Question: "What was the temperance movement?"
Answer: Temperance, in general, is moderation or self-control. The temperance movement, or the prohibition movement, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries promoted abstinence from alcohol. The temperance movement helped to bring about the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1919, ushering in the era of Prohibition. Although the amendment was repealed in 1933, the success of the temperance movement displayed the amount of influence that churches and Christian groups had at that time.
The temperance movement grew out of the Second Great Awakening, which increased Christian interest in using politics to reform society. Many Christians saw alcoholism as a problem that led to disease, poverty, and domestic violence. Christians supported their views of temperance and teetotalism with Bible passages that condemn drunkenness (Proverbs 20:1; 23:20, 29–30; Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:19–21).
Although men were involved in temperance societies, the majority of those in support of temperance were women, many of whom were wives and mothers whose lives had been upended by the alcohol abuse of the men in their lives. A leading organization in the temperance movement was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which is still active today. Many notable women were involved in or associated with the temperance movement, including suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Frances Willard, and hymnwriter Fanny Crosby. Generally, women supported their cause in peaceful ways, but there were others who took more forceful measures, such as Carrie A. Nation, who was famous for entering bars, denouncing alcohol, and smashing the bar fixtures with a hatchet. Other societies taking part in the temperance movement included the American Temperance Society, founded by Presbyterian ministers; the Anti-Saloon League, which was supported by multiple Protestant denominations; and the Daughters of Temperance. Members of such societies pledged themselves not to use, buy, or sell alcoholic beverages; to advocate temperance in their communities; and to work to strengthen prohibition laws.
The temperance movement was not limited to the United States or to Christians, but churches were key supporters. Whether Christians today choose teetotalism or use alcohol in moderation, they can appreciate the efforts of Christians in years gone by to coalesce around a moral issue and bring about widespread social reform.