The History of Alcohol Temperance and Prohibition in America

By Dr. K. Austin Kerr
Professor Emeritus of American History
The Ohio State University

Why Prohibition?

Why did the United States have a prohibition movement, and enact prohibition? We offer some generalizations in answer to that question.

Prohibition in the United States was a measure designed to reduce drinking by eliminating the businesses that manufactured, distributed, and sold alcoholic beverages. The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took away license to do business from the brewers, distillers, vintners, and the wholesale and retail sellers of alcoholic beverages. The leaders of the prohibition movement were alarmed at the drinking behavior of Americans, and they were concerned that there was a culture of drink among some sectors of the population that, with continuing immigration from Europe, was spreading.

The prohibition movement’s strength grew, especially after the formation of the Anti-Saloon Leaguein 1893. The League, and other organizations that supported prohibition such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, soon began to succeed in enacting local prohibition laws. Eventually the prohibition campaign was a national effort.

During this time, the brewing industry was the most prosperous of the beverage alcohol industries. Because of the competitive nature of brewing, the brewers entered the retail business. Americans called retail businesses selling beer and whiskey by the glass saloons. To expand the sale of beer, brewers expanded the number of saloons. Saloons proliferated. It was not uncommon to find one saloon for every 150 or 200 Americans, including those who did not drink. Hard-pressed to earn profits, saloonkeepers sometimes introduced vices such as gambling and prostitution into their establishments in an attempt to earn profits. Many Americans considered saloons offensive, noxious institutions.

The prohibition leaders believed that once license to do business was removed from the liquor traffic, the churches and reform organizations would enjoy an opportunity to persuade Americans to give up drink. This opportunity would occur unchallenged by the drink businesses (“the liquor traffic”) in whose interests it was to urge more Americans to drink, and to drink more beverage alcohol. The blight of saloons would disappear from the landscape, and saloonkeepers no longer allowed to encourage people, including children, to drink beverage alcohol.

Some prohibition leaders looked forward to an educational campaign that would greatly expand once the drink businesses became illegal, and would eventually, in about thirty years, lead to a sober nation. Other prohibition leaders looked forward to vigorous enforcement of prohibition in order to eliminate supplies of beverage alcohol. After 1920, neither group of leaders was especially successful. The educators never received the support for the campaign that they dreamed about; and the law enforcers were never able to persuade government officials to mount a wholehearted enforcement campaign against illegal suppliers of beverage alcohol.

The best evidence available to historians shows that consumption of beverage alcohol declined dramatically under prohibition. In the early 1920s, consumption of beverage alcohol was about thirty per cent of the pre-prohibition level. Consumption grew somewhat in the last years of prohibition, as illegal supplies of liquor increased and as a new generation of Americans disregarded the law and rejected the attitude of self-sacrifice that was part of the bedrock of the prohibition movement. Nevertheless, it was a long time after repeal before consumption rates rose to their pre-prohibition levels. In that sense, prohibition “worked.”

We have included a table of data about alcohol consumption. We also present some data in graphic form, including the consumption of beer in gallons, the consumption of distilled spirits in gallons, and the consumption of absolute alcohol in gallons for beer and spirits, and, in total, for all beverage alcohol. We also have some separate data for malt beverage production (beer).

The Brewing Industry and Prohibition

Brewing became a big business in the latter part of the nineteenth century. German immigrants brought lager beer to the United States, and it proved popular. After 1890 beer surpassed distilled spirits as the principal source of beverage alcohol in the American market.

The technological changes–especially the railroad and telegraph, and mechanical refrigeration–that enabled the growth of “big business” (or, more exactly, vertically integrated firms) in the food manufacturing, processing and distribution industries also allowed some enterprising brewers to build very large firms capable of large production volumes and wide distribution in national and even international markets. Led by Pabst of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Anheuser-Busch (seen here in 1866 as “E. Anheuser & Co” before it became a large company) of St. Louis, Missouri, so-called “shipping brewers” sought to expand their markets. Even some smaller firms, like Hoster of Columbus, Ohio, shipped beer regionally.

One result of technological and business changes in the American brewing industry in the late nineteenth century was the proliferation of saloons, the retail establishments that sold liquor. While it was practical for a saloonkeeper to keep bottles of competing spirits in inventory, it was not practical to keep kegs of different beers on tap. In penetration markets, the brewers developed “tied houses” in which they set up saloons, financed them, provided signs and advertising paraphernalia, in order to have outlets for their product.

The aggressiveness of brewers trying to expand their retail sales through saloons meant that intense competition sometimes ensued. The number of saloons proliferated; it was not uncommon for towns to have a saloon for every 150 or 200 persons. It was difficult for a saloon keeper to earn a profit in this context. The typical saloon was not an especially attractive place, and the typical saloon was an affront to “respectability.” Saloon keepers enticed customers to drink more alcohol by providing salty “free lunches.” Saloon keepers tried to entice new customers, including young men, into their establishments. And they engaged in sideline vices in order to make ends meet–gambling, cock-fighting, and prostitution.

It was no accident that a new prohibition organization formed in 1893 called itself the Anti-Saloon League. This nomenclature was not new, but the new Anti-Saloon League promised to bring business-like methods to political and reform work. The League used the widespread dislike of the saloon among “respectable” Americans to fuel prohibition zeal.

