| print this
Great Debate and the Future of A.A.
Bill W., General Service Conference, 1954
is the closing hour of the Conference, one of the greatest
hours that I have ever lived because, I believe, it marks
the date when this Society has really gone on its own, and
will become forever saved from any or all power that may
Conference has its own distinct personality and achievement.
More than any other, this Conference, I believe, had confidence.
More than any other, it envisioned its responsibility now
and for all time to come. Confidence and responsibility
have become the keynotes.
recently as six or eight years ago, my own confidence in
our destiny was terribly shaken. Among us there had arisen
a terrible risk. Like all of the risks and struggles in
A .A., however, this was concerned with the universal question:
is best for A.A.?" The debate was about whether or
not we would have a Conference. Back in those days the Traditions
had taken form and had just been put on paper, but there
still remained this terrific question of how to guarantee
our overall function, how to create a structure that could
withstand power drivers and ravages of time and of adverse
I took the problem to the Trustees of The Alcoholic Foundation,
the board of A.A. members and friends of A.A. that we had
put together in 1938. We were sitting there as an incorporated
board, providing service that would enable this Society
to hold together to carry its message; and we still assume
the right to be the guarantors and guardians of its tradition
and general welfare. We had aggregated a selfassumed
authority, and quite properly during the infancy of the
movement. We had aggregated the authority to print the literature,
to help resolve group problems, to be answerable to the
public, to administer your funds, to provide your mirror
of A.A. life in a monthly magazine. All of this authority
we had simply assumed and by common consent in 1945 the
movement was only too glad to have us do this job.
the day might come when a great blunder would be made; when
there might be a great scandal, when there might be a great
religious or political division. And the day might come
when from sheer remoteness and lack of interest or understanding,
the support of this overall function might melt away. Moreover,
the movement, out in the group and area level, had begun
to say that they wished to take their affairs into their
own hands, even as men coming of age.
the debate turned on how A.A. as a whole could take its
affairs into its own hands and be secure. How could Service
Headquarters and the Board of Trustees, custodians of the
vital authority the movement had delegated, and with demonstrated
capacity to perform movement-wide services - how could they
be linked to the movement and to the world outside? When
I began to appreciate how little real linkage there was,
I get scared to death. I went to my friends the Trustees
and said: "There has to be a hookup. This movement
has now grown to the point where there must be some means
by which it can look after its own affairs, if it wants
to. And even if it doesnt want to, it is entitled
to a look."
my old friends said to me what many an oldtimer around
A.A. still says: "Lets keep it simple."
To me, the real issue was: should we keep it simple by getting
you people in here to see that it lasted, or would we make
it complicated by keeping it so simple that it would break
apart. The result of this debate, which lasted until late
1950, was the Third Legacy Program, in which the General
Service Conference is the vital force.
overcome the objection that there would be terrible politics
in the selection of Conference Delegates at the grass roots,
we had to go in for a species of political invention. We
had to eliminate hotly contested elections that leave behind
hostile minorities. And we had to do away with personal
nominations from the floor. The final process did just that.
It was the process that got you here feeling like servants,
not senators - and without leaving much, if any, hostility
came another question: How would the Delegates be related
to the Board of Trustees who already had legal rights, who
possessed responsibility for our public relations, who had
title to our publications and who served as custodians of
A.A. funds? Legally, what power could the Conference exercise
over all these things? What influence could you have upon
the selection of future A.A. Trustees themselves?
answer is that, legally, the Conference could not take away
the authority granted to the Trustees, if the Trustees chose
to hold on to it. But, as you know, the Trustees have wisely
consented to make themselves amenable to the desires of
the Conference. They said, and rightly: "Let us keep
the legal form of the things we need to transact business.
But let us, on any two-thirds vote of this Conference, in
which we also participate, be traditionally under a mandate
from this Conference. Let us be part of this Conference,
but a minority, and let us hereafter, when we name successors
to A.A. Trustees, submit such names to a committee of the
Conference. And when an out-of-town A.A. Trustee is sought,
let us make appropriate inquiries within A.A. in the region
thus, in general principle, there came into being the structure
of the Third Legacy. Today in the last hour of the time
of this experiment, I share with you the promise of its
certain success and am more moved than at almost any time
in my A.A. life. The moment of the transfer of authority
to serve, from us old-timers to the movement, is at hand
and will be certified, let us trust, in 1955.
have had under construction all these nearly 20 years a
way of life, which we might say is housed in the A.A. Cathedral
of Spirit. Standing on its floor are 120,000 who stand in
safety because the Twelve Steps, the principles on which
we stand and by which we live, are inscribed thereon. And
this floor is of everexpanding, illimitable dimensions.
Four years ago in Cleveland, with the validation of the
Twelve Traditions, we realized that we had placed 12 wonderful
buttresses as insurance that the great walls of the Cathedral
would not fall. Now we are at work on the final construction,
the spire of our Cathedral of service, wherein shines the
beacon light to those who are still in the dark. The work
on the spire is not yet complete, but our confidence is
that it will shine throughout the world, touching the most
distant beachhead, for so long as God wants it.