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Temperance movement in the United States

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Subject: Susan B. Anthony, Second Great Awakening, Temperance movement by country, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, History of the United States
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Temperance movement in the United States

The Temperance movement in the United States was a movement to curb the consumption of alcohol and had a large influence on American politics and society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Drunkard's Progress: A lithograph by Nathaniel Currier supporting the temperance movement, January 1846.

Early Temperance: 1784-1861

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, various factors contributed to an epidemic of alcoholism that went hand-in-hand with spousal abuse, family neglect, and chronic unemployment. Americans used to drinking lightly alcoholic beverages like cider "from the crack of dawn to the crack of dawn" began ingesting far more alcohol as they drank more of strong, cheap beverages like rum (in the colonial period) and whiskey (in the post-Revolutionary period).[1] Popular pressure for cheap and plentiful alcohol led to relaxed ordinances on alcohol sales.

The Temperance movement sparked to life with Sabbath and other moral issues, and by the early 1820s political in-fighting had stalled the movement.

Some leaders persevered in pressing their cause forward. Americans such as Lyman Beecher, who was a Connecticut minister, had started to lecture his fellow citizens against all use of liquor in 1825. The American Temperance Society was formed in 1826 and benefited from a renewed interest in religion and morality. Within 12 years it claimed more than 8,000 local groups and over 1,500,000 members. By 1839, 18 temperance journals were being published. Simultaneously, some Protestant and Catholic church leaders were beginning to promote temperance. The movement split along two lines in the late 1830s: between moderates allowing some drinking and radicals demanding total abstinence, and between voluntarists relying on moral suasion alone and prohibitionists promoting laws to restrict or ban alcohol. Radicals and prohibitionists dominated many of the largest temperance organizations after the 1830s, and temperance eventually became synonymous with prohibition.

Blacks also had an impact on the Temperance movement in the state of Connecticut. Jehiel C. Beman formed the Connecticut State Temperance Society of Colored People (CSTSCP) in 1836. In 1842, the CSTSCP joined with other groups like itself in other states to form the States Delevan Union Temperance Society of Colored People.

The Civil War dealt the movement a crippling blow. Temperance groups in the South were then weaker than their Northern counterparts and too voluntarist to gain any statewide prohibition law, and the few prohibition laws in the North were repealed by the war's end. Both sides in the war made alcohol sales a part of the war effort by taxing brewers and distillers to finance much of the conflict. The issue of slavery crowded out temperance and temperance groups petered out until they found new life in the 1870s.[3]

Temperance Theatre

Temperance birthed an entire genre of theatre. This was first seen in 1825, as The Forgers, a dramatic poem written by John Blake White, premiered at the Charleston Theatre in Charleston, South Carolina. The next significant temperance drama to debut was titled "Fifteen Years of a Drunkard's Life", written by Douglas Jerrold in 1841. As the movement began to grow and prosper, these dramas became more popular among the general public. "The Drunkard" by W.H. Smith premiered in 1841 in Boston, running for 144 performances before being produced at P.T. Barnum's American Museum on lower Broadway. The play was wildly popular and is often credited with the entrance of the temperance narrative into mainstream American theatre. It continued to be a staple of New York's theatre scene all the way until 1875. "The Drunkard" follows the typical format of a temperance drama: the main character has an alcohol-induced downfall, and he restores his life from disarray once he denounces drinking for good at the play's end. Temperance drama continued to grow as a genre of theatre, fostered by the advent of the railroad as a form of transportation. This enabled theatre companies to be much more mobile, traveling from city to city. Temperance drama would even reach as far as the West Coast, as David Belasco's adaptation of Émile Zola's novel "Drink" premiered at the Baldwin Theatre in San Francisco in 1879.

Second Wave Temperance: 1872-1893

As Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU, f. 1874) and the voluntarist Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America (CTAU, f. 1872). Prohibitionist temperance grew popular in the South as it embraced the "Southern" values of racial hierarchy, gender roles, and honor.[5] The national movement enlisted more religious support throughout the country, especially from evangelicals.