Eventually, the Anti-Saloon League, working with the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and other dry groups, succeeded in establishing prohibition in the American constitution. The Eighteenth Amendment forbad the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition thus was part of broader impulses in American life during the early twentieth century to regulate business and to enhance public power over private capital to ensure that private investments went for purposes not seen as harmful to the larger community.

Frances E. Willard, was a well-known leader of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and gave several speeches about prohibition.

In, “A Glimpse behind the Mask of Prohibition,” Percy Andreae, who had close ties to brewing interests, touted his anti-prohibition views, while Richmond P. Hobson, a Representative from Alabama showed his support of the initiative. “Mr. Dooley on the Temperance Wave,” written by F.P. Dunne, is a humorous essay on temperance and prohibition.

The Woman’s Crusade of 1873-74

The Woman’s Crusade of 1873-74 was a culmination across the United States of many years of women taking direct action against the saloon and the liquor traffic. Women in the United States then enjoyed no direct political power, and direct action–prayer vigils, petition campaigns, demonstrations, hymn-singing–were among the few means at their disposal for seeking change. The crusade sought to persuade saloon-keepers to destroy their beverages, close their doors, and enter some other line of business.


Eliza Daniel Stewart sometimes referred to herself as “Mother Stewart” and this is the name that appears on the title page of the book [ Mother [Eliza Daniel] Stewart, Memories of the Crusade, a Thrilling Account of the Great Uprising of the Women of Ohio in 1873, Against the Liquor Crime(Columbus: Wm. G. Hubbard & Co.] from which these materials are scanned. Stewart was among an important group of American women who gained leadership experience by working in the Sanitary Commission (from which the Red Cross later emerged) during the American civil war. During the woman’s crusade of 1873-74 she was active, and she enjoyed a notable career as a temperance speaker thereafter. Her 1876 speaking tour in Britain led to the formation of the British Woman’s Temperance Association. Stewart was also later a supporter of the Prohibition party, which offered candidates for office, including President of the United States.


The Anti-Saloon League

The Anti Saloon League, founded in 1893 in Oberlin, Ohio began life as a state organization. Its first offices were in Columbus, Ohio; in 1909, the League moved to nearby Westerville, Ohio where it also operated the American Issue Publishing Company. After 1895, however, the League became a powerful national organization. The League was a non-partisan organization that focused on the single issue of prohibition. The League had branches across the United States to work with churches in marshalling resources for the prohibition fight. In 1913, in a 20th anniversary convention held in Columbus, Ohio, the League announced its campaign to achieve national prohibition through a constitutional amendment. Allied with other temperance forces, especially the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the League in 1916 oversaw the election of the two-thirds majorities necessary in both houses of Congress to initiate what became the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Although before the United States entered the First World War prohibition was widely popular in the United States, mobilization provided the League and its allies with a boost in the quest to persuade Americans to support constitutional prohibition. Mobilization called for sacrifice, for supporting the soldiers, and the dry forces quickly capitalized on the patriotic emotions surrounding the war effort.

The Anti-Saloon League Web Site is an excellent resource maintained by the Westerville Public Library in Ohio, which also has an Anti-Saloon League museum.

Cartoons from the Prohibition Party

Reformers established the Prohibition Party in 1869 to offer candidates committed to the prohibition cause to American voters. Prohibition Party advocates claimed that the nation would never achieve prohibition, and that, once achieved, prohibition would never be adequately enforced, under either the Democratic or Republican parties.

The Prohibition Party functioned as a full-fledged organization, offering candidates for offices at the national, state, and local levels. It reached the peak of its influence in 1884, when in New York state the Prohibition Party presidential candidate polled enough votes to insure that the Democrat, Grover Cleveland, carried the state and the electoral college. The party reached the peak of its vote in 1888 and 1892 at just over 2 per cent of the popular vote total.

The Prohibition Party suffered from internal divisions. One faction favored the “narrow gauge” approach, with the party stating its position on the liquor issue and ignoring other issues. A second faction favored a “broad gauge” approach, offering positions on a full range of national issues in an attempt to build a larger coalition in support of dry candidates.

The cartoons in this collection come from Prohibition Cartoons published in the early twentieth century on behalf of candidates in New Jersey in 1904. The book was published in New York by The Defender Publishing Company.

Peter Finely Dunne and Mr. Dooley on Prohibition!

Mr. Dooley on the  Temperance Wave
By F.P. Dunne (with cartoons by John T. McCutcheon

Well, sir,” said Mr. Dooley, ” I see that the prohy­bitionists are gettin’ a sthrangle hold on me old friend an’ bosom companion, King Alcohol, now more gin’rally known as th’ Demon Rum. An’ where d’ye think they ‘re sthrongest? Ye’ll niver believe it, but it’s down South. Yes, sir, in th’ sunny Southland, that I wanst thought was sunny partly because iv th’ efforts iv Nature an’ partly because iv th’ effects iv booze, ’tis as hard to get a dhrink now as it wanst was not to get wan.

