The Ten Commandments
A book by Joseph Lewis
The Eighth Commandment

Page 477The Eighth Commandment Page 478

"Thou shalt not steal."Page 479

What Constitutes a Theft?

"Thou shalt not steal" -- what? Is it only property that one must not steal, and, if so, what kind of property? Are there not things more valuable than property that can be stolen, and are those things included in this Commandment? Is it not true that

"Who steals my purse steals trash; ...
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed."
     -- Merchant of Venice, Act 3, sc. 3.

Unless there is a more specific definition of stealing or a more detailed description of what not to steal, this Commandment is impossible to understand, and impossible to observe.

Even Professor Philip Wheelwright, of the Department of Philosophy at New York University, admits that before this Commandment can be made effective "there must be some way of knowing what actions 'stealing' is to cover." [*1]

Stealing, like morality, very often depends on time and place. What is considered honesty in one community may be condemned as thievery in another. Certain acts considered honest in the past are today classified as flagrantly dishonest. What at one time was considered dishonest, may at another time have both moral and legal sanction. Honesty depends on place and circumstances, and the more inflexible the rule governing honest conduct, the more difficult is its observance. Extremely significant to this study is the fact that of the ten crimes which Biblical Hebrew law punished by stoning, nine have ceased to be offenses in modern society. [*2Page 480

Is the stealing prohibited by this Commandment condemned from the ethical, moral or legal standpoint? What is the standard by which we are to judge? On whose authority is the standard to be accepted?

Do we not from the moment of birth begin to "take" things which are not ours? Does not the instinct of self-preservation often force us to take what belongs to others in order to survive? Will the value of the article stolen, or the age of the person committing the theft, determine the guilt or innocence of his conduct?

Is the man who "steals" his friend's sweetheart or wife guilty of theft? Or are there exceptions which make it "all's fair in love and war" even though the act is dishonest? Is "stealing" a kiss just as flagrant a theft as stealing a purse? Is the boy who "steals" his brother's ties, or the girl who "steals" her sister's dress, guilty of theft within the meaning of this Commandment? What about the boy who "steals" a ride on his friend's bicycle?

Some years ago a New York judge ruled that a man who enters the home of another to "steal a nap" is not guilty of burglary, [*3] while another judge ruled that "robbery for love" deserved the court's mercy.

Alexander the Great said he would not "steal a victory," yet there are many business men who "steal a march" on their competitors for financial advantage. Stealing an idea from another, stealing a patent or a valuable trade secret, is just as dishonest as any other form of theft.

I know some people who are so scrupulous about other people's property that they will always make sure that the light is turned off when they leave a hotel room, feeling that failure to do so would put the owner to an unnecessary expense.

How are we to judge those acts which at one time were legal and at another time illegal? Would an act committed under the belief that it had legal sanction violate this Commandment if at a later date such sanction were removed and the act condemned as thievery? Page 481 Sometimes acts are ethically and morally wrong but legally right, and there are many acts condemned by law which possess inherent moral and ethical value.

At one time legal permission and license was granted to commit robbery on the high seas. Did that change the immoral nature of the act? Many laws on our statute books today are not very far removed from those which gave legal sanction to the sea robber. Could a Commandment of this kind be applied in a society where it is lawful to commit deliberate robbery? What is more pertinent than the fact that pocket-picking even today is a recognized and highly unionized profession in Egypt? When King Farouk was married, the King of Thieves issued a proclamation in the newspapers stating that, as a friendly gesture to the other king, he would call off all his thieves during the nuptial celebrations; in consequence, not a pocket was picked. [*4]

Forgery, as we know it today, was certainly unknown in Biblical times, since the majority of the people then could not even write. Yet today, forging a person's name to a legal instrument, such as a check, contract or deed to property, may be the means of perpetrating a greater theft than the actual stealing of physical property. William Harriman, the banker, who merely ordered a transfer of balances from one account to another on the ledger sheets of his bank's books, stole millions of dollars by this simple transaction, yet he did not physically take part in the transfer. [*5]

Several years ago two well-known bankers were convicted of a "highly technical violation of an intricate banking law" and given long prison sentences. This was done despite their plea that not one person lost a single penny as a result of their act, [*6] and that they had acted in good faith only after receiving the advice of responsible legal counsel.

