Emergence of Temperance in America

The emergence of temperance was slow. As time passed, temperance activists became frustrated. Drinkers were not cutting back enough. Nor were enough becoming teetotalers. Persuasion had its limits.

Increasingly, temperance activists came to believe that people should be prohibited from drinking. That the police power of the state should be used to stop them. That the size and power of the government should be increased as much as needed to prevent drinking.1

During the emergence of temperance, it moved away from true temperance or moderation. It moved instead toward prohibition. Even today, the temperance movement is equated with complete intolerance of drinking. No drinking of any amount, by anyone, any time, for any purpose. That’s anything but real temperance.

Mary Hanchet Hunt was born. She became the most powerful woman in the nation promoting prohibition.2

Some temperance writers warned against having a high blood alcohol content.  Because of it, they said, drinkers could spontaneously combust and burn to death.  3

• There were state temperance societies in every state except Alabama, Illinois, Maine, and Missouri.4  But every state had local societies.
• Congress passed legislation completely prohibiting all alcohol in Native American territory.5
• The American Temperance Society had grown to 2,220 local chapters. It had 170,000 members.6

• The Congressional Temperance Society was established by members of Congress.7
• There were about 5,000 temperance groups in the country. Their total membership was about 1,250,000.8

The American Temperance Union  had established 8,000 local auxiliaries. The Union  had been formed only eleven years earlier,9

Arkansas passed a local option law. It permitted counties and cities to have their own local prohibition if they chose. Many did.10

The American Temperance Union began calling for “total abstinence from all that can intoxicate.’11

• Maine created the  Fifteen Gallon Law. It was intended to reduce the availability of spirits. This was by making a very large minimum amount that could be purchased.12
• Tennessee made it illegal to sell alcoholic beverages in taverns or stores.13
• A number of temperance newspapers were being published:14

    • The Journal of the American Temperance Union.
The Bible advises to “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake” (1 Timothy 5:23). Because temperance writers taught that alcohol was a poison and that drinking it was a sin, this admonition caused them serious problems. Their solution was to say that the Bible was actually advising people to rub alcohol on their abdomens.15
      • The Standard.
      • The Temperance Advocate.
      • The Temperance Gazette.
      • The Temperance Herald. (Alton, IL)
      • The Temperance Herald. (Baltimore, MD)
      • The Temperance Herald. (Jackson, MI)
      • The Temperance Herald. (Providence, RI)
      • The Temperance Journal.
Temperance Leader Lucius Manlius Sargent tried to get secondary schools, colleges and universities to eliminate all references to alcoholic beverages in ancient Greek and Latin texts.16  
      • The Temperance Recorder (Albany, NY)
      • The Temperance Recorder (Philadelphia, PA)
      • The Temperance Reporter
      • The Temperance Star
      • The Western Temperance Journal

• One temperance writer described parents whose drinking caused a problem.They had infants with an inborn “yen for alcohol so strong that the mere sight of a bottle shaped like a whiskey flask brought them whining for a nip.”17
• The Washington Temperance Society  (also called Washingtonian Temperance Society) was formed. It required its members to abstain completely from alcohol.18 It was named in honor of George Washington. Ironically, had been his new country’s first major distiller.19
• The Sons of Temperance spread rapidly throughout the country during the 1840s.20

Massachusetts repealed its 1838 Fifteen Gallon Law. But it permitted local option.21

The Martha Washington temperance societies for women were formed.22

• The Congressional Temperance Society, formed in 1833, now called for total alcohol abstinence.23
• The Sons of Temperance was formed.24
• The Order of Rechabites, a temperance group, was organized.25

emergence of temperance

John B. Gough

• John B. Gough began lecturing against drinking. He become a major orator for temperance. ‘Gough gave upwards of 9,600 lectures to more than nine million people in America, Canada, and Great Britain. When he died in 1886, the New York Times wrote that he ‘˜was probably better known in this country and in Great Britain than any other public speaker.” He strongly  opposed moderation. There was either abstinence or drunken degradation. ‘Gough turned temperance reform into a lucrative profession. It was a business as well as a cause.’26

• The Washington Temperance Society reported it had inspired 600,000 abstinence pledges.27
• The first prohibition law in the territory of Oregon went into effect.28

• The average per capita consumption of pure alcohol dropped to 1.8 gallons. It had been 3.1 gallons only five years earlier This reflected the clear emergence of temperance.29  
The Templars of Honor and Temperance was formed. It has always promoted total abstinence. It is now known in Scandinavia as Tempel Riddare Orden.30
• New York State passed a law prohibiting the public sale of alcohol.31
• New York State repealed its prohibiting law  passed that year.32
• About 100 towns in Massachusetts were dry under local option.33


emergence of temperance

Carry A. Nation

Carry Nation was born. She  became one of the most famous members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).34

Oregon repealed the prohibition law it had passed several years earlier.35

Father Theobald Mathew from Ireland began his abstinence pledge crusade across the U.S. From 1849 to 1851, he administered the pledge of total alcohol abstinence to about 600,000 people. He was honored with a White House dinner and a Senate reception. This suggested official approval of his work.36

The Sons of Temperance had 230,000 members.37

Maine passed the first state-wide prohibition against the production and sale of alcohol.38

• The Woman’s New York State Temperance Society was formed by Susan B. Anthony and Mary C. Vaughn. They were former Daughters of Temperance members,who had been prevented from speaking at the Sons of Temperance convention that year because of their gender.39
• Thirteen states adopted prohibition between 1852 and 1855.40

