By July of 1857, public drunkenness and riotous behavior had become something of a problem in Brownville. R. W. Furnas, editor of the Nebraska Advertiser, who dedicated his life to building up the frontier settlement, found it wise to publish a lady's opinion on the subject. Signing her open letter as "S," she had a few suggestions for remedying the problems:
"If men will make brutes of themselves by drinking," S wrote, "can there not be some place provided where they may be locked up, and not be permitted to pollute our streets with their foul presence.
Or, what would be better still, can there not be a law instituted to prevent the selling of so much liquor in our place. In my opinion, he who tempts men to the alluring cup, is as bad as the one who partakes of it.
Surely there are enough responsible men here who must see the expediency of taking hold of this matter at once."
This fiery exhortation was followed, in the paper, by Samuel McCartney's ad for wines and liquors. After all, without advertisements, a newspaper, then as now, could not subsist.
But Mr. Furnas was adamant about protecting Brownville's good name, and in the same issue the broadsheet posted both a federal law to control lewd images from entering the country and Ordinance 6 of the City of Brownville that addressed objectionable language and behavior. The town's councilmen and mayor were indeed taking action against the drinkers and ruffians.
One cannot but note how it appears that Mr. Furnas used a woman's open letter to justify the ordinance and federal laws. In Victorian America women asserted themselves as the minders not just of the home but of the community, indeed of society as a whole. Here is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Though women typically did not have the right to vote, they had, in this instance, and many others, convinced public leaders to defer to their opinions in matters of moral behavior.
I'll first give you the federal law referred to in the Nebraska Advertiser, then Brownville's City Ordinance Number 6.
"Congressional amendment to existing act of 1842: 'The importation of all indecent or obscene articles, prints, paintings, lithographs, engravings, images, figures, daguerreotypes, photographs, and transparencies, is hereby prohibited, and no invoices or packages whatever, or any part thereof, in which any such articles are contained, shall be admitted to entry; and all invoices and packages whereof any such articles shall compose a part are hereby declared to be liable to be proceeded against, seized, and forfeited by due course of law, and the said articles shall be forthwith destroyed. Approved, March 2, 1857.'"
"Brownville's Ordinance---No. 6.
Sec. 1. Be it Ordained by the Council of the City of Brownville, That no person or persons shall be allowed to discharge any fire-arms within the limits of said City.
Sec. 2. That each and every person that shall be found racing or running horses within the limits of the City shall on conviction before the Mayor, be fined in a sum not exceeding twenty-five dollars.
Sec. 3. That each and every person that shall use any vulgar or indecent language in the streets, alleys or highways, so as likely to be heard by the citizens or any of them, so as to disturb the peace and quietude of the same shall on conviction before the Mayor, be fined in a sum not exceeding twenty dollars.
Sec. 4. That all persons found within the City limits in a rietous [sic] or tumultuous manner, shall be taken by the Marshal and kept under guard, until they shall beeome [sic] peaceable, and then brought before the Mayor for trial, and upon conviction, shall be fined in a sum not exceeding twenty-five dollars.
Sec. 5. That every person convicted of violating section second of this ordinance, shall be fined by the Mayor in any sum not exceeding twenty dollars, and when the offence is committed by a minor, his parents, guardian or master shall be responsible for such minors conduct, and shall be bound for such fine, and the Mayor may at option issue his execution for the amount directed to the Marshal, who shall collect the same as other debts are collected under execution.
Passed and approved, July 20th A.D., 1857
A.S. Holladay, Mayor
Attest, B.B. Thompson, Recorder."
If the Victorians were in charge today, I can see them dampening our interest in social media by putting the internet to the judicial review of middle and upper class mothers and grandmothers.
Newspapers of 1857 carried some very serious stories as well as a column of jokes. Today, it's not always clear which variety amuses us more. In any case, this blog is dedicated to analyzing the pages of the Nebraska Advertiser newspaper of 1857. Chime in if you've run across some interesting stories from the time period.