The Temperance Movement was an organized effort in the 19th and early 20th centuries to encourage moderation of alcohol or urge for its complete removal from society. The majority of protesters were women who had endured the consequences of an intoxicated lifestyle. Alcohol became the blame for society's troubles, such as crime, poverty, and poor health. Temperance movements were established in New York (1808) and Massachusetts (1813). The most well- known temperance advocate was the preacher John Bartholomew Gough in the early 1800s. The first success of the movement was in Maine, were a law prohibiting alcohol was passed on June 2, 1851. The same arguments have been used to combat the war on drugs in the 21st century, asserting that narcotics can be connected to all of today's social problems.
"The sphere of individual liberty must be shrunken, indeed, if it cannot enclose all that lies within a man's skin, and the powers of the ruler, extensive indeed, if they can reach down the citizen's throat and explore his digestive organs. It is not mere bombast to declare that the esophagus, the duodenum, lacticals, and capillary ducts of free-born Americans are, and of right should be, forever inviolable; and that if the Declaration of Independence does not avail to save the contents of our stomachs and bladders from chemical analysis and legislative discussion, it is full time to make another declaration that shall mean something."
-Anonymous letter appearing in the United States Magazine and Democratic Review (May 1852)
This letter is criticizing the Temperance Movement as an encroachment on basic human rights. The author condemns the Declaration of Independence, saying that the document is not doing its job if it cannot stop the government from interfering with the things that people consume. The author is arguing that if "all that lies within a man's skin" cannot be protected from harassment, then the overall idea of individual liberty has to be reduced. This is an effective opposition to the Temperance Movement because the author of the letter uses democratic appeals to convince the readers of the possible injustices.
Before the temperance movement there were published writings discouraging total drunkenness and excess use, but total abstinence from alcohol was rarely advocated or practiced. The public did not take legal action on the matter, but instead stated that excessive alcohol use was morally wrong. Women played a heavy role in leading this movement because they suffered a majority of the consequences resulting from alcohol so many decided to take a stand. In 1826, the American Temperance Society was formed within 12 years claiming more than 8,000 local groups and over 1,500,000 members. Later in august of 1829, John Edgar, an Irish minister, wrote a letter in the Belfast Telegraph publicizing his views on temperance stating that it must be practiced to ensure the safety of the public. A more extreme form of temperance emerged in the 1830s called teetotalism, which encouraged alcohol to be completely gone from society. All of these actions contributed to prohibition in the early 1900s where all alcoholic products were banned and helped transform our society.
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