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Since the founding of the thirteen colonies, the robust consumption and at times equally vigorous regulation of alcohol have coexisted in uneasy tension. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries alcohol was served at nearly every occasion and workers regularly drank beer or wine while on the job. Benjamin Franklin, for example, writes in his Autobiography (1771) that his coworkers relied on an alehouse boy to bring them beer several times a day because they believed that strong beer led to a strong body. Founders of early towns often erected the church and tavern first, suggesting townsfolk's equal devotion to the Spirit and spirits.

Scholars estimate that in 1830, the average U.S. citizen drank an astonishing 7 gallons of alcohol per year; in comparison, statistics from 1985 suggest Americans drink 2.6 gallons per person annually (Lender and Marin, p. 95). Such a reduction in alcohol consumption certainly owes much to the technological innovation of drinking-water purification (beer and wine offered a more hygienic option than untreated water). But the temperance movement, with its moral suasion techniques and legal ramifications, also helped convince people to put down the bottle. The temperance crusade expanded in the early-nineteenth-century United States and swept through the country as a result of the nation's long history of overindulgence in alcohol. The drive eventually led to the twentieth-century national ban on the liquor trade and helped shape American identity as anti-liquor reformers strove to make self-control and public virtue issues of national concern.

Temperance workers' arguments were many: that inebriation enslaved the body and will as perniciously as did the slave trade, that alcoholism caused men to lose their jobs and impoverish their families, that too much drink degraded one's health, and that drunkenness indicated a sinful life. With its emphasis on restriction and control of the self, the temperance movement appeared traditional and conservative compared to the liberal and progressive campaigns of suffrage and abolition. Whereas temperance advocated the retraction of rights, the suffrage and abolition efforts championed the expansion of rights. Nonetheless, the women's movement stemmed from the organizational skills that women honed in their temperance work. Susan B. Anthony, a foundational member of the women's suffrage movement, began as a temperance worker; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, another pivotal early suffragist, wrote the temperance story "Henry Neil and His Mother" (1849–1850). Anthony, Stanton, and others argued that women needed the ballot in order to defeat the bottle.


Because alcoholism and efforts to combat it have been so pervasive in American culture, the images and passions associated with both intoxication and sobriety have appealed to numerous writers. Authors have used drink to structure plots, to signal character types, to embellish a theme, to teach a lesson, and to espouse a cause. The American Temperance Union, an organization devoted to the dry cause, recognized the capability of temperance fiction to disseminate anti-alcohol propaganda to large numbers of readers. In 1836 members voted to endorse the use of such literature, especially didactic tracts, to spread its message. By 1865 the National Temperance Society had become a publisher of temperance fiction, which assured it a public voice in the fight against intemperance.

Much, although certainly not all, antebellum temperance fiction enjoyed success by adhering to a formula: a country boy who moves to the city in search of work and excitement, or a struggling or unemployed father, tastes alcohol for the first time and slides down the slippery slope to drunken degradation, poverty, and death. Such a formula ingrained U.S. literature with anti-liquor imagery. Often didactic, and sometimes intolerably so, temperance literature exhorted the values of a dry republic and denounced the lifestyle of the drunkard. In contrast to the twentieth-century conception of alcoholism as a disease, nineteenth-century temperance stories understood inebriation as a sign of moral weakness and the drinker as the bearer of a moral defect. Temperance literature tried to identify and expose the ills of alcohol and convince drinkers to turn to a life of prosperous and virtuous sobriety.

Such moralistic messages tried to influence the behavior of droves of unmarried men who moved to the cities in search of work. These young men generally lived away from rectifying home environments, in boardinghouses that, without a mother figure to monitor the men's behavior, were thought to lead to a gradual loosening of morals. Transient and unsupervised young men thus found themselves susceptible to the big-city temptations, both sexual and alcoholic, of saloons, bars, musical drinking houses, and brothels. Drinking became linked to masturbation since both were considered nonproductive, wasteful, excessive, and indulgent behaviors.


The decades between 1835 and 1860, commonly known as the American Renaissance, produced two temperance best-sellers, George Cheever's The True History of Deacon Giles' Distillery (1835) and Timothy Shay Arthur's Ten Nights in a Bar-Room (1854). Many other authors wrote works that thematized alcohol: Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a popular satiric temperance tale, "A Rill from the Town Pump" (1835), Edgar Allan Poe chillingly described alcohol's depraved powers in "The Black Cat" (1843) and "The Cask of Amontillado" (1846), and temperance imagery made its way into various major works of the period, including Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851), Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance (1852), Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World (1850), Emily Dickinson's poems, Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life (1845), and William Wells Brown's Clotel (1853). As well, Walt Whitman wrote formulaic temperance pieces: "Young Grimes" (1840), "Wild Frank's Return" (1841), "The Child and the Profligate" (1841), "Reuben's Last Wish" (1842), and Franklin Evans (1842).

According to David S. Reynolds, U.S. reformers strategically used what Reynolds terms conventional, sensational, and legalistic discourses to combat intemperance. Conventional discourse, typified by some novels and by some of the sermons of evangelical preachers like Lyman Beecher, featured relatively tame liquor imagery and emphasized the moral and physical rewards of abstinence. Stressing a medical model, Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote about drink's ill effects on the mind and body.

Sensational discourse, according to Reynolds, stemmed from the eighteenth century and was greatly intensified by the Washingtonians, a group of exdrunkards who regularly held "experience meetings" in the 1840s in which they revealed the details of their depraved lives before their conversion to abstinence. Their violent and lurid descriptions of alcohol's ravages and domestic violence and their titillating confessions provided a fertile source of literary themes and images. People eagerly read and listened to the degeneracy and wickedness they supposedly protested; Whitman's Franklin Evans exemplifies Washingtonian temperance discourse.

Legalistic discourse dominated after the Civil War. Such discourse can be associated with the prohibitionist movement, which produced a series of state laws banning the sale of alcohol, laws that presaged the advent of national prohibition with the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919. The prohibitionary rhetoric of temperance literature aligned it with conservative moral reformist efforts, such as the male purity movement, that sought to limit individuals' actions.

It is also important to consider that many popular temperance authors did not write about alcohol at all. That is, abstinence from alcohol did not constitute the whole of the temperance movement. Temperance women, concerned that their men and boys might someday become drinkers, advocated sobriety and a vision of society in which all members engaged in productive, healthful activity. Drinkers were not welcome in fictional worlds that imagined a range of useful opportunities and occupations available to all citizens. A glance through collections of temperance tales, similar to gift books in the 1840s and 1850s, reveals many positive and moralistic stories that portray fulfilling lives free from any references to drink. Temperance collections of stories, poems, and essays demonstrate the value of being temperate in all appetites and the moral benefits to society and the self that result from general sobriety.


If the temperance movement burned strongly in the antebellum years, it cooled during the Civil War as energies were otherwise occupied with sectional and national issues. Many taverns and saloons took advantage of the distraction and opened unlicensed establishments governed by few restrictions.

