A Grand Address by Miss Frances E. Willard
to Northern People
Concerning Her Late Southern Tour
August 28, 1881 — Lake Bluff IL
It is not easy to stand composedly before an audience whose thoughts and sympathies are all a thousand miles away, hovering about the most famous sick chamber of the century, and speak of things and scenes which lead away from that spot of centered interest.
To-day the small boys of our land are sad when told of the two little boys who weep at Mentor, and wonder when papa will be well. To-day the young men of the nation are moved to sympathy with the noble sons who wait about the White House, hoping for better news from the paternal bedside. To-day the good girls in millions of American homes breathe gentle prayers of love and hope for sweet Mollie Garfield. To-day our aged mothers in Israel mourn with Mother Garfield lest untimely death overtake the true son, never so engrossed with life’s cares and honors as to forget her who did so much to make him great. And to-day the hearts of many motherly wives learn Christian courage and trustfulness from Lucretia Garfield, and are mellowed with her deepest affliction.
But this national catastrophe–this source of so universal sorrow in all lands–is not without its bright side. We thank God for the example of beautiful and heroic Christian character brought out and set before the people by this great and lingering sickness. Only yesterday it was that he queried: “Dr. Bliss, is it worth while?” And hereafter what a precious souvenir of these dark days will be the noble grief and sympathy of England’s mother Queen, so often tided beneath the waters of the ocean! And better, more precious still, will ever be our memory that out of the waters of this affliction have risen together the prayers, the hopes, the fears, the grief and affliction of our great county–of our own people, so diverse in views on many common themes–the hearts of fifty million beating as one great heart of love. God grant that deep esteem of all the people in our land for the nation’s right and righteous representative head may never grow less. It shall be a worth none can closely reckon, if this wound within the body one citizen shall heal forever all the chronic wounds, moral and political, of this people. And something stirs within us the fond hope that it may be so; more than this, we believe that thus it is to be. Mark the quick unanimity with which the people of all States and freighted the telegraphic wires with tearful words in those early July days! Note that they came from beside the Gulf not less than from the margin of the Lakes, from Pacific as well as Atlantic States! Remember that the earliest proposal for a day of national thanksgiving came from the heart of a Southern State! Then tell us not that we are not brothers and sisters all around one common fireside of this our beloved country! Even though our president die, his death shall not be wholly void of compensations to those who shall survive.
I cannot repress thoughts of the noble sufferer at Washington, for I am to speak to you of my journey through the Southern States last Spring in behalf of temperance; and the day before I set out from Washington, soon after the inauguration in March, I went, by invitation to the White House, and burdened though President Garfield was with the new duties of his great office, he gave me most gracious Christian audience. I told him of my plans: that, as the representative of temperance women of North–The Woman’s National Christian Temperance Union — I was going among the Southern people, uncertain of my reception and of the facts and feelings I should find there, but that the motive of those commissioning me and my comrade was general social harmony, fraternity and a knowledge of the moral treasures in the land; not less than the encouragement of temperance work among the Southern women and a consolidation of temperance forces. I told him that we should bear, not the black flag, but the white ribbon, the peace emblem of our Woman’s Union, with its motto, “For God, and Home, and Native Land.” And he replied, with a voice full of the music of love for the South, that our motive and our zeal had his most cordial sympathy; that the motive was largely identical with that which would govern his own administration in its relation to Southern affairs; that peace, industry, prosperity and harmony, through generous fraternity, outlined his earnest desire; that he would encourage the most liberal appropriations for education at the South; and that he would gladly see the Mississippi become a diamond necklace of commerce between sections, and bands of steel for traffic and travels laid on lines of longitude as compactly as on line of latitude. And as I left his presence, he gave me his sincere “God Bless you,” and made me the manly bow of the Christian gentleman. But I fear I shall never again meet him till I take him by the hand within the gates of paradise.