Are these men as guilty of theft under this Commandment as is Page 482 the robber who breaks into a home and steals valuable property, or a thief who in the dead of night perpetrates a hold-up on a defenseless man and robs him of his money? The theft of a nickel is considered petty larceny; yet to take some lead, mold it into the shape of a five-cent piece and use it to purchase a single article, makes one guilty of the serious crime of counterfeiting! One can resort to the protection of bankruptcy laws for the relief of debts he is unable to meet, and start anew without a penny's obligation. But if, in doing so, the petitioner "conceals" part of his assets, he is guilty of a dishonest act and is punished severely for it.

There have been innumerable instances where jurors seeking to judge the acts of certain of their fellow men with some degree of certainty have been unable to agree as to whether or not the accused's conduct was dishonest, so difficult is it sometimes to determine the honesty of a transaction in relation to the interpretation of the law. In fact, not only have juries disagreed as to the guilt or innocence of a person accused of stealing, but learned judges, men trained in the art of weighing evidence, have also been unable to agree. There have been cases when both judge and jury adjudged a person guilty of stealing, when in reality he was not; and, likewise, there have been instances in which judge and jury have acquitted a person charged with theft, when in reality he should have been convicted. [**7] There have also been instances when a judge condemned a person as a thief and the jury decided otherwise, and just as many cases are recorded in which a jury condemned a person as a thief and the judge thought otherwise.

In a recent decision, United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone rendered a dissenting opinion in a case concerning an activity which the government characterized as a "union racket." It was claimed by the prosecution that nearly a million dollars had been extorted as a result of coercion and violence, yet the highest tribunal in the land gave the stamp of legality to these acts. Justice Page 483 Stone said that in giving legal sanction to them, it "would render common-law robbery an innocent pastime." [*8]

Sometimes it is utterly impossible to know with any degree of certainty where stealing ends and honesty begins.

Was Shakespeare right when he said to a band of professional thieves:

   "I'll example you with thievery:
The sun's a thief, and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea; the moon's an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun;
The sea's a thief, whose liquid surge resolves
The moon into salt tears; the earth's a thief,
That feeds and breeds by a composture stolen
From general excrement; each thing's a thief;
The laws, your curb and whip, in their rough power
Have uncheck'd theft....
. . . . . . . . . . .
All that you meet are thieves....
Break open shops; nothing can you steal but thieves
Do lose it...." [*9]

Law, Ethics and Conscience

To those who might question whether law, ethics or morals should be the standard by which to judge acts in relation to this Commandment, there is left what many claim to be the infallible criterion of conduct -- conscience. But is conscience the proper guide, and is it always infallible? Are there not many crimes condoned by conscience? A person with an "easy" conscience can, with very little effort, convince himself of the justification of a theft.

In fact, there are many instances when a person has been injured by another and, having no recourse to law to satisfy the injury, and no other means of retaliation except by stealing, will commit theft in order to "satisfy his conscience." Do not many boast of the fact Page 484 that they have "put one over" -- meaning a questionably honest act -- on a particularly mean individual, and could anything satisfy their conscience more completely than such an act? "Getting even" with people, either through a dishonest deal, misrepresentation or downright fraud, is a widespread means among certain people of salving their conscience. Do we not express satisfaction when we learn that a particularly mean and unscrupulous person has been cheated or fooled? When a miser is worsted in a deal, do we not say that "it serves him right"?

