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Contents > Author > Abraham Lincoln > Temperance Address, Feb. 22, 1842 1809- 1865
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Abraham Lincoln
Temperance Address, Feb. 22, 1842
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Although the Temperance cause has been in progress for near
twenty years, it is apparent to all, that it is, just now, being
crowned with a degree of success, hitherto unparalleled.

The list of its friends is daily swelled by the additions of fifties,
of hundreds, and of thousands. The cause itself seems suddenly
transformed from a cold abstract theory, to a living, breathing,
active, and powerful chieftain, going forth "conquering and to
conquer." The citadels of his great adversary are daily being
stormed and dismantled; his temple and his altars, where the
rites of his idolatrous worship have long been performed, and
where human sacrifices have long been wont to be made,
are daily desecrated and deserted. The trump of the conqueror's
fame is sounding from hill to hill, from sea to sea, and from land
to land, and calling millions to his standard at a blast.

For this new and splendid success, we heartily rejoice. That
that success is so much greater now than heretofore, is
doubtless owing to rational causes; and if we would have it
continue, we shall do well to inquire what those causes are.
The warfare heretofore waged against the demon Intemperance,
has, somehow or other, been erroneous. Either the champions
engaged, or the tactics they adopted have not been the most
proper. These champions for the most part have been Preachers,
Lawyers, and hired agents. Between these and the mass of
mankind, there is a want of approachability, if the term be
admissible, partially, at least, fatal to their success. They are
supposed to have no sympathy of feeling or interest, with
those very persons whom it is their object to convince and

And again, it is so common and so easy to ascribe motives to
men of these classes, other than those they profess to act upon.
The preacher, it is said, advocates temperance because he is a
fanatic, and desires a union of the Church and State; the lawyer,
from his pride and vanity of hearing himself speak; and the hired
agent, for his salary. But when one, who has long been known
as a victim of intemperance bursts the fetters that have bound
him, and appears before his neighbors "clothed, and in his right
mind," a redeemed specimen of long-lost humanity, and stands
up with tears of joy trembling in his eyes, to tell of the miseries
once endured, now to be endured no more forever; of his once
naked and starving children, now clad and fed comfortably; of
a wife long weighed down with woe, weeping, and a broken
heart, now restored to health, happiness, and a renewed
affection; and how easily it is all done, once it is resolved to
be done; how simple his language, there is a logic, and an
eloquence in it, that few, with human feelings, can resist. They
cannot say that he desires a union of church and state, for he
is not a church member; they cannot say he is vain of hearing
himself speak, for his whole demeanor shows he would gladly
avoid speaking at all; they cannot say he speaks for pay for
he receives none, and asks for none. Nor can his sincerity in
any way be doubted; or his sympathy for those he would
persuade to imitate his example be denied.

In my judgment, it is to the battles of this new class of champions
that our late success is greatly, perhaps chiefly, owing. But, had
the old school champions themselves, been of the most wise
selecting, was their system of tactics, the most judicious? It
seems to me, it was not. Too much denunciation against dram
sellers and dram drinkers was indulged in. This, I think, was
both impolitic and unjust. It was impolitic, because, it is not
much in the nature of man to be driven to anything; still less
to be driven about that which is exclusively his own business;
and least of all, where such driving is to be submitted to, at
the expense of pecuniary interest, or burning appetite.
When the dram-seller and drinker, were incessantly told,
not in accents of entreaty and persuasion, diffidently addressed
by erring man to an erring brother; but in the thundering tones
of anathema and denunciation, with which the lordly Judge often
groups together all the crimes of the felon's life, and thrusts
them in his face just ere he passes sentence of death upon
him, that they were the authors of all the vice and misery and
crime in the land; that they were the manufacturers and material
of all the thieves and robbers and murderers that infested the
earth; that their houses were the workshops of the devil; and
that their persons should be shunned by all the good and
virtuous, as moral pestilences-- I say, when they were told all
this, and in this way, it is not wonderful that they were slow,
very slow, to acknowledge the truth of such denunciations,
and to join the ranks of their denouncers in a hue and cry
against themselves.

To have expected them to do otherwise than they did-- to have
expected them not to meet denunciation with denunciation,
crimination with crimination, and anathema with anathema,
was to expect a reversal of human nature, which is God's decree,
and never can be reversed. When the conduct of men is designed
to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion,
should ever be adopted. It is an old and a true maxim, that a
"drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall." So with
men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him
that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that
catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad
to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but
little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your
cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one. On the contrary,
assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action,
or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will
retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his
heart; and though your cause be naked truth itself, transformed
to the heaviest lance, harder than steel, and sharper than steel
can be made, and though you throw it with more than Herculean
force and precision, you shall be no more be able to pierce him,
than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.

Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who would
lead him, even to his own best interest.

On this point, the Washingtonians greatly excel the temperance
advocates of former times. Those whom they desire to convince
and persuade, are their old friends and companions. They know
they are not demons, nor even the worst of men. They know
that generally, they are kind, generous, and charitable, even
beyond the example of their more staid and sober neighbors.
They are practical philanthropists; and they glow with a generous
and brotherly zeal, that mere theorizers are incapable of feeling.
Benevolence and charity possess their hearts entirely; and out
of the abundance of their hearts, their tongues give utterance.
"Love through all their actions runs, and all their words are mild."
In this spirit they speak and act, and in the same, they are
heard and regarded. And when such is the temper of the
advocate, and such of the audience, no good cause can be

But I have said that denunciations against dram-sellers and
dram-drinkers are unjust as well as impolitic. Let us see.

I have not enquired at what period of time the use of intoxicating
drinks commenced; nor is it important to know. It is sufficient
that to all of us who now inhabit the world, the practice of drinking
them, is just as old as the world itself,-- that is, we have seen the
one, just as long as we have seen the other. When all such of us,
as have now reached the years of maturity, first opened our eyes
upon the stage of existence, we found intoxicating liquor,
recognized by everybody, used by every body, and repudiated
by nobody. It commonly entered into the first draught of the infant,
and the last draught of the dying man. From the sideboard of the
parson, down to the ragged pocket of the houseless loafer, it was
constantly found. Physicians prescribed it in this, that, and the
other disease. Government provided it for soldiers and sailors; and
to have a rolling or raising, a husking or hoe-down, any where
about without it, was positively insufferable.

So too, it was every where a respectable article of manufacture
and merchandise. The making of it was regarded as an honorable
livelihood; and he who could make most, was the most
enterprising and respectable. Large and small manufactories of it
were every where erected, in which all the earthly goods of their
owners were invested. Wagons drew it from town to town--
boats bore it from clime to clime, and the winds wafted it from
nation to nation; and merchants bought and sold it, by wholesale
and retail, with precisely the same feelings, on the part of the
seller, buyer, and bystander, as are felt at the selling and buying
of flour, beef, bacon, or any other of the real necessaries of life.
Universal public opinion not only tolerated, but recognized and
adopted its use.

It is true, that even then, it was known and acknowledged,
that many were greatly injured by it; but none seemed to think
the injury arose from the use of a bad thing, but from the abuse
of a very good thing. The victims of it were pitied, and
compassionated, just as now are the heirs of consumptions,
and other hereditary diseases. Their failing was treated as a
misfortune, and not as a crime, or even as a disgrace.

If, then, what I have been saying be true, is it wonderful, that
some should think and act now as all thought and acted
twenty years ago? And is it just to assail, contemn, or despise
them, for doing so? The universal sense of mankind, on any
subject, is an argument, or at least an influence not easily
overcome. The success of the argument in favor of the existence
of an over-ruling Providence, mainly depends upon that sense;
and men ought not, in justice, to be denounced for yielding to
it, in any case, or giving it up slowly, especially, where they
are backed by interest, fixed habits, or burning appetites.

Another error, as it seems to me, into which the old reformers
fell, was, the position that all habitual drunkards were utterly
incorrigible, and therefore, must be turned adrift, and damned
without remedy, in order that the grace of temperance might
abound to the temperate then, and to all mankind some
hundred years thereafter. There is in this something so
repugnant to humanity, so uncharitable, so cold-blooded
and feelingless, that it never did, nor ever can enlist the
enthusiasm of a popular cause. We could not love the man
who taught it --we could not hear him with patience. The
heart could not throw open its portals to it. The generous
man could not adopt it. It could not mix with his blood.
It looked so fiendishly selfish, so like throwing fathers
and brothers overboard, to lighten the boat for our security--
that the noble minded shrank from the manifest meanness
of the thing.

