Most Terribly Bereft
November 25, 1855 — Congregational Church, Council Bluffs IA
I would greatly have preferred, my friends, that the duty which devolves upon me tonight had fallen on some person other than myself. But as I have never yet, in a service of many years in the cause of humanity, shrank from duty, so I could not now, when called upon, refuse to act so far as in me lies. in an effort to awaken such an interest in the subject of temperance in our community as shall lead to an observance of the prohibitory liquor law, so wisely made by the last legislature of this state. You have many good laws upon your statute books, laws which go to protect the citizen in his property and secure him and his family from injury, laws which recognize the inviolability of the homestead and the right of the wife to a voice in its disposition. Yet among them all there is none fraught with so many blessings as the one to which I have already alluded. It is with feelings of great joy that I heard of the passage of this law, and still greater was my joy when the news reached me on my way hither last spring that it has been sanctioned at the polls. It was proof to me most conclusive that although Iowa be one of the youngest states in the Union, she is not behind any of here sister states in intelligence, in moral worth, and in a desire to promote the best and lasting interests of her whole people. She has taken the lad of all states bordering on the mighty Mississippi in placing a prohibitory liquor law among her enactments, and in doing so has furnished to her neighbors a noble example of what is due to the enlightened and progressive spirit of the age, and its constant tendency to ameliorate and improve the condition of society.
And when it was finally settled that the Maine Law was adopted, and that it was to go into effect in all parts of the state on the first day of July, I looked forward to that day with anxious pleasure. I hoped, fondly hoped, that it would witness a discontinuance of the traffic in our midst — that we should no longer see drunken men in our streets — no longer see men carried home senseless to agonize anew in the hearts of their sorrowing wives — no longer see men under the influence of intoxicating poison falling from their horses as they essayed to make their way homeward to their families — no longer hear of quarrels and fights originating in vile dram shops — no longer be compelled as we passed through the streets to witness the unmistakable evidence that the traffic was openly and boldly carried on in the face of day.
In these hopes I need not say how sadly I have been disappointed. The first of July approached and no notice whatever was taken of the fact that it was the ushering in of an era of no less importance to the welfare of the country and people than was that which emancipated our country from the thralldom of a foreign foe. Neither the press nor the pulpit of our city, so far as my observation extended, called public attention to an event so fraught with blessings to our people. No meeting of temperance men, much less of citizens, was held to commemorate the day and to devise ways and means to secure the observance of the law. Temperance men, if there were any among us, were content to fold their arms and do nothing.
And what is the consequence? You all know full well. Although we have a law which, if enforced, would shut up before the setting of another day’s sun every drunkery in Iowa, yet these dens of pollution continue on in their work of death, entirely unmolested. Men drink and become drunken as freely as ever; men sell the burning poison to their fellow without let or hindrance; and the fashionable saloon and low groggery stand open night and day, at once the source and the scene of open debauchery, of horrid blasphemies, and the most shameful degradation of the human intellect.
Surely, my friends, these things ought not so to be, and they must not, cannot, continue unless our citizens have become lost to all sense of shame, all regard for the safety and welfare of their own families, and the prosperity and morality of their chosen home. No good reason can be produced in favor of the continuance of this business, but abundant reasons may be given why it should be totally suppressed. Some of these reasons I will not proceed to give.
First then, the law has said, clearly and explicitly, that the traffic in intoxicating drinks as a beverage shall absolutely cease. The first section of the prohibitory law of Iowa, to which I have before alluded, and which is now in force, prohibits the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors in all their forms, and declares their manufacture and sale, except for mechanical, medicinal and sacramental purposes by persons specially appointed for that purpose, a nuisance to be immediately abated.
The fifth section prohibits the manufacture of such drinks under a one hundred dollars and thirty days’ imprisonment for the first offense, two hundred dollars and sixty days’ imprisonment for the second offense, and three hundred dollars and ninety days’ imprisonment for the third offense.
The sixty section prohibits their sale under a penalty of twenty dollars’ fine and ten days’ imprisonment for the first offense, fifty dollars’ fine and thirty days’ imprisonment for the second offense, and one hundred dollars’ fine and not less than three months’ nor over six months’ imprisonment for the third offense.
