Questioning Similarities: Prohibition in the United States and Finland

Mark C. Smith


Only two republics have ever adopted national alcohol prohibition in peacetime, and they did so at almost exactly the same time. For these reasons and others, historians of temperance have considered prohibition in Finland and the United States to be essentially similar. In fact, despite originating at the same time, the two are quite dissimilar. American prohibition came out of Protestant revivalism and a capitalist desire for worker efficiency. By the late nineteenth century two powerful temperance organizations, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti- Saloon League, had emerged to lead the movement for domestic prohibition and to evangelize for prohibition abroad. Prohibition in Finland came out of the movement to achieve a cultural and political nationalism. Temperance was part of the Turku academics’ attempt to create a virtuous unified peasantry and working class. The working class, in particular, used the temperance movement to organize their movements. While the United States and Finland were the only two republics to undertake national prohibition, the US largely ignored the Finnish experiment. They praised it in the early 1920s only to emphasize its later failures as a way of trying to obscure their own inability to achieve a viable policy.

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ISSN: 0044-8060
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