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Title: Temperance Among the Firemen!

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: March 30, 1842

Publication information: New York Aurora 30 March 1842: [2].

Source: Original issue held at the Paterson Free Public Library, Paterson, NJ. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue.

Whitman Archive ID: per.00420

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Jake Byers, Lucas Reincke, Jason Stacy, and Kevin McMullen




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Temperance Among the Firemen!

Yesterday was a great time with the New York temperance societies, as will be seen by a report on our first page, furnished us by the editor of the Washingtonian.1 They had processions, and meetings, and orations, and festivals, and banners displayed, and music, and a grand blow out at night to cap the whole. We stood upon the steps of the City Hall about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and saw the passage of the grand procession, which certainly cut a very respectable figure. Thousands of people were gathered together in the Park to witness the scene.

First came a banner bearing the head of Washington, immediately after which were a body of firemen. Whether it be a whim, or from some more tangible cause, we do have a fondness for the New York firemen. They are mostly fine, stalwart, handsome young men; and in their close fitting dresses and red shirts, we never behold them, but the Roman gladiators and the Olympian games are brought to mind. We question whether any city in the world can turn out a more manly set of young fellows. It is honorable to them, that they engage in this temperance movement. With the generosity and ardent devotedness of youth, they throw themselves, heart and soul, into the cause. This is a great thing gained. Once make temperance a favorite and fashionable custom among the young men of our city, and the whole conquest is over,—the enemy is vanquished.

After the firemen came an immense number of citizens, formerly intemperate men, but now worthy members of society.2 There was a beautiful flag representing a female figure, and on each side a gushing spring of water. Then the junior temperance societies, with a banner inscribed, "beware of the first glass!" A number of sailors followed. Then more firemen, with a beautiful hose cart, No. 18, we believe. The hatters' association made a very respectable appearance, as did also the Newark society and the Chelsea society.3 The banners had a great many quaint devices. One we noticed bearing a sheaf of grain, and the motto, "If you eat me, I am life; if you drink me, I am death."4


Notes:

1. The Washingtonian was a periodical published by the New York Temperance Society (Jack S. Blocker, David M. Fahey, and Ian R. Tyrrell, Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. [Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003], 400-405). [back]

2. The Washingtonians were an organization of reformed alcoholics, mostly made up of members of the working class. For more, see: Ruth M. Alexander, "'We Are Engaged As a Band of Sisters': Class and Domesticity in the Washingtonian Temperance Movement, 1840–1850," The Journal of American History 75, (1988): 3, 763–785. [back]

3. Both represent Washingtonians from Newwark, New Jersey and the New York neighborhood of Chelsea, respectively. [back]

4. Whitman had a general interest in the temperance movement, and published a temperance novel, Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate (1842), the same year that this editorial was written. [back]


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