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2 Social Control and Mobility, 1826-60 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Joseph R Gusfield   
Saturday, 05 February 2011 00:00

2 Social Control and Mobility, 1826-60

In descriptions of American Temperance, abstinence is often at-tributed to the effects of Puritan doctrine.' This view is contradicted by the facts of history. Puritan and other colonial leaders did not advocate total abstinence. They stood for the moderate and regu-lated use of alcohol, not its eradication. The development of Temperance doctrine and organization is best understood in the context of the social and cultural changes of the pre—Civil War period. It was especially influenced by the decline of Federalist aristocracy and the rise to social and political importance of the "common man" in the United States.


There are two phases to the development of the American Tem-perance movement in the period 1826-60. Although these phases overlap, each is connected with the status aspirations of a different social class. In the first phase, described in this section, Temper-ance represents the reaction of the old Federalist aristocracy to loss of political, social, and religious dominance in American so-ciety. It is an effort to re-establish control over the increasingly powerful middle classes making up the American "common man." In the second phase Temperance represents the efforts of urban, native Americans to consolidate their middle-class respectability through a sharpened distinction between the native, middle-class life styles and those of the immigrant and the marginal laborer or farmer.

The Breakdown of the Colonial Social Order

The use of alcohol in colonial America was governed by legal and moral sanctions which maintained a norm of moderate drink-ing. Taverns were licensed, not to deter their use but to regulate inns for the benefit of the traveler. Moderate use of alcohol was approved. Taverns were social centers and innkeepers respected members of the community. Although drunkenness occurred and was punished, it was seldom frequent.2 The controlled drinking of the American colonies was largely a result of a social order in which an elite of religious, economic, and political leadership was able to develop codes of conduct which were influential at most levels of the society. The American colonial society was rigidly divided into discrete classes and status levels. ". . . democracy was new; men were still described as gentlemen and simplemen . . . disparities of rank vvere still sustained by those of property."' Political and social power were in the hands of an aristocracy of wealth, based on the commercial capitalism of the East and the plantation ownership of the South.

The power of the colonial aristocracy cut across the institutions of the society. The same families and social groups were repre-sented in the holders of leadership in the courts, in the govern-ments, and in the churches. The power of the clergy as arbiters of morality was enhanced by the direct relationship between Fed-eralist aristocracy and church leadership. The clergy, like the judiciary, were stabilizing influences in the social order. The codes of moderated drinking which were enunciated by them were reasonably well followed. Even after the development of towns and port cities, drinlcing in America, before the Revolution, was not a problem to which great attention was paid. Compared to the drunkenness of British cities at the same time and to the post-Revolutionary period, it was a remarkably sober era. ". . . against the dark background of conditions in England . . . town life in America stands out as a model of orderliness and sobriety." 4

The breakdown of the old order of town life was manifested in the decline of Calvinist church leadership and aristocratic politi-cal power after the Revolution and in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. The American Revolution was a great solvent worlcing to dissolve the rigid class and status structure of colonial society.5 The period of post-Revolutionary ferment was also one of religious dissent, decline, and irreverence. In the process of change the established institutions of church power lost a great deal of their dominance in matters of moral behavior:

The trying years of the Revolution were critical for New England orthodoxy. It was an unsettled period filled with demoralizing tendencies. The use of intoxicants was well-nigh universal. Sabbath violations were winked at by the authorities; swearing, profanity and night-walking passed all but unnoticed. Depreciated money encouraged speculation and avarice. . . Men were becoming materialistic. The minister was fast losing his autocratic sway in the parish. Congregationalism was seriously weakened. The Church of England was all but destroyed. . . . Hence one is not surprised at the inroads "nothingarianism" made into the established order.°

Perhaps nothing illustrates the tolerance of excessive drinking in the late eighteenth century as much as the heavy use of whiskey at ministerial ordinations, where considerable drinlcing and fre-quent drunkenness became customary. This was so much a fea-ture of ministerial conduct that those who tried to apply the earlier norms of moderation were liable to criticism by superiors. Rev. Jolm Marsh, Secretary of the American Temperance Society in the 1840's, recalled the fate of a minister who had scolded his colleagues for their intemperance. His superiors in the church called him a "pest" and a "blackguard" for his excessive moral-ism.T

By the end of the eighteenth and the early nineteenth century a "drinking problem" had developed in many American states. The old norms of moderation were less effective as the Calvinist clergy lost its political and social position as an elite. The increase in transient populations, especially in the seaport cities, added to the familiar complex of urban crime, poverty, and drinking. Alco-holic beverages were more potent than they had been before the Revolution. The separation from England deprived the Americans of access to good maltsters and high-quality beer, leading drinIcers to use the distilled spirits, especially rum. Whiskey became an important part of the economy. Distilling spirits from grain and then shipping the distilled product was a convenient and profitable way to market the crop. Its use as a medium of exchange made liquor an important adjunct to the slave trade. All these factors, plus the impact of war on traditional moralities, help explain the decline of controlled drinking and the increased frequency of drinking and drunkenness in the post-Revolutionary period. Excessive drinking had become the custom at weddings, funerals, and christenings. A great many people considered drinldng essen-tial to health. No doctrine of abstinence or even temperance had yet emerged.

Temperance and the Federalist Response

The period in which Temperance doctrine and organization emerged was also the period of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian vic-tories in politics. The Revolution and the developing frontier life spelled eventual defeat for the aristocrat at the hands of egalitarian forces. In politics, as well as religion, the dominance of the rich, the well-educated, and the wellborn of the Eastern seaboard was coming to an end. An uncultured and uneducated mass of farmers and mechanics was grasping the reins of supremacy and throwing off the controls of Federalist power. To the old aristocracy these developments were understandably frightening. If the Whiskey Rebellion and the acts of state legislatures had thrown them into panic, the election of Jefferson was a deathblow and the threatened presidency of Andy Jackson the nail in the coffin.