Michigan enacted prohibition.41


emergence of temperance

Timothy Shay Arthur

• Timothy Shay Arthur’s novel, Ten Nights in A Bar Room, was published. It soon became the second most popular novel of the mid-19th century. In 1861 it was dramatized in five acts. The play and book promoted the temperance movement.  (Only  Uncle Tom’s Cabin was more popular.)42  
• There was such a strong negative reaction in New York City to the state’s prohibition law that the mayor refused to have it enforced.43

Thirteen of the nation’s 40 states had prohibition laws.44

• The Sons of Temperance called for national constitutional prohibition.
• Maine repealed its prohibition law. It had passed it in 1851.


emergence of temperance

“Pussyfoot” Johnson

• William E. Johnson born. Better known as “Pussyfoot Johnson,” he became a leader of the Anti-Saloon League. Pussyfoot developed some of the tactics used by the powerful League. For example, he wrote to wet leaders, claiming to be a brewer. He asked for advice on defeating temperance activists. He then published the incriminating letters he received. He enjoyed bragging about his acts of dishonesty. By the time of his death in 1945, Pussyfoot Johnson was a household name in the U.S.
• Prohibition was imposed most places in the Confederate States of America. The new country had a severe grain shortages. The black-market price for whiskey in 1863 was about $35 per gallon. Before the war it had cost  about 25 cents per gallon.

The National Temperance Society and Publishing House was formed. It printed over a billion pages of temperance materials within its first six decades.

• The Prohibition Party was formed. It is the oldest ‘third party’ in the US. The Party has run a candidate for president of the US in every election since 1872.

emergence of temperance

Wayne Wheeler

Wayne Wheeler  was born. He  became the de facto leader of the Anti-Saloon League and had enormous power. ‘Wayne B. Wheeler controlled six congresses, dictated to two presidents of the United States, directed legislation in most of the States of the Union, picked the candidates for the more important elective and federal offices, held the balance of power in both Republican and Democratic parties, distributed more patronage than any dozen other men, supervised a federal bureau from outside without official authority, and was recognized by friend and foe alike as the most masterful and powerful single individual in the United States.’


We’ve seen the emergence of temperance in the US. We next learn of the growing strength of the temperance movement. And it did become very powerful.

Now it’s on to the Growth of Temperance.


Readings for the Emergence of Temperance

Burns, E. The Spirits of America: a Social History of Alcohol.  Philadelphia: Temple U Press, 2004.

Epstein, B.L. The Politics of Domesticity: Women, Evangelism, and Temperance in Nineteenth-Century America.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan U Press, 1981.

Frick, J.W. Theatre, Culture and Temperance Reform in Nineteenth-Century America.  Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2003


1  Hanson, D.J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995., ch. 3.

2  Mrs. Mary H. Hunt dead. New York Times, April 25, 1906.

3  Hanson, ibid., p. 13

4  Cherrington, E.H. The Evolution of Prohibition. Westerville, Ohio: American Issue, 1920, p. 107. Excellent coverage of the emergence of temperance.

5   Alcohol Prohibition.

6   McGrew, J.L. History of Alcohol Prohibition. Report of National Commission on Marihuana, Appendix, 1971.

7   McGrew, ibid.

8   Maxwell, M.    Washingtonian Movement. Q J  Stud Alco., 1950,  11, 410-451,

9   Cherrington, id., pp. 92-93.

10  Arkansas.

11    American Temperance Union.

12  Blocker, Jr., J.S., et al. Alcohol and Temperance. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003.

13   Tennessee  Encyclopedia of History & Culture.

14   Cherrington, id., p. 122.

15   Edwards, G. Alcohol. NY: St. Martin’s, 2000, p. 167.

16   Burns, E. The Spirit of America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple U Press, 2004, p. 69.

17   Furnas, J. C. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. Putnam’s Sons, 1965, p. 194.

18   McGrew, ibid.

19   Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery website.

20.  Kobler, John. Ardent Spirits. NY: Putnam’s Sons, 1973. ch. 1. Emergence of temperance is well covered.

21    Fifteen Gallon Law. In Blocker, id., p. 233.

22   Cherrington, id., p. 124.

23   McGrew, ibid.

24    McGrew, ibid.

25    McGrew, ibid.

26    John B. Gough.

27   Maxwell, ibid.

28    History of Alcohol Prohibition  Shaffer Drug Library Organization website

29    When whiskey was the king of drink.

30    Tempel Riddare Orden.

31    Alcohol Prohibition.

32    Alcohol Prohibition.

33    Temperance Movement and Prohibition.

34    Carrie Amelia Moore Nation (1846-1911) aka: Carry Nation

36    Furnas, id., p. 80.  Cherrington, id., p. 132.

37    Aaron, P. and Musto, D. Temperance and Prohibition. In Moore, M. and Gerstein, D. (Eds.) Alcohol and Public Policy. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1981, p. 142.

38    Stevenson, Tom. The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. London: DK, 2005, p. 519.

39    Temperance Worker.

40  Reynolds, D.S. Walt Whitman’s America. NY: Knopf, 1995.

41   American Beer.

42  Asimov, I. (ed.)  Book of Facts. NY: Wings, 1979, p. 313,

43  Rose, K.D. American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. NY: New York U Press, 1996, p. 16.

44  Temperance Movement and Prohibition.