The Temperance Archive

character-Ten Nights in a Bar RoomDuring the four decades prior to the Civil War, American society confronted increasing urbanization, immigration, and changes in the nature and structure of work brought on by industrialization. Many men and women, inspired in part by evangelical Christianity, undertook a host of "moral reform" movements intended to encourage self-control and cure such social ills as poverty, crime, and insanity. Temperance was one such reform movement. The American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, founded in Boston in 1826, urged members of the "respectable" classes to reform themselves and relied on "moral suasion" as a method. By the 1840s, working-class men joined the temperance cause by forming Washingtonian Societies, and the temperance movement began to advocate complete prohibition of alcohol rather than moderation in its use. In 1851 the state of Maine passed a law outlawing the sale of all forms of alcohol; eleven other states and territories followed.

Not merely a political debate, temperance permeated American culture through tracts, dramas, songs, and illustrations that presented stories of liquor-induced fall and redemption, not to mention the temperance conventions and parades that took place in many cities and towns. Barnum, a staunch temperance advocate, promoted the cause of sobriety at the American Museum in a variety of ways. Beginning in 1849, he drew large audiences to the Lecture Room with The Drunkard, or The Fallen Saved, a pro-temperance moral melodrama. Barnum also served free ice water on every floor of the Museum, employed plainclothes detectives to eject patrons "whose actions indicated loose habits," and forced male Lecture Room audience members who spent intermission at a nearby saloon (a long-standing theatrical tradition) to pay a second admission fee when they returned for the second act.

There are 13 matching records. Displaying matches 1 through 13 .


Scene from The Drunkard
The Drunkard was written in 1844 by William H. Smith. After playing for an unprecedented 101 performances at Kimball's Boston Museum, it became a regular offering at museum theatres in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. It debuted in 1849 at Barnum's American Museum and was so popular that Barnum enlarged his Lecture Room to accommodate the growing audience. Moral reform melodramas like The Drunkard were popular in American theatres in the 1840s and 1850s, and their plots followed a formula of temptation, downfall, ruin, and occasionally reformation and redemption. In this excerpt from The Drunkard, protagonist Edward Middleton, who has just attempted to strangle a tavern owner, experiences delirium tremens, or withdrawal pains from alcohol, and attempts suicide, only to be rescued by his benefactor Mr. Rencelaw.
Exhibit: Temperance.
Museum Room: Waxworks Room.
Document Type: Text.


Barnum on the Democratic Party and Temperance, 1852
P.T. Barnum was a dedicated campaigner for the temperance cause, lecturing public audiences, pointedly serving only ice water in the American Museum, and featuring the moral melodrama The Drunkard in the Museum's Lecture Room. Barnum took his temperance advocacy into the political arena as well, as in this "Appeal to the Democratic Voters of Connecticut" published in a special supplement to the New Haven Advocate newspaper on March 26, 1852. Barnum, at that point a staunch Democrat, reprimanded Democratic politicians who failed to support temperance and urged readers to disregard political party and support temperance as a matter of principle. By 1860 Barnum became an ardent Republican and supporter of Abraham Lincoln.
Exhibit: Temperance.
Document Type: Text.


Barnum as a Temperance Speaker
In this excerpt from his 1855 autobiography, The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself, Barnum describes how he became an ardent temperance advocate, from hearing a public temperance lecture to signing the "teetotal pledge" and becoming a temperance lecturer himself. Personal narratives of redemption and publicly signing the "teetotal pledge" were central elements of antebellum temperance crusades. In his public lectures on the evils of drink, Barnum put his skills as a showman to work winning over skeptical audiences to the temperance cause.
Exhibit: Temperance.
Document Type: Text.


Temperance Convention Program
Temperance was a social as well as political movement, as this program for an 1850 temperance convention in Middletown, Connecticut, attests. This gathering involved speeches, reports, a parade, and the singing of temperance songs.
Exhibit: Temperance.
Document Type: Image.


Slate of "Temperance" Candidates
By the 1850s, with deepening rifts over the expansion of slavery throwing the political party system into tumult, temperance advocates increasingly turned to the electoral realm to elect candidates who supported strict laws against consuming and selling alcohol. This shift to electoral politics marginalized female temperance advocates, who played an important role in the movement during the 1820s-1840s but did not possess the right to vote.
Exhibit: Temperance.
Document Type: Image.


