Attacking Alcohol: Examining the Temperance Movement from the Early 19th Century until Prohibition

From 1920 until 1933 – beginning with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment and ending with the ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment – the United States prohibited the sale, production, importation and transportation of alcoholic beverages. However, the journey to establish prohibition began over a century earlier.

The dry movement, also known as the temperance movement or the prohibition movement, had a wide variety of supporters: religious and rural conservatives as well as urban progressives; men as well as women, sometimes working together, sometimes separately; wealthy business owners who thought alcohol made their workers less productive as well as workers who thought alcohol was used to oppress them; white people who feared the perceived danger of black people drinking as well as black people who thought alcohol was a tool to limit their progress (Burns).

By the time of national prohibition, the temperance movement had already been working for decades to promote their cause. In this essay, I will discuss the improbable success of the temperance movement through the religious and economic changes in antebellum America, the movement’s reemergence and expansion in the 1870s, and the mostly political changes around the turn of the 20th century that helped prohibitionists achieve their ultimate goal.

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