The Causes of Decline

The Washingtonians

The Causes of Decline

The materials presented above would scarcely give the impression that the major cause of the decline of the Washingtonian movement was its lack, and opposition to, religion. Yet that charge gained currency and has been perpetuated in later temperance writings. For example, Daniels, in 1877, wrote that "...this effort to divorce temperance from religion was the chief weakness of the Washingtonian movement (20)."

Actually, the charge seems to be based upon the generalization and misinterpretation of certain real difficulties that did develop, in places, between the Washingtonians and the churches - and upon the views of a few extremists. A major source of information about the Washingtonian movement available to later historians were the publications of the American Temperance Movement, edited by John Marsh. In 1842 Marsh did become concerned about the attitudes of some of the Washingtonians: "A lack of readiness on their part to acknowledge their dependence on God, no small desecration of the Sabbath, and a painful unwillingness, in not a few professed Christians, to connect the temperance cause...with religion (13)."

It must be recalled that Marsh was the earliest and most ardent promoter of the Washington movement. He had a genuine interest in the reformation of drunkards, but his greatest interest was the promotion of the temperance cause. Above all, Marsh wanted to establish the identification of temperance with religion and to obtain the support of all church members. When the behaviour of some of the Washingtonians threatened to antagonize some of the church people against the temperance cause, Marsh did his best in his writings to counteract the threatening trends in the Washingtonian movement. Later historians seemed to overlook the fact that Marsh was addressing himself to minority manifestations - and that Marsh succeeded to a considerable extent in countering these trends.

When, in the summer of 1844, Marsh sponsored and accompanied John B. Gough on a tour through New York State, he was pleased with the fact that Gough was able to speak in many churches - "even upper-class churches." On this improved rapport with the churches, Marsh commented:

The open infidelity, and radicalism, and abuse of ministers, by some reform-speakers had kindled up in many minds an opposition to all temperance effort, especially on the Sabbath; but Mr. Gough took such decided ground on religion, as the basis of all temperance, and the great security and hope of the reformed, as entirely reconciled them, not only to the meetings, but to his occupying the pulpit on the Sabbath (13).

The causes and coolness and even hostility between some of the Washingtonians and some of the churches lay on both sides. For one thing, many Washingtonians felt that their movement represented a purer form of Christianity than was to be found in the churches. In fact, their chief criticism of churches was on this score and did not stem out of antireligious beliefs. They felt that they were living the principles which the churches talked about. This was expressed, for example, in the following hymn stanza:

When Jesus, our Redeemer, came to teach us in his Father's name, in every act, in every thought He lived the precepts which he taught (19).

Washingtonians, furthermore, we often critical of the unhealthy other - worldliness prevalent in many churches:

This world's not all a fleeting show, for a man's illusion given; He that hath sooth'd a drunkard's woe, And led him to reform, doth know, There's something here of heaven.

The Washingtonian that hath run the path of kindness even; who's measr'd out life's little span, in deeds of love to God and man on earth has tasted heaven (19).

A number of factors led some of the churches to close their doors to the Washingtonians. Class snobbishness was one of these - a fact which particularly riled the lower class Washingtonians in those communities. Dacus (21) points out that the vanity of some of the ministers may have led them to disdain the movement, since they were neither its originators nor its leaders. Dacus certainly is right that many of the ministers of that day held narrow views that made them unsympathetic to Washingtonian principles. The most striking example of this is the argument of the Rev. Hiram Mattison, Minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Watertown, N.Y. as stated in a tract published in 1844:

FIRST - No Christian is at liberty to select or adopt any general system, organization, agencies or means, for the moral reformation of mankind, except those prescribed and recognized by Jesus Christ. But,

SECONDLY - Christ has designated his Church as his chosen organization; his Ministers as his chosen ambassadors or public teachers; and his Gospel as the system of truth and motives by which to reform mankind, nor has he prescribed any other means. Therefore,

THIRDLY - All voluntary organizations and societies, for the suppression of particular vices, and the promotion of particular virtues, being invented by a man without a divine model or command, and proceeding upon principles and employing agencies, means and motives nor recognized in the Gospel, are incompatible with the plan ordained of Heaven, and consequently superfluous, inexpedient and dangerous (14).

Mr. Mattison's views, however, were not shared by many of the clergymen; nor were the majority of the churches at odds with the Washingtonians. Almost all "General Conventions of the Protestant Churches endorsed and encouraged the movement (14)."

