In this exhibit, the word "temperance" refers to a range of positions. Early in the movement, it could mean moderation in or abstinence from drinking alcoholic beverages. The American temperance movement began in the late 1820s and had its roots in religious and capitalist thought. Protestant churches especially embraced the idea. They preached that by avoiding the moral evil of alcohol, believers would be better prepared for eternal life. Agrarian interests and industrial leaders argued that moderation or abstinence would improve work habits. Before long, however, temperance came to mean total prohibition. Support increased, and temperance societies sprang up in hundreds of communities nationwide. Tennessee's first societies appeared early in the movement. In 1829, citizens in Kingsport and Nashville organized fellowships. Newspapers and journals devoted to the cause were published in Maryville, Tullahoma, and Nashville. The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and Anti-Saloon League became powerful voices, in Tennessee and nationally, for social change. There was even a national Prohibition Party.
William G. "Parson" Brownlow, Reconstruction governor of Tennessee, was also a Methodist minister. He predicted that drinking would "bring down upon us…Sodom's guilt and Sodom's doom." Political quarrels over the prohibition issue were common in Tennessee. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the General Assembly enacted laws that forbade liquor sales near schools, churches, and hospitals. The issue came to dominate Tennessee politics and it was "dry" vs. "wet," or prohibition vs. anti-prohibition.
Tennessee's most shocking prohibition-related event took place in downtown Nashville on November 8, 1908. It was a killing that changed the direction of state politics in favor of the dry forces. Edward Ward Carmack and Duncan Brown Cooper were bitter enemies. Once good friends, the men had come to despise each other after Cooper supported another candidate, Malcolm Patterson, in the 1907 Democratic primary for governor. The next year Carmack, editor of the Nashville Banner and a staunch prohibitionist, published a scathing attack on Cooper, a leader in the wet forces.
Cooper and his son Robin were on foot when, by sheer coincidence, Carmack came walking toward them. Versions of what happened next differ. A popular account has it that Carmack, fearing for his life, fired his pistol first, with Robin returning fire. Whoever initiated the affair, Carmack lay dead at the corner of 7th and Union, and the drys had a martyr.
Efforts to achieve a ban continued until 1909, when a partial statewide prohibition became law. One bill banned the sale of liquor within four miles of a school, and a second prohibited the manufacture of intoxicating beverages. Gov. Patterson used his veto power, but the legislature overrode it. Although the laws went into effect, they were only loosely enforced. Bars and saloons in Memphis and Nashville operated openly, and the drys charged that the liquor interests had bought influence.
Tennessee ratified the 18th Amendment (National Prohibition) on January 13, 1919. Though it did not prohibit drinking alcohol, it outlawed its sale and distribution. The new constitutional amendment went into effect the following year. It was repealed in 1933 by the 21th Amendment.
Excerpts from Report of the Joint Committee of the General Assembly, on Tippling Houses, 1837:
[...] Your committee are aware of the great responsibility resting on them in hazarding an opinion on this momentous question, either for repealing or continuing in force the acts of 1831 and 1835, licensing tippling houses. [...] Again, since the passage of the act of 1831, above referred to, many tippling houses have been fitted up in a style so handsome, as to have become places of fashionable resort. [...] Such a state of things could not have happened, if tippling houses had not been legalized. It is the law which makes these haunts comfortable, alluring, and respectable, by shielding their owners from censure and punishment. It is the law which has removed all restraint from those who are visitors to such establishments, and sanctifies their conduct. [...] Your committee by no means consider themselves the censors of the people, or clear of the vices they have portrayed in others, but believe they have discharged a duty in making this report, incumbent on them in their present station. They in conclusion recommend the repeal of the acts of 1831 and 1835, authorising persons to retail spirits [...]
John Russwurm of Rutherford County joined the Sons of Temperance on September 1, 1852. The Rutherford County chapter was ahead of the curve as such societies were not yet very popular in the South.
Churches were natural choices for hosting temperance talks. An unidentified Methodist church was the venue for this 1884 event featuring Prof. John Moffat, a Scots-Canadian celebrated on the temperance lecture circuit. Moffat was familiar to Tennesseans as a landowner who donated property for the site of Fairmount College, a women's school on Monteagle Mountain.
John J. Hickman was a well-known leader in the Independent Order of Good Templars (I.O.G.T.), a brotherhood whose sole purpose was "delivering the land and the world from the curse of intemperance." He was a dynamic speaker who lectured in Lynchburg, Moore County, Tennessee, in 1883. Hickman was described as an "abstainer" who had never tasted intoxicating liquors, coffee, tea or used tobacco in any form.
