By David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times, May 14, 2020
A full 85 years before the COVID-19 virus stalled the United States, another affliction plagued the country.
The sickness, according to one Boone County minister, was “criminalitis.” In fact, the Rev. W. T. Nicholson of Bellefonte, considered it an acute case of internal criminalitis, and he had definite opinions on how to combat the disease.
In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appealed to the religious leaders of American for counsel and advice on national issues.
Nicholson was moved to reply to the president’s request, and on Oct. 21, he wrote a letter to the Commander-in-Chief. A copy of that letter was reprinted in the Harrison Daily Times.
Nicholson commended the president for his desire to seek advice.
“Your own wisdom is manifest by collecting wisdom by common council,” he wrote. “Your theory that government can be no more than the collection wisdom of its citizens, I think, is safe and sane. Your recent pledge to use your influence to keep peace with the world surely has the sustaining influence of a healthy, sound American public opinion.”
Nicholson joined the president in hoping that such programs as the Social Security Legislation, the Old Age Pension, Aid for Crippled Children and Unemployment Insurance would be a national blessing. However, he felt that the Public Works program was a failure in many places due to the lack of wise and unselfish administration.
Nicholson warmed to his task.
“I am also convinced that our much talked of depression is more moral and psychological than economic,” he said. “Are not our economic aches and pains but a note of warning of our moral and spiritual degeneracy?
Nicholson then launched into his allegory of the country as a sick patient and men like himself and the president as physicians.
“It should not require the skill of a world renowned diagnostition to determine that National sickness is moral and spiritual. In a commonwealth where some die of starvation and others of gout, the trouble must be moral. I am not unmindful of the honor and responsibility conferred on me by having been called in council by the Head Physician of this National Clinic to the bedside of my seriously sick friend with whom I have been intimately acquainted for the past three score and thirteen years. After careful examination, I find that Uncle Sam has a malignant case of internal Criminalitis.”
Nicholson went on to say that in consulting with some of his fellow physicians, he learned that more than $12 billion had been spent on the patient in the past 12 months in hope of correcting some of his personal habits like murder and theft. Nicholson suggested a change in treatment of the patient.
“I recommend that Dr. John Barleycorn be dismissed from the case,” Nicholson adamantly said. “That no more Internal Revenue capsules put up by the Repeal Company be used as their use in proving detrimental. That all political nurses be discharged. That white uniformed statesmen who have been made immune to all political corruption such as bribery, vote buying and vote selling take the place of all discharged nurses. That all stimulants in the form of alcoholic liquors be kept from the patient as we all must surely know this remedy aggravates acute internal Criminalitis and is counterindicated in this case.”
Nicholson was just getting warmed up in his use of imagery.
“May I remind this clinic of the old man Babylon?” he wrote. “You will recall that the night he died so suddenly and unexpectedly of regurgitation and gout, that old Dr. Belshazzar, that old degenerate quack with his thousand degenerate nurses, had just given him a very strong toddy. I am sure it brings to us a feeling of indescribable sadness to think that Uncle Sam was once so strong, so rich, so proud, so pious, so law abiding is now threatened with a violent death from moral insolvency. That he, like old man Babylon, might find his last resting place in the Potter’s Field. That out of the black sleeve of an awful midnight a magic hand be thrust and write on his mud bespattered headstone ‘Nene-Tekel Upharson, Thou art weighed in the balance and art found wanting.'”
Nicholson ended his letter to President Roosevelt by praying that Uncle Sam would make a full recovery by returning to his sober, honest, industrious and law abiding ways.
This is article is part of a series about Boone County history and provided by the Boone County Heritage Museum. The museum is located at 124 South Cherry in Harrison. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday. Closed on Sunday and Wednesday. For more information on the museum, call 741-3312 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.