The seventh section imposes the same penalties upon persons who keep liquors on hand for purposes of being sold, and upon the actual seller.
The eighth section declares all buildings in which intoxicating liquors are manufactured and sold contrary to law public nuisances to be immediately abated.
The ninth section provides for searching for and seizing all liquors kept, or suspected of being kept for sale contrary to law, and the eleventh section for their destruction by the proper officers; finally, the twelfth section provides for the arrest of all persons found in a state of intoxication and imposes a fine upon them of ten dollars, and imprisonment for thirty days, unless some portion of the penalty shall be remitted by the committing magistrate.
Such are the provisions of this beneficent statute. It is now, I repeat, in force in this state, and it is obligatory upon every good citizen to see that it is obeyed. The depraved, the wicked, the avaricious, and the sordid will of course scout at and trample upon it. We have, alas! too many of this class in our midst — men who continue the business in despite of law, in despite of the evils it brings upon their fellows, in despite of the sorrows and sufferings of the victims of their unhallowed gains. But this law was made for offenders, and not for the peaceable and well-disposed, and upon its violators should its penalties be visited. Courts and grand juries, judges and mayors, sheriffs and justices of the peace, marshals and constable should each remember their oaths of office, and be vigilant in arresting offenders and vindicating the supremacy of the laws. And every good citizen should consider it his duty to aid them in all their efforts to accomplish so desirable an end.
The observance of the laws has, of late years, been urged most zealously upon the people, in quarters both high and low, and the most violent anathemas hurled upon those who have dared to think otherwise, who have dared to refuse obedience to statutes, no mater how repugnant to the moral sense of community. Let the same earnestness be now shown in urging the observance of this law, and we shall see not the panting fugitive from southern slavery delivered over to the hard service of his task master, but hundreds and thousands of our fellow beings emancipated from the slavery of intemperance, freed from the bondage of wicket passions, and restored to sobriety and respectable position in society. Let this law be enforced and we shall see the rum traffic overthrown and the grog ship, with its long train of attendant evils, closed forever, and thanksgivings will go up to heaven from thousands of hearts for the blessings poured out upon them in consequence of the enactment of the Maine Law.
But I hear it said by some that this law is unconstitutional! Ah well, I am not a lawyer, and you, my friends, are not the judges of the court by which such a question is to be decided. Nevertheless, I can well say with entire truth that the objection is one sure to be urged against every act the legislature may pass upon this, or almost any other subject, where it clashes with the private interests or selfish purposes of any considerable body of men. But is it not to be supposed that the members of the legislature knew what they were about when they passed this law? And is it likely they would have passed an invalid one? Did not the governor act intelligently when he signed the act? And can it be believed that he would have given his signature to a law opposed to the constitution? And is it at all reasonable that the people would have ratified, by so large a vote, the act thus passed and signed, had they not lived in its validity?
Against this mere pretense then, that the law is unconstitutional, I may well and confidently array the action of the legislature and the governor, and the approving voice of the people. I may also array against it the decisions of courts in other states where similar laws have been sustained, and I may finally array against it the uniform decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, that the states have undoubted power to pass laws for the suppression of intemperance without any violation of our national compact or the inherent rights of citizens under it. I may moreover say that this law, as well as all the others, is to e considered and treated as constitutional until it shall have been decided otherwise, just as every person is presumed to e innocent until he is proved guilty. This is, I believe, but the declaration of a well-known legal rule and upon it we should all act . . .
Indeed it is hard to imagine upon what pretext this law can be declared unconstitutional, so long as it has well-grounded precedents for all its leading provisions. If A build [sic] a pig sty contiguous to his neighbor B’s premises, and B is thereby offended, will not the law compel its removal? If decayed fruit, putrid meat, damaged flour, or other unwholesome article of diet, whereby the health of the people may be endangered, be offered for sale in the market, does the law hesitate to destroy them because they are the property of the owner? And shall not that poisonous drink, which is far more ruinous to health and destructive of life and happiness than are decayed fruit and damaged flour, also be destroyed? Do not our laws provide for the destruction of the instruments f the counterfeiter and gambler? And shall they not also provide for the destruction of that poison which in the hands of the rumseller makes men demons? Do they not authorize the destruction of animals which are deemed to be dangerous? And shall they not also declare contraband that which makes men worse than mad? Have they not said to the usurer that he shall take nothing by his unholy gains, buy forfeit even that which he has hazarded in his unlawful undertaking? And shall they throw around the unholy gains of the rumseller their protection? Nay more, has not Congress itself long since passed laws for the summary destruction of liquors imported among the Indians of our western frontier for sale or gift? And why many not the same principle e applied in the case of the white man as the red, so long as the effect produced is the same upon both?
