previous next

Chapter 30: Crusaderessing.

Great is the evil, wild are the efforts made by Americans to cure the evil of intemperance.

Springing from English and German fathers, the Americans come of a race among whom free tippling was a pious rite and social courtesy, as well as the gratification of a physical appetite. Our gods were hard drinkers as well as strong fighters; and the lovely shield-maidens and wish-maidens who enchanted our fallen heroes, had the duty of pouring out horns of mead and ale. We denizens of earth were quick to follow the example of our gods and heroes in their House of Joy. Teutonic love of ale and mead survived the fall of Odin and his wish-maidens; taking shape under the new faith as church-ales and grace-cups. We have our God-speeds and stirrup-cups; our Lent ales, Lammas ales, and Christmas ales. We drink at christenings; at weddings, [313] and at funerals. Our marriage feasts are bride-ales. We pledge the new-born babe in strong liquors, and renew our memory of the dead in wine. We Teutons are the poets of good cheer. A Saxon princess left us the phrase, “Liever Kyning wass heal — dear King, your health” --the origin of our present Wassail. An English damsel gave us the Toast. To us belong the loving cup and the parting glass. Ours among nations are those fines and footings which are levied on the tradesman and artisan, to be spent by good fellows in drink. In truth, we have a craving for strong waters which no religious precepts, no municipal regulations have ever yet been able to subdue.

Americans have our virtues and our appetites. They drink a great deal more than Gauls, Italians, and Iberians drink; on the other side, they work harder and fight fiercer than Gauls, Italians, and Iberians work and fight. Alike in what they do, and what they fail to do, the emphasis of a strong original character comes out in them.

Alike in England and America, we have tried a hundred methods of repression. We have tried fines in money; we have tried exposure in the 3r3 [314] stocks; we have tried imprisonment in jails. Our American cousins have gone farther in the way of repression than ourselves. In some States they have forbidden the sale of intoxicating drinks; in others they have placed the traffic under regulations which are almost as stringent as prohibition. In several States they have made the drink-seller responsible for the injuries done by drunken men and women, and in many more they have allowed the plea of habitual drunkenness as ground for a divorce.

In America, as in England, the results are so far doubtful that the efficacy of such measures can be plausibly denied. Taken as a whole, America consumes more whisky than ever. In the most sober of her States the convictions for drunkenness are increasing. Maine, in spite of her rigid system, has more offenders and more fines this year than she has had for any other year since prohibition was adopted as her rule. Massachusetts, after trying the policy of prohibition for more than twenty years, has recently repealed the law, and come back to the system of recognising the sale of drink, and regulating that sale by licences. In Ohio, they have tried State laws, police inspection, and private enthusiasm. Judges and police [315] have failed; preachers and missionaries have also failed. They have tried crusaders of both sexes, not only preaching men but singing women. In all these efforts they have failed, yet not so signally as to discourage new attempts. The singing movement, though abated by the magistrates as a public nuisance, is regarded by pious people as having left behind it in Ohio some exceedingly precious fruits.

Few subjects are more tempting to an artist than the comic side presented by Mother Carey and her female troop of singers; but I feel too much respect for women, even when I cannot go all lengths with them, to treat these ladies otherwise than with the reverence due to spotless motives and noble aims. These singing women were good and decent females, members of various churches, and especially of the Wesleyan Churches. Watching the temperance societies, and noting what they thought the causes of their failure, these ladies came to the conclusion that as moral agents, men are played out, and that women must set their shoulders to the wheel. With feminine ways of thought, they put the matter in this light before themselves. The thirst for strong [316] drink is not only a natural passion, but a universal and abiding passion; while the efforts made by men to put it down are fitful and empirical-paper pledges, social orders, public meetings, and prohibitive laws. No man has dreamt of an appeal to God. These women saw that a field lay open to their enterprise. It was the field of prayer, and they resolved to try the power of prayer.

