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 - spread and temporary decline

The Temperance Movement, starting in the 1830s, aimed to reduce alcohol consumption in America. It began with societies like the American Temperance Society and the Washingtonian Temperance Society. The movement gained momentum with teetotalism, the complete abstinence from alcohol, and state laws banning alcohol. Media campaigns like "The Drunkard's Progress" and "Ten Nights in a Bar-Room" also played a significant role.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hey, it's Becca, and this is Temperance, Part Two. And in this video, I'll be talking more about how exactly over the course of the 1830s until mostly the 1860s the temperance movement took root in America and how it became this national phenomenon. So, a lot of it had to do with temperance societies. So, in the last video, I mentioned that the American Temperance Society was founded in 1826, so that's 1826. But the American Temperance Society really was this group of upper-class Northern white dudes saying, "Oh, well, we should probably make sure "that people don't drink as much." But this idea didn't take off until the rise of teetotalism. So, teetotalism is very different than temperance. Teetotalism. And so, teetotalism is the idea that people should not temper their alcohol consumption, that they should drink no alcohol. So, the origin of this word is debated among historians and there's kinda two funny stories. One is the idea that when you would sign a pledge, so let's say I was going to pledge that I would drink no alcohol and join the American Temperance Society, right here, I would have to sign my name like that and write my name, Becca. Or the other idea is that there was this temperance activist and he was trying to convince people to stop drinking alcohol. And he said, "You don't have to stop drinking hard alcohol, "you have to-to-to-to totally abstain," and that's where teetotalism came from, his stutter. Just kind of a fun little factoid about teetotalism. But this idea of signing a pledge to drink no alcohol was really popular among these different societies that started popping up. So, the American Temperance Society was not quite as effective. But the Washingtonian Temperance Society started in the 1840s, in 1840, actually, the Washington Temperance Society. And the Washington Temperance Society was different than the American Temperance Society because it kind of looked a little bit more like the 19th century version of Alcoholics Anonymous. People would come together and talk about their problem. There wasn't really a treatment aspect, it wasn't super effective in stopping people from drinking alcohol because a pledge, people realized, wasn't actually going to stop alcoholics from drinking. However, the Washingtonian Temperance Society was more this group of middle class men and they would all come together and try and curb their consumption. So, during this time, there were also lots of prohibitory laws being passed by the states. So, different states at different times during the early-1800s started to try and curb consumption by enacting laws. They realized that the pledges, you know, me signing my name like this, didn't actually help that much, and so they needed to do something legally. The first temperance law was passed by Maine in 1838, Maine, and this law just outlawed the sale of hard liquor. But slowly, states across the country started banning alcohol consumption altogether. So, this was kinda happening all throughout here and 12-15 states had some sort of regulatory law on alcohol. So, over this time period, from the 1830s to the 1860s, Americans were not just taking pledges like they were up here with the American Temperance Society and the Washingtonian Temperance Society, but they were actually enacting laws. Temperance went really mainstream. It wasn't just this idea that you were going to sign a pledge to stop drinking hard alcohol, there were gonna be laws that would bind you to drink no alcohol. So, on top of this legal transition, there was also a big social and media campaign about the terrors and evils of alcohol. So, right over here is The Drunkard's Progress. So, this is really famous lithograph created by Nathaniel Currier. This was in 1846, so Drunkard's Progress, right over here. And The Drunkard's Progress, as you can see, shows the kind of cyclic nature of the alcoholic. First, he's just drinking at home, then he's drinking with friends. And then, oh, what is going on there? He is not going to be going to the factory today for work. So, the drunk started not as a drunk but as your average guy just having a drink here or there. Then you would see them go through each of these steps, you see Step 2, Step 3, Step 4. Over here, Step 5 seems like he's just hanging out with his buddies, having a good time, but then it really slowly deteriorated into something that Americans didn't want. So then, in 1853, I guess that's kind of in here, 1853, this media campaign just took off with Ten Nights in a Bar-Room, so Ten Nights in a Bar-Room. Here it is, Ten Nights in a Bar-Room. This is one of the pictures in the book. This really had just huge mainstream reach; almost everyone read it. And then they started putting on plays of it, depicting just how drunk people got and how terrible that was for everyone involved. Ten Night in a Bar-Room had this really national reach and it was similar to that of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin in the abolition movement. So, this was this rhetoric that made the temperance movement take off. So, you're probably wondering, then what? What happened to temperance? Why did prohibition not happen until 1920? And so, this has a lot to do with the abolition movement. So, the abolition movement was taking off right around here, abolition. And the abolition movement was the idea that slavery had to be ended right now, today. Abolition was the focus of the American people come the mid-1800s, and this really put temperance on hold. And so, temperance would come back after the Civil War and after slavery was abolished. So, you can learn more about postbellum temperance, postbellum, that means after the Civil War, postbellum temperance and prohibition in the Khan Academy article titled Prohibition. You can check that out and learn a little bit more about how this whole crazy story ended.