Alliance between Prohibition and Woman's Rights?
Print shows an archway of the nine steps of a drunkard's progress, beginning with a man in fancy dress having "a glass with a friend" and then his gradual decline in society with poverty and disease, criminal activity, becoming a bum, and his eventual "death by suicide"; a weeping woman with child is under the archway.
Courtesy, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-2841 (b&w film copy neg.)
Documents selected and interpreted by
In 1846 Nathaniel Currier published "The drunkard's progress. From the first glass to the grave," a lithograph showing, in the words of the American Antiquarian Society catalogue, "the nine progressive stages from 'Step 1, A glass with friends' to 'Step 9, Death by suicide.' The drunkard appears with various characters enacting each step. Below [an] arch, a weeping woman with child walks away from a burning house."
. . . there is a most beautiful and attractive opening for a grand independent movement of the Temperance Alliance, including the women's rights associations, for the redemption and regeneration of this great commonwealth, out-and-out. Why, then, do not the Sons and Daughters of Temperance organize, call a State convention, and nominate an independent state ticket, headed by Mrs. Bloomer, upon the new and impregnable platform of the Maine Liquor law? Why not? In a scrub race, why should not the Maine law and the women's rights party put in with their new broom, and scrub them all? Strong minded women of New York, to the rescue! Now is the time. – The [New York] Weekly Herald, August 27, 1853
The Weekly Herald's sarcastic suggestion came at the end of an editorial about the five-way race shaping up for the New York state elections in the fall. Both the Whig and Democratic parties had split, and the "free soil abolition" party also had nominated a ticket. Why not make it a six-way contest? After all, it was already a "scrub race," i.e., one among unqualified contestants. Herald editor James Gordon Bennett was no friend to either temperance or woman's rights. And he routinely lumped all reformers together. Over the course of the next several weeks, however, he would discover, much to his delight, that temperance activists were also at odds. The wedge that drove them apart, albeit temporarily, was the demand by some especially "strong minded women" that they play an equal role with men in the campaign against alcohol. Some men supported their demand; most male friends of temperance did not. What neither Bennett nor the reformers he scorned could have foreseen was that the split would prove an initial false step in a chain of events that would see the two campaigns build a long and highly successful alliance of interests and public advocacy.
This document project brings together primary materials that show how the split occurred, who played what roles in the split, and why the temperance movement briefly broke apart in 1853. And, because it is an historical event that the project documents, it starts with the question of when that split began. In seeking answers to these basic questions it also attempts to shed light on the varying approaches to reform characteristic of antebellum America.
Was Bennett correct in viewing the many campaigns of the day as all of a piece? He accused his archrival Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Daily Tribune, and not without some justice, of advocating every call for change no matter how extreme. Greeley could claim that he was in good company. Rev. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who presided over one of the rival temperance conventions, was in 1853 pastor of the Free Church in Worcester, Massachusetts. He can serve as a case in point. A militant abolitionist, in 1854 he would lead an unsuccessful attempt to rescue fugitive slave Anthony Burns in Boston. Later in the decade he would be one of the "Secret Six" advisors of John Brown prior to his raid on Harpers Ferry. Higginson was also an outspoken supporter of woman's rights, of temperance and the Maine Law, of Spiritualism, and of a laundry list of other causes and movements, including that against capital punishment. In most of these endeavors he was joined by Lucy Stone, her close friend and future sister-in-law Rev. Antoinette Brown, Lucretia Mott, Abby Kelley Foster, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Wendell Phillips, to name several of those who played prominent roles in splitting the temperance movement in 1853.
Jane Grey Swisshelm, the first American woman to edit and publish a newspaper, The Saturday Visiter [sic], was an abolitionist and woman's rights activist. Nonetheless, she expressed scorn for those who expected her to support every reform.
Swisshelm maintained that each campaign should stand on its own merits or, as with "Turkish trowsers" (Bloomers), the lack thereof.
