International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

American Vegetarian Convention
New York City, May 1850

from the Vegetarian Advocate, April 1850, England:

by Dr. Wm. A. Alcott

See also:
The Vegetarian

In the year 1823, Dr. John G. Coffin, established a journal in Boston entitled, "The Boston Medical Intelligencer, devoted to the cause of physical education, and to the means of preventing and curing diseases." The motto, in the title page was as follows :- "The best part of the medical art, is the avoiding of pain." This journal some five or six years afterward, became the "Boston Medical and Surgical Journal," under which name it still continues, but its character is somewhat changed, being now chiefly designed for the medical profession. Dr. Coffin, the editor, without being a thorough vegetarian, was, nevertheless, about half convinced, and occasionally threw out hints, which set the public mind at work on the subject.

The way was now prepared for the "Journal of Health," the first number of which was issued in Philadelphia in Sept. 1829. The work continued monthly for four years. The very first number of this work asserted that "the large majority of mankind do not eat any animal food, or so sparingly and at such long intervals that it cannot be said to form their nourishment." The number for May, 1830, taught that "vegetable substances, particularly the farinaceous, are fully sufficient of themselves for maintaining a healthy existence." The same boldness characterised all the four volumes, and many minds were awakened by it to a partial examination of the subject in question.

The public mind had been somewhat excited many years before this by certain startling facts. The story of Lewis Cornaro had been circulated in the United States, and many had heard of Henry Jenkins, and Old Parr, and the more recent account of Ephraim Pratt, of Shutesbury in Mass., who died at the age of 116, having been 40 years a vegetarian, was also a subject of much comment. He was a mighty man for vigour, could mow a good swath when he died, and had been able to do so for more than 100 years. He lived to see 1500 descendants. His figure, in wax work, was carried about the country many years, and probably roused many other minds, besides my own, to the study of the best means of promoting health and longevity.

From the age of two or three years I had a natural and strong aversion to most kinds of animal food, and ate very little of any. But bred to hard labour, and in a region where it was thought vegetarians could have the strength to work, I was urged at the age of fourteen or fifteen, to the moderate use of flesh and fish. In the year 1839, I fell in with Rev. Wm. C. Woodbridge, the great American geographer, who having travelled in nearly every quarter of the world, had become, theoretically at least, a vegetarian. Partly through his influence and partly from conviction beforehand, I abandoned animal food in the summer of this year.

About this time Sylvester Graham, a temperance lecturer began to teach vegetarianism, in the middle and northern United States. I first heard of him in 1832. He was a man of great eloquence, and for a time made much impression. He was, however, more successful in obtaining disciples than in keeping them. Mankind were to strongly wedded to their lusts to yield them up entirely and for ever.

When the cholera came to Boston in 1832, I wrote a treatise on Spasmodic Cholera, in which I maintained, rather modestly and somewhat obscurely, the leading doctrines of vegetarianism. In a periodical which I established and began to circulate, late in the autumn of 1834, entitled the "Moral Reformer," I asserted the doctrines more boldly, and have continued to assert them to this day. Some two years later, Mr. Graham, who had hitherto been lecturing in New York, Maine, New Hampshire, &c.,at the suggestion of R. D. Mussey, (Dr. Mussey became a Vegetarian about the year 1835 or 1836) Professor, in some of the Northern Medical Colleges, came to Boston and gave lectures nearly all winter. The result of his labours and my own was the partial conversion of some hundreds of people to vegetarianism. A journal was established by Dr. Cambell, called the "Graham Journal," which continued two or three years. A society was also formed consisting of the friends of physiology, physical education, and vegetarianism; and called the American Physiological Society. It held its stated meetings, and had many public lectures. A library was procured; but its members, in general, were far from being progressive; and when the society was not held together by any particualr leader they gradually fell off. In a few years it existed only in name.

During the existence of the society, however, much was done to bring the subject of vegetarianism before the public, in numerous forms. Two or three yearly conventions were held - denominated physiological conventions. Much was said of them in the papers by way of opposition; but still some few believed, and a few retain their reformed habits to the present day. Some of these persons, or rather some of the readers of the various journals which were published, may now be found in nearly every city and large town in the Union. They are ready to unite - were they not so few and far between - on any plan which will be likely to succeed, fro bringing the subkect of vegetarianism into general discussion.

Many of the Homeopathists and a still larger proportion of the hydropathists in the United States are, in theory, vegetarians. The Orthopathists are all so, so far as I am acquainted. Dr. Shew, the editor of the "Water Cure Journal" is pressing this subject upon the community, as fast as he can. So are the Fowlers, the Phrenologists. So are many of the Botanic physicians, as they are commonly called, amd their adherents. The Transcendentalists, a new sect in religion, or morals - for I hardly know which, are many of them vegetarians. Of the Bible Christians in Philadelphia I need not speak. Were there any means of coming at the facts in the case, I should expect to find the number of these theoretically converted people amount in the whole country to many thousands. Among them, moreover, is a full proportion of thinking men, and men of talent - many more than their opponents are aware. But they are isolated from each other, entirely. They have no bond to hold them together; no standard to rally round; no written constitution or creed; no associations, and no periodical. Besides, they still meet with violent opposition. In some instances it may be said of them as was said of old, in relation to another subject that "a man's foes are" they "of his own household." They seem waiting for a leader, - some Joshua to go before them to the land of promise, full in view. They are strong enough, if they knew their own strength, and if there were some common bond and able leader to look down all opposition. Nor will many years elapse, it is believed, before they will be able to do so.

After much consultation, therefore, it has been thought advisable to call a convention of these scattered friends of vegetarianism. They are to meet in May, 1850, in the city of New York, for mutual deliberation. Individuals from all parts of the Union are expected there, and it is fondly hoped from foreign countries, especially from the flourishing vegetarian society in England, that now numbers 500 members. The writer of the above, though unauthorised, except by a general understanding among the few who must be the prime movers of such a meeting, would be happy to have this regarded as an invitation to vegetarians everywhere to attend the said convention, either as delegates, or on their own responsibility.