An Anti-Saloon League poster promoting the cause of prohibition.
This is fifth and final post in a series recounting the history of drinking in America leading up to Prohibition. While we hear a lot about the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition, seldom discussed is the importance of alcohol (and its consumption) at earlier dates in American history. This research was very interesting and I hope you enjoy it!
Attempts to pass a prohibition amendment in the United States Congress began in 1876. In the 1880s, several states created laws restricting or outlawing liquor. With the launch of the Progressive Movement at the turn of the century, alcohol and its influences became incorporated with their goal to purify society, enfranchise women, and reform the machine politics of years past. Around the same time, a powerful political group known as the Anti-Saloon league was born. Unlike the WCTU which was a broad reform group, the Anti-Saloon League had only one purpose: the prohibition of all intoxicating liquors in America.
The WCTU had successfully educated several generations on the dangers of alcohol, while also tying the rights of women and the right to vote to prohibition. Progressives soon joined the cause of prohibition as well, under the ideology that going dry would solve both political corruption and urban poverty. As Progressives, the WCTU, Prohibition Party, and Anti-Saloon League warned of the scourge of alcohol, their message struck a chord with nativists and xenophobes who feared the impact of changing urban demographics that had begun in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. Temperence and Prohibition advocates “were disproportionately rural white Protestants of northern European ethnic stock, and such reformers sometimes saw prohibition as a means of controlling or reforming Catholics, immigrants, African American and poor whites.” When the United States entered World War I in 1917, anti-German sentiment only furthered the cause of prohibitionists as many brewing companies were owned by German Americans. By that time, twenty-three states had prohibition laws and many others had considered similar laws. The American public was turning against alcohol. In an interesting irony, radical WCTU member Carrie Nation (who had previously lost a husband due to drink) received hundreds of supporters while she toured Kansas staging ‘hatchetation,’ which vandalized bars and smashed liquor bottles. Though she created thousands of dollars of damage to businesses, Nation was never tried of any major crimes. Continue reading →
A political cartoon featuring radical prohibitionist Carrie Nation, known for smashing up saloons with her hatchet.
This is part four in a series recounting the history of drinking in America leading up to Prohibition. While we hear a lot about the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition, seldom discussed is the importance of alcohol (and its consumption) at earlier dates in American history. This research was very interesting and I hope you enjoy it!
The Civil War and Reconstruction provided a lengthy respite for the temperance movement. In the 1870s, the temperance movement experienced a revival that lasted until the Twentieth Century prohibition era. Beginning in 1869, Russell’s National Prohibition Party became a force at both the National and State level. However, it was the formation of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in Cleveland, Ohio that mobilized women to the temperance movement like never before.
The WCTU was inspired by a prominent doctor’s lectures on the dangers of alcohol. After the lecture, women in New York and Ohio staged pray-ins and silent protests at various saloons in an effort to drive liquor out of their communities. As the movement spread, their actions drove liquor out of 250 communities. Later that year, the WCTU was officially formed and held a national convention with the slogan “For the God and Home and Native Land.” The WCTU’s interests were two fold – to eradicate drinking and to promote women’s rights and equality. Behind the idea of protecting the home and improving society, the WCTU quickly became the largest woman’s group in the world. At the time, women had little rights in America, even in cases of rape and spousal abuse. For the WCTU, the rights of women, protection of the family, and the evils of liquor went hand in hand. “Women and children had often been victimized by drunken men; and the saloons where men had gathered were …vicious, corrupt dens.” The WCTU linked tobacco and alcohol use to problems with prostitution, labor, and various public health issues as well. Selling women as ‘home protectors,’ the WCTU’s membership grew from 149,527 in 1890 and over 248,343 in 1910. Continue reading →
Lyman Beecher – American Temperance Society Co-founder
This is part three in a series recounting the history of drinking in America leading up to Prohibition. While we hear a lot about the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition, seldom discussed is the importance of alcohol (and its consumption) at earlier dates in American history. This research was very interesting and I hope you enjoy it!
