A Lecture Before the Madison County Medical Society
By Dr. Alvin Foord, Cazenovia, NY
July 1867

Posted November 11, 2000
Daniel H. Weiskotten


From a typescript of the original manuscript in the possession of David Foord, Milford, PA
Some spelling corrections have been made and some abbreviations have been expanded.

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A Lecture Before the Madison County Medical Society
By Dr. Alvin Foord, Cazenovia, NY
July 1867

Gentlemen of the Madison County Medical Society:

I presume that you will all admit, that the proper business of the physician, is to preserve and perpetuate human life.  This he does not only by removing disease, but also by instructing his patients how to avoid or to resist the causes of disease.  Just so far as he fails to do this, he fails to perform his whole duty, and to discharge his humane mission.  That most of us have failed in one important particular, is highly probable: -- and that, not because we purposely intended to neglect duty, or to transcend our legitimate vocation, while yielding to the importunities of those who ask to be relieved of their embarrassments.

It is notorious that a custom is too prevalent among the females of the country, who find themselves in the way of childbearing, -- of seeking to be relieved from that condition.  And the reason so offered for this desire, is often nothing more important than simply their present convenience.  They seem not to take into account their moral responsibility, nor the ultimate effect upon their own constitutions; -- and still less the injury doing to society, and to the race of mankind.

From my own observation for many years past, I am persuaded that this vice (for it is nothing less) has greatly increased, and has become absolutely frightful.

Within the last year, respectable ladies in good health and easy circumstances, have applied to me for the means to produce abortion, simply because they already have several children, and did not want the trouble, & the care of more.  And I have received several letters from persons unknown to me, asking for medicines to be sent to them by mail, or information that would enable them to get out of their present delicate situation.

And from conversation with other physicians I have reason to believe, that this practice is not a local peculiarity: -- but one that pervades the country. And this is not the end of the mischief: -- for is seems to have become unfashionable with people of moderate means, to have children at all.  This has been especially true with young people who live on small salaries.  They can't afford to have children.  But they must marry & go to a boarding house: -- and while living a life of pleasure they cunningly continue to use means to prevent having any offspring.  Sometimes they have one just to show their capability of having more; & that with them ends the programme in that line of business.

Like other bad distempers, this is contagious; & being pervasive, it has spread a blight of comparative barrenness over the whole land.  This is already patent to any observer, as seen in the diminished number of yanke (Yankee) children in county school districts, and the scarcity of native American young men & women to perform domestic duties, and to engage in the various handicraft employments of the farm and the workshop.  Everyone must have observed, that the largest number of these places is filled with foreigners, or persons of foreign parentage.

These things ought not so to be: -- and it is in your power Gentlemen of the Madison County Medical Society to do much to change the current of public opinion, and the public practice in regard to this vital matter: -- for it is indeed vital: -- it concerns the life or death, -- the perpetuation, or the gradual extinction of the pilgrim element in our population; -- that population which originated and organized our free institutions, and gave us an example in their own lives, of all that was good, and noble, and noble, and patriotic in social & political life.

It would be interesting to contrast the foregoing state of things, with the practice of society and of families especially in New England, no farther back than the latter part of the last century.  Then it was a common thing for the children of a family to number at least eight or ten, -- and twelve and even fifteen were not in those days considered remarkable.  For the command to multiply & replenish the earth they felt was obligatory on them; -- they felt bound to enter upon a literal & exact fulfillment of it; -- with them it was a business, -- which they undertook early, and pursued vigorously. -- and the result was usually a swarming household of healthy well trained children.

But what a change has come over the country in regard to the size of families since those days.  Then large families were common, -- now they are rarely seen.  Then it was a rare thing to find married persons having but one, two, or three children.  Then it was regarded as a calamity for married people to have no children. -- now it is fashionable to have none!

But this is not all, nor the worst part of the case in regard to the puritan or Yankee portion of our population, -- They are not only less prolific, but less able to be so.  And it has not escaped the observation of intelligent physicians whose experience extends back thirty or forty years, that a gradual process of deterioration has been going on, in consequence of which the present generation has far less physical power & capability of endurance, than those which preceded it.  In regard to any palpable diminution of the size of the present native American race, I have not at hand, the means or the necessary data to verify the fact; -- and yet I have reason to believe that it can be demonstrated, & shown to be an established, and a lamentable fact.  That there is now a weaker vitality in the mass of our people, than there was in the generation that has just stepped off the stage of life, in my mind there is no manner of doubt.  Neither have I any doubt, that there is a larger proportion of both men & women, of a slender development, and of feeble vital powers.

It is patent to the observation of every physician, that there is a large proportion of females of the present time, that are physically incompetent and unable to conduct the affairs of a family: -- and who are every way absolutely disqualified for being the mothers of a race of stalwart & healthy men.  Of such it is impossible, -- and it would be absurd in any man, seeking for a wife to expect such offspring.

I shall not now enter upon a discussion of those prophylactic and restorative measures which ought to be inculcated in every community, & adopted by every family, and by every individual man & woman throughout the broad extent of our country, to resist those enervating influences, and turn back the current of degeneration which is decimating, and which threatens ultimately to destroy the descendants of the noblest race of men the world ever saw.  But shall for the present only suggest, that a general plan of recuperation would embrace in its details, most of those measures that are now being employed by men, to improve and perfect several races of other animals.