The period of the Visiter [1848-57] was one of great mental activity--a period of hobbies--and it, having assumed the reform roll [sic], was expected to assume all the reforms. Turkish trowsers [trousers], Fourierism, Spiritualism, Vegetarianism, Phonetics, Pneumonics, the Eight hour law, Criminal Caudling, Magdalenism, and other devices for teaching pyramids to stand on their apex were pressed upon the Visiter, and it was held by the disciples of each as "false to all its professions," when declining to devote itself to its advocacy. There were a thousand men and women, who knew exactly what it ought to do; but seldom two of them agreed, and none ever thought of furnishing funds for the doing of it. Reformers insisted that it should advocate their plan of hurrying up the millennium, furnish the white paper and pay the printers.
Other reformers, while generally sympathetic to the wide range of movements, thought one or another of such supreme importance that others should be abandoned if the circumstances so warranted. In 1840, to cite a case in point that those connected with the 1853 dispute found directly relevant, abolitionists like James G. Birney opposed allowing women to serve as delegates to the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Their concern was that women taking such public roles would alienate potential supporters. They triumphed over Lucretia Mott, Wendell Phillips, and the recently married Henry B. Stanton, but the disagreement led to a lasting split in the abolitionist ranks. Neal Dow, author and principal advocate of the Maine Law banning the sale and consumption of alcohol, took the same stand on women assuming public roles in 1853, as did many male temperance advocates. (See Document 11, "Report of the Committee on the peculiar difficulties in the way of progress," pp. 26-28)
Antebellum reformers, no less than other public figures, strove to shape how others perceived their efforts. Official proceedings of the temperance and woman's rights conventions purport to provide complete and accurate accounts of what happened. However, those who compiled them often omitted details ranging from the trivial to the vitally important. As an example of the latter, the Proceedings of the Whole World's Temperance Convention did not record the questions from the floor over whether the Maine Law was being successfully enforced in Massachusetts. Enforcement, as would also prove to be the case in the 1920s, was often ineffectual, and opponents of the law frequently seized upon that fact to argue that the legislation was impractical. (See Document 5, Proceedings of the Convention, September 1-2, 1853: Thursday Morning Session). Similarly, the Proceedings of the rival World's Temperance Convention noted that the Rev. R. M. Chipman of Connecticut introduced a resolution that in the future "the platform be occupied only by the Officers of the Convention, and such other persons as the presiding officer may invite." It did not note the uninvited presence of the Rev. Antoinette Brown or the enormous outcry her presence on the platform occasioned. (See Document 11, First Day, p. 13)
Those sorts of potentially embarrassing details often appeared in news accounts. Newspapers wove their partisan allegiances into their stories, starting with the headlines and sub-headers. Yet, their reporting was often as accurate as it was vivid and one-sided. Those opposed to reform frequently reported crucial details omitted in the stories in pro-reform papers and in official proceedings. As a consequence, this project supplements the several proceedings of the three conventions with reportage and editorials from three prominent New York City papers: the staunchly anti-reform Herald, the reliably pro-reform Tribune, and the fledgling and anti-reform Times, which was seeking to take Democratic patronage away from the Herald. The editorials are valuable not only as indicators of the range of opinion but also as guides to reading the news accounts.
Historians have long appreciated that antebellum newspaper editorials did not simply reflect public opinion. Instead they expressed partisan views. Since both the Herald and the Times were competing to be the recognized voice of the Democratic Party, they predictably denounced reform movements of all sorts. Greeley's Tribune just as predictably expressed support, albeit more tepidly for woman's rights than for temperance. Reformers did not seek to persuade editors or reporters. Their audience, aside from fellow reformers, was the millions who would pore over the highly detailed news accounts and then debate the merits of women participating in the temperance movement on an equal basis. What sorts of arguments would win their support? One way to begin to answer this question is to look at some of the most popular pro-temperance materials of the day.
Antebellum Americans sang. They sang in church, of course, and they sang in family group settings. They sang at meetings. Temperance advocates, like those crusading against the extension of slavery, published songbooks. It was an important form of propaganda. "The Wife's Lament" (See Document 2) was one of many ballads that detailed the suffering that drunkards brought upon their wives and children.
