The Lost Museum Archive

Barnum on the Democratic Party and Temperance, 1852

P.T. Barnum was a dedicated campaigner for the temperance cause, lecturing public audiences, pointedly serving only ice water in the American Museum, and featuring the moral melodrama The Drunkard in the Museum's Lecture Room. Barnum took his temperance advocacy into the political arena as well, as in this "Appeal to the Democratic Voters of Connecticut" published in a special supplement to the New Haven Advocate newspaper on March 26, 1852. Barnum, at that point a staunch Democrat, reprimanded Democratic politicians who failed to support temperance and urged readers to disregard political party and support temperance as a matter of principle. By 1860 Barnum became an ardent Republican and supporter of Abraham Lincoln.


GENTLEMEN: Having voted with and toiled for the Democratic Party faithfully and consistently ever since I became a freeman, more than twenty years ago; having willingly suffered fines and imprisonment in consequence of advocating Democratic principles, and feeling at this time as I trust I shall to the end of my life, proud of being a Democrat in the true sense of that term, I really cannot consent to be charged with abandoning democracy, by editors who publish papers professedly to promote the interests of the democratic party in this State, without asking from you the privilege of refuting these unjust charges, and of candidly defining my position.

In doing this, I beg you not to suppose that I have the egotism to consider my opinion of importance enough to warrant me in thus trespassing upon our indulgence, but rather to observe that the editors aforesaid, by investing my poor efforts with an importance far beyond their merits, have compelled me to appear thus prominently and reluctantly before my democratic brethren. But to the facts.

The friends of Temperance in this State have for years been striving to drive the evil effects of intoxicating drinks from our Commonwealth. They saw that this was by far the most appalling evil in our land, more than three-fourths of the crime and vagrancy, and more than seven-eighths of the cases of bloodshed and murder in our State and country being traceable directly to this source.

They saw also, that necessarily a great portion of the taxes paid by our farmers, mechanics and tradesmen and by the opponents of this evil as well as its advocates, were caused by the liquor traffic, and holding with their Revolutionary sires, that "taxation without representation" was unjust, they very properly protested against being taxed by rum, when they were not "represented" in the rum-drinking ranks. They saw, too, that this evil caused if possible, more suffering to thousands on thousands of poor, heart-broken wives, and innocent but forsaken children, than to the deluded drinker himself.

Knowing that there was no redeeming good, as an offset to these terrible evils, that all medical men agree that every description of intoxicating drink habitually taken into the healthy human stomach, is always poisonous, and consequently never was nor can be of the least possible benefit, but always the reverse, and that no man of respectability could be found in all our land, who would say that he believed the use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage, could be beneficial to any community, or that its total suppression would injure the public morals, health or happiness, and much less, that no christian could be found who would pray for the continuance of this infatuation, the friends of Temperance could not but feel, that all sensible men would concur with them in making a common cause against this fell destroyer, and if needs be, sink for the time being, all political prejudices, or other minor considerations of every name and nature.

Possibly some few of the Temperance men have sometimes thought that the organization of a separate political party for the furtherance of temperance views would be necessary, but I, with many others, have continually combated this proposition. As a democrat, I loved, and still love my party, and dislike faction, and therefore I have continually urged our Temperance friends to make no political organization, but to "wait a little longer," in the hope that our efforts might be successful in inducing each and all political parties to nominate temperance men to office, instead of men who would enact laws favoring the liquor traffic. The Temperance men, therefore, have nobly withstood temptation, and by abstaining from political organiza-tion, have vindicated their characters as men striving for principle, and utterly regardless of political preferment or selfish objects of any nature.

On the 2d of June last, the celebrated Maine Liquor Law went into operation. This law authorizes the destruction of intoxicating liquors when they are found in the possession of persons who are selling them as a beverage. All our former laws for "regulating" this "irregularity" have proved futile for a thousand reasons, want of proof, the almost impossibility to get a jury that would convict, such jury generally having one or more members who reasoned from his stomach and a depraved appetite instead of a clear, unclouded and unmuddled brain. The "stripped pig" and many other devises were resorted to, and all our experience has proved that liquor-sellers would evade any excise law that permitted them to keep the liquor, and that as liquor as a beverage was allowed to remain in our land, thousands would be deluded into a ruinous habit, and many honest "reformed" men who had solemnly pledged themselves never again to "touch, taste, or handle the accursed thing;" would be tempted and fall, many of them never to rise again!

