In Drunks, Christopher Finan introduces us to a colorful cast of characters who were integral in America’s moral journey to understanding alcoholism. There's the remarkable Iroquois leader named Handsome Lake, a drunk who stopped drinking and dedicated his life to helping his people achieve sobriety. In the early nineteenth century, the idealistic and energetic “Washingtonians,” a group of reformed alcoholics, led the first national movement to save men like themselves. After the Civil War, doctors began to recognize that chronic drunkenness is an illness, and Dr. Leslie Keeley invented a “gold cure” that was dispensed at more than a hundred clinics around the country. But most Americans rejected a scientific explanation of alcoholism. A century after the ignominious death of Charles Adams came Carrie Nation. The wife of a drunk, she destroyed bars with a hatchet in her fury over what alcohol had done to her family. Prohibition became the law of the land, but nothing could stop the drinking. Finan also tells the dramatic story of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, who helped each other stay sober and then created AA, which survived its tumultuous early years and finally proved that alcoholics could stay sober for a lifetime.
This is narrative history at its best: entertaining and authoritative, an important portrait of one of America’s great liberation movements and essential reading for anyone involved in the addiction community.
|Sold by:||Penguin Random House Publisher Services|
|File size:||4 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
OUT OF THE GUTTER
The Methodist Church on Greene Street in New York City was packed on the wintry evening of March 23, 1841. New Yorkers had been hearing reports from Baltimore that a group of drunks had gotten themselves sober and launched a movement to save the lives of alcoholics. The reformed drunks called themselves Washingtonians to identify their struggle against the slavery of alcohol with the nation’s war of liberation from British despotism. There was some trepidation among New York temperance advocates about inviting even sober drunks to address one of their meetings. They feared that tales of debauchery would offend the middle class audience. But the full pews of the church revealed the enormous curiosity to hear them tell their stories. John H.W. Hawkins, an unemployed hatter who had been sober less than a year, was the first to speak.
Hawkins, who was 43, would become the Washingtonians’ greatest orator, but he had made his first speech only a few weeks earlier. While his nose was too large for a handsome man, he had large expressive eyes and dark bushy eyebrows. As he spoke in the Greene Street church, his audience was struck by the simplicity and sincerity with which he told the story of his terrible degradation and nearly miraculous recovery. They were also moved by his passionate commitment to saving the lives of alcoholics by getting them to sign a pledge not to drink alcoholic beverages. “If there is a man on earth who deserves the sympathy of the world it is the poor drunkard,” Hawkins said. “He is poisoned, degraded, cast out, knows not what to do, and must be helped or he is lost....I feel for drunkards. I want them to come and sign the pledge and be saved.”1
Suddenly, Hawkins was interrupted by a voice from the gallery. “Can I be saved?” a man asked. “I am a poor drunkard. I would give the world if I was as you.” “Yes, there is, my friend,” Hawkins replied. “Come down and sign the pledge, and you will be a man. Come down and I will meet you, and we will take you by the hand.” A minister who was present later described the scene for William George Hawkins, John’s son and biographer.. There was silence as the man made his way to the stairs and began to descend. “Your father sprang from the stand, and, followed, by others, met the poor man literally half way, escorted him to the desk, and guided his hand as he signed his name,” the minister wrote. “....[T]hen such a shout broke forth from the friends of temperance as must have reached the angels above.”2
More drunks now rose and came forward–“five or six others of this miserable class....and some 30 or 40 others, well known as hard drinkers and drunkards,” the Rev. John Marsh, secretary of the American Temperance Union, reported. News of the Greene Street meeting soon spread through the city. The Washingtonians addressed “immense meetings” in the largest churches every night for the next two weeks. Three thousand people heard them at a meeting in City Hall Park. More than 2,500 signed the Washingtonian pledge. “The victory was now gained,” Marsh said. “The work of redemption among the poor drunkards had commenced.”3
The Washingtonians were an exuberant expression of America’s most optimistic age. The ideas of the European Enlightenment were expressed in the Declaration of Independence: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by God with inalienable rights, including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The American Revolution did not produce a democracy immediately, but in the following decades the advocates of rule by the high born and well educated lost ground to those who believed that the common man should govern. In 1828, universal manhood suffrage helped elect President Andrew Jackson. The United States was growing rapidly, both economically and geographically, and experiencing its first great wave of immigrants. In such a dynamic society, most Americans agreed that change was a good thing.
Changes in American religion contributed strongly to this dynamism. For more than a century, Protestant ministers had endeavored to convince believers that they were naturally sinful and that most men were destined for Hell. But this bleak philosophy was challenged by a series of revivals that were sweeping the country. The sermons preached by the revivalists were no less frightening in evoking the horrors of damnation. Before large meetings, often held out of doors to accommodate the crowds, they did their best to create an emotional response that caused people to scream, fall to the floor, jerk uncontrollably, even bark like dogs. But the revivalists offered their listeners the promise of salvation. If they let God enter their hearts, they would shed their evil nature and become new, guaranteeing eternal life.
As Americans became increasingly hopeful about improving their condition, they embraced reform. By the 1830s, they acknowledged that they confronted many problems. Rapid growth had made many men rich, but it had also created a growing class of impoverished workers who had nowhere to turn during the frequent recessions. Crime was a growing threat to social order. Yet Americans believed in progress. If man was essentially good, then social problems were not inevitable. “It is to the defects of our social organization....that we chiefly owe the increase of evil doers,” declared Dorothea Dix, a pioneer in seeking more humane treatment for the mentally ill. She was joined by a generation of reformers who sought to improve conditions through education, universal peace, prison reform, equal rights for women and the end of slavery.4
It was in this period of hopefulness that the movement to curb the consumption of liquor emerged. In 1808, as Handsome Lake worked to spread sobriety among the Iroquois in western New York, a doctor and a minister started the first temperance society in the small town of Moreau in eastern New York. The first state temperance organization, the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance, was organized a few years later. The meaning of “temperance” would evolve in the following decades. At first, it meant abstinence from rum, whiskey and other distilled liquors. Many who signed a temperance pledge continued to enjoy their glass of beer or wine in good conscience. The predominant role that the clergy would play in the temperance movement throughout its history is apparent in the fact that the Massachusetts society addressed itself to the problems of Sabbath-breaking and profanity as well a drinking whiskey.
The movement grew rapidly after the launch of a national organization, the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, which soon included 1,000 local temperance groups with a membership of 100,000. In 1835, the American Temperance Society claimed more than two million people had signed pledges promising that they would not drink distilled liquor, forcing 4,000 distilleries to close. Alcohol consumption fell from seven gallons per person in 1830 to slightly more than three gallons in 1840, the biggest decline in a ten-year period in American history. Their amazing success persuaded the leaders of the temperance movement that the goal of national sobriety was within reach. But it stalled when a split developed between those who opposed only hard liquor and “teetotalers” demanding total abstinence.
Worried temperance leaders saw the emergence of the Washingtonians as almost miraculous. For centuries it had been assumed that little could be done to help alcoholics, and the temperance movement directed its energy to preventing the creation of new drunkards, rather than the reclamation of those who were afflicted. . The Rev. Justin Edwards, a founder of the American Temperance Society, explained:
We are at present fast hold of a project for making all people in this country, and in all other countries, temperate; or rather, a plan to induce those who are now temperate to continue so. Then, as all who are intemperate will soon be dead, the earth will be eased of an amazing evil.
