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The Sunday Law and the Saloon-Keepers

The new “Sunday Law,” requiring all saloons to close on the Sabbath day, having been declared constitutional by a decision of the Supreme Court, should have gone into effect last Sunday. The saloons, however, were all open as usual, and it appears that as yet little, if any, effort has been made to enforce the law. At the same time it is reported that those who have been mainly instrumental in effecting this new measure are merely biding their time, with a view to separating the saloon-keepers who are determined to defy the law to the last from those who are willing to comply with it in case all others do the same. When this is done it is the intention of the temperance people to prosecute the former class only, with all the resources at their command. The people of San Francisco, as a body, are not very straight-laced in matters of this sort. Without, perhaps, being less moral than the people of other great cities, they are a pleasure-loving folk, and the very opposite to Puritanical in their ideas of how the Sabbath may be spent. They are perfectly willing to respect the motives of those who prefer to pass their Sunday in church or in pious meditation, but, at the same time, they have no blame to bestow upon those who choose to interpret the “day of rest” to mean a day of recreation, after a week of toil. This being the sense of the bulk of the community, it is natural that the Sunday Law should be jealously regarded as a possible infringement of the social rights, privileges and liberties which all of us cherish so dearly. There are occasions when the saloons are closed by law—election days, for instance—on the grounds that special temptations to drunkenness are then held out for the subversion of order and good government. The voice of no respectable citizen is raised against such proper and necessary restrictions. But the temperance people do not claim that there is more drinking done on Sunday than on any other day. Indeed, it is notorious that the Sabbath is a very dull day for the saloon-keepers. If the suppression of drunkenness were the object of the law, it ought, rather, to go into effect on Saturday afternoon and night, which is the time when the mechanic and laborer squander their week’s earnings in liquor. It, therefore, becomes painfully apparent that the true motive of those who have made the Sunday Law is not so much in the interest of temperance as in the interest of the observance of the Sabbath according to their own private, not to say narrow, views. Such a move is distinctly an invasion into the sacred territory of social liberty, and as such it is sure to be viewed with extreme disfavor, even by the majority of those who never dream of entering a saloon on Sunday, or, for the matter of that, on any other day.

But there is another view to be taken of the subject, which will place the Sunday Law in a much more favorable light before the public than the “goody-goodies” who framed it ever dreamt of. Aside for all religious teachings, it is an acknowledged fact that a man cannot work seven days in the week for any great length of time without serious detriment to his health. Even if he were physically able to stand the strain, it is evident that he sacrifices much pleasure by being compelled to keep it up. And the saloon-keeper, under the present regime, is compelled to keep it up. If he closes on Sunday, his customers find accommodation elsewhere, are aggrieved at what they deem his “laziness,” “inattention,” or “independence,” and thenceforward transfer their drinking allegiance to some rival house. If all the saloons—corner-grocery and drug-store bars included—were compelled to close, then nobody would be hurt. And this, we understand, is just what the respectable saloon-keepers desire. They need a holiday once a week, and would be only too glad to get it. But to make the law work efficient, there must be no nonsense about its enforcement. There must be no “back-doors,” no groggery in full blast behind the open grocery, no soda with a wink in it at the drug-store fountains.

San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser
November 12, 1881