The Temperance Movement
Frameworks for America's Past
Return to Originating Page

The Temperance Movement

   The temperance movement was a widespread effort by many people during the 1800s and early 1900s to reduce the consumption of alcohol. 

   Many in the movement wanted an outright ban on all alcoholic drinks, including beer, wine, and hard liquor.  They saw alcohol as a source of social problems including violence, crime, and poverty.

   The political cartoon shown on the right is from a weekly magazine in 1874.  It shows the view that most people in the temperance movement had of bars, saloons, and taverns that served alcohol. 

   Notice that the bartender is the figure of Death.  In a back room there is a drunken fight, with one man swinging a bottle.  Just outside the door are two children, perhaps pleading for their father to come back home. 

   The damage done to families by alcohol drinking was one of the main arguments used by leaders in the temperance movement.

Saloons were common in cities

(the common term for bars at that time) were usually places for men only in the 1800s and early 1900s.  They could be fancy places in big cities, or rickety wood  buildings in a Western town.  Their customers considered them as place where they were welcome and could relax with friends.  Most saloon customers and and saloon owners would have called drawings like the one above a false image and unfair.

The movement was well organized

The temperance movement became very well organized all over the country.  It drew much of its energy from religious leaders and preachers like the one shown here.  He has drawn a crowd in the street by speaking out against alcohol in front of a saloon.  The temperance movement was also called the anti-saloon movement.

Making their case with pictures

The drawing below is one of a series of prints put out by a temperance group in 1884.  It shows a family being ruined by the father's drinking.  In this drawing, a drunk husband is shown losing control of himself and hitting his wife.  Such pictures were spread around to try to convince voters to support the idea of making alcohol illegal.

A national temperance meeting

By the 1890s the movement to ban or limit alcohol was holding national conventions (meetings) of leaders from all over the country.  The photo below is from 1892.

The 18th Amendment banned alcohol

In 1917 the people in the temperance movement got their wish.  The U.S. Congress voted for an Amendment to the Constitution to ban the making, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages.  The proposal was approved by the states, and the 18th Amendment took effect in 1920. 

   The period when alcohol was banned lasted 13 years, and is called the Prohibition Era.  (The term comes from the word "prohibit" - meaning "not allow.")

It didn't work

In spite of the 18th Amendment, alcohol did not disappear.  Instead, smugglers and illegal saloons began operating all over the country.  Police often raided the illegal saloons and dumped out barrels of illegal beer and wine that they found.  The picture below shows a raid in New York City.  But it proved impossible to find or raid them all.  Millions of Americans said the 18th Amendment should never have been approved, and they continued going out and drinking in the illegal saloons.

   In 1933 the 18th Amendment was repealed (ended) by the 21st Amendment, and alcoholic beverages were legal once again in the U.S.

More to come . . .

We will study more about the Prohibition Era in Unit 8.

Photos and images, except for the 18th Amendment, are from Library of Congress.
 The 18th Amendment image is from the National Archives.
Some images have been edited or resized for this page.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2009, 2018 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.  As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning, some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document, which is available online from the Virginia Department of Education.  The author's copyright extends to the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related material.