LXXXI. the prohibition issue.In 1887 the repose of Mr. Davis's life was grievously disturbed by the question of prohibition, which became a prominent issue in the politics of Texas. A constitutional amendment to prohibit the manufacture or the sale of any intoxicating liquors, including wine, ale, and beer, was to be submitted to popular vote. Scores of letters from Mr. Davis's friends in Texas besought an expression of opinion by him. Mr. Davis declined to answer, as he had no desire to come, even indirectly, before the public again. Finally, after a most urgent letter from his life-long and much-beloved friend, Colonel F. R. Lubbock, he consented to write a letter for publication. It is as follows:
This letter, widely published, aroused the antagonism of the partisans of prohibition, who knew that it would probably result, as later it did, in their defeat at the polls.  Shortly after the letter was published, it was announced that Mr. Davis favored a prohibition policy, because at a camp meeting he had worn a temperance badge and complimented one of the lady orators! In a letter to Reverend W. M. Leftwich, dated Beauvoir, August 24, 1887, Mr. Davis thus disposed of this absurd electioneering trick:
Among the criticisms evoked by this letter was an address at Brookhaven, Miss., by a bishop of the Methodist Church South, which was reported by the Times-Democrat of New Orleans. Mr. Davis responded to this address in an open letter to the reverend orator, for which I have space for a few extracts only. “ You have expressed sorrow,” Mr. Davis wrote,
because I answered the inquiry of a friend for my opinion on a political question, and employed many kind and complimentary expressions in regard to me; but in view of your persistence in unjustified assailment, your compliments seem like the garlands with which, in the olden time, a sacrificial offering  was decorated. Now it is my turn to grieve, not for you personally, but that a dignitary of the Methodist Church South should have left the pulpit and the Bible to mount the political rostrum and plead the higher law of prohibition — the substitution of force for free will, moral responsibility, the obligation to do unto others as we would be done by, and the brotherly love taught by the meek and lowly Jesus whom we adore. In this I see the forbidden union of Church and State. My grief is real and relates to both. Disfranchised as I be, the love of my life for the Constitution and the liberties it was formed to secure, remains as ardent in age as it was in youth. “The Methodist Church South” has been to me the object of admiration and grateful affection, because of its fidelity to principle despite the pressure of wealth and power, by the good of its underpaid ministers, who have gone along the highways to penetrate unfrequented regions, and there “preach the gospel to the poor.” Often has my memory recalled the prophetic vision of Bishop Marvin. Will it be fulfilled by introducing politics into the organization of the Church he nobly illustrated? ... Fanaticism looks through a reversed telescope, minimizing everything save its special object. What though one should point a  prohibitionist to the civilizing, harmonizing, peace-securing, comfort-giving effects of commerce among the nations? If he thought it interfered with his peculiar “ism,” would he not probably answer by irrelevant catchwords? The time was when sumptuary laws embraced what should be worn and eaten. If we begin the march of retrogression, where will it stop? If, as already proposed, there should be Federal laws to enforce the prohibition policy, your recollection of war and reconstruction days should enable you to anticipate the doings of an army of spies, informers, and deputy-marshals making domiciliary visits to insure the observance of the law. The moral decay which would inevitably result from such a condition, needs no portrayal. To me it seems the plain duty of every citizen who loves the liberty our sires bequeathed to us, to check the scheme before it acquires dangerous proportions. I hold it to be one of the natural rights of man to do as he pleases with his own, provided he inflicts no injury on another. To protect the use and prevent the abuse of that right is the necessity of social existence; to give adequate power, and yet efficiently to guard against the perversions of the grant, is the problem which the wisdom of ages has but partially solved. Hence the maxim, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”  There are surely better remedies for offence against the peace and good order of society than such a departure from our principles of constitutional liberty and community independence as would be Federal legislation to enforce a sumptuary policy. Father Mathew found reason and moral suasion such potent factors that his good work was not of a day, but lives after him in some who took the pledge, and others who have joined the temperance societies. These and other causes have so acted upon public opinion and social habits, as to give the prohibition movement the possibilities it now has, and could not have enjoyed in the not remote past. Why not trust to religion and education, to refinement and science, aided by the laws which have had the sanction of experience, to prevent the formation of habits of intemperance, rather than, at the sacrifice of personal liberty and moral responsibility, to undertake by coercive means the reformation of the drunkard? The former may be preachable; the latter, by such methods, is hopeless. In the letter to Governor Lubbock, I admitted intemperance to be a great evil; but is it the only one that afflicts society and calls for more active remedies? The opium habit is reported by statistics to be increasing, and, sad to relate, that its greatest ravages are  among the gentler and finer sex. Laws exist, but fail to prevent the abuse. In this, prohibition does not prohibit. Are there not other means? Is there no Peter to preach a crusade for the redemption of woman, the mother of Jesus? of woman, the last at the cross, and first at the sepulchre? of woman, the consoling friend in the hospitals, the leader in all the charities? Is there no St. George to stay the hydra that is poisoning the salt of the earth? I do not deprecate the effort to abate the evil of intemperance, but here is an evil more deleterious to mind and body, and why, it is asked, is the field unoccupied to which humanity and manhood are both calling for laborers? Atheism reviles, and free thought, namely want of thought, denies the truth of revelation, and in the broad day scoffs at the plan of salvation. The month in which you made your address is reputed to have had an exceptionally large number of assassinations. The newspapers have many notices of burglaries, robberies, rapes, and infanticides. Divorces are shamefully frequent. The war between labor and capital gives cause for gravest apprehensions. The colossal wealth of the few grows in geometrical proportions, while the toiling millions plod on their weary way. Are all these and other evils, crimes, and misfortunes  not enumerated due to one cause, or is the one idea a universal absorbent?As these excerpts clearly convey Mr. Davis's view of the issue involved, it does not seem necessary to give any further account of the controversy. It ended in the complete overthrow of the prohibitory movement in Texas, but the disturbance created by the abuse of him impaired his health, now quite feeble, and grieved him greatly. The Methodist bishop, followed by many of his clergy, attacked him, and some of them made him the theme of sermons. As he always admired the Methodists and worshipped with them when not at his own church, this added to his annoyance, not for the sake of the individuals who made the attack, but for the body of pious people before whom he felt himself wantonly misrepresented.