Not all temperance leaders were so pessimistic about the possibility of recovery. One of them, Gerritt Smith, presented case studies of how temperance had improved the lives of 38 of his neighbors in a small town in upstate New York, including men and women who were certainly alcoholic.5
But no one expected to see the day when an alcoholic like John Hawkins would step on a public stage and proclaim his intention to save other drunks. Hawkins certainly never expected it. He had been struggling with alcoholism for half of his life. Hawkins’ father was a tailor in the Fell’s Point section of Baltimore who died when John was 13. Hawkins had already displayed a “daring, brave and restless spirit” in frequent clashes with the minister who had been given the responsibility of educating him. During the War of 1812, at the age of 16, he picked up a gun and rushed to meet invading British troops during the Battle of North Point. To help curb his adventurous spirit, Hawkins was apprenticed to a hat maker. Although his master was strict, Hawkins took to the work eagerly. It was during his apprenticeship that he began to drink regularly. Employers served their workers alcohol during the work day, and apprentices received the same liquor as adults. Hawkins later described his first place of employment as “perfect a grog-shop as ever existed.” He said that eight of his 12 fellow apprentices “died drunkards.”6
When Hawkins completed his apprenticeship, he was unable to find work. Like so many other young men, he decided to look for opportunity in the west. He arrived in Pittsburgh after 10 days of travel by foot, stage coach and boat. He found a job, but two months later he was on the move again, traveling south along the Ohio River to Cincinnati. Hawkins wrote his mother that it was “a beautiful place” of 14,000 people. He found a job there, too, but left after just a couple of weeks to join relatives in Madison, Indiana. “I have had sore conflicts since I left home,” he wrote his mother without providing any details. His relatives were more forthcoming. They told his mother that John was drinking. “As soon as I was away from parental care, I gave way; all went by the board, and my sufferings commenced,” Hawkins explained later.7
With hard times spreading west, he found little work over the next two years. For six months, he had only the clothes he wore and no shoes. But if jobs were dear, liquor was cheap. By the time he made it back to Baltimore, his health was beginning to break. “John, I am afraid you are bloated,” his mother said. His stomach may have been distended by malnutrition. It is also possible that he was suffering from a swollen liver that has been damaged by heavy drinking.8
Hawkins was able to stop drinking for extended periods. He returned to the Methodist church and married. He tried to tackle the west again, loading his wife and three children into a Conestoga wagon. Thirteen months later the covered wagon returned to Baltimore. Business had been slow, and his wife was in poor health. Hawkins was also drinking again. When his wife died, leaving him with three young children, he got sober again. For four years, he enjoyed the luxury of steady work and married again. Even a new wife and his religious faith could not prevent another relapse.
Hawkins had never known such hard times. In 1837, the country entered a depression that would last for six years. Unable to work in his own trade, he was forced to take any job he could find. A job in a bakery paid just $1 for a day of work that started just after midnight and continued almost non-stop until seven or eight at night. He had to quit after three weeks because he could not stand the pace. “You cannot imagine the trouble of mind I have and am still passing through for the want of employment at my own business,” he wrote his parents.9
Poverty did not stop Hawkins’ drinking. His consumption of alcohol was actually increasing. By June 1840, he was buying whiskey by the gallon and drinking a quart and a half a day. On the morning of June 12, Hawkins was in agony as he lay in bed listening to the sounds of his family preparing breakfast below. “I was a wonder to myself; astonished I had any mind left; and yet it seemed in the goodness of God uncommonly clear,” he said.
I laid in bed long after my wife and daughter were up, and my conscience drove me to madness. I hated the darkness of the night, and when light came I hated the light. I hated myself, my existence. I asked myself, “Can I restrain? Is it possible? Not a being to take me by the hand and lead or help me along, and say, ‘you can.” I was friendless, without help or light; an outcast.
His wife, Ann, came upstairs and asked Hawkins to come down to breakfast. He told her he would, but he remained in bed, trying to decide whether to drink his last pint of whiskey. “I knew it was life or death with me, as I decided,” he said. His 13-year-old daughter Hannah appeared at the door next. Hannah was her father’s favorite. When he stumbled home at night, collapsing in the hallway, she fetched a blanket and pillow and watched over him until he was sober enough to drag himself to bed. She also bought him liquor. “...[S]he was a drunkard’s friend–my only friend,” Hawkins said.10
Hannah also tried to get her father to come down to breakfast, but she added a new plea. “Father, don’t send me after whiskey today,” she said. Hawkins was stung. “I was tormented before, but this was unexpected torture,” he said. He ordered her from the room, and she left in tears. Hawkins pulled the bedcovers over his head, but a short time later he heard someone enter the room. Peeping out, he saw that Hannah had returned. Filled with remorse and shame, he called to her. “Hannah, I am not angry with you, and I shall not drink any more,” he said. “She cried, and so did I.” There was still a pint of whiskey in the bedroom cupboard. As he rose and dressed, Hawkins looked at the bottle several times. “‘Is it possible I can be restored,’” he asked himself. He was sure only that if he drank it he was doomed. “I suffered all the horrors of the pit that day,” Hawkins said. But his family supported him. “‘Hold on–hold on,’” Ann said.11
Hawkins had quit drinking on a Friday. By Saturday, he was feeling better, but there was no guarantee that he could remain sober. Ann must have been alarmed when he left the house on Monday night without telling her where he was going. Soon after he arrived at his first meeting of “the society of drunkards.” The men in the room included the founders of the Washington Temperance Society. He also found some old friends. “We had fished together–got drunk together,” he said. “‘One said, ‘There is Hawkins, the ‘regulator,’ the old bruiser,’ and they clapped and laughed.’” Hawkins was not in a laughing mood. “I was too sober and solemn for that,” he said. One of the goals of the Washingtonian meeting was to convince newcomers to sign a pledge not to drink alcoholic beverages of any kind, whether distilled or fermented. “The pledge was read for my accommodation; they did not say so, and yet I knew it,” Hawkins said. “They all looked over my shoulder to see me sign my name. I never had such feeling before. It was a great battle.” At home, Ann listened for her husband’s return, fearing the worst. She was astonished to see him sober when he opened the door. “I told her quick–I could not keep it back–‘I have put my name to the temperance pledge never to drink as long as I live!’” Their celebration woke Hannah who joined in the tears.12
After a life of misfortune, Hawkins had finally gotten lucky. The Washingtonian movement was only two months old when he decided to get sober. The whole thing started in a bar. On the evening of April 2, 1840, six friends sat in the Chase Tavern in Baltimore discussing a lecture by a well-known temperance advocate that was scheduled for later that night. They met at the tavern almost every night and often drank to excess. One of them, William K. Mitchell, would later say that he had been trying to control his drinking for 15 years without success. Four of the party decided to hear what the temperance man had to say. They were impressed. “After all temperance is a good thing,” one said when the group had returned to the bar. They decided to form their own temperance society and to make Mitchell the president. 13
Two days later, on a Sunday, the six men met again and discussed the project over drinks. Mitchell, who had not attended the lecture, agreed to serve as president and to draft a pledge. On Monday, he carried the pledge to his friends, finding the first still in bed nursing a hangover. On the evening of April 5, they held the first meeting of the Washington Temperance Society in the home of one of the members.
