20. Opium Was Once Proposed as a Lesser Evil Alternative to Alcohol
With much of the country tipsy all the time or just about, social reformers began to call for solutions to the scourge of widespread alcohol abuse. Thus was born the temperance movement. However, when the movement first began, “temperance” did not initially carry the same meaning that it eventually would, and still does today. For example, Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush, a Declaration of Independence signer, friend of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and an early temperance advocate, sought to wean drinkers off the booze with an intermediate beverage.
So he urged whiskey guzzlers to drink instead what he deemed to be a less harmful alternative: wine, that was mixed with opium and laudanum. By the 1840s, an organized movement had emerged to fight the massive epidemic of alcohol abuse. Originally, it aimed to persuade drinkers, as individuals, to reform their ways and become abstainers. In some communities, preaching, the church, and social pressure were successful measures that managed to drastically cut down the number of drinkers in the local community. However, it soon became clear that moral persuasion was not enough.