A force to be reckoned with? the temperance movement and the "drink question", 1895-1933

Dunn, James Clifford (1999) A force to be reckoned with? the temperance movement and the "drink question", 1895-1933. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The Temperance Movement was one of the most important and influential of the great nineteenth century social and moral reforming campaigns, firmly integrated with the central Victorian values of self-help, hard work and sobriety. As the values of the Victorian period dissipated with the rapidly changing social and ethical mores during the twentieth century, most historians have seen a similar demise in the role of the Temperance Movement.

The drink question, however, remained a significant issue with two Royal Commissions, unprecedented state intervention during the First World War and innumerable bills and legislative debate between 1895 and 1933. Equally, the Temperance Movement maintained its resolve, resolutely campaigning and lobbying, proving itself to still be a key factor in the drink debate. This thesis studies the role and activity of the Temperance Movement in the continuing natioal concern around drink between 1895 and the Peel Commission to the conclusion of the Amulree Commission in 1933. The thesis concentrates on the major temperance societies and examines their effect on English attitudes to the drink question.

Despite its continued activity, the Temperance Movement failed to make a significant mark on policy toward drink during this period. The reasons for this are several - loss of political support, the changing nature of drink issues, and fragmentation in the Movement. The Temperance Movement was very heterogeneous, some organisations seeking moderate reform or moral suasion but the more radical campaigners demanded central or local prohibition. Such demands were the root cause of temperance division and a large factor in the loss of Liberal political support. With the Conservatives tied to the Trade, the Temperance Movement sought the assistance of the Labour Party but Labour's response during the period was vague and indecisive.

Social and moral arguments used by the Temperance Movement in its attempt to secure the abolition of the drink trade were being steadily eroded as secularism, post war cynicism and a huge increase in leisure activities undermined older values. Demand for alcoholic beverages fell dramatically as did reported cases of drunkenness. Despite these changes drink remained on the political and social agenda, but with many temperance reformers disillusioned and dispirited the Movement failed to present a comprehensive and coherent abolition strategy.

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