Antebellum Americans also memorized and recited poetry. Reporters routinely included lines from poems; politicians regularly quoted poetry; and poets such as John Greenleaf Whittier and James Russell Lowell used their verse to advance reforms such as abolition. A popular poem of the day, "Go Feel What I Have Felt," (see Document 1) exemplifies some of the dominant concerns and some of the central propaganda tropes of the temperance movement.
Go feel what I have felt, Go bear what I have borne— Sink 'neath a blow a father dealt, And the cold world's proud scorn; Then suffer on, from year to year, Thy sole relief, the scalding tear.
Reformers also needed to persuade skeptics. This was especially crucial for woman's rights activists. They could only hope to succeed if large numbers of men came to recognize the legitimacy of their demands. One can use two editorials from Harper's New Monthly Magazine as a way of seeing how they forged a link between the harm drunkards did to their wives and children and their own demands for property and custody rights and liberalized divorce laws. (See Documents 22A and 22B) The magazine had a wide readership, especially among white Protestants in the North.
Plans to link woman's rights to the temperance movement were laid sometime before May 12, 1853, when organizers were to meet in New York City to plan the World's Temperance Convention for the following September. At the meeting, woman's rights advocates walked out in protest against their exclusion from key committees. They then issued a call, clearly prepared in advance, for a Whole World's Temperance Convention for the first week of September. (See Documents 3, 4A and 4B, and 5, pp. 65-72)
The World's Temperance Convention was to meet in the second week. So was a Woman's Rights Convention. Woman's rights and temperance reformers would not simply compete for attendance and attention. Lucy Stone, Rev. Antoinette Brown, and their supporters would actively seek to disrupt the World's Temperance meetings and hold its leading lights up to ridicule, something their rivals would learn only after the Whole World's Convention was over. (See Documents 12A and 12B, 13A-131D, and 14A-14C)
The stakes were high. In 1853 temperance was by far the most broadly based and influential of all the reform movements, although historians have routinely paid more attention to the anti-slavery and woman's rights campaigns. Not only had Maine adopted a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol, so too had several other states throughout the North and Midwest. Other states and territories were in the process of following suit. America's first, albeit largely forgotten, experiment with prohibition was in full swing. But, not all temperance advocates favored the Maine Law. Some preferred "moral suasion," the attempt to convince drinkers to take "the pledge" to refrain from drinking, as hundreds of thousands already had in the 1840s and early 1850s. The majority, however, dismissed "moral suasion" as "Nothingarianism." The suasionists, for their part, pilloried those who advocated using the police power of the states as "Ultras."
Being an "Ultra" on the question of the Maine Law, as noted above, did not necessarily imply support for other "ultra" causes such as woman's rights or abolition. Woman's rights activists, virtually to a person, supported temperance. A large majority favored the Maine Law. Male supporters of prohibition, however, often took a dim view of woman's rights, either because of their own patriarchal proclivities or because they believed that linking their cause to that of woman's rights was strategically unwise. (See Documents 4A and 4B, 12A and 12B, 13A-13D, and 14A-14C.) The latter concern would quickly dissipate.
If many temperance reformers, particularly the men, thought their cause had much to lose from a connection with woman's rights, many woman's rights advocates believed that theirs had much to gain. Specifically, they believed that they could use the opprobrium heaped upon the drunkard in the ongoing Maine Law campaigns to advance several reforms, including property and custody rights for women, by portraying these reforms as imperative if abused wives were to defend themselves and their children.
Domestic violence had long been a taboo subject. In Blackstone's famous formulation, in the eyes of the law the husband and wife were one and that one was the husband. The wife was legally dead.
By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing. . . .
Whatever property she brought into the marriage as well as any wealth she might acquire thereafter belonged to her husband. Their children also legally belonged to him. In addition, the husband had a legal right to discipline his wife and children that extended to the use of force.
The use of such violent images, including in materials aimed at children, became a staple of temperance literature.
