Salvation Army vs. Skeleton Army – History of Teetotalism vs. Alcohol 1851 – 1880

1880s: Early magistrates refused to prosecute mob violence against Salvation Army victims

General William Booth portrait
General William Booth

In many places the publicans stirred up violent opposition against the Salvation Army, ‘who, like the silversmiths of the ancient story [Acts 19:23-41], could not help seeing that the hope of their unholy gains was going, if not already gone.’

The Christian, January 6, 1881.

It was an open secret that the financial backers of these bullies were the owners of the brewing trade.’ Bramwell Booth, Chief of Staff, complained to the Home Secretary in 1881, ‘In nearly every town where there has been any opposition we have been able to trace it more or less, to the direct instigation, and often the leadership of either individual Brewers and Publicans, or their employees. The plan adopted is by treating and otherwise inciting gangs of roughs … to hustle and pelt, and mob the people.’

Cited by Clifton Shaw, 1999, Who are these Salvationists?, ch. 8: Going to the People – Early Outreach, p. 134, Salvation Army National Publications.

Even some church leaders had vested interests from alcohol – and harassed the Teetotal Christians

Dr. Jabez Bunting (despite being in the Wesleyan Connexion and sometimes its conference president) disregarded God’s curse against liquor-sellers – as John Wesley had put it.

Why did this iron-fisted man attempt to forbid Wesleyan Methodist ministers who wanted their churches to host temperance meetings? True Wesleyans would not attempt this.

Mr. Docton … on good authority ‘he heard that the fortune of the wife [cf. Neh. 2:10;6:12;13:28-30] of Dr. Jabez Bunting was principally derived from the profits of a brewery; that William [Bunting], the son of the doctor, was married to a daughter of Mr. Bentley of Hudersfield, who had amassed a large fortune by brewing; that another eminent preacher had married another daughter of the same gentleman; and that he knew of others who had wedded other spirit merchants’ daughters; all of which amounted to such an evidence as to produce a conviction in his mind that Conference was interested in drawing up these resolutions…’

F.T. Vibert, 1842, A Vindication of the Case of the Tee-total Wesleyan Methodists of St. Ives, Cornwall.

On the other hand, many Methodists like Hugh Bourne (Primitive Methodist), Benjamin Titus Roberts (Free Methodist), and Phoebe Palmer (Methodist Episcopal) were very supportive of the teetotal movement. Various Methodist churches have played a prominent role in the movement (along with the Salvation Army and more).

The Romance of Two Teetotallers: William and Catherine

1851: William Booth meets his future wife Catherine Mumford at a temperance meeting.
William had signed a teetotal pledge at age seven. Catherine had also made the pledge at the same age, and she had written against alcohol while she was a child.

1852: At another temperance meeting, he recites ‘The Grogseller’s Dream.’
This sparks an awkward controversy amongst the guests – some for ‘moderation’ but William and Catherine side with teetotalism. Here their romance begins.

Harold Begbie, 1920, William Booth, Vol. 1, Ch. 11, The Beginnings of a Love Story 1852.

1853: Catherine: ‘I am fully and for ever settled on the physical [medical] side of the question; I believe you are on the moral and religious…’
William became altogether and forever convinced that no exceptions were beneficial for medical uses of liquor alleged by a certain practitioner who had given him bad advice. William said later, ‘health and strength and happiness are altogether independent of its use.’ John Wesley had noted almost as strongly, ‘there would rarely be occasion for them were it not for the unskillfulness of the practitioner’.

Catherine cited by F. DE L. Booth-Tucker, 1892, The life of Catherine Booth: the mother of the Salvation Army, Vol. 1, p. 115.

General William Booth 1888, The Training of Children: How to Make the Children into Saints and Soldiers of Jesus Christ, 2nd edn., Ch. 27: ‘Strong Drink’.

John Wesley, 1744, Sermons, ‘On the Use of Money’, section 4.

1854: William is ordained in the Methodist New Connexion.
Since John Wesley in 1743, the Methodists had a rule against: ‘Drunkenness, Buying or Selling Spiritous Liquors; or drinking them (unless in cases of extreme Necessity).

John & Charles Wesley, 1743, The Nature, Design, and General Rules, of the United Societies [Methodist].

1855: William and Catherine marry.
She had long resolved: ‘I would never marry a man who was not a total abstainer, and this from conviction, and not merely to gratify me.’

Catherine cited by William Thomas Stead, 1900, Life of Mrs. Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army, p. 69. [Also: The Westminster Collection of Christian Meditations, p. 40]

1861: William resigns from the New Connexion, and ministers for the Teetotal Wesleyan Methodists of Cornwall (of 1842). The harassed teetotal congregations had joined the New Connexion Methodists. The Hayle and St. Ives teetotal congregations now invited Mr. and Mrs. Booth to assist them in the Cornish revival campaign.
Members must commit themselves against: ‘Manufacturing, buying, selling, or giving any Intoxicating Drinks, or drinking them, unless prescribed by a Mecical Practitioner.’

F.T. Vibert, 1842, A Vindication of the Case of the Tee-total Wesleyan Methodists of St. Ives, Cornwall.

1865: They begin Christian Mission (Salvation Army) in East London.
Helping London’s many alcoholics was hardly what began William’s and Catherine’s commitment to teetotalism! Rather, it was a fruit of their teetotalism.

General William Booth portrait
General William Booth

See also General Booth’s warning: ‘the thing is an evil in itself’ ‘Make your children understand that it is not safe for them or anybody else to take strong drink in what is called moderation’
—General William Booth, Salvation Army

The seeds of Salvation Army Teetotalism

‘To be signed by all who wish to be entered on the roll as soldiers… I do here and now declare that I will abstain from the use of all intoxicating liquors…’

Salvation Army Articles of War.

General Booth insisted all soldiers and officers of the Salvation Army must commit to be teetotallers and non-smokers (Articles of War).

Were it not so, how could they persevere themselves or rescue others? If the ‘blind lead the blind’, then people would reply, ‘You drink some, so why can’t I?’

The fruits of Salvation Army Teetotalism

Who can show any good fruit from any interested leader’s attack on teetotallers? Who can show any bad fruit from the teetotal rule? ‘A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit’ (Matt. 7:18).

Catherine Booth noted the good fruits of the Army’s teetotal rule: ‘We have hundreds of men in The Salvation Army who have been the veriest slaves of drink for years, living and working only to get drink.’

Catherine Booth, 1883, Save Thyself.

Salvation Army founders (in Australia) meet at temperance lecture

EARLY in 1880 a revivalist and temperance lecturer, Matthew Burnett, conducted a six weeks’ campaign in Adelaide, capital of South Australia. Among those who attended his meetings were two Salvationists, Edward Saunders and John Gore.

Robert Sandall, 1947, History of the Salvation Army: 1878-1886, p. 243.

‘The name of Mr. Matthew Bernett in connexion with the temperance movement is as well-known throughout Victoria as was that of the famous Father Mathew [Rev. Theobald Mathew] throughout Ireland.’

The Argus, 9 September 1878, ‘An Evening With Mr. Matthew Bernett’

“In 2015, The Salvation Army [Australia] provided more than 25,000 episodes of support for individuals affected by the debilitating effects of alcohol and other drug misuse. A Salvation Army network of more than 100 services across Australia responds to those with drug and alcohol addictions through detox and rehabilitation programs, counselling and outreach services.”

Policy Statements 2016-2017, Salvation Army Australia

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