But when the Maine Liquor Law began to work, it was found to be effective. A short time only elapsed before wholesale liquor stores, and groggeries where death was dealt out in tumblers, were closed, drinking men began to be sober, tipplers unable to procure the source of their ruin, commenced laboring for the good of their families, health took the place of sickness, rags and filth were displaced by cleanliness and proper clothing, wholesale food found its way to tables which had for a long time been scantily supplied with "cold victuals" wrung from the hands of colder charity; the poor-houses and prisons began to be depopulated, and above all, and more that all, thousands of poor, heart-broken wives and mothers, and the hitherto unprotected and neglected children, on their bended knees and with eyes streaming with tears, thanked God and the friends of humanity, that at last a blessed deliver had come, bringing peace and joy, where want and misery had so long held cruel sway.

In September last, three months after the law had gone into operation, the Hon. Neal Dow, Mayor of Portland, made his first quarterly re-port, setting forth the above encouraging facts, and closing with the following sentence:

"The watch-house is now used to keep seized liquors instead of drunkards and through the waste ways of the lock-up condemned liquors are passed off into the common sewers, without having fulfilled their mission of ruin and death to our citizens."

Encouraged by such facts as the above, the cause of temperance throughout our country, received a tremendous impetus, its advocates, now for the first time, discovering something tangible, and within their grasp, which if secur-ed, would certainly, effectually and immediately, drive intemperance from our land, cause it to flourish and blossom as the rose, and enabling active temperance advocates to rest from their arduous labors.

In this state of affairs, the Connecticut State Temperance Society, and the Grand Division of the Sons of Temperance, held their Annual Meeting in New Haven, in October last, and there unanimously resolved, that the voters of this State should be invited irrespective of party, to pledge themselves to vote for no men for Executive or Legislative office at the ensuing ele-ction, who were not known to be in favor of a law identical in substance with that of Maine, and that a refusal to answer questions upon that subject, should be regarded as a negative reply. A Grand Mass Meeting of Templars and Sons of Temperance, held the next day, in New Haven, also unanimously adopted this recommendation, and thousands of voters in our State have already signed such a pledge.

Thus were all political parties SOLEMNLY WARNED more than four months ago, that thousands of the respectable voters of this State would sink all mere party considerations, in their determination, to procure the enactment of this all important law.

Desiring as a democrat, that the democracy should always triumph, I have constantly urged upon our democratic friends, the nomination of such men for State Officers as well as for Senators and Representatives, as were known to be in favor of the Maine Law. Doubtless Temperance Whigs and Temperance Free Soilers made the same efforts with their parties, as, all other things being equal, every voter prefer the success of his own political party.

Each political party has made its nomination for State Officers and the result is before the people.

Every candidate put in nomination by the Democratic State Convention has committed himself against the Maine Law, by refusing to answer the Temperance Committee appointed to ask the nominees of all parties, whether they would or would not, if elected, use their official influence for the enactment of a similar law in our State.

Every Whig candidate with one exception, and every Soil candidate with one exception-sent in letters pledging themselves in plain and definite terms, to use their influence in favor of such a law.

The Mass State Temperance Convention convened at New Haven, March 10th, consisting of 840 delegates from every part of the State, and probably 150 more, whose names could not be obtained in consequence of the great crowd, unanimously recommended to the support of all pledged temperance men, and all friends of humanity of every name and party, any and all of those gentlemen who had given in their adhesion to the Maine Law, and to vote for no candidate who had not given in such adhesion.

Now I would ask, what man or what party can justly find fault with the decision of this Mass Convention? Remember that all parties had five months warning to give us candidates, who would secure the glorious Maine Law, or failing to do so, they must lose the vote of every friend of this enactment.

The Convention of the 10th of March, certainly could not have taken any other course, unless they had made up a specific Ticket of their own, rejecting all names not placed upon that ticket. But being guided solely by principle and not permitting themselves for a moment to think of minor considerations, such as men, or party, or office, they willingly and gladly threw their pure white banner to the breeze, having inscribed on its folds the name of every candidate of whatever party, who had pledged himself for the Maine Law, which are as follows:

"Green Kendric, Francis Gillette, Roger H. Mills, William Field, R. L. Beecher, Thomas Clark, J.G. Baldwin, J. Hammond Trumbull."

That Convention also among other resolutions adopted the following:

Resolved, That the official acts and influence of Thomas H. Seymour in calling upon the Legislature in his Message of 1850 for essential modifications of our present license laws, so as virtually to increase the facilities for carrying on the liquor traffic under less restraints than the laws now impose, and in "pocketing a res-olution" passed almost unanimously by the Legislature of 1851, granting to the people the privilege of voting whether they wished the liquor traffic prohibited or not, merits and here-by has our hearty and unqualified condemna-tion; and that we cannot and will not vote for him for Governor of the State.

