As a therapeutic social movement, the Washingtonian Movement originally focused its attention on drunkards themselves rather than on changing the sociopolitical situation; this was in contradistinction to the emergent temperance-prohibitionist movement which became strongly politicized. The Washingtonians placed strong emphasis on the acceptance of social practices that had previously been rejected by the drunkards and heavy drinkers. While it is true that if all drunkards had been convinced and converted there would have been a major shift in the social practices of the period, effecting such a major social change was not the manifest intent of the Washingtonians when the movement began. This major shift in social practices was more or less latent in the beginning and only became evident during the course of a close association with the temperance-prohibitionists.
One of the striking characteristics of therapeutic social movements is that the demand for change is focused on the individual, who must reform if he is to be “cured.” Thus, the Washingtonians were inner-directed, while the temperance-prohibitionists were outer-directed. If the term “discontent” is used in a general way, it could be said that in a therapeutic social movement the person is discontented with himself rather than society and accepts the blame or responsibility as his own. Put another way, the person “protests” his own behavior, his own inner condition, the way that he perceives that he is perceived by others and, if there is to be a change, adopts a method for securing satisfaction of his protests about himself. Clearly, one of the elements of the “cure” is his awareness of how others perceive him, his acceptance of others’ perception of him as his own perception of himself and his awareness that there is a way to bring himself into conformity with the norms that he has accepted. However, many persons are unable to choose the therapeutic strategy which logically best fits their own situations and, consequently, never do achieve a “cure” or a satisfactory solution to their protest about themselves. The case of alcoholism is notorious in this respect, and the core element of self-help cures (such as Washingtonianism) rests on persuading the alcoholic that he can alleviate the symptoms and arrest the alcoholic condition. The key lies in persuasion, and the drunkards and heavy drinkers of the time of the Washingtonian movement more readily accepted the argument of the Washingtonians that “it works for me and it should work for you” than the exhortations of the temperance-prohibitionists.
That this self-help approach can be the basis of a successful therapeutic social movement is evidenced by the wide acceptance and influence of Alcoholics Anonymous. But the Washingtonian Movement, a therapeutic social movement based on essentially the same principles, “failed” in the 19th century, and I have attempted to explore the significance of the temperance-prohibitionists in the “failure” in Paterson and Newark, New Jersey. This is not to suggest that there were not other factors that contributed to the decline of the Washington temperance societies. In large measure, the Washingtonians and the temperance-prohibitionists agreed on the importance of self-help in the “cure” of alcoholism, although they did differ in ways that will not be discussed in the present essay. Where they were in conflict was on the issue of reliance on moral suasion as opposed to political (or state) intervention. The consequence of these different commitments was that the Washingtonians were concerned about drunkards for their own sake they were therapeutic – while the temperance-prohibitionists wanted to change the political system – they were a political reform movement, although they had a strong concern for the destructive effects of alcohol on individuals and their families.
In recent years there has developed what may be called the “organizational approach” to the analysis of social movements. Those who advocate this approach suggest that we abandon any special consideration of social movements, that there is simply organizational behavior. As McCarthy and Zald (56) point out, the organizational approach to the study of social movements emphasizes both the societal support and constraint of social movement phenomena. It examines the resources that must be mobilized, the links between social-movement organizations and other groups, the dependence of social-movement organizations on external support for success and the tactics used to control or influence social movement organizations by those external to it. The present study of the Washingtonian temperance societies of Paterson and Newark has used an organizational approach. While from time to time it has been necessary to engage in the analysis of the ideologies of Washingtonianism and prohibitionism, this has been incidental to what happened to the Washington Temperance Benevolent Societies themselves. I do not suggest that the case studies of two societies in two communities are definitive; rather they should provide scholars with the basis for future research. They should also provide the basis for additional research into a central issue in the study of social movements – the study of the opposition; sometimes the sponsors and friends of the nascent movement also turn out to be a part of the opposition.
*Posted with permission from Alcohol Research Documentation, Inc., publisher of the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol (now the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs [www.jsad.com])