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America's History in the Making

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Temperance Pledge

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New York Catholic Temperance Association, TEMPERANCE PLEDGE FILLED IN BY JAMES SWEENEY (1841). Courtesy Library of Congress.

Creator New York Catholic Temperance Association
Context Temperance organizations often urged people to sign pledges stating that they would no longer drink alcoholic beverages.
Audience The person who signed and perhaps his friends
Purpose To hold the person who made the pledge to his or her promise

Historical Significance

Members of the temperance movement blamed alcohol for many of the world's ills, including poverty, violence, and immorality. But the reform was also an attempt to control the personal habits of others. Middle-class reformers were often alarmed both by the growing number of Catholic immigrants and the nation's booming urban population. Many temperance reformers feared that this combination of alcohol, Catholic immigration, and urbanization was creating an undisciplined and unreliable work force&mdashan erosion of self-restraint and self-discipline prized by the middle class.

The rate of alcohol consumption plummeted in the decades before the Civil War—not just because the middle class was so influential, but because many poorer men and women—Catholics as well as Protestants—believed that excessive alcohol consumption harmed themselves and their families. Thousands of Americans from many different walks of life pledged to consume liquor temperately or not at all.

A member of a New York Catholic temperance organization signed this temporance pledge in 1841.

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