Cherokee Phoenix


Published May, 7, 1831

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Delivered before the Washington City Temperance Society. November 13, 1831. By Thomas Sewall, M.D. Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the Columbian College, District of Columbia.


It is unquestionably true, that many of the surrounding objects in nature are constantly tending to man's destruction. The excess of heat and cold, humidity and dryness, the vicissitudes of the season, noxious exhalations from the earth, the floating atoms in the atmosphere, the poisonous vapors from decomposed animal and vegetable matter, with many other invisible agents, are exerting their deadly influence; and were it not that every part of this system is endowed with a self-preserving power, a principle of excitability, or, in other words, a vital principle, the operations of economy would cease, and a dissolution of its organic structure take place. But this principle being implanted in the system, reaction takes place, and thereby a vigorous contest is maintained with the warring elements without, as well as with the principle of decay within.

It is thus that man is enabled to endure from year to year the toils and fatigues of life, the variation of heat and cold, and the vicissitudes of the season- that he is enabled to traverse every region of the globe, and to live with almost equal case under the equator, and in the frozen regions of the north. It is by this power that all his functions are performed, from the commencement to the close of life.

The principle of excitability exists in the highest degree in the infant, and diminishes at every succeeding period of life; and if man is not cut down by disease or violence, he struggles on, and finally dies a natural death; a death occasioned by the exhaustion of the principle of excitability. In order to prevent the too rapid exhaustion of this principle, nature has especially provided for its restoration by establishing a period of sleep. After being awake for sixteen hours, a sensation of fatigue ensues, and all the functions are performed with diminished energy and precision. Locomotion becomes feeble and tottering, the voice harsh, the intellect obtuse, and powerless, and the senses blunted. In this state the individual anxiously retires from the light and from the noise and bustle of business, seeks that position which requires the least effort to sustain it, and abandons himself to rest. The will ceases to act, and he loses in succession all the senses.- The muscles unbend themselves, and permit the limbs to fall into the most easy and natural position. Digestion, respiration, circulation, secretion, and the other functions go on with diminished power and activity; and consequently the excitability is gradually restored. After a repose of six or eight hours, this principle becomes accumulated to its full measure, and the individual wakes and finds himself invigorated and refreshed. His muscular power is augmented, his senses are acute, and discriminating, his intellect active and eager for labor, and all his functions move on with renewed energy. But if the stomach be oppressed by food, or the system excited by stimulating drinks, sleep, though it may be profound, is never tranquil and refreshing. The system in being raised to a state of feverish excitement, and its healthy balance disturbed, its exhausted excitability is not restored. The individual awakes but finds himself fatigued rather than invigorated. His muscles are relaxed, his senses obtuse, his intellect impaired, and his functions disordered; and it is not until he is again under the influence of food and stimulus, that he is fit for the occupations of life. And thus he loses the benefits of this wise provision of repose, designated for his preservation. Nothing, probably tend more powerfully to produce premature old age, than midnight revels or disturbed and unrefreshing sleep.

It is also true, that artificial stimulus in whatever way applied, tends constantly to exhaust the principle of excitability of the system, and this in proportion to its intensity, and the freedom with which it is applied.

But there is still another principle on which the use of ardent spirit predisposes the drunkard to disease and death. It acts on the blood, impairs its vitality, deprives it of its red color, and thereby renders it unfit to stimulate the heart and other organs through which it circulates; unfit, also, to supply materials for the different secretions ' to renovate the different tissues of the body, as well as to sustain the energy of the brain; offices which it can perform only, while it retains its vermillion color and other arterial properties. The blood of the drunkard is several shades darker in its color, than that of temperate persons, and also coagulates less readily and firmly, and is loaded with serum; appearances which indicate that it has exchanged its arterial properties for those of the venous blood. This is the cause of the livid complexion of the inebriate, which so strongly marks him in the advanced state of intemperance.--Hence, too, all the functions of his body are sluggish, irregular, and the whole system loses its tone and its energy. If ardent spirit, when taken into the system, exhausts the vital principles of the solids, it destroys the vital principle of the blood also; and if taken in large quantities, produces sudden death; in which case the blood, in death by lightning, by opium, or by violent and long continued exertions does not coagulate.

