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Temperance Movement


TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT. The movement to curb the use of alcohol was one of the central reform efforts of American history. From earliest settlement, consumption of alcohol was a widely accepted practice in America, and while drunkenness was denounced, both distilled and fermented beverages were considered nourishing stimulants. In 1673 the Puritan divine Increase Mather condemned drunkenness as a sin, yet said "Drink in itself is a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness." Alcohol was not prohibited but rather regulated through licensing.

Growth of the Temperance Movement

The half century after independence witnessed both a gradual change in attitudes toward alcoholic beverages and an increase in alcohol production and consumption. A pamphlet by the prominent Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush entitled An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Mind and Body, published in 1784, was an early voice denouncing the harmful effects of distilled liquors. The first temperance society of record was formed in Litchfield County, Connecticut, in 1789 by prominent citizens convinced that alcohol hindered the conduct of their businesses. In 1813 the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance was formed by society's elites—clergymen, town officials, and employers—"to suppress the too free use of ardent spirits, and its kindred vices, profaneness and gambling, and to encourage and promote temperance and general morality," as its constitution proclaimed. There was good reason for the concern of these early temperance advocates. The newly opened western lands in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Kentucky were producing grain more easily transported if converted to whiskey. Cheaper than rum, whiskey soon flooded the market. Estimates are that between 1800 and 1830 the annual per capita consumption of absolute alcohol among the drinking-age population (fifteen and older) ranged from 6.6 to 7.1 gallons.

By 1825 the forces of evangelical Protestantism mobilized for the temperance crusade. In that year, the Connecticut clergyman Lyman Beecher preached six sermons warning of the dangers of intemperance to a Christian republic. The next year sixteen clergy and laypersons in Boston signed the constitution of the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance. The reformers sensed divine compulsion to send out missionaries to preach the gospel of abstinence from the use of distilled spirits. Using an effective system of state, county, and local auxiliaries, the American Temperance Society (ATS) soon claimed national scope. Voluntary contributions enabled it to support agents who visited every part of the country, striving to affiliate all temperance groups with the national society. By 1831 the ATS reported over 2,200 known societies in states throughout the country, including 800 in New England, 917 in the Middle Atlantic states, 339 in the South, and 158 in the Northwest.

The efforts of the ATS were aimed at the moderate drinker to encourage total abstinence from distilled liquor. By the late 1830s, the national organization, now called the American Temperance Union, was attempting to distance itself from antislavery reformers to placate southern temperance societies, sponsor legislation against

the liquor traffic, and adopt a pledge of total abstinence from all intoxicants, the teetotal pledge. However, each of these efforts sparked internal division and external opposition, which, along with the 1837 panic and ensuing depression, weakened the reform movement.

Interest in temperance revived with the appearance of the Washingtonian movement in 1840. Six tipplers in Baltimore took the abstinence pledge, formed a temperance organization named after the first president, and began to spread the temperance gospel. Aimed at inebriates rather than moderate drinkers, Washingtonian meetings featured dramatic personal testimonies of deliverance from demon rum akin to the revival meetings of the Second Great Awakening, as well as other social activities to replace the conviviality of the tavern. Orators such as John B. Gough and John H. W. Hawkins toured the country, including the South, lecturing on temperance. The Washingtonian impulse was strong but short-lived, owing to lack of organization and leadership.

The enthusiasm generated by the Washingtonians was captured and institutionalized by the Sons of Temperance, a fraternal organization formed in 1842 by some Washingtonians concerned about the frequency of back-sliding. They proposed an organization "to shield us from the evils of Intemperance; afford mutual assistance in case of sickness; and elevate our character as men." A highly structured society requiring dues and a total abstinence pledge, the Sons introduced a new phase of the temperance movement, the fraternal organization with secret handshakes, rituals, ceremonies, and regalia. The organization spread rapidly and all but a few states had Grand Divisions of the Sons by 1847. The peak year of membership was 1850, when the rolls listed over 238,000 members.