It is with greater pain than I can express, that after years of social and political friendship for Governor Seymour, I find that we are holding opposite political positions even for the moment. But even this sacrifice, I willingly make, for the sake of temperance, of justice, of humanity, and of true democracy.

Governor Seymour last year refused to sign a resolution passed by the Legislature of our State, permitting the freemen of this State to express their opinion in regard to the liquor traffic! What a contrast was this act to that of the Democratic Governor Hubbard, of Maine, who, although not approving of the Maine Law in all its details, lest it might be found impracticable, still seeing no Constitutional objections, bowed to the will of the majority, and signed the Law. Gov. Hubbard has since that time become a warm and active friend of the Law, and has presided over a very large Convention of its friends in the State. That act of Gover-nor Seymour was not only a direct insult to every Temperance man in this State, but was also as every man must confess, an act utterly inconsistent with the principles of true democracy. Is it democratic to gag the mouths, and tie the hands of freemen, and deny them the privilege of expressing their opinions? If this is democ-racy, in heaven's name what is despotism?

For the purpose of deceiving and entrapping honest voters, a mere quibble has been resorted to, viz: the silly pretence that Governor Seymour had the resolution in his possession but 15 minutes, and therefore had not time to sign it. This quibble has, however, been utterly demolished by the open admission of the Governor's Secretary and other friends at a public meeting held in Hartford on the night of the16th of March, that Governor Seymour would not have signed that resolution if he had ever so much time! This admission was sanctioned by the Hartford Times of the 17th inst., which published it without objection. It is also well known that Governor Seymour openly and frequently expresses himself opposed to the Maine Law, as does every so-called Democratic newspaper in our State, with one exception.

Now comes the question, and to me it is a very important one, what is democracy? for the true answer to this question will either prove that I have abandoned my democratic principles, or that those men who are attempting to dictate to the democratic party in this State on this rum question, have abandoned theirs. To this point then we must necessarily come, and I cheerfully await the answer to the question "what is democracy?"

Solon, one of the seven wise men of Greece, defines democracy as that principle that will enact such laws as shall operate "for the greatest good of the greatest number." I suppose that every man will admit this to be the true definition of democracy. . Can then that law be democratic which gives six men in a town the exclusive privilege of pursuing a traffic which enriches them, but taxes every other inhabitant of the town-and spreads poverty, misery, pauperism, and crime through the land? Is that "democracy," which from favor or for money licenses six men to deal out death in tumblers, and prohibits all other men from doing the same? Does that "democracy" which seeks "the greatest good of the greatest number," permit a few men to gain wealth by becoming common poisoners of the town, while the many are obliged to suffer in consequence of such "exclusive privilege" being granted? Shame, shame on the men, who so foully and wantonly libel the name of democracy.

Democracy always favors the oppressed, and lends a supporting hand to the down-trodden and unfortunate. Rumocracy is the reverse of this. Democracy insists on the purity of the ballot box. Rumocracy urges the intoxicating draught upon freemen, that their brains may be muddled, and their votes obtained through corruption and deception. Democracy extends its hand of friendship to the foreigner driven from a land of tyranny and oppression, and encourages him in obtaining by his industry a livelihood and a competence for his family-while Rumocracy takes the exile on his arrival upon our shores, inflames his passions, corrupts his appetites, and leads him into habits which paralize his energies, prostrate his ambition, unfit him for business, and render him useless to his family, and a curse to himself and society.

True democrats will point with pride to the State of Maine, and say "there is a good Dem-ocratic State, whose Democratic Legislature gave us the Democratic Maine Liquor Law," and we can say with truth to all political par-ties, we never should have had that law had it not been for Democracy. For it is indeed a most valuable, beneficent, and democratic law, driving "exclusive privileges" from the State, and with them crushing the greatest source of evil and degradation of the people.

I suppose that the rum-clique who are attempting to mislead the Democratic party upon this Maine Law question, will not deny that Gen. Andrew Jackson was a democrat. Well, when Old Hickory had removed the Indians across the Mississippi river, and given them a new home in the wilderness, he desired that they should live in peace and happiness, and knowing that no community, civilized or savage, could be tranquil or happy where rum was permitted as a beverage, he asked the Democratic Congress for a good Constitutional Democratic law, that would save the Indians from the curse of the rum traffic. In 1834 the Democratic Congress of the United States passed such a law, and it was identical in substance with the law of Maine! It prohibits the traffic and manufacture of intoxicating drinks, and gives the right of search, seizure, forfeiture and destruction to the same extent as does the law of Maine, and that too, upon the mere complaint of any white man or Indian, and not, as in Maine, requiring the solemn oath of three voters, before search or seizure can be made. Here, again, then, is democracy, as defined by that noble old democrat, General Jackson, and the Democratic Congress of 1834.