The writer agrees with Eddy (14) that, except for the attitudes of a few extremists, "Washingtonianism was not an irreligious movement." The reasons for its decline must lie elsewhere.

The lack of adequate organization is another frequently cited cause of the decline of the movement. As Krout points out, there was no connection between the various groups that carried on the work. "Each group was allowed to follow its own course....As a result, systematic organization was impossible; uniformity in methods was never attained; and chance largely determined the formulation of principles (1)."

The lack of organization was first felt, however, with regard to the needs of the newly reformed men for more social and economic support. This need was adequately met by the original Baltimore society. Certainly the Boston society was well organized to help the impoverished, to get them back on their feet, and to give them adequate social support, and this seems also to have been the case in Philadelphia and other places. But in some communities, notably in New York City, "It was felt that these men who had been so under the power of the drinking habit needed more care and fraternal fellowship than could be given by so formal a society as the Washingtonians (10)." This led to the founding, on a plan similar to that of the Rechabites in Great Britain, of the "Order of the Sons of Temperance." Actually this order was founded by a group of Washingtonians in New York City during the fall of 1842.

They had noticed that although the Washingtonian movement was making rapid advance in new fields, there were already many falling away from the pledge, and they desired if possible, to hit upon some new plan of operations, some more perfect organization, one that should shield the members from temptation, and more effectually elevate and guide them....(17).

It soon manifested an esprit de corps, which gathered into it a large portion of their reformed; inasmuch as, on paying a small weekly or quarterly due, they were sure of a useful remittance in case of sickness [$4.00 a week] or death [$30.00]. An impressive indication gave the order impressiveness, brotherhood, and attachment; and regalia, a distinction from other temperance men. Soon divisions and grand divisions were found springing up in every quarter. Old temperance societies lost such of their members as were reformed men; and where there was a revival of temperance [where Washingtonianism took hold], young reformed converts were allured hither, often in large proportions....(13).

The order of Sons of Temperance grew rapidly. By 1850 it had 35 Grand Divisions, 5,563 Subordinate Divisions (local societies), and 232,233 members. Eventually it became international, with a peak membership of 700,000. A later scribe of the order said that it had been brought into existence "to preserve the fruits of the Washingtonian movement." But one of its functional results was the displacement of the Washingtonian societies.

This displacement of loyalties and membership was furthered by other orders. In 1845 the "Temple of Honor" was founded as a higher degree in the Order of the Sons of Temperance. Separating from its parent body in 1846, it soon spread over the United States and Canada, numbering "in its ranks thousands upon thousands of the best and most influential citizens... (8)." "The cadets of Temperance" was another order which sprang from the Sons of Temperance. Designed for youth, it also became independent. There was an order for children, the "Bands of Hope." In 1852 the largest fraternal temperance order of all, the "Independent Order of Good Templars," was founded, with a prominent Washingtonian, Nathaniel Curtis, as its first President. These orders, taking over most of the functions of the Washingtonian movement and incorporating much of the membership under another name, may be considered, from the sociological point of view, an institutional consolidation of Washingtonianism. But they also account, to a considerable extent, for the disappearance of the Washingtonian societies.

The chief causes of the decline of the Washingtonian movement are to be found, however, in its relation to the general temperance movement. Its membership, its purposes, and its ideology were inextricably mixed with the membership, purposes and ideology of the temperance movement.

Even the Baltimore society did not confine its membership to the reclaimed victims of alcoholism - nor did it lack an interest in the temperance movement. And, outside of Baltimore, these early "Washingtonian missionaries" were invariably sponsored by temperance organizations. When the power of the Washingtonian approach to reclaimed drunkards was demonstrated - and when it was shown that the reclaimed drunkards' experiences had the power to arouse great interest in the cause of total abstinence, the temperance leaders threw themselves behind the movement. Here was the answer to their prayers - something that would revitalize the temperance movement.

The American Temperance Union and its executive secretary, John Marsh, in introducing and promoting the Washingtonians, may indeed be given "much credit for the success of the Washingtonians (12)." But in the last analysis, Marsh and others looked upon Washingtonianism as a method, and Washingtonians as the means, for "sparking" the temperance cause. That was their chief function. And it appears that this eventually became the chief interest of Washingtonian leaders themselves. Hawkins kept up the original Washingtonian emphasis of work with alcoholics for a long time, but during the last dozen years of his life (1846-58) most of his interest was centered in the larger temperance cause. John B. Gough made a similar shift in emphasis.

