The Points Interview — H. Paul Thompson, Jr.

Editor’s Note:  H. Paul Thompson’s book, A Most Stirring and Significant Episode: Religion and the Rise and Fall of Prohibition in Black Atlanta, 1865-1887 (Northern Illinois University Press, 2012),  is due out this month.  Thompson positions his study as part of a recent reawakening of scholarly interest in the importance of religion as a freestanding source of 19th c. temperance and prohibition ideas and initiatives.  “This neo-religious school,” Thompson suggests, “includes, among others, James Rohrer, Robert Abzug, Douglas Carlson, and Michael P. Young.  They argue that temperance reformers’ biblical and religious discourse, worldview, and organizations must be understood on their own terms, and not as a cover for sublimated class, status, or political anxieties, or as ruses for cynical attempts at cultural dominance.”  Points warmly welcomes Paul to our forum! 

1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

I’m not exactly sure what bartenders understand because I am one of the few (maybe the only?) historians of temperance who actually does not drink!  That said, my work places a lot of emphasis on the religious and ideological basis for the nineteenth-century temperance movement.  Ironically, much of that foundation had changed in key ways by the time national prohibition commenced.  Here’s my best effort.   In a nutshell, my bartender should be thankful for all of the central, eastern, and southern European immigrants who flooded this nation at the turn of the twentieth-century — and their descendants — because they permanently transformed the reigning paradigms of U.S. culture.  He owes every patron whose name ends with a “ski” a great big “Thank You!” for helping to overturn America’s nineteenth-century evangelical Protestant-dominated worldview and for facilitating a decline in the influence of evangelical organizations and their leaders. America’s move away from historic republican ideology and discourse furthered this departure from past ideas too.  (But I wouldn’t bring this up unless I knew the bartender were working his way through a graduate history program.)  The split between conservative and liberal Protestantism in the early twentieth century, caused by the rise of modernism, also went a long way toward undermining the institutional, theological, and ideological forces that had undergirded the anti-alcohol movement for a century.  Of course I suppose he could also thank Al Capone, FDR, and the groups that fought to overturn the 18th Amendment as well.

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