AA 12 Traditions — History

The A.A. 12 Traditions are included below, in both the long form and the short form. The short form of the 12 Traditions is what is most often read at the beginning of A.A. meetings or events and the long form of the 12 Traditions is the actual text of the 12 Traditions that you can find in the back of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous.

It has been said that the 12 Traditions, are for the Group, what the 12 Steps are for the individual A.A. member — a process to smash the ego and prevent it from producing detrimental effects in the relationship that we have with ourselves and with others.

History of the A.A. 12 Traditions

The Principles defined in the Foreword to the First Edition of the Big Book, (published in April 1939) provided the seeds for many of the 12 Traditions that Bill later published in an April 1946 Grapevine article. These same principles were also incorporated into the AA Preamble which was first published in the June 1947 Grapevine.

In 1942, correspondence from A.A. groups with Bill W., gave early signals of a need to develop guidelines to help with group problems that occurred repeatedly.

In, October 1942, Clarence S (whose Big Book story is The Home Brewmeister) stirred up a controversy in Cleveland after discovering that Dr Bob and Bill W were receiving royalties from Big Book sales. Bill and Dr Bob re-examined the problem of their financial status and concluded that royalties from the Big Book seemed to be the only answer to the problem. Bill sought counsel from Father Ed Dowling (Bill’s spiritual sponsor) who suggested that Bill and Dr Bob could not accept money for 12th Step work but should accept royalties as compensation for special services. This later formed the basis for Tradition 8. (See the book, A.A. Comes of Age, pages 194-195, and the book, Pass It On, pages 322-324).

By April 1945, Earl T, founder of AA in Chicago (whose Big Book Story is He Sold Himself Short) suggested to Bill W that he codify the Traditions and write essays on them in the Grapevine.

The July 1945 Grapevine edition had an article by member CHK of Lansing, MI about the Washingtonians. And this, further inspired Bill W. to observe the history and demise of the Washingtonians.

The Washingtonian’s — an organization that had developed in the mid-1800’s as the result of five drinking buddies in a tavern, desiring to help each other with their drinking problem — grew into an organization of over 500,000 members and boasted of having sobered up more than 250,000 drunks! They did this in less than five years — where as A.A. had struggled three and a half years to sober up about 70 members.

In August 1945, the Grapevine carried Bill W’s first article (titled Modesty One Plank for Good Public Relations) setting the groundwork for his 5-year campaign for the Traditions.

1946 Grapevine: April, the Grapevine carried Bill W’s article Twelve Suggested Points for AA Tradition. They would later be called the long form of the Twelve Traditions.

1947 Grapevine: December, the Grapevine carried a notice that an important new 48-page pamphlet titled AA Traditions was sent to each group and that enough copies were available for each member to have one free of charge.

1949: As plans for the first International Convention were under way, Earl T suggested to Bill W that the Twelve Suggested Points for AA Tradition would benefit from revision and shortening. Bill, with Earl’s help, set out to develop the short form of the Twelve Traditions.

In November 1949, the short form of the Twelve Traditions was first printed in the AA Grapevine. The entire issue was dedicated to the Traditions in preparation for the forthcoming Cleveland Convention. Two wording changes were subsequently made to the initial version of the short form of the Traditions: “primary spiritual aim” was changed to “primary purpose” in Tradition 6, and “principles above personalities” was changed to “principles before personalities” in Tradition 12.

1950: July 28-30, AA’s 15th anniversary and first International Convention at Cleveland, OH with an estimated 3,000 attendees. The attendees adopted the Twelve Traditions unanimously by standing vote.

Twelve Traditions — Short Form

  • 1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
  • 2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  • 3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  • 4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
  • 5. Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  • 6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  • 7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  • 8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  • 9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  • 10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  • 11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
  • 12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.


The Twelve Traditions — Long Form

  • 1. Each member of Alcoholics Anonymous is but a small part of a great whole. A.A. must continue to live or most of us will surely die. Hence our common welfare comes first. But individual welfare follows close afterward.
  • 2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.
  • 3. Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence, we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.
  • 4. With respect to its own affairs, each A.A. group should be responsible to no other authority than its own conscience. But when its plans concern the welfare of neighboring groups also, those groups ought to be consulted. And no group, regional committee, or individual should ever take any action that might greatly affect A.A. as a whole without conferring with the trustees of the General Service Board. On such issues our common welfare is paramount.
  • 5. Each Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose — that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  • 6. Problems of money, property, and authority may easily divert us from our primary spiritual aim. We think, therefore, that any considerable property of genuine use to A.A. should be separately incorporated and managed, thus dividing the material from the spiritual. An A.A. group, as such, should never go into business. Secondary aids to A.A., such as clubs or hospitals which require much property or administration, ought to be incorporated and so set apart that, if necessary, they can be freely discarded by the groups. Hence such facilities ought not to use the A.A. name. Their management should be the sole responsibility of those people who financially support them. For clubs, A.A. managers are usually preferred. But hospitals, as well as other places of recuperation, ought to be well outside A.A. and medically supervised. While an A.A. group may cooperate with anyone, such cooperation ought never go so far as affiliation or endorsement, actual or implied. An A.A. group can bind itself to no one.
  • 7. The A.A. groups themselves ought to be fully supported by the voluntary contributions of their own members. We think that each group should soon achieve this ideal; that any public solicitation of funds using the name of Alcoholics Anonymous is highly dangerous, whether by groups, clubs, hospitals, or other outside agencies; that acceptance of large gifts from any source, or of contributions carrying any obligation whatever, is unwise. Then too, we view with much concern those A.A. treasuries which continue, beyond prudent reserves, to accumulate funds for no stated A.A. purpose. Experience has often warned us that nothing can so surely destroy our spiritual heritage as futile disputes over property, money, and authority.
  • 8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional. We define professionalism as the occupation of counseling alcoholics for fees or hire. But we may employ alcoholics where they are going to perform those services for which we might otherwise have to engage non-alcoholics. Such special services may be well recompensed. But our usual A.A. 12 Step work is never to be paid for.
  • 9. Each A.A. group needs the least possible organization. Rotating leadership is the best. The small group may elect its secretary, the large group its rotating committee, and the groups of a large metropolitan area their central or intergroup committee, which often employs a full-time secretary. The trustees of the General Service Board are, in effect, our A.A. General Service Committee. They are the custodians of our A.A. Tradition and the receivers of voluntary A.A. contributions by which we maintain our A.A. General Service Office at New York. They are authorized by the groups to handle our over-all public relations and they guarantee the integrity of our principal newspaper, the A.A. Grapevine. All such representatives are to be guided in the spirit of service, for true leaders in A.A. are but trusted and experienced servants of the whole. They derive no real authority from their titles; they do not govern. Universal respect is the key to their usefulness.
  • 10. No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate A.A., express any opinion on outside controversial issues — particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters, they can express no views whatever.
  • 11. Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as A.A. members ought not be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.
  • 12. And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all.

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