If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

The early temperance movement - origins

The Temperance Movement aimed to reduce alcohol consumption in America during the early 1800s. It was driven by the Second Great Awakening's moral reforms, the Industrial Revolution's workplace changes, and growing nativism. Influential preacher Lyman Beecher and the American Temperance Society played key roles in its rise.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hi, this is Becca from Khan Academy, and today I'm going to be talking about temperance. So, what was the temperance movement? In this video, I'll talk a little bit about what temperance was, what its causes were, and how it started to develop in the early-1800s. Temperance was the idea that Americans drank way too much alcohol and needed to temper their consumption. It started as kind of this idea that people should just drink a little bit less, they should drink less whiskey, less rum, less hard alcohol. And then, slowly, it started to take on this kind of prohibitory character. So, again, it was the idea that we just needed to temper our alcohol consumption. And so, how did the temperance movement take root? The temperance movement kinda has three main causes that I like to think about. So, the three main causes were the Second Great Awakening, the Industrial Revolution, and growing nativism and, frankly, racism that started as new immigrants were coming to America in the early-1800s. So, this was all kinda happening right around here, and so I'll talk a little bit more about each of these causes for the temperance movement and how it began. So, I'll start by talking about the Second Great Awakening. So, the Second Great Awakening was this time period in the early-1800s that focused a lot of social reforms around capturing moral good or Christian ideals so Christian ideals, here's the little cross, within our social institutions. So, this happened in education, in prisons, in the first women's rights movement. And so, this was all going on in the 1800s and it was about this idea that we needed to be good and moral people, and we needed our social institutions to reflect that. So, temperance can be seen as a part of the Second Great Awakening. And so, down here, you can kind of see the Second Great Awakening image here. This is the idea that the family was also intimately affected by people being too drunk. Here's the father and he's really drunk and things are kind of going to mayhem. People were just too drunk, and this was tearing apart lots of different institutions, including the family, including education, including the workplace. And so, that's a good transition to talking about the Industrial Revolution. So, the Industrial Revolution was also going on at this time period and people could no longer be drunk on the job, right? So, people used to be artisans. They used to just kind of sit in their home, make their shoes or sew something by hand, and they could be drunk while doing that. But now, if you're kind of in a factory setting, people were getting their fingers cut off by these new machines that were promoted in the Industrial Revolution because they were drunk while trying to operate the machinery. So, with this new industry, workers could no longer be drunk on the job. And so, the final cause is this nativism that people were seeing with new Catholic immigrants. So, there were Catholic immigrants coming into the country. And lots of Protestants were very anti-Catholic and anti-immigration. They decided that the Catholics were drunks. They did drink a lot, but it was definitely this kind of racist sentiment that was percolating within the Protestant community, and this kind of aligned itself with the Whig Party. So, the Whigs became more Protestant; they were really big temperance people. And the Catholics more aligned themselves with the Democrats. The sentiment towards these immigrant populations had this kind of political effect. So, at this time, temperance was starting to become more of a political movement and different social groups were taking this more seriously. There were some state-level organizations. It was just becoming more of a social phenomenon. In 1825, right over here, this really famous preacher, Lyman Beecher, did his six sermons on the sins of alcohol. And so, these sermons in 1825 solidified this idea in the American mind that it was anti-Christian to be a huge drinker, and this idea really took root. This is becoming kind of this larger social phenomenon and there start to be not just more state-level or community-level societies against drinking, you see the first ever national organization. So, the first national temperance society was in 1826, down here, with the American Temperance Society, so the ATS. And I'll talk more about the ATS and the kind of nationalization of the temperance movement in the next video.