And besides this, the benefits of a reformation to be effected
by such a system, were too remote in point of time, to warmly
engage many in its behalf. Few can be induced to labor
exclusively for posterity; and none will do it enthusiastically.
Posterity has done nothing for us; and theorize on it as we
may, practically we shall do very little for it, unless we are
made to think, we are, at the same time, doing something for
ourselves. What an ignorance of human nature does it exhibit,
to ask or expect a whole community to rise up and labor for
the temporal happiness of others after themselves shall be
consigned to the dust, a majority of which community take
no pains whatever to secure their own eternal welfare, at
a no greater distant day? Great distance, in either time or
space, has wonderful power to lull and render quiescent the
human mind. Pleasures to be enjoyed, or pains to be endured,
after we shall be dead and gone, are but little regarded, even
in our own cases, and much less in the cases of others.

Still, in addition to this, there is something so ludicrous in
promises of good, or threats of evil, a great way off, as to
render the whole subject with which they are connected, easily
turned into ridicule. "Better lay down that spade you are stealing,
Paddy; -- if you don't you'll pay for it at the day of judgment."
"Be the powers, if ye'll credit me so long, I'll take another, jist."

By the Washingtonians, this system of consigning the habitual
drunkard to hopeless ruin, is repudiated. They adopt a more
enlarged philanthropy. They go for present as well as future
good. They labor for all now living, as well as all hereafter to
live. They teach hope to all-- despair to none. As applying to
their cause, they deny the doctrine of unpardonable sin.
As in Christianity it is taught, so in this they teach, that
"While the lamp holds out to burn,
The vilest sinner may return."

And, what is a matter of more profound gratulation, they,
by experiment upon experiment, and example upon example,
prove the maxim to be no less true in the one case than in
the other. On every hand we behold those, who but yesterday,
were the chief of sinners, now the chief apostles of the cause.
Drunken devils are cast out by ones, by sevens, and by legions;
and their unfortunate victims, like the poor possessed, who
was redeemed from his long and lonely wanderings in the
tombs, are publishing to the ends of the earth, how great
things have been done for them. To these new champions,
and this new system of tactics, our late success is mainly
owing; and to them we must mainly look for the final
consummation. The ball is now rolling gloriously on, and
none are so able as they to increase its speed, and its bulk
--to add to its momentum, and its magnitude. Even though
unlearned in letters, for this task, none are so well educated.
To fit them for this work, they have been taught in the true
school. They have been in that gulf, from which they would
teach others the means of escape. They have passed that
prison wall, which others have long declared impassable;
and who that has not shall dare to weigh opinions with
them, as to the mode of passing.

But if it be true, as I have insisted, that those who have
suffered by intemperance personally, and have reformed,
are the most powerful and efficient instruments to push
the reformation to ultimate success, it does not follow, that
those who have not suffered, have no part left them to
perform. Whether or not the world would be vastly
benefitted by a total and final banishment from it of all
intoxicating drinks, seems to me not now an open question.
Three-fourths of mankind confess the affirmative with their
tongues, and, I believe, all the rest acknowledge it in their

Ought any, then, to refuse their aid in doing what the good
of the whole demands? Shall he, who cannot do much, be,
for that reason, excused if he do nothing? "But," says one,
"what good can I do by signing the pledge? I never drink
even without signing." This question has already been asked
and answered more than millions of times. Let it be answered
once more. For the man suddenly, or in any other way, to
break off from the use of drams, who has indulged in them
for a long course of years, and until his appetite for them
has become ten or a hundred fold stronger, and more craving,
than any natural appetite can be, requires a most powerful
moral effort. In such an undertaking, he needs every moral
support and influence, that can possibly be brought to his aid,
and thrown around him. And not only so; but every moral prop,
should be taken from whatever argument might rise in his
mind to lure him to his backsliding. When he casts his eyes
around him, he should be able to see, all that he respects,
all that he admires, and all that he loves, kindly and anxiously
pointing him onward; and none beckoning him back, to his
former miserable "wallowing in the mire."

But it is said by some, that men will think and act for themselves;
that none will disuse spirits or anything else, merely because
his neighbors do; and that moral influence is not that powerful
engine contended for. Let us examine this. Let me ask the
man who could maintain this position most stiffly, what
compensation he will accept to go to church some Sunday and
sit during the sermon with his wife's bonnet upon his head?
Not a trifle, I'll venture. And why not? There would be nothing
irreligious in it: nothing immoral, nothing uncomfortable. Then
why not? Is it not because there would be something egregiously
unfashionable in it? Then it is the influence of fashion; and what
is the influence of fashion, but the influence that other people's
actions have [on our own] actions, the strong inclination each
of us feels to do as we see all our neighbors do? Nor is the
influence of fashion confined to any particular thing or class
of things. It is just as strong on one subject as another. Let
us make it as unfashionable to withhold our names from the
temperance cause as for husbands to wear their wives' bonnets
to church, and instances will be just as rare in the one case as
the other.

