More on the Washingtonians of 1840-1842 and The Discovery of Excuses

When the six original Washingtonians organized in Baltimore in the year 1840 it sparked a cultural shockwave of tens of thousands of drunkards taking the pledge of total, permanent abstinence. The news spread quickly via the brand new telegraph and railroads. From Christmas 1841 to Christmas 1842, it was like Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” times a hundred thousand. Families living in destitute poverty went from a horrific life of anguish and misery to one of hope profoundly realized.

Before the Washingtonians, it was generally assumed that drunkards were hopeless cases. They were considered useful by temperance reformers only as examples of the likely consequence of drinking any alcohol at all.

Once it became common knowledge that drunkards COULD completely recover back to normal life, the many heavy drinkers and drunkards who did not want to quit realized they were going to have to come up with some good con artistry; and thus was born what is today our 175 year old societal love affair with excuses for alcoholic drinking, excuses for NOT taking the pledge of permanent abstinence, and the highly evolved excusive coping mechanisms of the loved ones of those excuse-makers and the business of making it all, somehow, palatable.

There was a massive combination of forces at that time which invested great effort at either channeling the Washingtonians into religious belief systems, or getting them to drink again. Most churches, politicians, and commercial interests were against unconditional abstinence. Congregational growth, tax revenues, and profits were motivations for making abstinence spiritually conditional, or very short-lived.

Never-the-less, as decades rolled by, because of it’s logical simplicity, many drunkards still did figure out to take the pledge in their own right, against social forces to the contrary.

Here’s a poem published in a Universalist newspaper. The Universalists were one of the few institutions that didn’t openly attempt to alter or demean the simple pledge of permanent abstinence.

............. The Universalist Palladium and Ladies’ Amulet.
Vol 4…No. 20. Published Weekly, at Portland, Maine, and Portsmouth, N. H. Whole No. 96.
I.Berry, Publisher and Propietor. Saturday, March 18, 1843. $1.50 Per Annum, In Advance.
[p. 154] ................From the Eastern Argus.
...THE WASHINGTONIAN.
......................... By Mrs. Case.

.......Ho! Thou of sword and plume,
..........Of battle’s victor band, -
...Room to a mightier chieftain! room
..........To a mightier heart and hand!
.......Not with the tramp of steeds,
..........Not with the roar of drums,
...But heralded by holy deeds,
..........The passion-conqueror comes.

.......Bow down, O lordly lyre,
..........Before a master’s tread,
...And let thy strings of living fire
..........Be voiceless as the dead ;
.......Or, with deep, reverant words,
..........Breathe low thy welcome strain ;
...For he hath woke life’s tuneless chords
..........To harmony again!

.......See! Science throws him down
..........The keys of all her wealth,
...And he may wear a glorious crown
..........Of wisdom, honor, health ;
.......And he may build a name
..........All time shall love to own –
...A pillar in the halls of fame
..........That shall o’ershade a throne.

.......Hail to the hero brave,
..........Whose strong, indignant hand
...Hath smote the sins that marked him slave,
..........Till they were gyves of sand ;
.......Lo! Freedom to his feet –
..........Lo! Progress to his soul –
...As gazing millions proudly greet
..........The victor of the bowl!