How many times have we heard people tell of their failure to pay their fare on a street car as a proper retaliation for the poor service furnished by the railroad company? Under the ethical principle that two wrongs do not make a right, does not the failure to pay the fare constitute a theft, despite the fact that a feeling of satisfaction follows the act? Yet men of high moral character, men of unimpeachable integrity, who would not otherwise commit the slightest wrong, do not hesitate to cheat a railroad out of its fare in retaliation for its poor service. Lecky, the great moralist, observed: "Nothing is more common than to find extreme dishonesty in speculation coexisting with scrupulous veracity in business." [*10]

There are some persons who would feel grossly insulted if you accused them of stealing an apple from a grocery store, yet do not suffer the slightest compunction in signing a false proof of loss in order to get more than they are entitled to from an insurance company. A business man whose elastic code of honesty permits him to charge many times his legitimate profit on merchandise will severely rebuke his son for stealing marbles.

How many are like a noted thief who said to his prison keeper, "I may be a thief, but, thank God, I am a respectable man!" [*11] "Respectable" men have stated that if they could steal a million dollars they would gladly spend a few years in prison for the theft. On their Page 485 release their "conscience would be clear" to buy "pleasure" with their stolen money.

So few people have a proper understanding of the principles of honesty. Thousands condemn as dishonest in others acts that they themselves are guilty of committing. This point is well illustrated in a cartoon showing two well-to-do women sipping their afternoon tea. One exclaims to the other, "Do you know, my maid stole six of my Pullman towels!"

Even standards of ethics differ. What might be acceptable in one particular profession would not be accepted in another.

Before the enactment of the Federal Trade Commission and other governmental agencies to protect people from fraudulent methods of commerce, unscrupulous business men shamelessly robbed the innocent purchaser by misbranding and false labeling. Despite careful supervision, and even among tradesmen within the scope of our present standards, there are still dealers who put sand in sugar to increase its weight, adulterate foods, mix water in gasoline, disguise cotton as wool, and resort to many forms of misbranding and mislabeling.

In nearly all countries until recent times, false weights and false pretenses of all kinds were considered ordinary instruments of commerce. [*12] Trading is still not supposed to be an absolutely honest undertaking, for the principle of "buyer beware" still governs innumerable transactions. Even in business transactions where legal talent and business acumen are carefully utilized, the courts are continually called on to invalidate contracts because fraud was used in certain representations. Wilson Mizner, noted American raconteur said: "It is criminal negligence to leave suckers lying around to tempt honest men."

Just as "conscience doth make cowards of us all," so it makes us commit many a dishonest act without the implication of being a thief. If a physician leads a person to believe that he is more ill than he really is in order to increase the number of the patient's Page 486 visits and the amount of his bill; if a dentist pretends to do more work on a patient's teeth than he actually does in order to charge him more for the work; if a politician takes "graft" for selling special favors; if a judge takes a bribe to render a favorable decision; if a business man makes more than a legitimate profit on his merchandise; if a lawyer defends a thief and takes as his fee for services part of the stolen money; if a farmer falsifies the weight and the count of his products; if a laborer fails to give the full amount of the work he is capable of doing; if a real-estate salesman inflates the value of the property he is trying to sell -- are they guilty of dishonest conduct under this Commandment? It would be a difficult thing to convince the physician or the dentist that this Commandment is applicable to him in relation to his patients, or the politician, the judge, the farmer, the merchant, the laborer or the real-estate dealer in their dealings. Many do not even remotely associate this Commandment with such acts, so little is their understanding of the concept of honesty.

But even if it were true that a stricken conscience afflicts all who steal from others, how would that recompense the victim? A stricken conscience would merely be punishment for the culprit, but the victim would continue to suffer the loss of his possessions. Not until the victim of a theft has been satisfied and recompensed for the loss he has sustained can any such feeling of remorse in the thief be a proper expiation for the theft committed. Will a person with a "bad" conscience have the same reaction to a dishonest deed as a person with a "good" conscience? What about the person who hasn't any conscience at all?

