Chapter IV - The Temperance Cause Before

The Washingtonians

Chapter IV - The Temperance Cause Before

We pause here for a moment to look back upon the past. Let us place ourselves back in the Spring of 1840. The Temperance cause had been for some twelve or fifteen years in successful operation. And though errors have doubtlessly been committed in the beginning of the reform, experience had taught wisdom; and "Total Abstinence" had now been for several years the motto of most of those, who professed to be real temperance men. The inconsistency and inefficiency of the old pledge had been proved. Under the new and comprehensive pledge much good had been done, much evil had been prevented; and even many drunkards had been reformed, at different times during the progress of the cause. In general however the exertions of temperance men had been rather preventive, than directly reforming. Indeed it cannot be denied, that many of the honest friends of the cause, despaired of reforming those who were confirmed in habits of intemperance. Their doctrine was: "Let us secure the sober and the youth of this generation, and when the present race of confirmed drunkards shall have passed into their graves, we shall have an entire generation of temperate, cold-water men." This, it is true, was a cold and hard calculation, but we believe it was an honest one with many. Nevertheless some few did entertain and argue the possibility of any and every drunkard's reformation, on the simple and only principle of entire abstinence. But the great difficulty was, they had no access to the victim of drink; they understood not how to reach his sympathies, and bid him be a man.

Far be it from us to cast any reproach or censure upon the old Temperance men, or deprive them of one merited laurel. Much, very much had been done previous to this recent extraordinary revival of the cause. They have proved by statistics the great and astounding evils of intemperance, in reference to the pauperism and crime of the country. They were not only shown that alcoholic drinks were unnecessary, but proved them to be absolutely poisonous, and of course destructive. The manufacture and traffic had been greatly diminished in some places, and in others almost abandoned. In thousands and tens of thousands of families, the bottle had been banished from the cupboard, and both from the table. Instead of the universal use of alcoholic drinks by old and young, male and female, religious and irreligious, hundreds of thousands had signed the total abstinence pledge; and of course, so far as they were consistent, these were safe from the possibility of becoming drunkards. Numerous vessels on our seas, bays and rivers, sailed on strictly Temperance principles. Thousands of men of business had ceased to give liquor to those in their employ. Many farmers had gathered in their harvests, without one drop of alcohol being distributed in the fields. The grog-rations had been abolished in the army. Many drunkards had been saved. In a word, much good had been done, and much evil prevented.

In this reform many of the ablest and best men were engaged. In Maryland, through the zealous and self-sacrificing labors of a few men, much had been done. And though others have merited praise, we can not, in giving a fair history of the past, fail to refer to the zeal and perseverance of one man, who for years has stood foremost in the front ranks of the Temperance men of his State. Than this man, the cause has not had a more devoted, ardent and constant friend. His time, his talents, his counsel, his purse, his pen, and his voice have all been for years disinterestedly bestowed upon the welfare of his City and State, in the promotion of this great reform. He had faith in it, when even his friends hardly presumed to hope. He weathered the storm sometime almost alone, and rested in hope of a brighter day. And now he has the satisfaction of seeing the day, when few men do not admit that he was correct, at least in his general principles. Many of those, who once ridiculed or hated him, have come into his general measures, and now regard him in his true light, as an ardent and devoted philanthropist. No man, at least in Maryland, can fail to anticipate us in saying, that this man is CHRISTIAN KEENER.

But notwithstanding much had been done, much remained to be done. Especially had the efforts of temperance men been rather directed to prevent than to cure. They seemed to have no access to those, who most of all needed aid and counsel - the unfortunate victims of the curse of drunkenness. Very little systematic effort was made to reclaim them. The fact is, the poor drunkard was regarded as an object of contempt, of denunciation, or of ridicule, rather than an object of sympathy. He was looked upon as a wicked man, rather than as a weak man. When he did form the theme of the deliberations and speeches of the old Temperance men, it was often only by way of exciting the ridicule or the indignation of the audience against him. Instead of being regarded as an unfortunate brother, the victim of violent passions and appetites, he was too often presented and regarded as a monster too degraded or two heinous to excite our sympathies. To these opinions, and to this course there were honorable exceptions. But it cannot be denied, that the tendency was rather to drive away the drunkard, than to seek him out and reform him.

Moreover it is questionable whether the cause was not retarded in its influence upon the mass of the world, by at least a seeming connection with politics on the one hand, and the church on the other. We refer to the systematic efforts made by many Temperance societies, to bring about changes in the laws, and often by the influence of the polls - and those changes too intended to affect long established usages and supposed rights. Again, most of the Temperance societies were identified, in name or otherwise, with some church or other; Temperance speeches too often partook of the nature of sermons, or general lectures on morals, which however much they might influence the conscientious part of the community, it is not to be expected that the intemperate would be influenced by such operations. And then again, the same pledge, which was to reform a man from drunkenness, required him not only to have no connection with the manufacture or sale of intoxicating liquors, but frequently also to proscribe those who had this connection, by refusing a business intercourse with them. Thus prejudices were excited against the Temperance Reform on all sides, from the drunkard, the dealer and his friends. Now the author has no design to defend either the manufacture or traffic. He himself had signed such a pledge as is here spoken of, and still abides by it; and he is not prepared to say, that he would have all such societies and pledges abolished. But it can not be a question, whether with such instrumentalities we are as likely to reach the intemperate drinker and trafficker, as by a system, the only requisite of which is to abstain personally.

In addition to this, there was a general lethargy on the part of the Temperance societies of this State and elsewhere. A recent number of the "Temperance Herald," speaking of the period to which we refer, says: "A short time since, and the cause of Temperance seemed almost naked of support. Those who had been its warm advocates, by that time had nearly all departed, and one by one had left it."

These then were the circumstances, under which this wonderful and glorious revival of the Temperance cause was ushered upon the world; and now what, in two years, have been the results! 

The Washington Temperance Society of Baltimore
Chapter III - Missionaries Chapter V - Results

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