Anthony Comstock was a self-proclaimed ‘Weeder in the Garden of the Lord’ who sought to impose his understanding of law and sin on the general public. He was employed by the government as a United States Postal Inspector. He was instrumental in the development of anti-vice laws that criminalized any use of the U.S. Postal Service to send anything considered obscene, which he defined. Illegal items sex toys, contraceptives or abortifacients, information about those forbidden items, and personal letters with any sexual content. The various federal acts, taken together, were called the Comstock laws or Comstock Act.He was responsible for the creation of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and was a major force in the criminalization of all kinds of contraception. He even went so far as to do undercover investigations of brothels, and to report what he saw there in detail (see Prostitution).
In addition to objections to almost every expression of human sexuality, he pursued and prosecuted lottery ticket sales, gambling, writers (George Bernard Shaw, for example), and rubber goods importers, who he deemed a threat to the morals of the nation.
He drove more than one person to suicide, and bragged about it.
Comstock’s efforts to instill morality on the country lead him to a persecution of D.M. Bennett, editor of Truth Seeker, the most influential publication of its time dedicated to “science, morals, free thought, free discussions, liberalism, sexual equality, labor reform progression, free education, and whatever tends to elevate and emancipate the human race.” He succeeded in getting Bennett convicted and sent to federal prison, where his health was ruined. He died a short while after his release.
D. M. Bennett
DeRobigne Mortimer Bennett (December 23, 1818 – December 6, 1882) was the founder and publisher of Truth Seeker, a radical freethought and reform American periodical. Bennett was a devout member of the Shakers for thirteen years before evolving into a “freethinker”, founding the Truth Seeker newspaper in 1873. In 1878, Bennett wrote that “Jesuism”, rather than Pauline Christianity, was the gospel taught by Peter, John and James.
On 1 September 1873, D.M. and M.W. Bennett released the first tabloid edition of the Truth Seeker. It was “Opposed to: priestcraft, ecclesiasticism, dogmas, creeds, false theology, superstition, bigotry, ignorance, monopolies, aristocracies, privileged classes, tyranny, oppression, and everything that degrades or burdens mankind,,,
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- Comstock, Anthony. Frauds Exposed: Or, How the People Are Deceived and Robbed, and Youth Corrupted. J. H. Brown, 1880. Web.
- —. New York Society for the Prevention of Vice Annual Report. N.p., 1883. Print.
- —. The Ninth Annual Report of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. New York: N.p., 1883. Print.
- Garlson, Allan C. “Comstockery, Contraception, and the Family The Remarkable Achievements of an Anti-Vice Crusader.” Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society n. pag. Print.
- Heywood, Ezra Heywood. Free Speech Report of Ezra H. Heywood’s Defense : Before the United States Court in Boston, April 10, 11 and 12, 1883 : Together with Judge Nelson’s Charge to the Jury, Notes of Anthony Comstock’s Career of Cruelty and Crime, Tragic and Comic Incidents in the Malicious, Savage Persecution, Suffered by Moral Scientists Devoted to Social Evolution and Other Interesting Matter. Princeton, Mass: Co-Operative PubCo, 1883. Print. Making of Modern Law : Trials, 1600-1926.
- LaMay, Craig L. “America’s Censor: Anthony Comstock and Free Speech.” Communication Law and Policy 19 (1997): 1. Print.
- “Sharp Practice by Mr. Comstock.: He Procures Another Indictment Against Mrs. Chase It Is Set Aside.” New York Times 11 July 1878: 3. Print.
- West, Mark I. “The Role of Sexual Repression in Anthony Comstock’s Campaign to Censor Children’s Dime Novels.” Journal of American Culture 22.4 (1999): 45–49. Web.
- Wood, Janice Ruth. The Struggle for Free Speech in the United States, 1872-1915: Edward Bliss Foote, Edward Bond Foote, and Anti-Comstock Operations. Routledge, 2011. Print.