The principles laid down are plain, and of easy application to the case before us.

The inebriate, having by the habitual use of ardent spirit, exhausted to a greater or less extend the principle of excitability in the solids, the power of reaction; and the blood having become incapable of performing it also, he is alike predisposed to every disease, and rendered habl_ to the inroads of every invading foe. So far, therefore, from protecting the system against disease intemperance every constitutes one of the strongest predisposing causes.

Superadded to this, whenever disease does lay its grasp upon the drunkard, the powers of life being already enfeebled by the stimulus of ardent spirit, he unexpectedly sinks in the contest, and but too frequently to the mortification to his physician, and the surprise and grief of his friends. Indeed, inebriation so enfeebles the powers of life, so modifies the character of disease, and so changes the operation of medical agents, that unless the young physician has studied thoroughly the constitution of the drunkard he has but partially learned his profession, and is not fit for a practitioner of the present age.

These are the true reasons why the drunkard dies so easily, and from such slight causes.

A sudden cold, pleurisy, fever, a fractured limb or a slight wound of the skin, is more than his shattered powers can endure. Even a little excess of exertion, an exposure to heat or cold, a hearty repast, or a glass of cold water, not unfrequently extinguishes the small remains of the vital principle.

In the season that has just closed upon us, we have had a melancholy exhibition of the effect of intemperance in the tragical death of some dozens of our fellow citizens; and had the extreme heat which prevailed for several days continued for as many weeks, we should hardly have had a confirmed drunkard left among us.

Many of those deaths which came under my notice seemed almost spontaneous, and some of them took place in less than one hour from the first symptoms of indisposition. Some dies apparently from a slight excess of fatigue, some from a few hours' exposure to the sun, and some from a small draught of cold water; causes quite inadequate to the production of such effects in temperate persons.

Thus, fellow citizens, I have endeavoured to delineate the effects of ardent spirit upon man, and more especially to portray its influence on his moral, intellectual, and physical powers. The sketch I have given is a brief one, but the occasion would not permit me to say more, and my feelings would not have allowed me to have said less.

But we are not assembled to brood over the evils of intemperance, and to spend our time in mourning the ravages it has made in our land, to weep over the broken-hearted fathers and mothers-the deserted wives and children-the suffering widows and orphans it has created. We are assembled not merely to paint its horrors, and to deplore its desolations; we are convened to take counsel together, to learn the success of the society during the past year; the progress the cause of temperance is making thro' the land, ' to devise measures to promote its advancement; and not to devise only-we are called upon to execute as well as design. There is a work to be performed, and we are pledged not to draw back from its hardships, nor shrink from its responsibilities; and what can be done? Permit me to suggest a few things which may be done, and which must be done, before the evils we deplore will be eradicated.

1. Let us keep in view the objects of this Society:--'To produce united vigorous, and systematic exertions for suppression of intemperance; to diffuse information and give circulation to publications which exhibit the evils of intemperance, and the best means of checking progress.'

Let us bear in mind, also, the obligation imposed on us--'To use all proper measure to discourage the use of ardent spirit in the social circle, at public meetings, on the farm, in the mechanic ship, and in all other places.'

These are the objects of the Society, and this the obligation resting upon its members. It is not a mere matter of formality that we have put our names to its constitution; we have pledged ourselves to be bold, active, and persevering in the cause; to proclaim the dangers of intemperance to our fellow citizens, and to do what we can to arrest the progress. In view of these objects and of this pledge, then, let us, if indeed we have not already done it, banish ardent spirit from our houses at once, and forever, and then we can act with decision and energy, and speak in a tone of authority; and our voice will be heard, if precept be sanctioned by example.

