The American Temperance Movement and Society: Success or Failure?

By John Coon

CONNECTICUT 1852 – Thirty years ago alcoholism was rampant across the homes of the America where the average adult consumed nearly seven gallons of alcohol annually.1 In order to prevent this great evil’s spread, increasing numbers of citizens joined and are joining the Temperance movement2 which, in turn, has made the liquor consumption of America plummet to remarkably low levels.3

The Temperance movement claims their goal is to reduce alcohol consumption and lead people to abstain from drinking.4 This is one the first movements to spark involvement from all parties, including, but not limited to: the woman5, the Christians6, the republicans, and democrats.7 The origins of the movement started with the realization that the consumption of alcohol was an immoral part of society which must be addressed. This realization first came to the women, who resided at home and felt that alcohol abuse was disrupting their domestic lifestyle8 and thus they began advocating for temperance.9 Due to this realization, the American Temperance Society was founded in the states of New York, Massachusetts, and here in Connecticut.10 In total, when these groups were formed in 1839, they only consisted of about 200 members11, but they continued to grow. As of about twenty years ago, in 1830, the member count was up to 200,00012 with around 6,000 different temperance societies across many states.13 The American Temperance Society is still gaining support today – thousands of people are signing the teetotal pledge. Today, thousands of people, including myself, are in the streets reading the most recent New Haven Advocate where the front page has the democratic supporter of temperance, P.T. Barnum’s, appeal on the Democratic Party and Temperance. Barnum states,

The friends of Temperance in this State have for years been striving to drive the evil effects of intoxicating drinks from our Commonwealth. They saw that this was by far the most appalling evil in our land, more than three-fourths of the crime and vagrancy, and more than seven-eighths of the cases of bloodshed and murder in our State and country being traceable directly to this source.14

Democrats are beginning to support the Temperance movement which has lead to a positive and enthusiastic response from the American Temperance Society. People are embracing what Barnum (pictured to the right)ibarnum001p1 said, that alcohol is the most “appalling evil in the land” and that they must stop drinking. They are accepting that, “there was no redeeming good, as an offset to these terrible evils… [it] never was nor can be of the least possible benefit, but always the reverse.”15 The Temperance movement is gaining more of a hold of Connecticut and it is possible that the alcohol factories could spiral out of business if the support for temperance continues.

People on the street are quoting Barnum’s appeal yelling, “May God, in mercy, deliver us from such democracy as this! Brother Democrats! Friends of the People! Friends of Temperance! Friends of Law and Order!”16 I stop to interview a man, Mr. Coggeshall, who is on the street chanting these words and ask him what limiting alcohol consumption has to do with God. He explains that drinking is a sin, a great evil, that could lead to eternal damnation.17 This democracy refers to outrage and democrat’s refusal to accept the Maine law – which prohibits the sale of liquor for recreational use.18 Mr. Coggeshall believes that we as Americans should, as Barnum so eloquently wrote, “Let us all put our shoulders to the wheel, and strive as one man; for the enactment of the glorious Democratic Maine Law. When this law is once in operation, man’s morbid appetites will be changed.”19 Mr. Coggeshall has been a supporter and member of the American Temperance Society and he responded, “About 7 years ago I signed the teetotal pledge (pictured to the left)black and white, and since then, I am proud to say, I have succeeded in consuming absolutely no alcohol. To remind myself of my promise I recite the phrase written on the pledge touch not, taste not, handle not every morning.”20 Coggeshall tells me that his wife responded almost exactly as Barnum’s did.

Barnum is currently in the process of writing an autobiography, and he published his wife’s reaction to his signing of the teetotal pledge in 1847, where,

Upon informing my wife that I had signed the teetotal pledge, I was surprised to see tears running down her cheeks. I was afterwards astonished to know from her, that she had passed many a weeping night, fearing that my wine imbibing was leading me to a drunkard’s path. I reproached her for not telling me her fears, but she replied that she knew I was self deluded, and that any such hint from her would have been received in anger.21

This reaction of extreme happiness and relief was felt by many of the wives who have heard their husbands have signed the teetotal pledge, but the fear to not tell the husbands is also prominent in society. So, children and wives of America, who would like to stand up for yourselves against the great evil of drinking, then inform you husbands and fathers of the horrible effects and problems the that Temperance Society is advocating against.

Is the Temperance movement in America a success? Well, almost all social groups have come to support this movement, and thousands of people are signing the teetotal pledge each year therefore giving up alcohol for the rest of their lives. Many people who have not signed the pledge are reducing their consumption greatly. Every day there are speeches, appeals, and articles on temperance which only add to the ever growing American Temperance Society who currently has thousands of members and groups across America. Finally, the amount of liquor consumed by the average American man has decreased greatly. So yes… the Temperance movement has gained a hold of society and it is not slowing down.


1. “Roots of Prohibition.” PBS. Accessed May 02, 2017.
2. Ibid.
3. Madaras, Larry, and James M. SoRelle. Taking sides: Clashing Views in Unites States History. 15th ed. Vol. 1. Colonial Period to Reconstruction. NY, NY: McGraw-Hill Education, 2013.
4. “Temperance Movement.” Temperance Movement – Ohio History Central. Accessed May 02, 2017.
5. Ibid.
6. Britannica School, s.v. “Temperance movement,” accessed May 2, 2017,
7. Barnum, P.T. “The Maine Law Advocate — APPEAL TO THE DEMOCRATIC VOTERS OF CONNECTICUT.” New Haven Advocate, March 26, 1852. 2017. Accessed May 2, 2017.
8. “Roots of Prohibition.” PBS.
9. “Temperance Movement.” Temperance Movement – Ohio History Central.
10. Young, Michael P. 2002. “Confessional Protest: The Religious Birth of the U.S. National Social Movements.” American Sociological Review 67 (5): 660-688.
11. Ibid.
12. “Temperance Movement.” Temperance Movement – Ohio History Central.
13. Britannica School, s.v. “Temperance movement,”
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. Madaras, Larry, and James M. SoRelle. Taking sides: Clashing Views in Unites States History.
19. Ibid.
10. An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed EphemeraAn American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera—American Memory Collection, Library of Congress. Accessed from
21. Barnum, P.T. The Life of P.T. Barnum. 2017. Accessed May 2, 2017. (Real quote from autobiography, but not published until 1855.)

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