After the Civil War the temperance crusade became one of innumerable efforts responding to the growth of an urban-industrial America. In many ways the movement was dominated by the issue of prohibition. In 1870 Ohio passed the Adair Law, which granted wives and children of alcoholic men the right to bring suit against saloon owners to recover damages.

From 1870 to the 1919 passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, writers used alcoholic themes in various ways: to offer both social satire and social critique, to explore autobiographically their own inner demons, to elevate African Americans' status, to highlight the modernist sense of alienation, and to contrast a wet Europe to a dry United States.

The years 1873 and 1874 witnessed what came to be known as the Women's Crusades, in which housewives led pray-ins in saloons and successfully drove alcohol out of 250 communities in three months. In the summer of 1874 many women held organizational meetings at Chautauqua Institution in New York State; the following November, in Cleveland, they founded the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) with Annie Wittenmyer as president. Under the leadership of Frances E. Willard and her "Do Everything" campaign, in the 1880s the WCTU became the largest and most important women's organization. It is still active today.

One particular member of the WCTU colorfully directed her own crusade. Carry A. Nation, inspired by her own religious vision, led groups of hatchet-bearing women into saloons to smash the symbol of male domination and exclusion. Her "hatchetation" career galvanized the country's attention even as it landed her in jail over thirty times from coast to coast. Carry Nation founded and published two newspapers, Smasher's Mail and The Hatchet, and helped found The Home Defender. Yet because of her reputation as a crazy religious fanatic and overly brazen woman, neither religious groups nor the WCTU itself claimed her as their own.


Although the female alcoholic remained largely invisible in temperance literature, alcoholism was very much a woman's concern: beholden to her husband, a woman's security depended on having a sober and responsible spouse. Tavern culture lured intemperate husbands away from domesticity and emptied their pockets of the money their wives needed to run a home. Numerous temperance stories, many written by women, contrast the ruin and loneliness of the drunkard's family with the bliss and strength of the temperate man's family. Temperance fiction allowed women the socially sanctioned space to explore such sensitive women's issues as a husband's infidelity, physical abuse, victimization, and social, legal, and economic injustice. In addition, such fiction established women writers as important bearers of moral culture; the popularity of their titles made them a force to be reckoned with in the literary marketplace. The temperance lecturer John B. Gough strongly believed in women's power of moral suasion and wrote in his book Platform Echoes (1885) that "Many and many a man has been saved by waking to the consciousness that some tender-hearted, pure woman felt some sympathy for him and some interest in him, though he was debased and degraded" (p. 530).

Most nineteenth-century women's temperance fiction was written in the 1840s and 1850s, but the founding of the WCTU in 1874 renewed interest in the genre. For example, the National Temperance Society and Publication House published many popular works, including Mary Dwinell Chellis's Wealth and Wine (1874) and Our Homes (1881) and Julia Perkins Ballard's The Hole in the Bag (1872). Other popular postbellum fiction includes Marietta Holley's Sweet Cicely (1885), Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's Jack the Fisherman (1887), Louisa May Alcott's Silver Pitchers; and Independence, a Centennial Love Story (1876) and her "Good Templars" (1908). In Alcott's best-known work, Little Women (1868), she hints at her interest in the temperance cause and develops it further in her other adventures of the March sisters (Jo's Boys, 1886, and Rose in Bloom, 1876).

Whereas many nineteenth-century romance novels end with the heroine's future blissfully secured by a happy match, temperance fiction often begins with a poor match and details the downward spiral. Nina Baym thus claims a generic difference between woman's fiction and temperance fiction: "In striking contrast to woman's fiction, which frequently uses the motif of the drunkard, the temperance novel stresses, as it must, the failure or inadequacy of feminine moral influence to solve this problem. Many women sacrifice themselves and exert influence to no avail. A temperance novel must show woman's power as insufficient because its purpose is to get temperance legislation passed. Were feminine power all that was needed, the 'Maine Laws' would not be required" (p. 267).


Although women's temperance fiction dominated the popular imagination, many female writers also wrote anti-alcohol poetry. Lydia Sigourney (1791–1865), one of the nineteenth century's most prolific poets, protested alcohol abuse in verse. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911) parlayed her temperance activism into meter and rhyme from the 1850s on; her numerous postbellum drink-related poems include the 1886 poems "Signing the Pledge," "Save the Boys," and "Nothing and Something" and the 1889 poem "The Fatal Pledge." Seldom is her message vague; Harper explicitly linked drink to sin and degradation.

Another great nineteenth-century poet, Emily Dickinson (1830–1886), also drew heavily upon popular temperance imagery. In such poems as "I bring an unaccustomed wine" (c. 1859, first published 1891), "We—Bee and I—live by the quaffing—" (1861, first published 1929), "A Drunkard cannot meet a Cork" (c. 1884, first published 1945), and "The Ditch is dear to the Drunken man" (c. 1885, first published 1945), Dickinson does not advocate sobriety, nor does she condemn inebriation. Rather, she uses images of drinking and drunkenness as metaphors to explore such phenomena as her own relationship to nature and transcendence. Perhaps her most famous poem that uses temperance imagery is "I taste a liquor never brewed—." In the poem the speaker boasts of her ability to consume huge quantities of alcohol, but the alcohol seems to be spiritual since it is not actually brewed. Instead the poet uses alcoholic imagery to celebrate the intoxicating nature of everyday existence. She literally gets high on life. The poem uses many standard drink-related terms such as "quaffing," "hock," "ale," "burgundy," "wines," "drunk," "pledges" (a reference to the temperance pledge of abstinence), "flagons," and so on, but the terms are used to describe the natural occasion of bees consuming nectar. Thus Dickinson converts potentially dark and degrading images into a celebration of life.


The influx of immigrant populations to the United States, especially in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, affected the representation of alcohol. Many European immigrants flooded to the United States from the late 1860s through the early 1900s, with each ethnic group bringing its own drinking culture. After the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, when the United States annexed California and its grape culture, the California wine industry boomed. If antebellum temperance efforts were directed at the native-born citizenry, the postbellum anti-alcohol movement became infused with anti-immigrant agitation against, for example, the Irish Catholic who generally drank quite heavily. For a literary illustration, we can turn to Stephen Crane's "The Blue Hotel" (1898), which singles out the Swede as the heavy drinker whose erroneous beliefs and drunken behavior lead to his death.

The work of Stephen Crane (1871–1900) is often assigned to the literary genre of naturalism, a genre particularly suited to exploring the role and effects of alcohol. Naturalism, perhaps a more pessimistic form of realism, can be thought of as a literary form influenced by scientific principles of objectivity, the determining factors of heredity, the forces of the environment, and the perception of a universe indifferent to human fate. The French naturalist writer Émile Zola greatly influenced U.S. writers, especially with his novel L'Assommoir (1877), which portrays the bars and abuse of absinthe that contribute to the grinding poverty of the laundress Gervaise. Crane's novel Maggie, A Girl of the Streets (1893) clearly links alcohol to slum conditions, abusive families, and prostitution. In keeping with the genre of naturalism, Maggie suggests that certain environmental and social conditions contribute to the abuse of alcohol.