At the same time the Sons of Temperance was flourishing, Father Theobald Mathew, the well-known Irish Apostle of Temperance, undertook a speaking tour through the United States. Between July 1849 and November 1851, he traveled the country administering the temperance pledge to several hundred thousand people, many of them Irish Americans. His tour illustrated some of the dynamics affecting the temperance movement. Upon his arrival in America, Mathew was greeted by William Lloyd Garrison, who pressured him to reaffirm an abolition petition Mathew had signed some years earlier. Seeking to avoid controversy, and aware that he planned to tour the South, Mathew declined despite Garrison's public insistence. Word of the affair reached Joseph Henry Lumpkin, chairman of the Georgia State Temperance Society, who had invited Mathew to address the state temperance convention. Despite his insistence that temperance was his mission, Mathew's acknowledgement of his abolition sentiments led Lumpkin to withdraw his invitation to address the convention. Nonetheless, Mathew did successfully tour the South.

During the antebellum era the temperance message was spread widely through the printed word. Weekly and monthly journals appeared devoted solely to temperance, while many religious periodicals carried news of the reform movement. Songs, poems, tracts, addresses, essays, sermons, and stories found their way into print, and temperance literature became a common part of the cultural landscape. Fiction like Timothy Shay Arthur's Ten Nights in a Bar-Room, and What I saw There (1854), portrayed the pain and shame experienced by drunkards and their families, as well as the joy of a life redeemed from demon rum. Temperance was trumpeted as the means to both social and domestic tranquility and individual economic advancement.

The ATS was among the first of voluntary benevolent reform organizations of the antebellum era to admit women, who participated in significant numbers. Women both joined men's societies and formed their own auxiliaries. According to the ideology of the day, woman's presumed superior moral influence, exercised mainly in the domestic sphere, added moral weight to the temperance cause. Also, women along with children were the main victims of alcoholic excess in the form of domestic violence and economic deprivation.

From Moral to Legal Reform

By the late 1830s some temperance reformers were ready to abandon moral suasion (urging individuals to abstinence by personal choice) in favor of legal suasion (employing the coercion of law). In 1838 and 1839 temperance workers circulated petitions asking state legislatures to change license laws regulating liquor traffic. Some petitions sought to prohibit liquor sales in less-than-specified quantities ranging from one to twenty gallons. Others sought local option laws allowing communities to regulate liquor sales. While petition campaigns occurred in most states, they were usually unsuccessful.

After the revival of temperance interest in the 1840s, a second prohibition effort occurred in the next decade. The state of Maine, under the efforts of the merchant Neal Dow, passed a prohibitory statute in 1851 outlawing the manufacture and sale of intoxicants. The Maine Law became a model for state campaigns throughout the country. During the early years of the 1850s temperance was one of the issues along with nativism, slavery, and the demise of the Whig Party that colored state political campaigns. A number of states passed prohibitory laws, though most were declared unconstitutional or repealed by 1857. Despite the failure of these efforts, temperance had proven the most widespread reform of the antebellum era.

Following the Civil War, the Prohibition Party was formed in Chicago in 1869, and began nominating presidential candidates in 1872, though it languished in the shadow of the major parties. Perhaps more important was the emergence of greater involvement of women in the temperance cause with the appearance of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in 1874. Annual per capita consumption of absolute alcohol had dropped sharply during the 1830s and 1840s and remained relatively stable at one to two gallons through most of the second half of the century. As America shifted from a rural to urban culture, drinking patterns shifted as well, away from whiskey to beer, a more urban beverage, now readily available owing to technological developments like pasteurization and refrigeration. Saloons became familiar fixtures of the urban landscape, and for temperance workers, the symbol of alcohol's evil. The WCTU, largely a collection of Protestant women, adopted a confrontational strategy, marching in groups to the saloon and demanding that it close. Under the leadership of Frances Willard, who led the organization for two decades, the WCTU embraced a wide variety of reforms, including woman's suffrage, believing that only by empowering women in the public sphere could alcohol be eliminated and the home protected. The WCTU became the largest temperance and largest women's organization prior to 1900.

Building on the women's efforts to keep the alcohol issue before the public, the Anti-Saloon League was formed by evangelical Protestant men in 1895. Attacking the saloon was its method; its aim was a dry society. The Anti-Saloon League worked through evangelical denominations, winning statewide victories over the next two decades. Its crowning success was the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, ushering in the Prohibition era that ran from 1920 to 1933.


Blocker, Jack S., Jr. American Temperance Movements: Cycles of Reform. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

Bordin, Ruth. Women and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873–1900. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981.

Dannenbaum, Jed. Drink and Disorder: Temperance Reform in Cincinnati from the Washingtonian Revival to the WCTU. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984.

Hampel, Robert L. Temperance and Prohibition in Massachusetts, 1813–1852. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1982.

