“ USE,” says an old proverb, “ is second nature.” The truth of the observation is shown in the assimilating power of custom. There is nothing, however inherently vicious or dangerous, to which we cannot become so accustomed as to lose sight of its evil qualities. There is no habitual apprehension among the operatives in powder-mills and manufactories of the higher explosives, though statistics show that all such works are certain to be destroyed, sooner or later. The most unhealthy trades are as well supplied with labor as the most healthy. Custom and conservatism are sometimes so strong that men whose lives were being shortened by breathing a vitiated atmosphere, or by inhaling fine particles of stone or metal, have resisted every effort to improve their surroundings. Exposure to danger begets indifference to it. Exposure to vice begets indifference to it. The ancient Greeks had inherited the practice of infanticide from savage ancestors. They became so inured to it that, when the custom of exposing children gradually superseded child-murder, there were not wanting moralists to deplore the change as denoting the rise of what moderns would call a " sickly sentimentalism.” Nor was there altogether lacking an element of plausibility in these complaints, for humanity was so little developed that the fate of exposed children, sad though it was, elicited no practical sympathy. When a Greek mother thus abandoned her infant, knowing that in the first place it was very likely to perish from the exposure. and that, should it survive, it would be doomed to slavery if a boy, and worse if a girl, the consequence of her act did not deter her. It was what her neighbors did. It was social crime disguised by custom.
A distinguished ethnologist, addressing a section at the late meeting of the British Association, expressed the opinion that mankind has made comparatively little physical and mental progress in the last five thousand years or so. Of course not many persons will agree with this view, and yet occasionally facts are encountered which seem to justify a doubt as to whether, despite the march of what we call civilization, the race has grown much since the dawn of the historical period. If a general disposition to exalt ourselves over those who preceded us were a proof of progress, the case might be regarded as settled. But if we are prepared to be candid with ourselves, it may not prove difficult to show that even the barbarism of ancient Greece is not so far behind us as we should like to be able to feel that it is. We do not kill our children. We do not any more expose them habitually, after the antique mode. We cherish them in their infancy, rear them to adolescence, and then send them forth to pit their immature vitality against the most elaborate, skillfully devised, and comprehensive machinery for ruining human beings, both mind and body, that the world has ever seen.
We are so accustomed to the saloon that its relations to and effects upon society are apt to seem merely part and parcel of the existing order of things; and those of us who are conservative from inheritance or education naturally look upon it as an institution which has its proper functions in the general scheme, and which could not be eliminated without creating a painful void, to say the least. The object of this paper is to induce those who read it to clear their minds of prepossessions and the fixed impressions derived from habitude, and to regard the saloon as it is, realizing the true nature of its influence, and perceiving the actual character of the functions it discharges. The chief backing of the saloon undoubtedly comes from our inherited aptitudes. We are all sprung, no matter what European race we claim as ancestors, from men who drank heavily a few generations ago. The predominance of the animal life has indeed not yet ceased, and, while the intellectual side of man is struggling to assert itself, the old Adam has hitherto been too strong for it. Progress in temperance there certainly has been, but when we look abroad and see what the saloon still means in our community life, how large a feature it is in social problems, how deeply it colors and affects not only the character and tone of our politics, but those of our morals, of our intellectual status, of our domestic existence, it will have to be admitted that hitherto popular sensibility on this question has been sluggish and dull, and that, for a nation commonly credited with capacity for self-government, we have a great deal to learn and a great many crying evils to get rid of.
Let us begin at the foundation, and trace the saloon through society. The first fact to be noted is that the institution is planted most thickly where the poorest people five. It has been alleged by some philanthropists and penalogists that poverty is in many instances the cause of drinking, and not the effect; that men drink to forget their sorrows and remember their misery no more. No doubt there is some truth in this. Indigence, squalor, destitution, innutrition, produce morbid conditions of body and mind, probably reinforce inherited tendencies to alcoholism, and move to that desperation which seeks relief in the oblivion either of death or drunkenness. But, however true such considerations may be, they cannot affect the obvious fact that the influence of the saloon among the poor is wholly mischievous. Even with those whose case is almost desperate the effect of resorting to this means of forgetfulness is pernicious. The man who drowns memory at the saloon does not facilitate his subsequent proceedings. He is poorer, in worse health, less able to confront difficulties. on the morrow. But one tendency in him is strengthened, and that is the tendency to repeat the debauch. The poor man who, being a husband and father, frequents the saloon runs the risk of betraying his most sacred trusts. His home may be uncomfortable, his meals may be unsavory, but the saloon cannot improve his surroundings. On the contrary, it absorbs his scanty earnings, thus depriving those dependent on him of the pittance of food and clothing he alone is able to supply. The drinking husband, too, often makes a drinking wife. For the women among the poor have most need of all the moral support their husbands, fathers, brothers, can bring them. Being physically weaker, they are more liable to faint under the heat and burden of the day ; and when they see the man who should be their staff and prop cravenly giving way to despair and selfishly seeking oblivion for himself, they are apt to succumb to the pressure and to follow the evil example.