How was a mother to protect her children from an abusive spouse? If she attempted to leave home and take them with her, she stood on the same legal footing as a fugitive slave. Her husband could call upon the courts and law enforcement agencies to retrieve his property. Divorce in most states was granted only on the grounds of adultery by the wife. Even if a wife did manage to gain a divorce, the husband invariably received custody of the children. The only way to protect wives and children, woman's rights advocates argued, was to grant women property rights, make divorce easier, and give mothers custody rights. None of this was going to happen unless American men decided that it should. Harper's Monthly Magazine, in an editorial in the November 1853 issue (see Document 22A), just after the battle of the conventions in New York, warned against giving women property rights.
Temperance campaigns changed the terms of the argument by changing the context in which it was debated. Weakening the husband's legal position no longer need be seen as undermining the traditional family. The real threat to the family, temperance activists insisted, was the drunken husband.
It is very hard that her [the wife's] association with him [the husband] should make her, in any way, the suffering victim of his cruelty and crimes. . . . There is, however, at the present day, a danger in the opposite quarter, and one that threatens a far sorer evil. There is danger that laws giving the right of separate property, and of course the management of separate property, to the wife, may in time vitally affect that oneness which is so essential to the marriage idea.
In June of the following year, while still denouncing the "exaggerated" claims of woman's rights advocates, the magazine's editors conceded the need for change (see Document 22B).
Women have grave legal and social wrongs, but will this absurd advocacy of exaggeration remedy them? The laws which deny the individuality of a wife, under the shallow pretense of a legal lie; which award different punishments for the same vice [adultery]; the laws which class women with infants and idiots, and which recognize principles they neither extend nor act on; these are the real and substantial Wrongs of Women, which will not, however, be amended by making them commanders in the navy or judges on the bench.
Given with ill grace to be sure, but the concession that there had to be legal remedies for the "Wrongs of Women" was crucially important. "Oneness" may have continued to characterize "the marriage idea," so far as Harper's New Monthly was concerned. However, what it had identified in the earlier editorial as one of "two antagonists whom the modern advocates of 'woman's rights' find especially in their path," namely "the common law" and Blackstone's definition of oneness, became "a legal lie" by 1854. The second antagonist was "St. Paul." The 1853 editorial emphasized that
By 1854 the magazine no longer raised the "anti-biblical" specter of "unblushing female Socialism." Instead it admitted the existence of "real and substantial Wrongs of Women."
We never yet heard a passage of Scripture quoted, either fairly or perversely, in its [woman's rights] support. Abolitionists have their pet texts. Fourierism will sometimes employ the dialect of the Bible. But this unblushing female Socialism defies alike apostles and prophets. In this respect no kindred movement is so decidedly infidel, so rancorously and avowedly anti-biblical.
The dispute over the participation of women, which precipitated a walkout by female activists and their male supporters at the May 12 meeting to plan the World's Temperance Convention and led to their calling for a Whole World's Temperance Convention, echoed events thirteen years earlier at the General Anti-Slavery Convention in London. The American anti-slavery movement had divided over that same question. In London those who thought women's active participation would be improper prevailed. Women delegates were not permitted on the convention floor. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in London not as a delegate but as the bride of delegate Henry Stanton, later recalled this as the moment that determined her upon seeking equal rights for women.
The delegates to the meeting to plan the World's Temperance Convention knew this history well. Several--Garrison, Mott, Kelley (now Kelley Foster)--had fought and lost that earlier battle. They clearly learned from the experience. This time they would not accept a majority vote to restrict the roles of women; they would not sit in the balcony as men took charge. Instead they stormed out of the meeting, issued a call for a new convention, and, in the process, stole the limelight. (See Documents 3, 4A-4C, and 5 Appendix: Account of the Great Meeting at the Tabernacle, at which women delegates were expelled, pp. 65-71, and Meeting of the Seceding Delegates, pp. 71-72).
