(Below: American Colonists enjoying a concoction commonly known as "Rum Punch")
Colonial tavern owners were economically and politically powerful; they not only delivered votes by providing (often free) liquor, but their taverns were the epicenter of politics for the area. Politicians, to be taken seriously, basically had to be an engaging presence in a tavern(s) in order to be elected/re-elected. The tavern keeper would buy votes and politicians that matched his ideology with liquor.
(Below: an "election" involving alcohol in Colonial America)
(Below: a depiction of an apple press - the first step in making hard apple cider)
By 1810, the population of the U.S. was 7 million, and among those millions, alcohol consumption was rampant. One estimation, based on the somewhat measurable data of the day, was that the average per capita consumption of alcohol was 10-12 gallons of distilled spirits a year (a more realistic estimate would be in the 3 to 4 gallon range: by 1830, citizens over the age of 15 consumed 7 gallons of alcohol per year). Here is another way to measure the alcohol consumption from our early history: In Washington's first four months as President, 25% of his budget was spent on various varieties of liquor.
From early Colonial times, some Puritans, such as Increase and Cotton Mather, favored Temperance (limiting, or tempering, the consumption of alcohol). By the 1740s, the small percentage of people that classified themselves as Temperance leaders had, in their minds, linked drinking alcohol with spiritual neglect. To these Temperance leaders, excessive drinking was the source of the lack of adherence to religion and social order.
The first Temperance publication in Boston was The Philanthropist in 1826; by 1829, there were at least a thousand Temperance Societies throughout America. There were so many Temperance Societies that the clergy were forced to take notice. By 1836, Dr. Rush's study had become "lost in translation", in that with the clergy running point, Temperance Societies were on the warpath against all liquor for religious reasons - in parts of the U.S., there was already open support for Prohibition.
To Temperance leaders like Reverend Justin Edwards (pictured), the alcohol industry represented a vast Godless conspiracy to undermine traditional society . . . Americans, then as now, were susceptible to conspiracy theories. As the Temperance Movement began to grow, the rate of alcohol consumption actually decreased; by 1850, per capita consumption of alcohol was down to a little less than two gallons per year.
In opposition were the "Wets", which were mostly staunch conservatives backed by brewers, distillers, and saloon keepers. Not only did "Wets" oppose Temperance / Prohibition, they also opposed the emancipation of African Slaves. To these social conservatives, Temperance and Abolitionism came from the same brood of trouble-makers: they believed that their status and influence were under attack.
In the 1850s, the momentum of the Temperance Movement ground to a halt due to the increasing likelihood of Civil War. During the Civil War, taxes on liquor and beer were deemed essential in order to help fund the war effort, especially in the Union. However, the Civil War would prove to be a very useful springboard for what would eventually become the first powerful Prohibition lobbying group, the Anti-Saloon League (ASL) . . .
(Below: A Temperance poster called "The Drunkard's Progress" from 1846)