“All me idees are upset. I’ve always wanted to go down South some day an’ loaf in that beauchous land, among th’ palm an’ palmettoes, th’ turpentine trees, th’ sweet potatoes, an’ th’ yellow janders, consumin’ th’ flagrant mint julep an’ watchin’ th’ happy darky pluckin’ th’ cotton fr’m th’ vine be day an’ be night out undher th’ moonlight playin’ his banjo or racin’ with th’ bloodhounds. Me idee iv hospitality was Southren hospitality, an’ me idee iv Southren hospitality was that a Southrengintleman met ye at th’ thrain with a noggm’ iv dhrink in th’ crook iv his thumb an’ if ye didn’t dhrink he shot ye.

The New Kentucky Hospitality

“But I was all wrong, d’ye mind. Th’ South that used to be thirsty has gone dhry. Now, whin aKentucky gintleman meets ye at th’ thrain, if ye’re a dhrinkin’ man ’tis not to his home he invites ye, but to th’ town jail. He no longer allures ye with th’ cup that cheers an’ inebyrates ye to­night an’ biteth like an asp an’ stingeth like an adder to­morrah mornin’. No, sir. Th’ best ye can get in public is a small pan iv Jamaica ginger or exthract iv vanilla in th’ corner dhrug store. In th’ hospitable mansions iv th’ South, with their wide porticos, their lofty pillars an’ their overhanging eaves an’ morgedges, where wanst th’ tired traveller heard on approachin’ a sound like th’ ringin’ of sleigh bells, which showed that th’ colonel had seen him comin’ an’ was hurlin’ together a whisky punch, he can on’y get a dhrink be crawlin’ behind th’ colonel down into th’ coal cellar, while Ephraim, th’ old fam’ly servant that was employed last week at th’ slave market or imployment agency, watches f’r th’ polis. An’ poor Sambo or Epaminondas Beecher Roosevelt, as th’ case may be, no longer sings th’ sintimintal plantation ballad iv ‘Give me me gin,’ but ‘Away away th’ bowl . ‘

King Alcohol and His Subjects

“Old King Alcohol is dethroned down South. He ain’t put out altogether, mind ye. He’s like th’ Jook iv Orleens in Paris. Some iv th’ old fam’lies receive him quietly in their homes an’ bow lower to him than they iver did whin he was on th’ throne. But he’s lost most iv his authorities. Thousands that wanst fell on their noses befure him now refuse to recognize him in public. Whin he goes amongst th’ popylace, he goes, as Hogan says, incognito, disguised as a cure f’r fever an’ ague, an’ those that know who he is on’y give a wink. He’s not supposed to be there, but ‘twud be too much throuble to fire him out entirely, so he’s allowed to hang around, payin’ no taxes an’ supported be a few faithful adherents.

“‘Tis th’ same with him as with King Looey. Says wan man: ‘ I don’t care how much King Looey or King Alcohol hurts ye, he ‘s good f’r me. Hooray f’r King Loocahol.’ Says another: ‘I don’t care how good he is f’r ye, he’s bad f’r me. Death to th’ King.’ And th’ end iv it is that he’s deprived iv his throne but niver has his head cut off; he sneaks around an’ does th’ best he can, an’ is loved be those that he ‘s been useful to, an’ hated be those that can get along better without him, an’ 1oved wan time an’ hated anothor be those he harms most.”

A man that looks on a king as a roofover his head an’ a flure undher his feet will always be in favor iv kings. King Alcohol an’ King Edward make sorr.e people better thin their neighbors. They are both stimulating to Rothschild. A little alcohol an’ a little Edward keep him goin’. Thin come a lot iv people that King Edward or King Alcohol do nawthin’ at all f’r, an’ whin they find it out they want to abolish him. An’ afther thim are a great throng that are pizened be anny kind iv a king an’ they can’t get away fr’m him. At night they’re wild with lilety that makes thim think they’re betther thin they iver thought they were. Th’ king has admitted thim to a private aujience an’ has let thim tell what they think about thimsilves. ‘ Rise, Sl William Hoskins,’ says he, ‘if ye can,’ ht says, an’ he hits thim over th’ back iv th’ head with a soord or a bottle. An’ th’ next mornin’ whin they do arise th’ title has disappeared an’ all they have left to remindthim iv it is th’ pain in th’ back iv th’ head where th’ knighting was done.

Popular Drinks in Prolaibition States

“It’s cured me iv me desire to go down South. Hincefoorth, Hinnissy, I will spend me winters in’ th’ North, as usual. Not that I need dhrink mesilf as a part iv hospitality. I can dhrink an’ I can let it aloneat different times. But many people think that th’ on’y diff’rence between hospitality an’ passin’ a cold potato out iv th’ back dure is a dhrink. F’r mesilf I am more happy settin’ down to an innocent meal with nawthin’ but water than I wud be at a table with lashings iv dhrink-not that night, but th’ day afther. I won’t go South, not because I will suffer mesilf, but I don’t want to see th’ sufferings iv others.

