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Temperance Movement in Tennessee

Intro  |  Sons of Temperance  |  WCTU  |  Prohibition Music  | 
Edward Ward Carmack  |  "Boss" Crump

Streetcar on Buchanan Street with a broadside advertising a temperance meeting at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee, June 28, 1907
Library Photograph Collection

On January 16, 1920, the day National Prohibition passed into law, a Nashville newspaper reported that "burlesque funeral services will be held over the dead body of John Barleycorn." At this meeting of the local Kiwanis Club, an "alarm clock will be set to ring at the end of the services, sounding the death knell of John Barleycorn" (the name John Barleycorn personifies alcoholic beverages made from barley and corn, such as beer and whiskey). The forces of temperance ruled the day.

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.

"Ladie's [sic] Knitting Party at Tradewell's Saloon," In Nora Wilmot: A Tale of Temperance and Woman’s Rights by Henrietta Rose, 1858
Library Collection

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.


Petition from the King, Chiefs, and Warriors of the Chickasaw Nation to the Tennessee General Assembly, Nashville, Tennessee, September 10, 1821
The Chickasaws asked that legislation be enacted to ban the sale of intoxicating spirits to their people. The petition also refers to the 1802 law passed by the Great Council [U. S. Congress] authorizing the President to prevent alcohol sales to the Native Americans.
RG 60, General Assembly Original Bills, etc.

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.


"An Act to Repeal All Laws Licensing Tippling Houses," Nashville, Tennessee, January 26, 1838
Saloons, or taverns, were known as "tippling houses," and the taxes raised from their licensing had been used to fund schools. The new 1838 law made retailing spirituous drinks a crime punishable by fine.
Acts of the Tennessee General Assembly, 1838,
Chapter 120

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 [...]


Sons of Temperance

Sons of Temperance membership certificate for John S. Russwurm, September 1, 1852
John Sumner Russwurm Papers

The Sons of Temperance was founded in 1842 as a fraternal order urging prohibition or reduction of the use of alcoholic beverages. It was the most widely known brotherhood of its kind. Its mission was to shield its members from the evils of drink and elevate their character. These two undated songs were published in Nashville.

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.


Sons of Temperance songs, n.d.
Library Broadside Collection

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.


Women's Christian Temperance Union

Newspaper article on the WCTU, Nashville Tennessean and Nashville American, Nashville, Tennessee, October 1, 1916
Bettie M. Donelson Papers

The Nashville Tennessean and Nashville American published this front-page story about Tennessee women who were movers and shakers in the fight over prohibition. The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded in 1874 out of concern for the destructive power and harmful social effects of alcohol and Tennessee's first WCTU chapter was organized in Memphis in 1874. The women would meet in churches to pray, then march to saloons where they asked owners to close their bars. This 1916 feature article was written as the national debate was heating up.

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.

Robert H. Cartmell diary entry, Madison County, Tennessee, October 2, 1909
Robert H. Cartmell Papers

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.

"The Ten Commandments of the Prohibitionists," ca. 1900
Tennessee Historical Society Broadside Collection


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. [...]


19th Century Sheet Music

"The Rum-Fiend's Revel" sheet music, 1879
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection

Temperance-themed sheet music was popular during the last half of the nineteenth century. Song titles and lyrics were designed to elicit strong emotions. Young members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) sang songs and hymns such as "Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Never Touch Mine" (1874).

"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.


Edward Ward Carmack

Edward Ward Carmack, Harper's Weekly, June 29. 1907
Library Photograph Collection

Edward Ward Carmack was born in Sumner County, Tennessee, in 1858. He was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1884, to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1896, and to the U. S. Senate in 1901. Because of his political career, Carmack had already gained a reputation as a social and political reformer when he took up the temperance fight. When he left the U. S. Senate in 1907, Carmack became editor of the Nashville Tennessean (a newspaper founded by Col. Luke Lea) and used his position to further the prohibition cause. In 1908, bitter about his loss in the recent governor's election, Carmack published an article demeaning his biggest anti-prohibition foe, Duncan Brown Cooper. On November 8, Cooper's son Robin shot Carmack to death as the three men met on a downtown street. Carmack, who had fired first, became a martyr to the prohibitionists.