Daniel Drew, one of the early American "robber barons" who said that "the honest people of the world were a pack of fools," and who grew wealthy through his sharp business transactions, was a devoutly religious man. His religious convictions did not in the slightest degree prevent him from using questionable business methods, nor did he apparently suffer any compunction for his dishonest acts. How far removed was Drew from the Italian bandit who begged Page 487 the Virgin herself to bless his dishonest endeavors? Or from the thief who invokes God's protection while he breaks into the house? [*13] How effectively can prayer give our dishonest acts the stamp of divine approval?

Curiously enough, so important was this question of honesty that it became the topic of debate among the students of Newcomb College, New Orleans, Louisiana. On the resolution that "honesty is the best policy" the negative side won the debate. "Their leading arguments," said the report, "seems to be that in order to be a success in the world as it is constituted today, one must be a hypocrite, a humbug and a liar, or any parts of these. The audience and the judges approved heartily of the negative side and gave them the prize." [*14]

It was Bernard Shaw who said: "We must make the world honest before we can honestly say to our children that honesty is the best policy." How pertinent are these words of Ingersoll: "As long as dishonorable success outranks honest effort, as long as society bows and cringes before big thieves, there will be little ones enough to fill the jails." [*15] The father who said to his son, "Honesty is the best policy; I have tried them both," was merely confessing that in the long run it was not profitable to be a thief. A man who takes the attitude that honesty is the best policy because it will prove more profitable in the end is not a morally honest man; he merely chooses the most expedient course. The inference is that if he could be dishonest and not pay the penalty, he would follow that line of conduct.

Honesty for honesty's sake is an altogether different principle. To be honest whether it proves profitable or not is the highest ethical conduct.

It was Archbishop Leighton who said: "The truth is, there is scarcely one of the Commandments so universally broken, and whereof the breach is so little observed and so seldom repented of." [*16] Page 488 Add to this the statement of Martin Luther: "It is the smallest part of thieves that are hanged. If we are to hang them all, where shall we get rope enough?" [*17] One can then well understand why the philosophic Pope, when in deep reflection viewing men and affairs as they are, cried: "An honest man is the noblest work of God." This great poet could conceive of no greater handiwork on the part of the "Creator" than an honest man. Nor must we forget in this study the figure of Diogenes, with his lamp as his guide, going up and down the highways and byways looking for an honest man -- whom he did not find! Carlyle said: "Make yourself an honest man and then you may be sure there is one rascal less in the world."

We all know that honesty is a virtue and that it is its own reward, but are there not times when stealing is justified? Are there not certain situations that arise where failure to "steal" would be the cause of a greater wrong than theft? Has not a mother the right to steal food for her starving child? If self-preservation is the first law of life, are we not justified in stealing in order to sustain life?

If there are exceptions, extreme though they be, to absolute and undeviating honesty, do these not invalidate this Commandment as an all-embracing and all-inclusive law? Just as the Sixth Commandment was found to be inadequate in the interpretation of the peremptory precept "Thou shalt not kill," so this Commandment is equally deficient in its application to the multitudinous acts involved in dishonest conduct.

While the Right Rev. Robert Wesley Peach, presiding bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church, says that "even at the point of death, hunger offers no excuse for theft," [*18] Daniel Willard, late president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, thinks that extenuating circumstances should be considered when judging a theft. In a public address he stated: "While I do not like to say so, I would be less than candid if I did not say, I would steal before I would starve." [*19Page 489

How shall we classify this Biblical expression from Proverbs, Chapter 6, verse 30? --

30. Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry.