Laws substantially the same as the Maine Law in principle, and may of them almost identically the same in detail, have been passed and are now in force in nearly every state in the Union, and the constitutionality of those acts has never been called in question. All such laws are constitutional enough, so long as they relate to made dogs, to gambling, counterfeiting, lotteries and obscene books and pictures, but the moment they are applied to the sale of liquors, which is worse than all the other evils combined, lo, the cry of unconstitutionality is raised by those whose appetites or whose pockets are affected, and demagogues who want to secure votes by the influence of the rum power echo and re-echo the cry. To one unlearned in the mysteries of the law all this sounds strange enough, for considering the purposes for which governments are instituted among men, and especially considering the purposes for which free institutions are established who can believe that the Constitution of either the states or of the United States can be successfully interposed to prevent the faithful execution of this righteous enactment? To assume such a position would be to cast the deepest reproach upon the illustrious me by whom our Constitution was framed — framed as they expressly declare to secure to all the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The traffic in strong drinks destroys life, overturns liberty and blasts every hope of happiness, both in this life and the life to come. Its toleration is, then, subversive of the principles and destructive of the objects for which our government was formed and the Constitution established.
The liquor traffic then should be stopped, because the law has decreed its suppression, by numerous and severe penalties. The violation of this law should be regarded in the same light as the violation of laws against theft, burglary, arson, murder, and other criminal offense. The thief dislikes the law against theft; the burglar who breaks into ad robs his neighbor’s dwelling loves not the law which punishes him for the act; the man who fires his neighbor’s barn or store despise the law which places him in the penitentiary; the man who sheds brother’s blood approves not of the law which hangs him by the neck till he is dead. So he who deals out to his fellows the burning poison, which fires the brain and nerves the hand to the commission of all these and other crimes, likes not the law which places him in prison, and pours out upon the ground the cause of all this crime and wrong. But as the likes, or dislikes, of the offender are not to be regarded in the execution of the law in the one case, so they are not in another. As it is binding upon men to see the laws against other crimes enforced, so they are morally bound to enforce the law against the traffic in strong drinks. And he who violates this law and they who abet such violation are as guilty before the law, and before God, as are they who commit and they who wink at or abet other crimes.
But there are other reasons, to my mind equally conclusive, why this business should not be tolerated. It is a grievous wrong which inflicts incalculable evil upon every community where it exists. It is a fruitful source of crime, and it pours out upon the country one continued stream of moral and social pollution and death.
Edward Everett, of Massachusetts, the distinguished scholar, statesman and philanthropist, thus sums up the aggregate of the evils which are brought upon the people of the United States by the traffic within a brief period of ten years. He says:
That within that period it had cost the nation a direct expenditure of six hundred millions of dollars.
It had cost the nation an indirect expenditure of six hundred millions more!
It had destroyed three hundred thousand lives! It had sent one hundred thousand children to the poor house!
It had consigned at least one hundred thousand persons to the jails and penitentiaries!
It had made at least one thousand maniacs!
It had instigated the commission of at least one thousand five hundred murders!
It had caused two thousand persons to commit suicide.
It had burned and otherwise destroyed property to the amount of at least ten millions of dollars!
It had made at least two hundred thousand widows and one million of orphan children!
And yet while each returning decade presents to us such appalling results – all the fruits of this single evil — the traffic in that which is the promoting cause, and source of it all has, until within a brief period, gone on unchecked, with the sanction of presidents and governors, of congressmen and legislators!
