is perhaps fitting this new February to consider that the month's
two most celebrated sons can be curiously -identified with the first
movement in the United States which brought about a large scale rehabilitation
movement was the "Washington Temperance Society," known
most widely as simply the "Washingtonians." The name was
taken to honor President George Washington, deceased some forty-one
years previously, and was selected only after a hassle among founding
members who had originally preferred the name "Jeffersonians."
Washingtonians, founded in 1840, came of age and stature in February,
1841, when they branched out from the first group in Baltimore and
began an amazing growth that resulted in a membership variously claimed
to be between 100,000 and 600,000.
Lincoln, himself a lifelong teetotaler, joined the movement and on
February 22nd, 1842 made a memorable address in the society's behalf.
HEALTH, GENERAL WASHINGTON!"
The posthumous use of Washington's name for an alcoholics' movement
was solely a mark of honor for his military and political achievements.
That the hero of the cherry tree incident was temperate is generally
projected by his biographers; that he would espouse total abstinence
for his colonial compatriots is doubtful. His own taste for good wines
was known far and wide; he usually took "four or five glasses
of Madeira for dinner and finished off with a draught of beer and
a small glass of punch." His journals list large expenditures
for "arrack, wine and punch." He had apparent distaste for
rum, writing to Comte de Moustier in 1788 . . . "rum . . . is
in my opinion, the bane of morals and the parent of idleness."Of
George's taste for whisky we are told in a letter of 1794: ".
. . as the President will be going into the Country of Whiskey, he
proposes to make use of that liquor for his drink."
is a modern barroom legend that is wont to rise on February 22nd (when
the cup has aptly marked the holiday) that "George Washington
mushta been alc'holic . . . who elsh would stand up in a boat?"
Another contemporary celebrant remarked that "Washington musta
had a problem or he wouldn't have thrown a dollar away just for the
water in a river!" There are no reasons to consider these patent
fancies as historical.
point of sober fact, there were no maxims, no gems of guidance for
the temperance society in our first president’s writings. To
add reason to the name of the Washingtonians, an early orator found
these quotes for use in membership campaigns:
do not need wine to fire our blood . . .," from Washington's
young days as a colonel of British provincial troops; and, "Labour
to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire,-conscience"
from one of the general's diaries.
SURROUNDS MR. LINCOLN
That the "reform" and temperance movements came of age in
Abraham Lincoln's own time of coming of age is duly recorded by newspapers
of the early 1830's. A thousand units of the American Temperance Society
had a total of 100,000 members by 1832. Politicians were taking notice
of the temperance tide as it surged in. By 1835, there were 5,000
societies, a million members. Effective literature and temperance
newspapers were rolling off presses. The Reverend Dr. Lyman Beecher
had already proclaimed that intemperance was not merely drunkenness,
but "the daily use of ardent spirits."
the midwest of young Abe, whisky was the beverage of a he-man. Up
the Mississippi from New Orleans came other potables ... Holland gin,
French cognac, Tenerife, Malaga and Scotch whisky. There were "men
of distinction" in the prairie states, too! A Dayton, Ohio paper
reported "whisky, twelve cents a gallon. Eight thousand have
signed the temperance pledge in Cincinnati, a fact which has had some
effect in lowering the price of whisky."
Washington” societies were appearing to "reclaim the intemperate
of their own sex."
along the Sangamon River, whisky flowed as placid as the fish bare
stream. The Sangamon Hardshell Baptist church refused to take a stand
against whisky. Mentor Graham, Lincoln's friend who taught the school,
joined the "temperance movement and found himself immediately
suspended by the church trustees! To even things up, the trustees
then suspended another member who had gone blind drunk.
LINCOLN DEFINES TEMPERANCE
By New Year's, 1842, Abraham Lincoln was the foremost member of the
Springfield, Illinois Society of Washingtonians. He had never taken
whisky, but he had seen his business partner John Berry overcome by
it. His law partner, Mr. Herndon, was often in "the likes of
being a liquor head" Such an enemy as whisky needed a strong
foe, and Mr. Lincoln was the natural choice for the Washington's Birthday
temperance meeting in the Second Presbyterian Church. Services proper
for the occasion were sung by the choir, augmented by Methodist singers.
Then, A. Lincoln, Esq., orator of the day, took the platform to deliver
an address on "Charity in Temperance Reform."
warfare hitherto waged against the demon intemperance has somehow
or other been erroneous" Mr. Lincoln said. "Either the champions
engaged or the tactics they have adopted have not been the most proper.