Then the fate of the children is generally sealed. The saloon has orphaned them. It will be henceforward their school and training ground. It will bring them up to be petty thieves, while they are developing the muscle that is to qualify them for ruffianism; and when they are old enough they will fall naturally into some gang, if they live in a city, and become material for professional criminals, loafers, and wrecks. But suppose that the poor frequenter of the saloon stops short of drunkenness. Suppose that he confines his expenditure there to what is called “ a few social glasses.” In that case the evil he suffers will be less, but he will still suffer evil. He will squander a part of his earnings, and that he cannot afford. He will neglect his family, and that he cannot afford. He will fall into bad company, and that he cannot afford. He will most probably also become one of the chronic accusers of society, who, while wasting their own substance in riotous living, foolishly and inconsequently complain of the poverty whose continuance their own thriftlessness and self-indulgence are mainly accountable for. The Knights of Labor refuse to admit a saloon-keeper or a liquor-dealer to their ranks. The prohibition looks as if it meant something, at first sight, but it has no real significance. The Knights of Labor and all the labor organizations must take to themselves a full share of the reproach that labor in the United States is every year spending upon drink which it does not need, and which hurts it, fully six hundred millions of dollars : a sum so large that if even fifty per cent. of it were saved a fund could beestablished in two years which, under wise management, would render destitution among the poor of this country impossible forever after.
Let us remember, however, that if the working-men do not show the highest wisdom here, they are quite as advanced as the society to which they belong. We are so accustomed to have the worship of God and of the devil carried on side by side, so used to see the saloon standing cheek-by-jowl with the church, that we find it very difficult to perceive things as they really are. The relationship of the saloon to crime is notorious. It is not indeed true, as sometimes alleged, that professional criminals, such as burglars, sneak - thieves, pick-pockets, confidence men, etc., are prone to drink. These classes are strictly temperate, as a rule, and as a matter of business. But it is true that three fourths of all crimes of violence, such as assaults, assaults to murder, homicides and murders, are committed under the influence of drink. Our police justices are called perpetually to deal with a mass of brutal crime which is almost wholly the sequence of drink; and in all our great cities the taxpayer has to provide constant sustenance for the considerable number of chronic drunkards who have been reduced to hopeless degradation by the saloon. All this we know as we know that the sun rises and sets, and no doubt many, if not most, of us question its continuance as little as we do that of the solar phenomena. It is a new idea that such misery and sin and lawlessness are not unavoidable, but that they are evidences of the backwardness of the civilization on which we pride ourselves, and testify not less strongly to the insensitiveness of the general conscience.
The saloon of the poor man is usually marked by vulgar decoration or careless squalor. It offers him more warmth. and better shelter, perhaps, than he can get at home. It appeals to his most selfish feelings. It tickles his self-indulgence. He finds there, too, an excitement, a companionship, which are seductive. It is no wonder the poor man yields. The classes above him in possessions yield too, in their turn, and with not half his excuse. But what is the sociability encountered at the saloon ? It is a sham, like all the alleged pleasure obtainable from the institution. Saloon friendship is a Dead Sea apple. The men who strike hands with one another as comrades and boon companions will stand by while one of their number goes headlong to destruction ; will observe with stolid passivity the victim’s advance from one fatal symptom to another; will register his successive downward steps, marking in cold blood his loss of one holdfast after another; and when ruin, complete and irreversible, has concluded the drama, they will turn away and pursue their own affairs. The truth is that the spirit of the saloon is incompatible with the germination or growth of real friendship, as it is with any good thing. Indeed, its influences and tendencies are so palpably and wholly evil that any nation voluntarily adopting such an institution, and accepting it as part of the fixed order of things, could hardly escape Manicheism but for that curious aptitude of the average human mind to separate religious beliefs from every-day experiences.
