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Tree of Evil

c. 1875 — National Convention of Woman’s Christian Temperance Union


I have been trying to abridge my remarks, to formulate my creed on the temperance question in a brief sentence. I very carefully and prayerfully read the Liquor-Dealers’ Gazette every week, and I have made up my mind that I am in favor, on general principles of every thing that liquor-dealers are opposed to.

I am in favor of local option. It seems to be a very democratic thing. I can hardly understand how an American man can be so mean as to sell liquor in the face of law and the express public sentiment of the community. I am in favor of civil damage laws. I think that when men rob the community and destroy property and life they ought to pay for it, and pay well for it, and if they kill people they ought to be hung for it. I am opposed to license, and in favor of prohibition. I never could understand, though I have given much thought to the subject, and I do not still understand, how the mere putting a thing that is wrong on the statute-books makes it right.

Because men, as I have seen them, put their feet upon the back of their desks in legislative halls, and smoke their cigars till the whole ceiling is almost hid with a cloud of tobacco-smoke, and vote for license laws, that does not make it right. Then I am in favor of the Crusade. I think that it is well understood that women compose about one half the inhabitants of this Republic; that we have an interest, and ought to have a say, in this matter. None have suffered so much as women, and they are suffering still. I am glad that I have been climbing these last years the hills of hope. I have got up where these sweet singers [the Hutchinsons] are; for I can see the good time coming in the near future.

I had the privilege a few weeks ago of saying this to the Governor of Pennsylvania — and he is a very fine-looking man, I ought to say as I pass along. He knew that a hundred of the first ladies in the State of Pennsylvania were going to visit him. He stood by the mantel-piece in his great parlor supporting himself, and looking like a bit of statuary. He had braced himself up against the mantel-piece for the shock. Well, it was a shock. I am not going to enter on the course of argument that took twenty-five minutes of the best speaking that I ever did in my life or ever expect to do again. But I said to him this: “If you take from us local-option” — for we were there to protest against the repeal of the local-option law — “we will give you within the next political decade prohibition.” I said to him, and I may throw out the hint here, “We hold the balance of power. The boys are just about what their mothers make them, and the men are only boys of larger growth.”

The Woman’s National Christian Temperance Union — which is a co-laborer in this field, and reaches out both hands to co-operate with this organization (as the secretary of this Society knows very well) — is taking hold of the children with a purpose to save the next generation, and bring them up to be more temperate, more truthful, and more honorable, if they should happen to be sent to our legislative halls, than the present incumbents.

Well, I can give some reason to-night for the hope that is within me; for I look very hopeful on this national movement of the women.

Though woman’s hands are weak to fight,
Their voices are strong to pray,
And with fingers of faith they’ll open the gate
To a brighter, better day.

I can give you some reason, it seems to me, why the Lord has called this mighty force into the field for more active work now than in the past, because it seems to me that this is a movement under divine direction.

The first reason is because God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. You know we have always been called weak. We did not like it very much; we want to be strong like our brothers, and when they called us the weaker vessels we did not exactly understand it. But the weakest ware that we have on our tables is the finest and most costly. We are looking into those passages of Scripture with enlightened eyes. We did not understand that all the great movements in nature, all the great moving powers, are the silent forces, the little things; and as we come to think about it, it is not the great clumsy instruments that can do the best execution, after all.

Now, these men — and all honor to these temperance workers — have been using the plow. They have been plowing around this tree of evil, while we women (and you know we go right at a thing) come up with the ax in our hands, and lay it at the root of this tree. We intend to cut and slash, woman-fashion, until there is not a root or branch left. We are so weak that we are forced to trust God and to lean up on his almighty arm, from whence cometh our strength. A great many women in this land during the last year have come near enough to Jesus to touch the hem of his garment, and feel the mighty outflow of power that comes from divine contact. It seems to me that the women during this last year have followed more closely in the footsteps of the blessed Christ than ever women did since the Maries followed him up Calvary. Women of all denominations are clasping hands around the cross, with one prayer going up to God, as from one heart. The Quakers are singing beautifully. At the Massachusetts State Convention, the other day, the Quaker President started all the tunes. Our Presbyterian ladies are waxing eloquent in the presentation of this subject; and so, forgetting our denominational differences, we join hands and hearts for glorious work in this contest. But there are other reasons.

