Let me introduce to our readers seven of the wisest men of the present
century--the seven drafters and signers of the first teetotal pledge.
The movement originated in the mind of Joseph Livesey, and a short
consideration of the circumstances and surroundings of his useful career
will give us the best insight into the necessities and influences which
gave it birth. He was born near Preston, in Lancashire, in the year
1795; the beginning of an era in English history which scarcely has a
parallel for national suffering. The excitement of the French Revolution
still agitated all classes, and, commercial distress and political
animosities made still more terrible the universal scarcity of food and
the prostration of the manufacturing business.
His father and mother died early, and he was left to the charge of his
grandfather, who, unfortunately, abandoned his farm and became a cotton
spinner. Lancashire men had not then been whetted by daily attrition
with steam to their present keen and shrewd character, and the elder
Livesey lost all he possessed. The records of cotton printing and
spinning mention with honor the Messrs. Livesey, of Preston, as the
first who put into practice Bell's invention of cylindrical printing of
calicoes in 1785; but whether the firms are identical or not I have no
certain knowledge. It shows, however, that they were a race inclined to
improvements and ready to test an advance movement.
That Joseph Livesey's youth was a hard and bitter one there is no doubt.
The price of flour continued for years fabulously high; so much so that
wealthy people generally pledged themselves to reduce their use of it
one-third, and puddings or cakes were considered on any table, a sinful
extravagance. When the government was offering large premiums to farmers
for raising extra quantities and detailing soldiers to assist in
threshing it, poor bankrupt spinners must have had a hard struggle for a
Indeed, education was hardly thought possible, and, though Joseph
managed, "by hook or crook," to learn how to read, write and count a
little, it was through difficulties and discouragements that would have
been fatal to any ordinary intelligence or will.
Until he was twenty-one years of age he worked patiently at his loom,
which stood in one corner of a cellar, so cold and damp that its walls
were constantly wet. But he was hopeful, and even in those dark days
dared to fall in love. On attaining his majority, he received a legacy
of £30. Then he married the poor girl who had made brighter his hard
apprenticeship, and lived happily with her for fifty years.
But the troubles that had begun before his birth--and which did not
lighten until after the passing of the Reform Bill, in June, 1832--had
then attained a proportion which taxed the utmost energies of both
private charities and the national government.
The year of Joseph Livesey's marriage saw the passage of the Corn Laws,
and the first of those famous mass meetings in Peter's Field, near
Manchester, which undoubtedly molded the future temper and status of the
English weavers and spinners. From one of these meetings, the following
year, thousands of starving men started _en masse_ to London. They were
followed by the military and brought back for punishment or died
miserably on the road, though 500 of them reached Macclesfield and a
smaller number Derby.
But Livesey, though probably suffering as keenly as others, joined no
body of rioters. He borrowed a sovereign and bought two cheeses; then
cutting them up into small lots, he retailed them on the streets,
Saturday afternoons, when the men were released from work. The profit
from this small investment exceeding what it was possible for him to
make at his loom, he continued the trade, and from this small beginning
founded a business, and made a fortune which has enabled him to devote a
long life to public usefulness and benevolence.
But his little craft must have needed skillful piloting, for his family
increased rapidly during the disastrous years between 1816 and 1832; so
disastrous that in 1825-26 the Bank of England was obliged to authorize
the Chamber of Commerce to make loans to individuals carrying on large
works of from £500 to £10,000. Bankruptcies were enormous, trade was
everywhere stagnant, £60,000 were subscribed for meal and peas to feed
the starving, and the government issued 40,000 articles of clothing. The
quarrels between masters and spinners were more and more bitter, mills
were everywhere burnt, and at Ashton in one day 30,000 "hands" turned
During these dreadful years every thoughtful person had noticed how much
misery and ill-will was caused by the constant thronging to public
houses, and temperance societies had been at work among the angry men of
the working classes. Joseph Livesey had been actively engaged in this
work. But these first efforts of the temperance cause were directed
entirely against spirits. The use of wine and ale was considered then a
necessity of life. Brewing was in most families as regular and important
a duty as baking; the youngest children had their mug of ale; and
clergymen were spoken of without reproach as "one," "two" or
But Joseph Livesey soon became satisfied that these half measures were
doing no good at all, and in 1831 a little circumstance decided him to
take a stronger position. He had to go to Blackburn to see a person on
business; and, as a matter of course, whiskey was put on the table.
Livesey for the first time tasted it, and was very ill in consequence.
He had then a large family of boys, and both for their sakes and that of
others, he resolved to halt no longer between two opinions.
He spoke at once in all the temperance meetings of the folly of partial
reforms, pointed out the hundreds of relapses, and urged upon the
association the duty of absolute abstinence. His zeal warmed with his
efforts and he insisted that in the matter of drinking "the golden mean"
was the very sin for which the Laodicean Church had been cursed.
The disputes were very angry and bitter; far more so than we at this
day can believe possible, unless we take into account the universal
national habits and its poetic and domestic associations with every
phase of English life. But he gradually gained adherents to his views
though it was not until the following year he was able to take another
It was on Thursday, August 23, 1832, that the first solemn pledge of
total abstinence was taken. That afternoon Joseph Livesey, pondering the
matter in his mind, saw John King pass his shop. He asked him to come in
and talk the subject over with him. Before they parted Livesey asked
King if he would join him in a pledge to abstain forever from all
liquors; and King said he would. Livesey then wrote out a form and,
laying it before King, said: "Thee sign it first, lad." King signed it,
Livesey followed him, and the two men clasped hands and stood pledged to
one of the greatest works humanity has ever undertaken.
A special meeting was then called, and after a stormy debate, the main
part of the audience left, a small number remaining to continue the
argument. But the end of it was that seven men came forward and drew up
and signed the following document, which is still preserved:
"We agree to abstain from all liquors of an intoxicating quality,
whether they be ale, porter, wine or ardent spirits, except as
All these reformers were virtually _working_ men, though most of them
rose to positions of respect and affluence. Still the humility of the
origin of the movement was long a source of contempt, and its members,
within my own recollection, had the stigma of vulgarity almost in right
of their convictions.
But God takes hands with good men's efforts, and the cause prospered
just where it was most needed--among the operatives and "the common
people." One of these latter, a hawker of fish, called Richard Turner,
stood, in a very amusing and unexpected way, sponsor for the society.
Richard was fluent of speech, and, if his language was the broadest
patois, it was, nevertheless, of the most convincing character. He
always spoke well, and, if authorized words failed him, readily coined
what he needed. One night while making a very fervent speech, he said:
"No half-way measures here. Nothing but the _te-te total_ will do."
Mr. Livesey at once seized the word, and, rising, proposed it as the
name of the society. The proposition was received with enthusiastic
cheering, and these "root and branch" temperance men were thenceforward
known as teetotalers. Richard remained all his life a sturdy advocate of
the cause, and when he died, in 1846, I made one of the hundreds and
thousands that crowded the streets of the beautiful town of Preston and
followed him to his grave. The stone above it chronicles shortly his
name and death, and the fact that he was the author of a word known now
wherever Christianity and civilization are known.
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