Krout, John Allen. The Origins of Prohibition. New York: Knopf, 1925.

Rorabaugh, W. J. The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Tyrrell, Ian R. Sobering Up: From Temperance to Prohibition in Antebellum America, 1800–1860. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979.

Douglas W.Carlson

See alsoProhibition .

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Temperance Movement


The temperance movement in the United States first became a national crusade in the early nineteenth century. An initial source of the movement was a groundswell of popular religion that focused on abstention from alcohol. Evangelical preachers of various Christian denominations denounced drinking alcohol as a sin. People who drank, they claimed, lost their faith in God and ceased to observe the teachings of Jesus.

Other supporters of the first temperance movement objected to alcohol's destructive effects on individuals, communities, and the nation as a whole. According to these activists, the consumption of alcohol was responsible for many personal and societal problems, including unemployment, absenteeism in the workplace, and physical violence. Scores of short stories and books published in the mid-nineteenth century described in dramatic detail the abuse suffered by the families of alcoholics. Alcoholics were characterized as dangerous to themselves, their families, and even their nation's security. In the words of temperance advocate Lyman Beecher, a drunk electorate would "dig the grave of our liberties and entomb our glory."

The temperance movement was marked by an undercurrent of ethnic and religious hostility. Some of the first advocates were people of Anglo-Saxon heritage who associated alcohol with the growing number of Catholic immigrants from Ireland and the European continent. Supposedly, the Catholics were loud and boisterous as a result of too much drinking.

Most of the first temperance advocates were sincerely concerned for the welfare of others, however, and were not motivated by such faulty perceptions. The public's rate of alcohol consumption was, in fact, increasing steadily during the nineteenth century, and the reformers saw the banishment of alcohol not as a punishment but as necessary to an orderly, safe, and prosperous society. Despite its good intentions, the first movement splintered. The largest rift occurred between a minority of abolitionists, who favored the promotion of total abstinence from alcohol, and the majority of reformers, who favored only abstinence from hard liquor.

Although it lacked cohesion, the first temperance movement yielded some legislative reforms. In 1846, Maine became the first state to enact a law prohibiting liquor consumption. Twelve other states followed suit, but the laws were difficult to enforce, and public support for the laws quickly waned. By 1868 Maine was the only state left with a liquor prohibition law, and the temperance movement appeared to have come and gone.

Groups such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Anti-Saloon League were at the forefront of the onslaught on alcohol. Members of these groups spoke publicly in favor of Prohibition and lobbied elected officials for laws banning the consumption of alcohol. Some of the more active members disrupted business at saloons and liquor stores. One of the most visible prohibitionists, Carry Nation, used a hatchet to smash liquor bottles and break furniture in saloons.

In the 1870s some prohibitionists began to form political parties and nominate candidates for public office. Leaders in the so-called Progressive movement were instrumental in the resurgence of the temperance movement. The Progressives called for sweeping governmental controls in response to perceived social crises, and they began to promote the abolition of alcohol as part of a plan to clean up cities and eliminate poverty. By the time world war i began in 1914, an increasing number of politicians were advocating a ban on alcohol, and the conservation efforts for the war gave the temperance movement additional momentum.

Congress enacted the Lever Act of 1917 (40 Stat. 276) to outlaw the use of grain in the manufacture of alcoholic beverages, and many state and local governments passed laws prohibiting the distribution and consumption of alcohol. Two years later, the states ratified the eighteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. The complete ban on alcohol was put into effect by the Volstead Act (41 Stat. 305). President woodrow wilson vetoed the act, but Congress overrode the veto and the United States became officially dry in January 1920.

The effect of Prohibition was to drive drinking underground. Saloons were replaced by speakeasies, hidden drinking places that, in some areas, were tolerated by local police. The more enterprising individuals set up homemade stills to produce alcohol for their own consumption. Others turned to bootlegging, or the illegal sale of alcohol. Prices on the black market were markedly higher than they had been prior to Prohibition, and gangsters used violence to acquire and maintain control over the highly profitable bootlegging business. Bootlegging was so profitable because so many people wanted to drink alcohol. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials found themselves at war not only with gangsters, but with the general public as well.