Accordingly, then, when public interest in the distinctive Washingtonian technique of experience-relating began to wane, the interest of Marsh and other temperance leaders in Washingtonianism also declined. Lyman Beecher put it bluntly: "...their thunder is worn out. The novelty of the commonplace narrative is used up, and we cannot raise an interest..."(13). Marsh himself, from the perspective of later years, spoke of the Washingtonian period as a phase of the temperance movement, giving way to other methods.

Since Washingtonianism was identified with the relating of experiences by reformed men, the displacement of this method was, to that extent, a displacement of Washingtonianism itself.

Another fact which made temperance leaders lose interest in the Washingtonian movement was its identification with the "moral suasion" point of view.

The temperance movement, up to the emergence of Washingtonianism, was not characterized by advocacy of legal action to attain its ends. Some of the leaders, however, had begun to voice the desirability of such action; the issue was in the air. The success of the Washingtonian method of love and kindness in dealing with alcoholics convinced many Washingtonians and others that this was also the method to use with the makers and sellers of liquor. William K. Mitchell, leader of the Baltimore group but also influential throughout the country, was particularly insistent that Washingtonians

...should have nothing to say against the traffic or the men engaged in it. He would have no pledge even, against engaging in the manufacture or traffic in liquors; nor did he counsel reformed men to avoid liquor-sellers' society or places of business. He would even admit men to membership in his societies who were engaged in the traffic (14).

Many of the Baltimore missionaries must have felt the same way and must have advocated this idea wherever they went. Just as Washingtonian experience "proved" the soundness of total abstinence, so Washingtonian experience "proved" the validity of moral suasion. It was as simple as that, in the minds of many, and was so expressed in a resolution presented at the Massachusetts State Washingtonian Convention on May 26, 1842:

RESOLVED, That the unparalleled success of the Washingtonian movement in reforming the drunkard, and inducing the retailer to cease his unholy traffic, affords conclusive evidence that moral suasion is the only true and proper basis of action in the temperance cause....(9).

Even at that date, Hawkins and a few others objected and had the resolution modified on the grounds that moral suasion was an inadequate technique for the dealing with "unprincipled dealers," and that the aid of the law was necessary. Hawkins' view, however, was not shared by most Washingtonians. Marsh once referred to Hawkins thus: "Though a Washingtonian, he was a strong prohibitionist (13)." John B. Gough, because of his later advocacy of prohibitory legislation, was accused of not being a Washingtonian.

When the general temperance sentiment began to favour legal action, Washingtonian policy was dated and opposed. For a time, many temperance leaders hardly knew whether to regard the Washingtonians as friends or enemies. Senator Henry William Blair of New Hampshire, in 1888, referred back to this emphasis of the Washingtonians on moral suasion as "a trace of maudlin insanity," - because of which the temperance movement was left in a state worse than before, and as a consequence of which "we have ever since been combating the absurd theory, which is the favourite fortress of the liquor dealers, that evil is increased because it is prohibited by law (22)."

When the relating of experiences began to pall, and when moral suasion was no longer desired, there was nothing left to Washingtonianism, ideologically, except the reclaiming of drunkards. This, however, became an increasingly secondary interest of those whose primary interest was the furtherance of the temperance cause - and, without the telling of experiences, without the work of alcoholics with alcoholics, and without certain other emotional by-products of Washingtonian groups and activities, this became an increasingly difficult thing to do. And, as fewer and fewer men were reclaimed, the last distinctive feature of the Washingtonian movement dropped out of sight.

A review of various accounts of the Washingtonian movement makes it clear that the movement turned into something which it did not start out to be - a revival phase of the organized temperance movement. There are frequent references to the movement as "a pledging revival," "a revival campaign," "a temperance revival." The net result was a tremendous strengthening of total abstinence sentiment and the actual enlistment of new millions in the temperance cause. But the original purpose of rehabilitating alcoholics was lost to sight. Nor would it be proper to blame the temperance movement for exploiting the Washingtonians. As E.M. Jellinek5 has pointed out, the Washingtonian movement was not equipped with an ideology distinctive enough to prevent its dissolution.5 Personal communication.

With this background, it becomes possible to make a comparison between the Washingtonian movement and Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Washingtonian Movement
Organization and Procedure Comparison with Alcoholics Anonymous

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