Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
By Jane Cunningham Croly (Jennie June) (18291901)
[Born in Market Harborough, England. Died in New York, N. Y., 1901. For Better or Worse. By Jennie June. 1875.]
MARRIAGE should be practically indissoluble; if it is not, it is not marriage, and has no force, no sacredness, no value. Instead of creating the family, which is the foundation of society and good government, it creates tribes of wandering, nomadic existences, bound together by no law of duty, acknowledging no obligation, held by no tender cords of association, sympathy, or companionship. To reorganize society on such a basis would be to return to the Fetichistic condition of the race, to voluntarily relinquish all that has been gained of general moral and social elevation. Goethe says, Marriage is the beginning and end of all culture, and must be indissoluble, because it brings so much happiness, that what small exceptional unhappiness it may bring counts for nothing in the balance. And what do men mean by talking of unhappiness? Impatience it is, which, from time to time, comes over them, and then they fancy themselves unhappy. Let them wait till the moment has gone by, and then they will bless their good fortune that what has stood so long continues standing. There never can be any adequate ground for separation.
This last expression, which, with the rest, Goethe has put in the mouth of a good man, is perhaps too strong; the law which binds should have power to unloose, or at least protect from consequences dangerous to the individual, disastrous to society.
Free divorce would destroy marriage; but compulsory divorcein other words, divorce insisted upon and maintained by law when habitual drunkenness or other criminal habits render man or woman brutal, dangerous, and unfit to undertake the parentage of childrenwould be one of the best safeguards of marriage. The flippancy which sneers at or ridicules the holiest ties may profess to see in this an inducement to drunkenness, in order to become released from the marriage bond. But the lips that could utter such a sentiment would know that it was not true. There are none to whom it is more important, none who feel that it is so, more than the very poor, to whom it is the link that unites them with their kind, that makes them sharers in the common humanity. If the very poor were not husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, they would be brutes, with hardly a thought, a feeling, or habit, in common with the rest of the world.
The knowledge that the law took cognizance of the loss of individual character and self-respect, and interfered summarily to protect individuals and society from dangers and additional burdens, would exercise an incalculable influence in deterring men and women from the excessive indulgence of their appetites and passions.
The one cause for which divorces are principally granted is a matter which is even now settled mainly by the parties themselves, the action for damages recently entered by a contestant in a celebrated case being almost the first in which such an appeal has been made to the laws in this country.
Under a system which gives a wife no right in the income or accumulated property until after her husbands death, a woman cannot apply for a divorce because she has no moneybecause marriage has deprived her of her means of maintenance, and given her children, whom she is bound to take care of. Its protection, therefore, and championship of her rights is the merest pretence, as is proved by the fact that to one who appeals to the law, ten patiently sit down and endure their woes.
It is here, however, in America, where human rights are professedly held sacred, where social conditions are more favorable than elsewhere to the highest form of social morality, that marriage should be placed upon an authoritative and universally acknowledged basis. It is the extreme of childishness and folly to make a law for one state, touching so important a matter as this, which underlies all social and governmental life, to be set aside by simply stepping over the boundaries into another state. This purely human interest is above sect or party, and should be treated from the broad standpoint of a universal humanity.