chapter  4
26 Pages

The Tyranny of Love: Paternal Power and Authority

In 1849, William Swain said good-bye to his wife and infant daugh­ter, left his New York farm in the hands of his brother, and ventured to try his luck in the gold fields of California. As his daughter Eliza grew from infant to toddler, Swain’s family kept him apprised of the child’s growing precociousness. His brother informed him that Eliza was “ Master of the House, does what she pleases, asks nobody’s leave, hunts up mischief as fast as she had a hundred eyes. You’d laugh to see her go upstairs to pay her respects to the preserves.” 1 His wife, Sabrina, less amused by the growing willfulness of the child, wrote, “ as she grows older, the more I feel the need of a father’s care and assistance in lightening the responsibility of governing and training her right.”2 William obviously felt something of this responsibility as well. Although he never before had been the father of a two-year-old child, Swain began to advise his wife from afar. “ It is my belief that government of children should be effected by impressing upon the mind ideas of right and wrong, propriety and impropriety, and good and bad.” “ But,” Swain continued, “ these are not always adequate to counteract the will and subdue the temper. . . . Restraints are neces­ sary, especially in early infancy, and unless they are timely and judi­ ciously resorted to, their omission may be the cause of great evil to the child and trouble to the parent. No less the good of the child than the duty of the parent requires restraints and punishments.”