The lowering influences of the saloon react directly and with energy upon the poorest classes. The abuse of drink does not necessarily or immediately involve personal degradation or personal privation among such as possess some property. But with those for whom sustained sobriety can procure only a narrow sufficiency, intemperance means swift descent into discomfort and suffering. The poor man cannot drink without falling behind in everything. The saloon not only deprives him of reason and the full use of his faculties, it drives him to the pawnshop with his few possessions ; it strips him, his wife, and his children of the clothing they need; it bares the walls of his poor rooms ; it makes all his material surroundings meaner and shabbier, at the same time that it implants a distaste for the steady industry which is the one means of redemption. Into brains diseased and inflamed by drink socialist doctrines fall with fructifying power. The man whose own weakness and self-indulgence have brought him to indigence and misery is prone to shift the blame for his condition on the shoulders of society. A spurious self-respect is engendered by nursing the fallacy that, if justice were done, the street-corner loafer would fare equally well with the capitalist.
Yet these victims of a national vice must not be judged harshly. Their temptations are manifold. Their education is narrow. The world has been a cold stepmother to them, and they Cannot be found fault with for not exhibiting an intelligence and a discrimination too commonly sought in vain among much more fortunate people. To a considerable extent they are helpless, just as the people may be so regarded in whom the passion for gambling is fostered and stimulated by governmental lottery schemes. When Great Britain went to war with China to force the opium trade upon the Middle Kingdom, her neighbors were shocked, and with reason. Those, however, who perceived clearly enough the immorality of England’s policy on that occasion have failed, for the most part, to see in the national support of the saloon a betrayal of the masses bearing an ugly resemblance to that involved in the opium war. It is the general acquiescence in the evil which makes it so hard to deal with. Nothing is easier than to point out the effects of the saloon upon various classes. Nothing is easier than to prove that human selfishness and frailty have much to do with the persistence of the evil. But nothing is so difficult as to secure comprehension of the vital truth that beyond the foibles of individuals and classes lies the national supineness or tacit approval of the saloon, as a determining cause.
There are among the poor everywhere many distinctions. There is the considerable element of crude, unformed humanity, which has not advanced beyond the capacity for manual labor of the simplest kind. This element has many of the defects and limitations which belong to childhood. It is easily led and misled. It picks up, as we all do, vices quicker than virtues. It cannot be said that it is repressed by the squalor in which it lives, for it has never known any better conditions, and it is painfully difficult to educate it out of the filthy habits which it has brought from the state of savagery whence it so lately emerged. This class seeks and finds in the saloon the excitement which the red Indian obtains in the same way. The brutality of these coarse natures is stimulated by drink, and they fight among themselves, or go home and beat their wives and children. The saloon operates with them as a conservative influence ; it does much, that is to say, to keep them in their pristine condition of semi-savagery. But it has another and even more sinister function. The United States are absorbing vast numbers of the least civilized and enlightened peasantry of Continental Europe, people who know no English, have the vaguest idea of our form of government, and belong to the most conservative class extant; who bring with them obstinate prejudices, superstitions, delusions, and antipathies ; who for generations have been taught to look up from their lowly positions and hate the classes above them. The saloon unites these unfit citizens, gives them a focus, and helps to develop the socialistic or anarchist sentiments which they imbibed in Europe. The saloon, which poisons the minds of the poor with the same drugged liquors which destroy their bodies, prepares them for hostility to the law by encouraging them to believe that every whiskey-muddled loafer is somehow entitled, without work, to a competence at the hands of society, and that the men whose brains and industry have put them above want or earned them abundance are somehow the enemies of the poor. No doubt there is in this enmity a basis of genuine feeling, though the feeling is not estimable. To the indolent and self-indulgent man, whose own laziness keeps him poor and in want, the sight of prosperity attained by energetic work must be irritating, because it involves self-reproach ; and it is one of the vices of human nature to hate that which humiliates it by emphasizing its own inferiority.
All such meanness, however, all such impotent malevolence, all the envy, hatred, and uncharitableness which waste in transforming into evil impulses the energy which should find vent in industry, are fostered by the saloon. It fixes the squalor and misery of the poor, just as alcohol fixes the tissues plunged in it. Its alchemy converts the potentialities of successful labor into the seditious bitterness of the dissipated socialist. It makes the poverty which, sweetened by mutual forbearance and the hope of better things, might often be tolerable, maddening and unendurable, by adding to it the intensified selfishness of intoxication, the chronic shame and despair of semiconvalescence. And it has still more serious effects. Who that has lived in cities has not marked a peculiar growth of such centres ? — a class of children who have never been young; boys and girls whose sharp features denote the experience of sordid age, whose anæmic bodies and fleshless limbs bespeak habitual innutrition, and whose sinister and hard expression shows how fervid is the hate they already bear to a world which has acquainted them only with suffering and sin. Everywhere this class of citybred children is on the increase. Everywhere anxious philanthropists, sociologists, penalogists. are discussing its treatment, and wondering what shall be done with it.
