The new HBO series, Boardwalk Empire debuted this week. It’s set in 1919’s Atlantic City when Prohibition became the law of the land.

While watching it, and perhaps this is not coincidental, the similarities between the present and that period struck me.

The births of the Temperance Movement and the Tea Party Movement are quite different but as I’ll later illustrate, there are a number of similarities that are deserving of consideration.

Here’s a brief background on the “genesis” of the truly grass roots Temperance movement from Wikipedia:

As the American Revolution approached, economic change and urbanization were accompanied by increasing poverty, ordinances were relaxed and alcohol problems increased dramatically.

Apparently influenced by Dr. Benjamin Rush’s widely discussed belief that the excessive use of alcohol was injurious to physical and psychological health, associations advocating to ban the making of whiskey were formed in Connecticut in 1789, Virginia in 1800 and New York State in 1808. Within the next decade, other temperance organizations were formed in eight states, some being state-wide organizations.

The American Temperance Society was formed in 1826 and benefited from a renewed interest in religion and morality. Within 12 years it claimed more than 8,000 local groups and over 1,500,000 members. By 1839, 18 temperance journals were being published. Simultaneously, many Protestant churches were beginning to promote temperance. In 1833 Joseph Smith, Jr. revealed the Word of Wisdom to the Church of Christ (Latter Day Saints).

The true history of the Tea Party movement is rather simple. It was a manufactured propaganda tool financed by the billionaire Koch brothers and their cronies on the far right wing and promoted by an alleged news channel, Fox News. The astroturf Tea Party movement was conceived and financed for one purpose, to undermine the new and first black President of the United States by appealing to prejudice and ignorance, to block any and all progress on tilting the economy back towards the 98% of the nation that isn’t wealthy.

As Dr. Frankenstein (or was it Franken-STEEN?) discovered and as the story of the Golem illustrates, sometimes a monster created to serve doesn’t always follow the instruction manual as desired. The Tea Party, which was designed to prey on the anger of the lesser informed, attracted so many angry people that they took over the direction of the movement and have weeded out sitting Repubs in favor of fellow haters and ignorant ideologues.

Now, let’s go back to the Temperance Movement. There was an immense amount of anger and self-righteousness behind this movement. It was politically and strategically coupled with Women’s Suffrage, which gave it a populist aspect.

The Tea Party has connected itself to the anger and self-righteousness behind the anti-government/anti-deficit sensibilities to anoint itself as a populist movement and hide its true origin and intentions.

Those behind The Temperance Movement were religious extremists who believed that their religious views should be the law of the land and enforced on everyone, reflecting a prejudice against those of different faiths and views. Their proposal of prohibition was presented as a magic bullet, that all of the ills facing society could simply be blamed on one evil and that could be easily removed and then all would be better.

Many of those in the Tea party movement are self-proclaimed religious extremists who express infallible righteousness. They don’t hesitate to demonize non-Christian religions and any that practice them. They frequently declare that America is a Christian nation and demonstrate prejudice and racism. They claim to know who the enemies of America are (Democrats and Obamal) and that simply getting rid of them and putting Repubs in their place will solve all of America’s problems.

There was no science or research behind The Temperance Movement folks’ proposition that outlawing alcohol would create a utopia out of American Society, just an absolute, religious conviction that no one could argue them out of.

Need I describe the contempt for facts and reason and the religious-type blind faith that those in the Tea Party have? Or the crazy theories and beliefs they have?

This extremist grass roots group that was the Temperance Movement grew in popularity and leveraged the anger in society over the exclusion of women from the democratic process to advance their extremist agenda.

In light of Obama’s presidency, The Tea Party has galvanized the anger of many in society over the alleged theft of power that should rightfully be in the hands of white Christians…to advance the Repub goals of returning to Bush economic policies.

The net result from these angry, intolerant Temperance people consolidating enough power to push through their simplistic, dogmatic policies was a profound destruction and damage to America that we are still suffering from 90 years later.

