Cherokee Phoenix


Published April, 30, 1831

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Delivered before the Washington City Temperance Society, November 16, 1831, By Thomas Sewall, M. F. Professor of Anatomy and Physiology and the Columbian Collage, District of Columbia.

We are convened, my fellow citizens, to attend the first anniversary of a Society for the Promotion of Temperance; an institution which, in accordance with the spirit of the times, has been established through our land by the almost united voice of the nation, and this for the suppression of one of the most alarming evils that ever infested human society; a vice too, so odious in its nature, so injurious in its consequences, and attended with so many circumstances of suffering, mortification, and disgrace, that it seems difficult to understand how it should ever have become a prevalent evil among mankind; and more especially how it should have come down to us from the early periods of society, gaining strength and power, and influence in its descent. That such is the fact, requires no proof. Its devastating effects are but too obvious. In these latter times, more especially, it has swept over our land with the rapidity and power of a tempest, bearing down everything in its course.- Not content with rioting in the haunts of ignorance and vice, it has passed through our consecrated groves, has entered our most sacred enclosures. And oh! how many men of genius and of letters have fallen before it! how many a warm and philanthropic heart has been chilled by its icy touch! It has left no retreat unvisited; it has alike invaded our public and private assemblies, our political and social circle, our courts of justice and halls of legislation. It has stalked within the very walls of our Capitol and there left the stain of its polluting touch on our national glory. It has leaped over the pale of the church, and even reached up its sacrilegious arm to the pulpit, and dragged down some of its richest ornaments. It has ravelled equally on the spoils of the palace and the cottage, and has seized it s victims with an unsparing grasp from every class of society; the private citizen and the public functionary, the high and the low, the rich and the poor, and _______ and the ignorant,-______ is there a family among us so happy, as not to have wept over some of its members, who have fallen by the hand of this ruthless destroyer?

As a nation, intemperance has corrupted our morals, impaired our intellect, and enfeebled our physical strength. Indeed, in whatever light we view it, whether as an individual, a social, or a national evil; as affecting our personal independence and happiness, our national wealth and industry, as reducing our power of naval and military defence, as enfeebling the intellectual energies of the nation and undermining the health of our fellow citizens, as sinking the patriotism and valor of the nation; as increasing paupers, poverty, and taxation; as sapping the foundation of our moral and religious institutions; or as introducing disorder, distress, and pain into families and society; it calls to us in a voice of thunder, to wake from our slumbers, to seize every weapon and wield every power which God and nature have placed within our reach; to protect ourselves and our fellow citizens from its ravage.

But this occasion will not permit me to dwell on the general effects of intemperance, nor to trace the history of its causes.- I shall, therefore, confine myself, more particularly to a consideration of its influence on the individual-its effects on the moral, intellectual, and physical constitution of man-not the primary effects of ardent spirit as displayed in a fit of intoxication. It is the more insidious, permanent, and fatal effects of intemperance, as exemplified in the case of the habitual dram drinker to which I wish to call your attention.

1. The effects of ardent spirit on the moral powers:

It is perhaps difficult to determine in what way intemperance first manifests its influence on the moral powers, so variously does it affect different individuals. Were I to speak from my own observation, I should say that it first appears in an alienation of those kind and tender sympathies which bind a man to his family and friends; those lively sensibilities, which enable him to participate in the joys and sorrows of those around him. 'The social affections lose their fullness and tenderness, the conscience its power, the heart its sensibility, till all that was once lovely and rendered him the joy and the idol of his friends retires,' and leaves him to the dominion of the appetites and passions of the brute. 'Religious enjoyment, if he ever possessed any, declines as the emotions excited by ardent spirit arise.' He loses by degrees his regard to truth and to the fulfilment of his engagements- he forgets the Sabbath and the house of worship, and lounges upon his bed, or lingers at the tavern. He lays aside his Bible-- his family devotion is not heard, and his closet no longer listens to the silent whispers of prayer. He at length becomes irritable, peevish and profane; and is finally lost to every thing that respects decorum in appearance or virtue in principle; and its is lamentable to mark the steps of that process by which the virtuous and elevated man sinks to ruin.