Crane was undoubtedly influenced by Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York (1890), which used the new technology of flash photography to document the lives and working conditions of the poor. Both of Crane's parents fervently advocated temperance; his mother was a WCTU leader and his father, a Methodist minister, published The Arts of Intoxication in 1870, one year before young Stephen was born.

Crane continued his interest in the abuse of alcohol in George's Mother (1896), and "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" (1898) as well as "The Blue Hotel." In "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," a parody of westerns, drinking seems to ward off the threat of feminization brought on by marriage. When drunk, Scratchy attempts to "woo" Potter away from his bride through their fraternal gunfighting ritual, which matrimony threatens to destroy. In "The Blue Hotel," Scully hides whiskey, perhaps suggesting that the hotel's blue color indicates it is a temperance inn, and the Swede's excessive drinking leads to his death.

In this exuberant poem, the poet celebrates life by converting sensual, immoral drunken imagery into ecstatic, life-affirming moments. The playful, irreverent ending suggests that even heavenly angels approve of the comic narrator who, without drinking alcohol, is drunk on life itself.

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Whereas Dickinson's play with temperance imagery stands in contrast to the vast majority of authors who wrote earnestly about alcohol, Mark Twain (1835–1910) viewed the anti-alcohol movement with skepticism and deliberately satirized it. For example, in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), Pap's drunken abuse of Huck is real and painful. But Twain spoofs the effectiveness of moral suasion in the scene where Judge Thatcher speaks to Pap about the virtues of sobriety. Seemingly moved by the judge's insistence on sobriety, Pap consequently swears the temperance pledge: "Then the old man he signed a pledge—made his mark. The judge said it was the holiest time on record, or something like that" (p. 30). However, Twain subverts the effectiveness of moral suasion and lampoons the power of a pledge to keep drunkards away from alcohol by showing Pap getting viciously drunk only hours later: "Then they tucked the old man into a beautiful room, which was the spare room, and in the night sometime he got powerful thirsty and clumb out onto the porch-roof and slid down a stanchion and traded his new coat for a jug of forty-rod, and clumb back again and had a good old time; and towards daylight he crawled out again, drunk as a fiddler, and rolled off the porch and broke his left arm in two places" (p. 30).

Twain also satirizes a temperance meeting in Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894) where members of the town's rum party invite Siamese twins, one of whom does not drink, to attend a meeting. To shouts of "Wet them down! Wet them down! Give them a drink!" (p. 68) one of the conjoined twins imbibes while the other refuses. Insults are exchanged, especially regarding the twin who abstains, and mayhem ensues.


Black Americans linked temperance to social acceptance, believing that sobriety and self-control could open the door to economic opportunity. The white working class resented blacks who worked for lower wages. The black temperance movement, which successfully organized, motivated, and elevated its members, threatened white economic dominance even further. Frances Harper, in addition to being a prolific poet, novelist, and orator, battled racism in the WCTU, eventually serving in segregated colored chapters. She held office in the Pennsylvania WCTU in 1876 and the National Superintendent of Work among Colored People for the national WCTU by 1883. Credited with being the first published African American short story, Harper's "The Two Offers" appeared in the Anglo-African in 1859 and is a temperance tale. "The Two Offers" presents the dilemma of Laura Lagrange, an heiress who receives two requests for her hand in marriage. Her poor cousin, Janette Alston, advises Laura to refuse both men on the grounds that it is better to remain an old maid than to marry a man simply because he makes a good offer. Laura heedlessly marries a drunkard whose lack of affection drives her to an early grave. Janette prevails into old age as a single woman.

Harper is best known for her 1892 novel Iola Leroy; or, Shadows Uplifted, a novel set in the Reconstruction South that addresses racial politics and some temperance issues. But her novel Sowing and Reaping (serialized in the Christian Recorder in 1876–1877) more explicitly treats the anti-liquor cause. Heavily didactic, the novel focuses on two cousins, Belle Gordon and Jeanette Roland. Belle is courted by the wealthy Charles Romaine but refuses him because she disdains his drinking habit. Instead she marries the poorer but temperate Paul Clifford and happily works with him for the temperance cause. Jeanette marries Charles Romaine, who leads her into a life of misery and eventual widowhood because of his inebriation.


The turn of the century marked the rise of modernism, a genre that also accommodated themes of alcohol. In sketchy terms, modernism refers to a movement in art, architecture, and literature generally characterized by a deliberate break with previous forms of expression. Themes of alcohol and alcohol abuse reinforce such characteristics of modernist writing as postwar disillusionment, cynicism, despair, and spiritual malaise—themes that would later find expression in the works of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In Westerns, the saloon figures prominently in the daily life of colorful residents and drifters. Here, the drummer (a traveling salesman) serves as a stand-in for the reader as an outsider unfamiliar with Scratchy Wilson's ritual of getting drunk and going on a guntoting rampage. In the Weary Gentleman saloon the drinkers both find out about the danger posed by Scratchy and take refuge.

The drummer's was interrupted by a young man who suddenly appeared in the open door. He cried: "Scratchy Wilson's drunk, and has turned loose with both hands." The two Mexicans at once set down their glasses and faded out of the rear entrance of the saloon. The drummer, innocent and jocular, answered, "All right, old man. S'pose he has? Come in and have a drink, anyhow." But the information had made such an obvious cleft in every skull in the room that the drummer was obliged to see its importance. All had become instantly solemn. "Say," said he, mystified, "what is this?" . . . "It means, my friend," he answered, as he came into the saloon, "that for the next two hours this town won't be a health resort."

Crane, "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," p. 396.

In John Barleycorn (1913) Jack London (1876–1916) presents the personal history of his battle with the demon rum, not unlike the way members of Alcoholics Anonymous tell their personal stories at group meetings today. By personifying malt liquor in the title of his memoir, London signals the importance of alcohol to his identity. London also writes about alcohol's influence on his literary skills and on his conception of masculinity, which often hinges on one's ability to drink great quantities. As a modern piece of writing, John Barleycorn uses alcohol to chronicle despair, express a heightened self-consciousness, and explore doubt about the capacity of language to convey truth.

The Eighteenth Amendment in favor of Prohibition was the quickest of any amendment to pass the vote, and the United States became a constitutionally dry nation as of January 1920. Individuals had to surrender their right to drink in order to benefit what was perceived to be the good of all. In John Barleycorn, London writes that he voted for women's suffrage because "When the women get the ballot, they will vote for prohibition. . . . It is the wives, and sisters, and mothers, and they only, who will drive the nails into the coffin of John Barleycorn" (p. 2). The dry victory turned out to last only thirteen years, however, for in 1933 the Twenty-first Amendment overturned the Eighteenth.