“Th’ victim iv th’ dhrink habit whin he can’t get a dhrink is a dhreadful sight to me. Ye go down South expictin’ to see th’ colonel an’ hear him warm up over a mint julep an’ tell ye about th’ battle iv Shiloh, which he fought so bravely thin but more bravely iver since. Ye go up to th’ old house on th’ plantation; ye notice an air iv desolation about th’ place. There are weeds m th’ mint bed. Th’ colonel leads ye into th’ house an’ calls to th’ faithful old retainer: ‘Rastus, ye black rascal, bring Colonel Hinnissy a glass an’ trot out th’ decanter iv Munson’s Cure f’r Epilepsy. Don’t be afraid, Colonel. There isn’t a barrel iv headache in a dhrop iv it. Look at it. See how th’ sun shines through th’ high wines, see th’ beads iv fusel oil glistening like amethysts, notice how the crystal morphine clings to th’ sides iv th’ glass. Ye won’t get anny such stuff as that in th’ North. I get it especially fr’m th’ distiller in Indianapolis, Injyanny. Here’s ye ‘r health, Colonel. Rastus, stand by with th’ fire hose to put th’ Colonel out.’ I don’t want to be a victim iv anny kind iv dhrink, but th’ wan kind I’m partic’l’ry afraid iv dyin’ iv, is th’ kind that is sold in prohybition states. I wanst knew a man that had lived f’r twinty years in Ioway an’ escaped arrest undher th’ Supreme Court decision that he was entitled to an original package. Th’ packages that he got were th’ most original I iver heerd iv. Whin he come back to Chicago he cudden’t find a cocktail that suited him outside iv a dhrug store. Whin I made wan f’r him he asked me if I hadn’t left out th’ rough on rats.

A Colonel’s Untiimely End

“Yes, sir, it’s goin’ to wurruk a gr­reat change in th’ South. I expect to read that some frind iv mine in that impeeryal domain, afther a jovyal meeting in a paint store, where he an’ his companyons imbibed . modhrately iv a can iv gasolene, engaged in his civic duty as a member iv a vigilance comity, an’ approachin’ too near th’ fire, passed away beloved be all. Har’ly a fam’ly in th’ neighborhood but what has lost a member through th’ colonel’s untimely departure.

“Why, innissy, I read th’ other day iv a most unfortunate occurrence down in Texas. A perfectly respectable an’ innocent man, of good connections, while attemptin’ to dhraw a revolver to plug an inimy was hastily shot down be th’ rangers, who thought he was pullin’ a pocket flask. Is no man’s life safe against th’ acts iv irresponsible officers iv th’ law ?

The Ominous Size of Wave

“An’ I tell ye something, Hinnissy, it ain’t goin’ to be very long before this here wave iv prohybition comes up here an’ deluges ye an’ me. Anny day ye may look to see boots an’ shoes, or more prob’bly books, in th’ window where ye now see th’ stately rows iv bottles that ye think are filled with tempting dhrink but raaly have nawthin’ in thim but th’ wather I filled thim with th’ year afther th’ big fire. I’m a merchant, I am, an I’ll sell something. I was cut out be nature to sell people things that they first took because they made thim feel supeeryor to other people an’ that later became a necessity to thim. Whin I bought this thing I vear in me shirt front, that no jooler or other robber wud take f’r a dimon pin, I got it because it raised me up a notch above me fellow men. But afther wearin’ it a little while I cud no more do without it thin without me undhershirt, that no wan iver sees onless they peek up me arm. So it is with nearly all th’ things that people buy, fr’m neckties to autymobills, includin’ dhrink. If I can’t sell booze I’ll sell false hair, I’ll sell cuff­buttons, I’ll sell hair ile, I’ll sell patent­leather shoes, I’ll sell pianos. I’ll sell joolry, I’ll sell brown­stone houses, fast horses, or nommynations to office. I deal in pride. I will sell annything except th’ necessities iv life. If I own anny iv thim I’ll put thim in a basket on th’ counter an’ say:

‘Take wan.’

A Secret of theTrade

“Do I think ’twill come? Faith, I wudden’t wondher. I see what Hogan calls portints iv th’ times. Th’ day was whin ivry wan that wanted a pollytickal job asked th’ privilege iv hangin’ a litthygraft iv himsilf in me window. I let thim do it because it hurt thim with many iv me customers, who said: ‘ I’ll niver vote f’r that robber.’ But, nowadays, be Hivens, no wan wants his pitcher hung in a saloon. They’re thryin’ to get thim pasted up in th’ churches. They’re gettin’ on to us. I’ll tell ye a secret iv th’ thrade. I’d rather have th’ Father Macchew Society behind me thin th’ entire saloon vote.

What Drink Does for a Man

“I wudden’t mind if prohybition did b r e a k through. In his heart th’ thruest prohybitionist is a saloonkeeper. B e t t h e r t h i n annywan else he k n o w s t h a t what’s his meat is everybody else’s pizen. Havin’ l o n g assocyated with th’ dhrinkin’ classes, I think less iv thim more an’ more ivry year. Th’ dhrink makes thim too fond iv thimsilves. As me frind Mulrooney th’ printer says, th’ dhrink knocks th’ dot off their little i an’ they think they’re upper case. A man comes in here whin I’m about ready to pull down th’ blinds, leans on th’ cheese, an’ sings: ‘My bonnie lies over th’ ocean,’ thin says: ‘ What’s that ? ‘ whin I suggist that he go home, an’ fin’lly ends up be weeping over his throubles. I know what’s th’ matter with him. He’s thinkin’ about himself too much. I know that his voice sounds like suds escapin’ fr’m th’ kitchen sink, an’ I can lick him in a minyit with an’ ice­pick, an’ I am laughin’ mesilf sick over his fam’ly throubles, but he doesn’t think so. Divvle th’ bit. He’s got himsilf painted like a combynation iv Melba, Jeffreys an’ th’Two Orphans, an’ annybody that don t believe he’s right is lookin’ f’r throuble. Faith, if anny prohybitionist thinks ’tis pleasant presidin’ over this here Palace iv Rum he’s welcome to th’ job. If I was an insanity expert, instead iv bein’ on th’ level as I am, I’d commit half me patients to an asylum. ”

“But can ye iver enforce prohybition?” asked Mr. Hennessy.”

