Organization and Procedure

The Washingtonians

Organization and Procedure

As has been indicated, the Washingtonian movement took organized form in the thousands of local total abstinence societies which, almost without exception, had a mixed membership of former teetotalers and moderate drinkers as well as inebriates of various degrees. This was the pattern set by the original Baltimore society. A large percentage of these societies, presumably, were new societies carrying the Washington name. Many were old societies, reorganized and renamed. But often the work was carried on in societies already in existence, without any change in name. Hawkins, it will be recalled, became the paid secretary of the Massachusetts Temperance Society. Nevertheless, he was active in the Boston Washington society. There seemed, at the time, to be no organizational rivalry, and that must have been true in many communities throughout the years of the movement. In Alabama, Sellers (18) states, "This organization [Washingtonian] was never an independent unit, but was attached to temperance societies already existing."

On the other hand, rivalry and mutual resentment between the "old" and the "new" societies did develop in many communities. Even in Boston, in the demonstration in which so many societies of all types participated in May 1844, the old Massachusetts Temperance Society and the old Massachusetts Temperance Union did not take part (1). Krout summarizes the difficulties that developed between the Washingtonians and the older societies in many communities:

Under the compulsion of popular demand many of the old societies had employed Washingtonian speakers to revive a waning interest, but they had been disappointed that the new pledge-signers could seldom be persuaded to join existing organizations. Wherever Washingtonian workers conducted campaigns, it was necessary either to form a new society officered by reform men, or to convert the old group into a Washingtonian abstinence society. To some who had laboured long in temperance work...it appeared...that the Washingtonians had no interest in the triumphs of the struggle prior to 1840. The younger movement seemed to be unwilling to learn anything from the older. Its membership scoffed at the methods and principles formerly held in esteem...The old leaders were being set aside. Any Tom, Dick or Harry could direct the course of the reform. Washingtonian "Heralds," "Standards" and "Advocates" were springing up everywhere, and then expiring from lack of funds. Their existence was too often marked by unpleasant controversies with other temperance periodicals. The Washingtonians, on the other hand, charged that the older societies refused to co-operate with them... (1).

Further evidence of this distrust and cleavage, as well as of the differences in organization, was given in the Washingtonian Pocket Companion (19), published in Utica, N.Y., in 1842:

Some societies make uniting with them, a virtual renunciation of all membership with any other temperance societies...This is because the principles of the old, and of our societies, differ so widely - and also to prevent the old societies from subverting ours...

Some societies take none but those who have lately made, sold, or used intoxicating liquors - others receive all except children under a certain age - others receive even children with the consent of their parents or guardians.

Some societies omit that part of the pledge which relates to the "Making and selling, directly or indirectly," and pledge to total abstinence from using, only. They think it a benefit to bring the maker and vender into the society first, and then induce them to give up their business.

In some cases, the female members of our societies act as a Benevolent Society, within, or in co-operation and fellowship with us. In others, the ladies form separate and distinct societies. Their names are numerous... (19).

Even though no uniformity of organization or procedure prevailed, yet a minimum of common pattern ran throughout the movement. This might be said to be (A) the reclamation of inebriates by "reformed drunkards" - employing the "principle of love" and the total abstinence pledge; and (B) having reformed drunkards telling their experiences for the dual purpose of reaching the drunkard and winning others to the total abstinence pledge.

The Baltimore pattern, very effectively reproduced in Boston under the guidance of Hawkins, seemed to have been the ideal pattern which the majority of Washingtonian groups approximated in varying degrees. Since records of the Boston operations have been preserved, the organization and procedure of that society will be given in some detail.

The aggressive missionary work of carrying Washingtonianism into 160 New England towns during the first 3 months of the Boston society's existence has been noted. Of even greater interest are the details of the work with alcoholics, during this same period, as related by Samuel F. Holbrook, the first president of the society:

The Washington Total Abstinence Society was organized on the 25th of April, 1841. On the evening of its formation the officers elected were a president, two vice-presidents, a corresponding secretary, and a treasurer; after which there were chosen twenty-four gentlemen to serve as ward committee, whose duty it was to pick up inebriates, induce them to sign the pledge of total abstinence, and forsake all places where intoxicating drink was to be had, and also to visit the families of the reformed and administer to their wants.