Would a large enough number of delegates answer the call? Although the hostile Weekly Herald ran the sub-header "The Whole World Invited, but Not All Present," its reporter estimated that the opening session attracted between 1,000 and 1,500 delegates comprising "all classes, sects, color, and sexes–-short clothes [the Bloomer costume] and long clothes, black and white, strong minded and weak minded, and orthodox and heterodox, all amalgamated together, in sublime and temperate harmony." (See Document 6) Convention president Rev. Thomas Wentworth Higginson proclaimed that this would not be a woman's rights gathering, but "merely a convention in which woman Is not wronged." Rev. Antoinette Brown paid rhetorical lip service to Higginson's formulation. As the Weekly Herald paraphrased her speech, she pledged she would not utter a word "about any one's right to vote, even in favor of the Maine law, although half the world is disenfranchised, and the other half contrive to have a license [to sell liquor]." Nor would she say a "word about . . . a woman's owing service to her intemperate husband, and his right to spend her earnings for his grog." Nor would she point out that the "world will tell us that the drunken man may talk upon various subjects, although he may be so stupid and what he says so incomprehensible you could no more expect to gather a whole idea from his speech than to collect the whole of the particulars of a cabbage from the heterogeneous mass of a stew," a sally greeted with "laughter and applause." A string of subsequent speakers, including William Lloyd Garrison, P.T. Barnum, New York Daily Tribune editor Horace Greeley, Lucretia Mott, and Lucy Stone all denounced the evils occasioned by intemperance and the precarious situation of the wives and children of drunkards. (See Document 6)
Greeley, as chair of the Business Committee, read the resolutions the Convention would debate and ultimately adopt. They began with the proclamation that the "cause of Total Abstinence from all that may intoxicate . . . deserves the warmest sympathy, and the most active, devoted support, of every servant of God-—every lover of humanity." Temperance in its moral suasion form in the 1840s, when the goal was to get men, women, and children to sign "the Pledge" never to drink, drew heavily upon the rhetoric and practices of the revival preaching of the Second Great Awakening. So, another resolve proclaimed that it "especially behooves the Christian Church, in all its divisions and denominations, as also every other religious organization, to cooperate with all its might in the great work of Temperance Reform." The reference to the many denominations pointed to the common practice among Protestants to join in common efforts of reform by emphasizing points of agreement. The American Bible Society, for example, drew support from Protestants of all sorts since all claimed the Bible as the source of their own beliefs.
Initially temperance campaigners had focused simply upon the sin of drunkenness. Early advocates had held that "moderate" drinking was not morally wrong. This appeal to moderation had failed. Only when the movement began to stress the inherent dangers of any use of alcohol did it gain traction. That necessarily led to the recognition that drunkenness was not the only sin to be denounced. "The manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages," the convention resolved, "is an immoral and destructive business." This condemnation of the distiller, the brewer, and the "rum seller" would continue to be a hallmark of the movement up through Prohibition and beyond. Unlike the drinkers who swore off rum, those whose business it was to make whiskey or sell wines and spirits rarely accepted appeals to give up their livelihoods. This, in turn, led advocates of the Maine Law to develop a rationale for forcing them to do so. "The State should be everywhere, and to the extent of its ability, a guardian of the weak, a protector of the assailed, an admonisher of the beguiled and tempted among its citizens or subjects," another resolution asserted; the State must assume a position of "declared and uncompromising hostility" to liquor. Still another rationale for government action was "the fundamental, undeniable, scientifically demonstrated fact that Alcohol is a poison." [Italics in original].
Another resolution took direct aim at Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopalian practices. We "impeach the use of fermented or alcoholic wine in the solemn celebration of the Eucharist as a profane and impious desecration." Once temperance advocates abandoned moderation for teetotalism, they had little choice but to condemn the use of sacramental wine. Since the number of Irish and German Catholics and of German and Swedish Lutherans was rapidly increasing in the 1850s, support for the Maine law took on a nativist dimension. In the appeals of the Native American Party (the Know-Nothings) in 1854 this nativism and anti-Catholicism became explicit.
The members of the convention praised "well-directed efforts to reclaim the unfortunate victims," but, in the same sentence, insisted that "it is, nevertheless a truth not to be concealed that DRUNKENNESS IS A CRIME." (Emphasis in original.) No one "has any moral right to be a drunkard." The "unfortunate victims" of intemperance deserved "sympathy only in common with the libertine, harlot, gambler, thief, burglar, robber, and assassin." This blanket condemnation stands in sharp opposition to the approach advocated by moral suasionists who refused to denounce the drunkard but instead appealed to his better nature.