The Women's Christian Temperance Union held its national convention in Nashville in 1907. Pictured in the souvenir booklet for the convention are five women who helped shepherd the WCTU through the sharp debates of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Organizing in Nashville were Bettie Mizell Donelson, Emily Martin Settle, Georgia Hooper Mizell, Mrs. E. H. East, and Silena Moore Holman. They hosted frequent rallies though they endured hooting and were the targets of rotten eggs. When Holman became president of the state chapter, the topic of prohibition dominated Tennessee politics. The WCTU was a major player in winning a statewide ban on alcohol in 1909.
However, not everyone who supported the temperance movement also supported the Women's Christian Temperance Union. A Madison County planter and ardent prohibitionist, Robert H. Cartmell, made this diary entry critical of the WCTU. He complains that its members fill the church pulpits, and he thinks it would be wise for the women to read what St. Paul had to say about women speaking publicly.
[...] A crowd there [in town]. The Women's Temperance I believe for the whole state, Methodist, Baptist, &: Campbellites mostly if not altogether, quite a crowd of them. Saw in the papers where at the 11, o,clock services Sunday morning the women would fill the pulpit of the different churches — I think all of the churches, except the Presr [Presbyterian], Episcopal & maybe the Catholic, with a temperance lecture, seems strange, never the less it is true. Before beginning their lectures [they] ought to read to the Congregation what Paul has to say about women speaking in public. According to my idea of things, it is a shame, a usurpation, a defiance of God's word. Can one be wrong in not approving of such things. The Bible speaks plainly on this subject.
While many Americans supported the temperance cause, many other Americans did not. Supporters of temperance were often seen as scolds or busybodies, as this blistering critique indicates.
We, the ad[illeg.]s of cold water, ignorance and prohibition, [illeg.] the Lord thy God's, who did not bring thee out of the land of Egypt but want to bring thee into the house of bondage; thou shalt have no other God before us.
[illeg.] shalt not make, handle, sell nor drink [illeg.] [str]ong drink; for ye are poor people and w[illeg.] good enough for ye. We the rich, ho[wever], are God's chosen people, and thus ha[ve the r]ight to drink fine wines, strong drink, or [anyth]ing our heart lusteth after.
Thou shalt not drink the muddy river water in vain, except in public; for as a Prohibitionist, you ought to have sense enough to know the art of drinking wine, beer or brandy; or any other good drink, without being seen by anybody. [...]
Thou shalt no[t] [st]eal, for this is the most infamous of crimes [illeg.] the poor, no matter what color or nationality, and must be punished with the extremest [illeg.]enality of the law; but we God's elected and the Prohibitionist, claim the right of stealing not only thy hard earned money, but also the liberties which thy forefathers fought for, by dictating what thou shouldst eat, drink and wear, and how thou shouldst spend thy money. [...]
"The Rum-Fiend’s Revel" (1879) warned:
A-ha! for the homes where I soon shall seek For the manliest brow and the fairest cheek For the lips that await my delirious kiss For the lock where the serpents will coil and hiss A-ha! for the bosoms of snow to feel The murderous blow, and the deadliest steel And a smile the Rum-Fiend’s visage wore As the prospect grim he gloated o'er.
Published by the Anti-Saloon League, this 1908 speech assailed saloons as arrogant, disrespectful, lawless, and a curse upon industry and the family. The League's mission was to lobby legislators to pass prohibition laws. Tennessee imposed a statewide liquor ban the following year.
[...] I am one of those who believe that the saloon is an unmitigated curse to the State, a great source of crime and corruption, a burden upon its industries, a blight upon its homes. I am one of those who have been convinced, by the failure of all regulative and restraining legislation, that some way or other, by some method or other, the saloons must be destroyed. […]
My countrymen, when we see the liquor power of this whole country marshaling its battalions for an invasion of this State, I believe we should summon to our standard every enemy of the saloon from the mountains to the Mississippi, meet the enemy at the border, and end this war in one great pitched battle. When that battle is over and the victory won, let us write upon the statute books a law, as long and as broad as the State of Tennessee, which will banish the liquor traffic finally and forever from every inch of our soil.
As a two-term mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, in the early 1900s, Edward Hull "Boss" Crump openly ignored the state's prohibition laws and even tried to contrive a way for the Memphis government to legally ignore them. In Nashville new legislation was passed that called for any official who did not enforce state laws to be removed from office. The "Ouster Law" was subsequently used to remove Crump from office in 1915. Despite being removed from his position as Mayor of Memphis, however, Crump would remain a powerful and influential force in Tennessee politics until his death in 1954.