It is not, however, by looking at the fruits of intemperance in the aggregate that we can fully realize the awful consequences that it brings upon its victims. To do this fully we must trace the history of each one of these two hundred thousand widows and of each one of these one million of orphans. We must examine the details, too, of those fifteen hundred murders and enquire into the causes which made each of those one thousand maniacs and that sent those two thousand souls into eternity with the crime of self-murder recorded against them. Nay more, we must enter the poor house and listen to the tales of those one hundred thousand children, who have sought in public charity that protection which has been denied to them at the hand of parental affection! Having done this — having visited too our jails and state prisons, and listened to the histories of the one hundred thousand persons, confined there for crimes against society, we might then begin to comprehend, to some faint extent, the consequences flowing from the use of intoxicating drinks!
Then we might learn how intemperance has destroyed the humble — how it has stricken down and humbled the mighty — how it has overturned the proudest intellect and blotted out the clearest perceptions of duty — how it has withered beauty in its youth, manhood in its strength, old age in its wisdom and how it would, if it could, falsify the teachings of the Bible and drive the Deity from His throne!
Most eloquently has it been said by a legislator of one of the New England states, that if we attempt to paint a picture of the evils of intemperance we must put into it every conceivable ting that is terrible and revolting — paint health in ruins, hope destroyed, affections crushed, prayer silenced — paint the chosen seats of paternal care, filial piety, brotherly love, of maternal devotion, all, all vacant — paint all the crimes of every stature, of every hue, from murder standing aghast over a grave which it has no means to cover, down to the meanest deception still confident of success — paint hope a desert, and sham a tyrant, and poverty the legitimate child of vice in this community, and not its prolific mother — paint the dark valley of the shadow of death, peopled with human slaves — paint a landscape with trees whose frit is poison, and whose shade is death! With mountain torrents tributary to an ocean whose waves are fire, put up in the most distant background the vanishing vision of a blessed past and into the foreground the terrible certainty of an accursed future; paint prisons with doors that open only inward; people the same with men whose shattered forms are tenanted by tormented souls, with children upon whose lips no smile can play, and women into whose cheeks furrows have been burnt by tears, wrung by anguish from breaking hearts. Paint such a picture and when you are ready to show it, do no tin the rays of the heavenly sun, but illuminate it with the infernal fires and still you will be bound to say that your horrible picture falls short of the truth.
That these statistics and this picture are not overdrawn all observing and enquiring minds must admit. To doubt their truthfulness we must ignore all the evidences by which the human mind is swayed. We must doubt the evidence of personal observation and experience; deny the force of all human testimony; cast aside the most convincing array of facts gleaned from the statistics of the gallows, the prison house, the poor house, and the lunatic alyssum, and banish from us as worthless all the teachings of human science and knowledge. We know that four-fifths of the men who die upon the gallows committed the crimes for which they pay the forfeit of their lives under the influence or in consequence of the use of intoxicating drinks. We know that three-fourths of the convicts who fill our jails and penitentiaries will tell us that had they never known strong drink they would never have been within those gloomy walls. We know that full one-half of the inmates of our mad houses were themselves intemperate or were descended from intemperate parents. We know that our poor houses are filled with the wives, widows, and children of drunken men. We know too, that drunkenness is the great source of private and social unhappiness. It is the foe to all domestic peace, the relentless enemy to all social enjoyment. It invades the homes of our people, filling them with desolation and woe. It estranges the husband from the wife, the child from its parents; turns the quiet circle of home into a theatre for the brutal display of the most violent passions; convers the husband and father into an infuriated, maddened demon and leads him to imbue his hands in the life blood of those endeared to him by the tenderest ties.
And adding to this long list of fearful evils this traffic imposes a vast burden of taxation upon all classes in the community. Sheriffs and judges, jurors and jailors, constables and marshals, must each and all be paid for their services — paid from the hard earnings of the people. Hence, when the tax gatherer comes round to to collect his one dollar of the poor man, and his one hundred dollars of the rich man, how large a portion of this sum goes to pay the burdens flowing from intemperance each one can judge from the statistics I have presented. We hear a vast deal said sometimes about the destruction of property that the observance of the prohibitory law would cause, but believe me, friends, were very pint of intoxicating drinks in the United states destroyed today, it would be more than made up within a single year by the reduction that would immediately follow in the amount of taxes we are called upon to pay. I wonder that men who are so vigilant in guarding their interests in other respects fail to see this and so willingly consent to be taxes year after year for no other purpose than that one class of men may fatten upon the misfortunes and sufferings of another and spread immorality, riot and discord throughout the community. If they would consult their own true interests, they would unite in earnest efforts to put an end to a business that entails upon them the largest portion of the public burdens they are annually called upon to bear.
