The Family of Temperance: Nineteenth Century Temperance Movements, Legislation, and Family Concerns
The various strategies in the current war on drugs and the efforts to combat drunk driving are nothing new. They were also employed in the nineteenth and early twentieth century temperance movement. The strength of that movement came from groups with widely disparate motivations: economics, religion, and women's rights. Focusing on activities in the state of New York, this paper examines the influence of the societal transition from corporate families to modern capitalism on the temperance movement, against the backdrop of national politics.
Men dominated the pre-Civil War temperance associations. Many of these organizations used family concerns to spread their message, however, religious and economic concerns played a role as well. Merchants and manufacturers wished to control their workers' drinking, so as to maximize efficiency. To increase their influence, business leaders aligned themselves with religious leaders who preached temperance to their congregations. Initially the movement focused on persuasion through example and exhortation. In the 1830s, the groups began to split into those who were content with persuasion and those who wished to pursue change through legislation. Businessmen were more likely to favor legislation, as it would have a greater effect on the lower classes which made up the bulk of their workers. Temperance groups who believed the problem of alcohol could be solved by legislation differed as to whether they should advocate complete prohibition, licensing restrictions, or local options for prohibition or licensing. As the political temperance movement gained power, they successfully lobbied for state-wide prohibitions on alcohol. However, in the years preceding the Civil War, these political efforts caused the alliance to splinter further. Many temperance activists were also inspired by abolitionism and leaned towards the Republican Party, while businessman relied on Southern cotton growers. Attempts at a compromise failed and many of their legislative successes were repealed.
After the Civil War, as the old temperance groups tried to repair the fractures, women became leaders in the movement. Women engaged in direct action, leading crusades to shut down saloons and breweries nationwide by marching, praying, and singing. This inspired the formation of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which encouraged women to take their rightful place in society by working to combat social ills, including alcohol. The WCTU advocated both legislation and persuasion. While men's organizations continued to struggle with internal political divides, the WCTU became the chief party to pursue national prohibition. They forced prohibition onto the national political agenda by aligning themselves with the Prohibition Party. When the success of political temperance began to wane, the WCTU shifted their focus to educating the masses. They distributed temperance literature, lobbied for restrictions on the freedom of the brewer's lobby to disseminate information, and promoted "scientific temperance instruction" for public school students. These efforts were so successful that by the time national prohibition was a reality, twelve states prohibited liquor advertisements in newspapers and federal law banned the use of the mails to journals who advertised liquor contrary to state law.
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