Prohibition made many Americans criminals for not being conservative Christians. It was a triumph of emotion and fanaticism over tolerance and reason and unintentionally established the institution of organized crime in this country, bringing gangsters unimagined wealth and power while causing an explosion of crime, deaths and misery for many.

Imagine now that the current GOP, now subservient to the same kind of fanatical, intolerant and emotion-over-reason extremists, gains control of the nation.

If in 2012, there was a Repub President and Congress, beholden to the Tea Party, what long term damage could come from the same kind of poorly thought out, easy answer, extremist laws and policies?

Laws based on extremist Christian or racist/xenophobic views? Laws based on simplistic knee jerk answers to complex problems?

The Temperance Movement was tragically ignorant of both the futility of their goals and the resulting blowback that made society far less safe and moral than it was before they passed their Amendment.

The Tea Party seems similarly positioned with goals of, in the name of protecting America, ending Social Security and Medicare as we know it, killing HCR, plunging the nation into an additional $700 billion in debt to give the wealthy a tax cut, block unemployment payments, trying to repeal the 14th and other Amendments, undermining public schools, etc.

Though Pres. Obama will not be signing any lunatic laws, 2012 could be even more of a turning point election in America’s History than 2008…a choice of moving forward through the 2000’s or Tea Partying like it’s 1919.

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Of all the movements in American history, though, I think the Tea Party may have the most in common with this one:

The Know-Nothing movement was a nativist American political movement of the 1840s and 1850s. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German and Irish Catholic immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to Anglo-Saxon values and controlled by the Pope in Rome. Mainly active from 1854 to 1856, it strove to curb immigration and naturalization, though its efforts met with little success. Membership was limited to Protestant males of British lineage over the age of twenty-one. There were few prominent leaders, and the largely middle-class and entirely Protestant membership fragmented over the issue of slavery. Most ended up joining the Republican Party by the time of the 1860 presidential election.[1][2]

The movement originated in New York in 1843 as the American Republican Party. It spread to other states as the Native American Party and became a national party in 1845. In 1855 it renamed itself the American Party.[3] The origin of the “Know Nothing” term was in the semi-secret organization of the party. When a member was asked about its activities, he was supposed to reply, “I know nothing.”

It had all the fabulously notable qualities of the TP: Hatred of immigrants, Catholics, minorities, and poor folk. It was linked to the Republican party, had no identifiable leadership and — most importantly — was full of people who were proud to say: “I know nothing.”


Good catch, kesmarn.

Proof again that history *DOES* repeat itself.

Another bit on the “Know-Nothing” aka Tea Party movement:

In 1850, the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner appeared, a nativist secret society whose members, when questioned about it, invariably claimed to “know-nothing.”
In derision, Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune termed nativism the “Know-Nothing” movement, and the name stuck.

– What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe


So good to see you here, Auntie! And thanks for the kind words. As to the repetition of history…sigh…if only people could bring themselves to read a little more of it, those pesky unnecessary repeats could be avoided, no?


I’d add the TP is not only related to the Temperance Movement but is also a descendant of the Anti-federalists. They were against the Constitution. Anti-federalists were fearful that a central government would be akin to a monarchy, something the Revolutionary War sought to abolish. They were, as choicelady says, hyper-individualists whose main proponent was Patrick Henry of the “Give me Liberty or give me death” meme. The Anti-federalists were ultimately put to rest in 1788. So even though TP’ers can wear tri-cornered hats and knickers, they have less to do with the Revolutionary War patriots than they think.

They lost the debate before and they’ll lose the debate again


Hi AdLib – this is very provocative indeed. It hits a core “value” of American history, and that is the rage to regulate someone ELSE. A kick-ass evangelical I know, Susan Pace Hamill (you can google her for some of her good writing on this) says America is a “low sacrifice society” in which all our “issues” are about controlling someone else’s behavior that we have found reprehensible. From same sex relations to abortion to temperance to Social Security, we find a way those issues appear to victimize us (through massively twisted logic) so we can dump controls on the people we hate.

