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The Drunkard's Progress: by Nathaniel Currier 1846, warns that moderate drinking leads, step-by-step, to total disaster.

The temperance movement is a social movement against the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Participants in the movement typically criticize alcohol intoxication or promote complete abstinence (teetotalism). Evangelical Protestants have typically been the leaders, emphasizing the sinfulness of drinking as well as the evil effects on personality, family life and local politics where saloonkeepers organize the wet vote. Typically the movement demands new laws against the selling of alcohols, or to regulate the availability of alcohol, or completely prohibit it.



Origins (1820s–'30s)

This is the songbook used at the Women's Temperance Organization from Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania

The temperance movement began in the early 19th century, in the 1820s.[1][note 1] Before this, although there were pieces published against drunkenness and excess, total abstinence from alcohol (i.e. teetotalism) was very rarely advocated or practiced.[citation needed] There was also a concentration on advice against hard spirits rather than on abstinence from all alcohol and on moral reform rather than legal measures against alcohol.[3][note 2] An early temperance movement began during the American Revolution in Connecticut, Virginia and New York state, with farmers forming associations to ban whiskey distilling. The movement spread to eight states, advocating temperance rather than abstinence and taking positions on religious issues such as observance of the Sabbath.[5]

After the American Revolution there was a new emphasis on good citizenship for the new republic.[2] With the Evangelical Protestant religious revival of the 1820s and '30s, called the Second Great Awakening, social movements began aiming for a perfect society. This included abolitionism and temperance.[2][1][6]:23 The Awakening brought with it an optimism about moral reform, achieved through volunteer organizations.[7] Although the temperance movement was non-denominational in principle, the movement consisted mostly of church-goers.[2] Out of the religious revival and reform appeared Mormonism and Seventh-day Adventism, new Christian denominations that established criteria for healthy living as a part of their religious teachings, namely temperance.[6]:23

The temperance movement promoted temperance and emphasized the moral, economical and medical effects of overindulgence.[4] Connecticut born minister Lyman Beecher published a book in 1826 called Six Sermons on...Intemperance. Beecher described inebriation as a "national sin" as well as suggesting legislation to prohibit the sales of alcohol.[6] In the same year, the American Temperance Society was formed, within 12 years claiming more than 8,000 local groups and over 1,250,000 members.[8] Presbyterian preacher Charles Grandison Finney, taught abstinence from ardent spirits. In the Rochester, New York revival of 1831, individuals were required to sign a temperance pledge in order to receive salvation. Finney believed and taught that the body represented the "temple of God" and anything that would harm the "temple" including alcohol, must be avoided.[6]:23

Temperance societies were being organized in England about the same time, many inspired by a Belfast professor of theology, and Presbyterian Church of Ireland Minister John Edgar,[9] who poured his stock of whiskey out of his window in 1829. He mainly concentrated his fire on the elimination of spirits rather than wine and beer.[3][10][11] On August 14, 1829 he wrote a letter in the Belfast Telegraph publicizing his views on temperance. He also formed the Ulster Temperance Movement with other Presbyterian clergy, initially enduring ridicule from members of his community.[12]

The 1830s saw a tremendous growth in temperance groups, not just in England and the United States, but also in British colonies, especially New Zealand[13] and Australia.[14][citation needed]

Teetotalism (1830s)

As a response to rising social problems in urbanized areas, in the 1830s[citation needed] a stricter form of temperance emerged called teetotalism, which promoted the complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages.[15] In the US, the American Temperance Union advocated the total abstinence of distilled and fermented liquors. By 1835, they had gained 1.5 million members.[4] In the UK, teetotalism originated in Preston, in 1833.[16][17] The Catholic temperance movement started in 1838 when the Irish priest Theobald Mathew established the Teetotal Abstinence Society in 1838.[18] In 1838, the mass working class movement for universal suffrage for men, Chartism, included a current called "temperance chartism".[19][20] Faced with the refusal of the Parliament of the time to give the right to vote to working people, the temperance chartists saw the campaign against alcohol as a way of proving to the elites that working-class people were responsible enough to be granted the vote.[21]

Growing radicalism and influence (1840s–'50s)

Sons of Temperance procession, Hill End, New South Wales, 1872

During the Victorian period, the temperance movement became more political, advocating the legal prohibition of all alcohol, rather than only calling for moderation. It was also perceived to be tied in with both religious renewal and progressive politics, particularly female suffrage. Proponents of temperance, teetotalism and prohibition came to be known as the "drys". The drys believed that alcohol would help decrease crime, make families stronger, and improve society as a whole.[1]

