THE SPREAD OF THE MOVEMENT
A phenomenon like this could not be confined to Baltimore, for the Washington men had it in their power to meet many pressing needs. First of all, there were the drunkards in need of reclamation – a need long ignored because the opinion prevailed that there was no hope for them. The meeting of this need partook of the miraculous. Secondly, there was the overwhelming drive on the part of the reformed men to carry their message of hope to other victims of drink – spilling over into a desire to prevent such suffering by winning those not addicted to certain sobriety in total abstinence. Finally, there were the needs of the temperance leaders. Set back by the 1836 decision to put temperance on a total abstinence basis, they needed a convincing argument for total abstinence as well as some effective means of rekindling enthusiasm for their cause. The Washington men were the answer to these needs, for what could be a better argument for total abstinence that its apparent power to reclaim even the confirmed drunkard; and what could excite more interest than the personally told experiences of reformed drunkards?
The first recorded activity outside of Baltimore was the speaking of John H.W. Hawkins, in February 1841, to the delegates of the Maryland State Temperance Society, meeting in Annapolis, and to the members of the State Legislature in the same city.
Hawkins, who was to become the most effective spokesman of the movement, had joined the Washington Temperance Society on June 14, 1840, after more than 20 years of excessive drinking. Born in Baltimore on September 28, 1797, he was apprenticed at an early age to a hat maker. During this apprenticeship he developed a dependence on alcohol which was increased during 3 years in the frontier communities of the West. His religious conversion at the age of 18 did not eradicate this craving. Resuming his trade in Baltimore, he battled in vain against his addiction. The panic of 1937 left him unemployed, reducing him to a pauper on public relief. Guilt and remorse over his family’s destitution only intensified his alcoholism. His own account of his last drinking days and his reclamation, as given in his first New York talk, are preserved for us:
“Never,” said he, “shall I forget the 12th of June last. The first two weeks in June I averaged – it is a cross to acknowledge it – as much as a quart and a pint a day. That morning I was miserable beyond conception, and was hesitating whether to live or die. My little daughter came to my bed and said, II hope you won’t send me for any more whiskey today.’ I told her to go out of the room. She went weeping. I wounded her sorely, though I had made up my mind I would drink no more. I suffered all the horrors of the pit that day, but my wife supported me. She said, “Hold on, hold on. I Next day I felt better. Monday I wanted to go down and see my old associates who had joined the Washington Society. I went and signed. I felt like a free man. What was I now to do to regain my character? My friends took me by the hand. They encouraged me. They did right. If there is a man on earth who deserves the sympathy of the world it is the poor drunkard; he is poisoned, cast out, knows not what to do, and must be helped or be lost… (8).
“It did not take his associates long to discover that he had the qualities of a leader. A splendid physique and commanding presence, combined with a gift for extemporaneous speaking, made him an ideal lecturer. (l)” It is not surprising, therefore, that Hawkins was selected to speak before the Maryland State Temperance Society and the State Legislature. Christian Keener left an eyewitness report of the latter occasion which helps to explain Hawkins’ appeal:
…. He commenced his speech by letting them know that he stood before then a reformed drunkard, less than twelve months ago taken almost out of the gutter; and now in the Senate chamber of his native State, addressing hundreds of the best informed and most intelligent men and women, and they listened with tearful attention. The circumstances had an almost overpowering effect on his own feelings and those of his audience. He is a man of plain, good common sense, with a sincerity about him, and easy way of expressing himself, that every word took like a point-blank shot. His was the eloquence of the heart; no effort at display (9).
About this time, a Baltimore businessman attended a temperance meeting in New York City. News of the Baltimore developments having already been circulated by John Marsh through the Journal of the American Temperance Union, this visitor was requested to give a brief history and description of the Washington Soc3ety. A conversation with Dr. Rease, after the meeting, brought forth the suggestion that some of the Washington men be invited to New York to relate their experiences. This tentative proposition was taken to the Baltimore society, accepted by them, and the arrangements completed for a delegation of five to go. The five were William K. Mitchell, John W. Hawkins, J.F. Pollard, and two other members, Shaw and Casey.
