A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

History: Temperance and The Matawan Journal (1871 - 1889)

The Matawan Journal was a strong voice for the temperance movement throughout the late 19th century. As a consequence it covered the news with a certain bias, editorialized broadly against the evils of alcohol, and  meticulously covered the various manifestations of prohibitionist agitation and organization in the county and state. While it is a great resource, keep in mind that it surely represents the opinions of only a segment of the community and contains a heavy bias. You may have to read between the lines and reverse engineer certain articles and editorials to begin to see what was really happening. 

Below are a few related pieces I found today; you will find others throughout the blog.

The 30 Sep 1871 edition of The Matawan Journal contained this harsh editorial rebuke against political machines using liquor to obtain votes during the party nomination phase of elections. The commentary followed on its coverage of a dysfunctional local party convention at the Farry hotel. When a nomination was challenged, the person running the meeting was an interested party and left the issue unaddressed, so a large group exited the convention and met outside near the hotel's stables to nominate their own committee. It was in that context that the text below followed.

"A word or two now with reference to whiskey. We saw more drunken men in Matawan last Saturday afternoon than we have seen in the six months before. It is a shame and a disgrace that we cannot select men for our public offices without a part of our citizens being turned into rum tubs, into whose mouths whiskey is poured almost like water, in the hope that by this means a nomination may be secured. What low things will be done by men wearing the garb of respectability, that they may attain to a little honor. We would rather hide honor in the grave than climb for it on the temple of ambition, if to obtain it required our wading through the streams of rum that flow every year from political whiskey barrels."

Coverage of the temperance movement included the work of the Prohibition Party, which was expected to hold its NJ state convention in Keyport on 6 Sep 1887, according to the 27 Aug 1887 edition of The Matawan Journal. This conservative third party was founded in 1869 and advocated for the prohibition of alcohol in the US. Its heyday was the years immediately after World War I and the beginning of Prohibition, then again immediately after World War II and before the Korean War. The party still exists but has been relegated to political oddity status according to Wikipedia.

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) had its own column in the Matawan Journal, as seen in its 7 Sep 1889 edition. The column listed upcoming meetings by the Matawan WCTU in the Baptist church's lecture room on 12 Sep 1889 and the Loyal Temperance Legion on 13 Sep 1889 in the Reform Club room.

A significant portion of the WCTU column was dedicated to an editorial pondering the best strategy to make progress on temperance in Matawan. A local WCTU member had recently bemoaned the state of affairs in Matawan as being worse than when she started agitating for change 30 years earlier. The editorial proposed a legal prohibition of alcohol as worth a try.

"In this temperance work there is the yet untried remedy of legal suppression, and there are temperance voters enough in the old parties to give it a trial. Would matters be in any worse state, if it simply proved that prohibition simply didn't prohibit?" (Well, there's that whole issue of how rum running prompted the creation of organized crime in America.)

Prominently displayed on page 2 col 1 of the 7 Sep 1889 paper were announcements of the Democratic Party and the Monmouth County Prohibition conventions. The Prohibitionists of Monmouth County would be electing their county executive committee at their meeting on 7 Sep 1889 at the Reform Club room in Freehold.


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