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Lincoln on Alcoholism
profound insight of the great President into the dilemma
of the habitual drunkard. From Lincoln's address to the
Washington Temperance Society, Springfield, Ill.
February 22 1842
Grapevine, Inc., February 1964
my judgment such of us who have never fallen victims have
been spared more by the absence of appetite than from any
mental or moral superiority over those who have. Indeed,
I believe if we take habitual drunkards as a class, their
heads and their hearts will bear an advantageous comparison
with those of any other class."
one who has long been known as a victim of intemperance
bursts the fetters that have bound him, and appears before
his neighbors 'clothed and in his right mind,' a redeemed
specimen of long-lost humanity, and stands up, with tears
of joy trembling in his eyes, to tell of the miseries once
endured, now to be endured no more forever: of his once
naked and starving children, now clad and fed comfortable;
of a wife long weighed down with woe, weeping, and a broken
heart, now restored to health, happiness, and a renewed
affection; and how easily it is all done, once it is resolved
to be done-how simple his language! Human feelings cannot
have not inquired at what period of time the use of intoxicating
liquors commenced; nor is it important to know. It is sufficient
that, to all of us who now inhabit the world, the practice
of drinking them is just as old as the, world itself-that
is, we have seen the one just as long as we have seen the
who have suffered by intemperance personally, and have reformed,
are the most powerful and efficient instruments to push
the reformation to ultimate success. It does not follow
that those who have not suffered have no part left them
to perform. Whether or not the world would be vastly benefited
by a total and final banishment from it of all intoxicating
drinks seems to me not now an open question."
victims of it (alcoholism) were to be pitied and compassioned,
just as are the heirs of consumption and other hereditary
diseases. Their failing was treated as a misfortune and
not as a crime, or even as a disgrace."
seems ever to have been a proneness in the brilliant and
warm blooded to fall into the vice-the demon of intemperance,
ever seems to have delighted in sucking the blood of genius
and of generosity. What one of us but can call to mind some
relative, more promising in youth than all his fellows,
who has fallen a sacrifice to his rapacity? He seems ever
to have gone forth like the Egyptian angel of death, commissioned
to slay, if not the first, the fairest born of every family."
day when-all appetites controlled, all passions subdued,
all matter subjugated-mind, all-conquering mind, shall live
and move, the monarch of the world. Glorious consummation!
Hail, fall of fury? Reign of reason, all hail!
when the victory shall be complete-when there shall be neither
slave nor drunkard on the earth-how proud the title of that
land which may truly claim to be the birthplace and the
cradle of both those resolutions that shall have ended in
that victory. How nobly distinguished that people who shall
have planted and nurtured to maturity both the political
and moral freedom of their species."
the man suddenly or in any other way to break off from the
use of drams, who has indulged in them for a long course
of years and until his appetite for them has grown tenor
a hundred-fold stronger and more craving than any natural
appetite can be, requires a most powerful moral effort.
In such an undertaking he needs every moral support and
influence that can possibly be brought to his aid and thrown
is an old and a true maxim that 'a drop of honey catches
more flies than a gallon of gall.' So with men. If you would
win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are
his sincere friend."
it just to assail, condemn, or despise them? The universal
sense of mankind on any subject is an argument, or at least
an influence, not easily overcome. The success of the argument
in favor of the existence of an overruling providence mainly
depends upon that sense; and men ought not in justice to
be denounced for yielding to it in any case, or giving it
up slowly, especially when they are backed by interest,
fixed habits, or burning appetites."
error, as it seems to me, into which the old reformers fell,
was the position that all habitual drunkards were utterly
incorrigible, and therefore must be turned adrift and damned
without remedy in order that the grace of temperance might
abound, to the temperate then, and to all mankind some hundreds
of years thereafter. There is in this attitude something
so repugnant to humanity, so uncharitable, so cold-blooded
and feelingless, that it never did nor ever can enlist the
enthusiasm of a popular cause."
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., February 1964
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