The organization of charity, the organization of criminal administration, are alike busy with the problem, and systems of corrective and educational institutions arise in all our large cities, founded for this express purpose. Meanwhile, the supply of material does not diminish, as how should it ? The saloon is at work night and day to maintain it. Not content with debauching the adult generation, it plants its deadly seeds in the systems of unborn children; it projects the curse from generation to generation. The city-bred children, whose premature knowledge of evil, precocious savagery, and anti-social proclivities may well cause apprehension for the future, are made what they are more by the saloon than by any other agency. It influenced their lives before they saw the light. It gave them weakness or disease on both sides. It handicapped them in the race of life from the start. It is doing this steadily, continually, and society nevertheless continues to tolerate such an agency ; continues to act precisely as though its elimination were unthinkable; continues to evolve its houses of correction, industrial schools, asylums, probationary institutes, and shifts of all kinds in profusion, keeping its eyes shut to the perennial procreative energies of the saloon, whose unremitting exercise renders these remedial measures as futile as the effort to All the bottomless jars of the Danaides.
What would be thought of the medical administration which, in the time of a great epidemic, concerned itself chiefly in providing additional hospital accommodations, and paid no attention to the origin and mode of prevention of the prevailing disease ? In the case of the saloon in society the facts are continually in evidence. Our police courts are mainly occupied with the petty offenses which spring directly or indirectly from drink. Through them drift the myriad wrecks which strew the path of progress. In them is exhibited, every day and all day, the extent, depth, paralyzing influence, of the saloon. It is bad enough in politics, but its social effects, especially among the poor, are as those of a pestilence. The cruder element of the community is brutalized and retarded in its growth by this influence. Another element, that of the physically or intellectually feeble (always considerable, and increasing with the growth of competitive pressure), is condemned to a wretched fate by the same instrumentality. The people who have not the energy of mind or body to form clear and practical purposes, or to put them in operation if formed, are the easiest victims of the saloon. As a rule they are sensitive, often morbidly so. They brood over their weakness and their failure. Naturally prone to depression, they become jaundiced and desponding. From that state of mind to the craving for any kind of stimulant the transition is natural and swift, and the saloon does the rest. There are thousands of families doomed to indigence, disappointment, misery, through life, that might have lived at least in decent poverty and with self-respect, but to-day are plunged in hopeless ruin by drink, and are sinking out of sight in the quicksand.
The churches lament the alienation of the poor and the working classes. The indifference of these to religion is a standing cause of regret. The clergy say it is almost impossible to get near the hearts of the masses. Perhaps the effort to disseminate Christian doctrine has been less systematic and persistent than it should have been. Perhaps more Would have been accomplished if the clergy had gone themselves, instead of waiting for the people to come. No doubt, also, the spread of socialism and of agnosticism has much to do with the present attitude of that element in the labor party which is not in communion with the Church of Rome. But the saloon is not guiltless in the matter, for it represents all the tendencies and influences which make most strongly against religion and morality, and its atmosphere is quite as fatal to spiritual development as the drink it dispenses is to the health of the body. The poor suffer in a thousand ways through their poverty, and one of the abuses practiced most audaciously upon them is the adulteration of all the intoxicants sold to them. Alcoholic drinks made by the most honest processes are bad enough in their consequences, but the drinks of commerce are sophisticated to such an extent that those who use them habitually and freely are exposed to a whole catalogue of diseases from which our ancestors, with all their intemperance, were free. The effect of many of the adulterants commonly employed, moreover, is to excite the nervous system and act toxically upon the cerebral centres, with the frequent result of inciting to maniacal deeds, which may very easily be ascribed to native savagery of disposition.