Increased drinking was symbolic of decline in the power and prestige of the old aristocracy in the new social order. Both in the settled areas and on the frontier, the independent farmer and the artisan no longer looked to the Federalist clergy for guides to their conduct, as they no longer followed the doctrines of Federalist politics. If their role as dominant economic class was at an end, the Federalists could attempt to hold on to the prestige of the old order by a bid for their disappearing moral leadership. The man-ners and morals of the "common man" now had consequences for their political actions. Accordingly it was necessary to reform the citizen so that he might follow the moral convictions set by the old aristocracy. The seeming capriciousness and indecorousness of popular goverrunent was symbolized in the figure of the drunken voter. To make him respond to the moral ideals of the old order was both a way of maintaining the prestige of the old aristocracy and an attempt to control the character of the political electorate. It is in this sense that we can speak of the early stages of Temperance as a means by which a declining status group attempted to maintain social control. "If the rule of the country by the rich, the well-born and the able was ended, at least the United States might have the government of the moral, the virtuous and the sanctified." 8

We are aware that the political contest between the Federalists and the Jeffersonians-Jacksonians was far from a simple one be-tween democratic virtue and aristocratic vice or a struggle between the "common man" and the forces of anti-egalitarianism. Recent historical research has shown much similarity in the economic and political views of both sides. This makes simple dichotomies un-acceptable.9 Nevertheless, it was true that the Federalists still formed a cohesive and distinctive social stratum. As such, they did see their social and political domination waning in American society.

In his study of the Abolitionist movement, David Donald has given a very similar picture of Federalist response to declining social status. Examining biographical data on Abolitionist leaders, Donald found that almost all of them were born between 1790 and 1810, were New Englanders, and were children of steadfast Fed-eralists.'° Through Abolitionism and other reforms they tried to regain their lost positions of leadership. They were men who felt the demise of the traditional values of their social class and, in trying to restore those values, attempted to recoup their dwindled status. They were out of place in a society beginning to be led by a commercial middle class. "Too distinguished a family, too gentle an education, too nice a morality were handicaps in a bustling world of business. Expecting to lead, these young people found no followers. They were an elite without function, a displaced class in American society."11

The dominance of the old elite of Federalists-Calvinists in the early Temperance movement is evident in the leadership of Tem-perance organizations and other groups devoted to moral improve-ment. As was true of other movements of religious benevolence in the early nineteenth century, the major efforts to reform American drinlcing habits were first led by the Calvinist ministry of New England. These were not spontaneous uprisings of self-reform among the poor, the sinful, or the drunkards. The Connecticut So-ciety for the Reformation of Morals and the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance (both founded in 1813) were formed and led by clergymen and laymen of wealth, prominence, and Federalist politics. The first national Temperance association, the American Temperance Society (founded in 1826), was led by Congregationalist and nonevangelical Presbyterian ministers of Federalist commitrnent, such as Jedidiah Morse.12 They turned to the Whigs for legislative support. Despite commitment to Tem-perance as a doctrine, the Methodists of western Massachusetts, who were staunch Jacksonians, advised their adherents against contributing to the society.13

The aims and doctrine of the early movement reveal its function as an attempt to control the newly powerful electorate, both in the cities and on the frontier." In aiming to reform the "common man," the movement attempted to re-establish prestige by "lifting" the rude mass to styles of life enunciated by an aristocratic moral authority. The movement was not viewed primarily as self-reform but as the reform of others below the status and economic level of the organizational adherents. Temperance supporters were men of religious conviction and moral righteousness whose own codes of moderate drinlcing were made models for the lives of the poor souls who had not yet achieved perfection.

This relationship between the early Temperance movement and status discontents is apparent in the writings of its leading spokes-man Lyman Beecher, the New England minister. Beecher was the inheritor of Calvinist and Federalist church leadership and the leading opponent of revivalist methods. By 1810 he had become a leading critic of contemporary drinlcing habits and a supporter of abstinence from whiskey, beer, and other spirits. Under his leadership the Connecticut Society for the Reformation of Morals was established. Most moral reform movements of the 1810's and 1820's included him among their prominent officials. For Beecher, reform was clearly part of the defense of the old order against republican political sentiment and religious infidelity. In 1812 he voiced his fear at the growing power of the masses and his dismay at the decline of ecclesiastical control:

Our institutions, civil and religious, have outlived that domestic discipline and official vigilance in magistrates which rendered obedience easy and habitual. The laws are now beginning to operate extensively upon necks unaccustomed to their yoke, and when they shall become iricsome to the majority, their execution will become impracticable. . . . To this situation we are already reduced in some districts of the land. Drunkards reel through the streets day after day . . . with entire im-punity. Profane swearing is heard.'5

For Beecher the Temperance movement was an effort to reform the masses. He saw drinking in its political consequences. Reiter-ating the Federalist image of an ordered society in which the church was a powerful arbiter of morals, Beecher viewed intemperance as politically dangerous. In Six Sermons on Intetnperance (1826), the leading statement of Temperance doctrine in the pe-riod, he wrote that intemperance fostered irreligion and, by under-mining the church, endangered the political health of the nation. His writings displayed the classic fear the creditor has of the debtor, the propertied of the propertyless, and the dominant of the subordinate--the fear of disobedience, renunciation, and rebellion:

When the laboring classes are contaminated, the right of suffrage becomes the engine of destruction. . . . Such is the influence of interest and ambition, fear and indolence that one violent partisan, with a hand-ful 'of disciplined troops, may overrule the influence of five hundred temperate men who are without concert. Already is the disposition to temporize, to tolerate, and even to court the intemperate too apparent on account of the apprehended retribution of their perverted suffrage. . . . As intemperance increases, the power of taxation will come more and more into the hands of men of intemperate habits and desperate fortunes; of course the laws will gradually become subservient to the debtor and less efficacious in protecting the rights of property.16

Temperance doctrine also made an appeal as a means for con-trolling subordinates. Even in the colonial social order, there were two qualifications to the permissive attitude toward alcohol use. The American Indian was "out of bounds" to liquor sales, both on grounds of moral welfare and because the colonists feared rebellion as a result of intoxication." The American Negro was similarly re-stricted, as were apprentices and servants in many states, "lest the time of the master be spent in dissolute idleness." 18 In some states there were legal limits to the amount of credit obtainable at liquor stores. In this fashion the poor, having less cash, were less able than the rich to purchase large quantities of alcohol. In the two earliest known local Temperance societies, improvement of employee effi-ciency was a major argument for Temperance reform. Both groups made pleas to employers for the discontinuance of the custom by which employers provided alcoholic refreshment as part of wages or as an accompaniment to farm labor.19

