Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
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1842 / Springfield, IL

Better than a Gallon of Gall

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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 infest 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 can never 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.” 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 high road 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 able to pierce him than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.

I have not inquired at what period of time the use of intoxicating liquors 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 everybody, repudiated by nobody. It commonly entered into the first draft of the infant and the last draft of the dying man. From the sideboard of the parson down to the ragged pocket of the houseless loafer, it was constantly found. Government provided it for soldiers and sailors; and to have a rolling or raising, a husking or “hoedown,” anywhere without it was positively insufferable.

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Intoxication
About the Author

Abraham Lincoln, from a speech to the Springfield Washingtonian Temperance Society. Lincoln delivered his address on the 110th anniversary of the birth of George Washington—the namesake for the group that sought to help and reform alcoholics rather than issue denunciations from the pulpit. It is said that at a party a friend once criticized Lincoln for not indulging in the rare wines on offer; Lincoln replied, “I promised my precious mother only a few days before she died that I would never use anything intoxicating as a beverage, and I consider that promise as binding today as it was the day I gave it.”

That which the sober man keeps in his breast, the drunken man lets out at the lips. Astute people, when they want to ascertain a man’s true character, make him drunk.
Martin Luther, 1569
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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