Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Temperance Societies

TEMPERANCE SOCIETIES. [1] The modern temperance movement may be said to date from the publication at Philadelphia, in 1785, of Dr Benjamin Rush’s essay on "The Effects of Ardent Spirits on the Human Body and Mind," which was republished in the Gentleman's Magazine of 1786, and had a wide circulation. The distinction which he draws between distilled and fermented liquors has, however, no foundation in fact, the difference being one of degree and not of kind. In 1808 Dr Lyman Beecher and Dr B. J. Clark, both readers of Rush, took action, and the result of the work of the latter was the formation of what is believed to be the first modern temperance society. It was formed in Greenfield, Saratoga county, New York, as an anti-spirits association, and still remains a teetotal society. This example was soon followed elsewhere, the early societies all restricting their scope to advocacy of moderation in the use of distilled liquors, and placing no inhibition upon fermented drinks. One society had a byelaw requiring any member who became intoxicated to treat all the other members. The work made further progress when the American Temperance Society was founded in 1826. Three years later Prof. John Edgar of Belfast called attention to the need for similar work in Ireland; and John Dunlop nearly at the same time organized a temperance society in Glasgow. In 1830 the first English temperance society was founded at Bradford. The habitual use of fermented liquors in England was a prolific source of drunkenness, and the evil was greatly increased by the passing of the Beer Act in October 1830. Hence some of the reformers began to abstain from all forms of alcohol. This new departure found its leader in Joseph Livesey of Preston, a man of singular zeal and benevolence, who with six others signed a pledge of total abstinence on 1st September 1832. The reformers were soon divided over the fierce "battle of the pledges." Some were willing to pledge themselves to abstain, but not to refrain from providing alcoholic drink for their visitors. After the formation of the distinctive total abstinence organizations, the moderation societies died of inanition. It should be mentioned here that the Society of Bible Christians, founded at Salford in 1809, adopted the rule of abstinence from flesh meat and intoxicants, and that a number of the "radical reformers" were abstainers from a desire to dimmish the public revenue, which they regarded as devoted to wrong purposes by the Government of the day. In Ireland Father Theobald Mathew became president of the Total Abstinence Society in Cork in 1838, and the "pledge" was taken from his hands by crowds; before he died in 1856 between three and four million persons are said to have received it from him in the course of his journeys. J. S. Buckingham secured the appointment of a committee of the House of Commons, which sat in June 1834, to inquire into drunkenness. The adjective "teetotal" was first used in September 1833 by Richard Turner, a reformed drunkard, to express the thoroughgoing principle of total abstinence, but whether he coined the word, or whether it was merely a stuttering pronunciation of "total," or an old dialect word has been disputed; Prof. Skeat (Etym, Dict., s.v. "Teetotal") believes it is an emphasized form of "total," formed on the principle of reduplication. The early teetotallers were earnest missionaries. In consequence of their efforts societies and leagues multiplied, periodicals were established, and, notwithstanding many failures and apparent retrogressions, the temperance movement progressed. One of the chief forms of thrift amongst the artisan class was that of the friendly society, the meetings of which were usually held at the public-house, large sums being spent (sometimes by rule) on liquor. In 1835 the Independent Order of Rechabites was formed at Salford, and has since had a prosperous career as a working-class insurance company on temperance principles. The Sons of Temperance and the Total Abstinent Sons of the Phoenix are similar organizations. The sickness and death-rate among members of these bodies is much below that of the ordinary friendly societies. The beneficial effect of abstinence upon health and longevity is shown by the experience of the United Kingdom Temperance Provident Institution, the example of which has led several large insurance companies to add a special section for teetotallers. The statistics of these offices show that the mortality of the ordinary insured is considerably heavier than that of the abstainers. A vehement controversy arose at an early period as to the use of sacramental wine, and the nature of the wines mentioned in Scripture was discussed in innumerable pamphlets. The result has been that in a number of cases the wine now used for sacramental purposes is understood to be unfermented. The cosmopolitan character of the movement was shown by the meeting of the World's Temperance Convention at London in 1846. The Scotch United Presbyterian Abstinence Society, originated in 1845, was one of the first of the church societies ; and there are now few, if any, religious denominations either in England or America in which such organizations are wholly wanting. The Church of England Temperance Society has two sections, one pledged to the temperate use of intoxicants and the other to total abstinence. This method of organizing has found imitators. The enactment of the Maine Liquor Law in America in 1851 (see vol. xv. p. 299) led to the formation, in 1853, of the United Kingdom Alliance, which has for its object the suppression of the liquor traffic by legislation, and with a view to this suggests that a power of local veto should be placed in the hands of the rate-payers. This proposal took parliamentary form in the Permissive Bill of Sir Wilfrid Lawson, which was ultimately withdrawn and replaced by a "local option" resolution, which has been thrice affirmed by the House of Commons. Temperance hotels, temperance cafes, British workmen public-houses, cocoa houses, coffee palaces, teetotal clubs, have arisen in many places as social aids of the temperance movement.

In 1868 the Good Templar order was introduced into England from the United States, where it had come into existence several years earlier. In England it made rapid progress, until it was seriously checked by a dispute arising out of the Negro question; but the two sections have again reunited (1887). Good Templary is the freemasonry of temperance, with ritual, passwords, grips, &c., closely modelled on those of the old secret societies. It has had a remarkable extension in Great Britain, the United States, the British colonies, and in Scandinavia, its aggregate membership now reaching over 623,000. One of its results has been the foundation of a temperance orphanage at Sunbury-on-Thames. Side by side with the general movement there has been a special movement against the use of alcohol as medicine, and the tendency of medical teaching now favours at least restriction of its use as a therapeutic agent. The London Temperance Hospital for the non-alcoholic treatment of disease was opened in October 1873. The importance of training the young was early recognized by the leaders of temperance reformation, and the labours of Dr R. B. Grindrod of Manchester and Mrs Carlile of Dublin led to the formation of bands of hope, which are now found in connexion with many places of worship. The juvenile temples of the Good Templar order also work in the same direction. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, founded in the United States in 1874, is one of the latest forms of temperance activity. A branch was organized in Great Britain in 1876; and in 1883 the World’s Women’s Temperance Union came into existence.

The temperance movement has now branched out into a multitude of organizations in the United Kingdom, of which the Railway Temperance Union, the post-office temperance societies, and associations connected with the army and navy are types. The organizations of a more general character are the United Kingdom Alliance, which is very active in the dissemination of teetotal doctrines generally, the National Temperance League, the Scottish. Temperance League, the British Temperance League, the Scottish Permissive Bill Association, the Irish Temperance League, and the Irish Association for the Prevention of Intemperance. There are also large district and county societies. Next to these come the secret orders, of which the Rechabites, Sons of Temperance, Sons of the Phoenix are large benefit societies. The Independent Order of Good Templars is non-beneficiary, and seeks in its "lodges" to provide social attractions, and at the same time to train the members in temperance work; it is probably the largest voluntary association in the world. There are societies in connexion with the various religious bodies, of which the Church of England Temperance Society, the Catholic League of the Cross, the Baptist Total Abstinence Society, are prominent instances.


  1. The manner and degree in which the law has in recent years regulated the sale of intoxicants is described under Liquor Laws (vol. xiv. p. 688).