by horse and buggy on the wintry night of February 22, 1842,
at the Second Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Ill.,
a tall, lanky lawyer proceeded to sow the seeds of basic
ideas that eventually blossomed in the program of Alcoholics
Anonymous. His address on the drinking problem was given
before the Washington Temperance Society, so named because
George Washington had been "a mild-drinking man who
knew when to stop."* Not yet married, this attorney
was practicing in the circuit courts and had already shown
congressional interests. With great perception and depth
of thought he made keen observations which may come as a
surprise to us.
begin with, he said, "In 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." Immediately,
he established the fact that degree of intelligence and
willpower has nothing to do with our condition.
mostly to reformed drunkards (though the society also included
nonalcoholics), he gave a condensed example of a typical
AA talk: "When 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."
aside from a good description of recovery, we get: the admission
in Step One-"once it is resolved to he done";
the sanity in Step Two - "in his right mind; and Doctor
Bob's admonition against complicating things-"how simple
any misconception that the use of alcohol was something
new, he said, "I 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."
be quickly expressed doubt that any plan of prohibition
might be called for: "Whether or not the world be vastly
benefited by a total and final banishment from it of all
intoxicating drinks seems to me not now an open question."
The U.S. experiment of national prohibition began in 1920
and was acknowledged a failure by its repeal in 1933.
a harbinger of the American Medical Association's decision
that alcoholism is a disease, the lawyer said, "The
victims of it [should be] pitied and compassioned, just
as are, the heirs of consumption and other hereditary diseases.
Their failing [should be] treated as a misfortune, and not
as a crime, or even as a disgrace ... Is it just to assail,
condemn, or despise them?" Even to this day, society
jails us and shames us, and disrepute persists.
criticizing the attitude of condemnation, he assured his
listeners that the alcoholic was not hopeless: "Another
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. . . . 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."
lawyer friend realized that no one was spared: "The
sideboard of the parson and the ragged pocket of the houseless
loafer both hold whiskey." Further, he noted that the
alcoholic was not necessarily a bum: "There 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
the addictive nature of alcohol, he reflected, "For
a man suddenly, or in any other way, to break off from the
use of [alcohol], who has indulged for a long course of
years and until his appetite has grown ten or a hundredfold
stronger, and more craving than any natural appetite can
be, requires a most powerful moral effort:" He was
describing a physical allergy coupled with a mental obsession.
"In such an undertaking, he needs every moral support
and influence that can possibly be brought to his aid and
thrown around him" -the AA program, a Higher Power,
fearless inventory, fellowship, and the example of other
by foresight or by intuition, and perhaps quite unwittingly,
the speaker continued by hinting at a program of attraction:
"It is an old and 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."
more important, be anticipated the mistrust a drunkard might
feet if forced into change: "Assume to dictate to his
judgment, or to command his action ... and he will retreat
within himself." Aren't the Twelve Steps suggestions,
not commandments? And aren't we advised to choose a Higher
Power as we understand Him, no matter what our individual
conception of that power may be?
perhaps the most significant observation he made was to
picture the reformed drunkard as the best of temperance
crusaders: "Those who have suffered by intemperance
personally, and have reformed, are the most powerful and
efficient instruments to push the reformation to ultimate
success." Where would AA be today had not Bill, a sober
alcoholic, gone to see Doctor Bob, a drinking alcoholic,
thus marking the beginning of twelfth-stepping.?
the speaker was aware that some of us may in addition require
doctors, psychiatrists, and the church: "It does not
follow that those of us who have not suffered have no part
left them to perform."
people went out of the church at the conclusion of the address,
an eavesdropper standing at the door reported that many
of them were not pleased. One marked, "It's a shame
that he should be permitted to abuse us so in the house
of the Lord."
Illinois State Register inquired whether the speaker and
his fellow politicians had joined the Washington Society
for any other than political reason!
Lincoln did not drink.
M., Dallas, Tex.