These champions for the most put have been preachers lawyers and hired
agents. They are supposed to have no sympathy of feeling or interest
with those very persons whom it is their object to convince and persuade"
best of temperance crusaders, Lincoln told the large audience, is
the reformed drunkard. "When one who has long been known as a
victim of intemperance 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 comfortably; of a wife long
weighted down with woe, weeping, and a broken heart, now restored
to health; and how easily it is all done, once it is resolved to be
done; how simple his language! --there is a logic and an eloquence
in it that few with human feelings can resist. They cannot say he
is vain of hearing himself speak, for his whole demeanor shows he
would gladly avoid speaking at all; they cannot say he speaks for
pay, for he received none and asked for none. In my judgment, it is
to the battles of this new class of champions, that our late success
is greatly, perhaps chiefly, owing."
and denunciation of dram-sellers and dram-drinkers was "both
impolitic and unjust." The reason? "Because it is not much
in the nature of man to be driven to anything; still less to be driven
about that which is exclusively his own business; and least of all
where such driving is to be submitted to at the expense of pecuniary
interest or burning appetite."
"Twelfth Step" instruction from lawyer Lincoln: "A
drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall. If you would
win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere
lanky orator spoke of whisky, commodity of trade, in his own forefathers'
time. "Even then it was known and acknowledged that many were
greatly injured by it," Lincoln asserted. "But none seemed
to think the injury arose from the use of a bad thing, but from the
abuse of a very good thing. The victims of it were to be pitied and
compassionated, 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 a disgrace."
the audience was the drunkard law partner, Herndon. Perhaps to him
Lincoln continued: "If we take habitual drunkards as a class,
their heads and their hearts will bear an advantageous comparison
with those of any other class. There seems ever to have been a proneness
in the brilliant and warm-blooded to fall into this vice--the demon
of intemperance ever seems to have delighted in sucking the blood
of genius and of generosity."
in conclusion, Mr. Lincoln seemed to speak directly to the reformed
drunkards of the Washington Society . . . "In my judgment such
of us as have never fallen victims have been spared more from the
absence of appetite than from any mental or moral superiority over
those who have."
a code for the success of the Washingtonians in bringing new feet
to the path of sobriety, Mr. Lincoln used simple phrases . . . "go
for present as well as future good . . . labor for all now living,
as well as all hereafter to live . . . teach hope to all, despair
to none. As in Christianity it is taught, so in this teach, that 'While
the lamp holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return.'"
was five score less seven years before Alcoholics Anonymous that the
man who freed other men from bondage and slavery spoke to a church
room full of reformed drunkards, and people come to hear, and people
come to scoff.
was never again recorded as speaker on temperance from alcohol. .
.but there were to come many words to be graven in men's hearts and
immortalized on granite. Words that had great meaning in the dark
and confusion and desperate illness of a whole nation ... words that
are still comfort, and light and milestones for faith for those today
who through AA are winning their own civil war ... who are uniting
their own house that it may stand righteously and honestly and undivided.
to that homely voice, leaving these words for the ages:
I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master."
is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels he is worthy of
himself and claims kindred to the great God who made him."
from the Second Inaugural Address, perhaps the most sublime phrase
of Lincoln's rich gifts to America ... a message to a nation sobering
up from the dreadful nightmare of four years' bloodshed . . . a message
for our use today ...
malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right,
as God gives us to see the right . . ."
MESSAGE HE MUST CARRY
was the second month of the new year, and those to whom he had brought
a new way of life, a new belief, were now far away. He could not know
if they still kept the faith, if they practiced in their living the
simple principles of honesty, of humility and of helpfulness to others
that he had found for himself and had, in turn, given to them.
had lived the long first of his own life quite differently. Born to
wealth and position he had scorned those who did not share his own
then troubled and weary of the old ways within himself, there had
come to him a vision, a sort of spiritual experience that changed
his whole pattern of living and gave him the courage and the peace
that he later described as "passing all understanding."
That others might know the new way, he traveled far and wide, speaking
to such little groups as would hear him . . . telling them simply
of the change within himself.
many said to him: "This will not work, this loving one's neighbors
and making amends for past misdeeds and finding answers to the hard
business of daily living in such vague ways as meditation and prayer."
And they turned him out of their meeting places and he despaired that
anyone should believe him and follow where he led.
he had a message, and he kept on with it. And in the second month
of the year 53 AD. This man Paul wrote to those he had sponsored in
a place called Philippi.
was his message-just 1900 years ago this 1953: "Brethren, whatsoever
things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are
just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever
things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if them be
any praise, think on these things"