Their first meeting in New York was held on Tuesday, March 23, 1841, in the Methodist Episcopal Church on Green Street. The curious throngs were not disappointed. As in Baltimore, the experiences of these “reformed drunkards” deeply moved and inspired all those who came to hear. Not only that, but real-life drama was enacted at the meeting. The New York Commercial Advertiser reported the next morning:
During the first speech a young man rose in the gallery and, though intoxicated, begged to know if there was any hope for him; declaring his readiness to bind himself, from that hour, to drink no more. He was invited to come down and sign the pledge, which he did forthwith, in the presence of the audience, under deep emotion, which seemed to be contagious, for others followed; and during each of the speeches they continued to come forward and sign, until more than a hundred pledges were obtained; a large portion of which were intemperate persons, some of whom were old and grey headed. Such a scene as was beheld at the secretary’s table while they were signing, and the unaffected tears that were flowing, and the cordial greetings of the recruits by the Baltimore delegates, was never before witnessed in New York(8).
All the subsequent meetings were equally successful. John Marsh and the other temperance leaders who were promoting the meetings were delighted. With no church large enough to hold the curious crowds, it was decided to hold an open air meeting in City Hall Park. More than 4,000 turned out for this. The speakers, mounted on upturned rum kegs, again enthralled the crowd. This impressive occasion was merely the climax of a triumphant campaign: about 2,000 were converted to the total abstinence pledge, including many confirmed drunkards with whom the men worked between meetings. At this time the Washington Temperance Society of New York was organized.
The delegation returned to Baltimore in time for the first anniversary parade and celebration, an April 5th. With the memory of the New York success still fresh in their minds, this must have been a very happy and meaningful occasion – not merely the recognition of a year’s achievement, but also a portent of things to come.
Things began to happen rapidly now. While the New York meetings were in progress, John Marsh wrote to the Boston temperance leaders about the power of the Washingtonian appeal. Arrangements were quickly made so that within a week after the first anniversary celebration Hawkins and William E. Wright were on their way to Boston for a series of meetings in the churches. There were those who doubted that Bostonians would respond as enthusiastically as New Yorkers, but the coming of these speakers was well published and even larger crowds than in New York greeted them. The first meeting was held on April 15, 1841. The Daily Mail had this report the following morning:
The Odeon was filled to its utmost capacity, last evening, by a promiscuous audience of temperance men, distillers, wholesalers and retail dealers in ardent spirits, conformed inebriates, moderate drinkers, lovers of the social glass, teetotalers, etc., to listen to the speeches of the famous “Reformed Drunkards,” delegates from the Washington Temperance Society of Baltimore, who have excited such a deep interest in the cause of temperance in other places…Mr. Hawkins of Baltimore, was the second of the “Reformed Drunkards” introduced to the meeting. He was a man of forty-four years of age – of fine manly form – and he said he had been more than twenty years a confirmed inebriate. He spoke with rather more fluency, force and effect, than his predecessor, but in the same vein of free and easy, off-hand, direct, bang-up style; at times in a single conversational manner, then earnest and vehement, then pathetic, then humorous – but always manly and reasonable. Mr. Hawkins succeeded in “working up” his audience finely. Now the house was as quiet and still as a deserted church, and anon the high dome rang with violent bursts of laughter and applause. Now he assumed the melting mood, and pictured the scenes of a drunkard’s home, and that home his own, and fountains of generous feelings, in many hearts, gushed forth in tears – and again, in a moment, as he related, some ludicrous story, these tearful eyes glistened with delight, sighs changed to hearty shouts, and long faces were convulsed with broad grins and glorious smiles (1).
The Boston Mercantile Journal reported the same meeting in the following manner:
The exercises at the temperance meeting at the Odeon last evening possessed a deep and thrilling interest. The hall was crowded and Messrs. Hawkins and Wright…spoke with great eloquence and power for more than two hours, and when, at ten o’clock, they proposed abridging somewhat they had to say, shouts of “Go on! Go on!” were heard from all parts of the house. We believe more tears were never shed by an audience in one evening than flowed last night…Old grey haired men sobbed like children, and the noble and honourable bowed their heads and wept. Three hundred and seventy-seven came forward and made “the second declaration of independence,” by pledging themselves to touch no intoxicating drink; among them were noticed many bloated countenances, familiar as common drunkards; and we promise them health, prosperity, honour, and happiness in the pursuance of their new principles(9).
When even the standing room in Faneuil Hall was filled, a few evenings later, and the crowd responded with unrestrained enthusiasm, several hundred coming forward to sign the pledge at the close of the meeting, there was no longer any doubt that the Washingtonian reformers had a universally potent appeal. Here was “human interest” material par excellence. No fiction could be more exciting or dramatic. These true-life narratives pulled at the heartstrings. They aroused awe and wonder at the “miracle of rebirth.” Formal religious beliefs had flesh and blood put on dry bones. And, to the victim of drink, the Washingtonian message was like a promise of life to a doomed man. It was the impossible come true.