You know it has been said that a woman’s work was never done, and we thought that it was an insinuation that we were not very industrious; but we have come to understand it better now. I have ben led to ask, Why is it that a woman’s work is never done? I see that men work for about so many hours, and then they quit; they do not work any more, not because all the work of the world has been done up, but because, I suppose, they grow weary. But women never grow weary; they work on and on they are tireless sin their energies. Then, you know, it has been said that when a woman will she will, and when she wont she wont. Well, now, there is deep meaning in these old sayings, and they mean just about this to us now: that women never weary in good works; that if a thing can be done, if it is within the range of human possibilities, they will do it; and they have such will in great moral movements that they cannot be intimidated, or discouraged, or bribed.

In all the contests of last winter, when Congress and our State Legislatures were in session, and our women were going up to appeal to the law-makers — for our blows are not aimed at the drunkards, but at the rum-sellers and the manufacturers, and the law-makers who shield them — when they have been going up to present their case, I have never yet heard of a bribe bing offered. The liquor men are wise.

But there is another reason. They have the moral courage. It is perfectly wonderful to see how these women talk. They talk right out in meeting, and tell about their pastor, about their Church, and about the members of the Church; and the things that were covered and hid away are being uncovered. They have the moral courage to say what they think. Now, perhaps I cannot better explain this than by telling a little incident. Some of you know what it is to stand in the presence of the enemy’s guns — what it is to stand where the shot and the shell come over. That is physical courage. I know all about that kind of courage, for I have come near being shot more than a hundred times, and know the ring of all sorts of destructive missiles. That is one kind of courage. But I have come to know, within the last eighteen months, that there is a higher style of courage than that.

A few months ago some ladies were visiting saloons — (and I tell you it takes more courage to go into these saloons, and stand in the presence of the liquor dealers, and protest, in the spirit of the Gospel, against the traffic, than it does to stand up and take the chance of a random shot and shell) — they were visiting saloons in Jacksonville, Illinois. They had visited all the saloons but one, and the good, kind brethren advised them not to visit that saloon, as the dealer was a very violent man, and would, perhaps, do violence to them.

They thought and prayed about it, and one day, when they were in the church praying, there came down upon them the mighty constraining influences of the divine Spirit, and they rose up as one to go out and visit that saloon. Well, the liquor-dealer had ben expecting them for several days, and when he saw them coming he threw his door wide open, and stood in the door, with a pistol in his hand. He held it out; they marched right on, and as they approached very near he said —

“Ladies, if you undertake to come into my saloon I will shoot the first woman who undertakes it.”

Well, they never knew exactly how it was, but a young lady of the company, as if constrained by a divine impulse, sprang up and stood beside him, singing,

Never be afraid to work for Jesus,
Never be afraid.

Somehow his arm got weak; the pistol hung by his side; tears came into his eyes; he stepped back, and took a seat in the saloon. They went in and sung and prayed to their hearts’ content. That is what I call the highest style of courage; and it is being displayed throughout the length and breadth of the land.

I do not believe that it is within the range of our language to portray the evils that grow out of the liquor traffic. If any body can do it, that is Mr. Gough, and I am going to give way to him pretty soon.

O, I remember as I stand her to-night that there are women hid away in the palaces of this great wicked city, whose hearts are breaking under silks, and there are other women who are hid way in garrets and cellars, whose hearts are breaking under rags. There is not a mother before me who has not, at times, a sinking of heart lest this evil may come nigh her dwelling. And who shall measure a mother’s love or a mother’s anxiety? It is the one pure, true thing on earth. It did not go down in Eden. It was the master-gift that came with motherhood; and when the mother has her child in her arms, and it reaches up its dimpled fingers to touch her cheek with its velvet touch of love, like the rod of Moses, it opens a fountain that will never case to flow.

My boy that stands by my side is mine to-day, and he will be mine forever. The children that went out to follow the Lamb wherever he goeth, and join the song of the redeemed like the sound of many water, are mine, and will be mine forever. O, what anxiety and interest the mothers of this land feel lest their sons, so beloved, should be overcome by this evil! And there are mothers lingering to-day about the jails. Why, our jails are filled with the victims of this vile traffic.

