Even the term temperance has had a strange history. It began with the clear meaning of temperate or moderate. So temperance activists called for not drinking excessively. Among other things, that meant not drinking distilled spirits. That view was based on a myth. They thought spirits were “stronger” than beer and wine. In reality, standard drinks of beer, wine and spirits all contain the same amount of alcohol. It’s 0.6 ounce of pure alcohol.
But then temperance activists began to call for people to quit drinking beer and wine as well. They used logical, religious, emotional and other means to persuade drinkers to quit. They tried education. They tried being role models. They finally became frustrated. Not enough people were being convinced.
Temperance in America
This led to the next turn in the road. Temperance activists began to change their ideas. If people couldn’t be persuaded to give up alcohol, they should be forced to do so. And what better means than to use the power of government?
Thus, over time, temperance in America changed its meaning. It began by persuading people to drink in what it considered moderation. It ended up demanding that the government prohibit people from drinking any alcohol.
Along the way, some Protestant churches began to believe that drinking was a sin. But there was a problem. The Bible says that Jesus both made and drank wine. So how could drinking it be sinful? The answer was the ‘two wine’ doctrine. It held that when Jesus made or drank wine, it was really only grape juice. But when wine was seen as causing problems, it was fermented grape juice. Problem solved.
- Cherrington, E. The Evolution of Prohibition. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1920
- Kobler, J. Ardent Spirits. NY: Putnam’s Sons, 1973. Especially excellent for history of temperance in America.
- Sinclair, A. Prohibition. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962
- Blocker, Jr., J., et al.(eds.) Alcohol and Temperance. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003.