History 233 Reading Guide

The Reform Impulse:  Old Ideals and New Realities

  • Paul E. Johnson, "Class, Liquor, and Reform in Rochester," from Johnson, A Shopkeeper's Millennium (1978); reprinted in Sean Wilentz, Major Problems in the Early Republic, 1787-1848 (1992), 448-454.  (e-reserve)
  • Further reading:  Mary P. Ryan, "A Women's Awakening:  Evangelical Religion and the Families of Utica, New York, 1800-1840," American Quarterly 30.5 (1978), 602-623.   JSTOR


  • Johnson describes a shift from a society that viewed alcohol consumption as a regular part of both familial and social interaction to a society where public alcohol consumption was contested.  How does he characterize the pre-1820 role of liquor in both social and work settings?
  • What caused the shift to a middle class "obsession" with the temperance question?  How did merchants, businessmen, and employers respond to the changing social, economic, and class boundaries of Rochester in the 1820s?  What were their explicit and implicit goals?
  • How did wage earners respond to the efforts of Rochester's "leading men"?  What were the consequences of their determination to define a separate social life for themselves?