The Washingtonians grew rapidly. With the exception of Mitchell, who owned his own tailoring business, all of the founders were working men–two blacksmiths, a carpenter, a coach-maker and silver-plater. Members were required to participate in recruitment, and they found many prospects among their heavy drinking friends. Anyone could join by signing the pledge, and a significant number were not drunks. They joined out of sympathy for the cause and because the meetings were so interesting. Mitchell suggested that the way to keep the meetings lively was for members to stand and describe their problem with alcohol. Mitchell was the first to tell his story, and soon several men were sharing at every meeting. John Zug, an early historian of the movement, described the meetings there:
...[A]fter their regular business is transacted, the several members rise promiscuously and state their temperance experience for each other’s warning, instruction and encouragement....To hear the tales of degradation, woe, and crime, which some describe as the condition to which they had reduced themselves by strong drink, is enough to melt the heart of stone.
When the meetings grew too large to be held in homes, the Washingtonians held their first public meeting in the Masonic Hall on Nov. 19. Zug estimated that in just eight months the Washingtonians had recruited 300 members, including as many as 200 “reformed drunkards.” A subscription campaign was launched to raise funds for the construction of a permanent home for the movement.14
After their overwhelming reception in New York, Hawkins and his comrades returned to Baltimore to join a celebration of the first anniversary of the founding of the Washingtonians. More than 6,000 men paraded down crowded streets, marching to the music of brass bands under temperance banners that in some cases had been sewed by the wives of reformed men. Hawkins, who estimated that half of the marchers had quit drinking in the past year, described what they day had meant to them and their families. After years of suffering poverty and shame, they had emerged from their garrets to conquer the city:
....[W]here were our wives on that occasion? at home, shut up with hungry children in rags, as a year ago? No, no! but in carriages, riding round the streets to see their sober husbands! My family were in a hack, and I carried apples, cakes, &c. to them, and my wife said “How happy all look; why, husband, there is ------- all dressed up; and only think, I saw old ------- in the procession, as happy and smart as any of them”.... We cut down the rum tree that day in Baltimore, under ground....roots and all!
Hawkins was not home for long. Washingtonian delegates were carrying the news about their movement to major cities around the country, and he headed to Boston.15
Hawkins and another Washingtonian, William E. Wright, encountered packed houses everywhere. They spoke at the Odeon, on Thursday, April 15, where 82 signed the pledge; 279 signed on Friday, 141 on Saturday and 429 on Sunday. The biggest meeting yet was held at Faneuil Hall, which was known as the Cradle of Liberty for the role it had played in rallying Bostonians during the American Revolution. The circumstances of the meeting were not ideal. President William Henry Harrison had died in office two weeks earlier, and the hall was hung with black bunting. The city had also been hit by a storm that brought heavy rain. But the large hall was full, men occupying the seats on the main floor and women in the galleries along the side walls and rear of the room.
Hawkins’ speech shared nothing of the gloom and melancholy of his surroundings. He began by confessing his amazement to find himself on such a famous stage. “When I compare the past with the present, my days of intemperance with my present peace and sobriety, my past degradation with my present position in this hall, the Cradle of Liberty–I am overwhelmed,” he said. “It seems to me holy ground.” At the same time, it was the perfect place to make a second declaration of independence:
Drunkard! Come up here; you can reform;—take the pledge in the Cradle of Liberty and be free! Delay not. I met a gentleman this morning who reformed four weeks ago, rejoicing in his reformation. He brought a man with him who took the pledge, and this man has already brought two others. This is the way we do the business up in Baltimore; we reformed drunkards are a Committee of the Whole on the State of the Union! are all missionaries–don’t slight the drunkard, but love him. No; we nurse him as the mother does her infant learning to walk. We go right up to him and say, How do you do? and he remembers our kindness.
Hawkins told the story of one Baltimore drunk–“a real wharf rat” whose family was starving, their clothes “not fit for paper rags.” The Washingtonians persuaded his brother to lend him the money to buy a horse and cart. “He has paid for his horse and cart, his family and himself are well clothed, cellar full of wood, a barrel of flour, and he has become a Christian gentleman. All this in one short year,” Hawkins said.16
The Washingtonians were not a new class of philanthropists. They saw the problem through the eyes of drunks. They knew all the tricks of the “grog-sellers,” who put out free plates of salted fish, cheese, herrings and crackers. “Well the stuff is very apt to stick in the throat, so it is washed down, and then the breath must be changed, and a little more fish or cheese is taken, and that must be washed out of the throat; and so it goes,” Hawkins said. The tavern keeper is not the only one who is guilty of mistreating the drunk. When a man finally develops an unquenchable thirst for alcohol, he finds himself an outcast:
This making the drunkard by a thousand temptations and inducements, and then shutting him up in prison, is a cruel and horrible business. You make the drunkard, and then let him come into your house, and you turn him out; let him come to the church, and you turn him out; friends cast him off; the grog-seller turns him out when his money is gone, or midnight comes. When he serves his time out in the prison, he is turned out with the threat of a flogging if he is ever caught again; and yet you keep open the place where he is entangled and destroyed.
The Washingtonians were able to help drunks because they knew their problems and because they continued to need help themselves. “....I tell you that we keep close watch of each other,” Hawkins said. At times, this meant being in smelling distance. “We are very loving, and we take care to get along-side the mouth and know what has been going on there.”17
The Washingtonians were missionaries to the wider world as well. They were fully committed to the philosophy of teetotalism. They believed that it was alcohol that had made them drunks and that abstinence was the only way to avoid the danger of alcoholism. “Is there a moderate drinker who says he can use ‘a little,’ or ‘much’ and ‘quit when he pleases,’” Hawkins asked.
I tell him from experience he can’t do it. Well, he can if he will, but HE WON’T WILL! that is the difficulty, and there is the fatal mistake. Does he want to know whether he can? I ask him to go without his accustomed morning bitters or his eleven-o’clock, tomorrow, and he will find how he loves it! We have come up out of the gutter, to tell him how much he loves it, and how he can escape.
Hawkins warned against “the pretty drink, the genteel and the fashionable.” Soon enough the moderate drinker is lost. Hawkins spoke for over an hour, his powerful voice reaching every corner of the great hall. He then introduced a local man named Johnson, a shoemaker who had only recently quit drinking. Johnson was speaking publicly for the first time and was apparently too nervous to speak for more than a few minutes. Applause filled the hall. “Everybody manifested joy at his perfect emancipation from the slavery of intemperance, and wished him ‘God speed,’” a reporter for the Mercantile Journal wrote. With three cheers, the meeting was adjourned, and “pledges were then taken in great numbers.”18
Hawkins and his partner delivered dozens of speeches in all kinds of venues during their two-week visit. One Sunday Hawkins addressed 300 men in the state prison. in Charlestown. “He was listened to with closest attention when he described what he knew of the evils of intemperance, of the terrible effects it had produced upon himself and his family,” a reporter wrote. “....[H]e showed that the drunkard, although by many regarded as incorrigible, and treated as an outcast from society, can be reformed, and become a respectable and useful member of society.”
