American Temperance Society: It Led to Prohibition

The American Temperance Society (ATS) began in Boston. It was on February 13, 1826. The group was first called the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance.


I.   Goal

II.  Goal Changed

III. Resources

Two Presbyterian ministers co-founded the group. They were Justin Edwards and the better-known Lyman Beecher.

American Temperance Society

I. Goal

American Temperance Society
Justin Edwards

Justin Edwards said the purpose of the group was simple. It was to promote temperance. Also letting drunkards “die off and rid the world of ‘an amazing evil.'”

Lyman Beecher shared that goal. But he was strongly anti-Catholic and racist. He even refused to admit African American students to his classes at Lane Theological Seminary.

The formation of the American Temperance Society marked the beginning of the national temperance movement in the US. Within five years there were 2,220 local chapters in the country. The total number of members was 170,000.

And within ten years there were over 8,000 local groups. Total membership had grown to over 1,500,000. And all had taken a pledge to abstain from drinking distilled spirits (liquor).

II. Goal Changed

American Temperance Society
Lyman Beecher

The ATS was like most other temperance groups at the time. It called for abstention only from drinking spirits. Thus, members could drink beer and wine. This reflected the myth that spirits were more alcoholic than the others.

American Temperance Society
Standard Drinks

But standard drinks of beer, wine and liquor all have the same amount of pure alcohol. It’s 0.6 ounces per drink.

With the passage of time temperance groups pressed for abstention from all alcohol. Then they pushed for the legal prohibition of alcohol. Not simply voluntary abstinence.

III. Resources: American Temperance Society