Title Image: Temperance and Medicine


When Philadelphian Dr. Benjamin Rush published his In the early 1830s, the American Temperance Society grew from about 170,000 members to 1,250,000."moral thermometer" in the late 18th century, he set the American temperance movement into motion. The thermometer was a visual depiction of the horrors that awaited drunkards, and it placed both moderate drinkers and abstainers on the moral high ground. The earliest printed works of the movement focused on alcohol’s bad influence on 18th century American expressions for drunkenness include: 'he’s as dizzy as a goose' 'his head is filled with bees' 'he sees two moons' 'he walks by starlight' and 'he has lost his rudder.health, including the immediate effects of drunkenness (like vomiting and headache) and the perceived long-term effects of chronic drinking (like delirium tremens, spontaneous human combustion, madness, and death). When the movement blossomed in the early 1830s, medical arguments made up a powerful element in encouraging temperance, and many doctors belonged to temperance organizations.

The Moral Thermometer from Benjamin Rush's An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Body and the Mind (Boston:Thomas and Andrews, 1790)

The Moral Thermometer from Benjamin Rush's An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Body and the Mind. Boston: Thomas and Andrews, 1790.
Rush first published his Inquiry as a newspaper article in 1784. Its anti-alcohol message was hugely popular, and the book, in various editions, sold more than 170,000 copies by 1850. According to Rush, "A people corrupted with strong drink cannot long be a free people." He hoped to start a temperance movement so that by the 20th century " a drunkard…will be as infamous in society as a liar or a thief, and the use of spirits as uncommon in families as a drink made of a solution of arsenic or a decoction of hemlock."


A Case of Infectious Fever. Hand-colored engraving. Philadelphia, 1820.
This cartoon shows a man vomiting while a dozen doctors debate his condition. A black female servant knows the problem is drunkenness, but the doctors ignore her.

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