See alsoAddiction; Maggie, A Girl of the Streets; McTeague; Reform


Primary Works

Crane, Stephen. The Portable Stephen Crane. Edited, with an introduction and notes, by Joseph Katz. New York: Penguin, 1977.

Dickinson, Emily. The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Edited by Ralph W. Franklin. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999.

Gough, John B. Platform Echoes. Hartford, Conn.: A. D. Worthington & Co., 1885.

London, Jack. John Barleycorn. 1913. New York: Modern Library, 2001.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 1885. New York: Signet, 2002.

Twain, Mark. Pudd'nhead Wilson. 1894. New York: Signet, 1994.

Secondary Works

Baym, Nina. Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and About Women in America, 1820–70. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Clark, Norman H. Deliver Us from Evil. New York: Norton, 1976.

Crowley, John W. The White Logic: Alcoholism and Gender in American Modernist Writing. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.

Gusfield, Joseph. Symbolic Crusade. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1963.

Reynolds, David S., and Debra J. Rosenthal, eds. The Serpent in the Cup: Temperance in American Literature. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.

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

Warner, Nicholas. Spirits of America: Intoxication in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

Debra J. Rosenthal


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The antebellum period was famously a time of social reform. Reformers agitated for the abolition of slavery and the expansion of women's rights, but they also renovated prisons and poorhouses and instituted mental asylums and schools for the deaf and the blind. They passed out religious tracts and insisted that the Sabbath be observed. They improved sewers and drains, inspected the homes of the poor, and campaigned against the death penalty and for world peace. They lived in communes, rejected fashion in favor of rational dress, and took all sorts of water cures. But above all else, they advocated temperance reform. Antebellum temperance reform was the largest mass movement in United States history—and certainly one of the most influential.

Temperance reform unfolded in five sometimes overlapping phases: (1) the licensing movement of the eighteenth century, (2) the moderationist societies of the early nineteenth century, (3) the temperance societies of the early to mid-nineteenth century, (4) the teetotal societies of the mid-nineteenth century, and (5) the prohibitionist movement of the mid-nineteenth century. The essay that follows will sketch out the history of temperance reform, pausing to consider four milestone temperance texts, and will conclude by discussing the effects that temperance reform had on the non-canonical and canonical literary texts of the antebellum period.


Throughout the seventeenth century and much of the eighteenth, drinking was frequent and alcohol was abundant. Beer or cider was served at every meal, to children as well as adults, and various liquors and cordials were used as medicines; many families distilled their own spirits and brewed their own beer. Church meetings, town elections, and militia trainings were all occasions for drinking, while the tavern was the site for all the communal activities that could not take place in the church, from business meetings and newspaper reading to cockfighting and bear baiting. Historians estimate that Americans drank more than twice as much alcohol in the colonial period as they do now, but no one at the time thought of this as a problem. On the contrary, alcohol was celebrated as salutary and drinking as convivial. Alcohol was understood not only to deaden pain and induce sleep but also to cure colds, break fevers, aid digestion, and, more generally, sustain the body's constitution; moreover, it served as a reliable alternative for an often impure water supply. The drinking of alcohol was understood to reaffirm communal ties—on holidays, at harvest time, and during all the rituals that punctuate a life, such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Communal ties were reaffirmed daily as well in the informal political debates that sprang up among the men who gathered every evening in taverns, gatherings that were as democratic as the revolution such debates would ultimately foment.

This happy conception of alcohol and drink was first challenged in the United States in 1673, when the Puritan minister Increase Mather published a pair of sermons entitled "Wo to Drunkards: Two Sermons Testifying against the Sin of Drunkenness." Mather voices the then current view of alcohol when he takes for granted the fact that "drink is in itself a good creature of God," but he attempts to alter the contemporary view of drinking by arguing that "the abuse of drink is from Satan" (p. 23). In introducing the category of "abuse" Mather is drawing a new distinction between moderate and excessive drinking. The consequences of excessive drinking fall on individual drunkards: their reason is destroyed and their souls are imperiled; their time and money are wasted, and they are often drawn into crime. But the fate of individual drunkards has become a concern for the Puritan community more generally because, Mather believes, excessive drinking has recently become more prevalent. For this reason, he exhorts the elders of Boston to monitor the drinking of others in order to ensure that it does not become excessive; more specifically, he calls on the elders to regulate the number of taverns and alehouses in the city and to supervise them more closely. In emphasizing regulation and supervision, Mather is anticipating the form that temperance activity would take throughout the eighteenth century, when the so-called licensing movement would seek to ensure that drinking houses and the drink trade remained in the hands of a respectable elite.

Toward the end of the eighteenth century two texts argued that licensing was not enough: Anthony Benezet's The Potent Enemies of America Laid Open (1774) and Benjamin Rush's An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Body (1790). The two texts are medical treatises that differ from Mather's sermons both in argument and in rhetoric. Where Mather had drawn a distinction between excessive and moderate drinking, Benezet and Rush instead distinguish among forms of alcohol: they condemn distilled spirits while praising beer, wine, and hard cider. Where Mather had relied on scriptural authority for his arguments, quoting Isaiah's attack on drunkards, Benezet and Rush rely instead on the authority of medicine and science. And where Mather had focused on the spiritual and moral effects of drunkenness, Benezet and Rush attend to the effects that spirits have on the body as well as on the mind and the character. Indeed, Rush establishes a remarkably precise set of correlations between various alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks and various bodily and moral states. He depicts these correlations visually through what he calls the "Moral and Physical Thermometer," which arranges drinks according to their specific "hotness," from water through punch to pepper in rum, and then displays the specific "diseases," "vices" and "punishments" to which the hotter drinks give rise (p. 4). A toddy, for instance, leads to gout, idleness, and debt, while morning drams lead to melancholy, "hatred of just gov't" and jail or the whipping post (p. 4).


Taken together, Mather's sermons and Benezet's and Rush's treatises laid the conceptual foundation for temperance reform. But reform did not seize the public imagination until the early nineteenth century, when people became troubled by a sudden rise in drinking rates. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries people had drunk at a rate more than double our own; in the first third of the nineteenth century, however, they suddenly began drinking at a rate more than triple. More specifically, the annual per capita consumption of distilled alcohol was six gallons a year; with the rise of temperance reform at mid-century, that rate would fall to two gallons a year, where it has held steady ever since. What these numbers obscure, however, is the fact that many women, children, and slaves did not drink at all in the period, which means that the

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typical drinker was consuming nearly half a pint of distilled alcohol every day.

Historians argue that the causes of this sudden rise in alcohol consumption were largely agricultural. A number of farmers had moved west, across the Allegheny mountains, only to find that the nation's infrastructure was not adequate to transporting their crops back to the cities and ports of the east. As a result, they needed to convert the grain they grew into something more portable: some began feeding their grain to livestock, while many more began distilling it into spirits. Spirits were easily transported back to the East, and they also circulated widely in the western territories, where a shortage of hard money made alcohol the most common currency. At the same time as the spread of agriculture was causing a national drinking binge, however, the rise of industrialization was making sobriety seem newly necessary. In the colonial period, labor had been spasmodic: agricultural labor followed cycles of activity and rest, harvest time followed by harvest festival; and artisanal labor too was oriented to tasks rather than time. Factory work, by contrast, required a disciplined labor force, one that would show up for work on time, every day—and sober.

