American History and Genealogy Project


Neal Dow The Father of Prohibition

No other life-long citizen of Maine is more widely known than Neal Dow. His name is honored the world over wherever thought is given to human progress and hopes are cherished for the uplift of man. It is the name of one who made deep and lasting impression upon the legislation of this and other lands. The Maine Law of which he was the author became famous wherever the English language was spoken, and it was printed and discussed in other tongues.

To a great extent it directed the thought of statesmen throughout Christendom to a matter of great social import. Certain it is that, through the well-deserved fame of Neal Dow, the name of his native State became familiar and honored where otherwise it had been unknown.

Neal Dow was born in Portland, March 20, 1804, and died there October 2, 1897. He retained physical strength far into the last year of his life, and mental power almost to his last hour. After he had passed his 90th birthday, he acceptably addressed large audiences with much of the vigor which characterized the efforts of his prime. He attributed his longevity to his regular habits, to his abstinence from liquor and tobacco, to moderation at the table, and last, but not least, to his well-considered, constant activity, mental and physical, which protected him from the degenerating ennui and enervation with which idleness saps the health of its votaries.

General Neal Dow

In his youth and young manhood Neal Dow was an all-round athlete in what he called useful lines of recreation. In horsemanship, in swimming, in rowing and sailing boats, in fencing, in shooting, in boxing, he was as skilled as the average amateur of his time. As a swimmer, he was able to save two men from drowning, plunging in one case from a wharf, and in the other from a boat. His skill in the "manly art of self-defense" enabled him to expose to ridicule tools of the liquor traffic, hired to assault him. His courage was never questioned. It was commonly said of him that he knew no fear.

Some incidents may throw light upon this phase of his character. When a boy too young to know better, he accepted a challenge, declined by the other boys present, of the owner of a large monkey, to enter, armed with a stick, a yard where the vicious simian was wont to reign supreme. He came out of the fight with torn and draggled clothing, face and hands and legs scratched and bitten, but leaving behind him a cowed and submissive monkey, whose owner was as glad to call the fight off as he had been ready to start it.

As a young man he was chief engineer of the Volunteer Fire Department of Portland, which included hundreds of the leading young men of the city. A fireman on trial for insubordination pleaded, as an excuse for his disobedience, that "the Chief ordered him to undertake an altogether too dangerous task," but admitted that, upon his refusal to obey, the Chief himself performed it.

A crowd of turbulent men had assembled about the Court House in Portland, intent upon mobbing a witness from the country, who had testified against a rum-seller on trial. Neal Dow took the witness under his personal protection and escorted him unharmed through the jeering rioters, who held his calm, cool courage in too much respect to dare to attack the man he had taken under his care.

The burly mate of a coaster, temporarily in Portland Harbor, hired by some liquor sellers to horse-whip Neal Dow in the public streets, afterwards complained at his trial in Court that the pain inflicted upon him by his intended victim was punishment enough for what he had tried, but failed to do.

As Mayor of Portland, Neal Dow, passing through a street one evening, was attracted by a crowd to a spot where a drink-crazed man, armed with pistol and bludgeon, was holding four policemen at bay. Instantly the Mayor sprang upon the ruffian and delivered him harmless into the hands of the police.

A highly respected citizen of Portland, now nearly eighty years of age, said to the writer, "When a lad of seventeen, I saw Major Dow alight from a carriage in front of the old city hall. Just as his foot touched the curbing a tough looking rowdy, who was avowedly waiting there for the purpose, aimed a blow at him. Mr. Dow parried it, and with a counter on the chin knocked his assailant to the sidewalk, where he lay helpless, while Mr. Dow walked quietly about his business as though nothing had happened. I then and there conceived an admiration for Neal Dow which I have cherished ever since."

Such incidents might be multiplied. Trifling in themselves, they would be unworthy of note, save as indicative of a characteristic which secured for Neal Dow a large following among young men, who, attracted by his strenuous personality, lent support, because he had espoused it, to a cause for which otherwise they cared but little.

Other characteristics, qualifications and acquirements attracted other friends and supporters, and commanded respect and admiration from many who were not always ready to accept his views or approve his methods.

He was a constant and discriminating reader and delighted in the retirement of his choice and extensive library. He was a student of the Bible, drawing from that Book of books the inspiration and mental and moral strength which served him well in his chosen life work.

He was a clear, forcible writer and an eloquent, vigorous speaker. He was welcomed by large audiences in all of the Northern States, in Canada, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward's Isle, England, Scotland and Ireland.

Although he had passed, by some years, the military age, he tendered his services in the Civil War to Governor Washburn, and was appointed Colonel of the Thirteenth Maine Regiment. He was soon after made Brigadier-General. He was twice wounded at the battle of Port Hudson.

On the day of General Dow's death a letter was received at his residence, from Col. T. G. Reid, late of the Twelfth Arkansas Infantry. Col. Reid wrote: "On the morning of the assault on Port Hudson, you, with one or two mounted officers in the midst of your brigade, columns of regimental front, in the broad, open field of Slaughter's Plantation, were directing the deploying of your regiments into line of battle, about four to six hundred yards from my position. I observed closely your movements until I was enabled to know that you were the commanding officer.

''I assembled a small number of my sharp-shooters and singled you out to them and ordered them to fire continuously at you. After a short time your line of battle was formed, and a general advance on my position was commenced, with drums beating and flags flying, presenting a magnificent line, grandly marching to time in perfect order. It was a picture never to be erased from my mind, for with all the military pomp and display in formidable battle array I knew the dreadful fate I held in hand to turn it into defeat with the terrible slaughter of that day's battle.

''The scattering fire of my sharp-shooters continued, while the roar of your cannon sent shells over our heads. When about three hundred yards from my position I saw you fall, or lean down to your horse's neck, and a number of your hospital corps ran and lifted you from your horse.'' (His bridle arm was then disabled, and he proceeded on foot until a shot in the leg made him helpless.)

''Your command never faltered, but swept on in splendid line until within eighty yards of my position, when I ordered my battalion to fire. You directed the charge of your brigade, and it swept along like an avalanche until forced to retreat from the galling fire of my command, so well protected by our strong breast-works. But the retreat of your brigade was orderly."

Col. Reid's sharp-shooters did their work well. Besides the two bullets that struck him, the blouse that he wore had holes in it which showed that four other bullets came very near their mark.

Before General Dow had recovered from his wounds he was taken prisoner, and was held as such for nine months. On the 23d day of March, 1864, after an absence of more than two years, he returned to Portland, where he was accorded a great reception, the public buildings and many dwellings and stores being decorated.

Of a meeting held in his honor the next evening, a Portland morning paper said: "In the annals of Portland there has never been such a gathering of people on any occasion, as there was last evening at the City Hall to welcome General Dow. The doors of the hall were thrown open at six o'clock, and, although proceedings were not to commence before half-past seven, in half an hour the spacious hall, ante-rooms and passage-ways were solidly packed with human beings, and, for an hour or more, crowds were wending their way to the hall, only to find when they arrived that it was impossible for them to obtain an entrance. So great was the crowd that it was with difficulty the police forced a passage-way for the entrance of the city authorities with General Dow.''

Fred. N. Dow

Source: Maine My State, The Maine Writers Research Club, The Journal Print Shop, Lewiston, Maine, 1919

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