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Everybody’s War

c. October 1874 — Chicago IL


At one of the meetings of the Woman’s Temperance Union there was a poor fellow present, written all over from head to foot with evidences of a dissolute life. He came to the altar after the meeting and said to [the speaker] “I want you to remain a few moments when the rest are gone for I have something I propose to show you.”

Now boys and girls I want you to listen — what do you suppose it was? He took out of his pocked an old soiled package — he took off a paper and inside of that was another, a little cleaner – he took that off and inside was another and inside of that was a tissue paper, nice and white, and inside of all this there was a photograph. The [speaker] looked at the photograph — it represented a young man about eighteen years old, a pleasant looking, young fellow. She looked at this man who was standing there before her so distressed an object in every way and she said, curiously, “this photograph represents a friend of yours perhaps.” And what do you suppose he answered her? “Well lady I ain’t showed myself much of a friend to him, that photograph is me, before I took to drinking whiskey and I thought I ought to show it to you for my mother’s sake.” She looked at the frank open face of the photograph and at the blurred sad wrinkled face of the man, at the nice white collar and nice tie in the photograph, then at the thin collarless shirt of the man. She thought of the time when this man, standing before her now so weary and troubled – once, lay in his happy boyhood days sleeping upon his mother’s breast. She thought of the time when his footsteps wandered beyond the shelter of the quiet happy home towards the sinful resorts that we legalize on either side along our street. Then she turned to the man and photograph and turned her eyes to heaven with that old cry, “How long, Oh God how long?”

This sort of thing might do for others — for other lands, but it will not do for the land of the star-spangled banner. It may have done for other times but it will not do for the nineteenth century. It might do for other people but it will not do for the descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers and William Penn. I say there is a war about it in America — a war about that sort of thing which changes men so that their mothers after a few years would not know them, for thought all mothers may not have their hearts broken — may have no sons — no boys who carried on to destruction, yet our Christian republic may not legalize the deadly traffic in that which they know by observation is likely in all cases to lead to that precise result.

Ladies of the north side I am sad but frank to say it, there has not been so much interest shown in this quarter of the city as in others in the temperance movement by the women. I want to ask you now if you have not joined before in this work, hadn’t you better in the name of these boys and girls sitting here, hadn’t you better?  I came here today through blocks and blocks of saloons and almost under the very shadow of great grinding distilleries. There are no insurance policies upon your homes, the rum shops have the free run of the whole place — the home of the American eagle.

Remember it is simply a matter of fact that from the rum shops every year in America sixty thousand of our citizens reel out into eternity and taste a drunkard’s death. There are half a million steady drinkers, behind this a million moderate drinkers, behind them two millions occasional drinkers, behind them all little boys go tramp, tramp, tramp to a drunkard’s tomb; And remember these unfurling ranks, for they are always full you know, must be recruited from somebody’s cradle, from somebody’s fireside, perhaps your own, no matter how stately or proud that home may be. Some ladies say to me with all sobriety . . .  “I wish the best in the world for your grand cause — I hope it will succeed but then I have no boys.” Perhaps you have daughters – if you have not somebody has and somebody has boys. If you have daughters and not sons try to fathom the unfathomable lessons of these words: “A drunkard’s wife.

There is a war about this in America, a war of mothers and daughters, sisters and wives. There is another sort of war and I want to have the boys and girls follow me as I talk to them and I think I can make you understand me. There is a war between the rum shops and religion. They stand over against each other, insurmountable and unalterable foes. You know the late pen of Seward wrote of our late war as an irrepressible conflict. We have an irrepressible conflict, a war to the knife and a knife to the hilt. Only one can win, the question is which one is it going to be? Now think about it. In this war with them, I take it, we Christians of the church, we [don’t] outnumber them.

Did you ever think of it little people? There are in this city for instance a certain number of churches and for every church there are from twenty-five to thirty whiskey shops. There are for every minister twenty-five or thirty barkeepers and while the churches only meet and open their blessed doors once or twice or at most four or five times a week, the whiskey shops grind on their mill of destruction all the days of every week, all the weeks of every month and all the months of every year.