Agricultural expansion thus created a situation that industrialization felt compelled to control. The first attempt to do so took the form of the moderationist movement of the early to mid-nineteenth century. This movement began in 1813, with the founding of the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance and the Connecticut Society for the Reformation of Morals. These groups emerged, historians argue, in response to the depression that was caused in New England by the War of 1812 and the consequent naval embargo; there was a fear that the newly unemployed would fall into drunkenness, and the moderationists sought to forestall this possibility by instilling what they called the habits of moderation. Moderation was defined in one of two ways: either as moderate, rather than excessive, drinking, or more commonly, as the drinking of fermented, rather than distilled, alcohol. That these two distinctions were sometimes confused with one another points to the fact that the moderationist societies were far more deeply concerned with a third distinction, the distinction of class. The moderationist societies drew their leaders and most of their members from the traditional New England elite, from the ranks of men who belonged to the Federalist Party and to the Congregationalist or the Unitarian Church. These men viewed alcohol and drinking through the lens of their own elite status, and as a result they tended to believe that problematic drinking—whether it be excessive drinking or the drinking of spirits—was a phenomenon particular to the lower classes. In the event, neither moderationist society proved to be very influential, and both had faded away by the early 1820s.

In 1826 a new group emerged, the American Temperance Society (ATS), which drew its members from a variety of evangelical denominations and included nearly as many women as men. The ATS followed the moderationists in taking excessive spirit-drinking to be primarily a lower-class phenomenon, but it argued that the responsibility for having caused this drinking, and thus the responsibility for ending it, lay squarely with the moderate drinkers of the upper classes. These drinkers had set an example that the lower classes were following at great peril; they were therefore obligated, the ATS argued, to set a new and better example by abstaining from spirits entirely. In this way, the third phase of temperance reform, temperance proper, began. The ATS was remarkably influential, in large part because many of its evangelical members had already been involved in mission work of various kinds and therefore knew how to disseminate their message much more broadly than previous reformers had been able to do. Where Mather addressed the church fathers of Boston and Benezet and Rush addressed the political leaders of the emerging United States, the ATS spoke directly, through illustrated tracts and weekly newspapers, to the moderate drinkers it was attempting to persuade. And persuaded they were: by 1833 more than six thousand local societies were affiliated with the ATS and more than a million men and women had signed the temperance pledge.

Temperance was quickly radicalized in two different ways. Some ATS groups began arguing that the sale of spirits should simply be outlawed, and in this way they inaugurated the prohibitionist phase that would come into prominence in the 1850s. Others began arguing that beer and wine—ultimately, even communion wine—were as dangerous as spirits. This latter line of argument gave rise, in 1836, to a group that ultimately replaced the ATS, the American Temperance Union; more generally, it gave rise to teetotalism, the fourth phase of temperance reform.


One of the earliest and most influential teetotal texts is Lyman Beecher's Six Sermons on the Nature, Occasions, Signs, Evils, and Remedy of Intemperance (1827). In these sermons Beecher erases all the distinctions that Mather, Benezet, and Rush had carefully drawn. There is no difference, for Beecher, between the strongest spirits and the weakest wine, no difference between a binge and a sip, because the weaker lead inevitably to the stronger and the sip leads inevitably to the binge. For this reason, Beecher insists on total abstinence from all forms of alcohol for everyone. "A flag must be planted at the entrance of [the drunkard's] course," he writes, "proclaiming in waving capitals—this is the way to death!!" (p. 39). Even as Beecher radicalizes temperance reform, he also borrows and combines the rhetorical strategies that had been used by earlier temperance texts. Specifically, he combines a medical analysis of what alcohol does to the body with religious claims about what it does to the soul, and he exhorts the nation to begin collecting the data that will reveal what alcohol is doing to the economy as well. He insists, in particular, on statistics, which he believes have a unique power to make visible "the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of this mighty evil" (p. 71).

Beecher and the American Temperance Union focused on saving the sober, just as earlier reformers had focused on saving the moderate drinker, in large part because no one believed that confirmed drunkards could be reclaimed. In 1840 a group called the Washingtonians began to do just that. Begun by six formerly hard-drinking artisans and laborers who agreed to support one another in their efforts to remain sober, the Washingtonian movement made a place not only for reformed drunkards but also for working-class men and women within temperance reform. The effects were astonishing: by 1843 the Washingtonians could claim 500,000 members. The Washingtonians differed from other groups not only in the focus of their efforts but also in their methods. Where the members of other temperance and teetotal societies gathered to listen to professional lecturers, the Washingtonians held what they called "experience meetings." In these meetings, the speakers were reformed drunkards who described in often harrowing detail what their lives had been like when they were drinking, why they decided to abstain, and what their lives had been like since—a narrative model that continues to structure Alcoholics Anonymous meetings even today. These meetings were supplemented by tee-total fairs and picnics, teetotal concerts and balls, and most popular of all, Fourth of July celebrations in which men and women would declare their independence from King Alcohol.

From the beginning, the more established temperance and teetotal societies were shocked by the Washingtonians: they condemned the vulgarity of the teetotal festivities and, even more, the luridness of the experience meetings. Increasingly, some of the Washingtonians themselves came to share this view. Many working-class men and women had turned to teetotalism in the hopes of improving their social and economic status, and they began to want the meetings they attended to display the respectability to which they aspired. In response to this desire, the Sons of Temperance emerged in 1842 and gradually took the place of the Washingtonians. Eschewing experience speeches and teetotal songs, the Sons of Temperance offered less entertainment but more concrete aid. Indeed, they remade temperance reform according to the model of the mutual aid societies that working-class men and women had first started forming in the 1830s.

Because the Washingtonians, and later the Sons of Temperance, believed that drunkards could be reclaimed by example, they continued to rely on the power of moral suasion. By contrast, the middle-class temperance and teetotal societies, believing as they did that drunkards were beyond redemption, increasingly began to argue that sobriety would be possible only when alcohol was outlawed. Prohibition first emerged as a possibility in the 1830s, when temperance societies in New England sought to deny licenses to taverns that sold liquor, but it came into real prominence in the 1850s. By 1850 Massachusetts had succeeded in transforming itself, county by county, into a teetotal state, and in 1851 Maine was the first state to vote itself teetotal all at once. Twelve states and territories had followed by 1855. That year, however, marked the high point of nineteenth-century prohibition—and of nineteenth-century temperance reform more generally. In the 1860s a number of states repealed their so-called Maine Laws; by the late 1870s only New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine itself remained dry. The Maine Laws were repealed in part because they proved impossible to enforce, given the very rudimentary state of police forces in the period, but more importantly because they had failed to fulfill the promise of temperance reform. Once the sale of alcohol was made illegal, it became increasingly clear that drinking was not in fact the sole cause of declining morals, rising crime, and growing unemployment. Some temperance activity persisted throughout the postbellum period, but for the most part the nation would not begin to think of alcohol and drinking as uniquely dangerous for another fifty years—until the early-twentieth-century agitation that would lead to fourteen years of national prohibition.