II. Its effects on the intellectual powers.

Here the influence of intemperance is marked and decisive. The inebriate first loses his vivacity and natural acuteness of perception. His judgement becomes clouded and impaired in its strength, the memory also enfeebled and sometimes quite obliterated. The mind is wandering and vacant, and incapable of intense or steady application to any one subject. This state is usually accompanied by an unmeaning state ____ edness of _____ quite peculiar to the drunkard. The imagination and the will, if not enfeebled, acquire a morbid sensibility, from which they are thrown into a violent excitement from the slightest causes; hence the inebriate sheds floods of tears over the pictures of his own fancy. I have often seen him and especially on his recovery from a fit of intoxication, weep and laugh alternately over the same scene. The will, too, acquires and omnipotent ascendancy over him, and is the only monitor to which he yields obedience. The appeals of conscience, the claims of domestic happiness, of wives and children, of patriotism and of virtue, are not heard.

The different powers of the mind having thus lost their natural relation to each other, the healthy balance being destroyed, the intellects are no longer fit for intense application, or successful effort- and although the inebriate may and sometimes does astonish, by the flights of his fancy and the poignancy of his wit, yet in nine cases out of ten he fails, and there is never any confidence to be reposed in him. There have been a few who, from peculiarity of constitution or some other cause, have continued to perform intellectual labor for many years, while slaves to ardent spirit; but in no instance has the vigor of the intellect, or its ability to labor, been increased by indulgence; and where there is one who has been able to struggle on under the habits of intemperance, there are thousands who have perished in the experiment, and some among the most powerful minds that the world ever produced. On the other hand, we shall find by looking over the biography of the great men of every age, that those who have possessed the clearest and most powerful minds neither drank spirits, nor indulged in the pleasures of the table. Sir Isaac Newton, John Locke, Dr. Franklin, John Wesley, Sir. William Jones, John Fletcher, and President Edwards, furnish a striking illustration of this truth. One of the secrets by which these men produced such astonishing results, were enabled to perform so much intellectual labor, and of so high a grade, and to arrive at old age in the enjoyment of health, was a rigid course of abstinence. But I hasten to consider more particularly.

III. Its effects on the physical powers.

In view of this part of the subject, the attention of the critical observer is arrested by a series of circumstances alike, disgusting and melancholy.

1. The odor of the breath of the drunkard furnishes the earliest indication by which the habitual use of ardent spirit becomes known. This is occasioned by the exhalation of the alcoholic principle from the bronchial vessels, and air cells of the lungs- not of pure spirit as taken into the stomach, but of spirit which has been absorbed has mingled with the blood, and has been subjected to the action of the different organs of the body; and not containing any principle which contributes to the nourishment or renovation of the system, is cast out with other excretions as poisonous and hurtful; and this peculiar odor does not arise from the accidentally of occasional use of spirit; it marks only the habitual dram drinker, the one who indulges daily in his potation; and through its density varies in some degree with the kind of spirit consumed, the habits and constitution of the individual, yet it bears generally close relation to the degree of intemperance. These observations are confirmed by some experiments made on living animals by the celebrated French Physiologist, Magendie. He ascertained that dilute alcohol, a solution of camphor, and some other odorous substances, when subjected to the absorbing power of the veins are taken up by them, and after mingling with the blood, pass off by the pulmonary exhalants. Even phosphorus injected into the cranial vein of a dog, he found to pass off in a few moments from the nostrils of the animal in a dense white vapor, which he ascertained to be phosphoric acid.

Cases have occurred in which the breath of the drunkard has become highly charged with alcohol, as to render it actually inflammable by the touch of a taper. One individual in particular is mentioned, who often amused his comrades by passing his breath through a small tube, and setting it on fire, as it issued from it. It appears also, that this has sometimes been the source of that combustion of the body of the drunkard, which has been denominated spontaneous, many well authenticated cases of which are on record.

