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Reports & Essays: History - American History

"AND""OR"

The Temperance Movement
As the 1800's came to a close the calendar was not the only thing which was changing. The tirn of the century also saw a radical change in the ways in which Americans conducted their lives. No more were people's lives based around farms in small rural neighborhoods. Instead people moved into the cities, and factories started sprouting up in every major urban area. However, the industrialization of America also brought with it problems which hurt many Americans. The People most hurt by these new problems called themselves the Progressives. This new political group tried to "recapture" America by attacking a myriad of political issues. These issues differed in almost every facet, however the Progressives felt that America needed a complete overhaul in its way of thinking. Thus the progressive movement burst onto the stage of American politics. One of the issues which the Progressives felt most strongly about was the anti-alcohol, or Temperance movement. From the turn of the century, until the early twenties, organizations made the issue of prohibition a national issue. This effort culminated with the passage of the eighteenth amendment banning the sale, or consumption of alcohol anywhere in the US. Prohibitionists, like the Anti-Saloon League, achieved their goals because of their group tactics, their social makeup and composition, and the relative success of the Progressive movement as an entity. The prohibitionists seized on many tactics in order to have alcohol banned. It is important to see what these tactics were, where they came from, and how the prohibitionists were able to get the American public to buy into them. In order to get their point across prohibitionists needed to prove the inherent evils which were presented by the consumption of alcohol. As pointed out by Document C, groups like the American Medical Association, along with other members of the educated public, joined forces in order to fight the evils which alcohol presented. These people, along with businessmen, tried to explain how alcohol violated the theories of proper social life (Document E). Other groups tried to show how alcohol would ruin the American way of life. As pointed out in Documents R and S, women were demeaned by the consumption of alcohol, and it threatened to destroy the family structure. Documents A and B used threatening tactics in order to show the destruction which alcohol brought to the American family, and Document D showed how the social status of women would be destroyed by alcohol. Religion also played a big role in the push for temperance. In Documents A and I people tried to show how God looked down on the consumption of alcohol. These people claimed to be working for the "common good" of mankind (Document S). Many people, however were more concerned with political gain, than with the pursuit of public morality. Document N shows how the liquor lobby was one of the strongest lobbying groups of its time. These people worked hard to try and influence legislation. One of the reasons they were able to have such an effect was because of their superior organizational skills. They therefore, according to Document O, were able to bring an important message to the people with virtual ease. They portrayed non-prohibitionists as evil people who did not deserve many rights, and they tried to remove "Saloon domination" in matters of legislation (Document G). Along with the arguments prohibitionists used, it is also interesting to note why certain groups distinguished themselves as the driving forces towards temperance. Women were the major force behind the temperance movement. The reason for this was because they were afraid of the abuse, disease, and poverty which was brought on by alcohol. Women were looking to preserve the purity of the American family, and therefore were very involved in influencing legislation. In fact, as pointed out by Document Q, the Women's Christian Temperance Union was the largest such movement in the country. Along with the women, religious groups were very involved in the Temperance movement. As illustrated by Documents J, L, and Q the Church fought many immoral activities, which included the consumption of alcohol. In fact, Document I includes the writings of a minister who said that the only people who will be worthy of going to heaven will be the sober Anglo-Saxons. Businessmen were also very involved in the Temperance movement; they even represented up to forty percent of the entire movement. As Documents J and P point out these wealthy businessmen were afraid of the alcohol's effect on the workforce. One interesting fact about the makeup of the prohibitionists was there geographical locations. Although most alcoholism was in the cities, three fifths of the prohibitionists were from more rural areas, as pointed out by Documents K and L. In fact, this has lead many to believe that the majority of prohibitionists were actually the social elite, who wished to become society's guardians in order to achieve self-gratifying goals (Documents E, and H). As history has shown the Temperance movement was a total disaster. "Bootleggers" brought alcohol over from Canada, and many people became quite proficient in developing home made brews. However, it was process which helped shape America. For the first time women became very active in influencing legislation, and the democratic process. More importantly, however, were the gains made by the Progressives. They proved that they were able to unite, on a national level, to get major legislation passed. This talent enabled the Progressives to remain a major player n the American Political scene well into the twentieth century.

 



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