Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
The Temperance Pledge
By Thomas Francis Marshall (1801–1864)
[Born in Frankfort, Ky., 1801. Died near Versailles, Ky., 1864. From an Address before the Congressional Total-Abstinence Society.—Speeches and Writings of Hon. Thomas F. Marshall. 1858.]

IT does appear to me that, if the loftiest among the lofty spirits which move and act from day to day in this hall—the proudest, the most gifted, the most fastidious here—could hear the tales I have heard, and see the men I have seen, restored, by the influence of a thing so simple as this temperance pledge, from a state of the most abject outcast wretchedness, to industry, health, comfort, and, in their own emphatic language, to “peace,” he could not withhold his countenance and support from a cause fraught with such actual blessings to mankind. I have heard unlettered men trace their own history on this subject through all its stages, describe the progress of their ruin and its consequences, paint without the least disguise the utmost extent of degradation and suffering, and the power of appetite, by facts which astonished me—an appetite which triumphed over every human principle, affection and motive, yet yielded instantly and forever before the simple charm of this temperance pledge. It is a thing of interest to see and to hear a free, bold, strong-armed, hard-fisted mechanic relate, in his own nervous and natural language, the history of his fall and his recovery; and I have heard him relate how the young man was brought up to labor, and expecting by patient toil to support himself and a rising family, had taken to his bosom in his youth the woman whom he loved—how he was tempted to quit her side, and forsake her society for the dram-shop, the frolic, the midnight brawl—how he had resolved and broken his resolutions, till his business forsook him, his friends deserted him, his furniture seized for debt, his clothing pawned for drink, his wife broken-hearted, his children starving, his home a desert, and his heart a hell. And then, in language true to nature, they will exultingly recount the wonders wrought in their condition by this same pledge: “My friends have come back—I have good clothes on—I am at work again—I am giving food and providing comforts for my children—I am free, I am a man, I am at peace here. My children no longer shrink cowering and huddling together in corners, or under the bed, for protection from the face of their own father. When I return at night they bound into my arms and nestle in my bosom. My wife no longer with a throbbing heart and agonized ear counts my steps before she sees me, to discover whether I am drunk or sober—I find her now singing and at work.” What a simple but exquisite illustration of a woman’s love, anxiety, and suffering! The fine instinct of a wife’s ear detecting, from the intervals of his footfall before he had yet reached his door, whether it was the drunken or the sober step, whether she was to receive her husband or an infuriated monster in his likeness. I say, sir, these things have an interest, a mighty interest for me; and I deem them not entirely beneath the regard of the proudest statesman here. On my conscience, sir, I speak the truth when I say that, member of Congress as I am—(and no man is prouder of his commission)—member of Congress as I am, if, by taking this pledge, it were even probable that it would bring back one human being to happiness and virtue, no matter what his rank or condition, recall the smile of hope, and trust, and love, to the cheek of one wife, as she again pillowed it in safety, peace, and confidence upon the ransomed bosom of her reclaimed and natural protector, send one rosy child bounding to the arms of a parent whence drunkenness had exiled it long, I would dare all the ridicule of all the ridiculous people in the world, and thank God that I had not lived in vain. And, sir, I have had that pleasure….
  Think not, sir, think not that I feel myself in a ridiculous situation, and, like the fox in the fable, wish to divide it with others, by converting deformity into fashion. Not so; by my honor as a gentleman not so. I was not what I was represented to be. I had, and I have shown that I had, full power over myself. But the pledge I have taken renders me secure forever from a fate inevitably following habits like mine—a fate more terrible than death. That pledge, though confined to myself alone, and with reference to its only effect upon me, my mind, my heart, my body, I would not exchange for all earth holds of brightest and of best. No, no, sir: let the banner of this temperance cause go forward or go backward—let the world be rescued from its degrading and ruinous bondage to alcohol or not—I for one shall never, never repent what I have done. I have often said this, and I feel it every moment of my existence, waking or sleeping. Sir, I would not exchange the physical sensations—the mere sense of animal being which belongs to a man who totally refrains from all that can intoxicate his brain or derange his nervous structure—the elasticity with which he bounds from his couch in the morning—the sweet repose it yields him at night—the feeling with which he drinks in, through his clear eyes, the beauty and the grandeur of surrounding nature;—I say, sir, I would not exchange my conscious being as a strictly temperate man—the sense of renovated youth—the glad play with which my pulses now beat healthful music—the bounding vivacity with which the life-blood courses its exulting way through every fibre of my frame—the communion high which my healthful ear and eye now hold with all the gorgeous universe of God—the splendors of the morning, the softness of the evening sky—the bloom, the beauty, the verdure of earth, the music of the air and the waters—with all the grand associations of external nature, reopened to the fine avenues of sense;—no, sir, though poverty dogged me—though scorn pointed its slow finger at me as I passed—though want and destitution, and every element of earthly misery, save only crime, met my waking eye from day to day;—not for the brightest and the noblest wreath that ever encircled a statesman’s brow—not, if some angel commissioned by heaven, or some demon rather, sent fresh from hell, to test the resisting strength of virtuous resolution, should tempt me back, with all the wealth and all the honors which a world can bestow; not for all that time and all that earth can give, would I cast from me this precious pledge of a liberated mind, this talisman against temptation, and plunge again into the dangers and the horrors which once beset my path:—so help me heaven, sir, as I would spurn beneath my very feet all the gifts the universe could offer, and live and die as I am, poor, but sober.  2

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