Publication information
view printer-friendly version
Source: New York Herald
Source type: newspaper
Document type: article
Document title: “Bodily Ailments Responsible for Crime”
Author(s): Lee, Edward Wallace
City of publication: New York, New York
Date of publication: 9 March 1902
Volume number: 67
Issue number: 68
Part/Section: 5
Pagination: 12

Lee, Edward Wallace. “Bodily Ailments Responsible for Crime.” New York Herald 9 Mar. 1902 v67n68: sect. 5, p. 12.
full text
criminals; Leon Czolgosz (mental health); McKinley assassination (personal response); criminals (treatment).
Named persons
Leon Czolgosz; Edward Wallace Lee [in notes].
The article (below) is prefaced in the newspaper as follows: “Dr. Edward Wallace Lee, of New York, one of the physicians who attended the late President during his fatal illness in Buffalo, has been making investigations in the various penal institutions of the country with a view to discovering the physiological and pathological origin of crime. The present controversy among the criminologists and alienists with regard to the moral responsibility of Czolgosz, the late President’s assassin, leads the Doctor to offer some advanced views on the physical phase of crime, and he argues that the criminal tendency often has a purely physical reason behind it, which, being eliminated by careful treatment, may restore the offender to absolute moral responsibility.”

“By Dr. Edward Wallace Lee” (p. 12).


Bodily Ailments Responsible for Crime

SIX hundred thousand dollars are spent every year in this country in caring for the criminal classes whom stern justice has landed safely behind bars. Untold millions are spent by society in general for self-protection against such as are now at large, and to prevent as far as possible the making of more criminals.
     Science is just beginning to regard the criminal from a pathological standpoint first and a criminal standpoint afterward. Behind every criminal act we are discovering a physiological law. In other words, the greater share of crime is proven to be committed by men in some wise deficient, in some particular sick, in some degree irresponsible.
     And yet I believe that there are moments in the history of the most responsible and normal lives when the individual is absolutely irresponsible. Sudden and temporary aberration, resulting directly from some physical stress that produces abnormal pressure upon the brain, accounts for many extraordinary phenomena. Subconscious acts, even by the most temperate and well balanced minds, are not at all improbable. Automatic cerebration, independent from the conscious will; auto-intoxication through excessive joy, grief or other cerebral excitement, are common to society through all classes. These moments of semi-insanity are subjects for the pathologists first and the criminologists afterward.
     The case of Czolgosz, the late President’s assassin, offered a subject of controversy among criminologists and alienists. So far as may be judged, after most careful examination, the murderer was found to be in a state of comparative physical and mental soundness—this, of course, some weeks after committing his rash act. It does not appear that the assassin was the victim of a sudden and unexplainable hallucination, but was the creature of physical suggestion.
     The fact that physical indications gave evidence of normality some weeks after the crime was committed does not, unfortunately, explain the condition of mind the assassin must have been in at the time of firing the fatal shot and during the previous days, when he was scouting about the Exposition grounds for an opportunity to accomplish his purpose, nor does a mere autopsy account for the continued irritation of the brain cells, which kept alive during all this period of suspense the insane enthusiasm and the lust for bloodshed.
     Shall we not some day come into a closer knowledge of just such baffling phenomena as the criminal attitude of Czolgosz toward society and the cowardly deed that was the outcome of this abnormality of mind, and while in no wise extenuating, yet offer to the thinking world somewhat of a reasonable solution for such phenomena, a thing that science has hitherto failed to do?
     Instances are not wanting to the proof that man is capable of lapsing into an epileptic psychical state, wherein he is perfectly irresponsible. These are questions of psychology which begin where physiology ends in the search for the absolute, but it proves the original premises, namely, that too little attention is paid to the bodily condition of criminals in our various State institutions, the physical shortcomings that are responsible in a large measure for the mental aberration that occasioned the lapse into moral turpitude.
     A few years ago a young lady of refinement and wealth committed murder in one of these states of psychical irresponsibility directly caused by bodily ill. She was sentenced to a few hours of imprisonment and taken by kindly hands into a retreat, where, after years of expert nursing, she was restored to normal physical and mental well being. Had she been the daughter of poor and unlettered parents, without influence and money, she would still be behind the bars, with no attention paid to her ailments, mental or physical. Instances of murder, theft, arson and other crimes committed under temporary stress due to physical ills are known among the wealthy and influential as with the lowly, but unfortunately society feels that in incarcerating an offender its whole duty is done.
     Will not the time soon come when the poor inmate of our penal institutions shall receive the same scientific care that only the wealthy offender now enjoys, and will not society itself be benefited in the effect that such care may have upon the whole criminal body by sending forth a well man at the expiration of his sentence—well, both mentally and physically—and thereby lessen that man’s chances of ever returning to prison?
     As the insane asylum is being regarded more and more in the light of a psychopathic hospital rather than a jail, so, in an enlightened era, will our prisons be regarded less in the light of a jail and more as a hospital where society will be less interested in the problem of vengeance against its offenders and more in the science of restoring the abnormal mind to the absolutely normal state. This, as I maintained previously, is as incapable of crime as a perfectly normal heart is capable of beating faster or slower than the natural physiological law allows, or the normal ear of hearing sounds that do not exist, or of the normal eye seeing images that have no being.



top of page