During these meetings, a Washington Total-Abstinence Society was formed in Boston. Hawkins was also engaged as the paid secretary of the Massachusetts Temperance Society, and on June 1, 1841, returned from Baltimore with his family. Within a short space of time, he and his Boston associates succeeded in carrying the Washingtonian movement into 160 New England towns.
On May 11, 1841, the executive committee of the American Temperance Union, on the occasion of its anniversary meeting in New York City, paid high tribute to the Washingtonians. In July at the national convention of the Union, at Saratoga Springs, this praise was even more fulsome. John Marsh and many of the other leaders saw in the Washingtonians the possibilities of a great forward advance for the temperance movement. None of them, however, even in their most optimistic moments, sensed the vitality that was to be manifested by the Washingtonian movement that very summer and autumn.
Even before the Saratoga convention, two of the most famous of the many Washingtonian deputation teams, Pollard and Wright, and Vickers and Small, had begun extensive tours. By autumn, many teams and individuals were in the field. From the 1842 Report of the American Temperance Union, it is possible to trace the rapid spread of the movement throughout the country.
J.F. Pollard and W.E. Wright, both of Baltimore – the former having accompanied Hawkins to New York, and the latter to Boston – began their work early in the summer of 1841 in Hudson, New York. Their first efforts were discouraging, but soon they got attention and in a few weeks nearly 3,000 of the 5,500 inhabitants of Hudson had signed the pledge. A Hudson resident has left this account of their type of meeting:
Some of the meeting took the air of deep religious solemnity, eyes that never wept before were suffused…the simple tale of the ruined inebriate, interrupted by a silence that told of emotions too big for utterance, would awaken general sympathy, and dissolve a large portion of the audience in tears. The spell which had bound so many seemed to dissolve under the magic eloquence of those unlettered men. They spoke from the heart to the heart. The drunkard found himself unexpectedly an object of interest. He was no longer an outcast. There were some who still looked upon him as a man. A chord was reached which had long since ceased to respond to other influences less kind in their nature…The social principle operated with great power. A few leaders in the ranks of intemperance having signed the pledge, it appeared to be the signal for the mass to follow: and on they came, like a torrent sweeping everything before it. It was for weeks the all-absorbing topic… (7).
Pollard and Wright attended the Saratoga convention and then toured through central and western New York; and that autumn, through New Jersey and Pennsylvania. On this tour they obtained 23,340 signatures to the pledge, “one-fifth of which were supposed to be common drunkards”(7). Late in 1841 they spoke in Maryland and Delaware. They moved in January 1842 into Virginia, where they worked particularly in Richmond, Petersburg, Charlottesville and Norfolk, pledging Negroes as well as whites.
The other famous team, Jesse Vickers and Jesse W. Small, also of Baltimore, began their campaign in June 1841 in Pittsburgh, where “all classes, all ages, all ranks and denominations, and both sexes, pressed every night into overflowing churches.” In a brief time 10,000 were pledged, “Including a multitude of most hopeless characters”(7). This success was followed by another in Wheeling, from which place they proceeded to Cincinnati where Lyman Beecher, now president of Lane Theological Seminary, had diligently prepared the way for their coming. Large crowds turned out for the meetings and a strong Washington society was organized which, by the end of 1841, claimed 8,000 members, 900 of them reformed. Cincinnati became the chief centre of Washingtonianism in the West, and Vickers and Small spent a great deal of time preparing the converts who were to carry on the missionary work. One of these Cincinnati teams, Brown and Porter, obtained 6,529 signatures in an 8-week campaign in the surrounding country, 1,630 of them from “hard drinkers” and 700 from confirmed drunkards. Another Cincinnati team, Turner and Guptill, toured western Ohio and Michigan. On December 21, 1841, a team of three, probably including Vickers, began a campaign in St. Louis, laying the foundation for a Washington society that numbered 7,500 within a few months. Many communities in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois were also visited. It is interesting to note that on February 22, 1842, Abraham Lincoln addressed the Washington Society of Springfield, Ill. Just how quickly the West was cultivated by the Washingtonian missionaries, operating chiefly out of Cincinnati, is shown by the May 1842 claims of 60,000 signatures in Ohio, 30,000 in Kentucky, and 10,000 in Illinois. Of these, it was claimed, “every seventh man is a reformed drunkard, and every fourth man a reformed tippler”(7).
