International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

American Vegetarian Convention
New York City, May 1850

from the Vegetarian Advocate (London), July 1, 1850:

VEGETARIAN INTELLIGENCE
---
AMERICA

See also:
The Vegetarian
Museum

(USA)

It is with great pleasure that we present our readers with the following report of the American Vegetarian Convention held at New York, on the 15th May, forwarded by our American Corresponding Secretary.

AMERICAN VEGETARIAN CONVENTION
FIRST SESSION

Agreeably to public notice, a Convention of Vegetarians and others friendly to the cause of Dietetic Reform, was held at Clinton Hall, New York, May 15th, 1850. Notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, there was a fair concourse assembled on the occasion. Soon after 10 o'clock, a.m. Dr. William A. Alcott, of West Newton, Massachussets, called the meeting to order, by nominating Dr. Joel Shew, of New York as President pro tem., and Mr. Joseph Wright, A.M., of Camden, New Jersey, as Secretary.

LETTERS FROM ABSENT FRIENDS

On taking the chair, Dr. Shew called on the Rev. William Metcalfe, of Philadelphia, who read letters from H. H. Hite, Middleton, Frederick County, Virginia; Dr. David Prince, of St. Lewis, Missouri; Dr. R. D. Mussey, of Cincinatti, Ohio; and Lewis S, Hough, A.B., author of the "Science of Man, applied to the epidemics," Germantown, Philadelphia County. Mr. Metcalfe also stated that he had received a letter from Sylvester Graham, but, as that gentleman was in the city, and would undoubtedly be there. and speak for himself, he did not think it necessary to read his communication.

Dr. W. A. Alcott then read letters he had received from William C. Chapin, Esq., of Tiverton, Rhode Island; Gerritt Smith, Esq., Peterborough, New York; Dr. Mussey, of Cincinatti, Ohio, and William Horsell, Esq., London, Secretary of the English Vegetarian Society. All these communications expressed approbation of the objects of the Convention.

ORGANIZATION OF THE CONVENTION

Drs. Alcott, Trall, and Nicholls were elected as a committee to nominate officers for the Convention which were unanimously adopted, and the Convention stood organized thus, viz:-

President
Rev. William Metcalfe, Kensington, Philadelphia
Vice Presidents
Rev. O. H. Wellington, Boston
Dr, Joel Shew, New York
Gilman Blake, Esq., Pepperell, Massachussets
Secretaries
Joseph Metcalfe, Frankford, Philadelphia County
Dr. Colin M. Dick, of Long Island, New York

OBJECTS OF THE CONVENTION

The Rev. William Metcalfe on taking the chair, addressed the Convention in a few appropriate remarks, expressive of the objects of the Convention. So far as he was informed, he believed the objects contemplated to be, to promote a knowledge of the principles, and an extension of the practice of a Vegetable Diet in the community; - to induce habits of abstinence from fish, flesh and fowl, as food; and secure the adoption of a principle which would tend essentially to promote a "sound mind in a sound body." He observed that the subject was one of a deeply interesting nature. The preservation of health, and hte attainment of longevity were objects of desire with every human being, whatever might be the tenure by which life was held. The subject of diet was confessedly one of interest to all, and one on whichall ought to have an accurate knowledge, especially as to its main principles, and their more immediate personal application. He had long ago laid aside the use of the flesh of animals, and had confined himself to the products of the vegetable kingdom. "It was nearly forty-one years since he had made use of any kind of flesh-food. He had raised a family, some of his children being present; and he had children and grandchildren who had never tasted flesh. The consequence of that system of dietetics had been altogether satisfactory. As a general thing they had enjoyed good health - better in fact, than their neighbours. When the yellow fever broke out in Philadelphia, in 1818, his residence was in the immediate vicinity of its appearance. He visited families afflicted with that disease, and yet neither himself nor his family were affected by the epidemic. The same exemption was experienced during the cholera of 1832 and 1849. All those facts went to confirm more fully, the sentiment in favour of vegetable food, long ago embraced, that the diet best adopted to health - best adapted to the true enjoyment of life, and to the development of all the higher powers of our nature, was that known as the Vegetarian Diet (Applause). They had met there to endeavour to form a Vegetarian Society, composed of individuals favourable to the adoption and dissemination of principles advocating the Vegetable Diet. It would be for that assembly to consider whether it would be well to organize an association of that kind then, or not, and to act accordingly. Some discussion followed these remarks of the President.

ELECTION OF COMMITTEES

Dr. W. A. Alcott, Mr. Edward Lyons, and Dr. R. S. Trall, were appointed as a Comittee to form a Constitution for the government of the proposed association.

Dr. T. L. Nichols, Mr. Joseph Metcalfe, and Mr. S. R. Wells, were elected as a Committee to draw up resolutions expressive of the views of the convention.

