The pledge of the Washington Society, though strictly a total abstinence pledge, differs, in several particulars, from that of the American Temperance Union, and from abstinence pledges in general. We require but one thing of our members; and that is personal abstinence. We so not require a man to pledge himself that he will abandon all interest in the manufacture or traffic, nor proscribe those who are engaged in these pursuits. This is a matter we leave to each individual man, as we do every other matter of duty. We do not pass resolutions of non-intercourse with men who traffic in intoxicating liquors; nor proscribe them in any way, further than advising men not to drink their liquors, may be proscription. This course of the Washington Society we think perfectly defensible.
There are many men who have for years been pecuniarily interested in making and selling liquors. It is their only business. These men have their family connections and friends. Many of them are intemperate. How are they to be reformed? They are to be reformed mainly through the influence of Temperance Societies, and the instrumentality of a pledge; and few men are reformed from intemperance by any other means. If then all the societies are barred against those, whose hands are not clean in this respect, unless they first wash their hands from the uncleanness, where is the intemperate dealer to go for reformation? Your societies are all closed against him. Your pledge excludes him, unless he abandons the traffic; and few will give up the traffic until after they have personally reformed. His ears are closed, and his heart is steeled against all your advances, because he considers your very constitution as proscribing not so much him personally, as his business. These prejudices extend not only to the manufacturer and trafficker, but also to their families and friends. A. will not sign the pledge, lest by so doing he proscribes his kind neighbour B., who is engaged in the trade. C. will not sign, because his brother D. is a distiller, and he cannot array himself against his own kindred. These things have occurred frequently. We do not justify these men. We are only stating facts. Men should do right, no matter who is offended. But these men may not be prepared to do so. Shall we therefore close the door against their personal reformation, because they are not prepared to do all their duty on the Temperance question? Why not exclude men unless they pledge themselves also to quit swearing, or gambling, or any thing else that is wrong, and that may have a connection with drinking? Why not require them to abandon every other immoral pursuit in life, which they follow from the love of gain?
The first and main object of the Washington Society is to induce men to quit drinking alcoholic liquors. When they have done this, the rest must regulate itself, and in most cases it will regulate itself. We have no sympathy with this trade in ruin. But we do not array ourselves as the proscribers of all engaged in the business. We beseech all men to give up the traffic; but if they will not, and yet are willing to sign our pledge and reform, we receive them among us; and let the truth work its own way upon their hearts in this, as in every other reformation of their lives.
Of one thing we are certain: if an intemperate rum-seller joins the Washington Society, keeps his pledge, and attends our meetings, he will hear enough to induce him in a short time to abandon the business. The atmosphere of the Washington Society would be rather unpalatable to him, so long as he continues to sell rum. While therefore we do not require it, the most necessary consequence is, that he will voluntarily abandon it himself, after he has been for some time connected with the society.
If then there be any inconsistency in this matter, it is not with the society. We require but one thing; when that is accomplished, our work is done. If a man signs our pledge, and keeps it, we retain him, and are consistent; for that is all we require of him. The society does not set itself up as a censor of morals. It occupies but one position. It has to do only with drinking. If men will be inconsistent in making and selling intoxicating drinks, be it so. To their God and their own consciences they must render an account not only for this, but for every other improper pursuit. We will not be accountable for them; nor shall we plead their cause.
A number of dealers in intoxicating liquors have already signed our pledge. Many of them are reformed men. And, with several exceptions, they have abandoned the traffic soon after their reformation. Now with the old pledge these men might have been arrayed against us, and we might not have reached one of them. They might still be both intemperate, and engaged in the traffic. It is a matter of public record that the number of licenses for the sale of liquors taken out in this city last year, were one hundred and sixty-six less than those of the preceding year – about one-fifth of the whole number; and while other societies and other influences have operated in bringing about this result, the Washington Society claims to have contributed directly and indirectly a considerable share of this influence.
On the same principles, we, as a society, do not wish to identify ourselves with any political movements, intended to result in legislative enactments on this subject. The members individually may entertain what sentiments they please on that question. They are known to entertain different sentiments respecting it. But as a society, we have nothing to do with it. The general impression of the society seems to be, that all legislation bearing on matters of morals, and the habits of the people, is premature, until the great mass of the public mind is prepared for it. When that takes place, such legislation, as enlightened public opinion may consider judicious, will no doubt be adopted. But the few, even though they be right, should not press legislation, so long as there is a danger of exciting prejudices and interests, which may produce a still more violent reaction. The public are perhaps not yet prepared for anything more than a judicious modification of the present license system.
In all these matters, therefore, – the manufacture, the traffic, and legislative enactments designed to limit or prevent the same, the Washington Society occupies no offensive ground; because she occupies neutral ground. And thus not attacking the supposed rights and interests of any, we win the confidence of all; and having access to them, we have the means of doing good to all. But let us be understood. This position is taken by the society, on the most prudential considerations. We would gladly see every bar and distillery in the land closed forever. But more can be done by persuasion, than by the law.
Moreover we do not object to other societies, with pledges formed on the model of the American Temperance Union. Many of our members have signed such pledges in other societies. These societies with the comprehensive pledge have doubtless done much good. If others prefer it, we wish them all success with it. We only wish the Washington Society, with its peculiar organization, to steer clear of all these questions. We occupy our own ground. Let others enjoy the same privilege. We need not quarrel. Yet we venture to say that our pledge will obtain as many signatures, as if it were more comprehensive; and that in addition, we shall secure the reformation and final abandonment of the traffic, of many, who never would have signed the old pledge.
There is a prevalent impression, that none but reformed drunkards are admitted as members of the Washington Society. This is a mistake. Any man may become a member by signing the pledge, and continue so by adhering to it. Many of the best men in the city of Baltimore belong to the society.
We should perhaps make another remark here in reference to our pledge; and it is this. The practice of the WASHINGTON Society is, not to abandon at once the reformed man, who in an evil hour of strong temptation, has violated his pledge; but to bear with him, and try to reclaim him again – and if he comes back penitent, to forgive “seven times” – “yea, seventy times seven.” By this mild course many have been ultimately saved, who by harsh measures would have returned again to their old habits. We cannot be too cautious or kind to the unfortunate victim of intemperance. He needs kind treatment; and by means of it, we can generally calculate on his final reformation. It gives us pleasure to remark, however, that comparatively very few have ever violated our pledge.