The use of intoxicating drinks is the great cause of poverty and destitution in our country. Drunkenness, you all know, sooner or later leads to the waste of property and the final degradation of those who are addicted to it. The till of the rumseller absorbs dime by dime the earnings of the laborer and the mechanic, the crops and broad acres of the farmer, the gold and stocks of the capitalist, and when the means of support are all gone, where next must the besotted victims of this vile habit fly for refuge but to public and private charity? Hence it is mainly for the support of the intemperate and their destitute families that our poor law system has been devised, and it is to proved for the wants of these that poor houses are established. Strike out intemperance from among the vices of the people — put an end to the traffic in strong drinks — and very small would be the number to be supported at the expense of the state, or nourished and sustained by private charity. Here again it is passing strange that taxpayers do not seem to understand better their true interests! Let the traffic in intoxicating drinks be suppressed and how speedily would their taxes for the support of the poor be reduced!
Intemperance destroys the noblest developments of the mind, quenches the fire of genius, and degrades the most gifted talents. How many of the great and noble of the land has it laid low! How many of the brilliant and wealthy has it prostrated in the dust! You have all doubtless known instances of this kind – have seen the young man set out in life with the fairest prospects and the highest aspirations — yet have soon seen his sun go down amid the black clouds of intemperance! Oh! It is a pitiful sight to see the human mind thus prostrated before this fell demon — to see talent, intellect, energy, genius all quenched in the intoxicating bowl. Men, would you save the youth of our land from the drunkard’s fearful fate, then close up the doors of the rum shop and pour out the burning poison upon the earth! If you have no mercy on yourselves, have mercy I pray you on your children. Save, oh, save your sons from the drunkard’s doom and your daughters from the wretchedness and degradation that ever falls to the lot of the drunkard’s wife!
In addition to all this fearful array of evils we have been contemplating flowing from the traffic in strong drink, it should be added that it uniformly leads to other and gross vices. Who are they who blaspheme the name of their Maker? Those who frequent the grog shop. Who are they who desecrate the Sabbath? They who habitually patronize the grog shop. Who are they who set at defiance the institutions of religion and the law of God? The men who spend their time at the grog shop. Who are they who delight in fights, and races, and gross exhibitions, whether of man or beast? They who congregate around barrooms and drinking houses. Where is it that men meet together to spend their days and nights in gambling with cards and other devise, wasting their time and their money, degrading their minds and making shipwreck of their souls? It is at the grog shop — for drunkenness and gambling ever go hand in hand.
Surely, my friends, all these reasons are enough and more than enough to lead you to resolve to put an end to the traffic in intoxicating drinks. Still bear with me while I mention another. The good name and credit of this infant city is greatly injured, and its prospects marred by the free sale of liquor and the toleration of those vices to which it leads. I heard the tale more than a thousand miles from here that Council Bluffs was the worst place in all the west for rum drinking and gambling. They have heard the same report, and numbers come here every month and every week and see for themselves that the tale is all too true, and when they leave us and return to their eastern homes, they spread anew the story of our disgrace and thus debar many of the westward bound from coming among us, who might otherwise select this as their future home. Certainly, then, it behooves every resident of the city who has really at heart its future growth and prosperity to endeavor as far as possible to remove the cause of reproach from our midst.
Men of Council Bluffs, I leave this matter in your hands. If you enforce the law against the traffic, all will be well. Vice and immorality, riot and crime will flee away from your streets, and the reputation of your city will be redeemed in the eyes of the whole country. May a sense of your responsibilities to your own families, to society, and to God prompt you to act at once, and with a determination and energy which shall show that you mean to stop nothing short of the total extermination of the liquor traffic. You have law — you have justice and right — on your side, and if you do your duty faithfully, the approving plaudits of all good men and angels will be yours!
