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Social Reforms, Temperance

temperance movement, happy homes, heavy drinking, alcohol consumption, alcohol abuse

The largest and most sustained organized social movement in American history was the temperance crusade against the use of alcohol that began in the 1820s. Again, Northern Whig evangelicals took the lead. They argued that alcohol abuse as well as the violence and personal and social disintegration associated with it had gotten out of control. In fact, per capita alcohol consumption, which had grown steadily since the 1790s, was at an all–time high in the 1820s.

Middle–class evangelicals assumed that poverty, crime, family violence, poor child rearing, and almost every other social ill was traceable to heavy drinking. A sober citizenry, they argued, would result in a society free of crime and violence, filled with happy homes and quiet streets. In the 1840s working people formed their own temperance movement—first through the Washingtonian Temperance Society, and then through temperance lodges. Members of both groups turned in the 1850s to campaigns for statewide prohibition. Beginning with Maine in 1851, 13 states adopted legislation that outlawed alcohol by 1855. Of those states, all but Delaware were in the North.

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