September 28, 1861
Neal Dow was one of the most famous Maine citizens to volunteer for military service in the Civil War. Known nationwide as "The Father of Prohibition," Dow was admired by many and loathed by others. For much of his adult life, he relentlessly campaigned against the sale and consumption of liquor. In 1827 he founded the Maine Temperance Society, and by 1851, he and the Society had become a force in Maine politics. As Mayor of Portland, he influenced the State Legislature to pass "The Maine Law" prohibiting the possession, sale and consumption of all alcoholic beverages, except for medicinal purposes. Twelve other states, caught up in the temperance movement Dow was leading, passed similar legislation.
In 1855, a rumor spread that Dow had a supply of liquor at his home. Nearly 2000 people gathered outside the house in protest. When the crowd refused to disperse, the State Militia was called in to restore order. Dow reportedly ordered the troops to fire. One man was killed and several others were wounded. Charged with possession of alcohol in violation of his own statute, Dow was tried and acquitted. It turned out that the liquor was intended for distribution to hospitals. Dow’s reputation suffered, however, because of what was termed the Portland "Rum Riot." The "Maine Law" was repealed in 1856. Nevertheless, Dow persevered. By the time the Civil War broke out he was a public figure to be reckoned with.
Dow was born in 1804 to Quaker parents. The family was prosperous, but the father did not want his son to attend college for fear the boy would come into contact with the rowdy element to be found in such institutions. Instead, the young Dow went to work in his father’s tannery business.
Despite his Quaker background Dow "most assuredly" was willing to take up arms in 1861. He told C. J. Talbot of the Portland Custom House that "he would want a Regiment of Infantry and not of Cavalry." Talbot was Surveyor of the Port of Portland, a Federal post that would one day be held by Joshua Chamberlain. Talbot spoke for "the most influential citizens of Portland" when he recommended Dow to Maine Governor Israel Washburn.
At the age of 57, Neal Dow was duly commissioned as Colonel of the 13th Maine Volunteer Infantry on November 23, 1861.
- Campaigns opposing liquor and slavery were powerful reform movements of the 19th Century. Why did these movements gain strength in mid-Century but not before?
- What pressures for other kinds of reform appeared before the turn of the 20th Century?
- What reforms do people believe are important today?