In Mexico, the law permits a first offender who steals food to go free. According to the Swedish Westgota-lag, a poor man who can find no other means of relieving his family's hunger may with impunity thrice appropriate food belonging to somebody else; but if he does it a fourth time, he is punished for theft. According to the Mohammedan law, the hand is not to be cut off for stealing any article of food that is quickly perishable, because it may have been taken to supply the immediate demands of hunger. In China, stealing food under the stress of hunger rarely merits conviction. Among the West African Fjort, open robbery to appease hunger is never punished. A similar rule prevails among the Tahitians. [*20]

It would be monstrous to condemn a man on a charge of moral turpitude for stealing food for his starving family after he had tried all other means to secure sustenance. This is especially unjust in a society where money represents wealth, and where the absence of money makes a person poorer than the most primitive aborigine; particularly so in a society in which our code of property rights bears no relationship to the dishonest methods of its acquisition.

When this Commandment was formulated, the meaning of stealing was definite and concrete. Then it was understood to mean tangible, physical property, such as food, cattle and the few material things that man in early society had acquired -- things that could be marked, numbered and identified. The possession of a house, a cow or similar property was invaluable to its owner; to be deprived of them meant, as a rule, starvation or death. For that reason, the theft of those essential articles of sustenance was punishable by death until recent times. It was classified as a capital offense as serious as murder. Page 490

In English law, within the last hundred years, there was a long list of crimes involving petty thievery that were punishable by hanging. It is estimated that during the reign of Henry VIII more than 70,000 thieves were hanged. [*21]

As possessions became more plentiful and the struggle for existence less severe, the penalty for stealing was naturally lessened. In fact, today stealing has many classifications. The law does not regard all stealing in the same light, and it provides different degrees of punishment for different kinds of theft. The value of the article often determines the seriousness of the theft; very often no notice at all is taken of certain types of petty thievery which are committed a thousand times a day. In early society, and even up to the present century, stealing a horse was regarded as one of the gravest offenses, while obtaining property under false pretenses was until recently classified merely as fraud. [*22]

We are living in an altogether different society from that of the tribal Hebrews. The manner by which business is transacted today was utterly inconceivable to the minds of those who formulated this Commandment. So rapidly are new schemes and methods devised by unscrupulous people to steal money and other valuables, that the law is unable to keep pace with them. New laws are constantly being demanded to cope with the newer schemes of crime. Just as the misappropriation of money entrusted to another has only recently become a crime under the law, so we find that "false promises" by which swindlers deprive others of their money do not yet legally constitute a crime.

Is not one guilty of a theft who takes advantage of another's ignorance of the law to induce him to surrender valuable possessions with which he would not otherwise part if he were acquainted with his "legal rights"? "Ignorance of the law is no excuse" in the loss of one's property. "Legal robbery" is not only permissible, but quite prevalent. Such a premise is contrary to the very basic principles Page 491 of honesty and justice. Lawyers themselves have been guilty of giving legal advice which has deprived their clients of valuable possessions. Taking unfair legal advantage of a person is just as dishonest as deliberate stealing.

A person who had stolen a cow was released from custody because no value had been put on the animal, and since no theft can be committed without some loss of value, the judge ruled the act no theft. In another instance it was held that a person charged with stealing live turkeys could not be held for trial because they were found to be dead turkeys. A man was indicted for stealing a pair of stockings, but was ordered acquitted because they were old ones. Similarly, a person who was accused of stealing a duck was acquitted because at his trial he submitted proof that it was a drake. [*23] Because of the law's technicality, were these acts any the less dishonest?

Does the technicality of the law determine the morality of the act, or is the act inherently wrong despite the law's failure to condemn it?

We are only too well acquainted with cases where the thief lives on the wealth he has stolen, while the victim struggles for existence in poverty. Why is the thief permitted not only to enjoy the wealth he has stolen from another, but to pass it on for the benefit of his children, while the victim's children are made to suffer not for their sins, or their father's sins, but solely because of the dishonest act of another person?

What about the armed thief who not only steals, but when caught in his dishonest act kills his victim in order to escape with his loot? How can this Commandment be applied to the situation which so often happens, when the thief and murderer escapes and is never apprehended, while the innocent victim has been deprived of both his wealth and his life? Why should the violator of two Commandments triumph over an innocent victim?