There was still a focus on the working class, but also their children. The Band of Hope was founded in 1847 in Leeds, UK, by the Reverend Jabez Tunnicliff. It aimed to save working class children from the drinking parents by teaching them the importance and principles of sobriety and teetotalism. In 1855, a national organisation was formed amidst an explosion of Band of Hope work. Meetings were held in churches throughout the UK and included Christian teaching. The group campaigned politically for the curtailment of the influence of pubs and brewers. The organization became quite radical, organizing rallies, demonstrations and marches to influence as many people as possible to sign the pledge of allegiance to the society and to resolve to abstain "from all liquors of an intoxicating quality, whether ale, porter, wine or spirits, except as medicine."[22]

In this period there was local success at restricting or banning the sale of alcohol in many parts of the United States. In 1838, Massachusetts banned certain sales of spirits. The law was repealed two years later, but it set a precedent.[1] In 1845, Michigan allowed its municipalities to decide whether they were going to prohibit.[23] In 1846, a law was passed in Maine which was a full-fledged prohibition, and this was followed by bans in several other states in the next two decades.[1] New Zealand[note 3] and the United Kingdom followed suit. However, in the US there was a setback for the Temperance movement as both the US and the UK relied on alcohol duty to finance the American Civil War, and a number of states stopped prohibition. This was reversed in the post-war period, however, as the fast expanding Anti-Saloon League focused on establishing dry states and dry counties.[citation needed]

The movement became more effective, with alcohol consumption in the US being decreased by half between 1830 and 1840. During this time, prohibition laws came into effect in twelve US states, such as Maine. Organized opposition caused five of these states to eliminate or weaken the laws.[4]

Transition to a mass movement (1860s–1900s)

The Temperance movement was a significant mass movement at this time and encouraged a general abstinence from the consumption of alcohol. A general movement to build alternatives to replace the functions of public bars existed, so the Independent Order of Rechabites was formed in England, with a branch later opening in America as a friendly society that did not hold meetings in public bars. There was also a movement to introduce temperance fountains across the United States—to provide people with reliably safe drinking water rather than saloon alcohol.[24][15] A variety of temperance halls and coffee palaces were established as replacements for bars. Numerous periodicals devoted to temperance were published[note 4] and temperance theatre, which had started in the 1820s, became an important part of the American cultural landscape at this time.[25]

The National Prohibition Party led by John Russell gradually became more popular, gaining more votes, as they felt that the existing Democrat and Republican parties did not do enough for the temperance cause.[15] The party was associated with the Independent Order of Good Templars, which entertained a universalist orientation, being more open to blacks and repentant alcoholics than most other organizations.[26]

In 1864, the Salvation Army was founded in London with a heavy emphasis on both abstinence from alcohol and ministering to the working class, which led publicans to fund a Skeleton Army to disrupt their meetings. The Salvation Army quickly spread internationally, maintaining an emphasis on abstinence.[27][28][citation needed] Many of the most important prohibitionist groups, such as the avowedly prohibitionist United Kingdom Alliance (1853) and the US-based (but international)[29] Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU; 1873), began in the latter half of the nineteenth century,[30] the latter of which was the one of the largest women societies in the world at the time.[15][31] But the largest and most radical international temperance organization was the Good Templars.[32] In 1862, the Soldiers Total Abstinence Association was founded in British India by Joseph Gelson Gregson, a Baptist missionary.[33] In 1898, the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association was formed by James Cullen, an Irish Catholic, which spread to other English-speaking Catholic communities.[34]

The Anti-Saloon League was an organization that began in 1893 in Ohio. Reacting to urban growth, it was driven by evangelical Protestantism.[1][23] Furthermore, the League was strongly supported by the WCTU: in some US states alcoholism had become epidemic and domestic violence rates were high. At the time, Americans drank about three times much as they did in the 2010s, and alcoholism was seen to be causing poverty.[35] The League campaigned for suffrage and temperance simultaneously, with leader Susan B. Anthony stating that "The only hope of the Anti-Saloon League's success lies in putting the ballot into the hands of women", i.e. it was expected that the first act that women were to take upon themselves after having obtained the right to vote, was to vote for an alcohol ban.[23] Much of the temperance movement was based on organized religion, which saw women as responsible for edifying their children to be abstaining citizens.[2] Furthermore, temperance activists were able to promote suffrage more effectively than suffrage activists themselves, because of their wide-ranging experience as activists, and because they argued for a concrete aim of safety at home, rather than an abstract aim of justice as the suffragists did.[36] Prohibition agendas also became popular among factory owners, who strove for more efficiency during a period of increased industrialization.[1] For this reason, industrial leaders such as Henry Ford and S.S. Kresge supported Prohibition.[23] The cause of the sober factory worker was related to the cause of women temperance leaders: concerned mothers protested against the enslavement of factory workers, as well as the temptation saloons offered to these workers.[15] Other actions of the temperance movement were organizing sobriety lectures and setting up reform clubs for men and children. Some proponents also opened special temperance hotels and lunch wagons, and lobbied for banning liquor during prominent events such as the Centennial Exposition. The Scientific Temperance Instruction Movement published textbooks, promoted alcohol education and held many lectures.[15][37] Political action included lobbying local legislators and creating petition campaigns.[38]