Those convicts seemed to feel the force of this language; this appeal to their feelings, to their better nature, was not in vain. All of them seemed to regard him as a friend, as a monitor, who came among them to fortify their souls against crimes; and many of them wept, yes, those rough-looking despised men, wept like children, and those were precious tears.
A week later Hawkins started for home, speaking and collecting pledges as he went: 318 in Worcester, Massachusetts; 520 in Norwich, Connecticut; 315 in Paterson, New Jersey. On the dock in Philadelphia, preparing to board a boat to Baltimore, Hawkins was arrested for an old bar bill. But he paid his tab and was soon on his way. The money probably came from donations that were collected at the meetings he addressed. Hawkins never returned to his trade as a hatter. He supported himself and his family with speaking fees.19
It seemed that nothing could stop the headlong progress of the Washingtonians. In Baltimore, membership nearly doubled to more than 2,200 in 1841, leading to the formation of new weekly meetings around the city and plans to construct a central meeting place that would hold 2,500 people. The growth of the Washingtonians was even more explosive in New York, the largest city in the nation. “The reformed drunkards are becoming missionaries–scouring the streets and lanes, penetrating the haunts of vice, and by encouraging words and kindness are pressing persuasion, leading the poor, wretched inebriate up to the pledge,” the New York Herald reported in August 1841. Six months after the Greene Street meeting, there were 50 Washingtonian societies meeting around the city. Washingtonians claimed as many as 20,000 members. A number of prominent merchants, professionals and master craftsmen who owned their own shops helped lead the New York societies, but the majority of members were workers. Bakers, butchers, hatters, printers and shipwrights established their own societies, helping make New York the “banner city” of Washingtonianism.20
Baltimore, New York and Boston became hubs, sending delegates to surrounding communities. The first society in Philadelphia was established by some of the men who were on their way home to Baltimore after their speaking engagements in New York. The Washington Total Abstinence Society of Boston sent delegates to 160 towns in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island. William Wright, who had accompanied Hawkins to New York and Boston, toured upstate New York as far west as Buffalo in the summer of 1841 and later made several trips to Virginia. By early 1842, there were Washingtonian societies in Chicago, New Orleans, and Mobile, Alabama. New hubs emerged in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati and St. Louis.
The remarkable growth of Washingtonianism is partly explained by the enthusiasm of men whose lives had been saved by sobriety. A single delegate could work miracles. During a four-month tour of Georgia, one man visited 13 counties, delivered 142 addresses and organized 31 societies. Among the 6,300 who signed the pledge, there were 600 reformed drunkards, 2,000 moderate drinkers, and 1,600 “temperate men,and 2,000 women These figures are only suggestive. How were “drunkards” distinguished from moderate drinkers or “temperate” men? All we can say with certainty is that the country was in a temperance fever and many of those who were running a temperature were alcoholics who believed for a time that they had a real chance for sobriety.
The women were a surprise. Women embraced the Washingtonian movement so strongly that they were often a majority of the audience at the meetings where reformed men spoke about their experience as drunks. They began to organize their own groups, often within days of the arrival of the Washingtonians. They were known collectively as Martha Washington societies, and the members called themselves Marthas. There was a precedent for female participation in the temperance movement, but like temperance men of the period they were mostly middle and upper class women. The Marthas were from the working and lower middle classes. Most were the mothers, wives and daughters of alcoholics who had intimate knowledge of the devastation that drinking could cause.. They could be seen at Washingtonian meetings urging their men to sign the pledge. Hawkins helped start a Martha Washington society during his trip to Boston and another in Paterson on his way home to Baltimore. By 1843, there were thousands of Marthas around the country.
Like the Washingtonians, the Marthas attempted to relieve the suffering of alcoholics and their families. Their groups met as often as every week, sewing and repairing clothing that they distributed to people, many of whom were almost naked. They also helped with furniture, bedding and even cash. The Marthas were particularly interested in helping women alcoholics. While men were far more likely to be drunks, more than 200 women were arrested for drunkenness in New York City every week. The Lady Mount Vernon Temperance Benevolent Society explained how it tried to help them:
Instead of reproaching the fallen of our sex with harsh rebukes, we offer the friendship and confidence of our ladies. After signing the pledge, they are visited and their immediate wants supplied, as far as possible, and employment secured for them. Thus, real and efficient sympathy give them a motive for good action and rarely do they disappoint us.
Marthas sometimes took their lives in their hands trying to help. In Utica, New York, they knocked on a door that the neighbors were too frightened to try and discovered a drunken woman whose eyes were swollen shut from a beating administered by her inebriated husband. The woman promised to renew her broken pledge, and her husband signed, too. She may soon have been making calls herself. Martha Washington societies welcomed reformed drunks as members, including “inveterate cases.” Membership was no guarantee that a woman would stay sober, but the support of her fellow Marthas undoubtedly improved her chances.21
Catholics also joined the Washingtonians. This was not a small matter. The many Protestant sects in the United States didn’t agree on much, but they all feared the Catholic Church. Rhode Island and Pennsylvania had been the only colonies that allowed Catholics to vote, and restrictions on the civil liberties of Catholics and Jews remained on the books as late as 1820. Fear of Catholics grew as they began to arrive in large numbers from Ireland and Germany in the 1820s and 1830s. In 1834, a mob burned a Catholic convent to the ground in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Anti-Catholic literature proliferated, including the notorious Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery of Montreal, which accused priests and nuns of sexual perversion. Lecturers carried the warning of the Catholic threat to every village, and attacks on Catholic churches became so frequent that insurers refused to issue policies for any buildings that were not constructed of brick. Hatred for Catholics also grew among white, native-born working men who found themselves competing for jobs with the foreigners. The competition only became more intense during the depression of 1837.
The leaders of the temperance movement before 1840 were predominantly Protestant ministers who naturally shared the anti-Catholicism of their countrymen. But they were ready to embrace Catholics who signed the abstinence pledge. They were thrilled by news of the great temperance movement that was then sweeping Ireland under the direction of a Capuchin priest from Cork, the Rev. Theobald Matthew. Matthew began his crusade by founding the Cork Total Abstinence Society in 1838. He was soon conducting mass meetings and collecting pledges by the thousands–25,000 in Cork alone in just three months; the number reached 130,000 just a few months later. Father Matthew’s influence soon became apparent on the other side of the Atlantic. The Rev. John Marsh, the secretary of the American Temperance Union reported in November 1839 that 5,000 to 10,000 Irish immigrants had taken the total abstinence pledge.