In 1865 the National Temperance Society established its own publishing house. "The demand of the present is books, Books, books!," its members proclaimed. "Men must have books, women will have books, and children should have books." In making this proclamation the National Temperance Society was implicitly acknowledging that books had already played an enormous role in antebellum temperance reform. The illustrated tracts and newspapers that the American Temperance Society had begun distributing in the 1820s and 1830s had quickly been joined by a huge number of texts from a wide range of genres: there were novels, stories, poems, and plays as well as magazines directed to various ages and even alphabet books. The most popular temperance texts proved to be Timothy Shay Arthur's Ten Nights in a Bar-room (1854), a best-selling novel, and John Gough's Autobiography (1845), which recorded the life story of one of the Washingtonians' most famous speakers. Arthur's play focuses on the damaging consequences of drinking: its protagonist decides to open a tavern, and, as a result, his daughter is killed in an accident, his wife is driven mad, and he is himself killed by his own son. Gough's Autobiography, by contrast, focuses on the benefits of sobriety. His own conversion from drinking and his subsequent career as a temperance speaker demonstrates the peace and prosperity that sobriety brings.

The effects of temperance reform on literature are not confined, however, to these explicitly didactic texts; nearly all the canonical authors of the period stand in some kind of relation to temperance reform. Some were straightforward advocates of teetotalism, among them the daughter of Lyman Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Particularly devoted to teetotalism were antislavery writers, who equated drunkenness with other forms of bondage. Indeed, Frederick Douglass argued, in his autobiography, that owners encouraged their slaves to drink on the rare days of holiday so as to "disgust their slaves with freedom" (p. 115). And Frances Harper, in her novel, Iola Leroy (1892), argued for temperance on the grounds that "the colored man has escaped from one slavery" and should be careful not "to fall into another" (p. 170). Other writers, specifically the transcendentalists, were drawn to some idea of temperate living or moderation, even as they were repelled by certain aspects of the cause. Ralph Waldo Emerson, for instance, saw the value of regulating the bodily appetites, but he also recognized that the careful distinctions of temperance reform could serve as a distraction from more fundamental issues: "The curious ethics of the pledge, of the Wine-question [is]," he wryly observed, "a gymnastic training to the casuistry and conscience of the time." And Henry David Thoreau's Walden (1854) can be read as an idiosyncratic celebration of cool, clear water by a lifelong water drinker, one who has retreated to the woods in large part to escape from the organized activities of reform.

Other authors made drunkenness and temperance an explicit topic in their own writing. Some did this for cynical reasons, writing didactic temperance fiction solely in order to make money or to ensure the publication of their work. Nathaniel Hawthorne, for instance, wrote a temperance short story early in his career, "A Rill from a Town Pump" (1835), but later parodied the representational practices of temperance reform in his anti-reformist novel, The Blithedale Romance (1852). Walt Whitman wrote temperance stories, as well as an entire temperance novel, Franklin Evans (1842); later in his life he would insist not only that he had written the novel solely for money but also that he had done so entirely drunk. Still other authors treated temperance reform as one remarkable social phenomenon among others, as when Herman Melville satirized it mildly in MobyDick (1851) and exposed its inadequacies in Redburn (1849). Finally, some authors used drunkenness to articulate seemingly unrelated concerns, as when Emily Dickinson, in "I taste a liquor never brewed—," used drunkenness as a figure for visionary experience or when Elizabeth Stoddard, in The Morgesons (1862), used it to figure sexual desire and generational decline. The protagonist of The Morgesons first feels desire when she first drinks mulled wine, and she will later insist that her lover conquer his inherited tendency to dissipation before she agrees to marry him. In all of these ways, temperance reform left its mark not only on cultural attitudes toward drinking and alcohol but also on the nation's literature.

See alsoEvangelicals; Health and Medicine; Puritanism; Reform; Religion; Sensational Fiction; Unitarians


Primary Works

Arthur, Timothy Shay. Ten Nights in a Bar-room, and WhatI Saw There. Chicago: M. A. Donohoe, 1854.

Beecher, Lyman. Six Sermons on the Nature, Occasions,Signs, Evils, and Remedy of Intemperance. 1827. New York: American Tract Society, 1845.

Benezet, Anthony. The Potent Enemies of America LaidOpen: Being Some Account of the Baneful Effects Attending the Use of Distilled Spirituous Liquors; and the Slavery of the Negroes. Philadelphia: Joseph Crukshank, 1774.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. 1845. Edited by Houston A. Baker Jr. New York: Penguin, 1986.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Lecture on the Times." 1841. In Nature; Addresses and Lectures. Boston: James Munroe, 1849.

Gough, John Bartholemew. The Autobiography of John Gough. 1845. Boston: J. B. Gough, Gould, and Lincoln, 1852.

Harper, Frances E. W. Iola Leroy, or, Shadows Uplifted. 1892. Oxford: Schomburg Library, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Mather, Increase. Wo to Drunkards: Two Sermons Testifying against the Sin of Drunkenness. Cambridge, Mass.: Marmaduke Johnson, 1673.

Rush, Benjamin. An Inquiry into the Effects of SpirituousLiquors on the Human Body, to Which Is Added, a Moral and Physical Thermometer. Boston: Thomas & Andrews, 1790.

Secondary Works

Lender, Mark Edward, and James Kirby Martin. Drinking in America: A History. 1982. Rev. ed. New York: Free Press, 1987.

Reynolds, David S. Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson andMelville. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Reynolds, David S., and Debra J. Rosenthal. The Serpent in the Cup: Temperance in American Literature. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.

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

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

Walters, Ronald G. American Reformers, 1815–1860. New York: Hill and Wang, 1978.

Amanda Claybaugh


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In classical and medieval thought, temperance, or sōphrosynē, could signify one or more of a congeries of traits, such as moderation, self-knowledge, self-restraint, or independence. These virtues were to be cultivated by the individual. In modern history, however, the meaning of temperance has become narrowed to refer only to limits on the consumption of alcoholic beverages, whether those restrictions are placed by an individual upon his or her personal consumption or by the state upon the habits of those subject to its jurisdiction. The principal agency in accomplishing this change in meaning has been a set of social movements whose origins lie in the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, but whose full flowering occurred in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Temperance movements have appeared in many societies, drawn upon diverse sources of support, pursued a variety of goals, and enjoyed widely varying degrees of success. In general, however, the temperance impulse in the modern world has been successful, whether its progress is measured by average levels of consumption or by preferences for less intoxicating forms of alcohol.