VEGETARIAN EXPERIENCE

Dr. Nichols rose and remarled, that it would require some time for the Committees to fulfil their duties, it would be well for some one or more to discuss the subject of Vegetarianism, or to favour the meeting with their ecperience.

After a few remarks by Dr. C. M. Dick, approving of the suggestion of Dr. Nichols, and illustrative of the advantages of the Vegetarian system, Dr. Bedortha, of Lebanon Springs, a water cure physician, stated that he had been a Vegetarian for about 12 years, although he had not entirely abstained from animal food during that time. He had, however, lived on vegetables entirely for three years at one time, and for periods of months at other times. He enjoyed good health then, and had recovered from a low state of health under this system. He found it necessary in some instancesto resort to animal food to keep up the animal heat of patients.
A voice.- Perhaps you give them too much cold water. (laughter)
Another voice.- No, they don't get too much cold water, but they don't get enough work to keep them warm.
Dr. Bedortha, however, added, that though not a strict disciple of the Vegetarian system, he nevertheless went heart in hand with the movers of this Reform in Dietetics. (Applause).

Mr. Jonathon Wright, of Philadelphia, was the next to give his experience. He said he had been a Vegetarian for forty years, and had brought up a family of eight children, none of whom had ever used animal food. Had first adopted the Vegetarian system from religious motives. He believed that God designed man to exist on fruits and farinaceous productions; had placed him in Paradise to live on the productions of the earth, and not to prey upon other animal existences. Even after the fall, he was still commanded to to draw his subsistence from the ground; he was to till the soil, "in the seat of his brow," for food.At a still later period they found, that for forty years in succesion, several millions of human beings were sustained in the wilderness by the Deity, without the use of flesh of animals. And having tried the vegetable diet for forty years, he could cordially add his testimony to the beneficial effects, physical, moral and intellectual, of that merciful system of living. He had never had to pay a dollar, on his own personal account, for a doctor's bill. As a general thing, his mind had been clear and happy. (Applause).
Mr. Sylvester Graham.- How odl were you when you commenced this mode of living?
Mr. Wright.- I was between twenty-two and twenty-three, when I first adopted a vegetable diet, and I am now in my sixty-third year.
Mr. Graham.- Have you lost any children?
Mr. Wright.- Yes, three. They died infants, of croup, or something like it.
Mr. Graham.- Were they treated by a physician?
Mr. Wright.- Yes, I called ina physician - an allopathist.
Mr. Graham. - Oh, then, it is hard to tell whether the croup or the doctor killed them. (Laughter.) So far as you have observed, what have been the appetites and dispositions of your children?
Mr. Wright. - They are healthy, and of good disposition. They have, to be sure, a portion of the infirmities of human nature; but yet are kind and affectionate, and ready to do good. (Applause.)

The Committee on the Constituionhere came in, and presented their report, which was read, accepted, and laid on the table.
The Convention then adjourned until three o'clock.

SECOND SESSION

The Convention re-assembled at 3 o'clock, p.m. The minutes of the morning session were read and accepted.

DECLARATION OF SENTIMENTS AND RESOLUTION

The Committee on Resolutions reported the following as the result of their deliberations :-

Man is evidently responsible to certain pysical, mental, and moral laws. Obedient to these, he will secure health and happiness, while disobedience evidently produces misery and evil. Natural laws form an unique, harmonious system, and man partakes of this prevailing beauty in every law of his being. Constitutions may indeed, differ, but there must be a universal law for the stomach as well as for the lungs; and the species of food, prescribed by the universal law for the human stomach, will be found to comport best with the physical abilities, health and exercise of the intellectual and moral powers. Vegetarianism unfolds the universal law of man's being. Its observance is a stepping-stone to a higher stage of existence, and removes obstruction which hinders the fulfilment of man's higherst aspirations, and it is the inlet to a new and holier life.

With these views impressed upon our minds, we, who are here assembled in American Vegetarian Convention, have here resolved,