We are outnumbered, are we not? We are outgeneraled by the people who keep the rum shops — we who keep the Sunday school and the church. They have a series of lessons, international if you please, with which tour of the Sunday school does not compare at all. They have their music of which I would not speak, their literature free by license, of which I would not think. One of our reformed men was talking with me one day of a friend of his who had signed the pledge and broken it; he was discouraged; he had taken a binding pledge and broken it again and again. This is what the reformed man said to me: “I said you don’t understand the business, that is all. You are new in the business. You must not get discouraged; don’t you give Tim up or anything of the sort. You remember he is a graduate in a seven-years course in a saloon. It took him seven years to learn all that education in the saloon, now give him a year or two to unlearn it — the education of the saloon.”

Then the man went on to say “do you know that in the saloon conscience is considered a fraud and a jest. Do you know that in the saloon the religion of Christ is counted just simply as an old wife’s fable, that Christ is an exploded myth, the Christ of whom you women like to talk about is only the fevered fancy of woman’s dream?” I tell you my eyes have been opened with wonder to see things I didn’t use to see at all. I saw dear friends going up and down our streets. I saw things I liked to see. I saw pleasant homes on every side of the way. I saw churches which are suggestive of immortal hope. I saw bookstores at once honey hives of thought.

Do you know that, until the Woman’s Crusade came sweeping up over our prairies, I never cared? I never saw a saloon. It was a question with which I had nothing to do. It was nothing to me. I hoped [the Crusade] would succeed, but I did not see it the same as I do today. Let me tell you young people the way I seem to see it now — you just reflect — I go up and down the streets here in Chicago. I go up and down the streets of other town[s] and cities through the west on the errand I believe God sent me to go upon. If I did not believe it I would not go. I see on one corner church spires, tall and stately pointing heavenward. I see over on another corner of the same street a school house with doors opening wide, and little boys and girls youths and maidens drinking at the pure fountain of knowledge. And between these two are institutions called saloons, equally guaranteed by our laws, equally fostered by our nation and more than equally patronized by our people. There is no boy or girl so high that they don’t know what I mean. It has a sanded floor, its curtains halfway down. It has a screen across the front so you can’t see what is going on inside. It has fumes and odors coming out of its doors that make you wish you had passed on the other side. You know I mean the rum shop.

Let us go in with this man who was taught in our Sunday schools. When he was the least bit of a boy he sat in his father’s pew Sunday after Sunday, with an honorable and useful life stretching before him [as] the minister spoke of life, duty and destiny and another life coming on afterwards. Let us go in here with this boy who later was taught in our public schools until he knew something of [the world?].

But he got in the way of going in here. He did not go at first because he wanted to but because someone asked him to. He did only as other young men did, and he thought it the proper thing o do, to be social. As the habit grew upon him, he failed in business, his friends deserted him; he lost those who were dearer to him than life. Then he did not care.

Let us go in with some friend and see this transaction. Behind the counter stands avarice, before the counter appetite, and between the two a transaction that puts a few dimes into the till of the proprietor and drives the involuntary insanity into the brain of the patron. The man goes out, he goes to the primary meeting and election, he loiters away his time, he fritters away his earnings. He goes to the house where he is best loved, to the best friends he has in the world, where they love him better then they do anybody else. Yet upon that wife that loves him so well and little children clinging about his neck, he inflicts atrocities, which imagination cannot picture and no tongue dare describe. Now I am not telling you anything that does not happen in Chicago a hundred times a day. If it had happened away up among the Eskimo, if it had happened down among the South Sea Islanders or on the prairies where the wild Indians live, we would say that it is just what we should expect of such people. But these rum shops do exist and this rum traffic is going on by permission and apathy of well-born, well-bred and well-taught Americans. These rum shops exist in the shape of Juggernaut’s old car. They stand in the shadow of the sacred wide arms of the Cross of Christ our Lord. This is why there is a war about it in America.