In the 1820's, when the Temperance movement began its organi-zation and initiated its doctrine, the drive toward abstinence from distilled spirits (beer, wine, and cider were still permitted ) func-tioned as a means to restore a superior position to the declining Federalist elite. As decline in moral behavior symbolized the sad facts of a waning social power, the old aristocracy sought to retain their prestige and power by upholding the standards by which the nation might then live. It was not an effort to reform the habits and behavior of those who made up its membership. The lowly, the small farmer, the wage earner, the craftsman—these were the ob-jects of reform. This is not to maintain that there was no conviction of sin among the responsible citizens who made up the Temperance associations. What it implies is that such associations sought to dis-seminate and strengthen the norms of life which were part of the style of the old elite.

The Temperance movement became a major social and political force in American life only as it was freed of the symbols of aristo-cratic dominance and converted into a popular movement to achieve self-perfection among the middle and lower classes of the nation. In the second phase of the movement Temperance became a sign of middle-class respectability and a symbol of egalitarianism.

Revivalism and "Bourgeoisification"

The great waves of religious revivalism occurring during the first third of the nineteenth century destroyed whatever leadership the old aristocracy had over American religion. Paradoxically, they made possible the moral reforms which that aristocracy had tried to bring about. As the revivalist waves of Methodism, Baptism, and the "new Presbyterianism" rolled up adherents and dried the pools of religious indifference, America underwent an intense change in moral climate. The dissolute and secular nature of the post-Revolu-tionary period was replaced by the condemnation of moral infi-delity. Abstinence became a part of necessary moral action rather than a matter of personal choice. Intemperance became sinful and the sober, nondrinking man a model of community respectability.

The relation between Temperance and the status system was influenced by revivalist activities. Embracing religion meant that the "convert" was now subject to the strict moral codes of evangeli-cal Protestantism. Indulgence and idleness were among the major vices which the religious man swore to avoid. Chief among these was the vice of insobriety.

Religion and individual perfectionism went hand in hand. To be saved was evidenced through a change in habits. The man of spiritual conviction could be known by his style of living. If fron-tier life emphasized the rouglmess, liberty, and dissoluteness of a society without settled institutions, then there was all the more reason to stress the need for moral rigidity and an enthusiastic re-sponse to perfectionist standards. The organizers and directors of the major benevolent societies of the frontiers believed that moral and religious reform would make the convert a less radical voter and a more trustworthy credit risk."

The assumption was quite clear. Sanctified men make better bor-rowers, better workers, better citizens. The corollary of this was not a glorification of the humble poor, obediently carrying out the dictates of the lordly. Rather, the corollary was the doctrine of self-improvement through the Lord. In the thick of Methodist develop-ment, John Wesley had been concerned with this consequence of the religious movement. As men became more industrious, sober, thrifty, methodical, arid responsible they also improved their in-come through work. Pure religion might decay, "for the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase in goods." 21

It is in this sense that the revivalist movements of the 1820's and 1830's contributed to Temperance and to the function of abstinence as a mark of the man bent on improving his conditions of income and his status in the community. As an aspect of religious revival-ism, Temperance was enjoined as a moral virtue. As a matter of self-improvement it designated the man of middle-class habits and aspirations. In this sense revivalism was part of the process of "bourgeoisification," a process in which the worker or the farmer takes on a middle-class (bourgeois ) mode of life.

Temperance and Self-Improvement

That Temperance was one part of improving status was evident in several changes in the movement during the 1830's and 1840's. In this period it changed from one in which the rich aimed at reform-ing the poor into one in which members aimed at their own reforma-tion.

During the 1830's, and especially in the 180s, Temperance or-ganizations and doctrine began to appear more often among groups not previously touched by the movement. Organized Temperance units emerged without the auspices of churches or ministers. A popular literature developed which used an emotional and dramatic quality of music, drama, and fiction. Even the form of the Temper-ance meeting was borrowed from revivalist experiences—hymn singing, vemacular speech, open-air meetings, and personal confes-sion, all characteristics of the American revival, were put to use in eradicating Demon Rum.

The self-improvement motif is clearly observable in the Wash-ingtonian movement and in its subsequent results. The Washington-ians began in Washington, D.C., in 1840, with a small group of reformed drunkards. Like the current Alcoholics Anonymous, the movement was addressed to people who were, or were close to be-coming, alcoholics. In their pledge the Washingtonians displayed the growing importance of Temperance as a sign of middle-class status: "We, whose names are annexed, desirous of forming a so-ciety for our mutual benefit, and to safeguard against a pernicious practice injurious to our health, standing [italics added] and fami-lies, do pledge ourselves as gentlemen, that we will not drink any spirituous or malt liquours, wine or cider." 22

The success of the Washingtonians in establishing a large number of units and followers among reformed drinkers and drunkards was an important element in the development of that most typical American self-improvement institution—the fraternal lodge. Even with the demise of the Washingtonians after the spread of internal conflict in the major Temperance societies, Temperance found an important source in the development of such organizations as the Good Templars, the Rechabites, and, most prominently, the Sons of Temperance. Like the Washingtonians, these groups were efforts to effect temperate habits among those who joined. In seeking to reform their own members these organizations differ sharply in attitude from the earlier Temperance societies of the 1820's. An ex-cerpt from the 1842 report of the New York division of the Sons of Temperance is illustrative of the self-oriented tone of these societies:

The Order of the Sons of Temperance has three distinct objects. . . . To shield us from the evils of intemperance, to afford mutual assistance in cases of sickness and to elevate our characters as men.

We find the necessity of closer union . . . to be cemented by the ties of closer alliance and mutual benefit; to keep up and fully maintain an unrelaxed spirit of perseverance. . . .

