Chapter VI - Principles of The Washington Society Experience

The Washingtonians

Chapter VI - Principles of The Washington Society Experience

We have already intimated that experience was clearly the groundwork of the operations of this society. We also mentioned some reasons why this course was adopted. Heretofore the appeals of the friends of temperance were, as a general thing, directed to the moderate drinker, or the strictly temperate. Efforts were made rather to prevent men from becoming intemperate, than to reform them from intemperance. Many doubted the possibility of the reformation of the drunkard; and even those who did not, made but little effort to rescue him. The addresses made at temperance meetings, were rather of a tendency to drive away the drinking man, and those engaged in the manufacture and traffic in intoxicating liquors. And even if the ridicule or denunciation of drunkenness did not constitute the burden of the temperance speeches, mere general lectures on moral duty however just in themselves, were not likely to reach the man, whose mind was beclouded, and whose heart was seared by strong drink. It was of little avail to argue with him of the moral obligation of setting a good example - of the operation of Christian charity, in inducing a willingness to make sacrifices for our own good, and the good of others - to prove that the Bible sanctioned neither drunkenness, nor even the moderate use of alcoholic drinks - to present to him the chemical and physiological view of the question, and show him that alcohol was poison, &c. &c. He cared not for these things. Nay more, you could not induce him to listen to them. Even a calculation of the expenses of intemperance, or a graphic description of the drunkard and the drunkard's home, had too little effect on him, as they were made from observation rather than from experience; and too often were the result of a mere speech-making spirit, coming from the head rather than the heart.

It must be admitted, however, that efforts were made by some of the ardent friends of the cause, to enlist the sympathies of the unfortunate, win their confidence, and lead them to the signature of the pledge. And not a few had been recovered since the commencement of the reform. But after all, it cannot be denied that the Temperance men of former times, as a general rule, had no access to the drunkard, or to those connected with the manufacture and sale of alcohol.

The difficulty then was, either that the drunkard would not go near a temperance meeting; or, if he did attend, he was likely to be either held up to ridicule, or denounced, or perhaps turned out of doors. Too often he would hear that which he could not appreciate, or which was calculated to embitter him the more against the cause. Mere general lectures on any subject, and more particularly on the subject of drinking, fall unheeded on the ear of the intemperate man. And you steel against yourself all his confidence and sympathies, if you either scold, mock or denounce him for his intemperance. He feels conscious within himself that he is deserving of sympathy, rather than ridicule or denunciation - that he is not so much the willing votary, as the unwilling slave and victim of an unnatural appetite - that he drinks not so much because he is wicked, as because he is weak. He became a drunkard unintentionally, wrongly it is true, yet still unintentionally; he will not defend himself; but he knows and feels that drunkenness with him is rather a disease than a vice. And the cold scorn or ridicule of the world, can have but a bad effect on such a man; it is calculated to drive him to madness and despair by drinking deeper of the cup, that he may forget his degradation; or to embitter his heart against all the alleged sympathies of his fellow men.

There were other difficulties in the way: as for instance, the impression that the Temperance reformation was a 'Church movement,' and that the pledge required more than the abandonment of the personal use of alcohol. On these points we shall remark in their proper places.

There is yet another view: there are dishonest men everywhere, hypocrites in every association; and no enterprise is so righteous, but that designing men, from corrupt and selfish motives, will embrace it, and use their influence in its promotion. Even the Church has not escaped this contamination. No enterprise perhaps had been more injured in this respect than the Temperance cause. It has too often been made a hobby by designing men, seeking popularity and influence - ambitious, aspiring men - broken-down politicians - religious hypocrites - mere babblers, who wished to gain the reputation of speech-makers, by riding the Temperance hobby. From the influence of such men, in one garb or other, this good cause has been much retarded.

In order then to avoid all these difficulties mentioned, and be rid of these hobby-riders, the Washington Temperance Society was founded on the principle, that the statement of personal experience should be substituted for debates, lectures and speeches in their meetings, while the only requisite to membership should be personal abstinence. This at once placed them in a single and invulnerable attitude, and not one of warfare against any man, or

class of men. No man could be offended, or find fault. It attacked or excited no man's prejudices. It rendered the reform, so far as they were concerned, a simple unit, and that unit principle was the simple idea of personal abstinence. Behind that, they made no further inquiries. By means of their experience meetings, they at once reached the cases of many of the most unfortunate inebriates. They not only could induce them to attend their meetings; but when there, they interested their feelings, excited their sympathies, by details of their own personal experience; and proved to them that they could reform, by setting before them living examples.

