Friday, November 4, 2022

What in the Blazes?

First page of the statutes of the Society of Self-WatchersIn my work I often come across curious or odd organizations. They are usually created by men who are trying to exclude and/or control other members of society. The one I came across today, however, was created so that its members could police their own behavior. Let’s hear it for the "Society of Self-Watchers". What are they watching themselves for, you may ask? Profane swearing, which is defined as "swearing that constitutes sin and shows a lack of respect for all things held sacred".

There is actually a long history in the West of legalistic attempts to protect society from blasphemous utterings. Laws were put in place beginning with the Profane Swearing Act in England in 1694, and followed by the Profane Oath Act in 1745, which was not repealed until 1967. The United States had similar laws that fined people for profane swearing in public. The state of Virginia, for example, did not repeal its profanity law of 1792 until 2020.

The Society of Self-Watchers was founded in Hanover, New Hampshire on February 16, 1856. The group created a preamble and resolutions that declared that "the sin of profane swearing is a vice so mean and so low that every person of sense and character will detest and despise it".

In addition, they resolved to:
...acknowledge the higher authority of him who has commanded “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy god in vain for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that take his name in vain.”and feeling the need of every possible restrained and protection against and unmanly and sinful habit so sadly formed, we do together agree to form ourselves into an Association of principle and practice opposed to the sin of profane swearing and do take for our watchword and motto, the precept of Christ our Savior, “Swear not at all”.

Ten specific resolutions follow this preamble that advise the members to be vigilant of their own behavior, including:

Resolved, that should we ever hear of one of our company using deliberately or hastily a profane word we will kindly remind him of our agreement by repeating to him our watchword "Swear not at all".

Resolved, that we will receive kindly any similar report from our companions or from any other persons if we ourselves in any matter violate the principles we hear profess.

The members of the Society of Self-Watchers vowed to hold steady in their conviction with God’s help even when ridiculed. The agreement was signed by forty-six Hanover men.

Signatures of the members of the Society

To read their resolutions, come to Special Collections and ask for MSS 856166.