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Grapevine Milestone Report
TEMPERANCE IN THEIR TIMES
Grapevine, Inc., February 1953
IT is perhaps fitting this new February to consider that
the month's two most celebrated sons can be curiously -identified
with the first movement in the United States which brought
about a large scale rehabilitation of alcoholics.
movement was the "Washington Temperance Society,"
known most widely as simply the "Washingtonians."
The name was taken to honor President George Washington,
deceased some forty-one years previously, and was selected
only after a hassle among founding members who had originally
preferred the name "Jeffersonians."
Washingtonians, founded in 1840, came of age and stature
in February, 1841, when they branched out from the first
group in Baltimore and began an amazing growth that resulted
in a membership variously claimed to be between 100,000
Lincoln, himself a lifelong teetotaler, joined the movement
and on February 22nd, 1842 made a memorable address in the
HEALTH, GENERAL WASHINGTON!"
posthumous use of Washington's name for an alcoholics' movement
was solely a mark of honor for his military and political
achievements. That the hero of the cherry tree incident
was temperate is generally projected by his biographers;
that he would espouse total abstinence for his colonial
compatriots is doubtful. His own taste for good wines was
known far and wide; he usually took "four or five glasses
of Madeira for dinner and finished off with a draught of
beer and a small glass of punch." His journals list
large expenditures for "arrack, wine and punch."
He had apparent distaste for rum, writing to Comte de Moustier
in 1788 . . . "rum . . . is in my opinion, the bane
of morals and the parent of idleness."Of George's taste
for whisky we are told in a letter of 1794: ". . .
as the President will be going into the Country of Whiskey,
he proposes to make use of that liquor for his drink."
is a modern barroom legend that is wont to rise on February
22nd (when the cup has aptly marked the holiday) that "George
Washington mushta been alc'holic . . . who elsh would stand
up in a boat?" Another contemporary celebrant remarked
that "Washington musta had a problem or he wouldn't
have thrown a dollar away just for the water in a river!"
There are no reasons to consider these patent fancies as
point of sober fact, there were no maxims, no gems of guidance
for the temperance society in our first presidents writings.
To add reason to the name of the Washingtonians, an early
orator found these quotes for use in membership campaigns:
do not need wine to fire our blood. . .," from Washington's
young days as a colonel of British provincial troops; and,
"Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark
of celestial fire,-conscience" from one of the general's
SURROUNDS MR. LINCOLN
the "reform" and temperance movements came of
age in Abraham Lincoln's own time of coming of age is duly
recorded by newspapers of the early 1830's. A thousand units
of the American Temperance Society had a total of 1oo,ooo
members by 1832. Politicians were taking notice of the temperance
tide as it surged in. By 1835, there were 5,000 societies,
a million members. Effective literature and temperance newspapers
were rolling off presses. The Reverend Dr. Lyman Beecher
had already proclaimed that intemperance was not merely
drunkenness, but "the daily use of ardent spirits."
the midwest of young Abe, whisky was the beverage of a heman.
Up the Mississippi from New Orleans came other potables
... Holland gin, French cognac, Teneriffe, Malaga and Scotch
whisky. There were "men of distinction" in the
prairie states, too! A Dayton, Ohio paper reported "whisky,
twelve cents a gallon. Eight thousand have signed the temperance
pledge in Cincinnati, a fact which has had some effect in
lowering the price of whisky."
Washington " societies were appearing . . . to "reclaim
the intemperate of their own sex."
along the Sangamon river, whisky flowed as placid as the
fishbare stream. The Sangamon Hardshell Baptist church refused
to take a stand against whisky. Mentor Graham, Lincoln's
friend who taught the school, joined the "temperance
movement and found himself immediately suspended by the
church trustees! To even things up, the trustees then suspended
another member who had gone blind drunk.
LINCOLN DEFINES TEMPERANCE
New Year's, 1842, Abraham Lincoln was the foremost member
of the Springfield, Illinois Society of Washingtonians.
He had never taken whisky, but he had seen his business
partner John Berry overcome by it. His law partner, Mr.
Herndon, was often in "the likes of being a liquorhead"
Such an enemy as whisky needed a strong foe, and Mr. Lincoln
was the natural choice for the Washington's Birthday temperance
meeting in the Second Presbyterian Church. Services proper
for the occasion were sung by the choir, augmented by Methodist
singers. Then, A. Lincoln, Esq., orator of the day, took
the platform to deliver an address on "Charity in Temperance
warfare hitherto waged against the demon intemperance has
somehow or other been erroneous" Mr. Lincoln said.
