James Nicholls / “The Last Tyrant: The Rise of Temperance” / The Politics of Alcohol / 2009

Reverend Lyman Beecher / photographed between 1855 and 1865

The novelty of the Victorian temperance movement was the emergence of organized temperance societies. The Society for the Reformation of Manners. The Proclamation Society. The Society for the Reformation of Principles. The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The Society for the Suppression of Vice. Many drew members from evangelical upper-class Anglican society. Evangelicalism spreading organized social and moral reform. Fusion of the idea of association with the idea of abstinence meant the temperance campaign proper. Large scale temperance organizations were an American idea. American Temperance Society (ATS) 1826, with national ambitions. In England, tension between liberty of “free-born Englishmen” to drink, and polite idea of rational social progress. In America, late 18th century, high alcohol consumption led to questions of national identity. Lyman Beecher (American), 1825, “Six Sermons on Intemperance” influenced ATS foundation. Between 1829 and 1831, societies formed did not preach abstinence. In early 19th century, for English working class, teetotalism, qua Brian Harrison: “to abandon drink was to abandon society itself.” Teetotalism was revolutionary for the working class. In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, pubs were the only social spaces outside work and home. This was before organized sport, public libraries, parks and museums, cinemas, concert halls, holiday resorts. Teetotalers said, “Nerve your arm for the conflict and drive the tyrant from the earth.” The last shackle keeping mankind from its progressive destiny was drink. Rise of “moral suasion”: rather than condemn drinkers as diseased, saw as requiring moral guidance. Teetotaler radical message to people excluded from mainstream political process: Yes, you can spearhead the dawn of the sober millennium. Teetotaler utopians blamed, with millennial language, the sufferings of the poor on alcohol. Contrasts with Chartists, who blamed suffering of the poor on systemic inequalities. Temperance “crusade” of Father Theobald Mattew, 1838-1841, Ireland. Irish, seen by English colonialists as drunk, savage, and poor since the 16th century, found with teetotalism a way of conspicuously rejecting charges that Irish were more drunk than English.

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