Popular support for Prohibition quickly waned after the Eighteenth Amendment was passed, but it took thirteen years to end it. herbert hoover, who served as president from 1929 to 1933, supported Prohibition, calling it "an experiment noble in purpose." Hoover was defeated in his bid for reelection, however, and in 1933 President franklin d. roosevelt called for an amendment to the Volstead Act that would legalize light wine and beer consumption. The bill passed quickly and received widespread public support, and Congress set about the task of repealing Prohibition. On December 5, 1933, the twenty-first amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, and the "noble experiment" was dismantled.

further readings

Blocker, Jack S. 1989. American Temperance Movements: Cycles of Reform. Boston: Twayne.

Pegram, Thomas R. 1998. Battling Demon Rum: The Struggle for a Dry America, 1800–1933. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

Szymanski, Ann-Marie E. 2003. Pathways to Prohibition: Radicals, Moderates, and Social Movement Outcomes. Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press.


Capone, Alphonse; Organized Crime.

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temperance movement

temperance movement. A powerful social and political force in Victorian Britain. Though it did not succeed in eradicating drink, it helped to control it. Between 1831 and 1931, spirit consumption per head p.a. fell from 1.11 gallons to 0.22, and beer from 21.6 gallons to 13.3: in the same period, consumption of tea per head rose from 1.24 pounds p.a. to 9.67 pounds. Direct propaganda was not the only factor in this change: others included growing respectability, improved amenities, more comfortable homes, and a decline in occupations of heavy labour where drink was a necessity. The chief support of the temperance movement was the dissenting bodies, who carried it as an issue into the Liberal Party, which adopted local option on the sale of drink as part of its Newcastle Programme in 1891. As a consequence, the brewing interest gravitated increasingly to the Conservative Party.

The movement began in the late 1820s with the formation of a number of local temperance societies. In the course of the century, there was a great proliferation of leagues and societies, but the leading organizations were the British and Temperance Society (1831), the British Association for the Promotion of Temperance (1835), the National Temperance Society (1842), and the United Kingdom Alliance (1853), a political pressure group demanding prohibition. One of the best publicized groups was the Band of Hope, founded in Leeds in 1847 to appeal to children, organizing outings and publishing a periodical Onward. One reason for the multiplicity of groups was a difference of opinion which soon emerged between the advocates of moderation in drinking and those who demanded total abstinence—or teetotalism. A trusted technique was to persuade men to ‘take the pledge’—an action first agreed in 1832 by seven workmen in Preston. The movement often took the form of a religious revival and was referred to as a crusade: one teetotal group was even included with the churches by the religious census of 1851, along with temperance Wesleyans and temperance Christians. Drink was ‘the demon’, the pledge echoed baptism, and the solemn reading of the names of backsliders was a form of excommunication. The nature and austerity of the pledge differed from group to group: many northerners preferred ‘the long pledge’—refusing to offer alcohol to others as well as abstaining oneself—while the south preferred ‘the short pledge’. The temperance movement was a vast and sustained effort, appealing to large numbers of ordinary people and giving them experience of recruiting, organizing, and public speaking.

J. A. Cannon

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temperance movements

temperance movements, organized efforts to induce people to abstain—partially or completely—from alcoholic beverages. Such movements occurred in ancient times, but ceased until the wide use of distilled liquors in the modern period resulted in increasing drunkenness. The stirrings of temperance activity began in the 19th cent. in the United States, Great Britain, and the countries of N Europe, where drinking had greatly increased. Relying on personal appeal, such individuals as Father Theobald Mathew in Ireland and Great Britain and John Bartholomew Gough in the United States secured temperance pledges by preaching that moral degradation, ill health, poverty, and crime were the results of alcoholism. In 1808 a temperance group was formed in Saratoga, N.Y., and in the next few decades societies sprang up in other states and in the British Isles, Norway, and Sweden. International cooperation was begun in the latter half of the 19th cent., one of the most effective groups being the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), founded in 1874 in the United States. The WCTU and the strong Anti-Saloon League (founded in 1895 and now known as the American Council on Alcohol Problems) wielded significant political power in the United States and, turning from moral appeals for moderation and abstinence, demanded government control of liquor. Backed by church groups and some industrialists, they influenced the passage of many liquor laws and eventually succeeded in securing federal prohibition (1919–33). Among the outstanding women temperance workers of the period were Frances Elizabeth Willard, Susan B. Anthony, and Carry Nation. Among the effects of temperance agitation were the stimulation of interest in the scientific study of alcoholism, general instruction in the schools on the effects of alcohol, and government regulation. Unlike later temperance movements, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, these earlier movements did not view alcoholism as a disease and relied on government regulation and suppression of the liquor business to control the problem.

