Constitution of the Worcester Moral Reform Society

Broadside

Background Notes

This constitution was written in 1836, at the height of what was known as the Benevolent Empire, that is, the numerous voluntary associations who cooperated in distributing Bibles and religious tracts, in founding and staffing Sunday Schools, in advancing the cause of temperance, and other moral reforms. Constitution-making was a firm tradition in the early American Republic. It was so ingrained in their way of life since the first colonial charters and compacts, that almost every organization had something that could be called a constitution. This was an alien idea to most foreign visitors, including such men as Alexis De Tocqueville who commented favorably on the practice in his celebrated Democracy in America.

Many societies, such as the American Bible Society and the American Moral Reform Society (of which this is an auxiliary), appeared after the disestablishment of state churches, such as the Congregational Church in Connecticut and Massachusetts. These societies sought to promote Christian morality by recruiting volunteers to campaign against sin. Up until the Panic of 1837, these societies were largely non-denominational, or pan-denominational.  After the Panic, however, their funding was largely undercut, creating an opening for denominational societies and associations to assume the work.

The Worcester Moral Reform Society focused on one issue, prostitution, what they called "licentious behavior."  The Society sought to educate the public concerning this social evil and stigmatize those involved in prostitution, especially male customers.

Transcription of Primary Source

PROCEEDINGS
IN THE TOWN OF WORCESTER,
ON THE SUBJECT OF
MORAL REFORM.

     At a large and very respectable meeting of citizens holden in the Union Church, on Sunday, July 31st, at quarter past 5, P. M. a Lecture on the subject of Moral Reform was delivered by Mr. Geo. R. Haswell, Agent of the American Moral Reform Society;
     After which, as preparatory to the formation of a Society, auxiliary to the American Moral Reform Society, the following Committee, consisting of Rev. John T. Burrill, Chairman, Dea. Jeremiah Bond, Abel F. Farrar, Stephen Bartlett, and Geo. W. Wheeler, was appointed to draft a constitution for said Auxiliary Society, to be proposed at an ensuing meeting.
     A meeting was then appointed, to be holden at Rev. Mr. Peabody’s Church on Thursday, August 4th, at half past 7 P. M.

     Aug. 4, 1836. 7 1-2 P. M. After religious services, and an address by Mr. Haswell, the meeting was called to order, Rev. Mr. Peabody being appointed Chairman, and Rev. Mr. Vail, Secretary, pro. tem. A constitution prepared by the Committee, previously appointed, was read by Mr. Farrar, and on motion of Rev. Mr. Aldrich was adopted as follows.

PREAMBLE.


     WHEREAS, we are convinced that licentiousness prevails to an alarming extent in our cities and throughout the country, making fearful inroads among our youth, and leading them to crime and infamy, poisoning the fountains of domestic enjoyment, and sundering the ties of kindred, love and humanity, hurrying thousands to a premature grave, and drowning their souls in perdition, threatening to destroy our civil liberties and our religious institutions, by corrupting the morals of the people on which they are based, and by drawing down upon us the just judgments of God;
     And whereas it is manifest from past experience, that the silence of good men on this subject, occasioning the absence of reproof, has only tended to the increase of the evil;
     And whereas, it is the duty of ministers, of writers, editors, parents and teachers, to employ the same direct efforts and instructions against this as against every other species of immorality;
     Therefore, with the purpose of doing all in our power to prevent and arrest this evil, we do hereby form ourselves into a Society, to be governed by the following

CONSTITUTION.

     ART. 1. This Society shall be called the Worcester Moral Reform Society, Auxiliary to the American Moral Reform Society.
     ART. 2. Its object shall be to discountenance licentiousness among all classes, as a violation of God’s holy law, and as destructive to social enjoyment and civil order. To this end, the Society shall aim to form a correct and virtuous public sentiment against this evil, and honestly to express the same; to influence all suitable persons to become its members, to give character and weight to its operations; to invite the co-operation of youth; to convince all of the exceeding sinfulness of lewdness; to induce the civil authorities strictly to enforce the law against all offenders, and to do whatever else can be done for its prevention.
     ART. 3. It shall be the duty of the Executive Committee of this Society to make arrangements for a monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual address or sermon on the claims of the Seventh commandment, and also for procuring the names of suitable persons to the pledge of the Society.
    ART. 4. All who join this Society pledge themselves to discountenance licentiousness in ALL its forms, both by precept and example, and to regard the licentious man as equally infamous with the licentious woman.
    ART. 5. It shall be the duty of each member to seek the usefulness of the Society, by inviting others to become its members, thus throwing around them an influence that may save them from pollution.
    ART. 6. The officers of the Society shall be a President, (two or more) Vice Presidents, a Secretary, a Treasurer, who together with eight other individuals shall constitute a general Executive Committee, five of whom shall be a quorum for the transaction of business.
     ART. 7. The Annual Meeting of this Society shall occur on the first Tuesday in January, when the reports of the Secretary and Treasurer shall be presented, the officers chosen, and any other appropriate business transacted.
    ART. 8. Any person may become a member of this Society by signing this constitution.
    ART. 9. This constitution may be altered, or amended, at any regular meeting of the Society, provided such alteration or amendment has been proposed, in writing, on at least one previous meeting.

     A Committee for reporting a list of officers according to the Constitution just adopted, then made the following nominations, which were accepted.

REV. DAVID PEABODY, President.
REV. THOMAS H. VAIL,
REV. JONATHAN ALDRICH, Vice Presidents.
REV. JOHN T. BURRILL,
ABEL F. FARRAR, Secretary.
RUFUS D. DUNBAR, Treasurer.
     HON. IRA BARTON, DEA. JOHN COE, DEA. JEREMIAH BOND, AUSTIN W. BIXBY, GEORGE W. WHEELER, GEORGE M. RICE, WILLIAM LUCAS, STEPHEN BARTLETT, Executive Committee.

The Constitution as adopted was signed by 287 names of those present;

And the Executive Committee, was instructed to print and circulate the proceedings of this meeting, with the constitution, as adopted, though the town. The meeting then adjourned.

Attest,
THOS. H. VAIL, Secretary.
D. PEABODY, Chairman.

Glossary

Licentiousness - lacking legal or moral restraints; especially, disregarding sexual restraints

Auxiliary - offering or providing help, aid, support

Curator Notes

Type: Broadside

Exact Title: Proceedings in the town of Worcester, on the subject of moral reform.: At a large and very respectable meeting of citizens holden in the Union Church, on Sunday, July 31st [1836]
Periodical:
Volume:
Page(s):

Year: 1836
Probable Date: July 31, 1836

Description: 1 sheet

Author/Creator: Worcester Moral Reform Society

Publisher:
Place of Publication:

Dimensions: 23 x 18 cm.

Materials:

Condition:

Catalog Number: American Antiquarian Society BDSDS. 1836

Licentiousness - lacking legal or moral restraints; especially, disregarding sexual restraints

Auxiliary - offering or providing help, aid, support