Moderation vs. Temperance
Many early temperance societies were actually alcohol moderation organizations. That’s because ‘temperance’ means moderation. And it meant moderation to them.
Alcoholic Drink Equivalence
For modern moderation self-help groups, visit Cut Down Your Drinking.
The temperance movement began by encouraging drinkers to consume in moderation. It didn’t try to enforce abstinence from all alcohol. Instead, it only called for people to abstain from liquor (distilled spirits). The idea for doing this was based on an old myth. But its a myth that continues even today.,
The myth is that ‘liquor’ (distilled spirits) drinks are more intoxicating than drinks of beer or wine. (Spirits include whiskey, rum, vodka, gin, tequila, etc.) However, standard drinks of spirits, beer, or dinner wine contain the same amount of pure alcohol. In every case, it’s 6/10th of one ounce.
- A 12-ounce bottle or can of regular beer.
- A 5-ounce glass of dinner wine.
- A one and 1/2 ounce of 80 proof distilled spirits. (Either straight or in a mixed drink.)
Even today many, if not most, people don’t understand alcohol equivalence.
These early moderation groups used religious, moral, economic and other arguments to convince people to stop drinking spirits. But they became frustrated over time because they couldn’t convince more people.
As a result, more and more alcohol moderation organizations began to call for enforced abstention. And abstention from all alcoholic drinks. Thus, temperance groups became prohibition groups. For this reason, temperance is now equated with abstinence and prohibition.
Indeed, temperance activists came to reject true temperance. They developed the belief that drinking, no matter how little, almost always led to a life of ruin. So they saw any drinking as alcohol abuse. The idea of drinking in moderation upset temperance activists.
It was ‘the shoddy life-belt, which promotes safety, but only tempts into danger, and fails in the hour of need. It was the fruitful fountain from which the flood of intemperance is fed. Most men become drunkards by trying to drink moderately and failing. Even conceding that a rare few could conceivably imbibe in moderation at no risk to themselves, they should nevertheless refrain lest they set a bad example for the weaker majority of the human race.’(1)
Temperance promoters insisted that ‘It is the nature of alcohol to make drunkards.’ (2) The belief was that tasting leads to drinking, which leads to drunkenness, which leads to an early grave. This is seen in the cartoons above.
However, there was some support for moderation rather than abstinence from all alcohol. In 1842, Dr. John Edgar argued against that teetotalism movement was “scarcely less evil than drunkenness itself.” (3)
This cartoon expresses that view. It shows an intemperate drunkard, true temperance, and intemperat teetotaler.
Some Early Alcohol Moderation Organizations
Here are some examples of early moderation societies.
1818. The Moderation Society in England required abstinence from spirits. It considered this to be moderation.
1826 The American Society for the Promotion of Temperance promoted temperance for the first 20 years. It them demanded abstinence.
1829. The New Ross Temperance Society first promoted temperance. Then, in 1836, it became an abstinence group.
1862. The Church of England Temperance Society began as the Church of England Total Abstinence Society. However, two years later it changed its constitution. It then permitted members to consume any form of alcoholic beverage. they simply had to drink in moderation.
1872. The SociÃ©tÃ© de TempÃ©rance FranÃ§aise (French Temperance Society) permitted its members to drink beer, wine or spirits in moderation.
1880. Dr. Howard Crosby formed the Business Men’s Society for the Encouragement of Moderation. Members could choose moderation or abstinence.
1881. The Church Temperance Society formed in New York City. It promoted moderation.
1903. The Ligue Nationale contre l’Alcoolisme (National League against Alcoholism). This league permitted its members to drink spirits, wine and beer in moderation.
Discover more about alcohol moderation organizations and abstinence groups at Temperance Organizations Around the World: Timeline.
1 Tyack, D., and James, T. Moral majorities and the school curriculum: Historical perspectives on the legalization of virtue. Teach Coll Rec, 1985, 86, p. 518.
2 Kobler, J. Ardent Spirits. NY: Putnam, 1973.
3 Cherrington, E., et al. (eds) Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 6 vol., 1925-1930.
Blocker, J., et al. (eds) Alcohol and Temperance in Modern Society. An International Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003..