The Massachusetts Temperance Society held their annual meeting on the 28th May. After the public exercises of the Society, the following communication from Chief Justice Parker was read.
Boston, 25th May, 1829
Dear Sir,- Having just returned from six weeks' tour through the counties of Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden and Berkshire, in each of which I have held a term of the court, it has occurred to me that certain observations I had occasion to make, may be usefully stated to the society over which you preside:
The most important relates to the extraordinary reformation which has taken place in regard to the use of spirituous liquors. I am confident from my own observation, and from information which I have received from authentic sources, that this reformation is great in all these counties- and that there is good reason to hope it will increase and be permanent. There is an actual elimination of one half of the sale of spirits, and of course in the use of them. In most cases beer has taken place of them and when that cannot be obtained, cider, and when neither, water. In many places the traffic in rum, brandy, gin, 'c. formerly the most profitable branch of a grocer's business has ceased to be an object, ' the bar room of taverns, which has heretofore been the scene of disgusting excess, is comparatively deserted, or visited only for the healthful fountain of ale or beer, which now is the most prominent object there. I do not mean to speak of the practice of drinking ardent spirits as abolished, but as materially decreased.
I should think the change was more thorough in Berkshire than anywhere else, and it has probably been more aided by the efforts of associations and individuals.
Among other instruments the missionary labours (sic) of Mr. Hewit are spoken of a slightly efficacious. This gentleman has visited many towns, and being gifted with a zeal which knows no relaxation, and an eloquence which cannot be resisted, he has produced a powerful effect on communities and has turned some of the most incorrigible drunkards from the evil of their ways. From what I have beard of this gentleman, and of his wonderful success in this good cause, I should denominate the apostle of temperance.
It ought to be mentioned to the honor of the bar of Berkshire, that they have, I believe unanimously, entered into a compact which they strictly execute, to promote the cause of temperance by example and otherwise. They have banished all ardent spirits from their houses when at home, at their lodgings when at court, making literally no use of them. They have also discarded the use of wine, which at first I thought might be carrying the thing too far, because extremes generally cause revulsions, but upon hearing their reasons, I am satisfied they are right. They do not object to wine as of itself, and in moderation hurtful; but the use of it in a great measure destroys the power of example and tends much to defeat the effect of any remonstrance they may have occasioned to make to those who are destroying themselves and families by hard drinking. The poor man, when urged to refrain is apt to report-'Why if we could afford to drink wine as you do, we would not drink rum, but we must have something as well as you, and rum is the cheapest thing we can get.' It is necessary to show such people that there is not need of any stimulants.
I was informed by an intelligent man in one of the towns of Berkshire, who keeps the largest store in the place, that such is the change in the town and neighborhood, that he saw no use in renewing his stock of liquors, and that even his last year's stock was principally on hand- for the selling of liquor by retail having almost ceased.
My knowledge, except what has come from personal observation is derived from a conversation with ministers, lawyers, store-keepers, and inn-holders, and the result to my mind is quite satisfactory, that a radical change has been wrought through the portion of the Commonwealth which I have visited. I hope it is so in all parts, but I have had no opportunity of knowing. It is an interesting inquiry, how has this great moral improvement been produced? Undoubtedly like other improvements, by a deeply felt necessity of great and combined efforts. A few years ago the terrible calamity of general intemperance was much to be apprehended in our community- the disease was spreading itself everywhere and among all classes, ruined families were seen in every town and village, and even the country poor house was not left uninvaded (sic). There was danger of our becoming a nation of drunkards, the destroying angel being seen every where in power. Societies sprung up to check this devastation-the clergy lifted their voice against this crying sin, which threatened to disgrace and ruin the land--lay-men everywhere put on their armour (sic) to fight this devouring monster, and by the blessing of divine providence, every where has victory in a greater or less degree been obtained- public opinion has been roused and put into action, and has (as might be expected) been more efficacious than feeble laws, feebly executed.
Your society I believe was the first to unfurl its banners in this holy warfare. It was instituted during the session I think of the Legislature about twenty years ago. The great lawyer and statesman Samuel Dexter, was among its first patrons and its first President. It has for many years been silently though surely gaining ground upon the enemy, and after obtaining auxiliaries from all quarters, it is now, though late, coming to the fruition of its hopes. Many seeing no happy results after many years of effort, have retired from the field in despair-I am one of this number-but I now see and rejoice in it, that however desperate the disease, it is at last yielding to the power and skill of the great physician above, through the instrumentality of the human agents he has employed. The national society established here a few years ago, has given great decision to the pre-existing Massachusetts Society, and both together, with the aid of county and town associations, and influential individuals, have been the secondary causes of working the greatest moral change which has ever taken place in this community.
I trust this communication will be received with candor; its object being to inspire new vigour (sic) by such testimony as I can give of the success of past efforts.
With great respect and regard, your friend and servant.