2. The perspirable matter which passes off from the skin becomes charged with the odor of alcohol in the drunkard, and is so far changed in some cases as to furnish evidence of the kind of spirit drank. I have met with two instances, says Dr. McNish, the one in a claret, and the other in a port drinker; in which the moisture that exhaled from their bodies, had a ruddy complexion, similar to the wine on which they had committed their debauch.

3. The whole system soon bears marks of debility and decay. The voluntary muscles lose their power, and cause to act under the control of the will, hence all the movements become awkward, exhibiting the appearance of stiffness in the joints. The positions of the body, also, are tottering and infirm, and the step loses its elasticity and vigor. The muscles and especially those of the face and lips, are often affected with a convulsive twitching, which produces the involuntary winking of the eye, and quivering of the lip, so characteristic of the inebriate. Indeed, all the motions seem unnatural and forced, as if restrained by some power within. The extremities are at length seized with a tremor, which is more strongly marked after recovery from a fit of intoxication. The lips loose their significant expression, and become sensual-the complexion assumes a sickly leaden hue, or is changed to an unhealthy, fiery redness, and is covered with red streaks and blotches. The eye becomes water tender and inflamed, and loses its intelligence and its fire. These symptoms, together with a certain oedematous appearance about the eye, bloating of the whole body, with a dry, feverish skin, seldom fail to mark the habitual dram drinker; and they go on increasing and increasing till the intelligence and dignity of the men is lost in the tameness and sensuality of the brute.

But these effects, which are external and obvious, are only the 'signals which nature holds out, and waves in token of internal distress;' for all the time the inebriate has been pouring down his daily draught, and making merry over the cup; morbid changes have been going on within; and though these are unseen, and may be unsuspected, they are fatal, irretrievable.

A few of the most important of these changes I shall now describe.

4. The stomach and its functions.

This is the great organ of digestion. It is the chief instrument by which food is prepared to nourish, sustain and renovate the different tissues of the body, to carry on the various functions, and to supply the waste which continually takes place in the system. It is not strange, therefore, that the habitual application to the organ, of any agent calculated to derange its foundations, or change its organization, should be followed by symptoms so various and extensive, and by consequences so fatal. The use of ardent spirit produces both these effects; it deranges the functions of the stomach, and if persisted in, seldom fails to change its organic structure.

The inebriate first loses his appetite, and becomes thirsty and feverish; he vomits in the morning and is affected with spasmodic pains in the region of the stomach. He is often seized with permanent dyspepsia, and either wastes away by degrees, or dies suddenly of a fit of cramp in the stomach.

On examining the stomach after death, it is generally found irritated, and approaching a state of inflammation, with its vessels enlarged, and filled with black blood; and particularly those of the mucous coat, which gives to the internal surface of the stomach the appearance of purple or reddish streaks, resembling the livid patches seen on the face of the drunkard.

The coats of the stomach become greatly thickened and corrugated, and so firmly united as to form one inseparable mass. In this state, the walls of the organ are sometimes increased in thickness to the extend of ten or twelve lines, and are sometimes found also in a scirrhus, or cancerous condition.

The following case occurred in my practice several years since: a middle aged gentleman of wealth and standing, had long been accustomed to mingle in the convivial circle, and though by no means a drunkard, had indulged at times in the use of his old cognac, with an unsparing hand. He was at length seized with pain in the region of his stomach, and a vomiting of his food an hour or two after eating. In about eighteen months he died in a state of extreme emaciation.

On opening the body after death, the walls of the whole of the right extremity of the stomach were found in a scirrhus and cancerous condition, and thickened to the extent of about two inches. The cavity of the organ was so far obliterated as scarcely to admit the passage of a probe from the left to the right extremity, and the opening which remained was so unequal and irregular as to render it evident that but little of the nourishment he had received could have passed the lower orifice of the stomach for many months.

