Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance

The Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance was founded in the Statehouse in Boston on February 5, 1813. The goal of the Society was “To discountenance and suppress the frequent use of ardent spirits and its kindred vices, profaneness and gaming, and encourage and promote temperance and general morality.”  By 1818 it had over 40 chapters. Each chapter had an average of about 100 members.

The Society accepted only men of high social standing. It also largely restricted its activities to those of similar stature. For example, employers were asked not to provide any payment in the form of alcohol. Public officials were asked to issue alcohol licenses only to those of high standing. They were also asked to restrict the number of such licenses. They were asked to have intoxicated persons arrested. As it saw necessary, the Society proposed legislation as well.

The Society also published and distributed materials promoting its goal. This included the National Philanthropist, the first temperance newspaper in the state. It is thought to be the first in the entire nation.

Members of the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance did not seek abstinence. They promoted temperance or moderation in drinking spirits.

Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance

Massachusetts Statehouse

But the the temperance movement was changing and becoming more anti-alcohol. In 1833, the Society changed as well. It required new members, but not existing ones, to sign a pledge of abstinence from spirits. Later in the year the Society was reorganized. It became the Massachusetts Temperance Society. It then required a pledge of abstinence from spirits by all members.

The Massachusetts Temperance Society now opposed drinking spirits but not beer or wine. That’s because of a common myth. It’s the myth that spirits (rum, gin, whiskey, etc.) are more alcoholic than beer and wine. In reality, standard drinks of beer, wine and spirits all have the the same amount of pure alcohol. It’s 6/10 of one ounce.

With the passage of time, temperance groups increasingly called for abstinence from from beer and wine as well.


Resources on the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance

Blocker, J. American Temperance Movements: Cycles of Reform. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

Cherrington, E. (ed.) Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem. v. 4. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1928.

Hampel, R. Temperance and Prohibition in Massachusetts, 1813-1852.  Ann Arbor, MI : UMI Research Press, 1982.

Steinsapir, C, The Ante-bellum Total Abstinence Movement at the Local Level. Ph.D. diss, Rutgers University, 1983.