Lying and cheating are so essentially a part of stealing that failure Page 492 to include them in this Commandment is almost conclusive evidence that this precept was intended solely for some provincial phase of Hebrew tribal life. Cheating in any game, transaction or undertaking which results in depriving someone of that which rightfully belongs to him is just as much stealing as if a deliberate theft had been perpetrated. This is equally true as regards misrepresentation and other forms of deception. Lying may sometimes be more detrimental to society than stealing, and it is often difficult to determine which is the greater enemy to society -- the liar or the thief.

If each dishonest act held within itself the means of detection and exposure, what a great difference that would make! One thing, however, is certain: it would be far more effective in keeping people honest than this Commandment. And Ingersoll said: "If all men knew for a certainty that to steal from another was to rob themselves, larceny would cease."

If the results of dishonesty could be so plainly and effectively demonstrated as in the story concerning the Emperor Charlemagne and the bell-founder, the world would be able to boast more honest people. The Emperor gave the man a quantity of silver to mix with baser metal in the casting of a bell. The dishonest craftsman kept the silver and used a cheap substitute. When the bell was hung it would not ring. It would not even move. So the founder was sent for. When he pulled the rope, the huge clapper fell and crushed him to death. [*24]

Honesty, like any other phase of morality, is a development of evolutionary ethics, and the higher the cultural state, the more scrupulous the individual conduct. If, every time a theft were attempted, the hands became palsied, or if, when a person tried to secure unmerited gain through dishonest statements, "each false [word] as cauterizing to the root of the tongue, consuming it with speaking," this Commandment would at least possess some value, not as a moral precept, but as a warning signal. Page 493

Stealing as Atavism

We do not have to go very far back in history to know that many of the heroes of the past would be classified as criminals today. Many we still regard as heroes were robbers and bandits in the early settlement days. Much evidence makes it necessary to give serious consideration to the thought that the modern criminal is but a reversion to the spirit and daring which were essential to leadership in a barbaric age. Many display the elements of genius at organization and strategy. The "honor among thieves" which they scrupulously observe differs only in kind, and not in degree, from the honor that honest men demand.

In a recent address, Sir Basil Thomson, former director of Scotland Yard, declared that when World War I broke out nearly all the desperate criminals of England, guilty of major crimes, enlisted voluntarily and served courageously through the war. [*25] He expressed the opinion that this was not unusual, as he had always felt that the burglar, as a rule, was a man who possessed great courage. The man who in peace time becomes a criminal, in time of war may prove to be a great hero.

A noted English scholar quite truthfully states that it may be that a great number of modern habitual criminals merely have the misfortune to live in an age in which their merits and ability are not appreciated. He further states that "with the dispositions and habits of the uncivilized men which he has inherited from a remote past, the criminal has to live in a country in which the majority of the inhabitants have learned new lessons of life, and where he is regarded more and more as an outcast as he strives more and more to fulfill the yearnings of his nature." [*26] The bold and daring exploits of tribal chiefs that brought them honor and respect from their clans would bring them only long prison sentences in our times. And many Page 494 of our "heroes," had they been on the other side of the conflict, would be condemned as "criminals."

Darwin many years ago suggested that stealing and other forms of criminality may be due to atavism -- the recurrence of traits possessed by our primitive ancestors. Stealing was one of man's first pursuits. This instinct, surviving in many people today, causes them to steal without regard to the need or value of the article. In speaking of the appearance of blackness in sheep, Darwin remarks: "With mankind some of the worst dispositions, which occasionally without any assignable cause make their appearance in families, may perhaps be reversions to a savage state, from which we are not removed by many generations. This view seems indeed recognized in the common expression that such men are the black sheep of the family." [*27] A proper comprehension of this primitive instinct will help us to understand many acts that otherwise seem criminal.

