Printable Version

Temperance: From Gradualism to Immediatism
Digital History ID 385

Author:   J. Kitredge


In its earliest stages, the campaign against drinking drew support from local elites, who associated drinking with the breakdown of the hierarchical social order of the eighteenth century. Typical of the early temperance organizations was the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance, founded in 1813 by gentlemen upset by the spread of social disorder and disrespect for society's upper classes. The goals of the early organizations were quite limited, stressing self-control rather than abstinence and opposing only distilled, not fermented, alcohol. The Massachusetts Society actually served wine at its meetings.

The evangelical revivals of the 1820s transformed temperance into a mass movement. Many reformers were particularly critical of moderate drinking, which helped keep saloons and distilleries in business and set a bad example for those susceptible to alcohol's attractions.


There are opposers among us! men of wealth and respectability, who encourage the use of spirituous liquors and throw their influence into the scale of intemperance. There is, after all, a numerous class of what are called temperate, moderate drinkers, who love rum, and must have it. They do more hurt than the drunkard. They have influence. He has none. They try to make rum-drinking respectable; he cannot.

But they are all alike, the drunkard and the drinker. They are but different species of the same genus. Temperate, moderate drinkers; temperate, moderate slavedealers; temperate moderate gamblers; temperate moderate sinners, all alike. It is the drinking which is wrong. Drunkenness is but a higher degree of the same crime. These temperate, moderate drinkers are training themselves and their children to the highest order of drunkards. They are learning the trade, they are serving the apprenticeship, and they uphold and encourage the drunkard.....

Source: An Address to the Temperance Society of Plymouth, N.H.

Copyright 2021 Digital History