Washingtonian Temperance Society

City: Baltimore

County: Baltimore

State: Maryland

The Washingtonian Temperance Society was a leading nineteenth-century American temperance organization. Six friends and former drinkers formed the organization, named in honor of President George Washington, at Chase's Tavern in Baltimore on April 2, 1840. The movement quickly spread, with temperance advocates forming chapters in most major cities across the United States. The organizations were known as "Washington" or "Washingtonian" temperance societies, and its members were often referred to as "Washingtonians." Existing temperance organizations initially welcomed the Washingtonian movement, but tension rose as organizations competed for members. The Washingtonian movement also differed from its predecessors in the composition of its membership and target audience. While existing temperance societies were dominated by clergymen and wealthy Christian laymen, the Washingtonian organizations attracted adherents from the middle and working classes, and its message was not explicitly religious. Older temperance societies worked to keep people from taking up drinking, but the Washingtonians were committed to getting drinkers to give up drinking and pledge total abstinence. Despite opposition within older temperance circles, the Washingtonians became a nationwide movement of temperance societies aimed at reforming drinkers by offering moral support and sharing stories of alcohol abuse. The only requirement for membership was to pledge total abstinence from alcohol. Within three years of its formation, the Washingtonian could claim that 600,000 drinkers had taken the pledge to abstain from alcohol.

The Washingtonian movement spread to Illinois, and Springfield became a fertile ground for its message. As early as April 1841, news of the Washingtonian movement was published in Springfield newspapers, and the Springfield chapter officially formed in December; by January, the Springfield chapter claimed over 300 members. By February 1842, Springfield's African-American population had formed their own Washingtonian Society. While apparently not a member himself, Abraham Lincoln did deliver several addresses to the local Washingtonian societies.

Ronald G. Walters, American Reformers 1815-1860, rev. ed. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1997), 133-34; The Foundation, Progress and Principles of the Washington Temperance Society of Baltimore (Baltimore: John D. Toy, 1842), 12-15, 35-36, 39-42; W. H. Daniels, ed., Temperance Reform and Its Great Reformers (Cincinnati: Hitchcock & Walden, 1878), 95-96; Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 16 April 1841, 1:6; 24 December 1841, 3:1; 31 December 1841, 2:7; 14 January 1842, 2:1; 25 February 1842, 2:7; Report of Address Before the Springfield Washington Temperance Society; Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, eds., Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 389, 452.