Stories from The Temperance Reader, Stories

Children's Literature

Background Notes

Modeled after more conventional books of short readings widely used in the schools, The Temperance Reader was intended to reach children in their classrooms with the anti−alcohol message. Here are two excerpts. The first, “Confessions of a Spirit Dealer” tells the (probably fictionalized) story of a dealer in liquor who came to regret his trade. The second, “A Glass of Rum—what it costs” describes all the people and trades involved in producing liquor.

Transcription of Primary Source

Confessions of a Spirit Dealer.

I have now passed, by twenty years, the meridian of life. Gray hairs are sprinkled thick upon my head, and I daily feel more and more the infirmities of age, each one giving me additional premonition that I must soon occupy my last six feet of earth, and be gathered unto the nations who have gone before me…

I was born in an inland town in one of the New England States, and was descended from pious and respectable parents; for my father was a clergyman, and during half a century filled the sacred desk in my native place…

A few years previous to the death of my father, I married an amiable woman, and, devoting myself to the occupation of a husbandman*, purchased me a farm in the state of New York. In all my undertakings I was prospered by a kind Providence, and my fields, yielded me a liberal increase…

My location being a favorable one for a tavern…I determined to increase my means of gain by opening a public inn…At my first setting out as tavern−keeper, I formed, for my own government, three resolutions—first, never to sell liquor to a drunken man; second, never to suffer any disorder in my house which might annoy the quiet traveller; and, third, never to drink at my own bar. Neither of these resolutions was long kept…

Poor Abram McQueen! I remember, one cold and stormy day, he came to my tavern much intoxicated, and, with importunity, proffered me his three cents for a glass of whisky…It was his last. From my house, and my fire−side, he went out into the storm, and perished within sight of my door. Those three cents have always been like molten lead to my conscience; for I have always felt as if I had slain a man, and slain him, too, for money…

Suffice it to say, my house became the resort of profligates* of every description, and, I am, now convinced, must have been a nuisance to all the country around. And yet the law licensed me to sell liquor, and sanctioned by its protection the work of death in which I was engaged.

I had now merged the farmer in the landlord; and success, while it gratified, only stimulated my desires, and forthwith I resolved to become a merchant. Without delay, therefore, a building was erected, and “STORE AND TAVERN” shone in golden letters upon an ample sign−board. Not yet satisfied, I determined to increase my gains, and add to my ability to do evil, by becoming also a DISTILLER*…

I now made ardent spirit* in my distillery, sold it by the barrel and by the gallon in my store, and retailed it by the gill* in my tavern. The worm*, of my distillery appeared to run with golden streams, and my anticipations were more than equalled…

Every year the products of the farms of most of my customers became less and less; their owners, as they drank deeper and deeper, became idle, improvident, and neglectful: their debts increased, but not their ability to pay: their families, particularly the younger children, grew up in ignorance and vice: they borrowed money, mortgaged and lost their farms, and, one after another, dejected, discouraged, and drunken, they gathered their remaining substance and removed to the western forests, there to linger out the miserable remnant of their lives, leaving me the owner of a distillery which could not be carried on for the want of material; of a store to which few customers came, for few had ability to pay; and of a tavern at which, now and then, a solitary drunkard called, to whom I dealt out, for money, the fire which was already consuming him…

Five years after I first opened my store, I first heard of temperance societies. For a time, I paid but little attention to their progress…But at length I was aroused to see that their principles and influence were gaining ground; and…that if they should prove successful, the sources of my gains must be cut off. I therefore set myself stoutly to oppose… the plans, of the “cold water folks,” as I sneeringly termed them.

All the drunkards and tipplers* in the vicinity would gather around me, and applaud my sayings as the inspirations of wisdom…To what depths will a love of gain and a love of strong drink cause a man to descend! With what company will he associate! Under what refuges of lies will he take shelter!… Temperance societies had come to put out my fires and empty my casks, reform my customers and diminish my income, and I was filled with rage…My object, and sole object, was gain…[All I talked about] translated into plain language, was, “I love money, and I can make more gain by selling ardent spirit than I can by any other means; and therefore I will continue it.”…

At length I found my business was diminishing. Many of my customers, after expending and wasting their property, had gone off largely in my debt…In the adjoining neighborhoods and towns, the temperance reform had made such progress, and the members of the society were so consistent, that no man would sell me a bushel of corn or rye. Therefore my distillery was stopped. Soon after this, my eldest son, who, for the three last years, had been my clerk, having drank too freely, let a lighted candle fall into a pail of proof spirit*, and, within an hour, my store, distillery, and a large barn adjoining to it, were all in ashes… My riches had indeed taken to themselves wings, and they were gone.