They entered on a crusade of prayer against intoxicating drinks, and took on themselves the duty of crusaderesses. They prayed at church. They prayed in their own rooms. They called meetings for prayer. When they were ripe for bolder things, they stept into the streets, and stood in front of drinking-bars, praying for the whisky-drinkers, praying for the whisky-vendors, wrestling with the potent and evil spirit. Their work began in Fourth Street. First meeting in church, and asking the Divine blessing on their trial, the ladies fell into ranks, two and two, and then passed into the street singing their hymns. Near the Exchange stands a famous drinking-bar, to which merchants repair for a free lunch, and wash that free lunch down with copious draughts of whisky and water. Here the [317] ladies halted, formed a half-circle round the door, closed up the side-walk, began to sing the Rock of Ages, after which they knelt down on the stones to pray.

Men came out of the bar to look at these visitors. Still more stopped in the street, arrested by the sacred sounds. A crowd soon blocked the street. Cars could not pass, and waggons had to turn another way. Some persons joked and mocked, others threw copper cents into the circle. Many looked at them with pity, not unmixed with wonder, for the masculine brain is slow to see a chance of moral progress in proceedings which resemble a row, and may easily end in a riot. Yet the women held the side-walk, finished their prayer, got up and sang more hymns. Americans are fond of hymns, and there are few Americans who will not doff their caps and join in singing such pieces as the Rock of Ages and There is a Fountain. After holding the whisky-bar in siege for about an hour, the ladies formed ranks, and marched back to their church, followed by a crowd of men and boys — some of whom, it is supposed, had hardly ever been inside a church before. A short service ended the day. [318]

For several weeks these scenes went on. Some bar-keepers opened their doors and bade the ladies come in. They entered, filling the bar, and hustling the men away. Other dealers gave in and closed their bars. A few of the whisky-vendors, chiefly Jews, insulted the ladies, giving free drinks to any rough who would join in chanting jovial and indecent choruses; yet the ladies persevered until a thousand bars had been closed by their appeals and interruptions. But the movement could not be allowed to spread. The ladies blocked the streets, traffic got deranged, and when the novelty was over, the great merchants and bankers of Cincinnati forced the civic authorities to interfere. Reform was sacrificed to trade.

“ Our public officers,” says to me a Good Templar, “are all elected by the liquor interest, and the Police Commissioners dare not raise a hand against the keepers of saloons and bars.”

The trade in strong drink is so profitable in Ohio that bar-keepers can afford to stand many drinks and pay many fines; yet a judge who knows his work can always carry his point against dishonest citizens. A Hebrew dealer was brought [319] before a magistrate on a charge of selling whisky without a permit. “ You are fined ten dollars,” said the judge. “ Ten dollars!” sneered the Jew. “I pay him-shell agen.” Next time the offender was fined twenty dollars. “ Twenty dollars!” he snapt; “pay him, and shell agen.” Brought up a third time and fined a hundred dollars, he looked blank and beaten. “Eh! A hundred dollars? A hundred! Den I schtop.”

But magistrates are lenient-perhaps too lenient with offenders. By the Adair Law any barkeeper in Ohio who supplies a man with drink is answerable for that man's misdeeds;. answerable whether he supplies the whole or only part of what his customer may have drunk. Thus a man may come into a bar and drink a cocktail. He may go to a second house and have a mint-julep. Later on, he may take an eye-opener, and after that a whisky-smash. By this time he may be tipsy, quarrelsome and disorderly, and the landlords who have each supplied him with six-penny worth of liquor, are each and all responsible for his misdeeds. Such a law needs to be wisely read and cautiously applied. The crusaders and crusaderesses say it is not applied at all. [320]

“Guess now, you'll say it's good fun and turns a few cents pretty well, to invest in liquor,” my Good Templar observes. “At a cost of twenty-five cents a fellow gets drunk. He may then disturb the street and break a man's head. Taken before the judge he gets a night's lodging and a square meal-all for the original twenty-five cents.”

“And how would you prevent such incidents?”

“Well, I guess the sale of liquor should be made penal.”

“Surely it is nowhere in America penal to sell such wines and spirits as are freely sold in every town of Europe?”

“No, not quite, yet very near. Have you ever been to St. Johnsbury, in Vermont? No! Then you should see St. Johnsbury, in Vermont; a sober place, where nobody can get a drop of drink!”

“What is St. Johnsbury?”

Sir, St. Johnsbury is a working-man's Paradise.”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Americans (4)
Saint Johnsbury (1)
Odin (1)
Christmas (1)
Carey (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: