Temperance Movement

The temperance movement in the United States gained traction in American society in the early part of the 19th century. Figures on average alcohol consumption vary widely, but Americans may have consumed as many as four gallons of hard liquor per year in the 1820s. Domestic violence increased with higher alcohol consumption, leading some to view alcohol as a threat to the social fabric. Temperance societies aimed to curb the use of alcohol, and in some cases to prohibit it completely. Often the target was not beer and ale, but rum and whiskey.

Of course, Prohibition in the 1920s demonstrated that banning a substance often does more harm than good. But the temperance movement of the 19th century need not be scoffed at as an enterprise of self-righteous or merely misguided do-gooders. The temperance movement strived to increase social justice and often overlapped with the abolitionist movement. It also laid the foundations for the women’s rights movement. In Spirit of the Turtle, Mrs. Sweeney's concerns about the consequences of high alcohol consumption are not the only reason she is drawn to the temperance movement. She recognizes that within the movement she has the opportunity to fully realize her talents in a world that rarely rewarded women for stepping outside traditional roles.

Temperance ships like the Maryann, the ship Solomon signs on to in Spirit of the Turtle, were not uncommon. Eric Jay Dolin in his book Leviathan (2008) considers the rising numbers of “dry” whaling vessels a “cogent example of how the whaling industry keenly mirrored the society at large.”

No comments: