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WHEN Columbus first thought of a new world, he harbored a mighty conception; yet how few of the momentous consequences of its discovery entered the field of his vision.
Not twenty years have rolled away since the commencement of the Temperance reform, and we already behold an extent and results which overwhelm with astonishment, the original projectors. Positions, once advanced with suspicion, are now fixed and settled as some axiom in mathematics; ancient fountains of poverty, crime, and wretchedness, are dried up; customs and fashions, strong as the castes of India, are broken; every government of law, every association to do good, all that promotes man's blessedness for time and eternity, acknowledge its power; distant nations, as with the voice of many waters, tell of its doings; already it is taking its place, side by side, with those mighty instrumentalities, and invigorating and aiding those hallowed associations which are to make this world as the garden of God;—and it is only with strong emotions, that we can now behold any, bearing the names of philanthropists, patriots or Christians, impeding its march and bowing to the horrid idolatry.
It is often only a view of the struggles of the past, that will reconcile us to difficulties which yet remain. Such a change of habits and customs, such a denial of appetite, such a yielding of pleasure and interest as the Temperance Reform demanded, was not to be effected but through trials and conflicts. Like the pure stream breaking out afresh in the mountains and pressing
its way down through a thousand obstacles, until, spreading broad and deep, it bears blessings to many people, this work has been hedged up, and conflicted, and rebuked by the voice "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further;"-still, its course has been onward, deriving strength from every check, until now it moves forward, not without hindrance nor presenting an unruffled surface, but yet convincing the world that in this reform "all nations are to be blessed."
1. The first obstacle which the Temperance cause in America was called to encounter, was the want of information.
Every body knew that Intemperance was a great evil. Its cry had gone up to heaven, and thousands had asked cannot the plague be staid ? How long, O Lord! holy and true, must the curse be upon us? Yet few knew its secret causes, its widespread evils, the number of its victims, its enormous waste of property and life or its close connection with irreligion, pauperism, and crime. Every declaration of the lecturer on temperance was received with suspicion and distrust. His estimate of the quantity of ardent spirit consumed, and of the number of drunkards in a given population, though found to be far below the truth, was viewed as exaggerated, abusive, and slanderous. When the public were told that ardent spirit was a poison, it was received with ridicule; and when the lecturer affirmed that man could perform all the labors of the field as well without it as with it, every farmer in his hearing replied in his heart, “I wish he would try it." The estimates of the Hon. Judge Cranch, of Washington, and of the Hon. Benj. F. Butler, of Albany, by which it appeared that intemperance cost us, annually, more than a hundred million dollars, first brought the nation to its senses. But it has been chiefly owing to the indefatigable labors of the Executive Committee of the New York State Temperance Society, that light has been diffused in every dwelling. In a period of eight years, they have scattered over the land 14,241,710
publications, of a character to instruct every mind and affect every heart. God had said, 'Let there be light, and there was light.”
2. A second obstacle which the cause of temperance was called to encounter, was prejudice.
In this country, where every man is a freeman and his own master and responsible to none, and where every man has a high sense of his own purity and uprightness, there is probably a peculiar sensitiveness to all interference with private habits and domestic concerns. The idea of a moral reform and change of diet, to be imposed upon the community by an associated few, no better than others, was met with an indignant frown. All went to hear the temperance lecturer, prejudging his cause and determined not to be converted by his arguments, Throughout the community, there was a strong prejudice against cold water. It was viewed as good enough in its place for washing, cooking, carrying mills, navigation, cooling liquors, and putting out fires, but as unfit to be offered in hospitality or as an auxiliary in labor; yea, the public sentiment had condemned it as dangerous, unless tempered with wine or spirit. Men had made up their minds that spirituous liquor was good, at all times and under all circumstances; amid the heat of summer and the cold of winter; that wines and cordials were the highest luxuries of man; that cider and beer were the life of the farmer and laborer; and the man, who thought otherwise or practised otherwise, was either a niggard or destitute of common sense.
3. A third obstruction was appetite.
The Pilgrim Fathers that felled the forests and subdued the farms, and built the towns of this newly discovered continent, had no appetite formed for intoxicating drinks. They quenched their thirst at the pure fountains of nature. For the first quarter of a century, not a drunkard was known amongst them.
But the generation that was upon the stage when the tem
perance reform commenced, had grown up from infancy upon alcohol. They had sucked it in with their mother's milk. They had received it in their early childhood as the soother of all their pains. They had been taught to drink it with grace at their father's tables. In all the labors of life, on the land and the ocean, in summer and winter, seed time and harvest, it had formed part of their daily sustenance. Scarce a man or woman was to be found among the millions of our adult population who had not learned to love it; some to such a degree, that they would cut off a right hand to obtain it, sacrifice for it every domestic tie, squander away their last farthing, and give up to it body and soul;—and all were so biased as to be incapable of feeling that the temperance lecturer sought their good, and felt that he was only in his own spleneticism imposing upon them the austerities of the anchorite. We had in the land 300,000 common drunkards, a million hard drinkers, and six million moderate drinkers of adult age. The nation was mad upon its idols.
4. A fourth obstacle to the cause of temperance was found in the drinking usages of the community.
Multitudes who had no ruling appetite for strong drink, and who would have preferred not to take the alcoholic stimulant into their mouths, were compelled to do it, by the force of custom. Intemperance had entrenched itself in all the forms of society. In every business and on every occasion, men must treat and be treated; the young and the old, male and female, were compelled to drink or be rude; no excuse would be received, since it was an impeachment of the good quality of the liquor; and, thus compelled, one after another fell a prey to the destroyer. These usages sat as a nightmare upon the breast of the nation. Long after the judgments of men were convinced that the whole system of drinking was wrong, they continued to bow to the tyranny of fashion; and few, comparatively, at the present day, know through what reproach and
ridicule, what contempt and sneers, what loss of social intercourse, and business, and property, they finally broke their way into the liberty we now enjoy.
5. A fifth obstruction was pride.
In becoming a temperance man and signing the pledge, there was an acknowledgment that the course which had been pursued was wrong, foolish, and dangerous. It was not like retracing a road in which one had wandered by mistake, or escaping from an infected city, or fleeing from some foreign foe where there would have been no mortification of feeling, but it had respect to an indulgence of appetite, in which the man had appeared vain, perhaps ostentatious, as superior to his neighbors, and his family had made a sideboard display, peculiarly imposing. Wine on the table, had distinguished them from their poorer associates; and, when told of the claims of temperance, they said, "IT IS WELL ENOUGH FOR THE VULGAR," though, perhaps, horribly suffering in their own members from the bite of the serpent. For many a family, the pure cold water system was far too republican.
Men in the church were walking, as they supposed, in a course of purity and uprightness. Others without, who had abandoned the intoxicating cup, reproached them, when an occasion offered, for drinking the drink of the drunkard. Not quick to acknowledge their error, their pride was touched, and they set themselves obstinately against the cause, laboring, to their own unhappiness, to justify themselves from Scripture in the course they pursued.
The cause sought out the miserable inebriate. The wretch whom the dogs were directed to keep from their dwellings, whose home was the ditch and the hovel, was, upon his reform, to be taken by the hand, enrolled on the same list with others, placed at the same table, and made an inheritor of the same privileges nd blessings. It was often more than the pride of the heart could