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TheCanadian Review of American Studies, Volume 11,No 2, Fall 1980 TheAmerican Origins of the Temperance Movement in Ontario, 1828-1850 F. L. Barron In 1828,the first temperance society in "Old Ontario" was organized in Bastard Township in the Johnstown District; soon after, societies were formed at Beverly, Ancaster and Stoney Creek. Then, with astonishing swiftness,temperance associations mushroomed into existence all across the province, so much so that by 1832 the corresponding secretary of the Montreal Temperance Society, R. D. Wadsworth, was able to report the existenceof about 100 societies in Upper Canada. 1 A decade later, it was estimated that the province had spawned upwards of 386 societies with a membership of perhaps 60,000.2 While historians have recognized the existence of the Upper Canadian temperancemovement, none has dealt with the genesis of the crusade in any depth.JamesClemens, in identifying the social assumptions·thatcharacterized theanti-drink cause between 1839and 1859,has quite correctly underscored themiddle-class basis of the movement; however, apart from this, his study wasaddressed neither to the origins of the crusade per se, especially within itswider social and political context, nor to the extent that those assumptions wereconditioned by continental and trans-Atlantic influences.3 At least one source, an article by M. A. Garland and J. J. Talman, hints that the movementmay have been an indigenous development, surfacing independently of outside forces, but makes no attempt to prove the point. 4 On the 132 F. L. Barron contrary, most writers-including Garland and Talman-have emphasized the derivative nature of temperance in Ontario, the fact that American influence was probably decisive. Indicative of the emphasis, Fred Landon, with a frontierist interpretation of the impact of American ideas on the western part of the province, has described the anti-drink cause as "oneof the earliest of the American reform activities to affect the province, the medium of communication being the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian bodies havingconnections with the United States." 5 Basic to this explanation is the understanding that, given the importance of American post-loyalist settlement inthe province, American influence was logical, if not inevitable. Although the focus on American-born ideas is not without merit, the problem is that writers have not gone beyond a superficial description ofthe American content of the movement, the result being a cursory discussionin which important and fundamental questions are left unanswered. To what extent, for example, was the American impact counter-balanced, modified, or complemented by local--sentiment? What role did drink reform play in Upper Canadian society? And perhaps most important of all, why did Canadians suddenly become receptive to the importation of temperance ideas from the United States? After all, not only were temperance principles as old as the white man's presence in North America, but they also had been systematicallyimposed upon the Indian from the earliest days of Euro-Indian contact; and yet, it was only in 1828 and after that temperance blossomed into a full-fledged crusade in the settled areas of the province. In total, these questions demand a far more precise definition of the temperance movement, especially in relation to the social and political setting, than can be found in existing accounts. In attempting to provide such a definition, this paper, it ishoped, will serve to place the American origins of temperance in Ontario in proper perspective. I From the outset, it is important to appreciate that the temperance movement in Upper Canada was part and parcel of an international movement aimed at humanitarian reform. Born of early-nineteenth-century romanticism, which idealized society as an evolving organism susceptible to refashioning and improvement, humanitarianism enjoyed the widest support in Great Britain and her dependencies and in the United States. Reformers in the British Isles,increasingly under the sway of Bentham's utilitarianism, testing ideas and institutions in terms of their practical social value, were engineering social changes that were far more revolutionary in their import than the widely acclaimed Reform Bill of 1832. The crusade against slavery, rudimentary factory and health reform, the peace movement, revision and codification of the penal system- all came to grip the public imagination. In the United States, where politicians and social...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 131-150
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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