Vice In The City: 1900


The Rev. Daniel H. Overton, pastor of the Greene Avenue Presbyterian Church, preached last evening on "Babylon and New York, or the Love and the Lack of Civic Righteousness," taking for the text Isaiah lix:14: "And justice is turned away backward and righteousness standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street and uprightness cannot enter." After giving a description of the conditions of the ancient Babylon, the moral condition of the city, etc., Mr. Overton made the application to New York City as follows:

"But has this picture of Babylon reminded you of nothing you have seen or have heard nearer home? Do we have to go to Babylon to find bad politics and poor statesmen, and crafty spoilsmen, and sad pictures, and good specimens of the lack of civic righteousness? Of course it is easy to be eloquent about the evils of Babylon and to speak against her corrupt men and measures. None of those men nor their near relatives or sympathizers are alive to make it unpleasant for us, and so we can condemn them at our pleasure and be eloquent regarding their evils. But how about some near illustrations of the lack of civic righteousness right here in our own city? What of those who sit at our city gates and carry on our city government? Is there no lack of civic righteousness with them? Verily there is. I do not pretend to say that New York is as bad as Babylon was. No doubt Babylon at its best was far more evil than New York at its worst. But there is no doubt that New York is bad enough at present. Crime and evil are regnant and rampant and our city government is largely responsible. This city, like Babylon, is governed selfishly and that is the worst thing you can say about any government. Selfishness is the center around which the spider's web of evil is woven. Selfishness is the nest in which the adder eggs of crime are hatched. Our officials as a rule have forgotten God. They do not take Him into their councils. They do not consider Him in their plans. Any one among them who would speak of departure from evil would make himself a prey to the ridicule and scorn of his fellows. Croker himself has experienced this in his fit of spasmodic virtue. But no one believes Croker's conversion to be genuine. Bryan put him among the prophets to be sure, but there are civil prophets as well as good and Croker has been sharing so long the profits of evil that no one is inclined to count him or his crusade against vice sincere.

"Some say: What's the use of attacking the government of new York City? New York is a well governed city. I doubt not there were hundreds and thousands who said the same thing about Babylon. "Look at our parks, our hanging gardens; look at our wealth and credit and commerce; look at our police department, etc. All of which might be true and yet at the same time Babylon was governed selfishly and there was a woeful lack of civic righteousness.

"So it is of New York City. Great is our city; great in wealth, great in population, great in fire protection, great in police protection, especially when there is any evil to be protected or any money in protecting it. When a reputation for keenness is at stake our police department is beautifully efficient. But when character is at stake they seem woefully wicked.

"We can say a great many good things about New York. God has done more for her than for any city in this new world, but at the same time if we are going to be honest and frank and true we must say that New York, like Babylon, is governed selfishly and therefore badly. There is a woeful lack of civic righteousness in our city and much of it is due to our bad government. Justice and righteousness and truth and uprightness and the Tammany tiger do not go together. The tiger has drawn them out. And justice is turned away backward and righteousness standeth afar off and truth is fallen in the market places and uprightness cannot enter where the tiger is. And on what doth this our tiger feed that, he hath grown so fat? He feeds on our city treasury. He feeds on our city courts. He feeds on the revenue of broken law and protected vice. All this is filling and bloating, but it is not healthy and it is not strengthening. The tiger's other name is self or greed, and when self becomes too inflated and selfishness too rampant there will be an explosion that will remind one of dynamite and the judgment day.

"Rejected justice is coming back. Distant righteousness is going to draw nigh. Truth, trodden to earth, will rise again and uprightness, long shut out, will find an entrance. And I believe all this is going to take place soon if good men do their duty. How are these wrongs to be righted? How are these virtues to be put back in their proper place? By appealing to the people's conscience. By appealing to the love of civic righteousness, the love of justice and right, and truth and uprightness. Here is where New York differs from Babylon. There is more conscience here. Conscience is something that needs to be educated in order to be right and to be efficient. The city has a conscience and it needs educating and it is being educated. The love of civic righteousness on the part of the people of this city may be outraged, but that love, if it is real, will not always stand outrage.

"The conscience of New York City must be aroused by press and by pulpit, by the union of the forces that make for civic righteousness. All that is necessary is that the conscience of the people shall be thoroughly aroused and then civic righteousness will be enthroned. Either this must be or we will have to admit that the majority of voters in New York City have no conscience and no love of civic righteousness. If I am not mistaken New York has a conscience and that conscience will be heard from at the next municipal election in the downfall of Croker and the overthrow of Tammany and civic unrighteousness. I cannot believe that the love of civic righteousness in this city will longer submit to the tyranny and corruption and misrule of Tammany Hall. If it does it will be worse for New York when judgment returns than it was for ancient Babylon."

Website: The History
Article Name: Vice In The City: 1900
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle December 17, 1900
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