This new trend of temperance movement would be the last but also the most effective.[39] Scholars have estimated that by 1900, one in ten Americans had signed a pledge to abstain from drinking,[40] as the temperance movement became the most well-organized lobby group of the time.[41] By the turn of the century, temperance societies became commonplace in the US,[1] as the alcohol problem was considered the most crucial problem of Western civilization.[42]

During this time, there was also a growth in non-religious temperance groups linked to left-wing movements, such as the Scottish Prohibition Party. Founded in 1901, it went on to defeat Winston Churchill in Dundee in the 1922 general election.[43]

The temperance movement generated its own popular culture. Popular songwriters such as Susan McFarland Parkhurst, George Frederick Root, Henry Clay Work and Stephen C. Foster composed a number of these songs.[44] At temperance inns puppet plays, minstrel acts, parades and other shows were held.[15]

Legislative successes and failures (1910s)

A 1871 American advertisement promoting temperance, styled as a fictitious railroad advertisement

A favorite goal of the British Temperance movement was to sharply reduce heavy drinking by closing as many pubs as possible. Advocates were Protestant nonconformists who played a major role in the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party adopted temperance platforms focused on local option.[45] In 1908, Prime Minister H.H. Asquith—although a heavy drinker himself[46]—took the lead by proposing to close about a third of the 100,000 pubs in England and Wales, with the owners compensated through a new tax on surviving pubs.[47] The brewers controlled the pubs and organized a stiff resistance, supported by the Conservatives, who repeatedly defeated the proposal in the House of Lords. However, the People's Tax of 1910 included a stiff tax on pubs.[48][49]

The movement gained further traction during the First World War, with President Wilson issuing sharp restrictions on the sale of alcohol in many combatant countries. This was done to preserve grain for food production.[1] During this time, prohibitionists used anti-German sentiment related to the war to rally against alcohol sales, since many brewers were of of German-American descent.[23][note 5]

In the UK, the Liberal government passed the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 when pub hours were licensed, beer was watered down and was subject to a penny a pint extra tax,[51] and in 1916 a State Management Scheme meant that breweries and pubs in certain areas of Britain were nationalized, especially in places where armaments were made.[52][citation needed] In 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment was successfully passed in the United States, introducing prohibition of the manufacture, sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages. The amendment, also called "the noble experiment", was preceded by the National Prohibition Act, which stipulated how the federal government should enforce the amendment.[1]

National prohibition was proposed several times in New Zealand as well, and nearly successful.[note 6] On a similar note, Australian states and New Zealand introduced restrictive early closing times for bars during and immediately after the First World War.[55] In Canada, in 1916 the Ontario Temperance Act was passed, prohibiting the sales of alcoholic beverages with more than 2.5% alcohol.[56] In the 1920s imports of alcohol were cut off by provincial referendums.[57]

Norway introduced partial prohibition in 1917, which became full prohibition through a referendum in 1919, although this was overturned in 1926.[58] Similarly, Finland introduced prohibition in 1919, but repealed it in 1932 after an upsurge in violent crime associated with criminal opportunism and the illegal liquor trade.[59] Iceland introduced prohibition in 1915, but liberalized consumption of spirits in 1933, although beer was still illegal until 1989.[60][61][citation needed]

Decline (1920s–'60s)

In Pushkin, Saint Petersburg, a procession to promote temperance in front of the Tsarskoye Selo Railway station (1912)

The temperance movement started to wane in the 1930s, with prohibition being criticised as creating unhealthy drinking habits,[55] encouraging criminals and discouraging economic activity. Prohibition would not last long: the legislative tide largely moved away from prohibition when President Roosevelt made the decision to repeal prohibition on December 5, 1933. The gradual relaxation of licensing laws went on throughout the 20th century, with Mississippi being the last state to end prohibition in 1966.[1] In Australia, early hotel closing times were reverted in the 1950s and 1960s.[note 7]