This subject derives additional importance from the notorious fact that for some years past, a foreign population has been entering & filling up our country so fast, that they threaten to supplant the native stock; -- and being ignorant of those religious and political principles which laid the foundations of all those free institutions which are the glory of our land, and under which we have so greatly prospered; -- and bringing with them ideas and habits antagonistic to our own, there is reason to fear, that the leaven of republicanism will not pervade the mass of them fast enough to assimilate them to our likeness and to make them willing and efficient cooperators with us, in perpetuating those institutions under which we live.

Dr. Nathan Allen of Lowell (Massachusetts) has for many years occupied an official position, which has enabled him to accumulate a mass of facts that shows up in bold relief the growth and magnitude of this subject as it extends in the State of Massachusetts.  For 200 years from the settlement of that State in 1620, the largest part of her population were engaged in agricultural pursuits, and they steadily increased in numbers notwithstanding there was a constant and large migration to other States.  Since 1820, more of her people have engaged in commerce & manufactures: -- Still her population went on increasing, till in 1860, she numbered twelve hundred thousands.  But for the last thirty years, the ratio of increase of her native born citizens has been diminishing: -- so that in some of her rural towns the registrations of births and deaths shows a larger number of the latter than of the former: -- and during the year ending with 1865 there were thirty four towns in the State having almost no foreign population, from which not a single birth was reported: -- of course the population of those towns is growing less, -- for there were some deaths in all of them.  But on the other hand in all those towns & cities where there is a large foreign element, -- the record invariably shows a larger number of births than deaths.

In 1830, the census shows that there were in that State only 9,620 foreigners: -- and in 1860 -- 260,114 thus showing that in thirty years she had gained 250,000 by immigration alone.  The census also shows that in the ten years immediately preceding 1860, more than 100,000 children had been born of foreign parentage which in the census were set down as natives.  These 100,000 Irish & German children when subtracted from the 970,000 natives, and added to the 260,000 foreigners, will really and truthfully represent the foreign element as amounting to 360,000 or about one third of the whole population.

Now, by referring again to the census, it appears that in the year 1850, the foreign births were not as numerous by several thousands as the American; but they continued to gain every year afterwards upon the American till 1860, when they had a majority, thus demonstrating beyond all contradiction, that the foreign population who number a little less than one third in the State, gave birth to more children than the two thirds of native Americans.  And this fecundity has gone on increasing, so that in 1865, the foreign element produced 1000 more children than the native.

And it is estimated by physicians of extensive observation, that the married foreigners of our country have on an average, three times as many children as the same number of Americans.  And should this foreign population continue to increase as it has done for the last 20 or 30 years, and the American portion remain stationary or decrease, a majority of the population of that State will within that time, be those of foreign origin.

And here allow me to quote a few sentences verbatim from Dr. Allen's Report.  He says, "They are found scattered in almost every town & neighborhood in the Commonwealth.  The men came first to build railroads, to dig canals, and aid in laying the foundation of mills, dwellings, and public buildings.  Then came the women to act as servants and domestics in families, as well as to find useful employments in shops and mills.  Then came the Parents and children.  To such an extent have they increased by immigration and birth, that they now perform a large part of the domestic service in all our families: -- they constitute everywhere a majority of the hired laborers upon the farm; -- they are found extensively engaged in trade and mechanical pursuits and compose by far the largest proportion of all the operatives in the mills.

Within a few years, they have become extensive owners of real estate.  In the cities they have built or bought a very large number of small shops and cheap dwellings, and in the rural districts and farming towns throughout the State they have purchased extensively small lots of land, and old farms partially run out; -- and (what is significant) they pay for whatever real estate they buy, and are scarcely ever known to sell any.  In fact it has come to such a pass, that they perform a very large portion of the physical labor throughout the State whether it be in the mill or the shop, whether in the family or on the farm.  As far as muscular exercise is concerned, they constitute the bone and sinew of the land. -- and it would be very difficult if not impossible to dispense with their services.  Every year the Americans are becoming more and more dependent upon them, for manual labor, both indoors and out-of-doors.

Such is Dr. Allen's description of the prevailing presence of a foreign population in Massachusetts, and in it we see a very fair representation of what exists in our own immediate neighborhood, and generally through all sections of this State, as well as several of the Western States.

Observe Gentlemen, -- that I do not complain of this state of things.  Perhaps eventually we shall all have cause to rejoice that it is so.  But it is a very peculiar and important phenomenon, and one that should be carefully studied by our legislators, and by political economists.  The history and experience of past ages of mankind, should be taxed and brought into requisition, to aid in moulding this incoming avalanche of comparatively ignorant and unamericanized mass of humanity.  If this can be wisely & successfully done, it may be the salvation of our country.  I mean of course the salvation of our Anglo-American race, from that physical deterioration, feebleness, effeminacy which has too evidently been coming over the present generation.

For in this foreign element there is bone & muscle, teeth & hair, a strong and wiry nervous system, and vigorous digestive organs; -- especially in the Irish portion of it.  And if these constituents of animal life should be crossed and properly blended with the Anglo-American stock, it may make a race of men and women that shall be equal in their physical development and moral force, to those who first landed on the shores of New England.

Let us then hail that day!  Let us hope for it. -- Let us strive for it.  Let the medical men of Madison County do their whole duty, by endeavoring to enlighten the rising generation in regard to the debilitating and demoralizing effects of masturbation in the unmarried of both sexes. -- and of excessive indulgence in married life, -- and let us proclaim aloud, and everywhere, that idleness, luxurious living, and excess in the use of tobacco, & intoxicating beverages are fast destroying the vitality of our young men and women; -- and unless soon checked, will not only end in effeminacy and barrenness, but also intellectual feebleness, and moral degradation.

Cazenovia July 1867