It now became necessary to have a place exclusively our own, where we could bring the unfortunate victim of intemperance, nurse him, and converse with him, and obtain his signature to the pledge;... [We] were led to Marlboro Chapel. We obtained Hall No. 1 for a business and occasional lecture room, and the chapel for a public meeting once a week. Hall No. 1 was furnished with newspapers from various towns, as well as nearly all the publications of our own city. A table prepared, and the seats were arranged in the form of a reading room; a fountain of cold water and a desk containing the pledge occupied another part of the room.

Our pledge, for the first week, had two hundred and eighteen names; and then, as if by magic, the work commenced. And I think it is doubtful if in the annals of history there is any record of a work of such a nature and progressing with so much silence, and yet so sure in its advance. Surely it is the work of the omnipotent God...

The gentlemen acting as ward committees were filled with unexampled zeal and perseverance in the performance of their duties; leaving their own business in order to hunt up the drunkard;...So attentive were they to this voluntary duty that in a fortnight we had four hundred names on our pledge; families in all directions were assisted, children sent to school decently clad, employment obtained for the husband, the countenance of the wife assumed a cheerful and pleasing aspect; landlords grew easy, and in fact everything relating to the circumstances of the reformed inebriate had undergone a complete change for the better...

The reeling drunkard is met in the street, or drawn out from some old filthy shed, taken by the arm, spoken kindly to, invited to the hall, and with reluctance dragged there, or carried in a carriage if not too filthy; and there he sees himself surrounded by friends, and not what he most feared - police officers; everyone takes him by the hand; he begins to come to and when sober sign the pledge, and goes away a reformed man. And it does not end there. The man takes a pledge, and from his bottle companions obtains a number of signers, who likewise become sober men. Positively, these are facts. Now, can any human agency alone do this? All will answer No; for we have invariably the testimony of vast numbers of reformed men, who have spoken in public and declared they have broken off a number of times, but have as often relapsed again: and the reason they give for doing this is that they rely wholly on the strength of their resolution without looking any higher; but now they feel the need of God's assistance, which having obtained, their reform is genuine... (8).

Holbrook also made some interesting comparisons with the attitudes and methods of the older temperance societies:

...As for reclaiming the drunkard that was entirely out of the question; they must and will die shortly, and now our business is to take care of the rising generation. And when the hard working women complained of her drunken husband, the reply was, and from all feeling of good, to, O send him to the house of correction, or poor house, immediately, and then we will do what we can for you and your children. Now the great difficulty was that our temperance friends were, generally, men in higher circles of life, who would revolt at the idea of taking a drunkard by the arm in the street, and walk with him to some place where he could be made sober and receive friendly advice. If the drunken man was noticed at all, he was taken aside from under the horses' feet and perhaps put into some house and there left...But the method of reclaiming the apparently lost inebriate, such as the Washington Total Abstinence Society has adopted, never entered their heads; it was not thought of until our society was formed. Then some twenty or thirty drunkards came forward and signed the total abstinence pledge and related their experience, and this induced others to do the same; and then the work of reform commenced in good earnest(8).

The "Auditor's Report" contains additional information on the activities of the Boston society during its first 3 months. After reporting the receipt of $2,537.10, one barrel of pork, four hams, and a considerable quantity of second-hand clothing, he referred to the system they had adopted "of boarding out single persons and assisting the inebriate and his family who had homes."

In addition to not less than one hundred and fifty persons boarded out [in "three good boarding-houses, kept by discreet members of the society"], two hundred and fifty families have been more or less benefited. Families the most wretched have been made comfortable; by our exertions many families that were scattered have been reunited; fathers, sons, and brothers have been taken from the houses of correction and industry, from the dram shops, and from the lowest places of degradation, restored and brought back again under the same roof, made happy, industrious, and temperate...Our society at present numbers about 4,000 members... [about] one third...heads of families... (8).

Harrisson rounds out the first 2 years' history of the Boston society:

For the space of two years after its organization the meetings of the society were held in Marlboro' Chappel, while the lodging rooms connected therewith were located in Graphic Court, opposite Franklin Street. From there they removed to No. 75 Court Street...They also fitted up rooms under their hall for the temporary accommodations of reformed, or rather, reforming men. They soon again removed to rooms which they procured and fitted up in Broomfield Street...

During the first two years of its existence the officers and members of the society held weekly meetings in six different localities in the city of Boston, namely: in North Bennett Street, Milton Street, Washington Place, East Street, Common Street, and Hull Street...(8).