Unsurprisingly, the resolution adopted after that denouncing drunkenness as a crime rejected "moral suasion" as "as shallow and absurd as to attempt the destruction of a living tree by pruning off some of its outermost branches." Therefore, "The Maine Law, so called, is superior to all preceding enactments respecting the Liquor Traffic." Those who questioned whether it was enforceable, were repudiated in another resolution as people "who never desired" to eliminate the use of alcohol. Complementing the unqualified endorsement of the Maine Law were resolutions that called upon voters to "subordinate all partisan or other considerations" so as to secure legislators who will enact the Maine Law, upon temperance organizations to multiply immediately the publication of tracts and other temperance materials and upon publishers, booksellers, and periodical agents to "issue or purchase such tracts, essays, and charts in infinite variety and limitless abundance."
The next to last resolution affirmed the delegates' determination "to know no distinction of Creed, Caste or Sex-—of section, party or condition." It is worth noting that the principle that led to the holding of the Whole World convention came so late in the listing of the resolutions and that upholding the rights of women to participate was folded into a broader commitment not to discriminate. (For the full text of the resolutions, see Document 5, pp. 20-22.)
Lucy Stone gave the most "ultra" speech at the Convention. She proposed that drunkards not be permitted to marry or to have children. Their offspring would inherit the "seeds" of their fathers' constitutional weakness for alcohol. This should be prevented, she proclaimed. There was little prospect that her idea would lead to any actual law anywhere. But, it provided a basis for the argument that those unfortunate women whose husbands had become alcoholics should be able to divorce them on that ground alone. In Stone's rhetoric the inebriated husband, formerly the unchallenged head of his family, became "the bloated carcase [sic] of a drunkard." Fathers and mothers and brothers must band together to save their daughters and sisters from such brutes. (See Document 5, pp. 32-36 for the full text of Stone's speech.)
The next week the World's Temperance convention met. The Weekly Tribune estimated that there were no more than 500 in attendance. Its coverage noted, "Lucy Stone's gathering last week far outdid, in point of numbers and variety, the Neal Dowites who met yesterday. In the contest of Stone vs. Dow, the former will come off the conqueror, if the disciples of the latter do not improve upon the character of their organization." (See Document 6)
The Whole World's Temperance Convention had attracted a large and enthusiastic audience and received extensive and largely positive coverage in the press, including from the reform-averse Herald. There were no hecklers in the crowds that attended. All had gone according to plan. This would not be the case with either the World's Temperance Convention or the Woman's Rights Convention that met at the same time. Sub-headers in the Weekly Herald for September 10, 1853 indicated how its organizers lost control at the opening session of the World Temperance Convention: "The Pantaloons Assemblage Invaded by the Petticoats/STAMPEDE AMONG THE OLD FOGIES./The Rev. Antoinette L. Brown on the Stand. &c., &c., &c." (See Document 12A).
Temperance "fogies" had reviled Rev. Brown, Lucy Stone, Abby Kelley and the others who walked out of the May 12 meeting and indicated in the plainest terms their desire to have nothing further to do with them. Rev. Mr. Chambers, a delegate from Pennsylvania, "was particularly severe upon one of the excluded ladies, [Abby Kelley Foster] whose name he declined to give, charging her with outraging the proprieties of her sex" and, in an extraordinary expression from a minister, with "trampling the very Son of God under her blasphemous feet." The women who had disrupted the meeting, he continued, were "the scum of the Convention." The President of the Convention "referred to 'women in breeches' as a disgrace to their sex, &c. He did not know what such women were good for. He believed they were never productive in anything but mischief. (Laughter and cheers.)" (See Documents 4A, 4B, and 5, pp. 65-72.)