It is not wholly a thing of wonder that a woman whose early years were spent in the shadow of Oberlin, and whose later years in the wild air of Wisconsin listened to a father’s perennial voice for freedom to all, and felt the annual echo of his vote for abolition, and whose mother taught her lessons of liberty out of The Slave’s Friend, with its picture of a chained negro crying, “Am I not a man and a brother!”–it is not strange that such an one should early traverse the new South in behalf of temperance for all. But credit for the undertaking and its success belongs not alone to me. The tour was made by request of our sisters in National Convention at Boston nearly a year ago; and the details, which went so far towards securing success, were the work of that genuine and generous Southern lady, Mrs. Georgia Hulse McLeod, of Baltimore. The love of that gentle, sweet-voiced sister of the South proved my passport and perpetual benediction beneath the palm trees. The people know her as one of their own, and said, “If she can fellowship this Illinois woman, so may we.” For Mrs. McLeod was cradled and schooled in slavery, always a lover of “States Rights.” In the great war few were more pronounced in their antipathy to the Stars and Stripes than was she. Her eldest son gave a right arm to the “Lost Cause,” and her arrest for avowing secession sentiments was averted only by the fact that she had become English by marriage, and floated the Union Jack, her husband having retained his allegiance to the Queen. Yet this true mother, so true to the old Southern slavery, had been so stung in her own home by this more universal slavery to rum that she declared that abolition and emancipation would be the grand prize of her life, if they could save her boy.
Thus above all other earthly influences, do thoughts of home unite all generous hearts. At one time during the war, the opposing armies lay idle close beside each other, only the waters of the Rappehannock dividing them. And every time a Union band would strike up “The Star Spangled Banner,” or other strain sweet to the boys in blue, a Confederate band would oppose it with “Dixie” or some kindred sentiment. Tired of the contest, both would subside into quiet. But one evening a lone bugler, sat musing on the scenes about the Northern fireside, where he knew they missed him. Instinctively he placed the bugle to his lips and piped alone the mellow strains of “Home Sweet Home.” Yet only a moment did the dear boy play alone. His comrades picked up their instruments of music and shared his reverie of home. A moment more and hark! what note is it that comes over the swift waters! Not “Dixie” now, nor other discord, but the loved harmony of “Home, Sweet Home,”–that is always the same all around the world. Then up and down each river-bank it spread till, if tradition says right, all bands of both armies were harmoniously filling the fields with the blessed recollection that every man in all those ranks had a home he loved and would see happy.
Thus it is, kind friends, that the Woman’s Temperance Union seeks a temperance that shall protect all the homes in our land, and through this gate of peace lead all hearts of all sections unto perfect unity of aim and the perfect liberty of mutual love.
Entering the South in this spirit with my Southern companion, maybe I saw more of the bright side than of the dull side of life there; but for I thought I saw much of all sides, for I mingled more or less with all classes. And what I saw and shall report to you was a real side and an honest side of life; and why should not it have public expression among us of the North? We are intensely more ignorant of the Southern people and their ways than they are of us. For, while they read our newspapers, we seldom see theirs; and our political papers have been wont to publish little from the South but stories of gross outrages. Reading only these, we are apt to think outrages are epidemic there, instead of merely sporadic, as they consider the outrages at the North. If one man is murdered in Mississippi and another in Arkansas, we hear of it and think the Southern people live by killing each other. But they do not so think of us when told of one murdered in Chicago and another in New York; they recognize crime as special, and peace as general, among us. So, too, it is with them; their widely prevailing spirit is for peace and a progressive prosperity. It is hardly to be doubted that the percentage of gross crimes is much larger at the North than at the South. Are there not above a score of murderers in the cells of our own Chicago jail to-day.
Temperance sentiment and activity at the South seem to center about some personality. In Maryland, for instance it is that energetic Christian gentleman William Y. Daniel, of Baltimore. By his special efforts and those of his earnest coadjutors eleven and one-half counties of that State have been carried for temperance through the medium of local option. The people’s majority everywhere favor temperance; nothing is wanted but a fair chance to decide; and this chance is steadily widening. Baltimore gave me kind greeting. It was there last spring that for the first time in my life I was offered an Episcopal church to speak in; and its gracious rector presided at the meeting and introduced the speaker with a sympathy for the cause equal to that of a genuine Methodist elder.
