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Barroom Scene
Barroom Scene

Many antebellum reformers attacked the scourge of drunkenness. This engraving depicts the kind of barroom antics that most reformers wanted to squelch. But drinking had more serious consequences as well. Many alcoholic men spent their paychecks on liquor, leaving their families to suffer. Others became abusive. The movement to attack drunkenness took root principally among the Evangelical Protestant sects that flowered during the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century. In communities across the north, activist evangelicals formed voluntary associations for the reform of individuals' characters. These groups sought to keep their own members on the straight and narrow. But, as importantly, they also sought to reform their neighbors habits. By 1840, these groups made up a core constituency of the Whig Party, and informed its policy of moral reform. This reform movement drove most Democrats to distraction. As a party devoted to individual liberty and increasingly comprised of immigrants who cherished cultural traditions featuring alcohol consumption, Democrats seethed when evangelical Whigs sought to reform them. This issue became one of the parties' major points of departure during the Second Party System (1840-1860).

Image source: Public domain
©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project