Why I stopped buying Colgate products
Freethinker editor BARRY DUKE discovers that the Colgate brand is rooted in Christian bigotry. This op-ed appeared in the April, 2008 issue of the magazine
BARGAIN of the day when I went into my local branch of Costcutters recently were two large tubes of Colgate toothpaste for £1. Little savings like these delight me, but, within 24 hours of buying the stuff, my pleasure turned sour when I learned that atheists really should steer clear of Colgate products.
The founder of the Colgate empire, you see, was a vindictive Baptist bigot who played a major part in getting American freethinker, DeRobigne Mortimer Bennett – founder and editor of The Truth Seeker from 1873 until his death in 1882 – jailed for 13 months with hard labour.
Bennett, who regarded Christianity “as the greatest sham in the world, without truth in its history, without loveliness in its doctrines, without benefit to the human race, and without anything to sustain it in the hold it has upon the world”, bravely launched The Truth Seeker, the American forerunner of G W Foote’s Freethinker, in New York when free speech was most under attack from Anthony Comstock, America’s self-appointed arbiter of morals – the Mary Whitehouse of his day, if you wish.
Comstock was a “special agent” of the US Post Office, and secretary and chief vice-hunter for The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. A religious zealot, he waged war on “obscene” books (including some classic works of literature), freethinking writers, and publishers. He arrested “liberal” publishers and birth-control advocates, misnaming the latter “abortionists”.
According to Comstock, the editor of The Truth Seeker was:
Everything vile in blasphemy and infidelity.
The powerful and the pious backed Comstock, who routinely terrorised his victims and even bragged about driving 15 people to suicide in his mission to “save the young”.
Among his most ardent supporters was soap tycoon Samuel Colgate, the President of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, pictured top left with Comstock.
Bennett was arrested for mailing a free-love tract, Cupid’s Yokes, to Comstock. Bennett wrote:
The charge is ostensibly ‘obscenity’, but the real offence is that I presume to utter sentiments and opinions in opposition to the views entertained by the Christian Church.
A month before his trial, Bennett wrote his “Open Letter to Samuel Colgate”, published in The Truth Seeker and mailed (along with
Cupid’s Yokes) to the soap manufacturer. Bennett accused Colgate of distributing a booklet with “prohibited information” – namely
advertising Vaseline as a form of birth control.
You violated the law, yet you escape, while you are trying to send me to prison for not breaking the law at all. If this is justice, it must be Christian justice, or Colgate justice, which will not bear investigation.
(Bennett’s run-in with the bigoted tycoon prompted freethinkers to boycott Colgate products for many years.)
Bennett’s 1879 “obscenity” trial ended with the 60-year-old editor being convicted of sending prohibited matter through the US mail. He
was fined $300, and sentenced to 13 months with hard labour at the Albany Penitentiary.
A fascinating biography of Bennett, whose life has some extraordinary parallels with G W Foote – who served a term of 12 months
with hard labour for blasphemy – has been written by Roderick Bradford, and published by Prometheus.
A review of the book will shortly appear in the Freethinker.