I have never dissected the stomach of a drunkard, in which the organ did not manifest some remarkable deviation from its healthy condition. But the derangement of the stomach in the is not limited to the function of nutrition merely. This organ is closely united to every other organ and to each individual tissue of the body, by its sympathetic relations. When the stomach, therefore becomes diseased other parts suffer with it. The functions of the brain, the heart, the lungs and the liver become disordered, the secretions are altered, and all the operations of the animal economy are more or less effected.

5. The liver and its function:

Alcohol, in every form and proportion, has long been known to exert a strong and speedy influence on this organ when used internally. Aware of this fact, the poultry dealers of England, are in the habit of mixing a quantity of spirit with the food of their fowls, in order to increase the size of the liver; so that they may be enabled to supply to the epicure a greater abundance of the part of the an- [see fourth page] imal which he regales as the most delicious.

The influence of spirit on the liver is exerted in two ways: First, the impression made upon the mucous coat of the stomach, is extended to the liver by sympathy; the second mode of action is through the medium of the circulation, and by the immediate principle on the liver itself, as it passes through the organ, mingled with the blood. In which-soever, of these ways it operated, its first effect is to increase the action of the liver and sometimes to such a degree as to produce inflammation. Its secretion becomes changed from a bright yellow to a green or black, and from a thin fluid to a substance tar in its consistency. There soon follows also an enlargement of the liver and a change in its organic structure. I have met with several cases in which the liver has become enlarged from intemperance, so as to occupy a greater part of the cavity of the abdomen, and weighing from eight to twelve pounds, when it should have weighed not more than four or five.

The liver sometimes, however, even when it manifests great morbid change in its organic structure, is rather diminished than increased in its volume. This was the case in the person of the celebrated stage actor George Frederick Cooke, who died a few years since in the city of New York. This extraordinary man was long distinguished for the profligacy of his life, as well as for the vigor of his mind and body. At the time of his death the body was opened by Dr. Hosack, who found that the liver did not exceed its usual dimensions, but was astonishingly hard, of a lighter color than natural, and that its texture was so sense as to make considerable resistance to the knife. The blood vessels, which in a healthy condition are extremely numerous and large, were in this case nearly obliterated, evincing that the regular circulation through the liver, had long since ceased; and tubercles were found throughout the whole substance of the organ.

I have met with cases in the course of my dissections, in which the liver was found smaller than natural, shrivelled, indurated, its vessels diminished in size and number, with the whole of its internal structure more or less changed. In consequence of these morbid changes in the liver, other organs become effected, as the spleen, the pancreas, 'c. either by sympathy or as consequence of their dependance on the healthy functions of the liver for the due performance of their own.

6. Of the brain and its functions

Inflammation and engorgement of this organ are frequent consequences of intemperance, and may take place during a debauch- or may rise sometime after, during the stage of debility, from a loss of the healthy balance of action between the different parts of the system. This ___mation is sometimes acute, is marked by furious delirium, and terminates fatally in the course of a few days, and sometimes a few hours. At other times it assumes a chronic form which continues much longer; and then frequently results in so effusion of serum, or as extravasation of blood and the patient dies in a state of insensibility, with all the symptoms of compressed brain. Sometimes the system becomes so saturated with ardent spirits, that there is good reason to believe, the effusions which take place in the cavities of the brain and elsewhere, are compose in part at least, of the alcoholic principle. The following case occurred, not long since, in England, and attested by unquestionable authority.

A man was taken up dead in the streets of London soon after having drank a quart of gin, on a wager. He was carried to the Westminster Hospital, and there dissected. 'In the ventricles of the brain was found a considerable quantity of limpid fluid, distinctly impregnated with gin, both to the sense of smell and taste, and even to the test of inflammability. The liquid appeared to the senses of the examining students, as strong as one third gin, and two thirds water.'