The saloon, in fact, is an institution for the compounding and dispensation of poisons. These poisons, when taken in excess (and sometimes when taken in moderate quantities), cloud the reason of the victim, extinguish for the time his conscience and his moral convictions, stimulate all that is ferocious and brutal in him, and impel him frequently to the perpetration of crimes. They do not affect all alike. While they render some savage and malignant, they make others imbecile and incapable of self - protection, and yet others they rouse to immorality. Society, however, is exposed to injury in some way from all who drink ; and since it is impossible to be sure that any who drink may not drink to excess, and since all who drink to excess are liable to become irresponsible, the danger is perennial. Of its reality no specific proof is needed. We have only to look abroad in any direction to see this. Fully half the police and judicial machinery of our cities is occupied in dealing with the evils which are produced directly or indirectly by the saloon. The cost to society is enormous, but when a nation makes an institution of the saloon it must be prepared to pay roundly for all the accessories in the shape of prisons, and police forces, and courts, and insane asylums, and workhouses. The prosperous taxpayer, who grumbles at the levies made upon him, may be thankful that his bank account secures him at least partial freedom from the worst products of the saloon. The poor mechanic, whose narrow earnings compel him to accept the life of the tenement house, cannot shelter himself in the same way. He may be a temperate man himself. He may be a Christian. He may he desirous of raising his family respectably, and of keeping them untainted. But the polluting contiguity which poverty compels makes him an involuntary witness and auditor of all the brutalities and obscenities provoked by drink in the most depraved of his neighbors, and he cannot keep from the eyes and ears of his wife or daughters sights and sounds which in themselves constitute infection. Thus it is not only its frequenters that the saloon injures. Its corrupting influence spreads far beyond the ostensible range of its activity, and its deadliest work is doubtless often effected among simple creatures who have not entered its doors.
It used to be said of the old-fashioned prisons, when the prisoners were commingled, that they were schools of vice and crime. Undoubtedly the statement was true ; but what essential difference is there between life in one of those prisons and life in a modern city tenement house, with the regular saloon attachment ? The strength of a chain or rope is equal to that of its weakest part. That is a mathematical axiom. The moral strength of the tenement house must in like manner be measured by its weakest part. Let it not, however, be concluded that the dwellers in the tenement house are accountable for the situation. They are not free agents. They are the victims of society’s blindness and apathy. They are the failures which mark the divergence of civilization from the right course. They may also be, in a time not distant, the instrumentalities of national chastisement, unless the American people rise, however tardily, to a sense of their responsibilities and duties. For it is plain that the growth already attained by anarchism and the darker forms of socialism has been fostered by the saloon and its influences. It has made the incapable more ineffective, the feeble still weaker, the envious more bitter, the lawless more turbulent, the revolutionary more violent, the dishonest more unscrupulous, the demagogue more blatant. In stopping many avenues to prosperity it has increased the number of the discontented. In debauching the intelligence of its habitués it has opened their minds to pernicious teachings. While compelling society to enlarge its preventive and corrective machinery, it has organized insurrection against the whole existing order of things.
The worst effects of the saloon are seen in connection with the poor, but it does not follow that the rest of the community escape. On the contrary, some of the most startling proofs of the power of this agency for evil may be found in the experience of what may be termed our well-to-do classes. The evidence attainable here is startling, because the contrast between the warring conditions is so strong. All over the land there are mothers, pure of heart and mind, trained in Christian faith and virtues, full of sweet and tender and exalted hopes for their boys. These loving, innocent, pious women rear their children, to the best of their ability, “ in the nurture an admonition of the Lord.” They endeavor to keep the young souls stainless until character is formed. They agonize over every slip and stumble on the part of the children. They seek with all the earnestness of their nature, aided by all the strength devotion can supply, to establish the feet of their little ones firmly. What success do they attain ? Among the conventionalities which serve only to disguise barbarous, coarse, or disgusting habits and tendencies, perhaps there is not one more thoroughly mischievous, ignoble, and degrading than that which holds it to be a proof of manhood and independence to cast off the “ mother’s leading-strings,” and to signalize the alleged enfranchisement by the conviviality which consists in getting drunk. It has been the base custom to speak of this kind of thing as a natural and inevitable reaction from the well-meant but enervating sentimentalism of the maternal solicitude. But there is no validity in this pretense. The reaction spoken of is simply that from virtue to vice. It is the abandonment of right for wrong. It is the substitution of that which is unmanly, vile, debasing, for that which is truly manly, honorable, and elevating.
Yet society witnesses the introduction of adolescence to the saloon with an indulgent smile. The boys at college are taught (not, be it understood, in the curriculum) that it is rather a fine thing to drink, and that the effects of a debauch, though decidedly disagreeable, are in no way cause for shame. In other circles, where boys enter business earlier, dissipation is considered an evidence of special spirit. This trait is so general that humorists have often made use of it to point some merry tale, and generations have laughed unrestrainedly over the bibulous proclivities whose indulgence for a comparatively short period in youth assures physical and mental wreck. The boy leaves his home, cuts loose from his wise and tender mother, is plunged into a crowd of young men whose chief ambition seems to be to emulate the worst vices of their seniors. He is taken to the saloon, which is carefully prepared for the educated and refined visitor. Not for him the naked ugliness of the tenement-house gin-shop, or the water-front den. An æsthetic taste has been invoked to beautify the spacious rooms. Color in its most attractive application floods the place from variegated lampshades, frescoed ceilings, tessellated pavements, gilded bars, and voluptuous paintings. All that luxury can effect is done to heighten the sense of physical comfort. The service is swift, supple, efficient. The wines and liquors are free from adulteration and of sterling brands. An air of calm enjoyment pervades the saloon. The young man is quite carried away by all this splendor and luxury. He takes it to himself, as it was intended that he should do. He begins to be proud of his participation in so magnificent a spectacle. He yields without a pause or a thought to the solicitations of his companions.