To those who are engaged in the sad work of producing the sin and wretchedness and ruin we have been contemplating, if any such are present, I would like to address a few words — and yet it may be useless to do so. None know better than they the wickedness of their business, and it would seem as though, had they hearts that could be moved to pity or shame, they would long since have abandoned the evil course they are in and turned to more honorable employmen.t
Yet is is said that there is no criminal so hardened but that in some secret corner of his heart there is a spot that may be moved if the right chord be touched. Would that I had power to touch that chord in the heart of the rumseller! Would that eloquence and argument were mine sufficient to draw him away from the path of desolation and woe wherein he is leading his fellow men to sin and death. But that power I do not possess — that work I may not hope to accomplish. Yet I would ask you, sinning brother, to pause for a moment in your career and view the work of your hand. To what are you devoting the years of your life? What is the fruit of your labor! How re you employing the talents committed to your keeping, and what can you show that they have gained by the using? Ah! turn where you may, you will see that sorrow and crime and death follow in your train. You will see the strong and vigorous man become a bloated, staggering, loathsome, idiotic mass of corruption. You will see his once young and joyous wife, grown prematurely old with sorrow and despair, toiling in some wretched hovel to earn the means of saving herself and children from starvation. You will see the children, who but for you would be joyous and happy, and grow up respectable and good, become thieves and beggars, drunkards and paupers, gamblers and blasphemers! You will see, in short, that a blight has fallen upon all that have come within your influence and that darkness and desolation have ever followed in your path! Oh! how dreadful the thought that the precious years of life have been spent in such a work as this! What a record to carry with you into another world!
Consider well your present work and then turn and see how different a picture invites you. Here are broad and lovely prairies to be cultivated and improved, cities to be built up and beautified and made prosperous and wealthy. Schools and institutions of learning to be established; churches to be built up and sustained; society to be moulded to virtue and intelligence by intellectual and social culture and advantages; the happiness and well being of your fellows to be cared for and promoted; and your own respectability and happiness, both for time and eternity, to be secured. And have you no desire to take part in so noble a work? Is it not more inviting than that you are now pursing? Look at both pictures and then decide. Think of the great responsibility resting upon you — of the untold blessings that would follow the suppression of the liquor traffic — of the sorrow you relieve — the souls you may save from eternal death. Contrast the happiness, peace and prosperity you may bring upon the earth, with the misery, crime and squalid poverty that now exists and then decide as to your future course. Methinks if you will but look at the matter candidly in your better moments, you can but feel that the claims of humanity are stronger than any mere selfish consideration . . .
And for woman, how many are the incentives to labor unceasingly in this cause! On her head has been visited all the terrible woes from that curse which man has let loose upon the world to oppress and destroy the race. While society deeply suffers from its efforts, while the taxpayer is compelled to pay the bill to support paupers and criminals, and man himself is compelled to bow before the scourge and acknowledge that upon him it visits a fearful retribution, yet it is upon woman that the rum traffic makes its power most heavily felt. Of all hearts, hers is the most lacerated; of all rights, hers are the most outraged; of all justice, she is the most terribly bereft!
Keeping herself comparatively aloft from the debasing contact of the foul destroyer, he has yet entered into her dearest associations, stricken down her most precious rights and crushed her fondest and most cherished aspirations. Had she a father whom she loved? That father it has consigned to a drunkard’s grave! Has she a husband whom she adores? Of that husband it has made a demon! Has she a son on whom rests her fondest hopes? That son it has sent forth a lunatic and a criminal! Has she a daughter around whose happiness she has entwined the fondest affection? That daughter it has given over to the companionship of a monster more ruthless than death itself! Had she a home in which she hoped to pass in peace and quietness the declining years of her life? That home it has ruthlessly torn from her and sent her forth a beggar! And finally, has she a mind to cultivate and a soul to save? Alas! These too the great destroyer has cast down to the very earth, and degraded her to the companionship of the most abandoned of his votaries!
To whom then does it more properly belong than to her to labor for the extirpation of this great evil? Hitherto custom and law have assigned her a narrow and restricted field of labor. While she has been told that it is her duty to train up her children in all purity and fit them to become great and good, she has yet been denied all voice and part either in the building up or putting down of those influences by which her children are surrounded when they go forth amid the busy scenes of life. She has had no voice in the selection of the agents by whom the laws are administered; no right to say whether the laws and customs shall be such as will corrupt and destroy her children, and bring down shame and sorrow upon her head; no right to say whether he who has sworn to protect and provide for her shall be transformed into a madman and go down to the cold vault of death with the chains of the drunkard upon him!