"But," say some, "we are no drunkards; and we shall not
acknowledge ourselves such by joining a reformed drunkard's
society, whatever our influence might be." Surely no Christian
will adhere to this objection. If they believe, as they profess,
that Omnipotence condescended to take on himself the form
of sinful man, and, as such, to die an ignominious death for
their sakes, surely they will not refuse submission to the
infinitely lesser condescension, for the temporal, and perhaps
eternal salvation, of a large, erring, and unfortunate class of
their own fellow creatures. Nor is the condescension very great.

In my judgment, such of us as have never fallen victims, have
been spared more by the absence of appetite, than from any
mental or moral superiority over those who have. Indeed, I
believe, if we take habitual drunkards as a class, their heads
and their hearts will bear an advantageous comparison with
those of any other class. There seems ever to have been a
proneness in the brilliant, and warm-blooded to fall into this
vice. The demon of intemperance ever seems to have delighted
in sucking the blood of genius and of generosity. What one of us
but can call to mind some dear relative, more promising in youth
than all his fellows, who has fallen a sacrifice to his rapacity? He
ever seems to have gone forth, like the Egyptian angel of death,
commissioned to slay if not the first, the fairest born of every
family. Shall he now be arrested in his desolating career? In
that arrest, all can give aid that will; and who shall be excused
that can, and will not? Far around as human breath has ever
blown, he keeps our fathers, our brothers, our sons, and our
friends, prostrate in the chains of moral death. To all the living
every where we cry, "come sound the moral resurrection trump,
that these may rise and stand up, an exceeding great army" --
"Come from the four winds, O breath! and breathe upon these
slain, that they may live."

If the relative grandeur of revolutions shall be estimated by the
great amount of human misery they alleviate, and the small
amount they inflict, then, indeed, will this be the grandest the
world shall ever have seen. Of our political revolution of '76,
we all are justly proud. It has given us a degree of political
freedom, far exceeding that of any other nation of the earth.
In it the world has found a solution of the long mooted problem,
as to the capability of man to govern himself. In it was the germ
which has vegetated, and still is to grow and expand into the
universal liberty of mankind.

But with all these glorious results, past, present, and to come,
it had its evils too. It breathed forth famine, swam in blood and
rode in fire; and long, long after, the orphan's cry, and the
widow's wail, continued to break the sad silence that ensued.
These were the price, the inevitable price, paid for the blessings
it bought.

Turn now, to the temperance revolution. In it, we shall find a
stronger bondage broken; a viler slavery, manumitted; a greater
tyrant deposed. In it, more of want supplied, more disease
healed, more sorrow assuaged. By it no orphans starving,
no widows weeping. By it, none wounded in feeling, none
injured in interest. Even the dram-maker, and dram seller,
will have glided into other occupations so gradually, as never
to have felt the change; and will stand ready to join all others
in the universal song of gladness.

And what a noble ally this, to the cause of political freedom.
With such an aid, its march cannot fail to be on and on, till
every son of earth shall drink in rich fruition, the sorrow
quenching draughts of perfect liberty. Happy day, when,
all appetites controlled, all poisons subdued, all matter
subjected, mind, all conquering mind, shall live and move
the monarch of the world. Glorious consummation! Hail fall of
Fury! Reign of Reason, all hail!

And when the victory shall be complete-- when there shall be
neither a slave nor a drunkard on the earth-- how proud the
title of that Land, which may truly claim to be the birth-place
and the cradle of both those revolutions, that shall have
ended in that victory. How nobly distinguished that People,
who shall have planted, and nurtured to maturity, both the
political and moral freedom of their species.

This is the one hundred and tenth anniversary of the birth-day
of Washington. We are met to celebrate this day. Washington
is the mightiest name of earth-- long since mightiest in the
cause of civil liberty; still mightiest in moral reformation. On
that name, an eulogy is expected. It cannot be. To add brightness
to the sun, or glory to the name of Washington, is alike impossible.
Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce the name, and in
its naked deathless splendor, leave it shining on.

(Speech given to the Springfield Washington Temperance Society,
at the Second Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois.)

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