What is it that he is doing ? Merely what all the world does, no doubt one reply will be. But if all the world has so far forgotten itself as to see no harm in self-degradation, it is time the truth was told. The boy may not get drunk at the saloon ; there are plenty of young men who can drink moderately, no doubt. But whether he drinks little or much, he cannot escape contamination if he frequents a place all the associations of, all the emanations from, which are debasing and corrupting. The most callous cynic will not dare to assert that young men ever learn good in the saloon. Every man of the world knows that they learn evil there abundantly. It is the focus and distributing point of sensuality as well as of intemperance. Its conversation is impure. Its rites are provocative. Its influences are demoralizing. It is the antipodes of the home presided over by the pure and pious mother. It is the filthy pool into which society flings its young men, under the plea of hardening them.
In this foul atmosphere they acquire the tone of a new world ; they fit on their incipient vices ; they accustom themselves to low views of many things. The frequenter of the saloon cannot escape infection, and it is here that the ideas are absorbed which, in spite of the natural chivalry of Americans, makes their attitude towards women too frequently a national reproach. We are too apt to think that this kind of infidelity to a high ideal is found only in company with filth and squalor, where
Till the filthy by-lane rings to the yell of the trampled wife.”
But there is a certain brutality in the disregard even of educated and prosperous society to the protest of woman against the saloon, to the magnitude and poignancy of the suffering it causes her, and especially to the cruel wrongs it inflicts upon her motherhood.
Never were there so many appliances in operation for the improvement of men. Never were the opportunities for leading the higher life so abundant. If in spite of this multiplication of spiritual and intellectual helps, of all the refining and expanding educational machinery which surrounds the nineteenth-century citizen, he is not a cleaner, purer, less animal man, it is largely because he remains under this sinister dominion. Exaggeration of the influence itself would be difficult. There is in the city of the period nothing so much in evidence as the saloon. You can walk down one of the avenues of New York, and count always one and sometimes two in every block for miles. There may be a scarcity of any other kind of stores, but there is never a lack of these. Nor are they at all confined to the squalid areas. They flourish amid brown-stone blocks as sturdily as amid tenement houses. They have their clientage everywhere. The wealthy club-man frequents his favorite bar as regularly as the thirsty laborer. There is a difference in externals, but not much more. Whether a man be worth a million dollars or twenty-five cents, he can get but one series of sensations and effects from drink. He may, if wealthy, get them in a more ornamental and pleasant way, but that is the extent of the distinction between the saloons of the rich and those of the poor.
Yet, though this institution brutalizes and degrades men, and increases the friction of all progressive effort immensely, the suffering which it entails upon women is heavier and keener. The maternal grief involved is but one phase of the subject. If the saloon wrecks thousands of lives and homes, its victims go to ruin with paralyzed sensibilities; and when they are inflicting most pain upon those who love them they are least capable of realizing the truth. The liquor whose habitual use dulls all the faculties extinguishes conscience, shame, and self-respect in the course of its destructive work, and the hardened drinker will sacrifice everything to his master passion without scruple or hesitation. But the women who are doomed to bear the heavy burden of relationship to drunkards are indeed to be pitied. The domesticity from which few of them can escape forces upon them perpetual experiences so heart-breaking, so revolting, that their existence is a prolonged tragedy. All the caprice, petulance, unreason, tyranny, brutality, engendered by drink is expended upon them. All the social degradation and mortification of the position falls upon their heads. The living man chained to a corpse is not more terribly situated than the wives and daughters of the saloon’s victims. Liquor eliminates all the drunkard’s good qualities, reinforces all his worst vices, and, having thus transformed him, sends him home to torture and abuse those whom it is his first duty to cherish and protect. At the sacrifice of her future happiness, the wife may sometimes obtain divorce : very often, however, her inability to support herself compels her to endure her torment, or the reluctance to expose her children to reproach constrains her to bear everything. It is seldom that women are so situated as to be able to resume a celibate life without submitting to serious hardships, and perhaps in a majority of instances they can secure a separation only by facing destitution.