While social historians point to the Jacksonian age as an influence on drinking – the messages self reliance, masculinity and rugged individualism seemed tailor made for the hard drinker and distiller – drinking in America was also buoyed by European immigration and the growth of cities in pre-Civil War America. From 1830 to 1860 two million Irish immigrated to the United States, bringing with them a culture of drinking and public house frequenting. Escaping political persecution and famine, these Irish settled mostly in busy Northern urban centers. They often faced discrimination (both racial and religious due to their Catholicism), abject poverty, and dangerous factory work. In an effort to connect their communities and escape their difficult living conditions, Irish men bonded together through social gatherings and drinking Irish whiskey. “Faced with an openly hostile environment, and both unable and unwilling to Americanize, the immigrants seized upon drinking as a major symbol of ethnic loyalty. That is they drank hard to assert their Irishness.” Visiting the public house for a drinking session also served another purpose. By congregating among themselves, the Irish used the pub as a way to keep off the streets and out of trouble. This cause was supported by Irish American leaders, who could use these visits to organize politically and pass out free drinks to elicit support. While the Irish pub served its political purposes well (in cities like Boston, Chicago, and New York the Irish would wield considerable clout) )rter) it also lead to higher rates of inebriation and the pervasive stereotype of the ‘drunken Irishman’,
A “woodcut” used by the Harrison/Tyler campaign in 1840.
This is part two in a series recounting the history of drinking in America leading up to Prohibition. While we hear a lot about the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition, seldom discussed is the importance of alcohol (and its consumption) at earlier dates in American history. This research was very interesting and I hope you enjoy it! Read part one here.
Concerns about the wide spread use of alcohol in young America started taking form in religious circles. Methodists and Quakers warned parishioners of the dangers of hard liquor to social order. The Quaker Anthony Benezet, who founded the first anti-slavery society on the American Continent, called alcohol “The Great Destroyer” and warned of the medical and social problems associated with excessive drinking in a 1774 pamphlet . While many religious organizations saw nothing wrong with alcohol, stigma was attached to drinking too much. While moderate drinking was accepted, heavy drinking began to be regarded as a sin.
The most influential figure in the early temperance movement was Dr. Benjamin Rush, who served as Surgeon General of the Continental Army and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In 1784, Dr. Rush published An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors upon the Human Body, and Their Influence upon the Happiness of Society. In his pamphlet, Rush broke new ground, becoming one of the earliest people in the medical field to suggest that liquor broke down the body and helped produce both mental and physical illness. Of equal concern, was Rush’s opinion that the continual drinking of liquor would result in the dissolution of government and the collective American spirit. Rush called for government limitations on drink asking, “Should the customs of civilized life, preserve our nation for extinction, and, even from an increase of mortality, by these liquors; they cannot prevent our country being governed by men, chosen by intemperate and corrupted voters?” Despite his condemnation of liquor, Rush did not admonish the drinking of all alcoholic beverages. Whereas Rush believed hard liquors like rum, liquor, and gin were evil and Antifederal, he supported the consumption of cider and beer as “invaluable FEDERAL liquors’ which promoted cheerfulness and political stability.” Continue reading →
This is part one in a series recounting the history of drinking in America leading up to Prohibition. While we hear a lot about the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition, seldom discussed is the importance of alcohol (and its consumption) at earlier dates in American history. This research was very interesting and I hope you enjoy it!
The creation and consumption of alcohol has played an important and notable role in American life and politics. In colonial America, the consumption and production of alcohol was a large part of daily life – dominating politics, economics, and social life. The framers celebrated the completion of the Constitution with drink, and saloons served as political meeting places during the Jacksonian Era. The production, sale, and consumption of alcohol in America was not without controversy. While alcohol was celebrated by many, others believed it negatively impacted society.
The American passion and desire for drink is as old as the colonies themselves. On the Mayflower, pilgrims drank barrel after barrel of beer, for a multitude of reasons. Unlike water, beer could be barreled and kept at sea without spoiling. In addition, prevailing ideas about alcohol in the Seventeenth Century lead many Europeans to drink for health reasons. “A stiff drink warmed a person on cold nights and kept off chills and fevers; a few glasses made hard work easier to bear, aided digestion, and in general helped sustain constitution. Abstinence invited trouble.” Continue reading →