  1. That comaprative anatomy, human physiology, and chamical analysis of different animal and farinaceous substances, uniteldly proclaim the position, that not only the human race may, but should, subsist upon the productions of the vegetable kingdom.
  2. That the Vegetarianm principle of diet derives the most ancient authority from the appointment of the Creator to man - when he lived in purity and peace, and was blessed with health and happiness - in Paradise.
  3. That though the use of animal food be claimed, under the sanction of succeeding times, it rests only on the permissions accorded to man in his degraded condition, and is a departure from the appointment of the creator.
  4. That if any man would return to Paradise and purity, to mental and physical enjoyment, he must return to the Paradisaical diet, and abstain from the killing and eating of animals as food.
  5. That there is found in the vegetable world every element which enters into the animal organization; and that combinations of those elements in the vegetable kingdom are best adapted to the most natural and healthy nourishment of man.
  6. That the approbation of man's unsophisticated and unbiassed powers of taste, sight, and smell, are involuntarily given to fruits, farinacea, and vegetable substances, in preference to the mangled carcases of butchered animals.
  7. That flesh-eating is the key-stone to a wide-spread arch of superfluous wants, to meet which, life is filled with stern and rugged encounters, while the adoption of a vegetarian diet is calculated to destroy the strife of antagonism, and to sustain life in serenity and strength.
  8. That as there are intellectual feasts and a mental being into which the inebriate can never enter, and delights which he can never enjoy - so there are mental feasts, and a moral being, which to the flesh-eater can never be revealed, and moral happiness in which he cannot fully participate.
  9. That cruelty, in any form, for the mere purpose of procuring unnecesary food, or to gratify depraved appetites, is obnoxious to the pure human soul, and repugnant to the noblest attributes of our being.
  10. That the evidence of Linnaeus, Sir Richard Phillips, Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, John Wesley, Swedenborg, Howard, Jefferson, Rouseau, Akenside, Pope, Shelley, Sir John Sinclair, Arbuthnot, and a host of others, living as well as ancient observers of nature, testify to the truth of vegetarianism.
  11. That in the vegetarian cause, a new field of exercises is opened up to the moral reformer, in which he is most earnestly and cordially invited to become a co-worker with truth, by adopting its teachings in the government of his own life, and by diffusing its principles in all his efforts for the elevation of his fellow man.
  12. That we will personally interest ourselves in promoting the circulation of publications calculated to advance our cause - such as the London Vegetarian Advocate, the water cure and phrenological journals of New York, and all publications having for their objects the promotion of a knowledge of the laws of our being.
  13. That we hail with great joy the progress of the vegetarian cause in England, where large societies exist, which, in one or two instances, embrace nearly five hundred members.
  14. That it is advisable to organize State and local vegetarian societies wherever practicable, with as littel delay as possible - lecturing and diffusing facts and principles in the science of man.

These resolutions were adopted:

FORMATION OF THE AMERICAN VEGETARIAN SOCIETY

Dr. Grimes and Nichols, and Mr. Edward Lyons, were appointed as a committee, to nominate officers.

On motion, the Preamble and Constitution were considered, consecutively, and after some remarks by P. P. Stewart, of Troy. objecting to the term "Vegetarian," which were replied to by Dr. Alcott and Dr. Nichols, both were finally adopted, as follows:-

PREAMBLE

The objects of this Association are to induce habits of abstinence from the flesh of animals as food, by the dissemination of information upon the subject, by means of verbal discussions, tracts, essays and lectures, exhibiting the many advantages of a physical, intellectual, and moral character, resulting from Vegetarian habits of diet; and thus to secure, through the association, example, and the efforts of its members, the adoption of a principle which will tend essentially to true civilization, to universal brotherhood, and to the increase of human happiness generally.

CONSTITUTION

  1. This Association shall be called the American Vegetarian Society
  2. The Officers of this Society shall consist of a President, nine Vice-Presidents, Recording Secretary, Corresponding Secretary, and Treasurer. These Officers shall form an Executive Business Committee of the Society, any four of whom shall form a quorum.
  3. Any person desirous of promoting the objects of this Society, may become a member by registering his or her name on its rolls, and paying to its funds the sum of twenty-five cents.
  4. The annual subscription of members shall be one dollar, payable when the roll is called at the commencement of each annual general meeting.
  5. The payment of twenty dollars at once shall constitute the individual a life member of this Society.
  6. Persons residing in foreign countries, desirous of joining the society may be enrolled as Honorary Members, without the payment of any subscription, though not entitles to vote.
  7. Members who are in arrears for their annual subscription, shall not be entitled to vote until such arrers are paid.
  8. The Annual Meetings of this Society shall be held in the autumn of each year, at such time and place as shall be determined by the Executive Committee, Speical Meetings may be called at any time, also, by the Executive Committee.
  9. The officers shall be elected at each annual meeting; they shall have the entire management of the Society, and be authorized to raise voluntary subscriptions for the Objects of this Society.
  10. The President, or in his absence the Vice-Presidents in order, or in their absence, such persons as the meeting shall appoint, shall preside in all meetings. The Recording Secretary shall keep a true record of all proceedings and report annually, or oftener if required. The Corresponding Secretary shall act as general financial agent in collecting subscriptions, and donations, and perform the correspondence between this Society and other associations and individuals; and shall make a full report at each annual meeting; and special reports at any time when called upon. The Treasurer shall keep all the monies of the Society, and disburse them only on a draft signed by the President, and attested by the Corresponding Secretary.
  11. The Correponding Secretary shall be entitled to twenty five per cent. on all subscriptions for his services.
  12. This Society shall have power to make any by-laws not consistent with this Consitution This Consitution may be amended by a vote of two-thirds of its members present at any regular meeting; due notice having been given at a previous regular meeting.