The Order of the Sons of Temperance is merely intended as another linlc in the chain . . . to bind those who may have been so unfortunate as to acquire the insatiable thirst for alcoholic drinks more securely to the paths of rectitude and honor.23

Membership was both a sign of commitment to middle-class values and a step in the process of changing a life style. Like the Washingtonians these groups often consisted of many former drinlc-ers and drunlcards and were led by laymen rather than ministers. Like the fraternal lodges of today, of which they were forerurmers, the Temperance brotherhoods were also mutual societies which con-ferred insurance and other economic benefits on members. They became so popular that the leading organization, the Sons of Tem-perance, had grown in six years from a single unit to one of 6,000 units and 200,000 paying members all pledged to total abstinence.24

The Decline of Aristocratic Dominance

Evangelical Protestantism recruited large numbers of soldiers for the Temperance army. Converted to a more sober behavior, they pushed aside the traditional leadership of orthodox ministers in the Temperance organizations and replaced them with a lay leadership drawn from far lower social ranks than the earlier organizations had encompassed. Revivalism had flourished among the churches of the common people where emotional expression was customary. When Temperance began to reflect the methods of the revivalist it acquired an appeal that had been lacking in the colder attempts of an Eastern, upper-class clergy to convert the poor to the life of righteousness. The original movement had developed in the East and its leadership remained Eastern until the late 1830's. By 1831 the American Temperance Society had 2,200 local societies with a reported membership of 170,000. Although one-sixth of the popula-tion lived in the six states northeast of the Hudson River, the area contained one-third of the Temperance organizations and one-third of the national membership. The center of Temperance was in the East, with all that this symbolized socially and politically to a na-tion whose political axis had begun to move westward.25

As the small property holder and the propertyless were drawn to the movement, they brought to it a higher level of self-demand than had been true of the earlier movement. Concerned with self-improvement, they could not compromise with evil as those more righteously trained could have done. The entry of the West into Temperance organizations was followed by ultraist doctrines. The new Temperance adherents were not content with moral suasion alone. In its beginnings, the American Temperance Society had de-clared for total abstinence from all spirits, but it drew the line at beer, wines, and cider. "This," said one member, "was impolitic and carrying the thing too far." 26 The Western units pushed for a wider conception of total abstinence, in the tradition since known as "tee-totaling." In at least one Eastern state, New York, demand for total abstinence resulted in the loss of wealthy supporters.27 By the late 1830's, however, internal conflicts were resolved in favor of the ultraists. Total abstinence from all alcoholic beverages was the pri-mary doctrine of Temperance organizations everywhere in the United States. There would be no compromise with Evil in any of its forms.

Another result of the decline in aristocratic leadership and the conversion of the movement into one of "common man" identifica-tion was the rise of lay leadership. The Washingtonian movement was disapproved by the good people who had formed the Temperance organizations of the 1820's and early 1830's. "Many of the leaders were uneducated and their addresses were not always of an elevating character." 28 There was much criticism of the informal character of meetings, in which people arose from the audience to narrate their experiences with King Alcohol. Men who emerged as leaders of this movement often gained great fame as orators. These men, such as John Gough and John H. W. Hawkins, had little back-ground in public speaking and little education. They had no con-nection with organized religion and they based their appeal for sobriety and temperance on grounds of personal welfare rather than religion alone. In their evangelical techniques, indifference to the-ology, and vulgar identification with the manners and language of the masses, they were anathema to the more conservative and sedate leaders of the earlier movement.29

The Washingtonians, and the newer Temperance associations of the 1840's, brought a common touch to the movement. After that Temperance activities were couched in a more popular vein. An emotional and dramatic quality appeared in Temperance ceremony, music, drama, and fiction. Parades became a standard form of per-suasion, and banners, flags, and outdoor meetings were typical parts of the program. Temperance songs were written and children en-listed in the cause. Perhaps the most vivid instance of this appeal to the emotional sensitivities of mass response is seen in the develop-ment of a children's group, the Cold Water Army. With songs, parades, and demonstrations by children the virtues of water and the iniquities of drink were dramatized to the public."

Abstinence as Status Symbol

The quest for self-improvement implies a gap between those who remain dissolute and those who have achieved respectability. By the 1850's, sobriety and abstinence were no longer rare examples of unique fidelity to saintly virtues. Drinking was at best tolerated and sobriety had become a necessary aspect of respectable, middle-class status. If not universally good, Americans were becoming, in this respect at least, somewhat better. Abstinence and sobriety had be-come public virtues. For reputation, if for nothing else, it was not expedient to be thought to be anything more than a moderate drinker. Abstinence had become part of the national religious faith. "Sunday morning all the land is still. Broadway is a quiet stream, looldng sober, even dull." 31

Temperance fiction was probably the most effective media of mass persuasion in the Temperance cause. It often played on the theme of drinking as an indication of outcast or low social position and abstinence as a symbol of middle-class life. In Temperance tales the drinker is not only an immoral and sinful man in his alcoholic vice. He is also about to be ruined. With drink comes economic deprivation. The drinker loses his industrious devotion to work. He loses his reputation for reliability. Finally he is without any employment at all. Retribution is possible. Reform, sobriety, and the pledge to abstain are rewarded by the return of economic vir-tues and the reappearance of economic reward.

Along with the vision of the drinker as the ruined man went the belief that the solution to poverty lay along the road to Temperance. The benefits of reformation and improvement were not pictured in terms of what they could do for the employer but for the employee. In one of his most famous stories, "Wild Dick and Good Little Robin," L. M. Sargent described the basic contrast of character between drinkers and abstainers. Dick, having reformed his drink-ing ways, "continued to grow in favor with God and man. He gave farmer Little complete satisfaction, by his obedience, industry and sobriety. He was permitted to cultivate a small patch of ground, on his own account." 32

The significance of abstinence as a symbol of respectability was enhanced when large numbers of Irish and German immigrants entered the United States and made up the unskilled labor forces of the growing urban centers during the 1840's and 1850's. In the culture of the Irish and the Germans, use of whiskey or beer was customary and often a staple part of the diet. Both groups were at the bottom of the class and status structure in American society. In the evolution of status symbols, the groups at the lowest rungs of the ladder affect the behavior of those above by a process of deple-tion in which those traits originally shared by both groups become progressively deprized among the more prestigeful. The incoming group thus widens the status gap between it and the natives. If the lowly Irish and Germans were the drinkers and the drunkards of the community, it was more necessary than ever that the aspirant to middle-class membership not risk the possibility that he might be classed with the immigrants. He must hew more closely to the norms which provided cultural distinctiveness. As the narrator of Ten Nights in a Barroom phrased it, "Between quiet, thrifty, sub-stantial farmers and drinking bar-room loungers there are many degrees of comparison."'