Well,” said Mr. Dooley, ” Father Kelly says th’ best they’ve done so far is to make dhrink wrong to take, hard to get, an’ turr’ble bad whin ye get it.”

The Cry of the Woman
By Elizabeth Graeme Barbour

Man’s work is mine, tho’ woman born;
My hurried way in crowded mart
Is trod unswervingly each morn;
I live a thing apart,
I bear a hungry heart.

Man’s love and babe’s,
life hath denied;
No leisure e’en to give a crust
Is mine, swept onward with the tide
Of those enslaved by lust
Of gold, or load unjust.

I would not vie with men for gain,
Nor in the sun of ease would bask;

I–who man’s burden bear with pain–
I want my woman’s task.
Give this, O Lord, I ask!

The poem appeared on page 604 after the piece by Dunne.

Richard P. Hobson Argues for Prohibition

Richmond P. Hobson, a Representative from Alabama, voiced his support for a prohibition amendment on the floor of the House of Representatives on December 22, 1914. The proposed amendment received a majority of votes, but not the necessary two-thirds majority to proceed with the process.

The following is scanned from K. Austin Kerr, The Politics of Moral Behavior: Prohibition and Drug Abuse (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1973): 97-102 [long out of print]:


What is the object of this resolution? It is to destroy the agency that debauches the youth of the land and thereby perpetuates its hold upon the Nation. How does the resolution propose to destroy this agent? In the simplest manner…. It does not coerce any drinker. It simply says that barter and sale, matters that have been a public function from the semicivilized days of society, shall not continue the debauching of the youth. Now, the Liquor Trust are wise enough to know that they can not perpetuate their sway by depending on debauching grown people, so they go to an organic method of teaching the young to drink. Now we apply exactly the same method to destroy them. We do not try to force old drinkers to stop drinking, but we do effectively put an end to the systematic, organized debauching of our youth through thousands and tens of thousands of agencies throughout the land. Men here may try to escape the simplicity of this problem. They can not. Some are trying to defend alcohol by saying that its abuse only is bad and that its temperate use is all right. Science absolutely denies it, and proclaims that drunkenness does not produce one-tenth part of the harm to society that the widespread, temperate, moderate drinking does. Some say it is adulteration that harms. Some are trying to say that it is only distilled liquors that do harm. Science comes in now and says that all alcohol does harm; that the malt and fermented liquors produce vastly more harm than distilled liquors, and that it is the general public use of such drinks that has entailed the gradual decline and degeneracy of the nations of the past.

[The wets] have no foundation in scientific truth to stand upon, and so they resort to all kinds of devious methods.

Their favorite contention is that we can not reach the evil because of our institutions. This assumes that here is something very harmful and injurious to the public health and morals, that imperils our very institutions themselves and the perpetuity of the Nation, but the Nation has not within itself, because of its peculiar organization, the power to bring about the public good and end a great public wrong. They invoke the principle of State rights. As a matter of fact, we are fighting more consistently for State rights than they ever dreamed of. We know the States have the right to settle this question, and furthermore our confidence in three-quarters of all the States to act wisely does not lead us to fear that if we submit the proposition to them they might establish an imperialistic empire. We believe that three-quarters of all the States have the wisdom as well as the right to settle the national prohibition question for this country.

Neither can they take refuge about any assumed question of individual liberty. We do not say that a man shall not drink. We ask for no sumptuary action. We do not say that a man shall not have or make liquor in his own home for his own use. Nothing of that sort is involved in this resolution. We only touch the sale. A man may feel he has a right to drink, but he certainly has no inherent right to sell liquor. A man’s liberties are absolutely secure in this resolution. The liberties and sanctity of the home are protected. The liberties of the community are secure, the liberties of the county are secure, and the liberties of the State are secure.

Let no one imagine that a State to-day has the real power and right to be wet of its own volition. Under the taxing power of the Federal Government by act of Congress, Congress could make every State in the country dry. They need not think it is an inherent right for a State to be wet; it is not; but there is an inherent right in every State and every county and every township to be dry, and these rights are now trampled upon, and this monster prides himself in trampling upon them.

Why, here to-day Member after Member has proclaimed that prohibition does not prohibit, and I have heard them actually tell us that prohibition could not prohibit. They tell us that this interstate liquor power is greater than the National Government….