Yet here was Rev. Antoinette Brown taking a seat on the speakers' platform at the opening session of their convention. For the next two days delegates fumed and fulminated over her presence. Would she be allowed to address the convention? Famed "ultra" Wendell Phillips argued vehemently that she should. Outraged "fogies" vowed that she would not. Each evening Rev. Brown went to the Woman's Rights Convention to report on her day's doings. She received rapturous receptions. Finally, the "fogies" had recourse to the police who emptied the hall. Only those with approved credentials could re-enter. Phillips found his path barred and, after much further ado, left the hall. (See Documents 12B, 13C, 14B)
The official Proceedings of the World's Temperance Convention acknowledged that "much confusion having arisen in the hall, and it being suspected that many persons were voting who were not members of the Convention," delegates voted to clear the hall. It did not mention the role of the police; it did specify that the "credentials [that] were this morning presented by Wendell Phillips, from a Society of Ladies and others in New York city" were fraudulent since the "Society, it is understood, was organized last evening" for the sole purpose of providing Phillips with entry to the Convention. (See Document 11, p. 21.)
Without Brown and Phillips the World Temperance Convention turned to approving a series of reports, beginning with "An Appeal to Young Men." (pp. 23-25) Next came a report on the "peculiar difficulties in the way of progress." (pp. 26-28) Its authors listed six: ignorance of the provisions of the Maine Law; prejudice against the law that took the form of identifying it "with a thousand other things, with which it has necessarily no connection"; unscrupulous politicians who proved to be fair-weather friends to the law; the "apparent impossibility of executing the Law"; the "partial enforcement of the law in some of the States in which it has been passed"; and, lastly, the claim that "to shut up the grog-shop will make more drinking at home." (emphases in original) The resolutions that purported to address these difficulties all dealt with woman's rights advocates either directly or indirectly. The second, for example, affirmed that "that the platform of this cause should be confined to as few and simple principles as possible," a thinly veiled reference to the insistence of Stone, Higginson, and company on linking causes. The fourth and sixth resolutions were more explicit:
4. Resolved, That they are traitors to the cause of humanity, who endeavor to subvert one cause, in order to advance what they consider to be another.
. . . .
6. Resolved, That the cause of Temperance is a question entirely separate and apart from the questions of "Woman's Rights," "Abolition," "Land Reform," or any other, and that it must stand or fall upon its own merits. (See Document 11, p. 28)
Next came an address to the "Governments of the Earth" that urged all to adopt Maine Laws, which was followed by a report itemizing the economic benefits that the prohibition of alcohol would generate and by an address to "manufacturers and vendors of intoxicating drinks."
The Convention then proceeded to pass the usual resolutions in support of the Maine Law and adjourned. These paralleled those adopted by the Whole World Convention with the conspicuous exception of that affirming equal rights for women and people of color, both of which groups the delegates banned from the World Temperance Convention. (See Document 11, p. 2)
The Weekly Herald for September 17, 1853 nicely summed up the end result: "THE WORLD'S TEMPERANCE CONVENTION./THE OLD FOGIES VICTORIOUS AT LAST./TRIUMPH OF BREECHES OVER PETTICOATS./ Wendell Phillips & Co. Discarded by the Cold Water Army./Fred Douglass Denied Admission into the Camp/The Convention Composed of White Men./BLACK MEN AND BLOOMERS ENTIRELY EXCLUDED." (See Document 12B)
All did not go smoothly at the Woman's Rights meeting either. Despite the efforts of Rev. Antoinette Brown, Wendell Phillips, and Frederick Douglass to force the question of woman's rights onto the agenda of the World's Temperance Convention, there is nothing to indicate that the disgruntled males in that body retaliated in kind. Instead, after a calm first day, with the appearance of Sojourner Truth on the platform some males in attendance began hissing. "It is good for me to come forth for to see what kind of spirit you are made of. I see some of you have got the spirit of a goose, and a good many of you have got the spirits of snakes," Truth began to "great applause and cries of 'Go on'-—'That's the style'-—'Show your pluck'-—'Give it to them.'" The hecklers had little success disrupting Truth who, according to the New York Times, produced "a volume of sound that gushed forth upon the devoted audience. Imagine Trinity Church organ," famous for its volume, "with its bass and trumpet stops pulled out, all the keys down, and two men and a boy working for dear life at the bellows, and you have a gentle specimen of the angry voice of Sojourner Truth." (See Document 17B)
The evening session saw far greater disruption. Male opponents of woman's rights used hisses, catcalls, and shouted insults to interrupt the speakers. And, since none could equal Sojourner Truth either in volume or in sarcasm and castigation, one orator after another–-Wendell Phillips, Lucy Stone, Rev. Antoinette Brown among others–-were unable to make themselves heard. (See Document 20) "At last," according to the Times account, the ladies on the platform not seeing any prospect of a lull in the tempest, retired, and the meeting broke up in 'most admired disorder.'" (See Document 17B) According to the Times, the disruption was orchestrated by "Captain" Isaiah Rynders, the notorious instigator of the Astor Place riots of 1849 and other disturbances. (See Document 21B.)
