press and others, almost three hundred of them, addressed to Professor East. Notable among the letters is that of Elmer Davis in the New York Times, a splendid exposition of fundamental Malthusian truths concerning overpopulation, truths which no amount of bombastic denunciations can sweep away.

We cannot too enthusiastically express our gratitude to Edward M. East for his splendid, courageous and clear-cut advocacy of Birth Control at the Institute of Politics. His splendid utterance have had the effect of transmuting our notorious American indifference to international problems into a warm and vivid interest. Birth Control, as an implement of enlightened national progress, thanks to his efforts, is making further headway into our national consciousness. Professor East is doing valiant pioneer work in opening new avenues of thought; and we are confident that all the distinguished authorities who listened to him at Williamstown will return to their posts conscious of a new angle of approach to the great complex problems of international relations they are seeking to solve. For the rest of us, let us give assurance to such a statesman and scholar as Edward M. East, that we appreciate his unflinching championship of the truth, which has again been brilliantly dramatized by this incident at Williamstown.