Today, the New York State Quarter Coin remembers the second World’s Temperance Convention that began in New York 163 years ago.
In his book Temperance recollections, Labors, defeats, triumphs, published in 1866, John Marsh wrote of the Temperance Convention that began September 6, 1853:
On the 6th of May, 1853, at a meeting of the friends of temperance, in New York, it was resolved, that it was expedient and desirable to hold a World’s Temperance Convention, in the city of New York, in September next.
A committee of forty gentlemen from every State, Territory, and the British provinces, were appointed to issue the call, inviting all temperance organizations and associations, based on the principle of total abstinence, to appear by their delegates, for mutual congratulation, but more especially for the enactment of a prohibitory law, like the Maine Law, in every State and nation; and extending the invitation to friends of temperance in all parts of the world, assuring them of a cordial welcome, and of an opportunity to present the full progress of the cause in their own district or country.
The day appointed for the Convention was the 6th of September, and its continuance to be at least four days.
Large preparations were at once made, and several gentlemen were requested to prepare dissertations on important topics, to be read at the Convention.
On the day designated, a very large body of men, from all parts of the country, were gathered, by ten o’clock, a. m., at the Metropolitan Hall— the largest and most magnificent room in the city.
They were called to order by John W. Oliver, Chairman of the Committee of Arrangements, who invited Gen. S. F. Cary to the Chair.
Gen. C. made a few eloquent remarks, appropriate to the occasion. A committee on organization reported, for President of the Convention, Hon. Neal Dow, of Maine; twenty vice-presidents, six secretaries, and a Business Committee, of which the Hon. J. Belton O’Neal, of South Carolina, was chairman.
Mr. Dow was conducted to the chair by Gen. Cocke, of Virginia, and Judge O’Neal of South Carolina, amid loud acclamations.
Mr. Dow returned thanks for the honor done him. He said:
“They had assembled to take counsel on the cause of temperance. He regretted there were men hostile to it; but it was not surprising.
“All great enterprises, which had for their object the amelioration of society, were destined to opposition.
“On passing through the Park, he had just noticed the statue of one of our great men (De Witt Clinton), who, when he proposed to join the waters of the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, met with nothing but scorn and opposition.
“And yet, they had all lived to see that mighty work accomplished, and contributing more to the wealth and power of the State than anything else.
“The cause of temperance was no exception, either in reproach or blessedness. They had gone steadily on against opposition, and were now about at the termination of their labors.”
A female from Western New York presented herself on the platform, expressing much interest in the cause, and asking to be received as a delegate from two societies — admitted.
A motion was made that the platform be occupied only by officers of the Convention. Gen. Cary moved that the platform was not the appropriate sphere of woman. Some confusion ensued, and the Convention adjourned.
An immense meeting was held in the evening, which was addressed by Rev. Rufus W. Clark, of Boston, and Gen. Cary. He said, “We are in the midst of a great moral revolution; so let us buckle on our armor, and go into the conflict undaunted; and we may rest assured that a grateful posterity will ever bless our memory.”
A splendid song was sung by M. Colburn, Esq.: “From hall and from hamlet, from mountain and plain, The songs and the prayers of the just are ascending; The armies of Truth, and the Revellers’ train, In the tumult of conflict and battle are blending. Then on! while the ranks of the foe shall unfold; Press forward, for victory smiles on the bold. ”
After a collection, Rev. Dr. Patton introduced the foreign delegation, viz.: John Cassell, of London; Dr. Lees, of Leeds (England); Mr. Jeffries, of Scotland; John Dougal, of Montreal; and E. N. Harris, of New Brunswick.
Mr. Cassell addressed the audience, giving an account of the rise and progress of the cause in England; the miseries inflicted on that country by strong drink; the opposition they met with from the higher classes and the clergy; and the hope they indulged that the day was not far distant when England and America would both be blessed with a Maine law.
On Wednesday morning, prayer was offered by Rev. T. L. Cuyler. Letters were read from a number of distinguished gentlemen in America, England and Scotland.
A large number of committees were appointed; when Wendell Phillips, of Boston, reporting himself as a delegate from a New York society, made several reflections upon the action of the day previous relating to speeches from the platform, causing, for an hour, great confusion.
When order was restored, at the request of Judge O’Neal, I read, from the Business Committee, fifteen resolutions, expressive of the sentiments, purposes and designs of the friends of temperance in the United States and the world, to be discussed and adopted.
To these, another was added, viz.:
“That, while we do not design to disturb political parties, we do intend to have, and enforce, a law prohibiting the liquor manufacture and traffic as a beverage, whatever may be the consequences to political parties, and we will vote accordingly.”
John Dougal of Montreal was heard in an able speech on the first resolution; when all was thrown into confusion by the lady’s taking the platform in opposition to the resolution passed.
The Chair decided that she had a right to the floor; and invited her to the platform. The Chair was sustained, on an appeal.
As it was supposed that many were in the hall who were not delegates and had voted, it was moved that the hall be cleared, and none readmitted but regular members.
The police at once cleared the hall. The process of reconstruction engrossed all of the morning.
A most magnificent soiree had been for days in preparation, for which the sum of $1,100 had been subscribed. Expensive articles of furniture had been procured, and insured against damage.
The committee, filled with fears of disorder, or fire, concluded to abandon it, to the great regret of all; especially from other cities and county towns.
The afternoon meeting was one of great beauty and loveliness.
More than five thousand children filled the hall, and were addressed by Dr. Edward Beecher, of Boston; the Mayor of Providence; Christian Keener, of Baltimore; and Hon. Neal Dow.
Mr. Dow was welcomed by the waving of a thousand handkerchiefs. He put it to vote whether the children wanted any grog-shops; when all shouted, No! and all sang, ” Some Wine to Drink, from the Foamy Brink; ” and also, “The Noble Law of Maine.”
The evening was occupied by a masterly speech from Dr. F. R. Lees, of Leeds (England), new, in its chemical developments, to most of his hearers; and acceptable to all in his moral applications:
“It is necessary,” said he, “that the body should be pure, in order to the soul being pure. This must be the appropriate temple for the Spirit of the living God…”
On Thursday, none but delegates were admitted to the body of the House.
Strangers occupied the galleries.
The report on obstruction to progress, ended with the following resolution, which was adopted: —
“Resolved, That the cause of Temperance is a question altogether separate and apart from the question of Woman’s Rights, Land Reforms, or any other, and that it must stand or fall upon its own merits.”
Rev. R. W. Clarke read an able address from the Convention to the governments of the world, and recommended the adoption of the following sentiment, ” Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my heart and hand to the enactment and execution of the principles of the Maine Law throughout the world.”
Adopted by a unanimous vote.
The regular resolutions were discussed and adopted. On an objection to mingling temperance and politics, Rev. John Pierpont, of Boston, rose and said: —
” We ask at the hand of our civil legislatures a prohibitory law which we cannot get except at the hands of political action. It is, therefore, to me absurd to renounce or reject all pretensions to mingling in politics.
“We mean to carry it to the polls and to carry the polls in our favor. We do it upon the principle that it is a moral question, paramount in God’s eye to questions of office holding, of finance and of policy.
“We have up to this time been timid before politicians. We have said, ‘We did not mean you.’ We say now, ‘We do mean you, and will put you down, if you do not give us what we ask.’
“These are our sentiments.”
A long debate ensued on temperance and politics…
Friday was devoted to hearing reports from foreign delegates: Dr. Lees and Mr. Cassell from England, and Rev. Mr. Scott, from Montreal.
On an unanimous vote of thanks to Mr. Dow, for so ably presiding, the Convention adjourned sine die.
Well might my recollections of this Convention be fresh, for its preparations, its arrangements, its correspondence, its resolutions, an attendance upon it night and day, and finally its summing up, publishing and sending abroad the report of its proceedings, cost no small amount of labor; but it was a noble Convention, never to be forgotten by those who mingled in it.
Could the soiree have been carried out, it would have surpassed in beauty anything our country had witnessed; but the owner of the building was unwilling to incur the risk of fire in case of a disturbance like the morning meeting; which, for temperance men, was truly intemperate.
The National Division of the Sons of Temperance held an adjourned meeting during the sitting of the Convention, and closed the meeting by a great demonstration at the Metropolitan Hall, on Friday evening, Judge O’Neal, of S. C, M. W. P., presiding.
The New York State Quarter Coin shows with an artist’s image of the Metropolitan Hall, circa 1854.