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Report Of Commissioners Appointed To Superintend Erection Of A Lunatic Hospital At Worcester

From: Reports And Other Documents Relating To The State Lunatic Hospital At Worcester, Mass.
Creator:  Horace Mann, Bezaleel Taft, Jr., and W.B. Calhoun (authors)
Date: January 4, 1832
Publisher: Dutton and Wentworth, Boston
Source: Available at selected libraries

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From the absence of suitable institutions amongst us, the insane have been visited with a heavier doom than that inflicted upon the voluntary contemners of the law. They have been condemned as no criminal ever was condemned, and have suffered as no criminal ever has suffered. The code by which they have been judged, denounces against them the penalties due only to crime, while it is unmitigated by any of those merciful provisions which, in our penal code, attemper justice with humanity. Even when a criminal stands convicted of perpetrating the most atrocious crime, the benignity of the law accompanies him to the solitude where he is to expiate his offence. He is comfortably clad and warmed and fed at the expense of the State, which inflicts his punishment. He is supplied with the means of moral renovation, and when those proofs of penitence and reformation are given, which it is in his own power to furnish, the laws relent and authorize the remission of his sentence. But though the insane have been made fellow-prisoners with the criminal, they have suffered the absolute privation of every comfort for the body and every solace for the mind. Yet why should a man be treated even as a criminal, who, by universal consent, is incapable of crime? We understand what is signified by retributions for guilt, but to speak of retributions for insanity, does violence to every feeling of humanity and dictate of conscience. Yet this wretched class of our fellow beings, whose only offence is what others justly regard as among the direst of calamities, -- as incapable of moral guilt as unhappily they are of moral consolation, -- have been regarded by our laws as though they were rather the objects of vengeance than of commiseration. And were a system now to be devised, whose express object it should be to drive every victim of insanity beyond the limits of hope, it would scarcely be within the power of a perverse ingenuity to suggest one more infallible than that, which, for so many years, has been in practical operation amongst us. That system could advance one paramount claim to preference. Its experiments have been numerous, and have scarcely ever failed in rendering the most favorable cases of insanity utterly incurable. This practice re-acts upon the community by which it is sanctioned. To say nothing of the amount of human suffering it has caused, it cannot be doubted that, with appropriate treatment, one half at least of all the lunatics, whose support must now continue to be a burden upon the State while they live, might have been restored, and this half might have added as much to the resources of the State, as the other would have subtracted from them.


For several years past all the channels of public information and the resorts for public discussion have been rife with appeals to the community in behalf of prisoners confined for debt. From a comparison made by the commissioners, they cannot entertain a doubt, that the aggregate of the terms of confinement under the poor debtor laws has been much less than that of the imprisonment of the insane. According to returns made in 1829, to the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, from towns comprising less than half the population of the State, it was ascertained that one hundred and sixty-one lunatics were in actual confinement, and of this number the duration of the confinement of one hundred and fifty, exceeded in the aggregate a thousand years. From the subjoined statements, derived from authentic documents, respecting the condition of imprisoned lunatics, an estimate may be formed of the comparative rigors of the restraint inflicted upon these two classes of our fellow-citizens.


"In Massachusetts, by an examination made with care, about thirty lunatics have been found in prison. In one prison were found three; in another five; in another six, and in another ten. It is a source of great complaint with the sheriffs and jailors, that they must receive such persons, because they have no suitable accommodations for them. Of those last mentioned, one was found in an apartment in which he has been nine years. He had a wreath of rags round his body, and another round his neck. This was all his clothing. He had no bed, chair or bench. Two or three rough plank were strewed around the room; a heap of filthy straw, like the nest of swine, was in the corner. He had built a bird's nest of mud in the iron grate of his den. Connected with his wretched apartment was a dark dungeon, having no orifice for the admission of light, heat or air, except the iron door, about two and a half feet square, opening into it from the prison."


"The other lunatics in the same prison were scattered about in different apartments, with thieves and murderers, and persons under arrest, but not yet convicted of guilt."


"In the prison of five lunatics, they were confined in separate cells, which were almost dark dungeons. It was difficult, after the door was open, to see them distinctly. The ventilation was so incomplete that more than one person on entering them has found the air so fetid as to produce nauseousness, and almost vomiting. The old straw on which they were laid, and their filthy garments, were such as to make their insanity more hopeless, and at one time it was not considered within the province of the physician's department to examine particularly the condition of the lunatics. In these circumstances any improvement of their minds could hardly be expected. Instead of having three out of four restored to reason, as is the fact in some of the favored Lunatic Asylums, it is to be feared that, in these circumstances, some, who might otherwise be restored, would become incurable, and that others might lose their lives, to say nothing of present suffering."

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