Continued: National Prohibition of Alcohol in the U.S.

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Between 1830 and 1840, most temperance organizations began to argue that the only way to prevent drunkenness was to eliminate the consumption of alcohol. The Temperance Society became the Abstinence Society. The Independent Order of Good Templars, the Sons of Temperance, the Templars of Honor and Temperance, the Anti-Saloon League, the National Prohibition Party and other groups were formed and grew rapidly (Blocker, 1985, pp. 67-72). With the passage of time, "The temperance societies became more and more extreme in the measures they championed" (McConnell, 1963, p. 569).

Root Beer

"Root beer" was a temperance product developed in the hope that it would replace beer in popularity... it did not.

(Goshen, C. E. Drinks, Drugs, and Do-Gooders. New York: Free Press, 1973, p. 14.)

While it began by advocating the temperate or moderate use of alcohol, the movement now insisted that no one should be permitted to drink any alcohol in any quantity. And it did so with religious fervor and increasing stridency (Royce, 1981, p. 40; Sheehan, 1984b, p. 73). Even when compared to the sophisticated use of mass media today, the temperance movement still rivals the best in terms of scope, commitment, and response (Wallack, 1981, p. 211):

No effort in our era at mass communications about alcohol comes close to matching the outpouring of materials for the mass audience by the temperance movement in the nineteenth century. For decades the American public was flooded with temperance pamphlets, temperance novels, temperance newspapers, temperance sermons, and temperance lectures-the longest sustained and perhaps the largest organized effort at mass communication about a social issue that the country has ever seen. (Room, 1977, p. 22)

The prohibition of alcohol by law became a major issue in every campaign from the national and state level, to those for school board members. The issue generated deep bitterness. "It is hard for us today to grasp how profoundly this controversy pervaded every facet of American life for a century.... Religious and political party affiliation were so intertwined with the prohibition issue, and feelings ran so high, that it became a rule of polite society not to allow them in conversation." (Royce, 1981, pp. 40-41).


A temperance leader asserted that "This [prohibition] is Christ's work... a holy war, and every true soldier of the Cross will fight in it" (Fumas, 1965, p. 165). Understandably, ministers were influential and important to the cause (Schmidt, 1995). They mobilized their flocks by preaching that alcohol was

the great anaconda, which wraps its coils around home altars to cripple them, to make room for Bacchus. The vampire which fans sanity to sleep while it sucks away the lifeblood. The vulture, which preys upon the vials [sic] of the nations. It defies God, despises Jesus Christ, sins against the Holy Ghost, which is sinning against light and knowledge. Above all it murders humanly. (Isaac, 1965, p. 21)

In promoting what many prohibitionists saw as their religious duty, they perfected the techniques of pressure politics (Odegard, 1928). Women in the movement even used their children as pawns to march, sing, and otherwise

"Use a little wine..."

Because the temperance movement began to teach that drinking alcohol was sinful, it was forced to confront the contrary fact that Jesus drank wine. Its solution was to insist that Jesus drank grape juice rather than wine. (Hanson, David J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture, and Control Westport, Ct: Praeger, 1995, Chapter Three.)

The Bible says to "use a little wine for thy stomach's sake" (1 Timothy 5:23). This admonition caused serious problems for temperance writers, who argued that alcohol was a poison and that drinking it was a sin. So they insisted that the Bible was actually advising people to rub alcohol on their abdomens. (Edwards, G. Alcohol: The World's Favorite Drug. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000, p. 167).

Later, temperance activists hired a scholar to rewrite the Bible by removing all references to alcohol beverage. (The American Mix, 2001, 1(1), 4.)

exert pressure at polling places. Dressed in white and clutching tiny American flags, the children would await their order to descend upon an unsuspecting "wet" as he approached the voting booth.

The Anti-Saloon League stressed its religious character and since it acted as an agent of the churches and therefore was working for God, anything it did was seen as moral and justified because it was working to bring about the Lord's will:

It didn't necessarily include the outright purchase of a politician, nor did it preclude such a buy if the situation warranted. In general, however, and briefly, it consisted in swarming into a contested area and bringing every imaginable sort of pressure to bear upon the candidates and officeholders; in saturating the country with speakers and literature; in laying down a barrage of abuse, insinuation, innuendo, half-truths, and plain lies against an opponent; and in maintaining an efficient espionage system which could obtain reliable knowledge of the enemy's plans. Sometimes the required pressure could be applied through a man's business or professional connections; again, something might be accomplished through his family and relatives, in which case the local clergyman and the ladies of the W.C.T.U. were very helpful. (Asbury, 1968, pp. 101-102)

Not surprisingly one league leader would later write that the lies he told in promoting prohibition "would fill a big book" (Asbury, 1968, p. 102).

Decades later, their propaganda, strong organization, and political tactics would pay off in the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution establishing national prohibition. A leader of the Anti-Saloon League testified that prior to its passage in Congress, he had compiled a list of 13,000 business people who supported prohibition. They were then given their instructions at the crucial time:

We blocked the telegraph wires in Congress for three days. One of our friends sent seventy- five telegrams, each signed differently with the name of one his subordinates. The campaign was successful. Congress surrendered. The first to bear the white flag was Senator Warren Harding of Ohio. He told us frankly he was opposed to the amendment, but since it was apparent from the telegrams that the business world was demanding it he would submerge his own opinion and vote for submission. (Pollard, 1932, p. 107)

The league was so powerful that even national politicians feared its strength. The Eighteenth Amendment might well not have passed if a secret ballot had made it impossible for the league to have punished the "disobedient" at the next election (Sinclair, 1962, p. 110).

In this Currier and Ives print of 1848, George Washinton bids farewell to his officers with a toast in his hand and a supply of liquor on the table.

Reflecting the power of the temperance movement, a re-engraved version in 1876 removes all evidence of alcohol. Gone is the glass from Washington's hand and the liquor supply is replaced with a hat.

What was written about Wayne Wheeler, Counsel for the Anti-Saloon League was true, to a lesser degree, of many other temperance leaders:

Wayne B. Wheeler controlled six congresses, dictated to two presidents of the United States, directed legislation in most of the States of the Union, picked the candidates for the more important elective and federal offices, held the balance of power in both Republican and Democratic parties, distributed more patronage than any dozen other men, supervised a federal bureau from outside without official authority, and was recognized by friend and foe alike as the most masterful and powerful single individual in the United States. (Childs, 1947,p. 217)

The Civil War had interrupted the temperance movement while Americans were preoccupied with that great struggle. Then, after the war, the Women's Christian Temperance Union was founded. Of course, the organization did not promote moderation or temperance but rather prohibition. One of its methods to achieve that goal was education. It was believed that if it could "get to the children" it could create a dry sentiment leading to prohibition (Sheehan, 1981, p. 118).


Calls for alcohol education in the United States were heard as early as 1869, when a temperance writer, Julia Coleman, addressed the Fulton County (NY) Teachers' Institute on the subject (Mezvinsky, 1961, p. 48). Similar appeals were made by others over the next few years. In 1873 the National Temperance Society called for instruction in both public and private schools on the effects of alcohol on the human system (Mezvinsky, 1961, p. 48).

At about the same time, Mary Hunt, a former school teacher visited her local school board in Massachusetts and persuaded that body to establish temperance instruction in the schools. Then, together with Julia Coleman, Mrs. Hunt extended the campaign to other school districts in the state. They promoted a series of graded lessons on hygiene and physiology prepared by the former teacher (Ohies, 1978, p. 477) and a new textbook, Alcohol and Hygiene, authored by Ms. Coleman (Bordin, 1981, p. 135).

In 1879 Mrs. Hunt accepted an invitation from Frances Willard to speak to the WCTU's national convention on "Scientific Temperance Instruction." There she presented her vision of "thorough text-book study of Scientific Temperance in public schools as a preventive against intemperance" (Billings, 1903, p. 21). A standing committee was appointed with Mrs. Hunt as chair. The following year (1880) a Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction in Schools and Colleges, with Mrs. Hunt as National Superintendent, replaced the committee (Billings, 1903, p. 22).

In her new position, Mrs. Hunt called on each WCTU local to visit its school board to demand that temperance textbooks be incorporated into the regular course of study. Around the country, locals held mass meetings and petition drives converged on school boards to press their case. This led Mrs. Hunt to observe that "It is not too much to say that the school boards of the country ... are in a state of siege" at the hands of WCTU members (Zimmerman, 1992, p. 2). She, herself, spoke to 182 meetings in 1880 (Ohies, 1978, p. 477).