Many a child, when questioned as to why he has stolen some article, replies: "I do not know what comes over me. It seems as if it were something that I cannot help. I am ashamed of it afterwards. I just see something that doesn't belong to me and I take it." Recently a high-school boy whose conduct was of the highest order, and who otherwise was exemplary, was apprehended for stealing, and, when questioned, replied: "I steal because it makes me feel good to steal, but I am terribly sorry afterwards." [**28]

The impulse to steal may sometimes develop from a propensity in childhood. It is well known that many children steal, and nearly all have a desire to. Many think it "clever" to be able to take something belonging to another child without that child's knowledge. Sometimes encouragement by classmates makes a confirmed thief of the child whose act was done "in fun." Once the habit of stealing is formed in childhood, it becomes extremely difficult to bring a child to a realization of his wrongdoing. He does not consider his acts any worse than begging, and often, because of the proficiency he has Page 495 developed in stealing, he feels a certain superiority in both intelligence and courage over other children. Unless propensity is eradicated at an early stage, the child will generally grow up into a dishonest adult.

The children in Oliver Twist whom Fagin taught how to steal were completely unaware that their acts were ethically wrong or antisocial. On the contrary, they considered themselves clever and were constantly striving to perfect their technique.

One of the most notorious instances of atavism was that of a noted judge in France, who was regarded throughout the country as the thieves' most hated enemy. It was discovered that he would make the thief he was to sentence describe in detail the intricate technique he used in perpetrating his crimes. At night, the jurist would then duplicate the very thefts for which he had but a few days before sent a culprit to prison.

Indeed, there are innumerable instances of men engaged in keeping other people honest being guilty of what they are assigned to prevent. A striking example is a policeman who is employed to prevent thefts but who himself is guilty of stealing. The press recently reported the case of a "Jekyll-Hyde cop." "The dual life led by former policeman Frank Flors was revealed today with his arrest as a safecracker. By day he protected merchants of Astoria; by night he robbed them, he confessed." [*29]

While assigned to protect the property of citizens, two New York policemen were convicted of stealing over a hundred boxes of candy from a nearby plant. In pronouncing judgment on them, the judge said: "you were sworn to protect the public and you violated all sense of duty by committing robbery.... You reduced yourselves to the standard of crooks." [*30] Another instance is that of a policeman who was called to settle a dispute between two people. He forcibly searched one of the disputants and stole his money. [*31]

A grand jury indicted a judge, head of the bar association of his Page 496 city, for an alleged theft of nearly $50,000 from an estate of which he was executor and attorney. He held an honored position in the community, was trained to administer justice, and yet when the opportunity presented itself, he acted like a common thief. [*32]

Attorneys who are supposed to support the ethics of their profession are unfortunately only too often caught in dishonest transactions. The temptation to speculate in stock and bet on horse races was too difficult for one lawyer to resist, and as a result he defrauded a number of men and women of more than $500,000. Today he is in prison for his thefts. [*33]

Something far more effective than this Commandment is needed to eradicate the deep-rooted instinct to steal that exists in some people. A mentality deeply ingrained with the cunning of the jungle cannot be easily raised to the cultural level of modern man. We cannot expect the observance of the rules of modern society from a mentality that reverts to its primitive instincts. It is difficult enough, even under favorable conditions, to train a normal intellect to observe the rules and laws of modern society. A child is born with instincts and desires inherited from primitive ancestors, which he will have to learn to suppress in order to be a socially accepted member of society. Thousands are incapable of making this adjustment, and that accounts for our large "criminal" population.

In order that man might survive, nature forced him to practice the most cunning forms of deception, and his propensity to deceive and steal is but a survival of his early struggle against the inexorable forces of life. The conditions which he had to face forced him to deceive his enemies; if he had failed, he would not have been able to survive in the terrific struggle for existence. Those who possessed the greatest amount of cunning were best able to cope with conditions. "Stealing" was essential for survival during that early period of social development. The atavistic instinct to steal is Page 497 unfortunately still too deeply ingrained in some minds, making it impossible for them to be honest according to our present code of morality.

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