The Temperance movement began as one solely of moral suasion. By the 1840's it had become a significant part of American politics, capable of affecting local and state elections. As Temperance doc-trine reached larger segments of the population, demands arose to limit the sale and use of intoxicants by legislation. Both the enforce-ment of existing laws and the passage of new, restrictive measures became important issues in many states. The drive to restrict liquor and beer consumption reached its heights in the state prohibition drive of the 1&50's. By 1856, eight states had passed some form of Prohibition legislation.

As the sale and use of alcoholic beverages became a political issue, consumption and abstinence took on even greater meaning as symbols of group loyalty and differentiation. Political opposition reinforced the already evident contrasts of culture in which the daily fare of one group was the dangerous poison of the other. The supporter of anti-alcohol legislation was not simply someone who issued a moral condemnation of drinlcing. He was trying to make it more difficult for the drinker to follow his customary habits.

There was another way in which the emergence of Temperance in politics deepened group confficts. It linked Temperance and anti-Temperance adherence to other class, cultural, and sectional con-flicts on which it was superimposed. The supporter of legislation encouraging Temperance was also likely to be a supporter of reli-gious benevolence movements, of Abolition, and of nativist meas-ures. His opponents were likely to oppose these measures as well.

Federalist Conservatism and Early Temperance

The heavily Eastern and upper-class support of the American Tem-perance Society was one aspect of the identification of the early movement with anti-Jacksonianism. In Beecher and in the officials of the leading Temperance associations, the commitment to the struggle against Jackson was evident. Although the Temperance movement did not seek legislative results until the 1840's, earlier it had a political tone which made it suspect by the Jacksonian, who was also likely to be a Westerner and religiously evangelical. In Congress, for example, Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen was the outstanding exponent of Temperance and the other goals of be-nevolent societies. He was one of Jackson's major opponents. Like Beecher, he was explicit in viewing moral benevolence and religion as a way of controlling the sources of Jacksonian support in the West."

In terms of practical party politics this meant that Temperance supporters tended to find allies among the Whigs during the 1820's and 1830's. This relation between political conservatism and Tem-perance appears in the career of one of the leading Temperance agitators of the pre—Civil War period, Neal Dow." Dow was sym-pathetic to the Federalists. In 1824 he voted for John Quincy Adams, whose protectionist policy he favored. He was always an intense foe of Jackson. In 1832 he found political refuge within the anti-Masonic movement. He supported Harrison in 1840 though he bitterly disliked the "log cabin" appeal to the average man.

Until 1838 the American Temperance movement did not attempt direct political action. In that year the Massachusetts legislature passed the first major Temperance bill, the Fifteen-Callon law, which prohibited purchase of liquor in quantities of less than 15 gallons. Since cash was scaxest among the poorer sections of the state, the law restricted drinking among the poor more than among the rich." It was repealed two years later but the precedent of seeking Temperance through law was established. It was the first wave in a campaign to outlaw taverns and to limit the sale of alco-holic beverages.

As the movement gained adherents in the West, Temperance or-ganizations increasingly saw legislation as a mechanism through which reform could be accomplished. During this period (1840's) neither the VVhigs nor the Democrats were clearly pro- or anti-Temperance, although it was still among the Whigs that most sup-port might be found. The remnant of Jacksonian issues was still strong enough so that Horace Greeley characterized the Whigs as pro-Temperance and the Loco-Focos as anti-Temperance in the New York No-License campaign of 1845.37

The Reformist Movement and Temperance

Party splits were overshadowed by the growing relationship be-tween Temperance and other political issues of the late 1840's and the 1850's. The activities of church groups had made Temperance one aspect of movements to improve the country's religious adher-ence. Sabbatarianism, the home missionary movements, Bible tract societies, and the move to abolish drink, as we have seen, had affinities for those who feared the common man as the new source of power. The issues of the pre—Civil War era, however, involved conflicts of economic interest and cultural differences to a vaster extent than the narrower moral problems of the churches.

The period from 1830 to 1860 has been referred to by some his-torians as "the era of reform" because there were so many organiza-tions and movements devoted to improving mankind, changing social conditions, and reforming the character of human beings. These movements were seldom separate affairs: Indeed, the same people were often involved in a great many of the movements." People like Geritt Smith, Theodore Weld, and Arthur Tappan were found in the moral benevolence societies, the Abolitionists, and the Temperance societies, as well as less flamboyant movements such as peace and the abolition of Sunday mail. Among these, only the antislavery movement surpassed Temperance in the intensity of its support and the influence of its political power.

As American politics tmderwent a reformulation on the eve of the Civil War, Temperance and Abolitionism went hand in hand. Neal Dow is again an illustration of the process. Although a Whig during most of his life, Dow became a Free Soiler in 1848 and a Republican in 1858. His antislavery feeling was deep and had existed since his youth, when his home was a stop on the Under-ground Railroad. He had an immense admiration for Lincoln and an intense hatred of the South." In Dow's successful Temperance campaigns for statewide Prohibition in Maine, the Liberty Party and the Free Soilers were his strongest supporters. "The one group in the state on which the Prohibitionists could count was the anti-slavery element." 4° Temperance and antislavery were united in the Massachusetts victory of the Know-Nothings as they were in similar victories in the United States."41

Temperance emerged in the 1850's in political association with forces which were brealcing away from the old parties. Perhaps there were ideological similarities between Abolition and Temper-ance. They were both highly moralistic and perfectionist. Perhaps it was the occurrence of both in the same parts of the sopiety--the native American independent farmer of the Kidwest and East. The identification with antislavery was strong enough to stifle com-pletely the organization of the Temperance movement in the South. Although Temperance agitation had developed in Southern states during the 1820's, by the late 1830's Temperance was unable to gain any strength in the South. Temperance was emerging as a point of union between segments of politics splitting off from the major parties. "VVhile Whigs and Democrats split over anti-slaveryism and other matters, former partisans of both groups became Know-Nothings. These politicians also became Prohibitionists, and out of such ingredients came the potpourri of Republicanism." 42

Temperance and Nativism

The association of the Irish and Germans vvith opposition to Tem-perance programs added a significant meaning to Temperance in the political arena. It widened the cultural gap between native and immigrant by placing each as opponent to the other's way of life. The American Protestant and immigrant Catholic were not simply two people of somewhat different cultures. When Temperance sought legislative ends, each group became the impediment to the other's victories. The alliance between Temperance and the anti-alien movement of the Know-Nothings completed a polarization process in which political defeat was tantamount to a loss of status and power for the cultural group that bore the loss.