See J. A. Krout, The Origins of Prohibition (1925); H. Asbury, The Great Illusion (1950); J. R. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement (1963); J. H. Bechtel, Temperance Selections (1893, repr. 1970).

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Temperance Movement


Many temperance movements and societies emerged in the United States during the nineteenth century. These movements began in the early 1800s and gained ascendancy during the mid-to-late 1800s, culminating in the Prohibition Movement, the Prohibition Amendment (Article 18) to the U.S. Constitution in 1919, and the start of Prohibition in 1920. Gusfield (1986), an eminent scholar of the temperance movement, has argued that the term temperance is not appropriate, because the broad reformist ideology of the movement focused mainly on abstinencenot moderationin the intake of alcoholic beverages. Blocker (1989) observed that the many temperance movements that emerged in the United States represented men and women from varying ethnic, religious, social, economic, and political groups who selected out temperance as the solution to what they perceived as problems in their own lives and in those of others. By the end of the nineteenth century, the temperance movement had evolved through several phases, and the strategies used by the proponents changed from persuasive efforts to moderate the intake of alcoholic beverages to more coercive strategies, even laws, to bring about the control of all drinking.

EARLY PHASE: 1800-1840

In colonial America and during the early 1800s, alcoholic beverages (brewed, fermented, and distilled) were a staple of the American diet, were often homemade, and were viewed as "the good creature of God." Among the colonists, the drinking of alcoholic beverages was integrated with social norms; all social groups and ages drank alcoholic beverages, and the consumption rate was very high. Alcohol was also traded, sold, and given to Native Americans, who had no long history of daily drinking, with almost immediate negative consequences for these peoples.

By 1840, a revolution in American social attitudes had occurred, in which alcohol came to be seen as "the root of all evil" and the cause of the major problems of the early republic, such as the crime, poverty, immorality, and insanity of the Jacksonian era (Tyrell, 1979). Temperance was advocated as the ideal solution for these problems by such people as Anthony Benezet, a popular Quaker reformer; Thomas Jefferson; and Dr. Benjamin Rush, the surgeon general of the Continental Army and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Temperance-reform organizations, such as the American Temperance Society, emerged, committed to the eradication of these social problems.

The American Temperance Society (ATS), founded in Boston in 1826 as the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, was the first national (as opposed to local) temperance organization. It had its roots in the processes of industrialization and the commercialization of agriculture. The people who developed the movement were committed to hastening the processes of economic and social change. These processes involved the educating of Americans to value sobriety and industry, in order to create the conditions for the development of an industrial-commercial society. The movement was supported by entrepreneurs who needed a disciplined and sober work force to help create the economic change necessary for the material improvement of the young republic.

During the so-called Great Awakening the evangelical clergy as well as that of other U.S. Protestant groups supported temperance as a means of promoting the morality needed for building a "Christian nation," through social and economic progress. According to Gusfield, these groups helped to place the issue of drinking on the public and political agenda, providing their personnel as authorities on the cognitive aspects of drinking and becoming the legitimate source of public policies on drinking. Also, in the early 1820s and 1830s, small-scale farmers and rural groups were active in promoting the temperance movement; they saw temperance as a way to promote social progress in a time of transition from a rural to an urban-industrial order, from small-scale farming to entrepreneurial forms of agriculture.

By 1836, the American Temperance Society had become an abstinence society, and ideas about problems associated with alcohol had begun to changeinebriety or habitual drunkenness was being called a disease. The ideology of the movement placed the source of alcohol addiction in the substance itselfalcohol was inherently addictinga finding supported by research conducted by Rush, who in 1785 wrote Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits upon the Human Body and Mind (approximately 200,000 copies were published between 1800 and 1840). Blocker (1989) observed that the general focus of the American Temperance Society was on persuading the already temperate to become abstinent, rather than persuading drunkards to reform their drinking behavior. According to Gusfield (1986), abstinence became a symbol that enabled society to distinguish the industrious, steady American worker from other peoplewhich resulted in the movement becoming democratized instead of associated only with the New England upper classes. Attempts to reform and save drunkards was the focus of another temperance movement, the Washingtonians.

