The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition

By Herbert Asbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
"Interpose Thine Arm"

The impressive victories won by the American Temperance Society during the regime of Justin Edwards were due almost entirely to his genius for promotion and organization. However, he made a far more important contribution to the phenomenal recovery of the temperance movement than merely forming societies. More than any other one man, he was responsible for the dogma that drinking is a mortal sin, and for the transformation of the movement into a religious crusade. Francis Asbury, the first Methodist bishop ordained in the United States, wrote in his journal a few years after his arrival in this country in 1771 that intemperance was "the prime curse of the United States, and will be, I fear much, the ruin of all that is excellent in morals and government among them." Thereafter he frequently noted that he had implored the Lord to "Interpose Thine Arm." But until Justin Edwards entered the fight against liquor there had been few indications that the Almighty intended to answer the prayer.

In the beginning the anti-liquor agitation was a layman's movement; laymen started it, and laymen organized and supported most of the early societies. In many places the local preacher was little more than a respected adviser. An occasional clergyman advanced the novel proposition that the drunkard

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