The relation between the native American and the immigrant populations of the cities added a third orientation—a welfare orien-tation—to the two already described as major sources of Temper-ance doctrine and sentiment. The upper-class, displaced power-elite of the Eastern seaboard attempted to shore up a fading control through the moral regeneration of the new electorate. The "common man'' sought his own self-improvement through the Temperance societies. Both sought to assimilate the immigrant to American so-ciety and to solve the problems of urban poverty through Temper-ance. They viewed the immigrant as an object of benevolence; someone they would help to achieve the morally sanctified habits of the native American, of which abstinence had become so cardinal a virtue. Here, as in the antislavery movement, Temperance was again an effort of those who practiced virtue to malce their style of life a universal one.43

That the immigrant was an object for the commiseration and concern of native Protestants was logical enough if one examined his standards of welfare, as well as morality. During the 1840's and 1850's the American labor force began to develop significant indus-trial characteristics as the American economy became larger, more urbanized, and more composed of unskilled labor. The Irish and German immigrants were the backbone of that industrial expansion. Wherever cities developed, so did the complex of criminality, in-temperance, poverty, and ill-health. It was more typical of the Irish than of the Germans but it was an apparent problem in German Ohio as well as Irish Massachusetts.44 During the 1840's the cost of intemperance to the society was one important theme in Temperance literature. One of the leading tracts of the late 1840's was Samuel Chipman's "Temperance Lecturer: being facts gathered from a personal examination of all the jails and poor-houses in the State of New York, showing the effects of intoxicating drinlcs in producing Taxes, Pauperism, and Crime." The subtitle of this work was typical of this genre in its stress on Temperance as a solution to a perplexing public problem of both moral and financial dimen-sions. In Boston and other parts of Massachusetts, rural areas re-sented the large state tax bill, resulting in part from the high rates of pauperism among the Irish immigrants.45

Benevolence and hostility, as we point out throughout this book, are dual ways of responding to the existence of a different culture in our midst. We can feel sorry for the poor, ignorant heathen who lcnow no better, and try to lift them to our standards. We also can see them as immoral creatures who threaten our safety and institu-tions and who must be stopped and restrained. In the 1840's and 1850's the Temperance movement engaged in both moral benevo-lence and nativistic hostility. The hostility was evidenced in the political affinities between Prohibition and anti-alienism, as well as antislavery.

The Know-Nothings and the Free Soilers made considerable headway through the combination of Abolitionism, Temperance, and an appeal to nativism. The Know-Nothings, and the other new parties of the 1850's, can justly be called "a collection of men look-ing for new political homes." 46 There was a pronounced affinity between the three elements of opposition to immigration, drink, and slavery. The same people were not always found in each other's company but the tendency was considerable.

The political confrontation between native and immigrant was a real one, based on real cultural differences. Temperance, to the Irish Catholic and the German Lutheran, was a tyranny over their ways of life and not a move to uplift the society. The "grogshop" and beer stein were accepted parts of Irish and German group life. There was no experience with revivalism nor any tradition of moderate drinking to be revived. When the Temperance reform swept the Americans, heavy drinldng was a falling off from a once-accepted moral standard. This was not the case among the immi-grants, where drinking patterns were not viewed as a severe problem.

Politically, thè immigrant populations were the most powerful opponents of the Temperance forces. The fear of losing immigrant support was a major source of political compromise on Prohibition issues in the 1850's, as it was to be in the twentieth century. In 1854 the Republicans had been outspokenly for Prohibition. As they became a national party, this was a liability which they dropped when immigrant opposition proved strong enough to cost state elections.

Out of the political conflicts of the 1840's and 1850's nondrinking had become more and more a symbol of middle-class, native Ameri-can respectability. The urban, immigrant, lower class had emerged as both the counterimage to the Temperance hero and a political opponent of significant concem.


Historians are likely to register an objection to our mode of analysis. They are apt to accuse us of the sociological error of reductionism. The argument might be advanced that in emphasizing the functions of Temperance for the status structure, we have distorted the im-portance of religious and moral motives in a movement that aimed to bring men to a higher level of moral perfection. Granted that one aspect of Temperance activities was actuated by needs for eco-nomic and status rewards, much of the attempt to produce an ab-stinent society was based on a desire to enhance the moral character of self and others. Religious compulsion drove men to build a more perfect world because it was right, not because it was instrumental. Duty, not utility, played a major hand in the reformist upsurge. When the sociologist finds economic or social considerations at work, he is often accused of having "reduced" religious motives to self-interested status needs. Temperance is, as we have admitted, the offspring of religious revivalism. The process of "reduction" hides and belittles that fact, or so the argument would run.

Two aspects of our method must be understood if we are to avoid the possible errors upon which such criticism focuses our attention. First, this book is not a history of the Temperance movement. Its aims are not those of the historian. Second, sociological method need not "reduce" one analytical concept to another. There are different orientations to subject matter which need not be contradictory.

This is not a history of the Temperance movement. VVhile we have used primary materials in many parts of the study, there is much use of published materials which are part of historical and sociological literature. Our aim is interpretative. We are interested in the relations between social structure and the moral reform move-ments. We are not trying to develop a balanced account of the many facets of the movement in this case study. To do so in a work covering 150 years would be a most gigantic task. If we were in-terested in Temperance as a vehicle of religious conversion we would assay that area with greater depth. This is, however, an in-terpretative work and, as such, the interest is in the general knowl-edge to which study of this movement can contribute.