I say now, as I said before, I will meet this foe on a hundred battlefields. If the Sixty-third Congress does not grant this plain right of the people for this referendum to change their organic law, to meet this mighty evil, the Sixty-fourth Congress will be likewise invoked. I do not say that we are going to get a two-thirds majority here tonight … because we have not yet had a chance to appeal to Caesar: but I do say that the day is coming when we shall have that referendum sent to the States, nor is that day as far distant as some may imagine. Unless this question has been made a State matter, as we are asking now for it to be so made by being removed from national politics, and referred to the States-if this is not done by the intervening Congresses, I here announce to you the determination of the great moral, the great spiritual, the great temperance and prohibition forces of this whole Nation to make this question the paramount issue in 1916, not only to gain a two-thirds majority in the Houses of Congress, but to have an administration that neither in the open nor under cover will fight this reform, so that in the spring of 1917 with an extraordinary session of the Sixty-fifth Congress we will have a command from the * masters of men and of Congress to grant this right to the people. My appeal is to each one of you now, be a man when the vote is taken and do your duty. [Applause.]

A Habit-Forming Drug

Alcohol has the property of chloroform and ether of penetrating actually into the nerve fibers themselves, putting the tissues under an anesthetic which prevents pain at first, but when the anesthetic effect is over discomfort follows throughout the tissues of the whole body, particularly the nervous system, which causes a craving for relief by recourse to the very substance that produced the disturbance. This craving grows directly with the amount and regularity of the drinking.

Undermines the Will Power

The poisoning attack of alcohol is specially severe in the cortex cerebrum-the top part of the brain-where resides the center of inhibition, or of will power, causing partial paralysis, which liberates lower activities otherwise held in control, causing a man to be more of a brute, but to imagine that he has been stimulated, when he is really partially paralyzed. This center of inhibition is the seat of the will power, which of necessity declines a little in strength every time partial paralysis takes place.

Little Less of a Man After Each Drink

Thus a man is little less of a man after each drink he takes. In this way continued drinking causes a progressive weakening of the will and a progressive growing of the craving, so that after a time, if persisted in, there must come a point where the will power can not control the craving and the victim is in the grip of the habit.

Slaves in Shackles

When the drinking begins young the power of the habit becomes overwhelming, and the victim might as well have shackles. It is estimated that there are 5,000,000 heavy drinkers and drunkards in America, and these men might as well have a ball and chain on their ankles, for they are more abject slaves than those black men who were driven by slave drivers.

Present-day Slave Owners

These victims are driven imperatively to procure their liquor, no matter at what cost. A few thousand brewers and distillers, making up the organizations composing the great Liquor Trust, have a monopoly of the supply, and they therefore own these 5,000,000 slaves and through them they are able to collect two and one-half billions of dollars cash from the American people every year.

Liquor Degenerates the Character

The first finding of science that alcohol is a protoplasmic poison and the second finding that it is an insidious, habit-forming drug, though of great importance, are as unimportant when compared with the third finding, that alcohol degenerates the character of men and tears down their spiritual nature. Like the other members of the group of oxide derivatives of hydrocarbons, alcohol is not only a general poison, but it has a chemical affinity or deadly appetite for certain particular tissues. Strychnine tears down the spinal cord. Alcohol tears down the top part of the brain in a man, attacks certain tissues in an animal, certain cells in a flower. It has been established that whatever the line of a creature’s evolution alcohol will attack that line. Every type and every species is evolving in building from generation to generation along some particular line. Man is evolving in the top part of the brain, the seat of the will power, the seat of the moral senses, and of the spiritual nature, the recognition of right and wrong, the consciousness of God and of duty and of brotherly love and of self-sacrifice.

Reverses the Life Principle of the Universe

All life in the universe is founded upon the principle of evolution. Alcohol directly reverses that principle. Man has risen from the savage up through successive steps to the level of the semisavage, the semicivilized, and the highly civilized.

Liquor and the Red Man

Liquor promptly degenerates the red man, throws him back into savagery. It will promptly put a tribe on the war path.

Liquor and the Black Man

Liquor will actually make a brute out of a negro, causing him to commit unnatural crimes.

Liquor and the White Man

The effect is the same on the white man, though the white man being further evolved it takes longer time to reduce him to the same level. Starting young, however, it does not take a very long time to speedily cause a man in the forefront of civilization to pass through the successive stages and become semicivilized, semisavage, savage, and, at last, below the brute.

The Great Tragedy

The spiritual nature of man gives dignity to his life above the life of the brute. It is this spiritual nature of man that makes him in the image of his Maker, so that the Bible referred to man as being a little lower than the angels. It is a tragedy to blight the physical life. No measure can be made of blighting the spiritual life.

The Blight Degeneracy

Nature does not tolerate reversing its evolutionary principle, and proceeds automatically to exterminate any creature, any animal, any race, any species that degenerates. Nature adopts two methods of extermination-one to shorten the life, the other to blight the offspring.

The Verdict

Science has thus demonstrated that alcohol is a protoplasmic poison, poisoning all living things; that alcohol is a habit-forming drug that shackles millions of our citizens and maintains slavery in our midst; that it lowers in a fearful way the standard of efficiency of the Nation, reducing enormously the national wealth, entailing startling burdens of taxation, encumbering the public with the care of crime, pauperism, and insanity; that it corrupts politics and public servants, corrupts the Government, corrupts the public morals, lowers terrifically the average standard of character of the citizenship, and undermines the liberties and institutions of the Nation; that it undermines and blights the home and the family, checks education, attacks the young when they are entitled to protection, undermines the public health, slaughtering, killing, and wounding our citizens many fold times more than war, pestilence, and famine combined; that it blights the progeny of the Nation, flooding the land with a horde of degenerates; that it strikes deadly blows at the life of the Nation itself and at the very life of the race, reversing the great evolutionary principles of nature and the purposes of the Almighty.

