This pamphlet printed on very thin paper was tucked into the family bible of Wiley Anderson Murrell and Mary Magdalen Honts Murrell. (See previous posts in this series.)
The latest date of statistics cited is October, 1852, so it must have been printed some time after that.
Liquor flowed freely in early America, whether to keep one safe from water-borne illness, to help warm up on cold winter days and nights, or to free one for a short while from the dreariness of the hard, constant drudgery of being a working-class man.
In 1851 the Temperance Movement in the United States was growing. A law was passed in Maine that year that only allowed the sale of alcoholic beverages for “medicinal, mechanical or manufacturing purposes.” Twelve other states passed similar laws by 1855, although a number of those laws were overturned by State Supreme Courts- there were even riots over the laws in some states. Iowa lawmakers passed a “Maine Law” in 1855 and it was quickly ratified by Iowa voters that year. This pamphlet may have been provided by the Temperance Movement and churches to encourage Iowa voters to support a “Maine Law” in their state.
Temperance was very unpopular, especially among working class men. Many churches and women worked for the temperance movement, as they knew that women and children suffered the most (economically, psychologically, and physically) when alcoholism affected the breadwinner of the family. Mary Honts Murrell came from a broken family, and had a father who was often unreasonable and had a temper- could that be why this pamphlet was in her bible? Had her father, Henry Honts, been an alcoholic? That is a story that we probably will never know.
Women worked to get the vote during this time period as well, but with little success. ‘Big liquor’ and powerful politicians who bought votes with free liquor right before elections knew that women would tend to vote for any attempt to limit alcohol sales, and thus they banded together to keep the right of suffrage from women until 1922.
Interestingly, page 3 of “A Maine Law Wanted” states, “Four-fifths of those swept away in Buffalo, by the cholera, have been in the habit of using ardent spirits as a beverage.” (Italics in pamphlet.) Actually, in the 1850s, drinking “ardent spirits” instead of local water from a river or stream would have protected drinkers since the alcohol kills bacteria. Of course, at that time the germ theory of disease was not widely accepted, and it was not understood that fecal contamination of water was the cause of cholera. There have been numerous pandemics of cholera, including one in the United States and Europe from 1827-1835, which killed 150,000 Americans. Within a year or so of the (estimated) publishing date of this pamphlet, in 1854, John Snow of England recognized a clustering of cholera disease around contaminated water, thus beginning the science of epidemiology and successful steps to eradicate this lethal disease.
Note the publication information on the last page: “Hoover & Co., 118 Nassau street, New York, office of the New York People’s Organ, a weekly Temperance and Family Companion, at one dollar a year.” Sadly I could not find specific information for this group online, but hopefully some scholars will find this post and add this pamphlet to other historical documents of the era.
Notes, Sources, and References:
1) Murrell Family Bible, c1845?
2) Wikipedia article for “Maine Law,” accessed 2-8-14 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maine_law.
3) Wikipedia article for “Cholera,” accessed 2-8-14 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cholera
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