From Baltimore we (Mrs. McLeod, and myself) set out for Richmond, Va. The only Southern city whence came a word of warning not to come. An unknown correspondent there wrote telling us to stay back, for three reasons: First, I was a woman; second, I was a temperance woman, and, third, I was a Northern temperance woman, and the South was no place for such. But “On to Richmond” we went, were cordially received, and found our correspondent a Northern man, holding a position in a Southern Custom house.
We went asking no money for platform addresses or other efforts, and our expenses were guaranteed by the prayers and liberality of the many royal temperance sisters we left behind us.
But their welcome was more than pay. The chivalric people warmly insisted upon our entertainment in their brightest home circles, or, where this was not convenient, always in their best hotels, without expense, landladies declining pay, and tendering hearty invitations to call again on a similar errand. I have never met such chivalry toward woman or generosity towards temperance, among the landlords of the North. And railway officials seemed of much the same mold; or where they were not within our easy reach, some kind friend would greet us at the station of departure with tickets for our next destination. Everywhere too, the press, of all religions and political shades, was exceedingly generous in its treatment of our cause and of ourselves.
That our observations and views may not seem limited to a few localities, I will name some of the fifty points visited throughout the fourteen Southern States: Richmond, Raleigh, Atlanta, Wilmington, Charleston, Columbia, Aiken, Greenville, Savannah, Augusta, Mobile, Montgomery, New Orleans, Jackson, Holly Springs, Little Rock, Texarkana, and Paris, Texas. In nearly every State we reached its chief business city, its capital city, and its educational center. We were guests in many hotels and numerous private homes. The classes put me chiefly in contact with the builders of the New South; not the spirits of fashion, not the base and ignorant, but men leading in business and religion, as merchants, land owners, clergymen, lawyers, doctors, teachers and a multitude of bright women. Many of them have come up grandly from faded wealth and educated idleness in youth into the nobility of self-help. I recall one whose mother entered the war with one thousand slaves and fourteen children. It left her almost a pauper, sans slaves and her sons. This daughter had education; but she had been further educated not to make use of it. She saw all other family helps taken away, and, despite her mother’s assurance that she would disgrace her family, she went to work to help herself and mother. She became as genuine a school-ma’am as if she had been born a Yankee, and is now a leading collegiate instructor, esteemed by herself and all others who know her. Similar circumstances have developed an excellent lady reporter on a New Orleans journal.
While, too, I was a guest among the colored people, I was not without contact with them. From desire of my own and by solicitation of many white people, I visited the colored schools in nearly every town, addressed old folks and children on the temperance theme, and held many private interviews with their noble teachers, mostly from the North.
Now I think you will readily see from what sources and under what circumstances I had drawn my impressions of life in the Southern half of our country to-day. They differ essentially from the views of the professional press critic, the political tourist, and the speculating adventurer; but may not one’s eye be as honest and clear on a mission of Gospel temperance as on a mission full of pre-resolve to let no fault lie fallow? I tried to go in charity; was met more than half way and have returned home in larger charity, convinced that there is much merit at the South, a sound promise of more, and that some of its faults are of our own making.
Churches of all denominations gave us audience-room, and often the platform was graced by a Bishop, a Judge, several pastors, lawyers, ex-senators and ex-Generals. Never at the North have I found so broad and generous public support among leaders of opinion. I did not feel I was being “lionized”–the hospitality was too hearty and homelike for that; nor did it emenate [sic] from sycophants, but the earnest, up-looking people seemed really glad to welcome to their houses and confidence from the North one who had not come in search of sore spots, of mistakes, of offenses, and grounds for continued antagonism. Coupled with this I attribute my happy welcome and success, also, to the pillar of prayer that followed me, to the exceptional Southern gallantry, to the advanced temperance sentiment South and somewhat to the novelty of public speech by a woman.