Another glimpse of the activities of this society, 4 years after its founding, is provided in a memorial petition presented to the State Legislature in 1845:

....From the period of its formation to the present time, it has sustained a commodious hall for holding public meetings...Large numbers of persons, in various stages of intoxication and destitution, who have been found in the streets and elsewhere, have been led to the Washingtonian Hall, where they have been kindly received, and their necessary wants supplied. The amount of service which has been rendered within the last four years, by this society, cannot be readily appreciated. A multitude of men who, by intemperance, had been shut out from the friendly regard of the world, found in the hall of the Washingtonians, for the time being, a comfortable asylum; and these men departed thence to resume their position as useful citizens. About 750 such persons have found a temporary home at Washingtonian Hall, during the year just closed, nearly all of whom, it is believed, are now temperate and industrious members of society(8).

As already noted, this society reported having received 56,380 members up to January 1848. According to Harrisson, the central meetings were held each week uninterrupted at least to 1860. Whether an "Asylum" for inebriates was maintained during the intervening years, the writer cannot ascertain. But in 1858 a "home for the Fallen," representing perhaps a renewal of activities was being maintained on Franklin Place. It was moved to 36 Charles Street in 1860 and renamed the "Washington Home." Conducted by a separate "executive committee," it nevertheless was operating on Washingtonian principles.

So much for the Boston society. Apparently Hawkins and his associates had laid a more sound foundation than was achieved in many communities.

As for organization and procedures elsewhere, perhaps the best clues are given in the 1842 Washingtonian Pocket Companion (19), "Containing a Choice Collection of Temperance Hymns, Songs, Etc.," - containing also the following directions "For Commencing, Organizing, and Conducting the Meetings, of a Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society."

I. The Commencement. - Wherever there are a sufficient number of drinkers, to get up what is commonly called "a spree," there are enough to form a Society. It only needs one or more individuals, (If an inebriate, or moderate drinker, but resolved to reform, all the better,) to go to those persons, and to others who make, sell or use intoxicating drinks and explain to them the principles and measures of this great reform, and persuade them to agree to take the pledge at a meeting to be held at some convenient time and place mutually agreed on. In all these efforts, the utmost gentleness, and kindness, and patient perseverance, and warm persuasion, should be used. At the meetings, appoint a Chairman and a Secretary - if reformed inebriates, all the better. After singing a hymn or song, let the Chairman, or other person, open the meeting by stating its objectives - relating his experience in drinking, his past feelings, sufferings, the woe of his family and friends, the motives and reasons that induce him to take the present step, and appeal warmly and kindly to his companions, friends and neighbours to aid him in it by doing likewise. The Secretary, or other person may follow with a like experience...Other persons can be called on to speak, until it is time to get signers to the pledge. Having read the pledge...invite all who wish to join to rise up, (or come forward,) and call out their names that the Secretary may take them down. Publicity and freedom are preferable to private solicitations, whisperings, and secrecy in giving the names...Then let the Chairman or other person, first pledge himself, and then administer it to the rest.

After this, a hymn or song may be sung, and remarks and appeals be made, and other names be obtained. After all have been obtained to take the pledge, let them again rise up, and let the Chairman, or Secretary, or other person, give them THE CHARGE - a solemn address on the nature and importance of the obligations they have assumed and on the best mode of faithfully discharging them. Then let a committee be appointed to draft a Constitution to be presented at the next meeting.

II. THE ORGANIZATION. - At the next meeting, after singing, let the Constitution be reported, and amended, if necessary, until it suits those who have taken the pledge at and since the last meeting. Then adopt it. It should contain the following, among the needed provisions. Preamble - A simple statement of the prominent evils of intemperance, and of the resolution of the signers to aid in extirpating their root. Some prefer a Parody on our National Declaration of Independence for this purpose. Article 1 - The name of the Society, always using the distinctive title, "Washingtonian," in that name. Article 2 - Declaring that love, Kindness and moral suasion are your only principles and measures, and disavowing denunciation, abuse, and harshness. Article 3 - Forbid the introduction of sectarian sentiments or party politics into any lecture, speeches, singing, or doings of the society. Article 4 - Providing for offices, committees, and their election. Articles 5, 6, and 7 - Duties of officers and committees. (One of these should be a committee to relieve the poor, sick and afflicted members and families of inebriates.) Article 8 - Provide for by-laws, and alterations of the Constitution. Article 9 - Provide for labours with those who violate their pledges, and the withdrawal of members...

