The question of national prohibition as represented in the Eighteenth Amendment, and its supporting legislation known as the Volstead Act, is now before the people of the United States in a very serious way. The November elections chose for the White House a new President and for the Senate and House sufficient Democrats so that the incoming party will be in control, not only in the Chief Executive's seat, but also in both houses of Congress.
The Chicago platform of the Democratic party contained a plain agreement that Congress would pass an act to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment, submitting the same to be ratified by State conventions. They also pledged so to change the Volstead Act that beer will be legalized. At present it is difficult to foretell what a year may thrust upon us. The question is, To what extent are Christians responsible for Congressional legislation? The Seventh, day Adventist denomination and its ministry are not politicians. We stand aloof from party lines, nor do we as a church favor one party or discount another.
In temperance, however, we have to deal, not with a political, but with a moral issue. That both Democrats and Republicans sought to make the cause of temperance an issue in the last election was not for the sake of temperance nor for the good of the people, but in order to gain votes at the November polls. Because both major political parties have promised to submit the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act to the people for repeal or change, does not in the least eliminate the moral issue. Rather, it complicates the situation by making a moral issue a party program.
The Eighteenth Amendment was adopted because the people demanded it. When it was submitted to the people, forty-six out of forty-eight States voted its adoption. This was followed by the national prohibition act, known as the Volstead Act. President Wilson vetoed the Volstead Act, but Congress overrode the veto. The legislation then went to the Supreme Court, which sustained the Volstead Act. When this legislation was enacted, it was not understood to be either Democratic or Republican, but national. Back of it stood forty-six States approving the amendment. Perhaps no amendment to our national Constitution was ever more generously supported by the people than the Eighteenth Amendment.
That the people of a republican form of government are indirectly responsible for the laws made by their representatives, is obvious. In an absolute monarchy the people have no voice in lawmaking, but in a constitutional government the people control through the ballot, the people making the laws through the representatives whom they elect. When a legislative body makes an unjust law in a constitutional republic, the people have redress in electing representatives who will enact right laws. To fail to extend their influence and cast their vote in favor of right legislation, is culpable neglect of duty. In view of these obvious facts, let us observe these words:
"There is a cause for the moral paralysis upon society. Our laws sustain an evil which is sapping their very foundation. Many deplore the wrongs which they know exist, but consider themselves free from all responsibility in the matter. This cannot be. Every individual exerts an influence in society. In our favored land, every voter has some voice in determining what laws shall control the nation. Should not that influence and that vote be cast on the side of temperance and virtue? . . .
"The advocates of temperance fail to do their whole duty unless they exert their influence by precept and example—by voice and pen and vote—in favor of prohibition and total abstinence."—"Gospel Workers." pp. 387, 388.
Many questions are both moral and civil. Civil law often has to deal with morals, not to make its citizens Christian, but to protect society. For example, murder is a sin and an immoral act. But it is also a civil question; and in order to protect life, the state must deal with the murderer. So with stealing and other relations to our fellow beings. As Christians we have to deal with morals; we could not be Christians and decline to deal with morality.
The word "moral" has this definition: "Of or pertaining to the practices, conduct, and spirit of men toward God, themselves, and their fellow men, with reference to right and wrong and to obligation to duty; pertaining to rightness and oughtness in conduct; ethical."—Standard Dictionary. One great question that we as Christians must settle is our own individual responsibility concerning prohibition. Is it not a moral question, whether a free republican government shall legalize the sale of alcoholic beverages, receiving funds from such sales with which to pay the salaries of its officials and meet its other operating expenses, all to ease the people from heavier taxation? We must decide for ourselves if licensing the sale of alcoholic beverages and taking revenue from their sale to save ourselves from taxation, is right conduct toward our fellow men.
Alcohol is a poison. Its effects are such as to disqualify a man under its influence from signing legal documents or transacting legal business, as making gifts, wills, bargaining, and such like. Moreover, alcohol makes a man a menace to society. It excites the lower passions and paralyzes the will, till heinous crimes are committed under its influence. Has the government a right to legalize the sale of this poison that dethrones reason, and incites to crime, and that of every sort?
Alcohol has a tendency to create such a desire for more and more of it that many are unable to use it in moderation, but become its slaves, and will pauperize their families in order to secure intoxicating drink. Is it right for any Christian to be a party to such crimes?
Suppose I have a poison that I know has a tendency to inflame men's passions, to paralyze their reason, and to excite some to fight and kill. I sell two men this poison and see them swallow it, making 25 cents from the sale and putting it into my till. They leave my premises, but on the way they fall out, and one man kills the other. What responsibility do I have in that murder?
The legalizing of liquor is a serious moral question. No drunkard has a reasonable hope of heaven. He must gain the victory over this soul and body destroying habit, or be lost. If I lend my influence to sell him drink, am I not responsible?
The ministers are shepherds of the flock. I said to a minister last week, "I do not know where you stand on prohibition, and I want to talk with you." He said, "I have a son, a drunkard, a boy I love, who is ruined by drink unless God helps him. I'm heart and soul with you in this fight against legalizing the sale of alcoholic beverages. It is the most terrible thing that has come to our home."
This periodical desires to contribute its influence to oppose the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment and the legalizing of alcoholic beverages. It appeals to our ministry to exert themselves in every possible way they can, by lectures, by the public press, by organizing our church membership to scatter literature dealing with temperance, and in every way to enlighten the people concerning the evils of alcoholism.
I. H. E.