I was speaking in Wheeling not many months ago, and I understood before I commenced speaking that there were a good many liquor dealers in the audience. I was so glad; it always helps me so much. After the meeting was over a gentleman came to me and said:

“Madam, if you go on and have success, you will break up my business.”

I said, “I hope I will, if you are a liquor-dealer.”

“No, I am not a liquor-dealer, but I keep the jail, and that is about the same thing.”

Our jails would be empty but for this traffic. Not long ago I was in a jail. I am not going to detail you with a description of a jail; but if you want to feel more

Interest in the temperance cause than ever you did, just visit your police courts and your jails, and you will have something to quicken your interest. I was in a jail in Ohio. There were, perhaps, twenty men in the outer court, and as many in the inner prison — little dark places with narrow walls, where they were confined in dungeons worse than Barnum keeps his wildest animals in. As I went up to speak to them, I was obliged to thrust my two fingers (I could not get the three fingers through) between the iron bars. I wanted to shake hands with them. I found, as I looked into those dark cells, that they were all young men, and learned that every one (except one) of them was

Because of crimes committed under the influence of liquor, and some of them were very young. I pushed my fingers through the iron bars, and pressed my face against them to look in. I felt my two fingers clasped with a tight grasp, and, looking closely, I saw a boy there not seventeen years old. As he held on to my finger-tip I said, “You are very young to be here!” and his lip quivered. He had such an innocent face my heart was moved. I said, “Have you got a mother?” He said —

“No, ma’am; my mother died whew I was a baby.”

O! what a story of heart-hunger, neglect, and temptation that little sentence revealed to me. I said —

“Have you got a father?” and he answered: —

“Well, I might just as well have had no father; he did not care for any thing but whisky. I don’t’ know where he is; I expect he is dead.”

O, what a sad story! and yet it is repeated all over this land. I need not take you out of your own city for instances of crime and cruelty. Only last Sunday morning a drunkard’s wife walked the streets of Jersey City for more than two hours, unfit to appear in it, without proper clothing, with two little children clinging to her skirts, having no home, and without a friend in the wide world. Rum had robbed her of every thing, and left her wandering a castaway in the streets; and she carried a dead baby in her arms only three weeks old. And these things are so common that we forget or lose the sense of their horribleness.

I ought to have said, by way of showing the amount of courage a woman can have, that my very presence here is the biggest argument that I ever hear of. That I should be speaking in the hearing of the eloquent man who is to address you in a few minutes is a perfect wonder to me; for I have sat in the audience many times, when he was been speaking, and thought he was the prince of orators.

I just want to say, in conclusion, that the Woman’s National Christian Temperance Union have organized in all the Northern States of the Union except four, and they are now arranging for that. All this side of the Missouri River we are organizing, more thoroughly than any set of politicians ever organized, by States and congressional districts, down to little school districts. We are not in politics, we want you to understand; but we are determined, whatever party goes up or goes down, that the rum power shall go down.

We are not trusting in our own strength. Some of you have stood where the Revelator stood when he saw the golden censer before the throne; and the voice of prayer, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, is gong up every day from the women of our Union. We are encouraged to believe that our prayers will be heard.

We have wonderful encouragement in the work. Jesus has made it very plain. I only want t call attention to one of his beautiful lessons – about the unjust judge. It seems to me he went down just as low in the scale of human depravity as he could go to bring up that unjust judge; because, if there is one many meaner than another, it is the man who undertakes to weigh out justice, and then takes bribes and deals unjustly. He was not only an unjust man, but he was an infidel and did not believe in God. H was not only an infidel, but he was a reckless fellow, who did not care for his fellow-men. He had sunk so low that he did not care what men thought of him. Well, to this man came a woman. She was poor; she had no money to give him; she had not any friends to help her. She had no great, eloquent words or arguments on her lips when she came, but she said, “Avenge me for mine enemy.” She cried after him and followed him; and yet, although he cared not for God, neither regarded man, yet because this woman cried unto him and troubled him, he said he would avenge her. And will not God, our just God, avenge his own elect, who are crying until him day and night? Verily, he will. So we are lifting our cry; and we remember that we have an Advocate with the Father that never lost a case.



Source: The Temperance Reform and its Great Reformers; An Illustrated History, ed. William Haven Daniels (New York: Phillips & Hunt), 1879, pp. 323 -333.