"The Vital Issue: State-Wide Prohibition," Anti-Saloon League pamphlet, Nashville, Tennessee, April 30, 1908
Arthur Crownover Papers

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.


"Boss" Crump

Correspondence from W. R. Hamilton, Nashville, Tennessee, November 21, 1911
GP 36, Gov. Ben Hooper Papers

In 1911 W. R. Hamilton, Superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League, wrote to Governor Ben W. Hooper calling on officials to enforce the statewide prohibition passed in 1909. Many officials across the state had chosen to not enforce the prohibition law, and many bars and saloons still operated openly at the time. Hamilton accuses the "liquor power" of protecting the liquor traffic and enabling political corruption.

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.



Report of a July 25, 1832 temperance meeting reprinted in unidentified newspaper, July 1936
Bettie M. Donelson Papers

"The Drunkard's Home," in The National Temperance Offering by S. F. Cary, 1850
Library Collection

"The Temperance Home," in The National Temperance Offering by S. F. Cary, 1850
Library Collection

"Advertisement" for the Everlasting Life Insurance Company, in The Good Templar: A Monthly Magazine Devoted to Temperance, Literature, and Art, February 1872
Library Collection

"Temperance and Prohibition Lecture" broadside, May 5, 1884
Library Broadside Collection

Temperance rally broadside, Lynchburg, Tennessee, February 2, 1883
Library Broadside Collection

Photographs of Silena Moore Holman and Bettie M. Donelson in a souvenir booklet for the thirty-third annual convention of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union, Nashville, Tennessee, November 8-13, 1907
Bettie M. Donelson Papers

Photographs of Emily Martin Settle, Georgia Hooper Mizell, and Mrs. E. H. East in a souvenir booklet for the thirty-third annual convention of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union, Nashville, Tennessee, November 8-13, 1907
Bettie M. Donelson Papers

"The Political Quartet" sheet music, 1896
Temperance advocates also lobbied political candidates and elected officials. "The Political Quartet" was published during the 1896 presidential campaign. Images of candidates William McKinley (Republican) and William Jennings Bryan (Democrat) and their running mates appear in each corner. Both major parties endorsed prohibition. The Prohibition Party also had strong support that year.
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection

"Father Drinks No More" sheet music, 1874
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection

"Living Waters, a Collection of Popular Temperance Songs, Choruses, Quartets, etc." sheet music, 1874
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection

"Oh! What Shall I Do? Or the Saloon Keeper's Lament" sheet music, 1878
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection

"I'm Very Fond of Water" sheet music, n.d.
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection

"The Temperance Army" sheet music, 1874
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection

"Staggering Home" sheet music, 1868
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection

"Work and Pray or the Temperance Women's Watchword" sheet music, 1874
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection

"The Rainbow Temperance Song" sheet music, 1866
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection

"Light Wine and Beer" sheet music, n.d.
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection

"Diagram of the Moral Manifestations Resulting from the Normal and Abnormal Conditions of the Nervous-Mental Structure," in Inebriety: Its Source, Prevention, and Cure by Charles Follen Palmer, 1898
This diagram appeared in an 1898 book on alcoholism (also called inebriety). The center line represents life's healthy conditions such as balance of character, pleasures of the intellect and body, self-respect, and soul preservation. The top and bottom lines show the aberrations of the drinker's character, for example, disease, lack of morals, laziness, lying, cruelty, cowardice, and insanity.
Library Collection

Trademark registration for Root Juice Compound, Fort Wayne, Indiana, July 30, 1912
At 18% alcohol, this remedy must have packed a punch. In 1912, the Root Juice Medicine Company applied to register this trademark in Tennessee — three years after statewide prohibition had gone into effect. Some medicines, including those containing alcohol, were exempt from the ban on alcohol.
RG 225, Trademark Registrations