The Rise and Fall of Alcoholism in the 19th Century
Alcoholism is defined as, “an addiction to the consumption of alcoholic liquor or the mental illness and compulsive behavior resulting from alcohol dependency”. The necessity to control alcohol use, or push towards temperance, has been a priority for American culture since it became a major widespread issue around 1790. The movement towards American temperance ultimately culminated in laws that completely banned the sale of all alcoholic beverages, known as Prohibition. The movement progressed from only being advocated by local religious leaders, to being supported throughout the nation by the general population and the government.
The growth of America’s obscene indulgence in alcohol originated from changes in society from the original American settlers, to citizens who settled in after the American Revolution. The Revolutionary War spurred the movement. America had begun a literal tradition of indulging in alcohol. The overabundance of corn led to “cheap, and plentiful production of whiskey, and that whiskey had become important in the American diet” (125). Alcohol had become the identity of the American citizen. They drank it so much that it had gotten to the point where liquor was among the main forms of liquid nourishment. Concerns that caused the rise of American alcoholism during the 19th century were heightened anxiety, exponential population growth, and alcohol use becoming embedded into the country’s culture. And the rejection of alcohol was caused by understanding of the negative health effects and the push towards abstinence by prominent religious leaders.
One big concern that drove Americans to drink so much during the 19th century was anxiety. The fifth chapter really delves into this topic as Rorabaugh introduces the issue of the increase in population in early America. Many aspects of the American life underwent huge change and growth. As the population increased, many people were looking for lands and acreage. Between 1790 and 1830, the lives of just about every American had changed. The impact of change on some social groups was greater than on others, and it became apparent that those effected most by this change were the ones who resorted to heavy drinking. In this chapter the author points out how some people felt anxious and wanted to relieve their anxieties by drinking (127), and many felt that since drinking was part of society then what was the harm in indulging in what was considered the norm, and this is when they out grew the anxieties of their unhealthy condition.
Of course, with such a dramatic increase in population came urban development. More cities across the country began to start up, and the large urban centers like Philadelphia and New York more than quadrupled in population. However, this wasn’t necessarily a good thing as these densely populated cities suffered problems such as terrible governing bodies, lackluster sanitat...