Billy Sunday: Famous Temperance Preacher

Billy Sunday (William Ashley  Sunday) was first famous as a professional baseball player. He then became much more famous as an evangelist who preached temperance. He remains famous today.

Sunday spent time as an assistant to another evangelist before going solo in 1896. He was ordained as a preacher in the Presbyterian church in 1903. Sunday was one of the first preachers to make use of radio.

Billy Sunday is known as being one of the major promoters of temperance. His preaching was theatrical. He threw objects. He was animated. He was excited. And he was effective.

One of his most famous sermons was “Booze, or, Get on the Water Wagon.” That sermon convinced many people to quit drinking.  Sunday said ‘ I am the sworn, eternal and uncompromising enemy of the liquor traffic. I have been, and will go on, fighting that damnable, dirty, rotten business with all the power at my command.’ Sunday preached that ‘whiskey and beer are all right in their place, but their place is in hell.’

Volstead Act

Billy Sunday preaching against the evils of alcohol (reenactment)

Over time, public opinion began turning  against Prohibition. Opposition grew. There were calls for Repeal. Then ‘his sermons became more extreme and reactionary, promoting a specific type of Americanism that excluded those who were not native-born fundamentalist Christians.’1

Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Sunday called for its reintroduction. But he grew pessimistic. His sermons began dwelling on the end of the world. He believed it was imminent.

Sunday earned a fortune and died wealthy in 1935. He left a large estate to his children. That was at the depth of the Depression. About one-third of the population was unemployed.

References

1  Allen, R. Billy Sunday. Home Run to Heaven. Milford, MI: Mott, 1985. Hill, J. Defining Moments. Prohibition. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004.

Reading

Ellis, W. Billy Sunday. Philadelphia: Winston, 1914.