Temperance education

In 1873, the WCTU established a Frances Willard led the group under the motto "Do Everything" to protect women and children. Some of the changes the WCTU sought included property and custody rights for women, women's suffrage, raising the age of consensual sex, peace arbitration, women's education, and advocacy for working rights of women.[6]

Postcard depicting Temperance Hall

Because of the correlation between drinking and domestic violence—many drunken husbands abused family members—the temperance movement existed alongside various women's rights and other movements, including the Progressive movement, and often the same activists were involved in multiple movements. Many notable voices of the time, ranging from Lucy Webb Hayes to Susan B. Anthony, were active in temperance. In Canada, Nellie McClung was a longstanding advocate of temperance. As with most social movements, there was a gamut of activists running from violent (Carrie Nation) to mild (Neal S. Dow).

The American Temperance University opened in 1893 in the planned town of Harriman, Tennessee, which was developed as a community with no alcoholic beverages permitted. In its second year of operation the institution enrolled 345 students from 20 states. However, it closed in 1908.

Temperance fountains

Muddied and ill-tasting drinking water encouraged many Americans to drink alcohol for health purposes, so temperance groups constructed public drinking fountains throughout the United States following the Civil War. The National Woman's Christian Temperance Union (NWCTU)'s organizing convention of 1874 strongly encouraged its attendees to erect the fountains in the places that they had come from. The NWCTU advocated public temperance fountains as a means to discourage males from entering drinking establishment for refreshment.[7]

Cast-stone statues of Hebe were marketed for use in temperance fountains. In Tompkins Square (New York City) the James Fountain (1881), is a Temperance fountain with the figure of Charity who empties her jug of water, aided by a child; it was donated by Daniel Willis James and sculpted by Adolf Donndorf. In Washington DC "the" Temperance Fountain was donated to the city in 1882 by Temperance crusader Henry D. Cogswell. This fountain was one of a series of fountains he designed and commissioned in a belief that easy access to cool drinking water would keep people from consuming alcohol. Under its stone canopy the words "Faith," "Hope," "Charity," and "Temperance" are chiseled. Atop this canopy is a life-sized heron, and the centerpiece is a pair of entwined heraldic scaly dolphins. Originally, visitors were supposed to freely drink ice water flowing from the dolphins' snouts with a brass cup attached to the fountain and the overflow was collected by a trough for horses, but the city tired of having to replenish the ice in a reservoir underneath the base and disconnected the supply pipes.

Simon Benson, an Oregon lumberman, was a tee-totaler who wanted to discourage his workers from drinking alcohol in the middle of the day. In 1912, Benson gave the City of Portland USD$10,000 for the installation of twenty bronze drinking fountains. As of May, 2012, these fountains, known as "Benson Bubblers", continue to be used as functional public drinking devices in downtown Portland; two Portland "Benson Bubbler" locations are Eastbank Esplanade and the corner of "3rd and Burnside".[8][9]

Third Wave Temperance: 1893-1933

The last wave of temperance in the United States saw the rise of the Anti-Saloon League, which successfully pushed for National Prohibition from its enactment in 1920 to its repeal in 1933. This heavily prohibitionist wave attracted a diverse coalition: doctors, pastors, and eugenicists; Klansmen and liberal internationalists; business leaders and labor radicals; conservative evangelicals and liberal theologians.[10]

Anti-Saloon League

Rev. Howard Hyde Russell founded the Prohibition Party and the WCTU soon lost influence to the better-organized and more focused ASL.

The ASL's motto was "the Church in action against the saloon," and it mobilized its religious coalition to pass state (and local) legislation (establishing dry states and dry counties).

