THE GROWTH OF PUBLIC OPINION ON THE LIQUOR TRAFFIC.
During the last five years the question of the liquor traffic has received more attention from Legislatures and the public than has been bestowed upm it during any previous twenty in the history of the great temperance movement. There can be no doubt but that to a great extent this attention has been called to the subject by the persistent agitation of temperance reformers —of the extreme men who have hoisted the banner of total abstinence emblazoned with the motto “prohibition.” But there have been other agencies at work than those of temperance leagues and lodges ; and other tongues than those of rabid teetotal'ers have spoken. Brilliant Sir Wilfred Lawson did much in the British Parliament, to be sure, and he was not single-handed in his efforts after restrictive legislation ; satirists have been severe upon the drinking habits of. the English people, and clergymen from the pulpit have denounced them ; a flood of teetotal literature went over the land, and every means teetotallers could use was taken advantage of to disseminate their doctrines ; they even succeeded in getting the House of Lords to appoint a commission to inquire into the subject, and report. But all these agencies might still have been working on, and with only the comparatively small result that attend simply missioiiaiy efforts, had the wave of adversity not arisen that but recently swept over the whole world, from the back wash of which we in New Zealand are but recovering. "When toiling, contented, plodding, beerdrinking John Bull came to understand that it was quite possible for him—with his character unstained, his right hand still cunning, his arm strong, and his frame as sturdy as they had ever been—to find it a precarious job to obtain a simple living, and a very easy and probable thing to come to the verge of wanting bread, he began to waken up and lot k at things he never thought of before, and in alight in which he had never viewed them. So long as things were prosperous and work plentiful, if I John "was healthy and strong his bread was sure ; and only sickness or accident could jeopardise it. In these piping times he “ lived by the way,” and took his pleasure, contributing copiously to the revenue and to the support of a traffic engaging an army of people larger than the population of this colony. From no teetotal view at all, but from a very business-like profit and loss standpoint he reckoned up the daily cost ofhis necessaries and his luxuries, and out of his small income, he found that for years he had been daily getting rid of a sum for liquor which, saved, would, have enabled him to breast the wave of adversity and defy poverty. The same facts had been hinted to him long before by the teetotal agitators; but then times were good, and he had never formed one of a crowd of unemployed men—a crowd of thousands — hard times had not for generations before come so far over the threshold of his home, nor of those of so many if his mates. He saw the merchant suffer and the tradesman go to the wall; the baker go through the Court from unpaid bread bills, and the butcher put up his shutters—for though the mouths to supply were just as many as before, the money to pay for tnat supply was not forthcoming. The mill stopped and the workshop closed, but still, somehow the beer pump was always able to keep going, and its owner kept his head above water. All this panorama passed before John Bull’s eyes. With a full belly it would not have affected him much but with an empty stomach it set him a-think-ing. It set thousands a-thinking—and the result is, that though the pronounced teetotallers find their pledge books with no more signatures in them than usual, the revenue from liquor has been largely reduced, and the trade in that commodity isnot nearly so extensive. John Bull’sthoughts on this subject of beer have told in politics as well. The English publican has always been a Tory, and loyally did he throw the weight of his powerful influence into the scale in his party’s favor. This time, however, “ bung” was nowhere. He could not rally his revolted subjects who went over to the other side, and the side of Liberalism won. Steadily and surely public opinion—formed when the hard fact of starvation stared many thousands in the face, and hunger gnawed the stomachs of thousands more—is advancing, and if a Permissive Bill is to pass in England at all. it will be while public opinion retains its present form. It will not therefore be surprising if, under the new Gladstonian Ministry, Sir Wilfrid Lawson should make one more dash with his pet measure— and win ! The change that has come over John Bull at Home has not stopped its influence at the “white cliffs of Dover. ” It has travelled over every land where the hard times went —and the result ? Every colony is considering the subject in Parliament, having before them, in two instances at. least—those of New Zealand and New South Wales—Licensing Bills that five years ago would have been looked upon as the most inflammatory documents ever penned, treasonable to the great vested interests of a powerful trade—and an attempt on the liberty of the subject. But John Bull in the colonies sits calmly by, allows Boniface to roar himself hoarse with his opposition, but lends him no aid ! Pass what measures, you like, says John, and tax the liquor as you may ; I care not. From one end of the colony to the other the Licensing Benches have steadily refused such applications for new licenses as have come before them, and have cast very dubious eyes indeed upon many transfers, so that he must be a good man indeed —in his particular line, and as that goes—who may hope to find grace in the eyes of those whose prerogative it is to say “ Ay” to the opening of a new house. The advance of this public opinion will tell upon the trade as a whole —it must. It may not—doubtless it will not—for many years, if ever, bring to England or to her colonies legislation on the liquor question similar to that of the great Maine law, but if it has the effect of clearing out the mere dens of infamy that exist in the Old Country and in this colony under the name of hotels, and leave only such establishments as are >n the hands of respectable men, whose houses honestly discharge the true functions for which hotels exist, the empire will have every reason to rejoice.
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