There is not much to be said of temperance progress in Old Virginia, though sentiment is by no means dormant there. West Virginia has gone farther in this reform, though not among the States we visited. There is, however, no trouble in “firing the Southern heart” for temperance; it is already, and of its own volition, at the burning point. And we hastened more directly to the State lately the scene of most active contest, as well as of most outrageous defeat–where, too, contest will continue active till temperance gets the triumph. We went to Wilmington, where we found a grand work in progress on the line of petition, and a good spirit prevailing. In spite of defeat, be assured that North Carolina has moved along splendidly. That there was such division as to put results in doubt down to the day of election, is proof enough of progress there beyond the record of the past, which did not rise to the point of contest. In that State Judge Merriman, with great cause in his own home, is another of those personal centers of temperance work at the South. Under his lead, and that of others, the petition of 200,000 signers went up to the Legislature last winter for a prohibitory enactment; and the Legislature was disposed to so enact. But the liquor interest insisted that the will of the Legislature should be ratified by popular vote before becoming effective; and accordingly a prohibitory law was submitted to the people to be voted on August 4. The noble Gov. Jarvis and others did splendid work in its behalf. And the better portion of the colored element stood manfully by it. At a State Temperance Convention in Raleigh, half of the 500 delegates present were negroes, and a colored orator was universally credited with the leading speech, and was given three cheers by his ex-masters. But shortly before the voting day, the Republican State Central Committee, in the interest of whisky, issued a circular to the colored people denouncing the law as a Democratic movement to rob them of their “liberty;” and they, in their ignorant blindness, remembered only that their freedom had come thro’ the Republican party, and the masses of them voted against the law as an essence of the Democratic party. Thus in that State have political monsters sought to keep alive an old prejudice and bind upon the black a new slavery.
But the color-line has been broken from within North Carolina, as it should be, and not by foreign intervention, not by Northern interference. And the birth of a new party at the South out of the breaking up of old lines is certain, or the keenest political forecast at present is a delusion. May not this party be cast in the mold of truth and righteousness born to the great purpose of a new abolition–the abolition of the rum-traffic–the relief of all ages, colors and conditions and both sexes from a bondage worse than the old slavery? If as I believe, Gospel temperance is at the bottom of all that has been gained for a brighter life at the South, it is both wise and just toward God and man that the new party shall be rigidly one of prohibitory Home Protection.
We went on into South Carolina, with headquarters at Charleston, the Boston of the South. There the central personality on the side of temperance is a woman, Mrs. Sallie F. Chapin, a magnetic and magnificent woman. And yet in those dark days of hostility and sorrow, she was second to none in her efforts to glorify her own Palmetto State. It was she who wrote that leading secession novel, “Fitz Hugh St. Clair.” And one day when a squad of our boys in blue rode up to her house and demanded a military map of the South which they had understood she possessed, she said certainly she would bring it to them if they would be seated a moment in her parlor. They sat down, and Mrs. Chapin went into an adjoining room after the map, and, a few moments later, she returned and laid it in their laps, but it had been scissored into a thousand bits and shreds. But now she is for the Union heart and hand, and is a strong arm for temperance and a pure homelife. Only the other day she was at Ocean Grove, and there, for the first time in her life, stood up and talked to the people, touching interest near her home; and she talked with beautiful pose and grace. In her parlors, too, I met many staunch friends of temperance, and willing to co-operate with Northern workers; and none more so than Bishop Stevens, of the Episcopal church, who at the opening of the war was a Colonel, and organized, and commanded the “Stevens Battery,” which fired the first shot against Fort Sumpter [sic]. And now no man south of Mason and Dixon’s line is doing more for the negro than is this Bishop. He introduced me to my first Charleston audience; following the Southern custom toward concert singers, he gently led me forward, a little radical of the North that I was, and presented me with great good-will to a large audience in that hot-bed of a past rebellion, and the people gave me cordial welcome. Another amiable South Carolina leader is Rev. Dr. Vedder, of the Lutheran Church, and who insisted on translating our initials–W.C.T.U.–by “We Come to Unite,” but promised the women that, if they would form a strong auxiliary there, the letters would appal [sic] the saloons as meaning “We Come to Upset.” South Carolina is near the head of the roll of States that will soon have comparative sobriety.
