Prohibition, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution banning importation, production, sale, and consumption of alcohol in the United States, officially took effect across the country in January, 1920.
It was a long, long road to the Constitutional amendment. Begun in the late 18th century, the Temperance movement was a response to the increasing consumption of distilled liquor by the general populace. Rum, distilled by slaves from molasses produced by brutal Caribbean sugar plantations, was flooding the market at the end of the 18th century. Cider, ale, and small beer were common daily beverages. John Adams was known to enjoy hard cider with breakfast. George Washington adored Maderia. All the founding fathers drank at levels that seem excessive by today's standards. And the Whisky Rebellion was just the beginning of American distilling.
Alcohol was a way to preserve and consume calories (whether from apples or grain) and was known to be safer for drinking than most water. But it had unsavory unintended consequences. For Temperance advocates, alcohol enhanced all of humanity's sins: drunkenness begat violence, both domestic and public, and wasted hard-earned wages while children starved.
Makes human Race a Prey.
It enters by a deadly Draught
And steals our Life away.
Virtue and Truth, driv'n to Despair
Its Rage compells to fly,
But cherishes with hellish Care
Theft, Murder, Perjury.
Damned Cup! that on the Vitals preys
That liquid Fire contains,
Which Madness to the heart conveys,
And rolls it thro' the Veins.
Can sinewy Strength impart,
And wearied with Fatigue and Toil
Can cheer each manly Heart.
Labour and Art upheld by Thee
We quaff Thy balmy Juice with Glee
And Water leave to France.
Genius of Health, thy grateful Taste
Rivals the Cup of Jove,
And warms each English generous Breast
With Liberty and Love!
But while whiskey, rum, and "fortified" wines like Madeira and port remained popular beverages throughout the 18th and 19th century, alcohol consumption remained as a problem for women and children. Although many Temperance advocates initially just targeted distilled spirits, soon beer and wine and indeed, any alcohol at all, was decried as the root of many evils.
Many abolitionists were also Temperance advocates. Lyman Beecher, father to cookbook author Catherine Beecher and her more famous author sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was an early Temperance advocate. Connected to a religious revival in America as part of the Second Great Awakening, Temperance gained traction in communities throughout the United States.
After the Civil War, the fight for Temperance continued. Throughout the 19th century, towns, counties, and even states held referendums on whether or not to go "dry." Some advocates installed drinking fountains in public squares in cities around the country. The Women's Christian Temperance Union, one of the strongest proponents of Temperance, formed in 1874. In 1900, Carrie Nation took to violence, chopping up saloons with a hatchet, to try to suppress alcoholism. In 1913, the federal income tax was instated. For the first time, the federal government had a form of tax income that did NOT come directly from the sale of alcohol, which had previously been the main source of tax income.
During WWI, the Temperance movement and the Prohibitionists used the threat of wartime and even the need to conserve grain as a reason to instate Prohibition.
This illustrates that some people still fought to keep beer and hard cider as a part of daily life, even as public opinion against distilled spirits waxed to a frenzy. Thirty-six states did, indeed, ratify the 18th Amendment on January 16, 1919. It read, "After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited." Prohibition, as it came to be known, went into effect on January 16, 1920.
The wealthy could afford to keep consuming booze (often from the wine cellars amassed on their private estates) as police and prosecutors largely looked the other way. The poor and middle class risked their lives on bathtub gin, wood alcohol, and methylated spirits (also known as denatured alcohol) which caused blindness or even death. The illegality meant that alcohol production was unregulated and therefore dangerous to human health.
Prohibition was ultimately a failure. The stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression left many people in severe economic (and mental) distress. It was repealed on December 5, 1933, with the ratification of the 21st Amendment, which specifically repealed the 18th. For many, the return of the ability to self-medicate with alcohol helped temper the despair of the Depression, although it likely ruined as many lives as it helped.
But while romanticized notions of the "Roaring Twenties" continue today, we can learn from the problems that Temperance sought to solve. Absenteeism and incarceration both declined during Prohibition. Alcohol consumption overall did decline in the 20th century, thanks in large part to the Temperance movement.
Today, more and more people are reassessing their relationship with alcohol. In 2006, food writer John Ore coined the term "Drynuary" to describe what he and his wife considered to be a post-holiday alcohol detox. "Drynuary" or "Dry January" has been embraced by an increasing number of people and while the peer pressure to consume alcohol in social settings still exists, it is becoming more acceptable to abstain in public. Are we on the brink of a new Temperance movement? Probably not, but interesting to see the historical parallels.
As we are in full swing of "Dry January," and as more people are embracing temperance, we can look to the past for interesting non-alcoholic beverages to tempt our palates.
The nice thing about having an extensive library is that it is easy to do research when I want to - I just head upstairs to my little office and library, tucked up under the eaves of our little house. I pulled a couple of 1920s cookbooks that revealed some fascinating recipes.
Coffee and tea were the most common alcohol replacers in polite society, but a number of fruit-based beverages and punches were also popular. Of course, most of them are very heavy on the sugar. The rise of soda fountains in the 1900s was in part a direct response to Temperance - it was a wholesome place for young people, women, and families to meet and socialize. It also meant that many Americans were replacing the vice of alcohol with what we know today to be the vice of sugar.
Good Housekeeping Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries (1922)
2 cupfuls water
3/4 cupful sugar
1 cupful grapefruit juice
1/2 cupful grapefruit pulp
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cupful maraschino cherries
Combine the water and sugar, boil one minute, and let cool. Meanwhile, extract the grapefruit juice and to this add the grapefruit pulp and the lemon-juice. Allow to chill thoroughly and then add the maraschino cherries cut in halves. Dilute with mineral ice-water and serve very cold.
Westminster Church (Utica, NY) Cook Book (1924)
The one that seems the most interesting to me is the first Fruit Punch, by Bessie C.B. Capron.
1 cup very strong tea (black)
2/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 pint ginger ale
1 pint appolinaris
This makes enough for 10 glasses.
Okay, this probably needs a little translation for most people. To make the tea very strong, steep 2-3 bags in one cup of boiling water. The orange and lemon juice should be fresh-squeezed. And the ginger ale is probably better if you can find something a little stronger than your garden variety - a craft ginger ale would do nicely. And appolinaris? That's a German type of sparkling mineral water. Known as the "Queen of Table Waters," Appolinaris was a brand name mineral water discovered in the 1850s that is still around today. Although these days it's owned by Coca-Cola.
This recipe is actually somewhat similar to 18th century punches that called for sugar, citrus juices, black tea, and sparkling water, albeit with the addition of strong spirits like rum and brandy (see: Fish House Punch).
Standard Cookbook - For All Occasions (1925)
Currant and Raspberry Punch
This makes about 2 quarts and seems like the perfect pink party punch to serve for Valentine's Day or a girly party. Despite the syrup and jelly, it also probably isn't too sweet, as you're cutting about 1 pint of sweet stuff with 1 pint of water and a quart of sparkling water.
New Delineator Recipes (1929)
Niagara Grape High Ball
Wash grapes and boil [until] skin, pulp, and seeds separate. Press through a jelly bag and to every pint of juice add one-half cup of sugar. Boil for twenty minutes and chill.
In glasses half-filled with shaved ice, add equal parts syrup and charged (sparkling) water. Lemon is an attractive addition.
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