I shall not dwell on that, but pass on to the taxpayers revolt. We people don’t see the effect of all this. You know we used to say we must have this money to help pay the taxes, this liquor tax of seventy millions a year but we have found out that the liquor traffic makes a cat’s-paw of the taxpayers to rake in the hot chestnuts of ninety millions a year for extra paraphernalia. I want the boys particularly to remember this — that more than all the revenue derived from the whiskey shops must go to build prisons, most go [to] the hospital, the home for the friendless, police justices and police officers to take care of these people who go crazy on purpose and to pay all that, so that it costs us yearly the difference between seventy and ninety millions of dollars. We have lost yearly on that old financial basis twenty millions a year — twenty millions lost. I want you to think about that — that is the very thing we do.

Another thing — I don’t suppose everybody who is listening to me knows what all these drinks are made of — out of the nice clean grain that grows out of the ground, wheat rye, barley, corn. We use in America forty millions of bushels of nice clean grain [that] is turned over into alcoholic drinks every year. Now a good man has found out by mathematical calculation that we drink enough to pay for paving a good wide street long enough to reach all the way from Chicago to New York. Our yearly drink bill in Illinois is forty-two millions of dollars and in the country six hundred millions. There is no use in stopping to dwell longer on these statistics. These are facts and figures which we cannot deny. We have to take this money out of our pockets and pay it to the very last cent. This we find out from Secretary [of the U.S. Treasury, Benjamin H.] Bristow in his last report, so it is plain enough.

There is another kind of war; it is the patriot’s war. I do not believe there is one boy or girl here tonight that he or she does not revere the old flag, the red white and blue. I remember when I was a little girl, away up in Wisconsin, the 4th of July, I remember, when we had our little procession and flags made from a pillow case with red calico stripes sewed on and gold stars pinned on the corner. I was going to talk about the harm the liquor traffic does to the country and the flag we love so well, for I tell you I always loved the flag. Yes it is a patriots war for in our country we get up public opinion — everybody thinks one man’s vote is as good as another even though he staggers up to the polls and drops in the ballot on election day. Our people are made to think you cannot change the drinking habits and customs they had over across the sea where one man is not as good as another on election day — where they have such a different government altogether. We should, I think, remember what difference there is between them and us. We are taught to pray: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Where? “On earth.” We sing the sacred hymn: “bring forth the Royal diadem and crown Him Lord of all.” We as a people believe what this good book says when it plainly again and again declares that Christ is again going to rule on earth. How is he going to rule until we get all the rum shops out of the way?

Now let us take the contrast — there is Germany. Let us take that. Germany is a country governed by a hereditary monarch. They know who is to be the next kin; the king he rules until he is relieved by death. Then his son rules and so on with the never-ending formula. They never ask who is going to be the next President; they know who is to be the next king. In American every man is King — King over whom? King over his own self. In Germany they are nudged on by two million bayonets. In America ballots are bayonets. Every drunkard, every rum seller holds that in his hand which may shake the very President in his chair. In America there are one million drunkards and rum sellers who stagger up to the polls and exercise that sacred right. They are in every ward, in every precinct, and every election district. They stagger up to the polls and drop in their bleared ballots. What fruits can we expect but salary grabber, [corner?] rings, whiskey rings, post tradership rings, and every sort of ring except the ring of the true metal? Going on at this rate no one needs to be a prophet to see what this thing will lead to.

It is a patriot’s war indeed; it is everybody’s war great and small, from the least to the greatest, and what a war it is. We must guard [against] it as we would a foreign foe. I like the idea of marching along with men and women who have their eyes open. I like to go along keeping time to the same music ever singing that good old song: “I’m glad I’m in this army, I will battle for the cause.” You think maybe the Crusade is dead and its banner trailing in the dusty, I tell you no – the women who marched with the crusade, don’t you believe they are somewhere? The children of these men and women are being sworn at the home altars against this traffic as Hannibal was sworn against Rome. The method is changed but the movement is just the same. [Even] if the word was asleep, you young people would understand that, but the world is awake, its heart is sad, its lips are apart and its eyelids wide.