We entered Gerogia, and at Atlanta, the Chicago of the South, found the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union the central figure in our field of work. And later it’s ladies walked arm in arm with legislators, who welcomed their petition for prohibition and became their friendly escorts to the Capital. How different from the uncivil treatment encountered among legislators by our own ladies at Springfield! The present outlook is that Georgia will get at least local option this year or next. The W.C.T.U. of Savannah numbers 100 of the best women in the city, and that they are zealous in good works, mark that to the great Masonic bazaar there they sent a committee soliciting that no liquors be sold; and the gracious managers complied. And when the favorite regiment of Georgia boys were about to hold a festival, the ladies invited them to dispense with all liquors; and they said “Yes, out of respect to the W.C.T.U. of Savannah.”
There too is a banker’s wife, whose name I must not disclose, but who told me this incident: Two years ago, she was passing the summer at Old Orchard Beach, in Maine, and there met at table Lady McDonald, wife of Sir John, and was surprised that she took no wine at any time. Finally, she said to Lady McDonald, “Do you not set out wine when you entertain the Marquis of Lonre?” “Never,” she replied. “But do you not then feel that you must apologize?” “Why certainly not; wine is not a natural beverage, and so should rather come in, than go out, with apology.” And thereupon the banker’s wife concluded that what the English nobleman was not offended at, nobody in Georgia ought to be; and she at once became president of the W.C.T.U., which we organized in her home city.
At Jacksonville Fla., we found a flourishing local union largely responsible for the agitation of prohibition, before the late session of the Legislature. In Alabama, though “Here We Rest” is its fair motto, we made but brief stops, found the people hopeful, organized a few unions and left them in the hands of wise and good women. There is about many of those Southern women not only a marked beauty of face and grace of manner, but great aptitude for business, and a frequent application of skill in management that is commendable.
Of Mississippi, whose noble and venerable Judge Watson has been among you all the week, and has told you of the strong efforts put forth there for prohibition–a State which has also an Alexander Stewart, president of its State University–it would be superfluous in me to speak. In Tennessee we found a peculiar system of voluntary prohibition. It is known as the four-mile law, under which no liquor is allowed to be sold within four miles of any unincorporated town. And to get this local prohibition more than two hundred old towns, proud of special charter rights as they always are, have voluntarily burned their charters, swopping all special privileges for the one boon of temperance. It looks as though the people longed to be rid of the curse of the cup, and what is the effect of this local abolition of rum? A Judge holding court through five counties where it now prevails stated it had reduced the number of crimes exactly two-thirds.
Of Kentucky, what need have I to speak, since her Col. Bain and Dr. Jutkins have been among you and eloquently told you much of many things. I believe the time is fast coming when Kentucky whisky will be only a thing of history. And over in Arkansas,–why, there is that reputedly awful place, famous as the home of a certain “traveler,” I found the almost identical law we of Illinois have toiled these three years to get–the “Hinds Bill.” And there is Hon. J.D. Palmer, once the lone temperance advocate in all that State; now the Democrats want him to be their Governor. And of Texas, I do not care to say more than that it has a strong sentiment and some vigorous workmen for temperance. There stands stanch and gallant E.L. Dahoney battling for home protection and prohibition. Great big free-hearted Texas, where I hope to make my own workship in the coming winter.
This is something of the large and hopeful outlook for temperance in the South, as I saw it. But there are also other virtues, of present thrift in that quarter of which I would like to speak. The real people there–the great middle people there–the great middle-class of whites and the most intelligent class of blacks have emphatically gone to work. They have largely abandoned politics as a sectional trade; they do not encourage the few relics of the Confederacy who are forever disposed to warm over old feuds.