The Washingtonians welcomed Catholics as they welcomed any man who wanted to quit drinking. It was a part of their creed that membership was open to adherentsof any religion and no religion. While the overwhelming majority of Washingtonians were practicing Christians, they feared that evangelicals proselytizing for a variety of denominations would attempt to take over their movement, creating dissension and diverting their efforts to save drunks. For this reason, the Baltimore Washingtonians at first barred prayers from their meetings. This made them a target for criticism by the older temperance leaders as well as a growing nativist movement. In 1841, when the Washingtonians were drawing large crowds in Baltimore, a correspondent for the New York Herald criticized them for allowing a Philadelphia priest to address a meeting of 2,000. The reporter also referred scornfully to the audience as “including darkeys, women and children.” The reference to African Americans is significant because blacks outside the slave states were active in the temperance movement and apparently organized their own Washingtonian groups, although little is known about them.22
According to his son’s biography, Hawkins was always ready to address a Catholic audience. During a tour of the South, he was approached by a priest in Savannah, Georgia, who told him that drunkenness was a big problem for his parishioners and urged him to speak at his church. It was a large church, and Hawkins was surprised to find that every seat was filled. The sexton had placed a table below the altar. When the priest asked why, he replied, “And sure, sir, it is for the spaker (sic) to stand upon.” The priest ordered the table removed and told Hawkins to speak from in front of the altar where he himself normally stood. The priest sat in the first pew and joined many in the audience in weeping as Hawkins described the sad fate of the alcoholic and his family. He jumped to his feet as soon as Hawkins had finished. “Fasten every door of the church,” he ordered. “Let not a man or a woman leave the house until you have all signed the pledge!”23
In the winter of 1842, it appeared that the Washingtonians had permanently changed the nation. Temperance leaders estimated that a half million people had signed the pledge during the preceding 12 months and that whiskey consumption had been cut in half. Many bars had closed: in Lynn, Massachusetts, only three of the 18 that had existed six months earlier were still operating; in Portland, Maine, only 24 of 130. Bars were closing even in neighborhoods that had once been notorious for drunkenness. “In one block, on Wednesday last, we counted “To Let” on eight rum-shops, hardly a stone’s-throw from the Five Points,” a Washingtonian newspaper in New York City reported. Many hard-pressed retailers attempted to catch the prevailing wind by banning liquor from their premises. In Elyria, Ohio, a General Griffith, the largest distiller and vendor in the area, had signed the pledge with his family and held a teetotal dinner to celebrate the conversion of his inn into a temperance hotel.24
Elaborate celebrations of the success of Washingtonianism were held throughout the country on Feb. 22, 1843,Washington’s Birthday. The largest celebration occurred in New York City where the Washingtonians took over all four of the halls that had been built over one of the city’s largest public markets. Three thousand people thronged the doors, eventually making their way into an area the size of a modern football field. The space was so vast that speaking platform were erected at both ends of the building to ensure that most of the crowd could hear. Reformed drunks dominated the early part of the evening. Hawkins spoke, and so did the young man who had pleaded for his help at the Greene Street church a year earlier. During the first break in the program, the crowd descended on the hundreds of tables filled with food that lined the walls, washing everything down with 2,000 tumblers of clear cold water. The evening ended with a round of toasts that were responded to with music, instead of drink. A temperance glee club sang, and recently reformed firemen entertained with “appropriate and animated songs.” The entire audience joined in three temperance anthems before the evening ended.25
The Washingtonians celebrated in frontier towns as well as big cities. In Springfield, Illinois, a rapidly growing community of 1,500, the Washingtonian Temperance Society of Springfield invited State Representative Abraham Lincoln to deliver an address. Lincoln had moved to Springfield in 1837 when it became the state capitol and had begun to practice law. At six feet, four inches tall, the swarthy and beardless 28-year-old never failed to make an impression on those he met. He made friends easily, relying on a seemingly limitless supply of jokes and stories to smooth the way. He was already a leader of the Whig Party in the state legislature.
Lincoln seemed like a perfect choice to speak to the Washingtonians. He didn’t drink, and he fully supported the goal of temperance. “Whether or not the world would be vastly benefitted by a total and final banishment from it of all intoxicating drinks, seems to me not now to be an open question,” Lincoln told his Springfield neighbors. “Three-fourths of mankind confess the affirmative with their tongues, and I believe, all the rest acknowledge it in their hearts.” But Lincoln was not a prohibitionist. He was highly critical of the leaders of the temperance movement before the emergence of the Washingtonians. They assumed that drunks couldn’t be saved and consigned them to the devil, alienating potential supporters. “There is something so repugnant to humanity, so uncharitable, so cold-blooded and feelingless [sic], that it never did, nor ever can enlist the enthusiasm of a popular cause,” Lincoln said. He believed that helping drunks should be the main goal.26
One of the great advantages of the Washingtonians over the old temperance leaders was that they recognized the humanity in every drunk. “Those whom they desire to convince and persuade, are their old friends and companions,” Lincoln said. “They know that generally, they are kind, generous and charitable, even beyond the example of their more staid and sober neighbors.” In most respects, the men who become drunks are like other men, perhaps even a little better:
....I believe, if we take habitual drunks as a class, their heads and hearts will bear an advantageous comparison with those of any other class. There seems ever to have been a proneness in the brilliant, and the warm-blooded, to fall into this 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 dear relative, more promising in his youth than all of this fellows, who has fallen a sacrifice to his rapacity?
In Lincoln’s opinion, the main purpose for normal drinkers to take the pledge was to provide moral support for the newly sober man. “...[T]o 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 become ten or a hundred-fold stronger….requires a more powerful moral effort,” Lincoln said. His neighbors and relatives can help by showing his there is no necessity for drink. “When he casts his eyes around him, he should be able to see all that he respects, all that his admires, and all that he loves, kindly and anxiously pointing him onward; and none beckoning him back, to his former miserable ‘wallowing in the mire.’”27
Lincoln believed that the Washingtonians were succeeding not only because they were more sympathetic to the drunk but because they had found a way to appeal to the reason of men who appeared to have lost it forever. Convincing a drunk that you are his friend is the critical first step. “Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great high road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause,” Lincoln said. No one was better suited for this job than another drunk. Reformed drunks had many lessons to teach about how to rebuild one’s life. But their greatest gift was hope:
They teach hope to all–despair to none....And what is a matter of the most profound gratulation [sic], they, by experiment upon experiment, and example upon example, prove the maxim to be no less true in one case than in the other. On every hand we behold those who but yesterday were the chief sinners, now the chief apostles of the cause. Drunken devils are cast out by ones, by sevens, and by legions. And their unfortunate victims, like the poor possessed, who was redeemed from his long and lonely wanderings in the tombs, are publishing to the ends of the earth, how great things have been done for them.
Lincoln believed that Washingtonians had proved that anyone can get sober, although he would certainly have acknowledged that not all of them would stay sober.28
Lincoln hoped the Washingtonians would do more than save drunken lives. The conflict over slavery was beginning to erupt in acts of violence. In Illinois, an abolitionist editor had been murdered by a pro-slavery mob. Lincoln believed the solution was for his countrymen to adhere to what he described in another speech as “cold, calculating, unimpassioned” reason Temperance could help the nation subdue the growing passions over slavery:
With such an aid, its march cannot fail to be on and on, until every son on earth shall drink in the rich fruition the sorrow-quenching draughts of perfect liberty. Happy day, when all appetites controlled, all passions subdued, all manners subjected. Glorious consummation! Hail, fall of Fury! Reign of Reason, all hail!
