Clement M. Hammond, “Then and Now” (1884)




Boston, June 13, 2085.

My Dear Louise:

Insurance was the subject of a recent conversation between Mr. De Demain and myself, and he told me so many interesting things about it as carried on today that I will tell you briefly what he said.

“Your police system two hundred years ago,” said he, “was but a system of insurance, as were your fire departments, your standing armies, and your navies. Police protection is now furnished by private companies. You pay a certain per cent, on the valuation of your property, real and personal, and the company agrees to pay you for any loss to that property caused by the depredations of others. The company employs policemen, watchmen, and detectives, and there is no collusion between these and would-be criminals for reasons which you can appreciate. Few crimes are committed that are not detected sooner or later, the criminals being brought to justice.

“Suppose that you have in your house two thousand dollars’ worth of valuables. You insure these in some police protection company of good standing. If these valuables are stolen, the company pays you two thousand dollars, and it is for their interest to catch the thief.”

“I should think such a system as this would encourage fraud. What if I should hide or give away my two thousand dollars’ worth of valuables?”

“You may be sure that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred you would be found out, and the penalty which a jury would be likely to inflict in such a case would be heavy, much heavier than for a theft.”

“The officers of these companies also give alarms of fire. They report every day to the office. Anything of a suspicious nature that is observed is carefully investigated by men specially detailed for that purpose. Thus crimes are not only punished, but in a great many cases prevented. A criminal today must be a very bold and a very shrewd man.”

“Under such a system of detective espionage I should think innocent persons would often be arrested and charged with having committed some crime or with criminal intentions.”

“Mistakes are sometimes made, but it is rarely. The utmost caution is used, and none but honest, competent men are employed. Policemen are not appointed today because a friend has a political ‘pull,’ and there is no State and no party to protect them if they do wrong or prove incompetent. I believe this was a most serious fault with your police systems two hundred years ago. It was the State, always the State, that was the root of all evil. You saw the branches and lopped them off occasionally, but beneath the ground, out of ordinary sight, were the roots that gave sustenance to the tree. The Anarchist dug down and found these roots, and pointed them out to the suffering people, but for years they shut their eyes and turned away. We have torn out the noisome plant, root and branch, and burnt it as an offering to Liberty. The ground is no longer cumbered with such a growth to suck its healthy substance and turn it into poison with which to contaminate the life-giving air.

“War having ceased with the State, no insurance against foreign invasion or internal disruption is needed, but I see no reason why private enterprise might not carry on a war with much less loss than a State would sustain. Friends as well as foes were always ready to rob a State in times of war as well as times of peace, and, as the opportunities for robbery were better in a time of war, the plunder was always greater.

“Just two hundred years ago, I am told by history, Boston was very much disturbed because the State interfered in its police system and took away the appointing power. On one hand, the cry was that the police commission was corrupt, and, on the other, that Boston knew better what she wanted than the State. Anarchy would have solved the problem, you see, to the entire satisfaction of nearly every individual. What matter was it whether those intangible, soulless things, the State and the city, were satisfied? What was satisfaction to them? It meant simply the satisfaction of a few scheming politicians and their hangers-on. That was all.”

I was very pleased to learn that the State had stepped in and tried to put an end to the terrible wickedness of Boston. I have long been shocked by the thought that Boston people could not see that their city was in a very bad way. I trust that there will be great improvement made now that the State is to control it.


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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2132 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.