This point needs expansion. One useful way of distinguishing sociological from historical method is to say that sociology is a generalizing study while history is not. ( We are, of course, refer-ring to methods, not to individual scholars who are identified as sociologists or historians.) The historian who studies the Industrial Revolution in England attempts to discover how it came to be and what it contributed to the later events in that society. His emphasis is upon that slice of time as a unique set of events, not reproducible. The sociologist interested in the same slice of time is stimulated by a concern with the process of industrialization. He wants to know what he can discover from the British experience that will illumi-nate industrial change in general. This is not an "either-or" differ-ence. Every set of events has its unique properties and its general properties. Which properties you emphasize depends upon your aims and, to some extent, upon the utility of your method for the kinds of aims you possess. A methodology is chosen for a task. If the tasks are different, the methodologies need not be the same.

The generalizing aims of the sociologist make comparative meth-ods essential. He has to look at several societies or at several pe-riods of history in order to observe what happens under different conditions to a common class of objects. The historian who tried to develop a scholarly account of the Temperance movement from 1826 to 1960 would be involved in a massive work. It is necessary to his aim of developing the total set of events which have brought about the present movement or of transmitting the appreciation of the past. This is not our aim. We are forced into study of the move-ment at different points in time precisely because we need compari-son and contrast if the work is to have a sociological significance. We are not interested in Temperance per se but in status reform and political action under varying conditions.

Second, the sociologist is not "reducing" religious or reformist motivations to status or class interests. The charge of reductionism implies that the reducer fmds the claims of his subjects to disinter-ested benevolence to be false ones. It suggests that we see religion as a "front" behind which men stalked after power, status, and income. This fails to appreciate the sociologist's concern for func-tional rather than descriptive questions.

We are not asserting that Temperance adherents during the 1840's were not deeply moved by the emotional appeals of reli-gious revivals, that they did not "feel" benevolent toward those who were not abstinent, that they were not motivated by ideas and ideals. VVhen we maintain that drinlcing had become a status sym-bol, we do not imply that religious reasons were merely cloaks for status interests. We mean that as a consequence of revivals, parts of the population that had been drinkers now were abstinent; that where drinking had been legitimate for middle-class people, now it was disapproved and sanctions placed against it. A function of Temperance activities was to enhance the symbolic properties of liquor and abstinence as marks of status. This is not an assertion that this was its only function nor is it an assertion about motives. It is merely pointing out that as a consequence of such activities, abstinence became symbolic of a status level.

A similar logic underlies our analysis of Temperance as a system of social control in the 182Ces. VVhen we assert that the Federalist elite sought to control the newly powerful democratic electorate through Temperance we are not "debunking" the movement nor reducing it to political motives. We are maintaining that the lost position of power and prestige which the old elite had suffered made them sensitive to the moral failings of the formerly subser-vient classes. It represented a problem which had not existed in the past. Their conviction of the righteousness of their way of life rested on religious ideas, but to "feel" the need to help those not sharing it meant that the victims of intemperance were being "bet-tered" by the moral values of the old elite, which implies that those values were becoming dominant.

Such functions of actions are generally latent rather than mani-fest. At times, as in Beecher's statements, they become explicit.47 Such times often help the sociologist to see the significance for the structure of the actions performed.

Let us bring this section to a close with an illustration taken from a historian's analysis of the Social Gospel:

The discovery that the doctrine of sanctification and the methods of mass evangelism played an increasingly important role in the program of the churches after 1842 compels a revaluation of their impact on every facet of the contemporary religious scene . . . whatever may have been the role of other factors, the quest for perfection joined with compassion for poor and needy sinners and a rebirth of millennial ex-pectation to make popular Protestantism a mighty social force. . . .48

The sociologist is not denying the existence of a quest for perfec-tion or compassion for the poor as factors in a social situation. He wants to know the groups within the social structure in which they arise and why they arose in that part. He wants to Imow how and why the vision of perfection of one group is the standard upheld for others to follow. Such questions are not reductions of one set of factors to another set. They are bridges through which the soci-ologist attempts to develop general schemes of analysis of structure by looking for the functions which a given set of ideas performs and the conditions within which they arise. The ideas have an in-dependent existence but not an existence in vacuo. Weber wrote that although religious forces were an essential element in the de-velopment of modem capitalism, one could not deduce the eco-nomic institution from the Reformation." No more are we attempt-ing to deduce Temperance from status structure or reduce one to the other.


1 An example of this is found in Andre Seigfried, America Comes of Age, tr. H. H. and Doris Hemming (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1927).

2Jolui A. Krout, The Origins of Prohibition (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1925), pp. 1-2,5; Alice Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days (New York: Macmillan, 1937), pp. 148-149, 156-165; Alice Earle, Customs and Fashions in Old New England (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1893), pp. 163-213.

3 Dixon Ryan Fox, Decline of Aristocracy in the Politics of New York (New York: Columbia University Press, 1919), p. v. Accounts of this social structure can also be found in Charles and Mary Beard, Rise of American Civilization (New York: Macmillan, 1937), pp. 125-138; John A. Krout, The Completion of Independence (New York: Macmillan, 1944); Clinton Rossiter, The First American Revolution (Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1956), pp. 138-187.

4 Carl Bridenbaugh, Cities in the Wilderness (New York: Ronald Press, 1938), p. 30, also pp. 55-93, 249-302; Krout, Origins of Prohibition, p. 30.

5 J. Franklin Jameson, The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1926), esp. Ch. 1.

6 Richard Purcell, Connecticut in Transition, 1775-1818 (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1918), p. 8.

7 John Marsh, Temperance Recollections (New York: Charles Scribner and Co., 1867), p. 15.

8 Clifford S. Griffin, "Religious Benevolence as Social Control, 1815-1860," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 44 (December, 1957), 423-444, at 432.

9 This research is sunrunarized by John William Ward in "The Age of the Common Man," in John Higham ( ed.), The Reconstruction of American His-tory ( New York: Harper Torch Books, 1962), pp. 82-97. For partial criticism of the "new approach" see Marcus Cunliffe's discussion in his The Nation Takes Shape: 1789-1837 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959), pp. 150-180.