Temperance as Ideal and Issue

Most of the world's religions embrace temperance from alcoholic beverages as a virtue. For Hindu Brahmins, Buddhists, Jews, Roman Catholic Christians, and especially for Muslims and Protestant Christians, temperance and, for some, abstinence is valued. Tantra Hinduism, Daoism, and Roman Catholicism incorporate alcohol into ritual, among others, but only a few mystical sects, such as Islamic Sufism, celebrate intoxication. As a result, the worth of temperance itself has rarely been at issue in any society, even when social conflict over drinking has been most bitter. Nearly all drinkers regard their own behavior as temperate. Rather, discord over temperance typically arises when one segment of society attempts to impose restrictions upon another's drinkingthat is, when interpretations of the meaning of temperance clash. Temperance can also become involved in a struggle over other issues.

Colonial regimes, for example, have often imposed controls on the drinking of indigenous peoples, even when the introduction of alcohol into native cultures has undermined traditional ways and left native societies vulnerable to imperial domination. The European colonial powers in central Africa sought to compartmentalize the drinking of native laborers in space and time so as to safeguard productivity, and mine owners in South Africa went even further in the same direction when they forced prohibition on their workforces.

As early as the dawn of the nineteenth century, the United States federal government mandated prohibition for Native Americans. But embattled indigenous peoples have also sought to use temperance for their own purposes, as a buttress of anticolonial resistance, as was the case for South African kings, leaders of Native American revitalization movements such as the Seneca Handsome Lake and the Shawnee Tenskwatawa (17751836), and the Indian nationalist movement led by M. K. Gandhi (18691948). In such cases, the hypocrisy of colonial authorities in preaching temperance while allowing, or even fostering, alcohol consumption has given a weapon to those seeking to overthrow or reject their dominion.

In industrial societies, employers have often found it expedient to support controls on workers' alcohol consumption in the hope of habituating their workforce to the discipline of machine production. But militant workers' movements, such as the English Chartists, the Knights of Labor in the United States and Canada, Austrian Socialists, and Spanish anarchists, have realized the value of temperance in mobilizing sober opposition to capital or to capitalist governments. Furthermore, successful revolutionary movements have sometimes included liquor control among their tools for reshaping society, as was the case for the Mexican government in the 1930s and the early Soviet regime.

Temperance has been a subtler instrument in inter-group struggles when classes or professions have deployed it as a means of self-definition or as a vehicle for claims of expertise. In many industrializing English-speaking societies, middle classes have adopted sobriety as a badge of respectability, distinguishing themselves at least rhetorically from allegedly profligate elites on one hand and from purportedly dissolute workers on the other. Among professionalizing groups, physicians in particular have often taken leadership roles in temperance advocacy in societies as diverse as the United States,Britain, Denmark, France, Australia, Imperial Russia, and the Soviet Union. In such cases, as sociologist Joseph Gusfield shows, temperance serves both as a badge of personal rectitude and as an assertion of the fitness of a class or profession to set society's direction.

Temperance Movements

The first temperance campaign in modern history was mounted by Martin Luther (14831546) and his followers as part of the Protestant Reformation, and was directed at the episodic drunkenness of traditional German drinking bouts. It failed, however, and German intellectuals instead came to view unconstrained drinking as a positive, indeed defining, Germanic trait.

Organized temperance societies next appeared in Britain and the United States in the early nineteenth century. Although the appearance of such societies derived critical impetus from evangelical Protestantism in both countries, temperance advocacy was by no means limited to evangelicals or to Protestants. By the 1870s, the Church of England had created its own temperance society, and during the same decade in the United States the founding of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union (CTAU) demonstrated Roman Catholic concern with the issue. The CTAU's definition of "temperance" as total abstinence also indicated how far temperance reform had traveled during its first half-century, since early American temperance reformers had first defined only moderation in the use of alcoholic beverages and later abstinence only from distilled spirits as their goal. Many reformers, however, soon moved to appeals for abstinence from all intoxicating beverages and then to a demand for state action to stop liquor sales, or prohibition. By the early twentieth century, movements for prohibition had appeared as well in Britain, in other British settler societiesCanada, Australia, and New Zealandand in Nordic countries. The prohibition cause peaked during the 1910s and 1920s, when various forms of large-scale prohibition were adopted in Iceland (19151922), Finland (19191932), Norway (19161927), Russia and the Soviet Union (19141925), Canadian provinces (varying periods between 1901 and 1948) and by the Canadian federal government (19181919), and in the United States (19181933). In addition, a majority of voters in New Zealand twice supported prohibition (in 1911 and 1919), but the measure was never enacted. For those nations involved, World War I furnished a crucial stimulus for new restrictions on alcohol sales, such as the Carlisle system, a British scheme for government ownership and management of the liquor industry, and the French government's ban on absinthe.

Although temperance reform is commonly thought to have declined following the death of prohibition, new movements have simply taken on novel guises. American National Prohibition had been repealed only two years when a new self-help movement for habitual drunkards, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), grew from the chance meeting of two drunks in Akron, Ohio. AA has since become a worldwide movement, with popular manifestations or imitations in countries such as Mexico and Japan, and its twelve-step method has found application to a variety of habits and afflictions. Since the 1940s, academics following in the footsteps of E. M. Jellinek at the former Yale (University) Center of Alcohol Studies have taken a leading part in alcohol research and policy advice. Employers have continued to offer intervention in their workers' personal habits through "employee assistance programs." Both government policies and new organizations such as Mothers against Drunk Driving and Students against Destructive Decisions have focused on preventing or punishing drunken driving.

Women have often played key roles in temperance reform. In the United States, although women made up a large proportion of the membership of early temperance societies, they generally worked under male leadership. This began to change during the 1850s with the founding of the Independent Order of Good Templars, which soon became an international organization in which women in theory, and sometimes in practice, held equal status with male members. Women definitely seized the initiative in American temperance reform, however, in 18731874, when tens of thousands of women undertook nonviolent direct action against retail liquor dealers, using mass marches and public prayer and song. In the aftermath of the Women's Temperance Crusade, the national Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded, and it soon became the largest organization of American women. Through the visit of an American activist from the Crusade the British Women's Temperance Association, Britain's first national women's temperance society, was established in 1876.

American and British women temperance activists soon began to extend their movement across the world, leading to the establishment in 1884 of the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WWCTU). Although it was always controlled by American and British women, the WWCTU made temperance for the first time an international movement. Through this vehicle advocacy of other issues, such as peace and women's enfranchisement, was also spread.