What does the campaign to attach woman's rights to the temperance movement indicate about the varieties of antebellum reform? Was reform all of a piece, as Rev. Antoinette Brown and her supporters insisted? Did each program for change have to stand or fall on its own, as Jane Grey Swisshelm argued? Could one cause legitimately claim priority as the "fogies" at the World's Temperance Convention vowed theirs should? The answers would be determined less by purity of principle or cogency of argument than by practical political considerations.
In the case of equal rights for women and blacks, Swisshelm proved prophetic. Frederick Douglass, Horace Greeley, Lucy Stone, and Wendell Philips, all of whom had supported virtually every antebellum reform, broke with Susan B. Anthony and a number of other woman's rights advocates in 1867 over measures to get the vote for black males. Douglass biographer William S. McFeely called this "one of the saddest divorces in American history." Anthony called a convention to secure the vote for women in the state of New York at which she argued that white women had a better claim to suffrage than did African American men. It was an argument that Douglass and others met by claiming that the resistance of white Southerners to civil rights for freed slaves made this "the Negro's Hour." As Swisshelm had predicted, each of the two reforms would have to stand on its own merits. And, just as the argument over woman's rights split the anti-slavery movement in 1840, that over voting rights for black men split the woman's rights movement in 1868.
If Reconstruction politics drove a wedge between woman's rights and civil rights for African Americans, a rift that persisted for a century, antebellum politics in the several states brought Maine Law and woman's rights advocates back together. Despite the disruptive tactics of the organizers of the Whole World's Temperance Convention and the bitter resentments of the principals of the World's Temperance Convention, the two movements developed a symbiotic relationship in the 1850s that persisted through the virtually simultaneous adoption of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Amendments.
A gravely concerned young girl seeks to lead her father homeward. His clothes are evidence of the family's indigence and stand in contrast to the well-dressed men looking on.
The movements remained formally distinct. States and territories continued to adopt variations on the Maine Law. Temperance propaganda continued to emphasize the misery drunken husbands and fathers brought on their wives and children. Temperance activists, such as Rev. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, continued to organize Carson Leagues to apprehend those illegally selling liquor. At the same time states continued revising property laws so that women could own wealth in their own names, and enacting custody laws to give mothers equal claims to those of fathers, and divorce laws to make it easier for abused wives to get out of their marriages.
Male opinion clearly shifted during the first half of the 1850s, as temperance-related arguments about protecting women and children gained traction in debates over woman's rights. We cannot prove that the temperance campaign fully accounts for the change; indeed, woman's rights advocates clearly deserve a large share of the credit. Moreover, it was the temperance campaign that forced socially conservative males to concede that a woman was often "the suffering victim of his [the husband's] cruelty and crimes," in the words of the Harper's New Monthly (See Document 22B). By making this idea the conventional wisdom, Maine Law advocates ended the long silence about domestic abuse and, in the process, exposed the "legal lie" that denied "the individuality of a wife." In this fashion they helped open the way for woman's rights activists to push successfully for the important if somewhat overlooked reforms of the 1850s concerning property and custody rights and divorce.
Forged in the heady years of antebellum reform, the alliance between woman's rights and temperance proved extremely durable. It endured, unlike that between anti-slavery and woman's rights, because both campaigns needed the other and because, after 1853, reformers realized that they did not have to choose one crusade over the other. The virtually simultaneous ratification of both prohibition and women's suffrage amendments in 1919 and 1920 speaks to the power and persistence of the alliance that emerged more than sixty years earlier out of the contentious conventions of 1853.