Margaret Sanger, "Vanderlip's Speech -- A Warning Note," Jul 1919.

Published article. Source: Birth Control Review, July 1919, 3-4 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:123 .


Vanderlip's Speech -- A Warning Note

An Editorial by Margaret Sanger

The birth control movement in America has heretofore centered its interest upon two points. The first of these is woman's freedom. The other is relief for the economically oppressed workers through limitation of offspring.

This has been the movement's development in most countries, except England. There it has been very definitely based upon the principle that failure to control the birth rate consciously and sufficiently has a constant tendency to permit the population to increase beyond the food supply. This is the first of what may be called the two principal tenets of the English movement. The second is that over-population is the first and most fruitful source of ignorance, pauperism, disease and crime. Around these two principal points the advocates of Birth Control in England have waged their battle.

English statesmen and economists, however, are keenly conscious that Britain is over-populated. It is a matter which is discussed constantly by press, politician and publicist. America is a newly developed country. The overcrowding of population has not yet made itself so greatly felt. For this reason, perhaps, the advocates of Birth Control have had less direct interest in this phase of the matter than have the advocates of the same doctrine in the tightly packed United Kingdom.

It required the World War to awaken us to this phase of the general problem. Conditions revealed by this struggle and its aftermath make it impossible for American believers in Birth Control to leave out of consideration, hereafter, the relation between population and its means of subsistence.

Of all those who have written and spoken upon problems arising out of the war, none has called our attention so plainly and emphatically to the food question as Frank A. Vanderlip, until recently head of the City National Bank of New York, one of the most powerful financial institutions in the country. In an address delivered May 26, which stirred the press of the country into a hysterical discussion that has not yet run its course, Mr. Vanderlip directed attention to some of the most significant facts in the European situation. In all the babble of discussion that has followed, no newspaper has yet commented upon the fundamentals pointed out by the financier. None of the editorial writers was able to discover that the vital points on the address were those which dealt with the European food situation, as it arises out of over-population.

Here are some of the facts which Mr. Vanderlip brought out:

"Europe has increased its population since the Napoleonic wars from 175,000,000 to 440,000,000. Now just think of those figures- 175,000,000 to 440,000,000! Now Europe did not become any more productive. She probably does not raise a very great amount more food than she did a hundred years ago. How has she fed those people?..."

"The British government will have to get five or six million Englishmen out of England and nearer to the source of the food supply. It is that fact that we must grasp; that these industries must be kept going in these highly industrialized European countries if the people are to live. Take England -- the most thickly populated country in the world -- 700 to the square mile. They have built up that whole island into an industrial community that can live only by selling abroad a great part of the product of the factories, and with the proceeds of that export buying more raw material and the foods for the population......"

"English industry has made a red ink overdraft on the future by underpaying labor so that it did not receive enough to live efficiently and you know that in the mill towns of England there grew up a secondary race of underfed, uneducated, undeveloped people. Well, England has got to pay the overdraft now. She found that a third of her men of military age were unfit for military service. One of Mr. Lloyd George's most famous utterances was that ' You could not make an A-1 nation out of a C-3 population .' They all see it and that differential (low wages), which England has had in international trade is gone. That is not all of it.

"England must maintain her markets if she is to maintain her population. Remember, she is an industrial community just like an industrial village. She has this vast population that her fields will not sustain. She must bring in raw material, pass it through her factories, sell it abroad, and have margin enough to get more raw material for the food she needs, and she is facing the demoralized markets of Europe."

Mr. Vanderlip speaks, of course, as a financier. But whether one is a financier, a reformer or a revolutionist, the facts that he points out are the facts that must be faced. No matter what our theories or our faiths, these facts stand, they grow increasingly ominous, and the necessity that they be dealt with grows more insistent.

What do these facts mean to America -- to the people of America? They mean, first of all, that upon America will be made increasing demands for food for Europe. We have already been supplying England, France and a great part of Italy. Plans are already under way to "feed Germany" if a peace satisfactory to those in power, politically and commercially, is made.

We know, too, that while supplying food to England and France, we went through a period of scarcity and unprecedented high prices. We know that this period was also marked by high mortality among the civilian population. Witness for instance, the influenza epidemic.

It is also to be remembered that America, like England, as long as this nation depends upon present means of production and distribution, will be forced to seek more and more markets and sources of raw materials. What else is the meaning of the expansion of the United States within the last generation? Why have we taken over Hawaii, the Philippines, Porto Rico, and why have we virtually held a protectorate over Cuba? Why is American capital so interested in Mexico? Why is it that we go to South America for much of our meat supply -- and only within the past few years? Why do American packers control much of the cattle and most of the packing industry in South America? What is the meaning of our heavy importations of rice? Is our situation different from that of England, except in degree?

A look at our populations statistics may shed some light upon the question. In 1880 our population was a little over 50,000,000. Ten years later it had increased to approximately 63,000,000. In 1900 it was approximately 76,000,000. In 1910 it lacked but a few thousand of 93,000,000. Now it is estimated at 106,000,000. It has more than doubled itself in thirty-eight years. The rate of increase for the twenty years between 1890 and 1910 was approximately 21 per cent. At this rate, we will have 200,000,000 people in 1950! While only a generation ago, we began reaching out for imports to add to the stock of foods produced at home.

It is well understood that one of the causes of the World War was the rapid increase in the German and Russian populations. The German population grew from 41,000,000 in 1871 to 67,000,000 in 1918. It increased 60 per cent in forty-seven years and made a world cataclysm inevitable because it did not produce sufficient food to sustain its tremendously increasing numbers.

It took Russia, with the highest birth rate in Europe, forty years -- from 1871 to 1911--to increase her population 77 per cent. In but 38 years, we have more than doubled our own population. It took Japan sixty-five years to double her population, and her government has been making a studied effort to increase the number of Japanese.

In view of these facts. it is high time for people living in America to give careful attention to the population problem. It is especially important that those of us who advocate Birth Control should at once begin to make an intensive and exhaustive study of the subject. If England, with the most extensive colonial system in the world at her command, cannot take care of her few tightly packed millions, what will be the state of affairs when the United States, youngest, most powerful and most rapidly growing of the nations, with no more colonies to take except by force, shall have 200,000,000 or 300,000,000 people?


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Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project


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