Lincoln On Alcoholism
The profound insight of the great President into the dilemma of
the habitual drunkard.
From Lincoln's address to the Washington Temperance Society, Springfield,
February 22 1842
Copyright © The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., February 1964
my judgment such of us who have never fallen victims have been spared
more by the absence of appetite than from any mental or moral superiority
over those who have. Indeed, I believe if we take habitual drunkards
as a class, their heads and their hearts will bear an advantageous
comparison with those of any other class."
one who has long been known as a victim of intemperance bursts the
fetters that have bound him, and appears before his neighbors 'clothed
and in his right mind,' a redeemed specimen of long-lost humanity,
and stands up, with tears of joy trembling in his eyes, to tell of
the miseries once endured, now to be endured no more forever: of his
once naked and starving children, now clad and fed comfortable; of
a wife long weighed down with woe, weeping, and a broken heart, now
restored to health, happiness, and a renewed affection; and how easily
it is all done, once it is resolved to be done-how simple his language!
Human feelings cannot resist."
have not inquired at what period of time the use of intoxicating liquors
commenced; nor is it important to know. It is sufficient that, to
all of us who now inhabit the world, the practice of drinking them
is just as old as the, world itself-that is, we have seen the one
just as long as we have seen the other."
who have suffered by intemperance personally, and have reformed, are
the most powerful and efficient instruments to push the reformation
to ultimate success. It does not follow that those who have not suffered
have no part left them to perform. Whether or not the world would
be vastly benefited by a total and final banishment from it of all
intoxicating drinks seems to me not now an open question."
victims of it (alcoholism) were to be pitied and compassioned, just
as are the heirs of consumption and other hereditary diseases. Their
failing was treated as a misfortune and not as a crime, or even as
seems ever to have been a proneness in the brilliant and warm blooded
to fall into the vice-the demon of intemperance, ever seems to have
delighted in sucking the blood of genius and of generosity. What one
of us but can call to mind some relative, more promising in youth
than all his fellows, who has fallen a sacrifice to his rapacity?
He seems ever to have gone forth like the Egyptian angel of death,
commissioned to slay, if not the first, the fairest born of every
day when-all appetites controlled, all passions subdued, all matter
subjugated-mind, all-conquering mind, shall live and move, the monarch
of the world. Glorious consummation! Hail, fall of fury? Reign of
reason, all hail!
when the victory shall be complete-when there shall be neither slave
nor drunkard on the earth-how proud the title of that land which may
truly claim to be the birthplace and the cradle of both those resolutions
that shall have ended in that victory. How nobly distinguished that
people who shall have planted and nurtured to maturity both the political
and moral freedom of their species."
the man suddenly or in any other way to break off from the use of
drams, who has indulged in them for a long course of years and until
his appetite for them has grown tenor a hundred-fold stronger and
more craving than any natural appetite can be, requires a most powerful
moral effort. In such an undertaking he needs every moral support
and influence that can possibly be brought to his aid and thrown around
is an old and a true maxim that 'a drop of honey catches more flies
than a gallon of gall.' So with men. If you would win a man to your
cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend."
it just to assail, condemn, or despise them? The universal sense of
mankind on any subject is an argument, or at least an influence, not
easily overcome. The success of the argument in favor of the existence
of an overruling providence mainly depends upon that sense; and men
ought not in justice to be denounced for yielding to it in any case,
or giving it up slowly, especially when they are backed by interest,
fixed habits, or burning appetites."
error, as it seems to me, into which the old reformers fell, was the
position that all habitual drunkards were utterly incorrigible, and
therefore must be turned adrift and damned without remedy in order
that the grace of temperance might abound, to the temperate then,
and to all mankind some hundreds of years thereafter. There is in
this attitude something so repugnant to humanity, so uncharitable,
so cold-blooded and feelingless, that it never did nor ever can enlist
the enthusiasm of a popular cause."