For evangelicals, drinking and abstinence were visible symbols of sin, repentance, and the practical power of the gospel. Abstinence, sometimes mislabeled "temperance," was a test of humanity's power to improve itself spiritually and morally.
"As to any permission given in the Bible to use ardent spirit, I remark, that the whole Bible contains not a syllable concerning ardent spirit: and for this reason, that it was not known to exist, till about nine hundred years after Christ, when it was brought to light by an Arabian chemist, in the process of distillation.
"Let us now inquire, whether the principles of the Bible demand total abstinence. These principles require us to avoid temptation. Now from 30,000 to 50,000 individuals in our land become sots every year by moderate drinking; for this is the number annually required to fill up the vacancies occasioned by death in the ranks of intemperance.
"The great law of Christian benevolence requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that whatsoever we would that men should do to us, we must do even so to them. What, then is that man doing to others who refuses to abstain entirely from the alcoholic and narcotic substances?...
"By his example, he contributes to uphold a practice, which brings an annual expense upon his fellow countrymen, of more than 100,000,000 of dollars; and thus to reduce to extreme poverty and wretchedness, from 50,000 to 100,000 families; and not less than 150,000 individuals to pauperism. And to shut up 50,000 men annually in the debtor's prison: And to send out 90,000 murderers, robbers, incendiaries, thieves, and the like to make havoc in society: And to render from 300 to 500 thousand citizens habitual drunkards: And annually to make a draft upon the temperate part of the community, for thirty or fifty thousand recruits, to fill up the wasting ranks of drunkenness: And to pour out upon the land, such a flood of corruption and profligacy, as seriously to degrade, and threaten with utter ruin, her social, intellectual, political, and moral character.