OFFICERS OF THE VEGETARIAN SOCIETY

The Committee for the purpose, reported the following names as Officers for the ensuing year of the American Vegetarian Society. The report was adopted and the Society organised accordingly, viz:-

President
Dr. William A. Alcott, West Newton, Massachussets

Vice Presidents

            1. Dr. R. D. Mussey, Cincinnati, Ohio
            2. Sylvester Graham, Northampton, Massachussets
            3. P. P. Stewart, Troy, New York
            4. H. H. Hite, Middleton, Frederick County, Virginia
            5. Dr. David Prince, St. Louis, Missouri
            6. Joseph Wright, A.M., Camden, New Jersey
            7. Dr. Joel Shew, New York
            8. William C. Chapin, Tiverton, Rhode Island
            9. Joseph Metcalfe, Frankford, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania

Recording Secretary
Dr. R. T. Trall, 15, Laight-street, New York

Corresponding Secretary
Rev. William Metcalfe, Kensington, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Treasurer
Samuel R.Wells, New York
______

THIRD SESSION

The Convention met again at half-past seven o'clock in the evening, and Dr. Alcott, as President of the Vegetarian Society, took the chair. The constitution was read to the meeting, and an opportunity for afforded for any who wished to sign it.

The President said, the subject was one on which much might be said, but he should only make a few remarks just to break the ice. He then entered into an argument to prove that man, in his physical construction was not intended for a flesh-eating animal : that vegetable food is preferable to animal food, on account of the company it kept; the pile of flesh placed on the table must be accompanied by a medicine chest; of course, he meant the castors. So long as flesh meat was used to a great extent, the medicines and meats would be mixed.
A gentleman in the audience here asked - Will the Doctor say what he considers a good selection of articles of vegetable diet?
The President. - Anything you please. I do not go very deeply into this matter. I do believ that bread is the staff of life; and the man that would go through the country, and induce our people to put the bread on the centre of the table, would do a great good. Yes, put the bread in the middle of the table, not the mnagled corpses of murdered animals. There is a great variety of articles of bread. I would not insist on the whole meal bread; though that is the first kind with me. (Different kinds of bread and light puddings were mentioned by the speaker, among which he included the mealy potato, which, he said, was a little loaf of bread.) Well, then, let the bread stanbd in the middle; then I would arrange the fruits around the other parts of the table, with the oily substances, either milk or olive oil, in their places. Here, then, we have corn, wine, I mean the fruits from which the wine is expressed. I do not mean fermented wine, with which I would have nothing to do. Fruits are good as food, but they should be eaten with regular meals, as part of those meals. But I must call on Mr. Graham to give you stronger meat than I am able to furnish you tonight (Applause.)

The speaker here passed some remarks confirmatory of what Dr. Alcott had said in reference to the anatomical and physiological adaptedness of man to live and thrive best on vegetables alone, and he proved that - the laws, that govern the heavenly bodies are not more clearly defined, and do not more certainly denote their action, than does anatomy and physiology show that man is not a flesh eating animal. (Applause.)

Mr. Graham, having briefly adverted to his former labout in the work of Dietetic Reform, proceede to a confirmation of what Dr. Alcott had said in reference to the anatomical and physical adaptation of man to live and thrive best on a Vegetarian diet; and gave evidence that the laws that govern the heavenly bodies are not more clearly defined and do not more certainly denote their action, than does anatomy and physiology show that man is not a flesh eating animal. (sic) Mr. Graham continued at great length upon the force of habit, and the apparent though not real difficulty of changing habits of diet, and concluded by describing his own mode of living which together with his son, was entirely of a Vegetarian character. Mr. Graham's remarks evidently made a great impression on the audience, and we regret that we are unable to give then at greater length.

On motion it was resolved that the Societyn now adjourn to meet again, in Annual Meeting, in the city of Philadelphia, on the first Wednesday, the 4th of September next, (1850).

The Society accordingly adjourned.

During the Third Session there were upwards of three hundred persons present, and much interest was manifested by the audience; not only in the addresses of Dr. Alcott and Mr. Graham; but great enthusiasm was evinced by the pertinent remarks of Mr. Marquis F. Baldwin, the Illinois Farmer.

With the exception of some controversy between Mr. Graham and Dr. Wieting, the Convention may be regarded as a happy commencement of a movement which we trust will result in the extensive promulgation and adoption of the Vegetarian Principle in the New World.