There can be but one verdict, and that is this great destroyer must be destroyed. The time is ripe for fulfillment. The present generation, the generation to which we belong, must cut this millstone of degeneracy from the neck of humanity….

The Final Conclusion

To cure this organic disease we must have recourse to the organic law. The people themselves must act upon this question. A generation must be prevailed upon to place prohibition in their own constitutional law, and such a generation could be counted upon to keep it in the Constitution during its lifetime. The Liquor Trust of necessity would disintegrate. The youth would grow up sober. The final, scientific conclusion is that we must have constitutional prohibition, prohibiting only the sale, the manufacture for sale, and everything that pertains to the sale, and invoke the power of both Federal and State Governments for enforcement. The resolution is drawn to fill these requirements.

Percy Andreae, “A Glimpse behind the Mask of Prohibition”

By Percy Andreae, from The Prohibition Movement in its Broader Bearings upon Our Social, Commercial, and Religious Liberties, 1915:

(Editor’s note: Andreae was one of the most successful spokesmen against prohibition. Closely associated with brewing interests in Cincinnati, Ohio, Andreae organized a successful resistance to the Ohio Anti Saloon League after its sweeping victories in the 1908 state elections. Eventually Andreae tried to take the Ohio resistance to a national level through an brewery-financed organization called The National Association of Commerce and Labor.)

Somewhere in the Bible it is said: “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off.” I used to think the remedy somewhat radical. But to-day, being imbued with the wisdom of the prohibitionist, I have to acknowledge that, if the Bible in general, and that passage in it in particular, has a fault, it lies in its ultra-conservativeness. What? Merely cut off my own right hand if it offend me? What business have my neighbors to keep their right hands if I am not able to make mine behave itself ? Off with the lot of them! Let there be no right hands; then I am certain that mine won’t land me in trouble.

I have met many active prohibitionists, both in this and in other countries, all of them thoroughly in earnest. In some instances I have found that their allegiance to the cause of prohibition took its origin in the fact that some near relative or friend had succumbed to over-indulgence in liquor. In one or two cases the man himself had been a victim of this weakness, and had come to the conclusion, firstly that every one else was constituted as he was, and, therefore, liable to the same danger; and secondly, that unless every one were prevented from drinking, he would not be secure from the temptation to do so himself.

This is one class of prohibitionists. The other, and by far the larger class, is made up of religious zealots, to whom prohibition is a word having at bottom a far wider application than that which is generally attributed to it. The liquor question, if there really is such a question per se, is merely put forth by them as a means to an end, an incidental factor in a fight which has for its object the supremacy of a certain form of religious faith. The belief of many of these people is that the Creator frowns upon enjoyment of any and every kind, and that he has merely endowed us with certain desires and capacities for pleasure in order to give us an opportunity to please Him by resisting them. They are, of course, perfectly entitled to this belief, though some of us may consider it eccentric and somewhat in the nature of a libel on the Almighty. But are they privileged to force that belief on all their fellow beings? That, in substance, is the question that is involved in the present-day prohibition movement.

For it is all nonsense to suppose that because, perhaps, one in a hundred or so of human beings is too weak to resist the temptation of over-indulging in drink-or of over-indulging in anything else, for the matter of that-=therefore all mankind is going to forego the right to indulge in that enjoyment in moderation. the leaders of the so-called prohibition movement know as well as you and I do that you can no more prevent an individual from taking a drink if he be so inclined than your can prevent him from scratching himself if he itches. They object to the existence of the saloon, not, bear in mind, to that of the badly conducted saloon, but to that of the well-regulated, decent saloon, and wherever they succeed in destroying the latter, their object, which is the manifestation of their political power, is attained. That for every decent, well-ordered saloon they destroy, there springs up a dive, or speak-easy, or blind tiger, or whatever other name it may be known by, and the dispensing of drink continues as merrily as before, doesn’t disturb them at all. They make the sale of liquor a crime, but steadily refuse to make its purchase and consumption an offense. Time and again the industries affected by this apparently senseless crusade have endeavored to have laws passed making dry territories really dry by providing for the punishment of the man who buys drink as well as the man who sells it. But every such attempt has been fiercely opposed by the prohibition leaders. And why? Because they know only too well that the first attempt to really prohibit drinking would put an end to their power forever. They know that 80 per cent of those who, partly by coercion, partly from sentiment, vote dry, are perfectly willing to restrict the right of the remaining 20 per cent to obtain drink, but that they are not willing to sacrifice that right for themselves.

And so the farce called prohibition goes on, and will continue to go on as long as it brings grist to the mill of the managers who are producing it. But the farce conceals something far more serious than that which is apparent to the public on the face of it. Prohibition is merely the title of the movement. Its real purpose is of a religious, sectarian character, and this applies not only to the movement in America, but to the same movement in England, a fact which, strangely enough, has rarely, if at all, been recognized by those who have dealt with the question in the public press.