All the fire had left me was my tavern and my farm…but as my debts were heavy, when they were paid, I had but a mere pittance left…I departed as soon as my affairs were settled, and followed many of my former customers to the western wilderness…

For years, the habit of drinking and been gaining upon me; and…my change of circumstances did not change my habits…My eldest son…was found dead in the highway, some two years since, with his jug of spirit by his side!…

As I have intimated, I became a drunkard…I wandered from my home, and became an outcast, abhorred, despised, rejected, a nuisance in society, and a blot upon humanity.

At length, one cold, stormy, bitter night, I was turned out of a grog−shop*…and, being intoxicated, fell by the road−side, and was discovered only in time to save my life. One of my limbs was so frozen, that amputation was necessary; and now I am a cripple, maimed by ardent spirit, and rendered unable to labor. My wife and one child are in the alms−house*…in the same room with the wife and child of a man who was ruined at my store, and died a sot*. I am now a member of the once−reviled temperance society…

And, now, I cannot better conclude this, my painful narrative, than by saying to every youth who reads it, Never deal in ardent spirit…Your only safety is in have nothing to do with it. If you never use and never vend the article, you will escape a drunkard’s grave. But if you use or vend, you tempt destruction, and may repent, as I have done, when repentance is too late.

A Glass of Rum—what it costs.

A glass of rum, sir, if you please,” said Mr. A. to Mr. B., the retailer. “A very simple request, and easily granted,” was my first reflection. But Mr. B. called on the wholesale dealer; he upon the importer; the importer upon the sailor, the sailor sped across the ocean to a distant island, and called upon the exporter; the exporter called upon the distiller; the distiller called upon the sugar−planter; the sugar−planter called upon the overseer; and the overseer called on the slaves, and applied the lash. The slaves wept, and groaned, and died.

Then the overseer called on the planter; the planter called on the sailor; and the sailor hired away to Africa, and called on the slave−trader; the slave−trader called on a negro tyrant, who sent out his bands of armed warriors; and these concealed themselves near a peaceful, quiet village till night, when, setting it on fire, they seized on the miserable men, women, and children, and carried them away captive to the chief; the chief carried them to the slave−trader; the slave−trader carried them to the sailor; the sailor carried them to the distant island; there, like cattle, they were sold in the market to the planter; and the planter sent them to the overseer, who beat them, and tasked them, and chained them, till life itself became a burden.

Sugar, molasses, and rum, were made; the exporter sold them to the importer; the importer sold them to the wholesale dealer; the wholesale dealer sold them to the retailer; and then the drinkers came round and call for a glass of rum. Of the drinkers many will become drunkards; the drunkards will abuse their families; they will incur debts which they will never pay; and the sheriff will sell their property; and their families will become paupers.

Many drunkards will become thieves, robbers, and murderers: alms−houses, jails, penitentiaries, courts, judges, sheriffs, juries, and lawyers, will be necessary; then come taxes, tariffs, and hard times, producing murmurs, heart−burnings, complaints, and ten thousand other evils—all the price of one glass of rum. Surely a rum−cask is Pandora’s box. Open it, and the most fruitful country becomes a desert, the most peaceful dwelling the abode of discord, and the most virtuous character sullied and ruined.


  • alms−house − a farm or house where poor people went to work and live, a poor house
  • ardent spirit − distilled liquor, such as, rum or whiskey
  • distiller − person who makes alcoholic beverages
  • gill − 1/4 of a pint, 1/2 cup, 4 oz.
  • grog shop − a low−class barroom
  • husbandman − farmer
  • profligates − a person who spends money in an extravagant and self−indulgent manner
  • proof spirit − highest alcoholic content, therefore, very flammable
  • sot − habitual drunkard
  • tipplers − persons who drink liquor by habit or to excess
  • worm − a spiral condensing tube used in distilling

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
The Temperence Reader; Designed for Use in Schools
85-87, 89, 91-93, 274-275
Charles Yale
Hilliard, Gray, and Co.
Place of Publication: 
Boston, MA
Old Sturbridge Village