A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from February 12, 2010
“You can’t legislate morality/common sense/prosperity”

Legislation has its limits, and it has long been known that legislation alone cannot change the innate character of citizens. “You can neither legislate a man into virtue nor vice” was printed in The Knickerbocker magazine in 1842. “You cannot legislate men to morality” is cited from at least 1856; “you can’t legislate morality” is a popular form of the saying. Will Rogers wrote in 1934: “You can’t legislate intelligence and common sense into people.” During the Great Depression in the 1930s, “you can’t legislate prosperity” was a popular saying.

Some people will always be stupid and no amount of laws and warnings will encourage the proper behavior. “You can’t legislate against stupidity” (or “you can’t legislate away stupidity") has been a saying since at least the 1950s.


Google Books
September 1842, The Knickerbocker, or. New-York Monthly Magazine, pg. 278:
You can neither legislate a man into virtue nor vice. You cannot legislate a class up or down. Their salvation must come from
themselves.


Google Books
A biographical sketch of Henry A. Wise : with a history of the political campaign in Virginia in 1855: to which is added a review of the position of parties in the Union, and a statement of the political issues: distinguishing them on the eve of the presidential campaign of 1856
By James Pinkney Hambleton
Richmond, VA: J.W. Randolph
1856
Pg. 447:
You cannot legislate men to morality; you must educate them to liberty and virtue. manners and morals must begin at the mother’s knee; must be trained in the schools, and home and domestic teaching must give to the country pupils fit for the schools, and the schools must give to the country a people who will require no such despotic laws.

Google Books
Six speeches, with a sketch of the life of Hon. Eli Thayer
By Eli Thayer
Boston, MA: Brown and Taggard
1860
Pg. 52:
You cannot legislate religion, or temperance, or Christianity, or heaven, into any people under the sun. No, sir; this must be accomplished by other means. Converts are not made, especially in this country, by force.

31 October 1877, Boston (MA) Journal, “The Episcopal Church Congress, Annual Session to New York,” pg. 4:
Dr. Battershall (of Albany—ed.) said: “You cannot legislate morality into men, nor can you bring about the millenium (sic) by a series of resolutions.”

Google Books
24 November 1877, The Churchman, pg. 598, col. 3:
You cannot legislate morality into the souls of men.

Google Books
Transactions of the Department of Agriculture of the State of Illinois
Edited by S. D. Fisher
Springfield, IL: H. W. Rokker, State Printer and Binder
1883
Pg. 424:
It is, however, a well settled fact that you cannot legislate morals into any people under our system of government.

Google Books
Divorce: or, Faithful and Unfaithful
By Margaret Lee
New York, NY: F.F. Lovell
1889
Pg. 219:
You can’t legislate morality into people.

15 August 1889, Jackson Sentinel (Maquoketa, IA), pg. 4, col. 3:
FRANCES MURPHY, the great temperance apostle, was recently in Chicago and expressed himself on the prohibition question thusly: “The prohibition cake is dough. I knew it would prove so, and I hope they are beginning to find out you can’t legislate a man sober.”

Google Books
July 1891, Catholic World, pg. 579:
No wonder they sneeringly say: “You can’t legislate people moral. It’s ridiculous to try. Gambling is an inherited instinct, and ineradicable. No use forbidding it. You can’t stop it. It should therefore be licensed, not prohibited.”

16 February 1908, Augusta (GA) Chronicle, pg. B18:
The position of Representative Sutro that you can’t legislate morality into a people is not new, but his statement that more murders are done by dyspeptics, made so by mince pie and ice water than by drunkards, is unique—and unusual.

6 February 1919, Williamsburg (IA) Journal-Tribune, pg. 6, col. 4:
And now we are told that a movement is already on foot aiming at the destruction of the habits of smoking and chewing tobacco. We are “in” for a reign of regulation from without; the success of the prohibitory amendment in being engrafted on the constitution instantly opens a wide field for the regulators, and it begins to look as if we are facing a period of everlasting “nosing in” by men and women whose Puritan instincts have prevented them from learning that you can’t legislate morality and aesthetics into the human being.

17 February 1921, Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), pg. 2, col. 2:
Cannot Legislate Goodness
Into People, Voliva Asserts;
Predicts Big Events Ahead

By EARL E. SHAUB.
(...)
“I am opposed to the blue law movement,” he said, “because I do not believe you can legislate reforms into mankind. You cannot force a man to be moral, and I would be opposed to making people good by that method if you could.”

5 October 1929, New York (NY) Times, “Oppose M’Kelvie for Farm Bard,” pg. 32:
“You can’t legislate prosperity into any business.”

12 November 1929, Huntingdon (PA) Daily News, “The Cause of Traffic Accidents,” pg. 4, col. 1:
“You can’t legislate common sense into the minds of the public,” he asserts. 

17 March 1934, Ogden (UT) Standard-Examiner, “Will Rogers says,” pg. 1, col. 8:
You can’t legislate intelligence and common sense into people.

18 June 1970, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Here Is Some Expert Advice On How to Outwit Burglars” by Michael Sneed, pg. W6:
“You can’t legislate against stupidity,” said Don Darling, a security specialist whom the government consults on protection matters.

Google News Archive
21 June 1989, Gainesville (FL) Sun, pg. 4A, col. 2:
“You can’t legislate common sense and you can’t legislate away stupidity.”
(Rep. Dick Locke, D-Inverness—ed.)

Google Books
Metamorphosis:
A Resource for Internal Argument

By Luis Bernardo Mescado
AuthorHouse
2010
Pg. 304:
Society can’t prevent misfortune or protect against every evil. Some one once said “You can’t legislate away stupidity or protect against carelessness”. 

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Friday, February 12, 2010 • Permalink