She has been allowed to weep and mourn over the ruin that surrounded her and to send up agonizing prayers to the God of Heaven, but never to raise her voice in expostulation and entreaty to man that those evils might be averted — never to raise her voice or her arm in defense of her loved ones whom she saw on the brink of ruin! Be her lot what it might, she has been taught that her duty was quiet submission to whatever man, either in his folly or his wisdom, might decree . . .
Still woman has a work to do, and woe unto her if she does it not. It is true she cannot go with her brother to the polls and cast her vote for honest God-fearing men who will make and sustain good laws. Would that she could do this! For then we should have peaceful elections, less bribery, corruption and drunkenness, and more just and honest rulers!
But though she is denied her right of franchise, she may in other ways exert a powerful influence in moulding a right public sentiment on this subject, and in securing and observance of the law prohibiting the sale of intoxicating drinks as a beverage.
And first she should faithfully discharge her duty to her children whatever the result may be. She should not neglect to instill good precepts into their tender minds. From the time they are capable of comprehending the lessons taught, it should be her effort to imprint upon their hearts a perfect hatred of all that can intoxicate and a love of the principles of temperance. She should adopt as her own the language of the poet and say:
Oh! if there is one law above the rest
Written in wisdom — if there is a word
That I would trace as with a pen of fire
Upon the unwrite tablet of a child
‘Tis Temperance, ‘Tis abstinence entire
From all that can intoxicate!
And while she sows the good seed, let her be ever watchful that another does not sow tares to choke it up.
But while woman may do much by directing her children in the path of virtue and sobriety and by her own correct deportment and examples, yet if she rests here she will have accomplished but little, so long as men foster and encourage the traffic. If she would do an effectual work in this cause, she must rest satisfied with no halfway measures, since safety only lies in removing the danger entirely. To accomplish this she must bring her influence to bear upon men — upon the voters of the land. She should insist that her self-constituted representatives and protectors both enact good laws for the protection of herself and her children, and see to it that they are obeyed. As by our exiting Constitution all power lies in the hands of man, she should endeavor to direct it aright by appeals to his humanity, his reason and judgment. She should regard herself as a being of equal intelligence and an inheritor of equal rights with him, and approaching him on the broad platform of justice and right, teach him to respect her needs and wishes.
It is a sad truth that hitherto those who have claimed to be woman’s rightful representatives and protectors have legislated against her interests and happiness and turned loose upon her a fearful foe to desolate her home and subject her to a life of poverty, shame and sorrow. It is full time that she demand either that she be faithfully represented and protected, or that all obstacles be removed and she be permitted to represent and protect herself. She should claim the right to a voice in saying whether those pitfalls of ruin which now surround us on every side shall longer exist, whether her life partner shall live the wretched life and die the infamous death of the drunkard, whether the children whom God has entrusted her to care and will require again at her hand shall be corrupted and destroyed, whether she herself shall become that miserable, despised, degraded thing, a drunkard’s wife.
Woman, should you see your husband is [in] imminent peril from the scalping knife or the deadly bullet, would you rest quietly and fold your hands in unconcern? And yet, oh how preferable these, which can only kill the body of their victim, to that slow poison which not only saps away the life blood but which brings poverty, and disgrace, and misery in this life and an eternal death in the life to come. And yet you see the latter work go on and make no effort to stay the fearful ruin!
Should you see your darling boy borne off upon the swift waves of the Missouri and in danger of being engulfed by them, would you raise no cry, make no exertion to rescue him from a watery grave? And yet, he is in danger of being swallowed up by a stream of moral pollution which will, unless it be stayed, destroy everything noble and virtuous and manly in his character, and consign him at least to an infamous death. And yet, you raise no alarm — make no attempt to save him from the dreadful fate that awaits him!
