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Gerrit Smith
- Temperance Activity


Throughout his activist career, Gerrit Smith worked in the cause of Temperance. Himself a smoker and drinker in his college days at Hamilton, later in life he became an abstainer, and an aggressive promoter of Temperance activities. Active in many reforms, Smith's early promotion of Temperance as well as other causes, took a back seat to his Abolition activities for many years. After the close of the Civil War, he returned to more active work in this cause, declaring in 1869:

"Our involuntary slaves are set free, but our millions of voluntary slaves still clang their chains. The lot of the literal slave, of him whom others have enslaved, is indeed a hard one; nevertheless, it is a paradise compared with the lot of him who has enslaved himself to alcohol."

Despite his identification (particularly by contemporary drug policy advocates) with Prohibition, Smith clearly articulated the view that government had no business interfering with what citizens did (and drank) in their own homes. He was, however, strongly opposed to the Dram Shop, or saloon. A strong believer in the benefits of alcohol abstinence, Smith deviated from his general objection to governmental involvement when it came to asylums for the insane as well as for inebriates. These views were expressed before he himself was temporarily confined to the Utica Asylum for the Insane, and before his brother, Peter Sken, was confined to an inebriate asylum. His views on asylums, like dramshops, were based on his belief in the limited role of government to protect public safety.

The images on this page are portions of two prints that hung in Gerrit Smith's home, and that are now part of the collection at Syracuse University. The first portrays a man taking his first drink. The second portrays him signing the pledge of total abstinence.


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