Sunday, December 20, 2009

Col. John J. Hickman: National Temperance Leader

by David P. Sapp

Kentucky bluegrass country spawned both its famous bourbon and many of the sons and daughters who swore to rid the country of every last drop of the same drink. One of Kentucky’s proud sons was John J. Hickman, born in 1839 in Lexington to James Lewis and Mariah Shackelford Hickman. A second cousin to David H. Hickman, John J. grew up in a family of some privilege. His formative years were those leading up to the Civil War and he married early, at the age of 19, to Lizzie Hollingsworth. The family name certainly gave him an advantage but he treated the responsibilities of leadership seriously from an early age. He farmed, studied medicine and the law, and then entered the fire and life insurance business, earning himself a large fortune in the years on either side of the Civil War.

Battle lines in another war, the temperance movement, were also being drawn while John J. was growing up. The Independent Order of Good Templars (I.O.G.T.) formally organized in 1851 in Utica, New York, and had quickly established chapters in a dozen or more states by the beginning of the Civil War. After the war, John J. Hickman grabbed onto the cause and joined South Carrollton Lodge No. 20 in 1867. Within eighteen months, he rose to head the state I.O.G.T., achieving the title of Grand Worthy Chief Templar of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky. He was known for his fiery speeches and great ability to move crowds to action. During his four years as head of the Kentucky lodge, he increased membership from 3,000 to about 25,000 and correspondingly increased the number of lodges from 60 to about 500. His achievements and prominence in Kentucky were recognized in 1873 by Governor Leslie when he was commissioned an aid on the governor’s staff with the honorary rank of Colonel.

J.J. Hickman was clearly welcomed into the national organization, the Right Worthy Grand Lodge of the I.O.G.T. He took on increasingly important positions with the Grand Lodge and was elected as the Right Worthy Grand Templar in 1874, 1875, and 1876. In 1876, Hickman led a mission to Europe where he organized Grand Lodges in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and the Isle of Man. He went on to be elected Grand Worthy Chief Templar of the World for the next several years.

The I.O.G.T. had as its sole purpose “to deliver the land and the world from the curse of intemperance.” It promoted the principles of “total abstinence from all intoxicating liquors as a beverage,” as well as the “absolute prohibition of the manufacture, importation, and sale” of these same ruinous spirits. Members pledged “persistence . . . until our success is complete and universal.” Though it was a secular organization, many of its leaders and participants were strong church members. The I.O.G.T. stayed away from outward support of political parties, such as the Prohibition Party, to maintain as broad a base of support as possible.

Hickman moved his family from Kentucky to Boone County in 1878. Though he called Columbia and Boone County home for most of the rest of his life, he traveled extensively during the time and left the affairs of his home and farm largely to his wife and son and daughter-in-law. On January 31, 1885, Colonel Hickman’s wife, Elizabeth, and his daughter-in-law, Anna, closed on the purchase from E.C. More [Moore] of 313.45 acres just north of Columbia. The two women were probably named the legal owners due to the fact that the Colonel traveled extensively and was seldom home but the newspaper reported that “Col. J.J. Hickman and his son, James K. Hickman, have purchased of E.C. More his farm . . . north of town and known as the Cave place.” The farm was located on either side of Bear Creek just east of present Highway 763, not prized as crop land but good for raising horses and cattle.

Hickman’s work for temperance continued on a grand scale even after he stepped down as head of the world-wide organization. He traveled extensively in the United States and Canada and overseas, spreading the word and establishing new chapters all the while. He attended many thousands of meetings to promote the cause, including the Thirty-First Annual Session of the I.O.G.T. Grand Lodge of Missouri at Tipton in July 1885. One of the reasons for his extensive press coverage in the Missouri Statesman newspaper is revealed in the account of this meeting wherein we learn that one of the officers of this lodge was our own William F. Switzler, editor of the same newspaper. The report of this meeting, however, does tell us of the extent of the Missouri branch of the movement. In 1884, there were 210 Missouri lodges with over 8,300 members and they raised about $3,600 to promote their cause. Hickman was again elected to be one of the representatives from the state organization to the Right Worthy Grand Lodge and he spoke for well over an hour in “one of the most eloquent and grandest speeches we have ever listened to against whisky and its use.” At this time, Boone county had I.O.G.T. lodges in Centralia, Sturgeon, and Columbia. In total, he was reputed to have given nearly 10,000 speeches for the cause of temperance.

Colonel John J. Hickman died Tuesday, April 29, 1902, in Columbia and his passing was noted in both Columbia newspapers. The Columbia Missouri Statesman reported that “his record as an ‘abstainer’ is about as ‘total’ as can be found, he never having tasted intoxicating liquors of any kind, or used tobacco in any form, or drank a cup of tea or coffee in his life . . . . He was by nature a leader of leaders, and withal a modest, consistent Christian gentleman.” Maybe his abstinence had gained a mythical quality by the time of his death but it is clear that the man commanded a huge following of respectful friends and associates. He was buried in Columbia cemetery.

Though Colonel Hickman did not live to see it, the movement that he helped build into a great national one did achieve, on paper, one of the I.O.G.T.’s main principles — prohibition. The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by the requisite 36 states and became law on January 16, 1920, ushering in one of the most crime-ridden and violent times in our country’s history. It took nearly fourteen years of living with enforced temperance before the country formally rejected the law that codified the morals of one group of people at the expense of another group. Though Prohibition was repealed, the I.O.G.T. (now named the International Organization of Good Templars) is still in existence. Headquartered in Minneapolis, it has chapters in over forty countries around the world.

© David P. Sapp 2009

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