Crime in the City, Worcester (Mass.) 1854
In a decade marked by the increasingly contentious political question of slavery, temperance was also a deeply divisive political and social issue. Politicians and citizens hotly debated the passage of "Maine laws" that outlawed the use of alcohol (named after the first state to pass such a law). Between 1851 and 1855, twelve states passed laws completely prohibiting alcohol and two others passed restrictive laws that stopped short of total prohibition. This editorial from the Worcester, Massachusetts Daily Evening Journal linked alcohol to all manner of crime and immoral behavior and urged voters that the only way to combat vice was at the ballot box.
Exhibit: Temperance.
Document Type: Text.


Ten Nights in a Bar Room
Like The Drunkard, Ten Nights in a Barroom (by Timothy Shay Arthur) was a popular temperance melodrama during the 1850s. Other plays centering on temperance reform during that decade included The Bottle, Aunt Dinah's Pledge, The Drunkard's Warning, and The Fruits of the Wine Cup.These reform melodramas traced a character's journey from respectability to the degradation of drink (and sometimes back to respectability), giving audiences a vicarious glimpse of alcohol-induced wickedness. This illustration depicts the unruly interior of a saloon.
Exhibit: Temperance.
Document Type: Image.


"The Bottle" by George Cruikshank
Narratives of fall and redemption were a popular mode of temperance advocacy and were created and sold as prose, drama, song, and illustration. These two engravings were part of a series of eight (titled "The Bottle") by British illustrator George Cruikshank.
Exhibit: Temperance.
Document Type: Image.


The Drunkard, Lost Museum Poster
The text in this poster originally appeared in a newspaper advertisement for The Drunkard. It typifies Barnum's skill at promoting the American Museum as simultaneously reputable, educational, and audacious. Barnum manages to titillate potential audience members ("Drunken Orgies") while also reassuring them that the play is both respectable (endorsed by the city's clergymen and "first families) and entertaining ("lively sparksof wit and humor"). The ad is quintessentially Barnum, promising an attraction that is "as amusing as it is instructive."

Exhibit: Temperance.
Document Type: Image.


The Lost Museum's Abstinence Pledge
In the 1820s, early temperance organizations advocated moderate drinking and abstention from distilled liquor only; by the 1830s, in the face of rising wine and beer consumption among the working classes, temperance advocates began calling for total abstinence from all liquor. The abstinence, or “teetotal,” pledge became both a tactic and a public symbol of this sterner sensibility. The Lost Museum’s creators made this elaborate pledge using a number of historical temperance pledges for source material. We do not know for sure that Barnum distributed such pledges at the American Museum, but we do know he was a staunch temperance advocate who served only ice water in his establishment.
Exhibit: Temperance.
Museum Room: P. T. Barnum's Office.
Document Type: Image.


Maine Liquor Law Map
The rapid industrialization and urbanization of the first half of the nineteenth century had many important social effects, including the growth of Evangelical Christianity and the rise of "moral reform" movements designed to cure the ills that plagued modern society. One of the largest of these reform movements was the temperance crusade, which sought to curb the destructive influence of alcohol. Acts that outlawed the sale of liquor came to be known as "Maine Liquor Laws," after the first state to pass a temperance statute, in 1851. By 1855, eleven other states had followed Maine's lead. This map of the United States, created in 1855, is divided into sections corresponding to the passage of these laws in the states and territories. Note the more widespread acceptance of Temperance in the northern (especially New England) states, and the seeming reticence among southern states to acquiesce to prohibition.
Exhibit: Temperance.
Museum Room: Waxworks Room.
Document Type: Image.


Ardent Spirits: The Origins of the American Temperance Movement
Library Company of Philadelphia.
This online exhibition by the Library Company of Philadelphia traces the temperance movement from its late eighteenth-century origins to its late nineteenth-century peak, including its shift in tactics from moral persuasion to legal coercion. The exhibit contains excellent and vivid images, along with a comprehensive bibliography.
Exhibit: Temperance.
Document Type: Website.


Abstinence Pledge, 1845
The popularity of the abstinence or "teetotal" pledge signaled the first shift in the goals and strategies of the antebellum temperance movement. In the 1820s, nascent temperance organizations advocated moderation and abstention from distilled liquor only. By the 1830s, in the face of rising consumption of wine and beer among the working classes, temperance advocates began calling for total abstinence from all liquor. The abstinence pledge became both a tactic and a public symbol of this sterner sensibility. This elaborate pledge was issued by a temperance society in Cleveland; it was one of the hundreds of temperance societies that flourished in antebellum cities and towns primarily in the northeast but also in frontier areas that were settled by emigrants from the northeast.
Exhibit: Temperance.
Museum Room: Waxworks Room.
Document Type: Image.