Despite the common belief that failure of the various national prohibition schemes ended its impact, in fact temperance reform has exerted far-reaching influence upon consumption patterns, in large part because of its protean character and ability to adapt to diverse national cultures. Examples of its adaptability include AA in Roman Catholic Mexico, which in 1997 held the world's second largest number of local chapters; the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart, an Irish Catholic society that at its peak in 1960 enrolled one-sixth of the Irish population and also attracted members in other countries; and the Danshukai societies in Japan, which have altered AA practices to fit Japanese culture. In the older industrialized countries at the outset of the twenty-first century, overall per capita consumption of alcohol was declining from peaks reached during the late twentieth century, and spirits and sometimes wine were being replaced in public preference by less potent beers, even in societies with long traditions of wine drinking. Nevertheless, rising consumption in the developing world, especially in China and India, presents new challenges to one of the world's historically most influential social movements.

See also Religion and the State .


Barrows, Susanna, and Robin Room, eds. Drinking: Behavior and Belief in Modern History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

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

Blocker, Jack S., Jr., David M. Fahey, and Ian R. Tyrrell, eds. Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003.

Blocker, Jack S., Jr., and Cheryl Krasnick Warsh, eds. The Changing Face of Drink: Substance, Imagery, and Behaviour. Ottawa, Canada: Histoire sociale/Social History, 1997.

Gusfield, Joseph R. Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement. Rev. ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Heron, Craig. Booze: A Distilled History. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2003.

Kurtz, Ernest. Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. Rev. ed. Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 1991.

Tyrrell, Ian R. Woman's World/Woman's Empire: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Jack S. Blocker Jr.


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Although alcohol use and abuse had been a part of American society since the arrival of European colonists, it was not until the nineteenth century that campaigns against alcohol took on the character of a mass movement. With the foundation of the American Temperance Society in 1826, evangelical concern for the moral regeneration of individual alcohol abusers started to be transformed into a broader campaign to purify society of the corrupting influence of alcohol. In these campaigns, reformers moved back and forth between moral suasion (attempts to discourage alcohol use through argument and example) and more coercive measures (such as governmental regulation and prohibition).

Beyond their attempts to curtail the use of alcohol, reformers found themselves drawn into larger political and social issues. For instance, after the formation of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1874, many women took their crusade for the moral improvement of America to such issues as women's suffrage and the labor movement. Some conservative temperance advocates were uncomfortable with such broader reforms, and in 1896 the Anti-Saloon League was founded, with a narrower focus on governmental prohibition of alcohol and a closer alliance with the conservative evangelical churches. In 1919 these narrower efforts bore fruit: The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, and national prohibition went into effect shortly afterward. But while most Americans saw the danger of alcohol abuse, governmental prohibition brought on many problems. Corruption and crime went hand in hand with a burgeoning black-market liquor industry, and in 1933 the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed, ending the Prohibition era.

Since 1933 America has not come close to national prohibition of alcohol. Instead, efforts have moved back toward moral suasion as the primary method of combating alcohol abuse. The evangelical character of such efforts can be seen in Alcoholics Anonymous (founded in 1935), which asserted the notion that certain individuals, called "alcoholics," needed to appeal to a higher power to help them. This organization, with its "Twelve-Step" program, was the prototype for a variety of contemporary self-help groups that encourage a kind of temperance in relation to food, sex, anger, work, and many other aspects of life.

If there has been a contemporary resurgence of a more coercive national temperance movement, it has bypassed alcohol and has taken shape as the "war on drugs." Much of the earlier rhetoric decrying the corrupting influence of alcohol has been applied in the more recent crusades against marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and a variety of other substances. Once again, larger social and political issues have been brought into these debates, including questions about the role of government in regulating the lives of private citizens; questions about the links among drug prohibition, crime, corruption, and a black-market economy; and accusations of racism in the enforcement of antidrug laws. Perhaps in an effort to avoid such problematic issues, antidrug efforts to enforce and maintain certain ideals of purity have been framed in the language of public health. However, while both proponents and critics have appealed to notions of justice and freedom, to the degree that these notions differ, controversy is likely to continue.

See alsoDrugs; Health; Twelve-Step Programs.


Blocker, Jack S. American Temperance Movements: Cyclesof Reform. 1989.

Blocker, Jack S. "Temperance Movements." In Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion, edited by Robert Wuthnow. 1998.

Clark, Norman H. Deliver Us from Evil: An Interpretationof American Prohibition. 1976.

Gusfield, Joseph R. Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics andthe American Temperance Movement. 1963.

Wagner, David. The New Temperance: The American Obsession with Sin and Vice. 1997.

Kerry Mitchell


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Drinking Habits. In the years following the Revolution efforts were made to alter American drinking habits. This was a departure from the attitude that an alcoholic beverage was necessary to fellowship. In the South and West it was considered proper for a family to keep a full bottle of liquor for guests; not to do so was to be inhospitable. In the North hardened cider was the common table beverage, and it was customary for a man to fortify himself with a glass of it several times a day. Clergymen took drinks between services and lawyers before going to the court. Liquor was present at communal tasks, such as corn huskings and barn raisings, and also at festivities. It was also a part of slaves festivals and celebrations. The temperance groups that appeared at the turn of the century were responding in part to the impact of technology. Improvements in the distillation process allowed for the production of stronger distilled drinks. Higher-proof liquor in itself made it dangerous to drink in the customary way. In addition the groups were trying to contest the moral evils of heavy alcohol consumption, which they believed resulted in laziness and disrupted family relations.

Early Groups. In 1789 the first temperance group was formed by two hundred farmers in Litchfield, Connecticut. They pledged not to drink alcoholic beverages during the farming season. Their goal was not to change the behavior of others or to stop consuming alcohol. Rather, these farmers changed their own behavior to improve their work. Another group was the Temperance Society for Moreau and Northumberland, formed in Saratoga County, New York, in 1808. After 1810 concerted efforts on the state level began to appear. By 1818 there were a large number of such organizations, such as the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance and the Connecticut Society for the Reformation of Morals, both founded in 1813.


Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 17901840 (New York: Harper, 1988).


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634. Temperance

  1. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) organization founded to help alcoholics (1934). [Am. Culture: EB, I: 448]
  2. amethyst provides protection against drunkenness; February birthstone. [Gem Symbolism: Kunz, 5859]
  3. Anti-Saloon League successfully led drive for Prohibition (1910s). [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 357]
  4. Jonadab enjoined his people to abstinence. [O.T.: Jeremiah 35: 511]
  5. Nation, Carry (Amelia Moore) (18461911) hatchet-wielding saloon wrecker. [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 253]
  6. Prohibition (19191933) period when selling and consuming liquor was against the law. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 2710]
  7. Rechabites pastoral people who abstained from all wines. [O.T.: Jeremiah 35:519]
  8. Samson consecrated to God in abstinence. [O.T.: Judges 13:45]
  9. Volstead Act 18th Amendment, passed by Congress to enforce Prohibition (1919). [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 286]
  10. Womans Christian Temperance Union society of militant housewives against drinking (20th century). [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 357]


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tem·per·ance / ˈtemp(ə)rəns/ • n. abstinence from alcoholic drink: [as adj.] the temperance movement. ∎  moderation or self-restraint, esp. in eating and drinking.


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of cooks: a company of cooksBk. of St. Albans, 1486.