There is no evil which operates so directly and with such disastrous potency against the family as the saloon, in fact. It is the direst enemy of domestic happiness, purity, and peace. Even in its mildest manifestations it alienates men from their homes ; creates in them habits of selfish indulgence; gives them sensual interests apart; brings into competition with the innocent recreations of the home circle coarse, vulgar, and extravagant amusements. In its more pronounced operations, it stops at no such trifles as the production of mere discomfort, but, proceeding without disguise, turns men into wild beasts, and then lets them loose upon their families. What makes this especially shocking is that we are all acquainted with its truth, yet that we have hitherto tolerated it passively. The horrors to which drink exposes women are worse than those of slavery. The sufferings of the wives and daughters of drinking men are more acute and constant than most men are probably capable of experiencing. We all know this, yet we go on calmly in the old way, as if we either thought women ought to be thus abused, or believed that, though the matter was pitiful, no help could be found for it. Much has been written of late years about the alleged quickening of sensibility, the enlargement of humanitarian tendencies, the revolt against cruelty in all its manifestations. Is there not danger of the moral atrophy engendered by self - conceit, where illusions so flattering can co-exist with the actual life we are living ? Familiarity with evil must have blinded us alarmingly when we can seriously believe that we have reached a real height of reform ; that we have attained a stage of civilization pure enough to be proud of ; that there is no special need for concern because of the sins that do most easily beset us.
Yet national ignorance of the truth can certainly not be pleaded. All that can be told of the saloon is trite to weariness. Who does not know, much as he knows the diameter of the earth and its distance from the sun, that the people of the United States spend every year from eight hundred to a thousand millions of dollars in drink ? Who does not know that taxes are everywhere onerous because we have to maintain so many prisons, and insane asylums, and police courts, and workhouses, to take care of the people the saloons have turned into lunatics, criminals, and paupers ? But if the public turn impatiently from these statistics, if they dismiss them from their thoughts without reflection, it is evident that the fact itself is the strongest condemnation of our civilization, our morality, and our Christianity. For there is actually no subject of half the importance to the nation that this is. There is no subject which so comes home to the people, from the least to the greatest. There is no subject upon the right settlement of which the national destinies so directly depend. There is no subject the right and wrong of which are so plain. There is no subject so absolutely one-sided from an ethical point of view. There is no subject which ought so quickly and certainly to arouse the sympathy and the enthusiasm of an intelligent, just, conscientious society. No one of these assertions can be disputed, yet what is the situation ? For thirty years a few single-minded, tender-conscienced men and women have been agitating for temperance ; but though recently there has been a greater awakening on the matter than for a long time, the education of the people has been so slow that the disposition among the politicians everywhere still is to temporize, shuffle, shirk, and avoid the question, and this because, and only because, these close observers do not believe the general conscience has been sufficiently aroused to justify open adoption of the issue.
This is the truth, however unpalatable it may be to some. It is not the politicians, it is not even the liquor-dealers, who are responsible for the continued power and arrogance of the saloon. It is the American people who sustain it, who enrich its proprietors, who supply their military chest, who voluntarily consent to all the disabilities, evils, wrongs, outrages, sufferings, cruelties, bereavements, which the saloon produces, for the sake of the base and shameful self-indulgence to which it ministers. It could not survive in the face of an exalted, an enlightened public opinion. It exists only because public opinion is neither exalted nor enlightened. It is in some sense a moral barometer. Where, as in our greatest cities, the saloon seems to control everything, so that the party leaders no longer even try to conquer its influence, but are fain to conciliate and make terms with it, there we know corruption flourishes, and morality is weak, and the worship of the golden calf is the prevailing cult. There has been a considerable growth of temperance sentiment in the country. The progress of prohibition proves that. But the discipline and skill which organization gives the liquor-dealers have made the saloon more mischievous than ever, of late, by creating for it a proselytizing function. Competition has led to this. It is the difference between the web spider and the hunting spider. Formerly the saloon-keeper stayed at home and awaited his customers. Now he advertises for trade in many ways, and neglects no help, however small, being as ready to debauch the young boy as the young boy’s father. He finds his reward in this activity, for the consumption of drink, at least in one direction, is steadily increasing, the brewers reporting that in 1885 a million more barrels of beer were drunk than in 1884.