Compare this with the democracy of the Hartford Times and its satellites, and tell us, I pray you, which is the true democracy. Again, does not democracy declare that the majority shall govern, and that the minority shall peaceable abide by the laws enacted by a majority? Undoubtedly so-and yet, read the following from the Hartford Times, of March 17th, and see what a standard this would-be-leader would set up for democrats to march under. In speak-ing of the Maine Law, it says:

"It is a law which NO MAJORITY has any RIGHT to pass, and which, if passed, no man is bound to respect. All men have a right to RESIST the execution of any such infamous enactments. To resist fanatics, bigots, and (to a great extent) the UNPRINCIPLED SCOUNDRELS who attempt this infamous interference with private right and personal liberty, is as incumbent upon all freemen now, as it was upon our ancestors when their rights were trampled under foot in a far less villainous and degrading manner."

Does any democrat suppose that the good old democratic Hartford Times, as it was conducted twenty-five years ago, would have put forth such principles as those above quoted, and de-clared them to be the principles of "democracy?"

Men may change, but principles NEVER. But hear this rabid editor again in the same article, from which the following is copied:

"The Maine Law outrage began in folly and fanaticism, but its inevitable end is BLOODSHED and civil INSURRECTION; and when that comes, the PULPIT BUFFOONS and intem-perate bigots will be found as eager to sneak to the rear as they now are to lead the van."

This is the man, and this the newspaper, that would fain be regarded as one of the dictators and leaders of the Democratic party in Connecticut. The mouth-piece of Democracy! A democracy that goes for the few against the many! A democracy that disputes the right of a MAJORITY to enact our laws, and counsels the MINORITY to commit "BLOODSHED," "CIVIL INSURRECTION," and MURDER in resisting these laws. May God, in mercy, deliver us from such democracy as this! Brother Democrats! Friends of the People! Friends of Temperance! Friends of Law and Order! Have patience; the PEOPLE are thinking for themselves, and they will ACT for themselves. Let us all put our shoulders to the wheel, and strive as one man; for the enactment of the glorious Democratic Maine Law. When this law is once in operation, man's morbid appetites will be changed, and they will no longer reason from their stomach, but their intellects becoming unclouded, they will reason from their brains; and the wanderers from Democracy will find their way back again to the democratic fold. Their threats of bloodshed and resistance to law will be heard no more, but all true democrats will be found as the ever were, striving for "the greatest good of the greatest number," and true democracy will shine forth again in all its beauty, coming as it will, for the thousandth time, from the "trial by fire" through which it has passed, and from which it marches forth unharmed and unscathed. Let not the cry of "whig management" or "whig tricks" for a moment disturb you, or prevent you from voting against the present so called democratic ticket. If we really desire the enactment of a law in this State like that of Maine, we must stand upon our principles, and vote only for the men who have been endorsed by the State Temperance Convention. This is due to ourselves as true democrats, to the friends who are associated with us, and to the great cause we so dearly love. Stand firm, then, to the work, and we shall have occasion to rejoice in the result. Push on the column for the Maine Law, the real democracy of the land, regardless of unprincipled cliques, or hot headed dictators, and may God speed the right.

Faithfully yours,


P. T. BARNUM'S APPEAL. We have used the largest portion of our Extra of this week, for the appeal of Mr. Barnum to the Democratic voters of the State. We would call the special attention of all parties to this appeal, made as it is by an old and tried member of the Democratic party. Two years, or even one year ago, no man in the Democratic ranks was consulted, and treated with more deference than Mr. B., but now, because he refuses to stand by and see his party sacrificed to the Moloch of RUM - because like a man who really is what he professes to be, he will not endorse the sale of what he holds most dear, and has so long and ardently labored to sustain, he is denounced and abused by the scramblers for the LOAVES and FISHES, worse than if he were a highwayman.

No one denies but what he has ever been true to his party and his principles, "the straightest of the sect." Now, because he dares, with others of his party, to have an honest preference for Temperance before the abject slavery to the RUM POWERS of the State, he must be hunted down, and victimized, that liquor venders may triumph.