But the Washingtonians were already encountering strong headwinds.29
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky on May 30, 1844, when Boston celebrated the third anniversary of the city’s first Washingtonian meetings. “It was a brilliant day, in the most beautiful of months,” John B. Gough, a reformed drunk, recalled. “The sun shone from a sky of cloudless azure, and the young May flowers rejoiced in his beams; the river sparkled as it flowed along, bearing on its broad bosom majestic barques decorated from trucks to main-chains with gay flags and streamers.” Boston was a thriving mercantile port and the state capital, but all private and government business had been adjourned, allowing thousands to converge on the route of a grand parade. Under colorful banners and strings of uncorked bottles hung upside down, the Boston Brigade Band led the parade playing “triumphant music.” It was followed by the Washington Light Infantry and then a four-horse carriage bearing Governor George Briggs and William K. Mitchell, who had helped launch the Washingtonians. Then came many members of local temperance societies, who formed a “long and imposing procession.” If any excitement was lost, it rekindled at the appearance of a corps of marching children.. “Some were there who had once known the misery of having a drunken parent; who had long been strangers to the kind word and approving smile,” Gough said. “....[H]appily the little things trooped on, waving….banners, and shouting for very joy.” The marchers finally reached Boston Common where a huge crowd was waiting to hear the governor and other dignitaries extol the rapid growth of the temperance movement.30
Appearances were deceiving. Riding at the front of the parade with Governor Briggs and Mitchell was the Rev. John Marsh, the secretary of the nation’s leading temperance organization, the American Temperance Union. Marsh had been a strong supporter of the Washingtonians in the beginning. They had given a lift to the temperance movement at a critical moment. But he saw troubling signs of decline. Fewer people were attending Washingtonian meetings, and the number of bars was rising again. The Journal of the American Temperance Union said that the public was growing bored listening to drunks tell their life stories. The Washingtonian “experience” meetings had produced “a new and most important era in the temperance reformation.”
There has been nothing like it. But like everything else, it has its day; and, when repeated and long continued, becomes stale and wearisome. In spite of various characters introduced, there is a sameness in the tale, for every drunkard’s life is in its leading features the same....
Six months later, a Cincinnati minister confirmed his view. “....[T]hough the Washingtonians have endured, and worked well, their thunder is worn out,” he said.31
Marsh and other ministers were also unhappy about signs of religious indifference among the Washingtonians. In 1843, during a Washingtonian meeting in Newark, a Rev. Scott complained about the Washingtonians holding meetings on Sundays. A Washingtonian newspaper, The Crystal Fount and Rechabite Recorder, reported that this irritated some members of his audience, and the minister was chastised by the next speaker. “Mr. Segue, of Morris County....gave us a thorough-going Washingtonian address, in which he gave [Scott] two or three severe, but at the same time very polite ‘raps on the knuckles,’” it said. The newspaper’s editor explained that while the Washingtonians wanted to work with ministers, they feared that religion could be an obstacle to getting men sober:
For the propagation of the temperance cause we wish to meet on common ground, but if we agree to unite with temperance anything which should be kept separate, we must fail in accomplishing the object we have in view. Our object is to reform the inebriate, and if the infidel or the skeptic will unite with us effecting his redemption from rum drinking, we give them the right hand of fellowship.
The Washingtonians concerned themselves with saving lives, not saving souls. Therefore the Sunday meetings would continue. “We believe it is ‘lawful to do good on Sabbath Day,’ and as our Sabbath evening meeting are eminently calculated ‘to do good,’ they will most assuredly be continued,” the editor wrote.32
The opinions of the Washingtonians were becoming irrelevant. Temperance leaders were preparing to move forward without them. As attendance at Washingtonian meetings continued to decline, groups began to close. “Where are all the Washingtonian societies, which sprang up in a night? Dead or breathing their last!” the American Temperance Union Journal wrote just five months after the huge Boston demonstration. But the temperance movement would live on, it insisted.
Is not this evidence of a retrograde feeling in the temperance community? We say, No. Amid all these declines and changes and deaths, the temperance cause has moved onward. Each new organization has given it a new impulse for the time, and when it has accomplished its work, it has given way to something more acceptable to the community and perhaps more efficient.
The Journal was right. The temperance movement’s first major victories were just around the corner. In 1851, Maine approved the first statewide ban on the sale of alcohol; 12 more states and two Canadian provinces soon followed. Despite the boasts of the Washingtonians, moral suasion was not the wave of the future.34
The Washingtonians were probably doomed from the beginning. The explosion of popularity that greeted their arrival was both a blessing and a curse. It filled their meetings with eager recruits, but the overwhelming majority of men who signed the pledge did not have a deep personal interest in sobriety. They signed because they were moved by the spectacle of alcoholics reclaiming their lives; because they thought it would be good for the country and might improve the quality of their lives. Some signed because everyone else was signing, and they wanted to share the excitement. But only a small minority of the signers were people who had a serious problem with alcohol.
There are no precise numbers. John Marsh estimated that four million people signed the pledge during the 1840s, including a half-million hard drinkers and a 100,000 “sots.” A modern student of the Washingtonians believes these that fewer than 150,000 heavy drinkers joined the movement. In any case, the reformed drunks constituted a small minority of the people who took the pledge. They made up a larger percentage of the membership of the Washingtonian groups, but they probably weren’t a majority. As a result, a large number of Washingtonians were never more than fair-weather friends who quickly lost interest in the organization.35
When the non-alcoholics deserted, the Washingtonian movement was left in the hands of the reformed men. They did not lose interest in the “drunkalogues” that were spoken at meetings. The many similarities in the life histories of alcoholics was actually a source of strength for the recovering drunks, encouraging them to see themselves as part of a larger group with a responsibility to support men who were struggling and to reach out to alcoholics who were still drinking. But they faced temptation every day. There were 3,000 bars in New York City. Temperance leaders were so alarmed by the number of new bars opening in Boston that they held a series of meetings in late 1842 and early 1843 to study the problem. The only explanation appeared to be that men were beginning to break their pledges. “Backsliding” was a growing threat.
Politics made matters worse. Politicians in the early American republic were novices in the democratic arts, but it didn’t take them long to recognize that the shortest route to a man’s vote was through a shot glass. The Founding Fathers had been the first to “treat” their constituents to hard cider or whiskey. The advent of universal male suffrage propelled election-related drinking to new heights. “In many counties the candidates would hire all the groceries in the county seats and other considerable villages, where the people could get liquor without cost for several weeks before election,” a former governor of Illinois recalled. “....[L]ong before night a large portion of the voters would be drunk and staggering about town, cursing, swearing, halloing, yelling, huzzaing for their favorite candidates.” The importance of alcohol was clear on the day that Andrew Jackson was inaugurated in 1829. The rowdiness of his supporters at a reception threatened serious damage to the White House until the punch bowl was carried onto the lawn, drawing the crowd with it.36
The excesses of election year drinking were no laughing matter for the Washingtonians, especially the members who were newly sober alcoholics. It was hard enough to remain abstinent in normal times. The elections of the time were tremendously exciting events. “The minds of all men seem filled with but one idea–‘How our party goes,’ and who will be elected,” The Crystal Fount reported during the final days of the 1844 presidential campaign. “Such excitement we have seldom witnessed–so much singing, speaking, aye, and drinking and carousing, fighting and quarreling. Night and day have both been made hideous by the men and boys of both parties.” The problem was exacerbated by the fact that political meetings were “almost invariably” held in taverns, which also served as polling places. The editor of The Crystal Fount believed that the election had undone several years of hard work:
The evil done to the cause of temperance, during the past few months, is almost incalculable....Men have broken their pledge in this city, who have held prominent stations in the temperance cause, and who have defied the tempter for two or three years, and boasted that they knew the blessing of temperance too well to break the pledge; yet carried away by excitement, and mingling in the company of rum-drinkers, and frequenting taverns, they have fallen lamentably low.
