In this remarkable letter, the President writes with a candor and indignation unusual even for him. Here he upbraids a pastor of Christ Church in Central City, Nebraska, who had the temerity to suggest the virtues of family planning: "I entirely agree with you that I should be very sure of my ground before giving public utterance to my opinion. As to the subject to which you refer, I am absolutely sure; and as you are a minister of the Gospel I think I ought to say to you that I am so sure of it that I feel that no man who is both intelligent and decent can differ with me. I mean this literally. It is not a debatable subject. … Men may differ about the tariff, or about currency, or about expansion; but the man who questions the attitude I take in this matter is, I firmly believe, either lacking in intelligence or else lacking in character."
He goes on to characterize Smith's advocacy of birth control as "one of astounding folly as well as of astounding immorality. To advocate artificially keeping families small, with its inevitable attendants of pre-natal infanticide, of abortion, with its pandering to self-indulgence, its shirking of duties, and its enervation of character, is quite as immoral as to advocate theft or prostitution, and is even more hurtful in its folly, from the standpoint of the ultimate welfare of the race and the nation."
Roosevelt dismisses as "pure nonsense" Smith's suggestion that a smaller number of children, well cared for and well educated, will better serve the nation than a large number of possibly neglected offspring: "The average child from a fair-sized family is … much better equipped to do good service than the average child from a family of only one or two children where the cold self-indulgence, the selfishness, the folly or wickedness of the parents are responsible for the fact that there are but one or two children." He points to France, where family planning has experienced a vogue and "the growth of population has stopped instead of increasing, and indeed, apart form emigration, is now diminishing, and that frightful moral and physical evils have followed in its train. … It is as arrant nonsense to speak of its being possible to render service to the state by a course of conduct which means that there won't be any state to render service to, as it would be to speak of a man rendering service to himself by taking poison."
Finally, Roosevelt reveals one important source for his attitude—the Social Darwinist elitism so typical of many turn-of-the-century Progressives. He reminds Smith that the clergyman described his own congregation as being "well-to-do people; that is, … people of means and upper class workers. I assume that you regard these people as desirable elements in the state. Can you not see that if they have an insufficient quantity of children, then the increase must come from the less desirable classes[?]" The President closes his letter with a pointed attack on Smith and his responsibilities as a clergyman: "To me the most horrifying part of this movement is to find nominally religious journals like the Independent containing articles by women and clergymen, apologizing for and defending a theory of conduct which, if adopted, would mean the speedy collapse of this republic and of western civilization. … When any nation gets sunk in such ignoble selfishness, such mere desire for ease and self-indulgence as is implied in the course which you seem prepared to advocate, it is time for that nation to make way for some other nation, which possesses the elementary decencies and manly virtues. Character counts more than intellect; and character, in any true sense, is wholly wanting in people who practice such a course of conduct."
In an article published five years later, Roosevelt publicly denounced birth control as "worse, more debasing, more destructive, than ordinary vice" and recommended a family of four children for the "average man and woman" (The Outlook, 8 April 1911. Here, at least, Roosevelt practiced what he preached, for he was the father of six children by two marriages. Of course, he was also the heir to a comfortable fortune which allowed him to feed, clothe, and educate those children with ease and to hire nurses and governesses to share the burdens of caring for a half-dozen lively young Roosevelts.
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