"Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy." ...Tradition 10
A small study of history concerning our own affliction highlights the importance of this tradition.
The Washingtonian movement (Washingtonians or Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society) was a 19th century fellowship founded on April 2, 1840 by six hard drinkers (William Mitchell, David Hoss, Charles Anderson, George Steer, Bill M'Curdy, and Tom Campbell) at Chase's Tavern on Liberty Street in Baltimore, Maryland. The idea was that by relying on each other, sharing their alcoholic experiences and relying upon divine help, they could keep each other sober. Total abstinence from alcohol was their goal. The group taught sobriety and preceded Alcoholics Anonymous by 100 years. The Washingtonians differed from the temperance movement in that they focused on the individual alcoholic rather than on society's greater relationship with liquor. In the mid-1800s a temperance movement was in full sway across the United States and temperance workers advanced their anti-alcohol views on every front. Public temperance meetings were frequent and the main thread was prohibition of alcohol and pledges of sobriety to be made by the individual. Concurrent with this movement, a loose network of facilities both public and private offered treatment to drunkards. Referred to as inebriate asylums and reformatory homes, they included the New York State Inebriate Asylum, The Inebriate Home of Long Island, N.Y., the Home for Incurables in San Francisco, the Franklin Reformatory Home in Philadelphia and the Washingtonian Homes which opened in Boston and Chicago in 1857. Washingtonians at their peak numbered in the tens of thousands, possibly as high as 300,000. However in the space of just a few years this society all but disappeared because they became fragmented in their primary purpose, becoming involved with all manner of controversial social reforms including prohibition, sectarian religion, politics and abolition of slavery. It is believed that Abraham Lincoln attended one of the great revivals, presumably not for treatment, but out of interest in various issues being discussed. The Washingtonians drifted away from their initial purpose of helping the individual alcoholic. Disagreements, controversies and infighting destroyed what was at one time a beneficial resource to the problem drinker, and their good work perished in the swirl of controversy over temperance and prohibition. Their successes, which might have been advanced to treat untold thousands of alcoholics, perished along with them. The Washingtonians became so thoroughly extinct that, some 50 years later in 1935 when William Griffith Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith joined together in forming Alcoholics Anonymous, neither of them had ever heard of the Washingtonians. In the late 1940s through 1950, AA formed and enacted its Twelve Traditions, principles which guide the AA groups from such pitfalls as befell the Washingtonians. The lesson learned from the demise of the Washingtonians was that AA needed to avoid outside, controversial, non-AA issues, thus establishing a tradition of "singleness of purpose."
Source : From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Just who were those Washingtonians?
Reprinted by permission from Dayton Intergroup’s
Unity, January 2006
In the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Tradition 10 speaks of The Washingtonian
Society. A copy of the society’s pamphlet was recently found on the internet. Frequent
Unity contributor Bill
F. compares the Washingtonians and Alcoholics Anonymous in the following article.
“…that the society, as such, was to recognize no creed of religion, nor party in politics; and that
neither political nor religious action of any kind, should ever be introduced into the society’s
operations. Personal abstinence from all intoxicating drinks was to be the basis, and
“Moreover they determined that the regular meetings of the society should be meetings for the
detail of personal experience, and not for debates, lectures and speeches….”
Sounds like a rough draft of the AA Preamble to me, but it’s not. The quotes were lifted from a
The Foundation, Progress and Principles of the WASHINGTON TEMPERANCE
SOCIETY OF BALTIMORE
, written in 1842, two years after the group, known as the
The 30-page publication gave background on the temperance organization and outlined its
program. Although written in the formal, flowery style of the era, the publication sparks
comparisons to Alcoholics Anonymous’ principles and stories told around the tables of
Six drinking pals met the night of April 5, 1840, at their favorite Baltimore tavern and resolved
“they would drink no more of the poisonous draught forever, and that to carry out their
resolutions, they would form a society with a pledge to that effect, and bind themselves under it to
each other for life.”
According to the text, the six felt the movement would be “great and important” so it needed a
“great name.” Thus a Baltimore temperance group became associated with the nearby nation’s
While the writer described the six co-founders as neither outcasts nor sots, he recounted that
“They knew (their drinking) was wrong. They saw the evil; they felt it; they lamented it; and times
without number did they promise wife and friend and self that they would drink no more. They were
sincere. They meant to be sober. But at some fatal hour they would take
one glass again, just one
; and they found themselves as powerless and debased as ever.”
Similarities with A.A. found in the text include:
Not drinking should be primary.
Don’t lecture or talk down to prospective members.
Steer clear of politics and religion in meeting discussion.
“A reformed man has the best access to a drunkard’s mind and heart, because he best
knows, and can enter into all a drunkard’s feelings.”
“Our true motto should be: action, constant untiring action.”
“The Washington Society occupies no offensive ground; because she occupies neutral
The group was open to all on the “one common platform of total abstinence.”
Differences included the Washingtonians’ efforts as “missionaries,” recruiting members; no
mention of the need for a spiritual or psychic change to recover; allowing non-members to be
actively involved in their meetings; a lack of humility evidenced by the society’s need for a “great”
name and its founders’ public postures; and the signing of a pledge, which reads:
“We, whose names are annexed, desirous of forming a society for our mutual benefit, and to guard
against a pernicious practice, which is injurious to our health, standing and families – we do pledge
ourselves as gentlemen, not to drink any spirituous or malt liquors, wine or cider.”
Sadly, the Washingtonians fell apart after a brief period of phenomenal success. In
and Twelve Traditions
the society is cited as the “cornerstone” for the Tenth Tradition. The 12 and
“The Washingtonian Society, a movement among alcoholics which started in Baltimore a century
ago, almost discovered the answer to alcoholism. At first, the society was composed entirely of
alcoholics trying to help one another. The early members foresaw that they should dedicate
themselves to this sole aim. In many respects, the Washingtonians were akin to A.A. of today.
Their membership passed the hundred thousand mark. Had they been left to themselves, and had
they stuck to their one goal, they might have found the rest of the answer. But this didn’t happen.
Instead, the Washingtonians permitted politicians and reformers, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic,
to use the society for their own purposes. Abolition of slavery, for example, was a stormy political
issue then. Soon, Washingtonian speakers violently and publicly took sides on the question.
Maybe the society could have survived the abolition controversy, but it didn’t have a chance from
the moment it determined to reform America’s drinking habits. When the Washingtonians became
temperance crusaders, within a very few years they had completely lost their effectiveness in
helping alcoholics. “The lesson to be learned from the Washingtonians was not overlooked by
Alcoholics Anonymous. As we surveyed the wreck of that movement, early A.A. members resolved
to keep our Society out of public controversy.”
In writing the
12 and 12, Bill W. pointed out how A.A. learned from the Washingtonians’ failure.
How much of the Washingtonians’ program may have contributed to A.A. principles and practices
is unknown. However, in a speech to the 1955 International Convention in St. Louis, Bill said:
“Some of us may think that, structurally speaking, we are quite unique. But this is not entirely so.
Our principles of recovery are borrowed, and so are most of our structural ideas. In A.A. we can
see many of the means by which men and women over the centuries have tried to unite
themselves, and each of these techniques of association has its assets and its liabilities.”