III. HOW to CONDUCT the MEETINGS. - After the meeting has come to order, always open with a hymn or song. Transact the business of the society with the utmost order and dispatch....Then call for speakers. Let there be as many "experiences" as possible, interspersed with brief arguments, appeals, exhortations, news of the progress of the cause, temperance anecdotes, &c. Consult brevity, so as to have as many of the brethren speak, as possible - the more the better....And always be sure to call for persons to take the pledge, when the audience feel in the right spirit. While the pledges are being filled up for delivery, pour out the warmest appeals, or sing the most interesting hymns or songs. If any member or other person violates the rules or order, or transgresses the principles and measures of the society, remind him of it in good humour, gently and kindly...KINDNESS must be the very atmosphere of your meetings, and LOVE the fuel of all your zeal, and PERSUASION the force of all your speaking, if you would have your society do the most good... (19).

Even more revealing is the definition, contained in the same Pocket Companion, of the principles of the Washingtonian movement in terms of its differences from the older societies.

I. All the former Societies directed their efforts mainly, if not wholly to the prevention of intemperance.

"Washingtonianism," while it embraces all classes, sexes, ages and conditions of society in its efforts, makes special efforts to snatch the poor inebriate from his destructive habits - aims to cure as well as prevent intemperance. It considers the drunkard as a man - our brother - capable of being touched by kindness, of appreciating our love, and benefiting by our labours. We therefore, stoop down to him in his fallen condition and kindly raise him up, and whisper hope and encouragement into his ear, and aid him to aid himself back again to health, peace, usefulness, respectability and prosperity. By the agency of SISTERS in this labour, we endeavour to secure the co-operation of his family in our effort...

II. Other societies generally were auxiliary to a Country - that to a State - and that to a National Society...

"Washingtonianism"... [makes] each society independent...

III. Before the Washingtonian Reform, not only the poor drunkard, but many of nearly every other class in society supposed to be in the way of the [temperance] cause, were denounced as enemies - held up to public indignation and reprobation, threatened with the withdrawal of votes, pecuniary support, or public countenance;...

"Washingtonianism" teaches us to avoid this course...We believe with the American Prison Discipline Society, that "there is a chord, even in the most corrupt heart, that vibrates to kindness, and a sense of justice, which knows when it has been rightly dealt with." We have tried kindness with the poor inebriate of many years continuance - we have found it powerful to overcome the induration of heart caused by eight years of the world's contempt...Hence we adopt the law of kindness - the godlike principle, "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good," in our labours to win the maker, seller and user of intoxicating liquors; and we disavow all compulsions, threats, denunciations, hard names,...or malice or ill-will toward them...In short, "Moral suasion, not force - love not hate, are the moving springs in the Washingtonian Creed" (19).

The hymns and songs contained in this Pocket Companion are likewise revealing. Most of them are simply adapted Christian hymns and temperance songs, appealing basically to religious and patriotic sentiments. In the preface it is frankly stated that only such hymns and songs have been included which introduce no "sectarianism, party politics, denunciation or harshness," or which contain no "phrases and sentiments which all Christians could not conscientiously sing." The central emphasis is probably contained in the following hymn on the "Power of Love."

Love is the strongest tie Love softens all our toil, that can our hearts unite; and makes our labours blest; Love brings to life and liberty it lights again the joyful smile, the drunkard chained in night and gives the anguished rest.

Obeying its commands, Let love forever grow, We quickly supply each need; Intemperance drive afar, With feeling hearts and tender hands A heaven begin on earth below Bind up his wounds that bleed. And banish strife and war.

The principle of love and sympathy for the drunkard is, in countless references, considered to be the distinctively new feature introduced by the Washingtonians - and their central principle. John B. Gough attributed the success of the movement to "the true spirit of Washingtonian sympathy, kindness and charity...predominant in the bosom of this great Washingtonian Fraternity"(11).

Walter Channing, Unitarian Clergyman, in underscoring this principle, also calls attention to the other distinctive feature of the Washingtonian movement - the role played by the "reformed drunkards" themselves:

It was wholly new, both in its principles and its agents. It laid aside law and punishment, and made love, the new commandment, its own. It dared to look upon moral power as sufficient for the work of human regeneration - the living moral power in the drunkard, however degraded he might be. It had faith in man...[and so] the drunkard became a moral teacher... he rose from the lowest depths of degradation, and became an apostle of the highest sentiment in his nature; viz., the love of man, the acknowledgment of the inborn dignity of man (9).

 
The Washingtonian Movement
Numerical Success The Causes of Decline


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