Should disease lay its heavy hand upon a lovely daughter, wasting her form, causing great pain and suffering and bearing her on toward the grave, should you feel no anxiety — no sorrow — would you let her languish and die without making an effort to save her? And yet you will give her over to the companionship of him who tarries at the wine cup and subject her to neglect and abuse, to poverty, destitution and heart sorrow, to wasting anguish and a premature and perhaps violent death. And you make no effort to save her from such a fate by removing the cause of her misery. You neither call with earnestness on others for aid or administer a remedy yourself, but you coolly fold your arms and behold the work of the destroyer unmoved. Possibly you may weep and mourn in retirement over the sad wrecks you see around you, but you do not demand with earnestness that they in whom lies all power, and to whom is entrusted the public weal, shall destroy the cause of so much ruin, and thus remove the temptation to sin; nor do you, when they fail in duty, go forth yourselves and taking the law into your own hands, do battle in defense of your household idols and your own peace and happiness . . .
And let not woman hesitate to enter upon the work before her from any fear of transcending the bounds of her sphere. The field of her usefulness is as wide as the world and as high as heaven. It reaches far enough to take in the wants and necessities of every human being, and the extent of her influence can only be measured by the uncounted ages of eternity. Into a moral vineyard thus extended and boundless, woman has been placed by her Creator, and shall she hesitate to improve, cultivate and beautify it until every noxious weed shall be removed – until every wasteplace shall be changed to a fruitful field, and the wilderness made to blossom as a rose throughout the genial influences of her industry, her teachings, and her benignant example?
Where, I ask, has an interdict been proclaimed that shall deny to woman the practical observance of any or all these duties? It surely is not in the constitution of her physical being, for in that we find nothing to excuse her for shrinking from their fullest discharge. It is not to be found in the moral instincts of her nature, for these all point her directly to the discharge of the highest and holiest responsibilities. Neither is it to be found in the maxims of any sound system of philosophy ever taught among men, since it is the dictate of reason, as well as of nature, that every human being is solemnly bound to improve and cultivate all the power, whether of mind or of body, with which they have been endowed. Still less is it to be found in the teachings of that holy religion which found its great exemplifier in the life, the death, and sufferings of the Son of God. Nowhere in his recorded sayings — nowhere in the writings of his apostles and followers — can even the keenest opponent find anything which, if fairly interpreted and explained, would exclude woman from laboring continually and faithfully for the amelioration of society, and the moral and religious elevation of her race. Wherever there is suffering to be alleviated, misery to be soothed, tears to be dried, wrong to be redressed, or human wickedness to be baffled and overturned, there may woman labor; and heaven will bless her labors. She may write, she may speak, she may pray, she may preach — at home and abroad, in the domestic circle, in the haunts of poverty and disease, in the crowded assembly, and on the forum, the desk, or the pulpit. And if she do her work faithfully and fearlessly, there will be found one who will dare rebuke, much less exclude her from her chosen field of labor.
Finally, my temperance friends, let it be the solemn determination of each one of us, men and women, voters and on-voters, to live up to the principles we profess . . . Are we parents? Let us inculcate in our children the duty of devoting their lives to its overthrow. Are we teachers, whether it be of morals or religion? Let us make it the unceasing object of our labors to spread broad and deep the principles upon which this reform is based. Are we reformers? Then in what is a greater reformation needed than in the habits of intemperance, so long indulged in by the great mass of the people? Are we voters, and do we hold in our hands the sacred privilege of the franchise? Then let our votes be given that they shall elevate to power men who fear not man, but God, and will wield the high duties committed to them in His fear. Or do we sit in the high places of the land, making its laws and taking care that they be obeyed? Then let those solemn responsibilities be discharged with a single eye to the good of our fellow man, and his redemption from that long train of evils form which, so far as human wisdom has yet penetrated, he can alone be saved by the triumph of the principles of prohibitory legislation.
Let these duties, each and all, be fully performed, and the hour of final triumph will hasten rapidly on. Then may we in strains of proud exultation exclaim:
Lo! the Temperance Star is gleaming
O’er our own, our native land!
See the Temperance banner streaming
O’er the noble, gallant land.
Brightly, o’er our nation glancing
Piercing darkness with its ray
Hail the Temperance Star advancing
Even unto glorious day.
Copyright 2019. Seneca Falls Historical Society, Seneca Falls, NY. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Source: Hear Me Patiently: The Reform Speeches of Amelia Jenks Bloomer, ed. Anne C. Coon, (Westport: Greenwood Press), 1994, pp. 67-82.