He insisted he was not discouraged. “Our army is great and vast compared with the few noble souls who began the work about four years since,” he said. Even then, the army was melting away.37
A strong organization might have enabled the Washingtonians to survive the loss of most of its members, but it was a grassroots movement consisting of hundreds of independent groups. , It appears that the Washingtonians never thought theyneededa national organization. The local groups were marked by an extreme democracy. Officers were elected every quarter. As a result, there were no generally accepted rules or guidelines to direct groups whose members included both former drunks and lifelong teetotalers, workers and paragons of the middle class. They were vulnerable to factionalism and internal disputes.
By 1846, Americans had lost their zeal to save the alcoholic. Even the Marthas withdrew from their charity work. Virginia Allen, a newspaper editor, lamented the loss. In 1846, she reported that 200 New York women had been arrested for drunkenness in a single week.
Where are our Martha Washingtonians? Where those who once waited not for such objects to meet their sight, but rather sought them out and encouraged them in the pure joys of the paths of Temperance? Alas, alas, we are becoming selfish and care no more for the wretched beings whom we once delighted to rescue from misery and starvation.
The revolution was over.38
Yet the efforts of the Washingtonians were not wasted. It is unreasonable to expect them to have permanently erased the stigma of alcoholism. They did change the lives of of thousands of drunks, at least briefly. According to a contemporary and probably exaggerated estimate, the Washingtonians included half a million “intemperate” drinkers and 100,000 “drunkards.” The closing of their meetings was a serious blow because it deprived them of a regular opportunity to meet with other alcoholics, offering support to the wavering and receiving it themselves in times of need. A majority, perhaps the overwhelming majority, began drinking again. But there were men and women who remained abstinent, drawing strength wherever they could find it–from active participation in the temperance movement, religion, family, friends and sheer willpower.
The Washingtonians had proved that many drunks wanted to get sober, but they had also learned a lesson that it is easier to get sober than to stay sober. The testimonials of reformed men speaking at meetings had inspired many drunks to try. They had signed the pledge with every intention of quitting forever. But addiction is powerful. The drunks needed a source of strength to resist temptation. The Seneca and other Iroquois tribes had found that power in a new religion. As the Good Word won the support of a growing number of Iroquois, it created an environment in which it was easier to resist the temptation to drink and to raise children who never acquired the habit. The former Washingtonians were not entirely without alternatives. Many of them joined a new organization, the Sons of Temperance. All of the founders were working men. Brothers John and Isaac Oliver were printers who were prospering on business generated by the Washingtonian phenomenon, producing sheet music, handbills and their own newspaper, the New York Organ. The Olivers started the Sons of Temperance in an effort to stem backsliding by providing material incentives for membership. In return for a payment of five cents in weekly dues, the Sons provided medical and burial insurance for the members and their wives.
Like the Freemasons and other fraternal organizations, the Sons of Temperance developed secret rituals. They initiated members in special ceremonies; used codes and symbols, and honored members with special titles and other marks of distinction. Such affectations were necessary to compete with other fraternal organizations, but they also made it easier for drunks to seek help. The Washingtonians admitted their alcoholism in public meetings, but membership in the Sons of Temperance was secret. So a drunk could join without revealing to the world that he had a problem. Secrecy also protected the Sons from the bad publicity that visited the Washingtonians whenever one of their members got drunk. The rituals strengthened the social bond between the Sons, who were expected to help brothers who had started drinking again.
The Sons of Temperance grew rapidly, enrolling 221,578 members in chapters around the nation in just six years. As in the case of the Washingtonians, most of these men were not alcoholics. But probably thousands of drunks found refuge there or in the other fraternal temperance groups that were active at the time--the Rechabites, the Order of Good Samaritans and the Knights of the Good Templars.
Members of the Samaritans were almost all reformed drunks. The Samaritans and their female auxiliary, the Daughters of Samaria, banned any discussion of political issues, including prohibition, and became the first group of reformed drinkers to welcome all alcoholics, including African Americans. Notwithstanding their open door policy, the membership of the Samaritans peaked at 14,000.
The Independent Order of Good Templars, which was founded in 1851, was by far the largest of the fraternal temperance societies. Its first great leader was an ex-drunk, Nathaniel Curtis, a middle-aged baker from upstate New York. Curtis had stopped drinking during the Washingtonian movement and then joined the Sons of Temperance. But he disliked the requirement that members of the Sons pay for sickness and burial insurance because it excluded people who couldn’t afford the dues. He also convinced the Templars to welcome women as members. As a result, the Templars grew rapidly by recruiting groups that lacked social standing, including women, manual labors, and young people.
The Templars actively recruited reformed drunks, but their ambition was larger. They wanted to help all their members remain abstinent from alcohol and strongly supported legal prohibition. The focus of their meetings was on temperance education, and members were required to follow a course of study on the subject and to pass an exam testing their knowledge. It does not appear that reformed drunks shared their stories during the meetings. Nevertheless, the Templars helped many of them. In 1885, a former leader of the Templars estimated that 400,000 of the five million members who had joined since the group’s founding had been “hard drinkers.” As many as half of the “hard drinkers” were reported to have stayed sober. .
One Washingtonian never surrendered. Even as his comrades followed new paths, John Hawkins followed the old road, carrying the promise of recovery to alcoholics. The life of a Washingtonian lecturer was never easy. Travel often involved great hardship. There were no railroads in the 1840s. People traveled on sailing ships, steamboats, canal boats, in carriages and on horseback, and passage was frequently delayed by bad weather and impassable roads. Hawkins was willing to speak anywhere there was at least a promise that his expenses would be covered. These contracts were not always honored. In one town, news of a poor collection following one of Hawkins’ speeches prompted the local saloon keepers to send him some money. Hawkins smiled at the joke and kept the change. At the time, he was speaking almost every day and traveling an average of 10,000 miles a year.39
Hawkins did more than give speeches. He met with alcoholics wherever he could find them, which was often in jails. Since colonial times, local communities had responded to the problem of drunkenness with punishment. During the eighteenth century, Massachusetts fined drunks five shilling, and those who were unable to pay were confined in the stocks for three hours. Whipping was also used for minor crimes. These punishments were not intended to reform the offenders but to maintain public order. With the rise of humanitarianism in the early 19th century, the focus of criminal justice became reformation. But the change did not benefit drunks, who were arrested repeatedly and sent to jail.