Dr. Armstrong, who has enjoyed very ample opportunity of investigating this subject, speaks of the chronic inflammation of the brain and its membranes, as frequently proceeding from the free use of strong liquors.

It is a fact familiar to every anatomist, that alcohol even when greatly diluted has by its action of the brain after death, the effect of hardening it, as well as most of the tissues of this body which contain albumen, and it is common to immerse the brain in ardent spirit for a few days, in order to render it the firmer for dissection.

On examining the brain after death, of such as have long been accustomed to the free use of ardent spirit, it is said the organ is generally found harder than in temperate persons. It has no longer that delicate and elastic texture. Its arteries become diminished in size and loose their transparency, while the veins and sinuses are greatly distended and irregularly enlarged.

This statement is confirmed by my own dissections, and they seem also to be in full accordance with all the intellectual and physical phenomena displayed in the drunkard, while living.

7. The Heart and its functions:

It has greatly been supposed, that the heart is less frequently effected by intemperance, than most of the other vital organs; but, from the history of the cases which have come under my own observation, I am convinced that it seldom escapes disease under the habitual use of ardent spirit. And why should it, since it is thrown almost perpetually into a state of unnatural exertion, the very effect produced by the violent agitation of the passions, the influence of which upon this organ is found so injurious.

The following case came under my notice, a few winters since. A large athletic man, long accustomed to the use of ardent spirit, on drinking a glass of raw whiskey dropped instantly dead. On carefully dissecting the body, no adequate cause of the sudden cessation of life could be found in any part except the heart.- This organ was free from blood, was hard, and firmly contracted, as if affected by spasm. I am convinced that many of these cases of sudden death which take place with intemperate persons is the result of a spasmodic action of the heart, from sympathy with the stomach, or some other part of the system. The use of ardent spirit, no doubt, promotes also the ossifications of the valves of the heart, as well as the development of other organic affections.

8. The Lungs and their functions.

Respiration in the inebriate is generally oppressed and laborious, and especially after eating, or violent exercise; and he is teased with a cough, attended with copious expectoration, and especially after his recovery from a fit of intoxication; and these symptoms go on increasing and unless arrested in their progress, often terminate in consumption.

The affection of the lungs is produced in two ways; first, by the immediate action of the alcoholic principle upon the highly sensible membrane which lines the tracheas, bronchial vessels, and air cells of the lungs as poured out by the exhalants and second by the sympathy which is called into action between the lungs and other organs already in a state of disease, and more especially that of the stomach and liver.

I have met with many cases in the course of my practice of cough and difficult breathing, which could be relieved only by regulating the function of the stomach, and which soon yielded, on the patient ceasing to irritate this organ with ardent spirit. I have found the liver still more frequently the course of this affection, and on restoring the organ to its healthy condition, by laying aside the use of ardent spirits, all the pulmonary symptoms have subsided.

On examining the lungs of the drunkard after death, they are frequently found adhering to the walls of the chest; hepatized, or affected with tubercles.

But time would fail me, were I to attempt an account of half the pathology of drunkenness.-Dyspepsia, Jaundice, Emaciation, Corpulence, Dropsy, Ulcers, Rheumatism, Gout, Tremors, Palpitation, Hysteria, Epilepsy, Palsy, Lethargy, Apoplexy, Melancholy, Madness, Delirium, Tremens, and Premature old age, compose but a small part of the catalogue of diseases produced by ardent spirit. Indeed there is scarcely a morbid affection to which the human body is liable, that has not, in one way or another been produced by it; there is not a disease but it has aggravated, not a predisposition to disease which it has not called into action; ' although its effects are in some degree modified by age and temperament, by habit and occupation, by climate and season of the year, and even by the intoxicating agent itself; yet, the general and ultimate consequences are the same.

But I pass on to notice one state of the system, produced by ardent spirit, too important and interesting to leave unexamined. It is that predisposition to disease and death which so strongly characterizes the drunkard in every situation in life.