MIDDLE PHASE: 1840-1860

Where well-to-do groups and Protestant evangelical clergy dominated the early phase of temperance reform, the middle phase included the efforts of artisans and women of the lower and lower-middle classes, who promoted self-help groups among largely working-class drunkards trying to give up drinking (Tyrell, 1979). These artisans organized into the Washingtonian societies (named for George Washington), dedicated to helping working-class drunkards who were trying to reform.

In 1840, the (first) Washingtonian Temperance Society was established in Baltimore. Members took a pledge against the use of all alcoholic beverages and attempted to convert drunkards to the pledge of teetotalism (c. 1834, derived from t otal + total = abstinence). By the end of 1841, Washingtonian societies were active in Baltimore, Boston, New York, and other areas throughout the North. These groups were not socially homogeneous. Tyrell (1979) observed that the relationships between the old organizations and the new societies culminated in various struggles for control over the Washingtonian societies, with fragmentation of these groups occurring.

Washingtonian members who wanted respect from the middle-class temperance reformers, including the evangelical reformers, elected to remain with the mainstream temperance movement. The wage earners and reformed drunkards remained in their own societies, and they opposed early efforts at legal coercionfor example, the passage of the Maine Law of 1851. Gusfield (1986) has interpreted support for this law as a reaction against the drinking practices of the Irish and German immigrants to the United States between 1845 and 1855. He argued that temperance reform in this period represented a "symbolic crusade" to impose existing cultural values on immigrant groups. Tyrell interpreted the Maine Law as a way for middle-class reformers to control and reform the laboring poor. From 1851 on, many local laws were passed that attempted to limit the consumption of alcohol; however, throughout the remainder of the century, these statutes were repealed, liberalized, or unenforced.

LATE PHASE: 1860-1920

The Civil War, World War I, and the rapid demographic changes that accompanied immigration during this period contributed to the support of abstinence during the last phase of the temperance movements. Urban areas were expanding, factory towns were a reality, and there was an increase in the socializing at the end of the workday as well as at the end of the workweek; consequently there was an increase in the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Several temperance societies that emerged during this period included the active participation of women and childrensince wives and children were often neglected or abused by drunken husbands and fathers. Irish-American Catholics formed the Catholic Total Abstention Union in 1872; the Women 's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was formed in 1874; and the Anti-Saloon League (ASL) emerged in 1896. These societies were able to mobilize tremendous support for abstinence, rather than mere moderation in the intake of alcoholic beverages. At this time, the ideology of the temperance movements centered upon the evil effects of all alcohol, espousing the view that alcohol had become the central problem in American life and that abstinence was the only solution for this problem.

The WCTU was founded in Cleveland in 1874 and emerged as the first mainstream organization in which women and children were systematically involved in the temperance movement. Annie Wittenmeyer, Frances Willard, and Carrie Nation provided this temperance-reform movement with creative and dynamic leadership. The WCTUa crusade to shut down saloons and promote moralitytook a radical stance, criticizing American institutions by aligning itself with the feminist movement, the Populist party, and Christian Socialism. Gusfield (1986) argues that, although, under the leadership of Frances Willard (1879-1898), the WCTU was unsuccessful in establishing these alliances, it did achieve the following: It united the Populist and more conservative wings of the movement and it united the political forces of "conservatism, progressivism, and radicalism in the same movement." In addition, the WCTU provided backing for Prohibitionist candidates, including workers for their campaigns as well as audiences to listen to their positions on alcohol use. The WCTU still exists, based in Evanston, Illinois, and lists about 100,000 members as of 1990.

By the late 1800s, coercive reform became the dominant theme of the temperance movement. In 1893, the ASL of Ohio was organized by Howard H. Russell, a Congregational minister and temperance activist. In 1895, this group combined with a similar group in the District of Columbia, establishing a national society in 1896. By the end of the 1800s, the ASL, which represented a skillful political leadership resource for the Prohibition movement, mobilized tremendous support for abstinence instead of just temperance. In 1896, the movement began to separate itself from a number of economic and social reforms, concentrating on the struggle of traditional rural Protestant society against developing urban systems and industrialization.

Part of the success of the ASL was its determination to remain a single-issue (prohibition) pressure group that cut across all political party lines; the ASL also maintained a strong relationship with the Protestant clergy. It always put its own issue first but worked peacefully with the major political parties and especially with legislators (Blocker, 1989). By 1912, local prohibition laws had been passed to render most of the South legally dry.