There was a time when American sensitiveness was alarmed considerably by the reported insidious advances of Roman Catholicism. Our Protestant and Puritan blood was stirred to anger, and sensational pictures were drawn of the conquests aimed at by the priest. He was shown stealing into the family and converting the women; then inveigling the children into sectarian schools, and moulding their plastic minds in accord with Vatican decrees ; lastly, getting control of politics by underhand methods, and extinguishing freedom. There was no disposition among us to submit to that sort of invasion, and if the priest had not abandoned his sinister programme (supposing he ever entertained it) there would have been serious trouble for him. But all this time we were, blind and deaf to the real conquest which the saloon was effecting through the length and breadth of the land ; and though it has invaded the family, and introduced a system of education more deadly than all the Jesuit schools conceived by Puritan alarmists, and taken possession of our politics, city, state, and national, and corrupted and degraded and spoiled everything it has touched, it is only at this eleventh hour that we are beginning to realize what it has done for us ; and even now we do not appreciate the depth and extent of the evil, as is evidenced by the fact that we are still seriously asking one another whether any legislative interference with the institution is compatible with the maintenance of constitutional liberty.
There is no evil which affects public and private life so deeply and at so many points as this. It is a question which underlies all problems of social reform and regeneration. The labor problem is bound up with it. The growth of religion is largely dependent upon it. The development of the subversive ideas which multiply so quickly has direct connection with it. The modern nuisance and danger of the tramp army, which roams the country, owes its existence to it. Fully half the unhappiness and suffering of life are due to it. It forces itself upon our attention continually. Nevertheless, we pay so little regard to it that it might be thought we classed it with the natural forces over which human control cannot be obtained. Even the philanthropic outflowings of our more sensitive minds seek other avenues of usefulness. Vivisection has latterly aroused a great deal of indignation, though the practice does not lack capable defenders. But what is the torture of a few animals, in the name of science, in comparison with the vivisection of human hearts which goes on daily under the operation of the saloon ? The frailties, the sorrows, the misfortunes, of our fellow men and women are perhaps too commonplace to move compassion, or to incite organized resistance to the evil which causes them. That compassion may be evoked by the barbarity of a feminine fashion which necessitates the slaughter of innocent birds, but the machinery which runs day and night, making drunkards, widows, orphans, bankrupts, maniacs, ruffians, and tramps, does not strike the general conscience as calling for prompt prohibitive action.
It required a national convulsion to secure the abolition of slavery. There can be no doubt that if secession had been averted by compromise the institution would have been perpetuated. For when the blow had been struck at the life of the nation, the public opinion of the time was slow in realizing the necessity as well as the equity of emancipation. Even Abraham Lincoln, whose prevision was much clearer than that of most of his contemporaries, almost feared to take the final step in issuing his proclamation. So sluggishly does public sentiment move on great questions until events give impetus to it, and then it rushes forward to the plunge with the volume and force of Niagara. If we are to determine the subsidiary problems which now occupy us, on a rational and permanent basis, we shall have to clear the ground by settling this one first. If we have not self-control and strength of purpose enough for the undertaking, we shall drift on, finding the subsidiary questions more and more intractable, until at length one or the other of them will grow so menacing that we shall be driven, in order to dispose of it, to deal firmly and conclusively with the fundamental evil. Modern socialism, which infects the whole labor question to-day, would lose half its strength if the saloon were abolished. It is indeed a duty, which rests primarily with labor itself, to attack this evil; for without the inculcation of self-restraint the workingmen can never realize their hopes of progress, nor will their organization prove fully effective until they employ it to foster selfhelp in their own ranks, and to train themselves to the conscientious performance of duty. At present too much of the social waste which makes progress so tedious occurs among the laboring classes, and hitherto the tendency of organization has not been toward the checking and diminishing of these direct consequences of self-indulgence and unthrift.
The production of popular conviction on this issue is the most useful work of education to which patriotic and philanthropic energies can be put to-day. The overthrow, the extirpation, of the saloon is demanded upon every consideration, secular and religious, worthy to be named. There is no justification, defense, or palliation of the evil which can have any weight with reasoning beings. If this numerically great and materially wealthy nation is to fulfill the destinies at which it aims ; if it is indeed to be an example to the world of successful self-government ; if it is to demonstrate the superiority of the democratic system; if it is to escape the perils which beset the governments of Europe, it must cease to palter with an evil which is capable of debauching and ruining the wisest and strongest commonwealth the world has ever seen, whose continued toleration gives the lie to every profession of Christianity, every declaration of fraternity, every assumption of intelligence, we can advance, and which has already attained so formidable a growth that resistance of its influences provokes open menace and defiance, and the unconcealed determination to master and control the state in its debasing and abominable interests.
George Frederic Parsons.