I am here tonight dear friends, an American woman forever grateful to the land that has been so good to me and whose path in life has been turned out of the expected channel by the crusade, I am here to ask you just this simple question: Is all this anything at all to you? How is your stand affected by it? How are you toward the temperance reform? How are you in the sentiments you cherish in your hearts? That is it. You know what Mrs. Stowe said about it — if you can’t say anything about it, you can feel right. How are you in the sentiments you express? How are you on election day when Aldermen are to be elected? How are you when a notice comes for a primary? How do you stand upon the question on New Year’s Day? How do you stand in the social sanctity?  Let me tell you it makes all the difference in the world how you stand though you never say one word or give one dollar toward our cause — if you only just care.

There is a noble fellow on the board of trade in this city who said to me the other day, “I can’t do much for the cause; I read about it and think about it, but it has just come into my head what I could do. I often am asked when closing a bargain to go out and take a glass of beer or even something stronger. I always used to and used to say to them ‘I don’t’ care,’ and thought it was the proper thing to do. I just stopped short off — I will not do it. When men ask me I will say I have joined the temperance ranks. I believe as the women do.” That man is a regular temperance lecturer — for he acts. I think we are all sympathetic on this subject. I don’t’ believe there is any difference between us in the contest. We are moving on the enemy’s track. I think if I were to ask any little boy or girl here the reason why these people carry o this business, the answer would be because there is money in it. That goes straight to the mark; that answer is just exactly right. There is this about it, there [are] large sums of money invested in this traffic. Our is no light reform. There [are] seven hundred millions invested in this rum traffic this very day and you know the way to get at these men is to touch their pocket books. Every man who is informed by our efforts makes that much less revenue for them. This seven hundred millions ought to be taken out of this rum traffic and be invested in other branches of trade which would go toward making up our national life and prosperity.

I want to say a few words more before I close; I want to say just this one thing more on this subject. In a few days from now you will be called upon to go to the polls insasmuch as there are to be thirty-six or thirty-eight aldermen to be elected in the city of Chicago. It is a vital question to us what sort of men they are. Although the women cannot go to the polls to vote, let me urge upon them to send their sons and their husbands there. Will you remember good sirs that when you go to the election you represent more than you did once; you represent more thoughts, more work, more prayer; remember whom you want and whom you will have. Let us work and pray for the good time coming when this city shall be redeemed. Although we are not voters, we are daughters of America, as much as you are sons and patriots. We need money to carry on this war — we cannot like King Midas turn everything into gold. I know that times are hard. You have your office rents to pay and all your other expenses, but we need money to buy temperance literature and different thing we have to carry on the war; and when you can give a dollar, remember, you cannot give it to a more worthy cause than ours. Then I want the boys to remember that men are only boys grown tall. We count on you to help our cause. We should have the aid of the young men in the strength and vigor of their youth, in the glory of their manhood, and I want the young ladies to support them in their work. You who are sheltered at home must remember that they are tempted and tried. I want you to remember that your words and acts in the social circle have everything to do with the way in which young men stand affected by this temperance question.

And often to me nowadays comes the thought of something in my life very dear and distant — something which I do not hesitate to speak to you about. I wan tot speak to you about my sister loved and lost. Many years ago away up in Wisconsin, where we spent our girlhood days, that little girl was my only playmate. And there upon a fallen tree trunk, little Lizzie she would stand and make a temperance speech to me, little thing, and I in turn would make on to her just for play. And now I think as I go about in this new and strange work that she knows about it and cares about it — that I am not alone. I am reminded of the sad sweet message she left when she went away from us . . .  [S]he laid her dying head upon the pillow and looked at me with that strange look in her eyes, which were growing dim; she uttered these last words, “Sister I want you to tell everybody to be good.” Then she turned her face away and when I saw it next, it had upon it that smile of God’s eternal peace.

I say tonight I want to leave in your hearts these burning words. I do not think I shall ever forget her sweet dying message. I wish it might be remembered as she so gently expressed it, “be good.” Be good and help everybody to be good who needs help. God grand that each of us in this night may have a clear formula of life, which should be nothing more nor less than to be good.



Source: Frances Willard Memorial Library, WCTU headquarters, Evanston IL


Also: Let Something Good Be Said: Speeches and Writings of Frances Elizabeth Willard, eds. Carolyn De Swarte Gifford and Amy R. Slagell, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007), pp. 2-9.