Abraham 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, Ill.
February 22 1842
Copyright © The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., February 1964
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Those 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.”
“The 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 a disgrace.”
“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 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 family.”
“Happy 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!
And 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.”
“For 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 him.”
“It 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.”
“Is 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.”
“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 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.”