By the late nineteenth century, most Protestant denominations and the American wing of the Catholic Church supported the movement to legally restrict the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. These groups believed that alcohol consumption led to corruption, prostitution, spousal abuse and other criminal activities. Brewers and distillers resisted the reform movement, which threatened to ruin their livelihood, and also feared women having the vote, because they expected women to vote for prohibition.[6]

Energized by the anti-German sentiment during World War I, the ASL achieved its main goal of passage on December 18, 1917—the 18th Amendment. Upon ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures by January 16, 1919, established National Prohibition. (the Amendment came into effect on January 16, 1920) Prohibition banned "the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States and its possessions." However, Prohibition did not outlaw the purchase or consumption of alcohol products.

A temperance fountain in Tompkins Square Park, New York City

Temperance organizations

Temperance organizations of the United States played an essential role in bringing about ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution establishing national prohibition of alcohol. They included:

There was often considerable overlap in membership in these organizations, as well as in leadership. Prominent temperance leaders in the United States included Bishop James Cannon, Jr., James Black, Ernest Cherrington, Neal S. Dow, Mary Hunt, William E. Johnson (known as "Pussyfoot" Johnson), Carrie Nation, Howard Hyde Russell, John St. John, Billy Sunday, Father Mathew, Andrew Volstead and Wayne Wheeler.

Notes and references

  1. ^ W.J., Rorabaugh (1981). The Alcohol Republic: An American Tradition. Oxford University Press. pp. 20–21.  
  2. ^ Blocker, Jack S. (1989). American Temperance Movements: Cycles of Reform. Boston: Twayne Publishers. p. 16. 
  3. ^ "Yours for the Oppressed": The Life of Jehiel C. Beman Kathleen Housley The Journal of Negro History , Vol. 77, No. 1 (Winter, 1992), pp. 17-29
  4. ^ Smith (2001), Grant, p. 547
  5. ^ Coker, Joe L. (2007). Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press. 
  6. ^ a b Howard Clark Kee, Emily Albu, Carter Lindberg, J. William Frost, Dana L. Robert (1998). Christianity: A Social and Cultural History. 2nd edition. Prentice Hall, River, NJ.
  7. ^ Staff (1996–2009). "WCTU Drinking Fountains - Then and Now". Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  8. ^ Jolie Wolfe (20 May 2012). "Water Bureau: Benson Bubbler bowl was stolen". FOX 12 Oregon. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  9. ^ Dan Haneckow (2 February 2012). "Benson Bubbler, 3rd and Burnside. Portland Oregon, February 2, 2012." (Image file). flickr. Yahoo! Inc. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  10. ^ "A Nation of Drunkards." Prohibition. Produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. 2 hours. PBS video, DVD, 2011.
  11. ^ Staff (7 December 2007). "1846, Martha Washington Salem Union No. 6., Daughters of Temperance". New Jersey Women's History. The Women's Project of New Jersey, Inc. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 

See also


  • Ernest Cherrington, Evolution of Prohibition in the United States (1926). by dry leader
  • Clark; Norman H. Deliver Us From Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition. W. W. Norton, 1976. supports prohibition
  • Dannenbaum, Jed. "The Origins of Temperance Activism and Militancy among American Women", Journal of Social History vol. 14 (1981): 235-36.
  • Jensen, Richard. The Winning of the Midwest, Social and Political Conflict, 1888-1896 University of Chicago Press, 1971
  • McConnell, D. W. Temperance Movements. In: Seligman, Edwin R. A., and Johnson, Alvin (eds.) Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 1933.
  • Odegard, Peter H. Pressure Politics: The Story of the Anti-Saloon League. 1928.
  • Sheehan, Nancy M. The WCTU and education: Canadian-American illustrations. Journal of the Midwest History of Education Society, 1981, P, 115-133.
  • Timberlake, James H. Prohibition and the Progressive Movement, 1900-1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963.
  • Tracy, Sarah W. and Caroline Jean Acker; Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000 University of Massachusetts Press, 2004
  • Tyrrell, Ian; Woman's World/Woman's Empire: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, 1880-1930 University of North Carolina Press, 1991

External links

  • In the South (entry in the New Georgia Encyclopedia)
  • Temperance news page - Alcohol and Drugs History Society
  • NBC News interview with CUNY's Josh Brown on the Temperance Movement
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