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Temperance Movement
by [?]

The most remarkable instance of a combined movement in society, which history, perhaps, will be summoned to notice, is that which, in our own days, has applied itself to the abatement of intemperance. Naturally, or by any direct process, the machinery set in motion would seem irrelevant to the object: if one hundred men unite to elevate the standard of temperance, they can do this with effect only by improvements in their own separate cases: each individual, for such an effort of self-conquest, can draw upon no resources but his own. One member in a combination of one hundred, when running a race, can hope for no cooperation from his ninety-nine associates. And yet, by a secondary action, such combinations are found eminently successful. Having obtained from every confederate a pledge, in some shape or other, that he will give them his support, thenceforwards they bring the passions of shame and self-esteem to bear upon each member’s personal perseverance. Not only they keep alive and continually refresh in his thoughts the general purpose, which else might fade; but they also point the action of public contempt and of self-contempt at any defaulter much more potently, and with more acknowledged right to do so, when they use this influence under a license, volunteered, and signed, and sealed, by the man’s own hand. They first conciliate his countenance through his intellectual perceptions of what is right; and next they sustain it through his conscience, (the strongest of his internal forces,) and even through the weakest of his human sensibilities. That revolution, therefore, which no combination of men can further by abating the original impulse of temptations, they often accomplish happily by maturing the secondary energies of resistance.

Already in their earliest stage, these temperance movements had obtained, both at home and abroad, a national range of grandeur. More than ten years ago, when M. de Tocqueville was resident in the United States, the principal American society counted two hundred and seventy thousand members: and in one single state (Pennsylvania) the annual diminution in the use of spirits had very soon reached half a million of gallons. Now a machinery must be so far good which accomplishes its end: the means are meritorious for so much as they effect. Even to strengthen a feeble resolution by the aid of other infirmities, such as shame or the very servility and cowardice of deference to public opinion, becomes prudent and laudable in the service of so great a cause. Nay, sometimes to make public profession of self-distrust by assuming the coercion of public pledges, may become an expression of frank courage, or even of noble principle, not fearing the shame of confession when it can aid the powers of victorious resistance. Yet still, so far as it is possible, every man sighs for a still higher victory over himself: a victory not tainted by bribes, and won from no impulses but those inspired by his own higher nature, and his own mysterious force of will; powers that in no man were fully developed.

This being so, it is well that from time to time every man should throw out any hints that have occurred to his experience,–suggesting such as may be new, renewing such as may be old, towards the encouragement or the information of persons engaged in so great a struggle. My own experience had never travelled in that course which could much instruct me in the miseries from wine, or in the resources for struggling with it. I had repeatedly been obliged indeed to lay it aside altogether; but in this I never found room for more than seven or ten days’ struggle: excesses I had never practised in the use of wine; simply the habit of using it, and the collateral habits formed by excessive use of opium, had produced any difficulty at all in resigning it even on an hour’s notice. From opium I derive my right of offering hints at all upon the subjects of abstinence in other forms. But the modes of suffering from the evil, and the separate modes of suffering from the effort of self-conquest, together with errors of judgment incident to such states of transitional torment, are all nearly allied, practically analogous as regards the remedies, even if characteristically distinguished to the inner consciousness. I make no scruple, therefore, of speaking as from a station of high experience and of most watchful attention, which never remitted even under sufferings that were at times absolutely frantic.