J. STUD. ALC., VOL. 11, 410-452, 1950.
By Milton A. Maxwell, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Sociology, State
College of Washington, Pullman, Washington
similarities between the Washingtonian movement of the nineteenth
century and the present day fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous have
been commented upon by a number of observers. In view of this resemblance
there is more than historical interest in an account of the first
movement in the United States which brought about a large-scale rehabilitation
of alcoholics. The phenomenal rise and spread of the Washingtonian
movement throughout the land in the early 1840's was the occasion
of much discussion, exciting a deep interest. The cause of its equally
rapid decline have been a subject of much speculation and are still
of concern to the members of Alcoholics Anonymous who may wonder whether
or not their movement is destined to a similar fate. This article,
therefore, will present not merely a description and history of the
movement but also an analysis of the similarities and differences
between the Washingtonians and Alcoholics Anonymous.
the Washingtonian movement is so intimately linked to the larger temperance
movement, it may be well to recall the developments which preceded
1840. Before the 1830's, "temperance" was hardly a popular
cause. Even in 1812, when Lyman Beecher proposed to his fellow Congregational
ministers that they formulate a program for combating intemperance,
"... the regular committee reported that 'after faithful and
prayerful inquiry' it was convinced that nothing could be done to
check the growth of intemperance..."(1). The custom of serving
liquor at ecclesiastical meetings probably influenced the outcome
of this "prayerful inquiry." But Lyman Beecher was not to
be stopped. He headed a new committee that recommended the following
that district assemblies abstain from the use of ardent spirits (not
wine) at ecclesiastical meetings, that members of churches abstain
from unlawful vending or purchase (not from lawful vending and purchase)
of liquor, that farmers, mechanics and manufacturers substitute monetary
compensation for the ration of spirits, that voluntary associations
aid the civil magistrates to enforce the laws, and that the pamphlet
of Dr. Rush (2) be printed and circulated
fact that these proposals were regarded as radical by the custodians
of the New England conscience is a sufficient clue to the state of
public opinion in 1812.
was not until 1825 that Lyman Beecher preached his famous Six Sermons
(3), in which he defined intemperance not merely as drunkenness but
as the "daily use of ardent spirits." In 1826, in Boston,
Beecher and Justin Edwards spearheaded the founding of the first national
society, "The American Society for the Promotion of Temperance"
(American Temperance Society) which sought, according to its constitution,
"...to produce such a change of public sentiment, and such a
renovation of the habits of individuals and the customs of the community,
that in the end temperance, with all its attendant blessings, may
universally prevail (4)."
temperance movement began to take hold. In 1829 there were about 1,000
societies with a membership of approximately 100,000. By 1834 there
were 5,000 local societies claiming 11000,000 members, a gain of 500
per cent in 5 years. A temperance press had been established. Effective
literature had emerged. Politicians were taking notice. In 1836 the
American Temperance Society was merged into the new and more inclusive
"American Temperance Union," which decided to take the stand
of "total abstinence from all that can intoxicate (5)."
step required an entirely new orientation. It is therefore not surprising
that some 2,000 societies and countless individuals were not ready
to go along. Many wealthy contributors, unwilling to forgo wine, withdrew
their support. Some leaders were discouraged by the resistance to
the new pledge and became inactive. Various controversial issues added
to the dissension. The movement fell upon lean years. Its leaders,
in 1840, were wondering what could be done to restore the momentum
of the years preceding 1836. Their efforts were groping and limited.
for the alcoholic, it was the prevailing opinion, up to 1840, that
nothing could be done to help him. Occasionally a "drunkard"
did "reform," but this did not erase the general pessimism
as to the possibility of rehabilitating drunkards. Since alcohol was
held to be the "cause" of alcoholism, the temperance movement
was aimed solely at keeping the nonalcoholic from becoming an alcoholic.
This implied indifference to the alcoholic was epitomized by Justin
Edwards in 1822: "Keep the temperate people temperate; the drunkards
will soon die, and the land be free (6)."
the stage was set for the emergence of the Washingtonian movement.