But the results were disappointing to the WCTU. School boards were not as pliant as expected and it was much more difficult to remove recalcitrant board members. While Mrs. Hunt was having difficulty promoting her temperance instruction, the prohibition movement was experiencing serious difficulties as well. During the decade, 12 of 20 prohibition referenda were defeated and states were often failing to enforce those bills that did manage to pass. This led Mrs. Hunt to conclude that voters "must first be convinced that alcohol and kindred narcotics are by nature outlaws, before they will outlaw them" (Zimmerman, 1992, pp. 5-6). She decided to use legislation to coerce the moral suasion of students, who would be the next generation of voters. This gave birth to the idea of the compulsory Scientific Temperance Instruction Movement (Zimmerman, 1992, p. 6).

Mrs. Hunt's strategy was for WCTU members to pressure state legislators and promote the nomination and candidacy of pro-temperance candidates in election years. The strategy was first used in Vermont where highly organized members campaigned for temperance candidates, developed letter writing campaigns, obtained temperance endorsements from leading citizens, presented legislators with a deluge of petitions, and packed open hearings on a proposed bill. The strategy worked. The bill was passed by a large majority and became law in 1882 (Mezvinsky, 1961, p. 49). Mrs. Hunt developed and pioneered the use of tactics used ever since by lobbyists and pressure groups.

But Mrs. Hunt was not entirely pleased with her first effort; the Vermont law was general and vague. She feared that a few lessons presented to a few students could be interpreted as compliance with the law. Therefore, in the next state campaign, Mrs. Hunt worked to ensure that the proposed bill would require that temperance instruction be given to all students in all schools in Michigan (Mezvinsky, 1961, p. 49). One provision required schools to teach the harmful physical effects of alcohol, narcotics, and stimulants, while another required teachers to pass an examination on the effects of alcohol and narcotics. The Michigan law, passed in 1883, became a model for subsequent legislation in other states (Bordin, 1981, pp. 135-136).

Mrs. Hunt proved to be a brilliant strategist and leader. State prohibition laws had not been faring well and temperance could be a political minefield capable of destroying all but the most astute political operative: Prohibition of alcohol was an issue that shook state politics in the nineteenth century. Even politicians in favor of temperance were not sure that they wanted to alienate voters by proscribing drink. Children, however, were another matter; they did not vote, and they might safely be taught to shun what their parents cared little to abandon. By the turn of the century every state and territory had laws mandating the teaching of the evils of alcohol.6 Many of these laws were more specific and binding than legislation on any other branch of the curriculum. (Tyack and James, 1985, pp. 515-516)
However, many of the compulsory laws were still not strong enough to suit Mrs. Hunt. Even while some states were being pressured to enact legislation, she was waging campaigns to strengthen many of the existing laws. For example, due to Mrs. Hunt's continued efforts, Vermont's easily evaded 1882 legislation was amended in 1886. Even the model Michigan act was amended to include the same provisions as the revised Vermont law (Mezvinsky, 1961, p. 51). From there, Mrs. Hunt carried the amendment fight on to other states.

Not surprisingly, many school officials were unsympathetic or resistant to mandatory temperance education. An Ohio temperance worker complained that "school examiners, school boards and school superintendents are, many of them, indifferent to the law-ignore it-and are not dismissed" and observed that "no law will enforce itself (Zimmerman, 1992, p. 8). 7 Accordingly, Mrs. Hunt asserted that "It is our duty not to take the word of some school official, but to visit the school and carefully and wisely ascertain for ourselves if the study is faithfully pursued by all pupils" (Zimmerman, 1992, p. 9). To this end, she asserted that local WCTU superintendents or other members must visit their local schools to observe the temperance lessons, examinations, recitations, and textbooks (Hunt, 1892, pp. 53, 58). 8 With about 150,000 members scattered in communities across the nation in 1892, the WCTU was in an excellent position to monitor compliance to the temperance legislation. "When, in an unusual gesture of defiance, teachers in New York State protested a highly prescriptive temperance law, the WCTU mobilized influential local members to make sure that teachers were obeying the statute" (Tyack and James, 1985, p. 517). Not surprisingly, both supporters and opponents used military metaphors to describe Hunt's organization and methods.

By the turn of the century, the Scientific Temperance Instruction movement directed by Mrs. Hunt had proved to be highly successful. Virtually every state, the District of Columbia, and all United States possessions had strong legislation mandating that all students receive anti-alcohol education. Some textbook authors even prepared different editions of their books to meet the differing legal requirements of various states (Nietz, 1961, p. 294). Furthermore, the implementation of this legislation was closely monitored down to the classroom level by legions of determined and vigilant WCTU members throughout the nation.

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