Monday, 26 November 2007

Sources for Chartism: Chartist Women 3

Chartism and temperance

Source 7: ‘Address of the East London Female Total Abstinence Association’, The Northern Star, 30th January 1842, page 1

Sisters and Countrywomen,

The age in which we live is perhaps the most remarkable and important page in the world’s history. We see multitudes anxiously searching for the fountain of knowledge. The light of the glorious sun of truth is dispelling the clouds of superstition and the mists of error, from the human mind. Almost incredible improvements are making in the arts and sciences: the bountiful Author of all good showers down his blessing, and causes the earth to bring forth abundantly; yet, strange to relate, amidst all this prosperity, at no period of time was society in a more unhappy and miserable condition. Starving people and plenteous harvests; the markets glutted with provisions, warehouses with clothing; with an industrious, hungry and naked working population. The principal causes which have produced this sad state are three in number - namely, selfishness, competition and ignorance. Our rulers have legislated, and still continue to legislate, unjustly. They derive the principal of their revenue from the necessaries of life, and the vices of the people. Parliamentary documents will prove, that the duty on malt, spirits, wine and tobacco, comprise the greater portion of this revenue. Add to this the taxes on food, &c, and it will be found that three fourths of the revenue is derived from these two sources. Our clergy preach contentment and passive obedience to the toiling and care worn hungry mechanics and labourers while a numerous standing army of red and blue-coated soldiers are ready, at the bidding of their officers, to enforce submission to arbitrary laws, with the bayonet and truncheon. The only practicable means to remedy the evil under which we labour, and renovate society, is to abandon the use of all intoxicating drinks, to become a thinking and strictly moral people, and acquire sound political knowledge. It is necessary to abstain from all strong drinks -

1st. Because the most valuable medical testimony, and individual experience, prove them to be highly injurious to health; and their certain effects are likewise to demoralise and destroy the power and energies of the mind.

2nd. It is necessary to abstain as an example to our husbands and children; for how can we expect our offspring to be sober, virtuous, and dutiful, if we do not influence them by our good conduct. Dear sisters, remember it is at the fire side, on the domestic hearth, in the social circle, at home, when the first relish for these insidious drinks is imbibed. It is the first treacherous glass of friendship, the sip from the mother’s hand that sows the seed of future drunkenness.

3rd. It is necessary to abstain, because that portion of hard-earned wages which is now squandered away at the pot house and gin palace would enable us to secure a sound and proper education for our children, in accordance with our views and feelings. We should no longer submit to our children wearing the garb of charity, and the degrading policy number badge of slavery. Only think of the working man's sons and daughters being ticketed, like prize sheep! Depend upon this fact, the charity and policy badge of national schools, is the remnant of the ancient Saxon serf’s collar. Why should our feelings be wounded by seeing the finger of scorn pointed at our children, and the sad appellation of ‘charity brat’ applied to them? A well-regulated mind disdains servility and cringing. Let us reject their Church and State offers of education for our children, which is only calculated to debase the mind, and render it subservient to class interest; let us teach our offspring to do unto others as they would others should do unto them.

4th. We can abstain from all intoxicating drinks with safety and benefit, even at those critical times when they have hitherto been considered most needful and indispensably necessary. Some of us have proved it by practical experience, therefore you may safely rely upon our testimony.

Sisters, we have hitherto been considered inferior to men in powers of intellect, and truly the want of proper education has made us appear so; but we much doubt whether this would have been the case had we possessed the same opportunities of acquiring a proper education which the other sex has enjoyed. Let us endeavour to remove this reproach, by embracing every opportunity of cultivating and improving our minds. We earnestly entreat you to this, that you might be able to impart a sound education to your offspring, and train their tender minds in the way of truth and virtue.

Be not discouraged at your want of ability and knowledge; close application and perseverance will achieve wonders. The one half of mankind acquires their knowledge under difficulties. Perhaps at a former period of time has the female character exhibited so much zeal, or displayed so much brilliancy of talent, as in the present day. The press teems with valuable writings the production of women. Remember, if we bestir ourselves in these matters, our husbands cannot keep behind for very shame; pride will stimulate them to excel us. Then how delightful will it be to see a generous strife between husband and wife, trying to excel each other in knowledge and morality.

Come then, sisters and countrywomen, unite with us in making a grand effort to ameliorate our condition and remove the plague spots - partial legislation and intemperance - from society. Unite with us to obtain the People’s Charter; let us form Total Abstinence Chartist Associations, without delay, in every town and village throughout the United Kingdom; nor cease agitating until our exertions are crowned with success. Let us never forget, that more than four hundred brave and honest men have been imprisoned by those very men who live on our hard earnings; and shall we still kiss the hand that is raised to destroy us? Never let it be said that we, who are the advocates of equal laws, are so dead to our own interest as to lead us to partake of those things that debase the mind and give strength to the enemy.

In conclusion, we implore you to remember the concluding words of the noble-minded Vincent’s Address on Total Abstinence, namely – ‘that no Government can long withstand the just claims of a people who have had the courage to conquer their own vices.’

We remain,

Sisters and Countrywomen,

Yours in the Cause of Universal Redemption,

Association Rooms, 166, Brick Lane

Spitalfields, London, January 25th 1841.

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