10 David Donald, "Towards a Reconsideration of Abolitionists," in his Lincoln Reconsidered ( New York: Vintage Books, 1961), pp. 19-36.

11 /bid., p. 33.

12The leaders of the organizations included such prominent Calvinists and Federalists as Jedidiah Morse, Jeremiah Evarts, and Efiphalet Porter. The lists of officers of these organizations included few who are not identified with this complex political and religious outlook. See the lists of officers in George Clark, History of the Temperance Reform in Massachusetts, 1813-1883 (Boston: Clarke and Carruth, 1888), Ch. 1, and Krout, Origins of Prohibition, pp. 88-92. This is discussed in John R. Bodo, The Protestant Clergy and Public Issues (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1954), pp. 183-187. The same social base of the Temperance organization in Brooklyn in 1815 is noted in Ralph Weld, Brooklyn Village (New York: Columbia University Press, 1938), p. 94.

13 Henry Wheeler, Methodism and the Temperance Reformation (Cincinnati, Ohio: Walden and Stowe, 1882), p. 73; George C. Baker, Jr., An Introduction to the History of New England Methodism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1941), pp. 61-66.

14 Clifford S. Griffin, His Brother's Keeper (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1960).

15 Autobiography of Lyman Beecher, 1 (New York: Harper and Bros., 1864), 255-256.

16 Lyman Beecher, Six Sermons on Intemperance (New York: American Tract Society, 1843), pp. 57-58.

17 The Indian's use of alcohol went well beyond the limits of restraint incul-cated in the colonists. Those concerned for the moral welfare of the Indians were consequently involved in Temperance activities. The first Temperance publication in American history, The Mighty Destroyer Displayed, stemmed from such considerations. Its author, Anthony Benezet, was a Philadelphia Qualcer much concerned with charities. He had been active in the education of free Negroes. From this he moved into work to aid the living conditions of American Negroes. As an accompaniment to this welfare interest, Benezet be-came involved in the welfare of the American Indian. It was this concern which first -prompted his interest in the alcohol problem. See ICrout, Origins of Pro-hibition, pp. 84-65.

18 Ibid., p. 17.

19 Ibid., pp. 79-80; Daniel Dorchester, The Liquor Problem in All Ages (New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1887), pp. 181-186; Charles A. Ingraham, "The Birth at Moreau of the Temperance Reformation," New York State Historical Asso-ciation, Proceedings, 6 (1906), 115-133.

20 Griffin, His Brother's Keeper, pp. 55-60.

21 Quoted in Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, p. 175.

22 Krout, Origins of Prohibition, p. 183.

23"Proceedings of the New York Division, Sons of Temperance, 1842," in Sons of Temperance, Mond of the Proceedings of the National Division, 1 (1844-49), 10-11.

24 /bid., p. 211.

25 Krout, Origins of Prohibition, pp. 128-131. D. L. Colvin, The Prohibition Party in the United States (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1926), Ch. 1, gives slightly different figures for the same year. These figures must be qualified by the fact that the Southern units did not keep accurate records.

26 Dorchester, op. cit., pp. 235-236.

27 Whitney Cross, The Burned-Over District (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univer-sity Press, 1950), pp. 211-216.

28 Clark, op. cit., p. 53.

29 Rev. John Marsh complained of the demand from audiences for recount-ing of experiences. It led to the exclusion of clergymen and other early Temper-ance speakers from the platforms of Temperance meetings. Marsh, op. cit., p. 297. This autobiography is an interesting statement of the coolness with which the organized Temperance movement greeted the Washingtonians. Marsh criti-cized the indecorous character of their meetings, the tobacco smoking of leaders, and the failure of the Washingtonians to open meetings with prayer. Ibid., pp. 94-99, 130, 230-232. The anticlerical nature of the Washingtonians is also evident in the account of cme of its leading orators. See John Gough, Auto-biography (London: W. Tweedle (Se Co., 1875).

30 See the description of Temperance activities in Chicago during the 1840's in Bessie Louise Pierce, A History of Chicago, 1 (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1937), 258-283.

31 From a review of Henry Ward Beecher's Serinons published in The At-lantic Monthly in 1858, quoted in Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform (New York: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 37.

32 Lucius Manius Sargent, "Wild Dick and Good Little Robin," in his Tem-perance Tales (Boston: Whipple and Damrell, 1836), p. 33.

33 Timothy Shay Arthur, Ten Nights in a Barroom (Chicago: Union School Funaishing Co., 1854), p. 135.

34 Griffin, His Brother's Keeper, p. 58.

35 Neal Dow, Reminiscences (Portland, Me.: Express Publishing Co., 1898), pp. 120-141.

36 Krout, Origins of Prohibition, pp. 268-269.

37 Ibid., p. 283.

38 The general quality of the reform movement is discussed in Arthur Bestor, Jr., "The Ferment of Reform," in Richard Leopold and Arthur Link (eds.), Problems in American History (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1952), Ch. 8, and Carl Fish, The Rise of the Common Man, 1830-1850 (New York: Macmillan, 1937), p. 256.

39 Dow, op. cit., pp. 20-21.

40 Ibid., p. 289.

41Oscar Handlin, Boston's Immigrants (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univer-sity Press, 1941), pp. 201-209; Ray Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800- 1860 (New York: Macmillan, 1938).

42 Griffin, His Brother's Keeper, p. 218.

43 Gilbert Hobbs Barnes, The Anti-Slavery Impulse (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1933), p. 25.

44 This portrait of the Irish in Massachusetts in based on Handlin, op. cit., and on Vera Shlalcman, Economic History of a Factory Town, Smith College Studies in History (October, 1934), Ch. 4. The situation of the German im-migrants was different. Although they displayed no affinity for temperance, their slcills, industrial habits, and cultural norms were closer to those of the native American.

45 Handlin, op. cit., pp. 191-192.

46 Billington, op. cit., Ch. 15.

47 See the discussion of Beecher above, pp. 42-43.

48 smith, op. cit., p. 149.

49 Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, pp. 90-91.

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