The Massachusetts Temperance Society held its first meeting in 1813. It was the first documented organization of its kind in the United States. In the beginning, the Massachusetts Temperance Society was the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance .
The origin of the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance (M.S.S.I.) had a very religious background. In 1811 the General Association of Congregational churches created a committee on intemperance. The next year, with a request from the committee, a temperance society was established. The first meeting was held in Boston in February, 1813. When the M.S.S.I. drafted their mission statement, not only were they against drinking but also opposed to profanity and breaking Sabbath. The M.S.S.I. was not an abstinence society, they suggested if you drank, do it in moderation.
The M.S.S.I. was an elite group with members ranging in the hundreds at the most. To be a member of the society you had to be voted in, a person could not join, you had to be nominated and selected by the existing members. The M.S.S.I. had very prominent figures in its existence; one of the original members was Nathan Dane. Nathan Dane believed in complete temperance, even though the M.S.S.I. did not always preach that line of belief. Unlike other members Nathan Dane did not have to be voted-in, because he was one of the founding members. Dane, along with Moses Brown, Joshua Fisher, Robert Rantoul, Nathaniel Goodwin and Abiel Abbot were all founding members from Beverly.
Dane served in some capacity in the M.S.S.I. for sixteen years, from 1813 to 1832. Nathan Dane always held a chair on the committee, as either a councilor or as vice president. He was even President from 1818 till 1821 (see Figure 2). daneaspresident At the first meeting of the M.S.S.I. in 1813, Dane was elected to be one of the original councilors of the society.
During his time at the M.S.S.I., Dane had seen at least five revisions of the societies constitution. (see version 1 & version 2 ) The constitution changed with the way people were feeling when it came time to vote. Nathan Dane always attended the annual meeting. In his sixteen years with all the other important events in his life he never failed to pay his two-dollar annual dues by way of never missing a meeting. In the year before Dane was elected President, he was the acting president for the absentee head of the society.
The M.S.S.I. was not formed to reach large masses of people; it was an elitist club. Most of the members were either Unitarian or orthodox Congregationalists. Most members were part of the Federalist Party. Some of Massachusetts s high-ranking officials were members, such as a state Supreme Court chief Justice. At the time the Governor was also a member. The M.S.S.I. also had members of a Federalist president s cabinet.
The M.S.S.I. also had off shoots or auxiliary societies in most of the surrounding cites. Dane was president when most of the auxiliary societies were formed. Therefore, Dane had to approve of the society and pay out small grants to start the society. These offspring were more geared toward the common man rather than the elite of The M.S.S.I.
The way the meetings of the M.S.S.I. and its off shoots were conducted was written in their constitution. It was written by founding members and was altered when it seemed prudent to do so. The constitution explained how every man should conduct himself as a member of the society and how every meeting should be held. At these meetings, members would vote on things like,
While Dane was councilor in 1814, a statement came to the attention of the M.S.S.I. on how to contain intemperance. The idea was not to provide liquor for employees during lunch, which was the custom at the time. A quote from the speech given:
A friendly concert of merchants, sea captains, and warfingers of respectable machanicks and manafactures; bin a word of all hirers of labor, not to furnish ardent spirits to their labourers.
This idea was widely addressed and some places made it a law in their community.
In two different time periods in which Dane was holding a chair in the society, ideas were offered at the annual meeting on explaining how to retake a drunkards intemperate life. In 1815 the thought to start a program to help a drunk was started. It was suggested by Abiel Abbot that,
the inebriate be treated with respectful tenderness; forbearing contemptuous reproches sarcastic reviling. At prudent seasons let them be apprized of their dangers; persuaded from the company and occasions of special temptation; reasoned out of their false pleas; fortified with arguments.
The only problem with the idea was that people were willing to talk about helping others, but the people were apprehensive about physically helping the drunkard. Not many people took to that idea.
In 1825, a suggestion of total abstinence was made. This was the belief that Dane felt most strongly about. The theory was that if no one could drink then more people would work and in turn productivity and quality would increase greatly in the workplace. Nathan Dane was not President of the society at the time so he could not influence the vote as much as he wanted to. The problem with that suggestion was that too many members of the M.S.S.I. were moderate drinkers instead of abstinence and they believed that was too much freedom to give up. Therefore the members would agree with the movement but not follow through with the aforementioned proposition.
Nathan Dane was a very important and influential man in the M.S.S.I. In his final year as President, Dane stepped down because he felt he could not carry out his duties as best he could. As said in his resignation announcement,
The next Item of the meeting was unanimously voted on, the vote read as,
After that was voted on the meeting adjourned for an hour to thank and congratulate Mr. Dane.
In his last motion in the M.S.S.I. Dane proposed to alter the constitution. He wanted to adjust the number of meetings the council could call to two meetings per year. The motion was voted on and passed unopposed.
Nathan Dane changed the M.S.S.I. in his sixteen-year membership. Even though little is written about him in the history books whit his involvements in this society. It is assumed the only reason he left the society in 1832, which is the time when his name stops appearing on documents, was because he was completely deaf. Unfortunately he died three years later. His contributions were valuable to the temperance movements in Massachusetts and to the Massachusetts Temperance Society. If it were not for Nathan Dane the society would not have been the long lasting pillar of temperance it ended up being.
The Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance was an enduring society, well past the 1900 s. They ended up being a strong driving force for prohibition. Until the day they closed for good, the Massachusetts Temperance Society held the same integrity it had when its doors first opened.
Hampel, Robert L.Temperance and Prohibition in Massachusetts 1813-1852. Michigan: UMI research Press, 1982
Minute taker. 1818. The Minutes and Motions of the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance p. 1-50. Massachusetts Historical Society.
Abiel Abbot. 1815. An Address Delivered before the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance. June. Massachusetts Historical Society.