Initially, prohibition had some positive effects in some states, with Ford reporting that absenteeism in his companies had decreased by half.[23] Alcohol consumption decreased dramatically. Also, statistical analysis has shown that the temperance movement during this time had a positive, though moderate, effect on later adult educational outcomes through providing a healthy pre-natal environment.[62][63] However, prohibition had negative effects on the American economy, with thousands of jobs being lost, the catering and entertainment industries losing huge profits. The US and other countries with prohibition saw their tax revenues decrease dramatically, with some estimating this at a loss of 11 billion dollars for the US.[1][56][note 8] Furthermore, enforcement of the alcohol ban was an expensive undertaking for the government. Because the Eighteenth Amendment did not prohibit consumption, but only manufacture, distribution and sale, illegal consumption became commonplace. Illegal production of alcohol rose, and a thousand people per year died of alcohol that was illegally produced with little quality control. Bootlegging was a profitable activity for the mafia, and crime increased rather than decreased as expected and advocated by proponents.[1]

The temperance movement itself was in decline as well: fundamentalist and nativist groups had become dominant in the movement, which led moderate members to leave the movement.[1]

There was some success[further explanation needed] during this time in former colonies (such as Gujarat in India, Sri Lanka and Egypt), the movement being associated with anti-colonialism or religious revival.[28]:310[64][65]

Present day (1960s–present)

The temperance movement still exists in many parts of the world, although it is generally less politically influential than it was in the early 20th century. In youth culture in the 1990s, temperance was an important part of the straight edge scene, which also stressed abstinence from other drugs.[66][citation needed] The Salvation Army continues to require that its members refrain from drinking alcohol as well as smoking, taking illegal drugs, and gambling.[67]

Fitzpatrick's Herbal Health in Lancashire, England, is thought to be the last original Temperance Bar.[68]

See also


  1. ^ Or, according to some scholars, in the 1790s.[2]
  2. ^ One example was Benjamin Rush's 1784 pamphlet An Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind, which advocated total abstinence of distilled liquors.[4]
  3. ^ In 1894, Clutha electorate voted no-license (to ban the selling of alcohol — which needed a 60% majority) and in 1902 Mataura and Ashburton followed suit. In 1905 Invercargill, Oamaru and Greylynn voted 'no-license'. In 1908 the rules were changed to only allow for a national prohibition although Bruce, Wellington Suburbs, Wellington South, Masterton, Ohinemuri and Eden voted ‘no-license' and many wine makers were denied the right to sell their wines locally and were forced out of business
  4. ^ For example in Sydney, the Australian Home Companion and Band of Hope Journal was published between 1856 and 1861.
  5. ^ Temperance movement focused on Catholics from Irish and German descent for their alleged preference for alcohol.[50]
  6. ^ Referendums were held in 1911 (55.8% for prohibition, 60% needed), 1914, 49% in favour (50% needed), 1919 49% in favour (50% needed).[53][54]
  7. ^ The last Australian state to do so was South Australia in 1967.
  8. ^ Taxes on alcohol was the major source of government funding in a time when the income tax had not yet been approved.[35]


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  3. ^ a b Fryer, Peter (1965). Mrs Grundy: Studies in English Prudery. Corgi. pp. 141–4. 
  4. ^ a b c d Misiroglu, Gina (2015). "Temperance Movement". American Countercultures: An Encyclopedia of Nonconformists, Alternative Lifestyles, and Radical Ideas in U.S. History. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-47728-0. 
  5. ^ Blocker, Jack S. (1989). American Temperance Movements: Cycles of Reform. Twayne Publishers. p. 16. 
  6. ^ a b c d Engs, Ruth Clifford (2000). Clean Living Movements: American Cycles of Health Reform. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0-275-95994-5. 
  7. ^ Fahey2015, p. 6.
  8. ^ "The Evolution of Prohibition in the United States of America". p. 93. 
  9. ^ John Edgar; Samuel Edgar; David M. Carson; Richard Edgar (March 31, 2012). "Edgar Ministers in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland". Retrieved June 11, 2012. 
  10. ^ Harrison, Brian (1971). Drink & the Victorians, The Temperance Question in England 1815–1872. Faber and Faber. 
  11. ^ Weston, pp. 74–5.
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  18. ^   Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Theobald Mathew". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
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  20. ^ Duncan, Robert (2015). "Artisans and proletarians: Chartism and working class allegiance in Aberdeen, 1838–1842" . Northern Scotland. Edinburgh University Press. 4 (1): 61. doi:10.3366/nor.1981.0006. 
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  24. ^ Staff (1996–2009). "WCTU Drinking Fountains — Then and Now". Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Archived from the original on 14 October 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
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External links