The Day George Bush Stopped Drinking: Why Abstinence Matters to the Religious Right.


248 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7710-8853-7
DDC 361.10973




Reviewed by John R. Abbott

John Abbott is a professor of history at Laurentian University’s Algoma University College. He is the co-author of The Border at Sault Ste Marie and The History of Fort St. Joseph.


This is a book about the history of abstinence in American society. In particular, it is a treatise on the relationship between Christian fundamentalism and a fetish for preserving the mind and body as a chaste vessel, a temple suitable for the residence of the Holy Spirit. Christian discipline has always involved acts of mortifying the flesh. Abstinence, self-denial, and a rigorous house-cleaning of the inner man rather than the abuse of the physical body (by flagellation, for example), has been the American, Protestant, fundamentalist way to the prospect of meriting eternal life. Jessica Warner believes that the prohibition of particular practices as immoral, by broad-based American evangelical denominations, has frequently influenced the formation and implementation of public policy. Prohibition is a case in point. So are a number of the social policies promoted by George Bush personally before he became President of the United States, and as public policy, once he entered into the Office.

The American conviction that abstinence rather than moderation is the appropriate choice when confronted by an attractive pleasure that threatens to become a dangerous addiction took root in the early part of the 19th century, beginning with spirituous liquors but extending quickly to hard cider, beer, wine, coffee, tea, tobacco, bacon, and pickles. This tendency was driven by the American version of the democratic revolution and religious revivalism, which combined to produce a deep antipathy to elitist opinions and practices where moderation seemed to represent a half-way covenant with Satan. The author’s review of the way in which moderation came to be regarded as a vice is followed by chapters on health reform, the role of the Reverend Sylvester Graham, and the quest for “perfect temperance”; the emergence of a hard-nosed authoritarianism in the campaign to eliminate the consumption of alcoholic beverages, a transformation that robbed social reform of its idealism; an examination of the alternative British model and an evaluation of abstinence as a factor influencing modern American behavior. Jessica Warner’s study of abstinence in America will entrance the general reader and interest the student of American reform movements.

Highly recommended.


Warner, Jessica., “The Day George Bush Stopped Drinking: Why Abstinence Matters to the Religious Right.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 24, 2024,