Deliver Us from Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition

By Norman H. Clark | Go to book overview
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6
A League
of Pietists

we have seen that the search for order in the nineteenth century brought many Americans to demand of state governments what the churches, in their disestablishment, could no longer provide—a source of firm moral authority over the discipline of interpersonal relatonships. To phrase it more broadly, they wanted precisely what the philosophers of individualism like Emerson and Thoreau most dreaded—state governments which could exert an authoritarian, pervasive, and confident moral stewardship. In the continuing disorder of America, millions of people asserted these demands, and by the time of Neal Dow's triumphs, their energies had shaped bodies of state law which described essentially evangelical Protestant or pietist societies.

But it was a nation in upheaval. There was war, more westward migration, industrialization, urbanization, foreign immigration—complex processes of disorder and social change from which arose a confusion of values that could be seen as rural, urban, western, eastern, ethnic, Catholic, Protestant, pietist, or liturgical. There was the increasingly sharp political conflict over which, if any, of these values the state should protect or defend. As the American saloon came to present an antipietist symbol, pietists became more militantly determined to have the state abolish it. They experimented with a variety of political dynamics—the Prohibition Party, the Populist Party, the Republican Party. But issues from the new American marketplace—such as free silver, tariff, and monopoly—always intruded upon their doctrines of moral stewardship. It was,

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