By Mitchell K. © 1991, 1997
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Index of Chapter 7

7.1 - Statement of 1948 7.2 - First International Conference

Chapter 7.2


The First General Service Conference

One uses one's principles to tyrannize or justify or honor or affront or conceal one's habits. Two men with similar principles may easily want totally different things with them.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL (Chicago, Illinois; Henry Regnery Company 1955) p. 75 -- (Gateway Edition p. 77)

We here set forth in full the proposal:





1. Purpose

a. To become basic guardian of A.A. traditions and world wide service.

b. To perpetuate The Alcoholic Foundation and the A.A. General Headquarters at New York City.

c. To be a service body only; never a government.

2. Composition

a. The proposal will include A.A. State and Provincial Delegates, Trustees of the Foundation and Staff members of the General Service Office and Grapevine.

b. Delegates to be in each State by Representatives from local Groups.

c. Two State Panels to be chosen every two years alternately.

1. Panel #1 composed of Delegates from thickly populated States and Provinces, to meet every other years.

2. Panel #2 composed of Delegates from balance of States and Provinces, to meet in alternate years.

3. Relation of Conference to A.A.

a. Vehicle for expression of views on matters vital to A.A.

b. Vehicle to protect policy of A.A. and guard against hazardous deviations from original Traditions.

c. A reliable guide to right thought and right action on serious matters pertaining to A.A.

4. Relation of Conference to General Headquarters

a. A dependable guide to The Alcoholic Foundation, whose Trustees are the Custodian of A.A. general funds, the book, "Alcoholics Anonymous",, the General Service Office and the Grapevine.

b. To consult with Trustees in filling vacancies on the Foundation Board.

c. To guide Trustees in their direction of A.A. Foundation work.

d. Finally, after successful operation, to control final shape and form of the movement.

5. State and Provincial Delegates

a. State and Provincial Delegates to be chosen for two years terms as indicated above (2 b and c)

6. Conference Rotation

a. Overlapping of 2 panels of State and Provincial Delegates

b. First Year Panel #1 to be composed by inviting one two-year Delegate from each of 28 States and Provinces having largest A.A. population, plus a few Delegates additional from States approaching 5,000 A.A. population

c. Second Year Panel #2 to be composed by inviting one two-year Delegate from the balance of States and Provinces, also including extra Delegates from States and Provinces approaching 2,000 A.A. population

d. Third Year Panel #1 areas will elect new Delegates

e. Fourth Year Panel #2 areas will do the same.

7. Conference Delegates

a. Selected from largest centers of A.A. population

b. Panel #2 to include Delegates from second largest centers of all States and Provinces

8. Method of selection of Delegates

a. To be chosen by Assemblies of A.A. Group Representatives, by at least, a two third vote.

9. Financial Structure

a. Each A.A. Group to make a $5.00 contribution to Alcoholic Foundation Conference Fund.

b. Groups, participating, to pay Delegates expenses up to $100.00

c. Conference Fund expects to pay expenses over $100.00


a. Yearly, at New York

b. Extra meetings only in emergency

c. Two Thirds of Delegates registered considered a quorum


a. Financial reports of the Foundation.

b. Financial reports of the Headquarters Services

c. Consideration of Finance and Policy matters of importance

d. Suggestions and resolutions

e. Consideration of any deviation from A.A. Traditions or misuse of "Alcoholics Anonymous"

f. Election of Conference Officers

g. Draw on by-laws

h. Committee to draft full report of proceedings and the state of A.A. generally, to be sent to groups throughout the world.

12.General Warranties of Conference

a. To observe the spirit of A.A. Traditions

b. To guard against any enforcement of wealth or power.

c. To assure adequate operating funds plus ample reserves

d. To assure that no member of the Conference shall ever have unqualified authority

e. To make all important decisions by discussion and vote

f. To guard against any resolution that will incite public or private controversy

g. To see that the Conference never attempts to govern Alcoholics Anonymous

h. To guarantee that the Conference shall always be democratic in thought and action.

About that Conference, Clarence wrote to Dorothy on March 9, 1951:

Fact of the matter is, that over 4 years ago, Bill had this idea of a gen. service conference, and he spoke to me about it in his office in N.Y at that time. How can one suggest that this is some new development in A.A.?

The question is, WHY A CONFERENCE? Personally, I must go along with all the oldtimers who feel that as A.A. grows larger and becomes more accessible, the need for any important control in N.Y. or any other place diminishes. Of what constructive use is the N Y. office to Cleveland, Canton, Mansfield, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Podunk? We have our groups, and all anyone would have to do is take his choice of several ways of contacting A.A.. He would look in the Phone book in most any town, he could ask the first cop he would meet, he could talk to most any judge, he could ask most any clergyman, and most social workers, also he could inquire at any newspaper office and the editor could locate an A.A., since he probably is one himself. I am willing to bet, that if you stood on the corner of E. 9th and Euclid, or Hollywood and Vine, and asked the first five people you see walking by, how you could get help for your drinking problem, or how to get in touch with A.A., you would get help... If they want an office, surely they can operate an office to ship books, literature etc. and an occasional referral to a group, on a heluva lot less than 250,000.000 to 350,000.00 per year. Or am I and a lot of other guys nuts?

