The American Temperance Society

The American Temperance Society (ATS), first known as the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, was established in Boston, Massachusetts on February 13, 1826. The organization was co-founded by two Presbyterian ministers, Dr. Justin Edwards and the better-known Lyman Beecher. The latter was strongly anti-Catholic and also a racist who refused to permit African-American students in his classes at Lane Theological Seminary. Justin Edwards said the purpose of the organization was to promote temperance while letting drunkards "die off and rid the world of ‘an amazing evil.'"

The formation of the American Temperance Society marked the beginning of the first formal national temperance movement in the US. Within five years there were 2,220 local chapters in the country with 170,000 members and within ten years there were over 8,000 local groups and more than 1,500,000 members who had taken a pledge to abstain from drinking distilled spirits.

The American Temperance Society, like most other temperance groups at the time, called for abstention from drinking distilled spirits but not from beer and wine. This reflected the myth that distilled spirits were more alcoholic than the other beverages. However, standard drinks of beer, wine and distilled spirits all contain an equivalent amount of alcohol -- 0.6 ounces per drink. See Alcohol Eqivalence.

A standard drink is:

Standard Drinks graphically illustrates information on the equivalence of standard drinks of beer, wine and distilled spirits or liquor.

With the passage of time temperance groups increasingly pressed for abstention from all alcoholic beverages, including beer and wine, and then pushed for the mandatory prohibition of alcohol rather than for voluntary abstinence.

The American Temperance Society currently publishes Listen: A Journal of Better Living.


References and Resources on the American Temperance Society:

  • American Temperance Society. What Does It Mean to You? A Pictorial Look at the Past. Washington, D.C.: American Temperance Society, 1976.
  • American Temperance Society. Report of the American Temperance Society, Boston: American Temperance Society, 1832-1836.
  • American Temperance Society and American Temperance Union. Permanent Temperance Documents of the American Temperance Society. Boston: Seth Bliss and Perkins, Marvin, 1835. (Reprinted in New York by Arno Press, 1972)
  • American Temperance Society. Temperance Manual of the American temperance society, Boston: Seth Bliss, 1836.
  • American Temperance Society. Address to Manufacturers and Venders of Strong Drink. Boston: T.R. Marvin, 1828.
  • 1826: American Temperance Society Founded.
  • American Temperance Society papers. Library, University of Virginia.
  • Carlson, Douglas W. "Drinks He to His Own Undoing": Temperance Ideology in the Deep South. Journal of the Early Republic, 1998,18(4), 659-691. Discusses American Temperance Society.
  • Dickinson, W. Calvin. Temperance, The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Nashville, TN: Tennessee Historical Society, 1998. Describes the American Temperance Society.
  • Murphy, Stephen W. "It's a Sacred Duty to Abstain": The Organizational, Biblical, Theological, and Practical Roots of the American Temperance Society, 1814-1830. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Virginia, 2008.
  • Temperance Movement. Ohio History Central.
  • Warner, Jessica. Evangelical male friendships in America's first age of reform. A case study of the early American Temperance Society. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Canada.

Filed Under: Prohibition

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