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Offers Good Lesson for A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., July 1945
A.A.s need to warn each other about becoming too confident.
Overconfidence can have sorry consequences. Individual A.A.s
need to take the warning to heart; A.A. as an organization
of individuals can also profit from it.
of us, attending meetings of our various groups, have heard,
and taken part in, conversations like this:
see that story about A.A. in this week's Squint?"
"Not yet, but Joe was talkin' about it. Any good?"
"Yeah, a pretty good piece. You know, those editors
must think we got somethin'." Sure, they wouldn't be
giving us space, what with the war and all, if they didn't
think a lot of their readers wanted to know about us."
contentment settles over speakers and listeners.
many of the readers of The Grapevine have heard about
the Washington Temperance Society?
was quite an organization in its time - in the 1840's. Its
organizers called themselves "reformed drunkards"
and they set about "reforming" other drunkards.
the idea seem familiar?
100,000 IN 3 YEARS
did all right, too, They got going in the spring of 1840,
in Baltimore. In early 1843, they were claiming that they
had persuaded 100,000 habitual drunkards to sign the pledge.
temperance organizations had to stand aside - or climb onto
the bandwagon. The new society was getting the headlines.
It organized a mass meeting in City Hall Park in New York
City in 1841 that attracted more than 4,000 listeners -
the speakers stood on upturned rum kegs - and it had 1,800
new members when it closed its campaign in that city.
were triumphal parades in Boston - where historic Faneuil
Hall was jammed to the doors to hear the speaker - and in
other eastern cities, Speakers toured the West and South.
Press of the day gave the society uncounted columns of publicity.
The society petered out.
"why" contains a lesson - and a moral - for A.A.
was no ONE reason, of course. A reason was that older temperance
organizations hired some of the society's better speakers.
That reason couldn't have wrecked the society if it had
had its feet solidly on the ground.
reason was that politicians looked hungrily at its swelling
membership. Some of them climbed aboard the wagon (there
is inference that in those times, at least, some politicians
could qualify for membership) and they helped to wreck local
groups through their efforts to line up votes.
Abolition movement was gaining strength and there was division
within groups as men took their stand on the issue of slavery.
Washingtonians were confident. They rebuffed overtures of
older temperance organizations, they scorned old methods.
Local groups went their separate ways, made their own mistakes,
learned their own lessons. Some, with larger membership,
dipped into their treasuries to finance their own publications.
There was no overall direction of educational policy. Editors
of local society publications got into squabbles with editors
of other temperance papers.
was division, in those times, among the older organizations.
Some of them plumped for total abstinence as a rule of conduct;
others hedged and wanted to direct their efforts against
use of spirituous liquors, accepting use of wines and beers
as normal conduct. Some of the more hardy souls already
were clamouring for legislation that would outlaw the traffic
in beverage alcohol. All of these factions pulled and hauled
on the society's members.
temperance organizations were finding it increasingly difficult
to interest the public in their aims. The Washingtonians
with their unique methods - their missionary work among
drunkards, their open-air parades and mass meetings, their
"experience" programs that afforded a thrill-seeking
public the opportunity of enjoying vicariously the degenerate
experiences of sodden sinners - were stealing the show.
The older organizations borrowed Washingtonian speakers
and methods to draw larger audiences to their meetings.
the Washingtonian movement, in its beginnings, was concerned
only with the reclaiming of drunkards and held that it was
none of its affair if others used alcohol who seemed to
be little harmed by it, the makers and sellers of alcoholic
beverages looked upon the new movement with a tolerant,
even approving eye. The habitual drunk was no more welcome
in the nineteenth century grog-shop than he is in the present
day cocktail lounge.
in its zeal to increase its membership as rapidly as possible,
the society pledged many persons to total abstinence who
were intemperate drinkers, probably, but who were not alcoholic
in the present-day definition of the term.
Washingtonian movement might have survived, however, might
have triumphed over its mistakes, and its enemies (and well
wishers), except for one fatal omission.
organizers believed they could got along without a Higher
wasn't a particularly religious time. And inebriates, then
as now, had generally lost touch with Him. Many of them,
in fact, were outspoken in their denunciations of all of
His works, especially as demonstrated in the activities
and attitudes of so-called Christian folk. The meetings
of the society's groups were conducted usually without reference
were not atheists; it just hadn't occurred to them that
God as we understand Him could help them to stay sober.
In fact, some of them believed that if they invited God
into their councils, sectarianism also would push its way
in, and their movement would be taken over by one or another
of the churches.
society wasn't on God's side and, consequently it disintegrated.
editor of that day wrote:
the exclusion of all religious forms and the entire abstraction
of religion from temperance, was necessary for the reclamation
of the drunkard, we have never believed.... The drunkard
may have felt hostile to religion while in the bar-room
and amid the fumes of liquor, and he may feel so after he
has reformed and been taught to believe that he is better
than a Christian, but never did a poor drunkard go up in
sincerity to sign the pledge, without feeling himself a
prodigal, commencing a work of return to his Heavenly Father,
and needing that Father's help: and who would not have gratefully
knelt and listened to a prayer for that help on his new
endeavors. And we believe that if the hundreds of thousands
of signatures in our country had been accompanied with prayer
and some religious enforcement, their power and efficiency
would have been incomparably stronger."*
it necessarily true that there's nothing new under the sun,"
or that "history repeats itself?"
is new, a new partnership with God in a useful endeavor.
History NEED NOT repeat, in the case of A.A., the sorry
story of the Washingtonians, rise and fall.
are, however, lessons to be learned from history.
quotation is from John Allen Krout's book The Origins of
Prohibition, Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., in 1925.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., July 1945
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