In 1917, a major event boosted the cause of national prohibition. The United States entered into World War I, which prompted the ASL to push for the suspension of the industrial distilling of alcohol (ethanol). Very shortly after the U.S. entry into the war, the selling of liquor near military bases and to servicemen in uniform was prohibited (Blocker, 1989). By 1918, the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution had been proposed and the ASL had pushed prohibition through 33 state legislatures. Consequently, the Volstead Actcalled Prohibitionwas ratified on January 16, 1919. It went into effect one year later, on January 16, 1920, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages.


Where the temperance movement was a middle-class reform movement, because it articulated the theme of self-control that was central to the middle-class ideology of the nineteenth century, some members of the working class also supported reform (Blocker, 1989). An ideology of Abstinence became a rallying point for middle-class people who saw the rich as greedy, the working class as increasingly restless, and the poor as uneducated immigrants. Thus, they felt the need to restore a coherent moral order, especially after the upheaval of the Civil War and the ensuing period of industrial greed. At this time, the United States was undergoing economic expansion and deepening division along class lines. Other reform groups, such as the Progressive political party, joined the prohibitionists in their commitment to rid cities of saloons so that the United States could move toward becoming a virtuous and moral republic. At the end of the nineteenth century, Americans seemed to be more receptive to moral than scientific arguments for temperance reform and abstinence from alcohol.

Members of the temperance movements were concerned not only with changing the behavior of other social classes and groups but also about changing themselves (Levine, 1978). They were concerned that the pernicious effects of alcohol were also destroying the lives of Protestant middle-class people. While some of these reform groups were not complete supporters of an abstinence ideology, they were concerned with rebuilding a national community and promoting the common welfare. Abstinence became the governing ideology of the many diverse groups that had mobilized to promote a new social order.

As more scholars turn their attention to the study of the temperance era and the various temperance movements and societies, additional knowledge and interpretations will continue to be published. The bibliography that follows provides examples of some new interpretations of this period.

(See also: Alcohol ; Prohibition: Pro and Con ; Treatment )


Blocker, J. S., Jr. (1989). American temperance movements: Cycles of reform. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Blumberg, L. U., with Pittman, W. L. (1991). Beware the first drink! The Washingtonian temperance movement and Alcoholics Anonymous. Seattle, WA: Glenn Abbey Books.

Bordin, R. (1981). Women and temperance: The quest for power and liberty, 1873-1900. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Clark, N. (1976). Deliver us from evil. New York: Norton. Dictionary of American temperance biography. (1984). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Epstein, B. (1981). The politics of domesticity: Women, evangelism and temperance in nineteenth-century America. Middletown, CT. Wesleyan University Press.

Gusfield, J. R. (1986). Symbolic crusade: Status politics and the American temperance movement, 2nd ed. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Hofstader, R. (1955). The age of reform. New York: Vintage.

Lender, M., & Houston, J. K. (1982). Drinking in America: A history. New York: Free Press.

Levine, H. (1978). The discovery of addiction: Changing conceptions of habitual drunkenness in America. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 39, 143-174.

Rorabaugh, W. (1979). The alcoholic republic: An American tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tyrell, I. R. (1979). Sobering up: From temperance to prohibition in antebellum America, 1800-1860. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Phyllis A. Langton

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Temperance Movement


With milk and water susceptible to contamination and spoilage in colonial times, many settlers turned to alcoholic beverages. Beer and wine were common on ships carrying colonists from Europe. Consequently, most colonists drank alcohol regularly beginning in childhood, and alcohol was key to almost every social gathering. Even church leaders commonly sanctioned moderate alcohol use. Following the American Revolution (17751783), distilled spirits such as whiskey became important commercial goods. With Americans drinking large quantities of liquor, concern about alcohol consumption existed from the nation's birth.

Predominantly led by evangelical Protestants, isolated pockets of opposition to the sale and consumption of distilled beverages began to coalesce by the 1810s. By the end of the War of 1812 (18121814), a radical temperance movement developed consisting of many denominations; Presbyterians, Quakers, Western Methodists, and people of other faiths united in a concerted effort to transform traditional social patterns. One such group, the Connecticut Society for the Reformation of Morals, formed in 1813. An early focus of the evangelical leaders was individual self-reform through abstinence to save the conscience and family harmony. In contrast, elite urban residents of property in the Northeast, who formed such groups as the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance, took a more conservative approach. They focused more on suppressing consumption by the lower economic classes to maintain social order and reduce crime.

