The Temperance Reform

By Karina Hanzlik and Gloria Su


The temperance movement of the 1800's was an organized effort to encourage moderation in the consumption of alcohol or encourage complete abstinence. In the period following the American Revolution many Americans drank to excess. This was due in part to economic and social problems that occurred as a result of rapid inflation following the war for independence. Alcohol was blamed for many of society's faults, among them severe health problems, destitution, losing the favor of God, and crime. Excessive drinking had a negative effect on the economy. It caused a decrease in work productivity and an increase in work accidents. It also caused family issues. There were laws passed and organization set up to regulate drinking. These laws weren’t very successful, but the groups were. Temperance was also important because it connected to many other reform movements that sprang up in the country between the American Revolution and the Civil War


Step 1: A glass with a friend

Step 2:A glass to keep the cold out

Step 3: A glass too much

Step 4: Drunk and riotous

Step 5: The summit attained, Jolly companions, A confirmed drunkard

Step 6: Poverty and disease

Step 7: Forsaken by Friends

Step 8: Desperation and crime

Step 9: Death by suicide

This popular 1846 lithograph by Nathaniel Currier depicts "The Drunkards Progress." This temperance movement poster highlights the impact of alcohol from "the first glass to the grave," or from the first drink to an alcohol related death. It was an effective poster in discouraging the consumption of alcohol because it's shows the negative effects of drinking: social disorder, impoverished families, an increases in crime, an economic decline, and eventually death.

This political cartoon shows alcohol's negative effect on society. It illustrates that "Booze" are a waste and ruin lives by making people poor, causing crime, robbing women and children, filling asylums, and slowing progression.

The phrase “Lips That Touch Liquor Must Never Touch Mine” was the slogan of the Anti-Saloon League, or the leading organization for national prohibition. The temperance movement to prohibit alcohol was wanted mostly by women, as shown in this picture. They wanted to get rid of alcohol because it made the men drunk, took their family's wages, and increased the violence at home.

Primary Source

This piece is titled the "Moral and Physical Thermometer," and was designed by Benjamin Rush. The picture was published by Thomas J. O'Flaherty, M.D. in A Medical Essay on Drinking in 1828. It warns against excessive drinking and lists out the possible detrimental effects of the over consumption of alcohol. Although the harmful effects of alcohol are somewhat over exaggerated, pictures like these were effective in encouraging temperance. Drawings like these that included both moral and health detriments of alcohol were widely distributed by temperance groups. As a result, many temperance groups achieved a great deal of success and were able to acquire a high amount of temperance pledges.

Discussion Points

Causes of the movement:

  • Drinking was common because they believed alcohol was good for one's health and it was cheap (about 25¢ a gallon.)
  • The temperance movement was necessary because heavy drinking led to decreased labor efficiency.
  • Also American workers would go to work drunk and this raised the risk of having an accidents while using the machinery.
  • Drunkenness ruined families and threatened the safety of women and children.
  • Drinking led the gambling and prostitution.

Effects of the movement:

  • American Temperance Society was formed in 1826.

    Thousands of societys formed and they helped to cause the amount of alcohol consumed by making members taking a pledge.

    Temperance reformers were very successful in the use of pictures and pamphlets to get across their point.

  • "Maine Laws"

Result of a campaign led to restrict the manufacture and sale of alcohol.

Maine 1851 - nation's first statewide prohibition law.

Led to other prohibition laws - "Maine Laws"

Laws were ineffective and were repealed after only a decade.

Leaders of the movement: the main proponents were women who suffered when their husbands abused alcohol.

Famous people:

  • Neal S. Dow was the mayor of Portland and he sponsored the Maine Law of 1851.

    He was known as the "Father of Prohibition."

  • Susan B. Anthony was a women's rights advocate who supported the temperance women because women the were the most affected by over consumption of alcohol.

Amendments to the Constitution:

The movement reached its apex in 1920 when Congress ratified the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors. Prohibition proved difficult to enforce and failed to have the intended effect of eliminating crime and other social problems–to the contrary, it led to a rise in organized crime, as the bootlegging of alcohol became an ever-more lucrative operation. In 1933, widespread public disillusionment led Congress to ratify the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition.

Long range significance:

The temperance movement encouraged a second reform era, Progressivism. This period was characterized by maturing social and governmental efforts to reform society, whose roots lay in the 19th century. These reforms included women's suffrage and equal pay, birth control, child labor reform, the eight-hour day and environmental conservation, among others.

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