It would be unfair today to say that the New York office only handles an "occasional" referral. There are hundreds of requests, queries, and out of town visitors that come to New York. But, Dr. Bob's and Bill's stated intent had been to lessen the organization and professionalizing of A.A.

Then there was the matter of control and element of "government." The proposed Conference albeit a noble idea, was still a government, a supposed government comprised of representation from all of the groups.

There were "Twelve Suggested Principles" in the proposal for the General Service Conference, entitled, "Your Third Legacy - Will you accept it? by Dr. Bob and Bill," printed in October 1950 under Section five (temporary Charter for the General Service Conference).

Principle Twelve: General Warranties of the Conference, Q&A Section dealing with the Conference and Headquarters stated:

While it can publicly deplore misuse of the A.A. name or departures from Tradition, it ought never attempt punishment or legal restraint of non-conformists in A.A. or out. The Conference will give us an example and a guide, but not a government. A personal government is something, God willing, that Alcoholics Anonymous will never have.

It should be noted that Alcoholics Anonymous obtained a registered trademark status for the circle and triangle emblem, for the initials, "A.A." and for the name, Alcoholics Anonymous, and, since 1950, the Board of Trustees, has brought suit or threatened suit, against numerous people and companies who have used use either the A.A. name or emblem. Thus have caught "legal restraint" against those "non-conformists" both in A.A. and out.

Clarence remembered that, on a several occasions, Bill came to Cleveland and Akron to "sell" the membership on the idea of the conference, and that many members were against the idea. They were afraid of the possibility of an A.A. "government" based in the New York office. The mid-west A.A.s had a program, both successful and continuously growing. Why did they need such a Conference, they felt?

Bill argued that the Conference was needed to insure that such a government would never take place. Thus, on July 10, 1946, Bill had written to the Board of Trustees of the Foundation as follows:

It cannot be denied that the Alcoholic Foundation of today is quite undemocratic, and not enough responsible to the A.A. movement which supports it and depends upon it.

Though Bill apparently had planned for the Conference to have authority over the Board of Trustees. "Our Trusted Servants..." Clarence felt that the Conference was merely a means to keep the Fellowship quiet, while the Board "did their own thing, apart from what A.A. really should be," as he put it.

CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS, "a Special Report for the Groups on the General Service Conference of A.A." gave the following reasons for the establishment of the Conference:

Since the founding of A.A the many services and policy decisions required to 'keep it going' at the national and international level have been handled by the founders and their friends through the Alcoholic Foundation. As A.A. has grown, the importance of sharing this responsibility with the membership has become increasingly clear. It has become clear that the 'collective conscience' of A.A. should help insure the survival of the movement. The General Service Conference is the means whereby that 'collective conscience' can be expressed and can guide the Trustees of the Foundation on matters of policy affecting A.A. today and tomorrow.

There were 37 delegates attending that first Conference. At the Conference William I.D. (Bill D., A.A. #3) of Akron represented Cleveland; and Bert P. represented Columbus, Ohio.

Clarence always disliked the ideas of Conferences, whether International or General Service. Clarence was wary of the reasons for such affairs. In a letter to Dorothy, dated March 9th, 1951, he wrote:

So it is just another one of those cut and dried affairs cooked up, such as the conference last summer at Cleveland was [the International Conference]. Please don't let anyone around here get the idea that you don't know what a cooked up deal that was by Wilson and the S. brothers, the groups found out piece by piece of what took place. That was another fiasco. They were talking about 30 to 50,000 members in attendance at various times, and they wound up in the hole. Had about 4,000 members there not counting the wives and outsiders. Very few from Cleveland, I am proud to say. They came from all around where people were not in a position or inclined to know. Bill keeps talking dramatically about the million who do not yet know. Boy those are his hope. He sure don't want anyone to know either. When anyone around him gets to know anything, poof, off goes the head.

The first A.A. Conference appeared to be a success. The fellowship was supposed to now have a "participating responsibility in determining the future of A.A.." However, Clarence still had difficulty obtaining any information from the Board of Trustees regarding policy and where the money went. The minutes and actions of the Board were "classified," and neither Clarence, nor the Fellowship at large was allowed to know what actual facts place behind its closed doors. Conference delegates were not privy to this information either.

Clarence was for keeping things simple. He wrote:

As far as I am concerned, this is a Fellowship, and that it should remain All we need is simplicity. The steps, the absolutes, and a couple of alkys who want to do something with themselves. Then we are in business... Of course I feel I am right in this, and if I am in the wrong, a lot of smarter guys and gals than I are in the wrong with me. But based on pure principles, I can't see how they can be wrong, since they are enjoying a quality of life which is so distinguished in contrast to the miserable existence which once was. These persons also, I have noticed do not find it necessary to find refuge in sanitarium hideaways, nor comfort in psychiatrists*. I just string along with them on the basis of their happy experiences.

*Clarence may here have been referring to Bill Wilson's bouts with depression and pills which Clarence stated happened several times during Bill's "sobriety".

Decentralization of power never came to pass.

Dr. Bob, Clarence, and many of the other early Ohio members envisioned A.A. as a simple Fellowship, designed to help the still sick and suffering alcoholic "recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body." But as the years passed, Clarence felt A.A. no longer resembled the A.A. he had attended back in the 1940's. Henrietta Seiberling's warning that "money will spoil this thing," had, in Clarence's mind, come to pass.

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