Chapter I - Foundation of the Society

The Washingtonians

Chapter I - Foundation of the Society

The 5th of April, 1840, was an eventful day. Influences were set at work then, which have been developing and extending ever since, and which promise to accomplish much for the good of mankind. On the evening of that day, half a dozen men met in the bar-room of a tavern in Baltimore. They had often met there before, spent their hours in friendly converse, and mingled in the mutual drowning of care in the bowl. It was a place of usual resort to them. And now they had met there as before, to drink together from the poisonous cup, to which they were all too much addicted. Without having become outcasts or sots, they had all confessedly suffered severely from the frequent and intemperate use of intoxicating drinks, - suffered in their health, suffered in their estates, suffered in their families, their habits, their feelings and their reputation.

But though these were plain men, they were men of unusual energy. It is true that alcohol had made its ravages on their characters, their minds, and their hearts. But the energy of manhood still survived. They were the victims, rather than merely the votaries of the pleasures of the bowl. They were in business, and five of them had families. They cared for their business and loved their families. They had all started out in life when young, with the hopes which usually beat high in the hearts of youth in every branch of business, or situation in life, when first entering upon the world. For a time they ran well. Business was fair. Friends were not few. They had married, and were happy.

Had any man told either of them at eighteen, nineteen, or twenty years of age, that twenty-five or thirty would find them drunkards, - that, like thousands around them, they would suffer from the poison of the serpent, and the sting of the adder in the cup, they would have laughed the insinuation to scorn, and honestly too. They never dreamed then of being drunkards. They drank moderately, and freely too. The habits of society at that time, - of all classes of society, even religious, sanctioned the free use of alcoholic drinks; and they went with the multitude never for a moment thinking of evil. But the love of drink particularly of the "social glass," grew upon them gradually and insensibly, until habit was fixed and appetite strong; and ere they had suspected it, they found themselves in the power of a monster, bound hand and foot in chains, - the slaves of their own appetites. And now they frequented the public taverns; and oft at night, or during the day, and even on the Sabbath, instead of being at their business, or with their families, or at church, they were to be found at the Hotel or Grogshop. They knew it was wrong. They saw the evil; they felt it; they lamented it; and times without number did they promise wife and friend and self, that they would drink no more. They were sincere. They meant to be sober. But at some fatal hour they would take one glass again, "just one glass;" and they found themselves as powerless and debased as ever.

It was on the evening of the day on which we have introduced them to the reader that these six men were once more together at the tavern. Their families were forsaken at home. Their business for the day was done. But neither was entirely forgotten. The bar with its temptations was near them. Their habits were to contend with. And the cravings of an unnatural appetite within were against all good resolves. But these men had not lost all their principle, their energy, or their feeling. They looked to their homes, and they saw that much of domestic bliss, which should gather round the fireside, was banished by the inebriating cup. They looked to their business, and they knew they had suffered there. They counted the cost, and they were astonished at the amount of money they threw away in visiting the dram-shop. They looked back to the days of their youth, when with free hearts and bounding hopes, they had leaped into life, and had looked forward into the future never dreaming of such a slavery. They looked to their reputation, their influence, their health, their feelings, and their energy of character; and they felt that they would lose all these, if they prosecuted much longer the way in which they were hurrying down to death. They looked into the future, and all was clouds and darkness. They deliberately weighed the movement about to be made; and then rising in the energy of their still surviving manhood, they resolved that hour they would drink no more of the poisonous draught forever; and that to carry out their resolutions, they would form a society with a pledge to that effect, and bind themselves under it to each other for life.

This is no fancy sketch. The circumstances have often been stated by the founders of the society, just as we have detailed them. We do not pretend to say, that the feelings and reflections above stated were matters of grave deliberation and discussion among them. The movement had more of a spontaneous character, and was at once and rather impulsively approved as soon as suggested. But these were the silent meditations and reflections, which were working in each individual breast, so that it needed but that the proper chord should be touched, under the circumstances, and their hearts all vibrated together: the matter needed but a proposal to meet the approbation of all. It should also be remarked that the idea of reformation had been suggested among them at a former meeting, but no conclusion had been arrived at, as to either the certainty or the manner of the accomplishment of their purpose.

And now the deed was done. A constitution was agreed upon; and as the movement was a great and important one, a great name was proposed to be affixed as the title of the society. It was adopted. And this was the foundation of the Washington Temperance Society of Baltimore.

From the character of the deed itself, and the extraordinary results, which have proceeded and are yet proceeding from it, justice requires that the names of the founders of this association should be recorded, that they may be handed down in all the future annals of the Temperance cause. William K. Mitchell, John F. Loss, David Anderson, George Stears, Archibald Campbell and James McCurley were the "original six," who founded the Washington Temperance Society of Baltimore, and of course the originators of that new system of Temperance operations, which has of late attracted the attention of the country.

Previous to the evening on which the society was formed, we have intimated that the subject of reformation had been in contemplation among them for several days. When the adoption of a society and pledge was proposed, several difficulties were in the way of their successful organization. These difficulties were mainly the apprehensions of evil influences being introduced into the action of the society, to divert them from their simple purpose, if, as might be, the society should ever become efficient and numerous.

Upon suggestion therefore it was resolved among themselves, that they would place the temperance cause, so far as they were concerned, in the position of a unit: that the society, as such, was to recognize no creed of religion, nor party in politics; and that neither political nor religious action of any kind, should ever be introduced into the society's operations. Personal abstinence from all intoxicating drinks was to be the basis, and only requisite of membership. Moral suasion was to be the only means by which they, as a body, were to induce others to adopt their principles. As a society, their whole business was to induce others not to drink intoxicating liquors. They would thus be less likely to excite the suspicions or prejudices of any class of men, and have free access to all; this would render Temperance a simple principle of personal abstinence. It would be, in the language of Father Matthew, "a green spot in the desert of life, where all could meet in peace and harmony."

Moreover they determined that the regular meetings of the society should be meetings for the detail of personal experience, and not for debates, lectures and speeches; that even on matters of necessary business, as few remarks as possible only would be tolerated. Thus all temperance addresses were to be in the form of the individual experience of the several members. The spirit of this rule and common sense were to guide them how far any should be allowed to go in his remarks. The society was thus based on facts, and not on an abstraction, and the principle of common honesty was to direct them in all their movements.

These difficulties being out of the way - the society being now organized, and the constitution and pledge adopted and signed, the founders resolved to hold weekly experience meetings for their own encouragement and benefit, and for the good of others who might be induced to attend. 

The Washington Temperance Society of Baltimore
Preface Chapter II - Progress and Influence of the Society

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