Race and poverty are two biggies – you’re poor because (you are lazy, you are inferior, you want me to support you, yadda yadda yadda) and you are inferior because you are (immigrant, Brown Black Asian Native) even if we won’t quite SAY that. So we have to clamp down on you. We say the President hates white people and that three stupid dudes outside a polling place in 2008 represent a national threat. We say that all immigrants are rip off artists living on welfare even as we say they are stealing our jobs. And we HAVE TO REGULATE THEM ALL.

Regulating the “Other” is entirely the outcome of hyper individualism and breakdown of community. Today it’s fostered by hyper narcissism that permeates all sides.

Unfortunately, regulating the REAL criminals and miscreants in our society rarely happens since they are the people we secretly want to be – the rich and famous. So we turn our eyes to our neighbors, figure out their ‘sins’ and focus on what, in the end, is simply cannibalism. We eat our own.

We grew up in the Progressive Era and again in the Depression – but we don’t seem to be growing up now. Too easy with TV and the internet to find a new group every day to regulate. Much easier to be like Archie Bunker and bitch and moan about “them” than to figure out who is REALLY doing us harm.

I am just waiting for the new temperance movement – might be abortion – that will end “Their” bad behavior and make the world perfect. We never REALLY seem to learn, do we?


Ironically, I’ve thought of the TP as more like the Whiskey Rebellion and Andrew Jackson’s Nullificaton Crisis (and South Carolina’s next little move). But, we can see the same currents of history in all these events.

I certainly do see the self-assured zealotry of the Temperance Movement, though. Like, the argument that no taxes and a government drowned in a bathtub would lead to a Randian utopia.

I must watch this show, as I have a trial package of HBO now. 😉


A very interesting juxtaposition of the two movements. Right now, the only thing that holds the TP together (that makes me want to write something else, about something ELSE holding TP together, but I won’t….) is fear, anger and a sense of being wronged. Otherwise, they are fundies, libertarians, Palinistas, leftovers from Newt’s so-called “contract”, and Hannity and Rush rah rah types with NO real ideas or philosophies other than wanting to kick Obama out of office. They’re fragmented, basically the latest and most blatant attempt to fuse the Bible Belt “values voters” with the pro-business useful idiots who have always felt that Democrats were commies.

Palin is supposed to be the one to hold them all together, but she’s a flame-out. The majority of Americans would rise up like a giant wave to keep her hands off The Prize. But….if they can manage to get someone more articulate, more savvy, more reputable, etc., more Huckabee than Huckster (not that there is all that much difference) to represent them at the national level, they can pull off the nightmare scenario in ’12. And if that happens, we’ll have nothing to drink to, but plenty of reasons to drown our sorrows.

Cue Sinatra: Make it one for my country, and one more for the road…..


It’s quite amazing about the similarity between the “Temperance Movement” and the TP. The only thing missing with this newer version is the lack of morality, unfortunately anything that could remotely resemble believing in God or any sense of shame. Maybe there are less similarities than I first thought.

What I fail to understand about the TP is simply this, if they are against government involvement in their lives, why do they even vote?

More than half of them have no idea about history, and I would say there are many who don’t even know why they make such a noise, apart from being totally against your first black President.

The other day I showed my hubby a link that Patsy had left on Bito’s election post, he couldn’t believe his eyes as he read the signs. To say the he was shocked to see them and the defaced photos of Obama, would be a gross understatement.

Blogging as I do, I’ve seen much more than the average person abroad, and even I am sickened by the scenes I see and the things I hear. I have to tell people over and over again that this behaviour is limited to a small percentage of Americans. Still when stories like the GZ Mosque fiasco, a crazy creep wanting to burn Qu’rans in Florida, the immigration furor in AZ hit the international news, some might think that this is the “face” of American in 2010. I sincerely hope not, as I know that nothing could be further from the truth, still it does nothing to elevate the image of America in the eyes of the world. It worries me a lot.