The intensity of this cultivation varied with time and place. How intensive it could be is well portrayed by a citizen of Pittsburgh, in a letter to John Marsh, in April 1842:
The work has grown in this city and vicinity…at such a rate as has defied a registration of its triumphs with anything like statistical accuracy. …The most active agents and labourers in the field have been at no time able to report the state of the work in their own entire province – the work spread us from place to place – running in so many currents, and meeting in their way so many others arising from other sources, or springing spontaneously in their pathway, that no one could measure its dimensions or compass its spread. We have kept some eight or ten missionaries in the field ever since last June, who have toiled over every part and parcel of every adjoining country of Pennsylvania, and spread thence into Ohio and Virginia, leaving no school house, or country church, or little village, cross roads, forge, furnace, factory, or mills, unvisited; holding meetings wherever two or three could be gathered together, and organizing as many as from 20 to 30 societies in a single county… (7).
In the Boston area, Washingtonian activity was intensive from the beginning. Within 3 months after the first Hawkins and Wright meetings, the Boston society had this to report:
Since this society went into operation the delegating committee have sent out two hundred and seventeen delegations to one hundred and sixty towns in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island, with wonderful success….Some of those towns where we have formed societies are now sending out their delegates. The whole country is now alive to the subject…It is acknowledged on all sides that no people like ours – although unlearned – could create such a wonderful interest in the all absorbing cause….
There is no doubt that about 50,000 persons have signed the pledge in the different towns that our delegates have visited. Where societies were already formed, a more lively interest was created, – new signers obtained from those who had been inebriates, and thus a new energy imparted…Where societies had not before existed, new societies were formed…(8).
Ten months later, in May 1842, the Boston society had 13,000 members, had sent 260 delegations to 350 towns in New England, and had produced a number of converts who had become effective missionaries outside of New England. Benjamin Goodhue, in December 1841, stirred up great interest in Sag Harbour and the east end of Long Island. A Mr. Cady, during this winter, toured North Carolina, securing 10,000 signatures. In February 1842 Joseph J. Johnson and an unnamed fellow Bostonian conducted successful campaigns in Mobile and New Orleans.
By May 1842 the movement had penetrated every major area of the country and was going particularly strong in central New York and New England. The most vigorous urban centres were Baltimore, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Cincinnati and St. Louis. The city of Baltimore had 15 societies and 7,842 members. New York and vicinity had 23 societies and 16,000 members. In the Journal of the American Temperance Union, on April 1, 1842, John Marsh wrote enthusiastically of the New York activity: “We suppose there are not less than fifty meetings held weekly and most of them are perfect jams. Our accessions are numerous and often of the most hopeless characters”(9). In and around Philadelphia, where the societies took the name of Jefferson, some 20,000 members were enrolled. In the District of Columbia there were 4,297 members and another 1,000 in Alexandria, Va. Later in the year Hawkins visited Washington and was successful in reactivating the old Congressional Temperance Society and putting it on a total abstinence basis. Congressman George N. Briggs, soon to be Governor of Massachusetts, became president of this reorganized society.
To the list of outstanding reformed men who became effective Washingtonian missionaries during this first year, there should be added the names of George Haydock, Hudson, N.Y.(8,000 signatures); Col. John Wallis, Philadelphia (7,000 signatures); Thomas M. Woodruff, New York City; Abel Bishop, New Haven, Conn.; and Joseph Hayes, Bath, Me.
During 1842 the most outstanding temperance orator of all was won to the cause. John B. Gough, a bookbinder, was reformed. When his platform ability was discovered, many Washingtonian societies sponsored his addresses. As his popularity grew he became a professional free-lance lecturer; and during the years 1843-47 traveled 6,840 miles, gaining 15,218 signatures to the pledge (11).
Another important development was the organization of women into the little known “Martha Washington” societies. The first such society was organized “in a church at the corner of Chrystie and Delancey Streets, New York, on May 12 of that year , through the efforts of William A. Wisdom and John W. Oliver”(12). The constitution detailed the purpose:
Whereas, the use of all intoxicating drinks has caused, and is causing, incalculable evils to individuals and families, and has a tendency to prostrate all means adapted to the moral, social and eternal happiness of the whole human family; we, the undersigned ladies of New York, feeling ourselves especially called upon, not only to refrain from the use of all intoxicating drinks, but, by our influence and example, to induce others to do the same, do therefore form ourselves into an association(12).
These Martha Washington societies were organized in many places, functioning to some extent as auxiliaries of the Washingtonian societies, but also engaged in the actual rehabilitation of alcoholic women. In the annual Report of 1843, there is this reference”…the Martha Washington Societies, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and reclaiming the intemperate of their own sex, have been maintained, in most places, with great spirit…”(7).