2. Let us use our utmost endeavors to lessen the number, and if possible utterly exterminate from among us those establishments which are the chief agents in propagating the evils of intemperance. I refer to those shops which are licensed for retailing ardent spirits. Here is the source of the evil.. These are the agents that are sowing among us the seeds of vice, and poverty, and wretchedness.

How preposterous and enlightened community, professing the highest regard for morality and religion, making laws for the suppression and punishment of vice, and the promotion of virtue and good order, instituting societies to encourage industry, enlighten the ignorant, reclaim the vicious, bring back the wanderer, protect the orphan, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, bind up the broken hearted, and restore domestic peace; at the same time to create and foster those very means that carry idleness and ignorance, and vice and nakedness, and starvation and discord into all ranks of society; that make widows and orphans, that sow the seeds of disease and death among us; that strike indeed, at the foundation of all that is good and great.

You create paupers, and lodge them in your almshouse; orphans, and give them a residence in your asylum; convicts, and send them to the penitentiary. You seduce men to crime, and then arraign them at the bar of justice--immure them in prison. With one hand you thrust the dagger to the heart--with the other attempt to assuage the pain it causes.

We all remember to have heard from the lips of our parents, the narration of the fact, that in the early history of our country, the tomahawk, and the scalping knife were put into the hands of our savage neighbors, by our enemies at war, and that a bounty was awarded for the depredations they committed on the lives of our defenseless fellow citizens. Our feelings were shocked at the recital, and a prejudice was created, as well to these poor wandering savages, as the nation that prompted them to the work, which neither time nor education has eradicated. Yet, as merciless ' savage as this practice may appear to us, it was Christian, it was humane, compared with ours; theirs sought only life blood, and that only of their enemies; ours seeks the blood of souls, and that of our own citizens, and friends and neighbors. Their avarice was satiated with a few inches of the scalp, and the death inflicted as often a sudden and easy one, our produces a death that lingers; and not content with the lives of our fellow citizens, it rifles their pockets. It revels in rapine and robbery; it sacks whole towns and villages; it laws waste fields and vineyards; it riots on domestic peace, and virtue, and happiness; it sets at variance the husband and the wife; it causes the parent to forsake the child, and the child to curse the parent; it tears asunder the strongest bonds of society; it severs the tenderest ties of nature.

And who is the author of all this--and where lies this responsibility? I appeal to my fellow citizens.

Are not we the authors? Does not the responsibility rest upon us? Is it not so?

The power emanates from us; we delegate it to the constituted authorities, and we say to them, go on, 'cast fire-brands, arrows, and death;' and let the blood of those that perish 'be on us and our children.' We put the tomahawk and scalping knife into the hands of our neighbors, and award to them a bounty.- We do more- we share the plunder. For the paltry sum of twenty dollars, we consent that a floodgate of vice and poverty, and death, be opened upon our citizens; and by the multiplication of those through our city, we receive into our treasury the annual sum of about six thousand dollars. One half of this to be expended in the support of the paupers it creates, the other half in improving our streets, and in ornamenting our public squares! Let us arouse, my fellow citizens, from our insensibility, and redeem our character for consistency, humanity, and benevolence.

3. Let us not confine our views, or limit our operations to the narrow boundaries of our own City or District. Intemperance is a common enemy. It exists every where and every where is pursuing its victims to destruction; while therefore we are actively engaged upon the subject in Washington, let us endeavor to do something elsewhere and much may be done by spreading throughout our country correct information on the subject of intemperance. To this end, every newspaper and every press should be put in requisition. Circulate through the various avenues, suitable tracts, essays, and other documents, setting forth the causes of intemperance, its evils, and its remedy; together with an account of the cheering progress now making to eradicate it.

Do this, and you will find thousands starting up in different parts of the country to lend their influence, and give their money in support of your cause, individuals who have hitherto been unconscious of the extent and magnitude of the evil of intemperance; you will find some who have been slumbering upon the very precipice of ruin, rallying round your standard. Indeed, we have all been insensible, till the voice of alarm was sounded, and the facts were set in array before us.