It can not be denied, that the most eloquent and glowing speech on a matter abstract from the speaker, no matter how deeply it concerns us, is less powerful, than a simple, honest statement of a man's own experience on the same subject, however unlearned may be the man who gives the experience. Such a one speaks the thoughts and feelings written. It may be in fire, on his own heart; and they reach the hearts of his hearers. The difference is as great as that between mere abstract theory and practice. The principle is an admitted one in human nature. How much more influence then has the man, who stands before an audience to persuade them to abandon the use of strong drink, when he can himself tell them of its ruinous and blasting effects on his own life and character - trace the progress of his own habits of intemperance, - and warn others to avoid the rock on which he split. A reformed man has the best access to a drunkard's mind and heart, because he best knows, and can enter into all a drunkard's feelings. And such appeals from such sources, properly directed, can rarely fail of entire success.

It should perhaps be remarked here that there is some limitation to this general rule of the society, in reference to experience speeches. There are many staunch friends of the Temperance cause, who have never been so unfortunate as to be victims of intemperance. We would not close their mouths, nor preclude them from usefulness. On the contrary, when there is occasion, at the regular or special meetings of the society, permission to speak has been given, by common consent, to such friends of the cause, as are known to understand the true principles of the society, and to be prudent and successful speakers. Hence such persons have frequently been heard, and most enthusiastically received by the Washington Society. The rule was adopted not only with the design of having the benefit of experience, spoken in burning words from the heart; but also to close the mouths of designing men - mere talkers - men lacking either common sense on the one hand, or common honesty on the other. No sensible man, honest in his motives, has ever been precluded the opportunity of communicating directly with the society.

We have been charged as a society with advancing the notion, that no good was ever accomplished in this cause before we did it; and that no person is a suitable Temperance speaker, unless he is a reformed drunkard. The charge is without foundation. We have been greatly misunderstood, and doubtless greatly misrepresented. For individual opinions, casually expressed, the society is not accountable. Our true doctrine is: that to operate on the intemperate, experience speakers are the best; and indeed if a sufficient number of them can be obtained, of proper sense and character, let them do most, if not all, the labour of speaking, especially where the object is, solely or in part, directly to influence the intemperate. Moreover, let them for their own encouragement, and in order to reach others, fill the offices, and control the affairs of the societies, as much as possible. The true and honest friends of the cause understand this, and hence, wherever it has been practicable, they have stood aside, and given place to proper persons among the reformed men, thus placing them as high as possible, that they may exert the more influence on others. We do not hold, that everyman who has had the misfortune to have been a drunkard, is fit to be either an officer of a Temperance society, or an experience speaker, as soon as he has been reformed. He should have common sense and common honesty, and this is all about the qualification he needs, except it be some capacity to express himself readily. But there are drunkards, and reformed men, as well as sober men, who may lack one or both of these qualifications; and such men of course are not to have, indeed they cannot have, any influence in this cause. We stand upon common honesty in this matter.

If then, in any place there be not reformed men enough, or not of the proper stamp, to take the most prominent parts in this enterprise, let the true friends of the cause, who have not suffered, act and that with all their might. We do not exclude them. And even where there are reformed men in abundance, all true disinterested friends of the cause have work to do in both counsel and labour, and we give them the right hand of the fellowship in this matter. There are places and circumstances, where it may be judicious to merge all the Temperance movements in the Washington system; there are other circumstances, which may make it judicious and necessary for the old Temperance men to retain their organization; and others again, where it may be best to have every kind of instrumentality at work at the same time. In Baltimore, so far from the opposite being of the case, the reformed men and the old friends of the cause, frequently labour side by side at public meetings in the city, as well as in visiting the surrounding country to advance the common cause. There should be perfect harmony among all true disinterested friends of this common enterprise.

Again, we have been represented as holding that clergymen should not take any part in the Temperance cause. This is no doctrine of ours. Let them in their pulpits or elsewhere say as much in favour of Temperance as they please or can. Ministers of the Gospel have, on more than one occasion, addressed the Washington Society. But when they come among us, we want not sermons but COLDWATER SPEECHES. Let them lay aside their pontificals, and talk to us as MEN, not as preachers. This is not a DISTINCTION without a DIFFERENCE. Why should religious men, whether preachers are not, introduce their religion into all their discourses? Religious men can address a political, agricultural or literary meeting, and confine themselves solely to these matters, without lugging in their religious tenets at ever corner. Why not on the Temperance question? We have had men address us, in whose piety all men had confidence, and yet the burden of their remarks was Temperance, - cold-water, and they did not once introduce foreign matters, in which they might be certain their audience did not think alike. These are the kind of speeches that are acceptable to the Washington Society, because they are in point.

Let it not be forgotten, that where it can be had, it is better to have experience the burden of the Temperance speaking that is done. The Washington Society have had no occasion to regret the adoption of this wise and salutary provision. Thousands of unfortunate drunkards have been saved by hearing the experience of others, who never would have been saved by a mere sermon or address on Temperance, however eloquent. In the same way thousands more will be reformed.

 
The Washington Temperance Society of Baltimore
Chapter V - Results The Missionary Spirit


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