The temperance movement blossomed nationally over the next decade, with the creation of the American Temperance Society in 1826. Auxiliary groups were established in every state with thousands of local organizations. The economic transition from an agrarian to an industrialized society more demanding of efficiency and scheduling very likely contributed to popularization of the movement. Transitioning from temperance to prohibition, the Society crusaded for complete abstinence from strong spirits. Under "divine" guidance, the national movement produced volumes of literature, including a number of journals dedicated to temperance. Through the 1830s total alcohol consumption plummeted from more than seven gallons per capita annually to slightly more than three. Dissension grew, however, with many favoring temperance rather than complete abstinence from wine, beer, and stronger spirits. Though momentum flagged in the 1840s, it was regained in part through the efforts of the Washington Temperance Society and the emotional lectures of John B. Gough and others. Marking a peak in the nineteenth century temperance movement, 13 of the 40 existing states had passed prohibition laws by the inception of the American Civil War (18611865).

The temperance movement shifted into national politics with the formation of the National Prohibition Party in 1869; in 1874 the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded. The Prohibition Party saw modest success in state elections through the 1870s and peaked in national popular support in 1892 with a presidential candidate. Its primary success was the influence of public policy to support temperance movement issues.

Following an 1888 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that key provisions of state prohibition measures violated federal interstate commerce laws, however, alcohol consumption burgeoned. The Anti-Saloon League, later considered by many to be the most effective temperance organization, was founded in 1893 by representatives of various temperance organizations and the evangelical Protestant churches. A powerful political lobby, the League worked within the existing political parties to support candidates sympathetic to governmental control of liquor.

The combined influence of the Anti-Saloon League, the WCTU, and the Prohibition Party in 1917 led to a wartime prohibition measure which quickly transformed into the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, transport, exporting, and importing of liquor in the United States. The states ratified the amendment by January 1919. Congress passed the Volstead Act, which provided for amendment enforcement, later in 1919 over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson (19131921). Prohibition went into effect January 1920, marking the twentieth century peak of the movement. For 13 years the nation was legally dry. Nevertheless, the demand for alcohol continued, giving rise to great disrespect for the law and extensive illegal activity, including smuggling, speakeasies, bootlegging, and a multibillion dollar criminal underworld. Widespread popular support did exist, however, and drinking habits altered substantially throughout the country, leading to a marked decline in alcohol-related accidents and deaths. Concerns grew through the 1920s about increasing police powers to enforce the amendment and intrusions into personal privacy.

In the end, legislators concluded that Prohibition was too oppressive and unenforceable. The Twenty-First Amendment, which repealed Prohibition and nullified the Eighteenth Amendment, quickly proceeded through ratification, becoming official in December 1933. The Volstead Act was rendered void, and individual states again became the arena for alcohol regulation. The renewed production and sale of alcohol served to bolster the depressed economy of the early 1930s by adding jobs and tax revenue.

Attitudes about alcohol consumption have fluctuated through time. Temperance again became an issue later in the twentieth century, as alcohol consumption peaked around 1980. New organizations, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, addressed alcohol-related topics such as traffic deaths, health problems, juvenile crime, and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Topic overview

The standard view that abstinence was a response to industrialization and the growth of a market economy must be carefully qualified. Such developments undoubtedly contributed to the growing receptiveness of temperance in the 1820s, but they cannot account for the origins of the movement's ideology . . . In the future we must examine carefully the long-ignored moral societies that dotted the American landscape during the 1810s . . . and the hopes and fears of average evangelicals.

james r. rohrer, "the origins of the temperance movement: a reinterpretation", journal of american studies, august 1990

See also: Eighteenth Amendment, Prohibition, Twenty-First Amendment


Epstein, Barbara L. The Politics of Domesticity: Women, Evangelism, and Temperance in Nineteenth-Century America. Irvington, New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

Hamm, Richard F. Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment: Temperance Reform, Legal Culture, and the Polity, 18801920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Kerr, K. Austin. Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

Rorabaugh, William J. The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Tyrrell, Ian R. Sobering Up: From Temperance to Prohibition in Antebellum America, 18001860. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1979.

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temperance movement

temperance movement Organized effort to promote moderation in, or abstinence from, the consumption of alcohol. It probably began in the USA in the early 19th century and spread to Britain and continental Europe. The US crusade reached its peak with the ratification of the 18th Amendment (1919) that brought in Prohibition.

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