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Copyright, Lee & Shepard. Reprinted with permission. By WENDELL PHILLIPS.
OME men look upon this temperance cause as
whining bigotry, narrow asceticism, or a vulgar sentimentality, fit for little minds, weak women, and weaker men. On the contrary, I regard it as second only to one or two others of the primary reforms of this age, and for this reason. Every race has its peculiar temptation; every clime has its specific sin. The tropics and tropical races are tempted to one form of sensuality; the colder and temperate regions, and our Saxon blood, find their peculiar temptation in the stimulus of drink and food. In old times our heaven was a drunken revel. We relieve ourselves from the over-weariness of constant and exhausting toil by intoxication. Science has brought a cheap means of drunkenness within the reach of every individual. National prosperity and free institutions have put into the hands of almost every workman the means of being drunk for a week on the labor of two or three hours. With that blood and that temptation, we have adopted democratic institutions, where the law has no sanction but the purpose and virtue of the masses. The statutebook rests not on bayonets, as in Europe, but on the hearts of the people. A drunken people can never be the basis of a free government. It is the corner-stone neither of virtue, prosperity, nor progress. therefore, the title-deeds of whose estates and the safety of whose lives depend upon the tranquillity of the streets, upon the virtue of the masses, the presence of any vice which brutalizes the average mass of mankind, and tends to make it more readily the tool of
intriguing and corrupt leaders, is necessarily a stab at the very life of the nation. Against such a vice is marshalled the Temperance Reformation. That my sketch is no mere fancy picture, every one of you knows. Every one of you can glance back over your own path, and count many and many a one among those who started from the goal at your side, with equal energy and perhaps greater promise, who has found a drunkard's grave long before this. The brightness of the bar, the ornament of the pulpit, the hope and blessing and stay of many a family,-you know, every one of you who has reached middle life, how often on your path you set up the warning, "Fallen before the temptations of the streets!" Hardly one house in this city, whether it be full and warm with all the luxury of wealth, or whether it find hard, cold maintenance by the most earnest economy, no matter which, -hardly a house that does not count, among sons or nephews, some victim of this vice. The skeleton of this warning sits at every board. The whole world is kindred in this suffering. The country mother launches her boy with trembling upon the temptations of city life; the father trusts his daughter anxiously to the young man she has chosen, knowing what a wreck intoxication may make of the house-tree they set up. Alas! how often are their worst forebodings more than fulfilled! I have known a case—and probably many of you can recall some almost equal to it—where one worthy woman could count father, brother, husband, and son-in-law, all drunkards,--no man among her near kindred, except her son, who was not a victim of this vice. Like all other appetites, this finds resolution weak when set
against the constant presence of temptation. This is the evil. How are the laws relating to it executed in this city? Let me tell you.
First, there has been great discussion of this evil, wide, earnest, patient discussion, for thirty-five years. The whole community has been stirred by the discussion of this question. Finally, after various experiments, the majority of the State decided that the method to stay this evil was to stop the open sale of intoxicating drink. They left moral suasion still to address the individual, and set themselves as a community to close the doors of temptation. Every man acquainted with his own nature or with society knows that weak virtue, walking through our streets, and meeting at every tenth door (for that is the average) the temptation to drink, must fall; that one must be a moral Hercules to stand erect. To prevent the open sale of intoxicating liquor has been the method selected by the State to help its citizens to be virtuous; in other words, the State has enacted what is called the Maine Liquor Law,-the plan of refusing all licenses to sell, to be drunk on the spot or elsewhere, and allowing only an official agent to sell for medicinal purposes and the arts.
You may drink in your own parlors, you may make what indulgence you please your daily rule, the State does not touch you there; there you injure only yourself, and those you directly influence; that the State cannot reach.
But when you open your door and say to your fellow-citizens, “Come and indulge," the State has a right to ask, “In what do you invite them to indulge? Is it something that helps, or something that harms the community?''
I will try to show you, in a moment, on what grounds the State decided that these numberless open doors harmed the community, and that the method to be adopted was to shut them up. The majority, after full argument in district school-houses, the streets, and the State-House, from pulpits, lyceum platforms, and everywhere else, decided that prohibition of the traffic was the only effective method.
The law was put upon the statute-book. A reluctant minority went to the Legislature, and endeavored to repeal or amend it, alleging that this was not a good law; and they were voted down. Again they went, --were voted down. A third time they went,—and were voted down. They then appealed to the courts, and said, “This is not a constitutional law." The courts said, "It is.” If any. thing ever had the decided, unmistakable sanction of a majority of the people of this Commonwealth, the Maine Liquor Law has it. After a quarter of a century of discussion, it was enacted; three times assailed, it was maintained; subjected to the crucible of the court, it came out pure gold. We have a right to say that it is the matured, settled purpose of the majority of the Commonwealth; if the majority have a right to govern, that law is to govern. Is it not so? If not let the minority assail again the Gibraltar of the statute. But meanwhile it, like all other laws not immoral, is to be obeyed. I have not, therefore, to argue to-day whether the law is good or not, whether it is wise or not. That is settled. It is good and wise in the opinion of the Commonwealth. The era of public opinion is finished, that of law has commenced. This is the history of all legislation. Do not find fault with us for enacting, in due time, public opinion into a statute. Where did all statutes come from? Hundreds of years ago, men argued the question, “Shall one man own a separate piece of land?" They argued it, and settled that he should. That became a statute. They then began to argue the question, “Shall he transmit to his children by will?" They argued that for centuries, then said, “Yes," and enacted it. Nobody now goes behind those statutes. Hundreds of years ago, our race argued the question, “Shall a man have one wife or three?" We settled that he should have but one; it is the law of the Commonwealth.
The era of discussion and opinion is over; the era of legislation has come,-the time when the minority sits down and obeys. With all great questions, covering important interests, there is a time when public opinion stereotypes itself into statutes. Land, harvests, marriage, the laws against burglary and theft, settled themselves years ago. If I raise a harvest, it is mine; that is the law of the land. There was a time when it was a question; it is not a question now. So with temperance and the Maine Liquor Law. Time was when the question whether a man had a right to sell liquor openly, licensed or not, was discussed; we have passed that point, and reached the time when the majority--in other words, the State-- deerees that these shops shall be shut.