4. Appeal to the medical profession of the country, and ask them to correct the false idea which so extensively, I may say almost universally prevails, viz: That ardent spirit is sometimes necessary in the treatment of disease. This opinion has slain its thousands and its tens of thousands, and multitudes of dram drinkers daily shelter themselves under its delusive mask. One takes a little to raise his desponding spirit, or to drown his sorrow' another, to sharpen his appetite, or relieve his dyspepsia; one to ease his gouty pains, another to supple his stiffened limbs, or calm his quivering muscles. One drinks to overcome the heat, another to ward off the cold; and all this as a medicine. Appeal, then to the medical profession, and they will tell you, eve- [See fourth page.][Continued from first page,.] ry independent, honest, sober, intelligent member of it will tell you, that there is no case in which ardent spirits indispensable, and for which there is not an adequate substitute. And it is time the profession should have an opportunity to exonerate itself from the charge, under which it has long rested, of making drunkards. But I entreat my professional brethren not to be content with giving a mere assent to this truth. You hold a station in society, which gives you a commanding influence on this subject; and if you will but raise your voice and speak out boldly, you may exert an agency in this matter, which will bring down the blessing of unborn millions upon your memory.

5. Call upon the different Christian denominations of the country to introduce an article into their church polity, prohibiting the use, the commerce, and manufacture of ardent spirit among the members of their communion. Let this be done, and there will be less occasion than we now have, to weep over apostate professors of religion.

It is disgraceful to any Church that its members should be concerned in the distillation, sale, or use of this poisonous and demoralizing substance. It is offensive to God and ruinous to man.

What should we say of a Christian if such a thing could be, who should spread his life in writing and disseminating infidel books, or in propagating among his fellow citizens libertine sentiments? What should we think of him who should spread the small pox of yellow fever among his neighbors, or sow the seeds of mania or consumption- and this for the acquisition of wealth? Yet such an one would be far less criminal, would be far more consistent, that he who manufactures or vends ardent spirits.

Will not all our churches of every denomination, consider this subject? The experiment has been made; our Quaker brethren have set and example worthy the imitation of all.- They have long prohibited both the traffic and consumption of ardent spirits in their society- and what is the consequence? They are distinguished all over the world for their sobriety, exemplary morals, and thrift in business. They have clearly proved also, that there is far less difficulty in maintaining a rigid discipline, in the entire exclusion of ardent spirit, than in enforcing a loose one in regulation, the conduct of those who have already become intemperate.

6. Much may be done by guarding the rising generation from the contagion of intemperance.

It is especially with the children and youth of our land, that we may expect our efforts to be permanently useful. Only let them once contract above for ardent spirit, and you may almost as well expect to turn the current of the Mississippi to nothing as to extinguish it. If you cannot stop them in the beginning, you can scarcely hope to stop them at all. You cannot convert the confirmed drunkard in to a sober man. The trial has been made a thousand times, and a thousand times has failed. It is a miracle if it be done at all, and must be effected by a stronger arm than that of man. It is true you many render his situation and that of his family more tolerable, by forcibly withholding ardent spirit from him; but in this, you neither slake his thirst, nor eradicate his propensity. Only light up the convivial hall and spread the temptation afresh before him and his appetite revives and he goes on with increased celerity to ruin.

Let us then guard with peculiar vigilance the youthful mind, and with all suitable measures impress it with such sentiments of disgust and horror of the vice of intemperance, as to cause it to shrink from its very approach. Carry the subject into our Infant and Sunday schools and call on the managers and teachers of those institutions to aid youth, by the circulation of suitable tracts, and by such other instructions as may be deemed proper. Let the rising generations be protected but for a few years, and the present rage of drunkards will have disappeared from among us, and there will be no new recruits to take their place.