The real people want perfect peace, that the profits of commerce and other industries may be theirs. I met the distinguished son of one who was in the Senate of Mr. Davis. Said he: “Since Mr. Davis must relieve his mind by writing a book on the war, I am very glad he has it out now, so that its bitter take may be out of the public mouth before another presidential election.”
Upon candid and creditable consideration, it appears that the Southern attitude toward the black man there has seriously altered since the late election, the foremost people now regarding him an essential factor in the development of the South and acting on the faith that a tame Negro is better company than a wild one. Of course, they do not accept him as a social equal, nor does he ask equality; but they are helping him to climb in that direction, in that they now widely favor compulsory education, give existing colored schools their sympathy, in place of their hate, and send their sincere thanks to the many Northern helpers of colored schools in the South. And I think the rising American of the South and the young Afro-American, metamorphosed in the kneading-through of one liberty and one education, will efface all phases of the politico-commercial color-line.
For Mr. Fredrick Douglass is correct that this line is not based on color. The prejudice comes of past wide difference in conditions, and will disappear as the difference narrows in nothing. The “Exodus” had itself made exit, and left only a small foot print. The black is feeling more at home, and the white wants him to stay. If the bulldozer still, lives, it is only in exceptionably bad spots, where he is swathed in whisky; and then what is he more in depravity than the hoodlum and garroter of the North? And to the truth of this improved accomplishment and outlook for the Negro I have not only the testimony of many Southern men and women worthy of full confidence, but also that of the teachers of colored schools, themselves often colored, and of other intelligent colored people. And I repeatedly there addressed audiences numbering as many as 3,000 blacks without lack of appreciation by them.
I would like to correct a[illegible] impression at the North that the English language, as spoken South, is grossly corrupted with localisms and slang phrases, spoiled rhetoric, and abuse of grammar. It surely is not so among the better classes I have mentioned as having met. Their diction is delicate and their speech fluent.
The Methodist Church has recently placed in the South a leader of the right stamp and temper–Bishop Warren. As I measured his bearing and influence, and the bearing toward him, I thought him typical of the “disciple who Jesus loved.”
In her own rare home I met Mrs. President Polk. In her beautiful silks and black kids, and past her 80th year, she seemed a well-preserved upper Southern lady of the days of the Mexican War. Her Christianity is of a sweet savor, and she is very popular still throughout the South. I proposed to her that, as a symbol of new unity between sections and a link between past and present, her portrait should go into honored position beside that of her husband in the White House. She smiled and accepted the offer pleasantly, and I think that the Southern ladies will gratefully accept half the task of placing it there.
There is, I think, a much greater willingness on the part of Southern people to know us of the North and to fraternize with us than they ususally have credit for. But when Northern men go South, full of hatred and political prejudice, certain in advance that they know how things are, they commence at once to mould the people to fit the model they have in mind.
Said a bright Alabama woman: “While you were being taught to spell nation with a big N, I was being taught with equal severity to spell Alabama with a big A. But those days and their terrible fruits are past; let me love you, and let us be sisters now.” Friends, are you not glad of the era of good feeling in the South?
Gospel temperance is at the basis of all we have to report that is good and upward-looking in our outlook at the South. But for the Gospel, there would be no such kindly fusing of hearts as we found there; no such bright prospect of the re-United States. And but for temperance, it would be long before the color-line could be broken. Indeed, it can never be broken at all, but as a political boundary, it will melt and fade away with the light of coming day–that day of Constitutional and Statutory Prohibition which ballots, dropped by hands both white and black, shall usher in. A few years hence there will be but two great armies in this Christian republic–one marching from breweries, distilleries, and dramshops; the other from churches, schools, shops and home, meeting on the plains of the voter’s battle ground. The “Home Prohibition Party” founded at this Lake Bluff Convocation, labored and prayed for by all true hearts, shall win, shouting the war cry of the day “For God and Home and Native Land.”
Source: Frances E. Willard, “The Southern People,” National Liberator, 28 August 1881.
(Temperance and Prohibition Papers microfilm (1977), section II, reel 3, scrapbook 5).