"Either the champions engaged or the tactics they have
adopted have not been, the most proper. These champions
for the most put have been preachers lawyers and hired agents.
They are supposed to have no sym- pathy of feeling or interest
with those very persons whom it is their object to convince
best of temperance crusaders, Lincoln told the large audience,
is the reformed drunkard. "When one who has long been
known as a victim of intemperance 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 comfortably; of a wife long weighted
down with woe, weeping, and a broken heart, now restored
to health; and how easily it is all done, once it is resolved
to be done; how simple his language! --there is a logic
and an eloquence in it that few with human feelings can
resist. They cannot say he is vain of hearing himself speak,
for his whole demeanor shows he would gladly avoid speaking
at all; they cannot say he speaks for pay, for he received
none and asked for none. In my judgment, it is to the battles
of this new class of champions, that out late success is
greatly, perhaps chiefly, owing."
and denunciation of dram-sellers and dram-drinkers was "both
impolitic and unjust." The reason? "Because it
is not much in the nature of man to be driven to anything;
still less to be driven about that which is exclusively
his own business; and least of all where such driving is
to be submitted to at the expense of pecuniary interest
or burning appetite."
"Twelfth Step" instruction from lawyer Lincoln:
"A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of
gall. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince
him that you are his sincere friend."
lanky orator spoke of whisky, commodity of trade, in his
own forefathers' time. "Even then it was known and
acknowledged that many were greatly injured by it,"
Lincoln asserted. "But none seemed to think the injury
arose from the use of a bad thing, but from the abuse of
a very good thing. The victims of it were to be pitied and
compassionated, 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."
the audience was the drunkard law partner, Herndon. Perhaps
to him Lincoln continued: "If we take habitual drunkards
as a class, their heads and their hearts will bear an advantageous
comparison with those of any other class. There seems ever
to have been a proneness in the brilliant and warm-blooded
to fall into this vice--the demon of intemperance ever seems
to have delighted in sucking the blood of genius and of
in conclusion, Mr. Lincoln seemed to speak directly to the
reformed drunkards of the Washington Society . . . "In
my judgment such of us as have never fallen victims have
been spared more from the absence of appetite than from
any mental or moral superiority over those who have."
a code for the success of the Washingtonians in bringing
new feet to the path of sobriety, Mr. Lincoln used simple
phrases . . . "go for present as well as future good
. . . labor for all now living, as well as all hereafter
to live . . . teach hope to all, despair to none. As in
Christianity it is taught, so in this teach, that 'While
the lamp holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return.'"
was five score less seven years before Alcoholics Anonymous
that the man who freed other men from bondage and slavery
spoke to a church room full of reformed drunkards, and people
come to hear, and people come to scoff.
was never again recorded as speaker on temperance from alcohol.
. .but there were to come many words to be graven in men's
hearts and immortalized on granite. Words that had great
meaning in the dark and confusion and desperate illness
of a whole nation ... words that are still comfort, and
light and milestones for faith for those today who through
AA are winning their own civil war ... who are uniting their
own house that it may stand righteously and honestly and
to that homely voice, leaving these words for the ages:
I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master."
is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels he is
worthy of himself and claims kindred to the great God who
from the Second Inaugural Address, perhaps the most sublime
phrase of Lincoln's rich gifts to America ... a message
to a nation sobering up from the dreadful nightmare of four
years' bloodshed . . . a message for our use today ...
malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness
in the right, as God gives us to see the right . . ."
MESSAGE HE MUST CARRY
was the second month of the new year, and those to whom
he had brought a new way of life, a new belief, were now
far away. He could not know if they still kept the faith,
if they practiced in their living the simple principles
of honesty, of humility and of helpfulness to others that
he had found for himself and had, in turn, given to them.
had lived the long first of his own life quite differently.
Born to wealth and position he had scorned those who did
not share his own sophistication.
then troubled and weary of the old ways within himself,
there had come to him a vision, a sort of spiritual experience
that changed his whole pattern of living and gave him the
courage and the peace that he later described as "passing
all understanding." That others might know the new
way, he traveled far and wide, speaking to such little groups
as would hear him . . . telling them simply of the change
many said to him: "This will not work, this loving
one's neighbors and making amends for past misdeeds and
finding answers to the hard business of daily living in
such vague ways as meditation and prayer." And they
turned him out of their meeting places and he despaired
that anyone should believe him and follow where he led.
he had a message, and he kept on with it. And in the second
month of the year 53 AD. this man Paul wrote to those he
had sponsored in a place called Philippi.
was his message-just 1900 years ago this 1953: "Brethren,
whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good
report; if there be any virtue, and if them be any praise,
think on these things"
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., February 1953
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