During a tour of the south in the winter of 1844, the mayor of Charleston, S.C., asked Hawkins to visit the court where the drunks who had been arrested the night before were processed. First offenders and others who were “not so bad” were released after signing the pledge. “The others, the worst, are sent to the poorhouse, a kind of workhouse and prison,” Hawkins wrote his son. “I visit them every day, talk to them, encourage them....” In visiting the prison one day, Hawkins met a young man who had been confined for more than 50 days, living on bread and water in a cold, dirty cell.
Hawkins received a constant stream of requests for help from the relatives of alcoholics. It was no different in Charleston. “I have also visited with a great many families who have sent for me, to talk to the father, husband, brother, or son, as the case may be and with few exceptions, I have been successful,” he told his son.40
To modern ears, Hawkins can sound foolish, even messianic. How could he claim success after talking with a drunk for only a few minutes? He probably did not believe he had permanently changed the men whose lives he touched. Because he was a drunk himself, he knew the power of addiction. He was all too aware of the danger of relapse, and he became a strong supporter of prohibition when it became clear that moral suasion could not keep men sober.
On the other hand, it is true that Hawkins and his fellow Washingtonians underestimated the difficulty of keeping men sober. They believed that alcohol was the drunk’s biggest problem, and that he would become like other men when he stopped drinking. This ignored the damage that had been done by years of abusing alcohol. Drunks were seriously flawed individuals who required help to conquer what Alcoholics Anonymous would later characterize as a three-fold disease—physical, mental and spiritual. Their only hope was the growth of institutions that could provide a solution to these long-term problems. Given enough time, the Washingtonians might have begun to provide the answers that alcoholics needed, but they were unable to sustain their movement.
Hawkins was naturally distressed by the signs of decline. Despite the success of his tours of the midwest and the south in 1845 and 1846, there was continued evidence of deterioration in the east. Even Massachusetts, a Washingtonian stronghold, was in danger. In January 1847, Hawkins wrote a letter to the editor of the Mercantile Journal, proposing the creation of a fund to hire a “suitable person who would be willing to devote his whole time in finding out and visiting the unfortunate drunkard and endeavor so to reform him that he may be kept out of the Police Court and House of Correction...and make him a useful citizen, by watching over him for good.” The suggestion that someone should be paid to help alcoholics was far-sighted, but it was also an acknowledgment that the popular support that had once lifted the alcoholic had disappeared.
Hawkins never stopped insisting on everyone’s duty to help the drunkard. He delivered another call to arms in March at what was probably the last Washingtonian convention in Massachusetts:
When I look at the nature of man, and consider the passions, like the flint and steel, ready to burst into flame at the slightest collision, I wonder that so many have been saved. I have now lived seven years a sober life, and enjoyed for seven years a sober sleep. There is nothing now to make me tremble. There is one sweet thought at morning and night, in summer and in winter, in sickness and in health, that my heart involuntarily and continually utters, and it is this, Thank God I am a sober man.” Let us go on, brethern, nor cease out labors, until the last drunkard is saved. Never give up a man while there is life; but struggle on, and lift him up again and yet again, nor relinquish your hold on him, until he is dead, dead, dead!41
In the winter of 1858, Hawkins toured Vermont, refusing to allow bad weather to prevent him from speaking on 107 days in succession. When he died that year, his son estimated that he had traveled over 200,000 miles, spoken at more than 5,400 meetings and addressed 1.5 million people.42
The Washingtonians deserve great credit for what they accomplished. They showed the country that drunks had not ceased to be human; that many desired sobriety, and that at least some could achieve it. This would inspire new efforts to help alcoholics in the years ahead. The long journey of John Hawkins was not in vain.
<NA> Chapter Two
1. William George Hawkins, The Life of John H.W. Hawkins (Boston: John P. Jewett, 1859), 71.
2. Rev. O.W. Morris to Rev. William G. Hawkins, Oct. 25, 1858, quoted in Hawkins, 72.
3. Hawkins, 73.
4. David Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971), 76.
5. Edwards quoted in Jed Dannenbaum, Drink and Disorder: Temperance Reform in Cincinnati from the Washingtonian Revival to the WCTU (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 38.
6. Hawkins, 4, 5-6.
7. Ibid, 26, 40.
8. Ibid, 40.
9. Ibid, 59.
10. Ibid, 92.
11. Ibid, 71, 92.
12. Ibid, 92-93.
13. David Harrisson, Jr. A Voice from the Washingtonian Home (Boston: Redding & Co., 1860), 47.
14. John Zug to Editor, Journal of the American Temperance Union, Dec. 12, 1840, quoted in Hawkins, footnote, 67-68.
15. Hawkins, 86.
16. Ibid, 84-85.
17. Ibid, 85, 87.
18. Ibid, 86, 89.
19. Ibid, 95-96.
20. Leonard U. Blumberg and William L. Pittman, Beware the First Drink! The Washington Temperance Movement and Alcoholics Anonymous (Seattle, Washington: Glen Abby Books, 1991), 76; Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 307.
21. Ruth M. Alexander, “We Are Engaged as a Band of Sisters”: Class and Domesticity in the Washingtonian Temperance Movement, 1840-1850, Journal of American History, v. 75, no. 3 (Dec. 1988), 771.
22. Blumberg, 145.
23. Hawkins, 301.
24. Ibid, 197.
25. Ibid, 189.
26. Abraham Lincoln, “An Address Deliver before the Springfield Washington Temperance Society, on the 22nd of February, 1842,” Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953), v. 1, pp. 275, 276-277.
27. Ibid, 273-274, 277, 278.
28. Ibid, 273, 276.
29. Ibid, 278-279.
30. John B. Gough, Autobiography and Personal Recollections of John B. Gough, with 26 Years’ Experience as a Public Speaker (Springfield, Mass.: Bill, Nichols & Co, 1870), 175, 179.
31. Journal of the American Temperance Union, v. 6 (Oct. 1842), 154; John Marsh, Temperance Recollections: Labors Defeats, Triumphs; An Autobiography (New York: Charles Scribner, 1866), 128.
32. The Crystal Fount and Rechabite Recorder, v. 2, no. 2 (Sept. 23, 1843), 26-27.
34. Journal of the American Temperance Union, “Temperance Changes,” v. 8 (Oct. 1844), 154.
35. John Marsh quoted in Milton A. Maxwell, “ The Washingtonian Movement,”
Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, v. 11 (1950), 12.
36. Mark Edward Lender and James Kirby Martin, Drinking in America: A History (New York: Free Press, 1982; revised edition, 1987), 55.
37. The Crystal Fount and Rechabite Recorder, “Almost Over,” v. 3 (Nov. 2, 1844), 120.
38. Ruth M. Alexander, “We Are Engaged as a Band of Sisters”: Class and Domesticity in the Washingtonian Temperance Movement, 1840-1850, Journal of American History, v. 75, no. 3 (Dec. 1988), 780.
39. Hawkins, 272.
40. Ibid, 284, 293.
41. Ibid, 350-1.
42. Ibid, 400.
Table of Contents
Mountain of Bones
Out of the Gutter
Discovery of the Disease
Search for Higher Power
The Birth of Alcoholics Anonymous
Rise of the Sober Drunk
Boom and Bust
Waves of Sobriety