7. Let intelligent ' efficient agents be sent out in every portion of our country to spread abroad information upon the subject of intemperance, to rouse up the people to a sense of their danger, and to form temperance societies; and let there be such a system of correspondence and cooperation established among these associations as will convey information to each and impart energy and efficiency to the whole. 'No great melioration of the human condition was ever achieved without the concurrent effort of numbers; and no extended and well directed association of moral influence was never made in vain.'

8. Let all who regard the virtue, the honor, and the patriotism of their country, withhold their suffrages from such candidates for office, as are concerned in the commerce or manufacture of ardent spirit; and above all, from such as offer it as a bribe to secure their elevation to power. It is derogatory to the liberties of our country, that office can be attained by such corruption- be held by such a tenure.

9. Let the Minister of the Gospel, wherever called to labor, exert their influence by precept and example, in promoting the cause of temperance;-many of them have already stepped forth, and with a noble boldness have proclaimed the alarm, and have led on in the work of reformation; but many timid spirits still linger, and others seem not deeply impressed with the importance of the subject and the responsibility of their station. Ye venerated men! you are not only called to stand forth as our moral beacons, and to be unto us burning and shining lights; but you are placed as watchmen upon our walls, to announce to us the approach of danger. It is mainly through your example and your labors, that religion and virtue are so extensively disseminated through our country that this land is not now a moral waste. You have ever exerted an important influence in society, and have held a high place in the confidence and affections of the people. You are widely spread over the country, and the scene of your personal labors will furnish you with frequent opportunities to diffuse information upon the subject of temperance, and to advance its progress. Let me then entreat you to arouse to a scene of the dignity and responsibility of your office, and ask you, one and all, to grant us your active and hearty cooperation.

10. Appeal to the female sex of your country, and ask them to come to your assistance; and if they will consent to steel their hearts against the inebriate, to shut out from their society the man who visits the tippling shop, their influence will be omnipotent. And by what power, ye mothers, and wives, and daughters, shall I invoke your aid? Shall I carry you to the house of the drunkard, and point you to his weeping and broken hearted wife, his suffering and degraded children, robed in rags and poverty and vice? Shall I go with you to the almshouse, the orphan asylum, and to the retreat of the insane, that your sensibility may be aroused?- Shall I ask you to accompany me to the penitentiary and the prison, that you may there behold the end of intemperance? Nay, shall I draw back the curtain and disclose to you the scene of the drunkard's death bed? No- I will not demand of you a task so painful;-rather let me remind you that you are to become the mothers of our future heroes and statesmen, philosophers and divines, lawyers and physicians; -and shall they be enfeebled in body, debauched in morals, disordered in intellect, or healthy, pure, and full of mental energy?-- It is for you to decide this question. You have the future destiny of our beloved country in your hands. Let me entreat you then, for your children's sake, and for our country's sake, not to ally yourselves to the drunkard, nor to put the cup to the mouth of your offspring, and thereby implant in them a craving for ardent spirit, which, once produced, is seldom eradicated, rather 'bring them to your family altar, and make them swear eternal hatred to ardent spirit.'

11. Call upon all public and private associations, religious, literary, and scientific, to banish ardent spirit from their circle;-call upon the agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial establishments, to withhold it from those engaged in their employment; call upon the legislatures of the different states, to cooperate by the enactment of such laws as will discourage the vending of ardent spirit, and render licenses to sell it unattainable;--call upon the proper officers, to banish from the army and navy that article, which of all others, is most calculated to enfeeble the physical energies, corrupt the corals, destroy the patriotism, and damp the courage of our soldiers and sailors;- call upon our national legislature, to impose such duties on the distillation and importation of ardent spirit as will ultimately exclude it from the list of articles of commerce, and eradicate it from the country.

Finally, call upon every sober man, woman and child, to raise their voices, their hearts, and their hands in this sacred cause, and never hold their peace, never cease their prayers, never stay their exertions, till intemperance shall be banished from our land and from the world.