Progressive Batavian :  May 9-1872

 Jas. B. Erwin, Editor
The Influence of Public Opinion

    To bring this to bear against intemperance has been regarded by not a few as the chief method of subduing the evil.  Too much, I think, is hoped from it.
    One obvious remark is, that the classes most exposed to intemperance are removed very much from the power of public opinion.  But passing over this, I think we generally look to this influence for more than it can accomplish; we lay upon it a greater weight than it can bear.
    Public opinion may even work against the cause which it is meant to support, when made a substitute for individual exertion.
    A man, temperate because public opinion exacts it, has not the virtue of temperance nor a stable ground of temperance habits.  Opinion no longer affords steady guidance which in former times supplied the place of private judgment and individual principle.  There is no truth which sophistry does not assail, no falsehood which may not become a party bond.





The great work to which religion and benevolence are now called is, not to sweep away multitudes by storm, not to lay on men the temporary brittle chains of opinion, but to fix deep rational conviction in individuals; to awaken the reason to eternal truth and the concience to immutable duty.   We are apt to labor to secure to virtue the power of fashion, we must secure to it the power of conviction.  It is the essence of fashion to change.  Nothing is sure but truth.  No other foundation can sustain a permanent reform.  The temperance which rests on other men's opinions and practice is not a man's own virtue, but a reflection of what exists around him.  It lies on the surface.  It has not penetrated the soul.
    That opinion may exert a great and useful influence is not denied; but it must be enlightened opinion, appealing to the reason and the concience of individuals, not to passion, interest or fear, nor proscribing all who differ.  We want public opinion to bear on temperance but to act rationally, generously; not passionately, tyrannically, and with the spirit of persecution.
    Men cannot be driven into temperance. Let the temperate become a party and breath the violence of party, and they will raise up a party as violent as their own.  The friends of truth must not call passion to their aid, for the erroneous and vicious have a greater stock of passion that they, and can yield this weapon to more effect.  It is not by numbers or a loud cry that good men are to triumph over the bad.  Their goodness, their consciousness of truth and universal love must be manifest in clear, strong, beautiful appeals to the reason and heart.  They must speak in the tone of the friend of their race.  This will do infinitely more than the clamour of hosts.  Public opinion cannot do for virtue what it does for vice.  It is the essence of virtue to look above opinion.  The moral independence which can withstand public sentiment is men's only safety.  Fashion is singularly expert in the use of ridicule.  What it wants in reason it can supply in sneers and laughter.  It has especially the art of attaching the idea of vulgarity to a good cause; and what virtue has courage to encounter this most dreaded form of opinion!
    LOST and STOLEN, through the agency of villains:
    An unencumbered estate;
    A vigorous constitution;
    A fair moral character;
    A good standing in society;
    An active healthful concience.
Also the affection of a wife, children and friends.
    The miscreants who have thus robbed me are Rum, Gin, Brandy, Wine, Ale, Lager Beer and Cider.

Submitted to by Linda Schmidt


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