News / Arts & Entertainment

Temperance Music Marked US War Against Drinking

New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (R) watches agents pour liquor into a sewer following a raid during the height of prohibition in an undated photo held by the Library of Congress.
New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (R) watches agents pour liquor into a sewer following a raid during the height of prohibition in an undated photo held by the Library of Congress.
Richard Paul
Eighty years ago, an unusual experiment in the United States came to an end.  On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. It repealed a previous amendment that had banned the production and sale of alcohol.  It was the end of a political struggle that had raged in the United States for more than 100 years - a struggle that had been argued, in part, through music.

There were many issues that engaged Americans in the years between the War for Independence and the Civil War -- separation of church and state, U.S. relations with France and England, but while those others came and went, the battle over one subject never let up.  That subject was alcohol.  

Richard Paul's Feature on Temperance Music
Richard Paul's Feature on Temperance Musici
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

The war against drinking in the U.S. started in the early 1800s. Before then, Americans had been heavy drinkers. Scott Gac, a professor at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut, and the author of a book about reform in the 19th century, says that in the 1820s and 1830s, American churches started emphasizing the idea that God wanted people to take better care of themselves.

“They start eating differently.  There are people who actually became some of the first vegetarians in the United States," he explained. "There are people who stop drinking alcohol -- about one in five Americans take a temperance pledge, which is an anti-drinking pledge."

Temperance advocates preached about the evils of alcohol.

“The breadwinner in the family was going out, spending what little money he had, and thus creating poverty for his family," Gac said. "His wife had to work, his kids had to go out and beg on the street, so drunkenness was eating at the core of American families.”

Because the temperance movement came out of the church, a lot of the songs were to the tune of popular hymns.  People would sing these songs at meetings of groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, who would go out and smash up saloons with hatchets. By 1900, more than half of the states had gone “dry,” restricting or even banning the sale of alcohol.  Of course there were plenty of people who opposed this idea, and they also expressed themselves in song.

In the wake of the First World War, Temperance advocates were finally able to get enough votes to put a ban on alcohol into the United States Constitution. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” But the Constitution still protected people’s right to argue that Prohibition was a bad idea.  And they did.  One example is a song from the year Prohibition started about how one used to need a lot of money to get a date, but now all one needed was a secret stash of alcohol in the basement.

The ban on alcohol only lasted 13 years.  By 1933, the forces of prohibition admitted defeat, the 18th Amendment was repealed, and alcohol flowed freely again in the United States. And that was cause for song too.

You May Like

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

Singer Leyla McCalla takes up not only the guitar, but the banjo and cello to perform songs from her new disc, “A Tribute to Langston Hughes,” music that mixes the Creole rhythms of Haiti with the French Quarter flavor of New Orleans on this edition of "The Hamilton Live."