Demon Rum. The Anti-liquor movement in America. Colonial America. Alcohol was very important to the colonists. A brewery was among the first major buildings erected in Plymouth colony. Taverns like the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg Virginia (above) were the center of many public gatherings.
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The Anti-liquor movement in America
Alcohol was very important to the colonists. A brewery was among the first major buildings erected in Plymouth colony. Taverns like the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg Virginia (above) were the center of many public gatherings.
Increase Mather, Puritan divine, president of Harvard, fought against the opening of taverns on Sabbath days and denounced excess – “the wine is from God, but the drunkenness is from the Devil.”
Puritans had already compromised by allowing fishermen to work on Sundays (fish being a major export, with lumber and furs).
Fishermen also protested the lack of alcohol on Sundays and frequently ignored the rules by buying it in illegal “grog shops.”
Benjamin Rush, a major contributor to medicine in colonial America, argued that alcohol and free government could not mix: “our country will soon be governed by men chosen by intemperate and corrupted voters,” unless steps were taken to control alcohol sales.
Rush also wrote Observations on Diseases of the Mind, the first in-depth American look at mental illness.
--In the 1820s, temperance groups in Albany NY estimated that of the 20,000 population, there were 4000 regular drinkers, 500 “habitual drunkards” and 200,000 gallons of liquor consumed at a cost of $100,000.
--The national consumption estimate for 1820 was 7 ½ gallons of liquor for every man, woman and child.
--An 1833 survey of those held in Auburn prison showed that only 19 of the 617 inmates had never drank, that 200 were “grossly intemperate” (i.e. addicted to alcohol) and 250 more were “regularly intemperate” to the point of drinking at least a quart every day.
Sales of liquor to Indians was also condemned, partly for moral reasons, but also because Americans believed that it promoted violence against settlers.
Rural folk often distilled whiskey from grain and used it to barter for goods at local stores. In the 1820s, Johns Hopkins, a clerk in a Quaker-owned store, opened his own business, trading flour and cloth for rural whiskey, then selling the whiskey in larger towns and cities as “Hopkins Best.” Expelled from the Quakers because of his trade, he made several generous donations to be reinstated. Johns Hopkins University was built with $8 million of his fortune.
Early inquiries into the causes of unemployment, absenteeism and poverty focused on alcohol. The 1817 report for Philadelphia’s “Public Economy” concluded that society must “remove intemperance” (alcoholism) in order to promote industry, saving, and productivity.
By the late 1820s, temperance groups were holding public meetings and distributing prohibition pamphlets and songs.
Saloon owners, liquor distributors, and other organizations that opposed the temperance movement, published their own songs suggesting that the “prudes” also enjoyed a drink from time to time.
John Henry Hopkins, bishop of the Episcopal Church (and no relation to Johns Hopkins), led a movement that condemned the temperance movement as being in disagreement with the Gospels. Hopkins also implied that the temperance leaders acted “too superior” to be “true followers of Christ.” This charge of reformist snobbery would be repeated.
By 1835, the American Temperance had over a million members (who signed an abstinence pledge), with 5000 local branches, and influence in most states. Progress lagged in the South, where only 15,000 people had signed the abstinence pledge.
“Ultra-ism” emerged in the 1840s, with Temperance members going beyond the original goals (limited hours for saloons, prohibition of many hard, distilled liquors) and now advocated total prohibition (of all fermented drinks like beer and wines, in addition to hard liquors), and government suppression of all forms of alcohol. This cost the movement the support of many moderates. In the words of one state legislator, the ultras had “quit preaching and started meddling” into the rights of the individual.
One of the temperance movement’s long-term effects was to bring about an increase in the call for votes for women.
The Civil War (1861-65) seriously harmed the temperance movement. The destruction of the war, coupled with the widespread belief that “radical” anti-slavery had brought about the conflict, resulted in a distaste for “reform movements.”
In the 1880s, chapters of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) revived the anti-liquor crusade.
Nation died in Kansas in 1911. Critics put out the rumor that she had died in an asylum, in a “completely deranged. state”
Carrie Nation became the best known of the new champions for prohibition. Her method, using a hatchet to break up saloons, made for great press, but the WCTU was embarrassed by her militant actions.
Mark Twain, no stranger to drink, attacked Carrie Nation’s tactics in newspaper essays.
Liquor was often an important part of an settlement’s early economy. Moorhead had over 40 saloons by 1900 and the Clay County attorney referred to whisky as the “forerunner of civilization.”
In Dakota Territory (and North Dakota) Elizabeth Preston Anderson led a fight to suppress liquor for 40 years. She also lobbied the state legislature for votes for women, but North Dakota rejected it until the U.S. Constitution granted the right to vote in 1920.
1920 also ushered in the Volsted Act and National Prohibition – a national disaster