The Temperance Movement


As the 1800's came to a close the calendar was not the only 
thing which was changing. The tirn of the century also saw a radical 
change in the ways in which Americans conducted their lives. No more 
were people's lives based around farms in small rural neighborhoods. 
Instead people moved into the cities, and factories started sprouting 
up in every major urban area. However, the industrialization of 
America also brought with it problems which hurt many Americans. The 
People most hurt by these new problems called themselves the 
Progressives. This new political group tried to "recapture" America by 
attacking a myriad of political issues. These issues differed in 
almost every facet, however the Progressives felt that America needed 
a complete overhaul in its way of thinking. Thus the progressive 
movement burst onto the stage of American politics.

 One of the issues which the Progressives felt most strongly 
about was the anti-alcohol, or Temperance movement. From the turn of 
the century, until the early twenties, organizations made the issue of 
prohibition a national issue. This effort culminated with the passage 
of the eighteenth amendment banning the sale, or consumption of 
alcohol anywhere in the US. Prohibitionists, like the Anti-Saloon 
League, achieved their goals because of their group tactics, their 
social makeup and composition, and the relative success of the 
Progressive movement as an entity. The prohibitionists seized on many 
tactics in order to have alcohol banned. It is important to see what 
these tactics were, where they came from, and how the prohibitionists 
were able to get the American public to buy into them. 

 In order to get their point across prohibitionists needed to 
prove the inherent evils which were presented by the consumption of
alcohol. As pointed out by Document C, groups like the American 
Medical Association, along with other members of the educated public, 
joined forces in order to fight the evils which alcohol presented. 
These people, along with businessmen, tried to explain how alcohol 
violated the theories of proper social life (Document E). Other groups 
tried to show how alcohol would ruin the American way of life. As 
pointed out in Documents R and S, women were demeaned by the 
consumption of alcohol, and it threatened to destroy the family 
structure. Documents A and B used threatening tactics in order to show 
the destruction which alcohol brought to the American family, and 
Document D showed how the social status of women would be destroyed
by alcohol. 

 Religion also played a big role in the push for temperance. In 
Documents A and I people tried to show how God looked down on the 
consumption of alcohol. These people claimed to be working for the 
"common good" of mankind (Document S). Many people, however were more 
concerned with political gain, than with the pursuit of public 
morality. Document N shows how the liquor lobby was one of the 
strongest lobbying groups of its time. These people worked hard to try 
and influence legislation. One of the reasons they were able to have 
such an effect was because of their superior organizational skills. 
They therefore, according to Document O, were able to bring an 
important message to the people with virtual ease. They portrayed
non-prohibitionists as evil people who did not deserve many rights, 
and they tried to remove "Saloon domination" in matters of legislation 
(Document G). 

 Along with the arguments prohibitionists used, it is also 
interesting to note why certain groups distinguished themselves as the
driving forces towards temperance. Women were the major force behind 
the temperance movement. The reason for this was because they were 
afraid of the abuse, disease, and poverty which was brought on by 
alcohol. Women were looking to preserve the purity of the American 
family, and therefore were very involved in influencing legislation. 
In fact, as pointed out by Document Q, the Women's Christian 
Temperance Union was the largest such movement in the country. Along 
with the women, religious groups were very involved in the Temperance 
movement. As illustrated by Documents J, L, and Q the Church fought
many immoral activities, which included the consumption of alcohol. In 
fact, Document I includes the writings of a minister who said that the 
only people who will be worthy of going to heaven will be the sober 
Anglo-Saxons. Businessmen were also very involved in the Temperance 
movement; they even represented up to forty percent of the entire 
movement. As Documents J and P point out these wealthy businessmen 
were afraid of the alcohol's effect on the workforce. One interesting 
fact about the makeup of the prohibitionists was there geographical 
locations. Although most alcoholism was in the cities, three fifths of 
the prohibitionists were from more rural areas, as pointed out by 
Documents K and L. In fact, this has lead many to believe that the
majority of prohibitionists were actually the social elite, who wished 
to become society's guardians in order to achieve self-gratifying 
goals (Documents E, and H). 

 As history has shown the Temperance movement was a total 
disaster. "Bootleggers" brought alcohol over from Canada, and many 
people became quite proficient in developing home made brews. However, 
it was process which helped shape America. For the first time women 
became very active in influencing legislation, and the democratic 
process. More importantly, however, were the gains made by the 
Progressives. They proved that they were able to unite, on a national 
level, to get major legislation passed. This talent enabled the 
Progressives to remain a major player n the American Political scene 
well into the twentieth century. 


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