If there is any one who doubts the truth of this statement, let me put this to him: How many Roman Catholics are prohibitionists? How many Jews, the most temperate race on earth, are to be found in the ranks of prohibition? Or Lutherans? Or German Protestants generally? What is the proportion of Episcopalians to that of Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians, and the like, in the active prohibition army? The answer to these questions will, I venture to say, prove conclusively the assertion that the fight for prohibition is synonymous with the fight of a certain religious sect, or group of religious sects, for the supremacy of its ideas. In England it is the Nonconformists, which is in that country the generic name for the same sects, who are fighting the fight, and the suppression of liquor there is no more the ultimate end they have in view than it is here in America. It is the fads and restrictions that are part and parcel of their lugubrious notion of Godworship which they eventually hope to impose upon the rest of humanity; a Sunday without a smile, no games, no recreation, no pleasures, no music, card-playing tabooed, dancing anathematized, the beauties of art decried as impure-in short, this world reduced to a barren, forbidding wilderness in which we, its inhabitants, are to pass our time contemplating the joys of the next. Rather problematical joys, by the way, if we are to suppose we shall worship God in the next world in the same somber way as we are called upon by these worthies to do in this.

To my mind, and that of many others, the hearty, happy laugh of a human being on a sunny Sunday is music sweeter to the ears of that being’s Creator than all the groaning and moanings, and misericordias that rise to heaven from the lips of those who would deprive us altogether of the faculty and the privilege of mirth. That some overdo hilarity and become coarse and offensive, goes without saying. There are people without the sense of proportion or propriety in all matters. Yet none of us think of abolishing pleasures because a few do not know how to enjoy them in moderation and with decency, and become an offense to their neighbors.

The drink evil has existed from time immemorial, just as sexual excess has, and all other vices to which mankind is and always will be more or less prone, though less in proportion as education progresses and the benefits of civilization increased Sexual excess, curiously enough, has never interested our hyper- religious friends, the prohibitionists, in anything like the degree that the vice of excessive drinking does. Perhaps this is because the best of us have our pet aversions and our pet weaknesses. Yet this particular vice has produced more evil results to the human race than all other vices combined, and, in spite of it, mankind, thanks not to prohibitive laws and restrictive legislation, but to the forward strides of knowledge and to patient and intelligent education, is to-day ten times sounder in body and healthier in mind than it ever was in the world’s history.

Now, if the habit of drinking to excess were a growing one, as our prohibitionist friends claim that it is, we should to-day, instead of discussing this question with more or less intelligence, not be here at all to argue it; for the evil, such as it is, has existed for so many ages that, if it were as general and as contagious as is claimed, and its results as far-reaching as they are painted, the human race would have been destroyed by it long ago. Of course, the contrary is the case. The world has progressed in this as in all other respects. Compare, for instance, the drinking to-day with the drinking of a thousand years ago, nay, of only a hundred odd years ago, when a man, if he wanted to ape his so-called betters, did so by contriving to be carried to bed every night “drunk as a lord.” Has that condition of affairs been altered by legislative measures restricting the right of the individual to control himself ? No. It has been altered by that far greater power, the moral force of education and the good example which teaches mankind the very thing that prohibition would take from it: the virtue of selfcontrol and moderation in all things.

And here we come to the vital distinction between the advocacy of temperance and the advocacy of prohibition. Temperance and self-control are convertible terms. Prohibition, or that which it implies, is the direct negation of the term self-control. In order to save the small percentage of men who are too weak to resist their animal desires, it aims to put chains on every man, the weak and the strong alike. And if this is proper in one respect, why not in all respects? Yet, what would one think of a proposition to keep all men locked up because a certain number have a propensity to steal? Theoretically, perhaps, all crime or vice could be stopped by chaining us all up as we chain up a wild animal, and only allowing us to take exercise under proper supervision and control. But while such a measure would check crime, it would not eliminate the criminal. It is true, some people are only kept from vice and crime by the fear of punishment. Is not, indeed, the basis of some men’s religiousness nothing else but the fear of Divine punishment? The doctrines of certain religious denominations not entirely unknown in the prohibition camp make self respect, which is the foundation of self-control and of all morality, a sin. They decry rather than advocate it. They love to call themselves miserable, helpless sinners, cringing before the flaming sword, and it is the flaming sword, not the exercise of their own enlightened will, that keeps them within decent bounds. Yet has this fear of eternal punishment contributed one iota toward the intrinsic betterment of the human being? If it had, would so many of our Christian creeds have discarded it, admitting that it is the precepts of religion, not its dark and dire threats, that make men truly better and stronger within themselves to resist that which our self-respect teaches us is bad and harmful? The growth of self-respect in man, with its outward manifestation, self-control, is the growth of civilization. If we are to be allowed to exercise it no longer, it must die in us from want of nutrition, and men must become savages once more, fretting now at their chains, which they will break as inevitably as the sun will rise to-morrow and herald a new day.

I consider the danger which threatens civilized society from the growing power of a sect whose views on prohibition are merely an exemplification of their general low estimate of man’s ability to rise to higher things -by his own volition to be of infinitely greater consequence than the danger that, in putting their narrow theories to the test, a few billions of invested property will be destroyed, a number of great wealth-producing industries wiped out, the rate of individual taxation largely increased, and a million or so of struggling wage earners doomed to face starvation. These latter considerations, of course, must appeal to every thinking mans but what are they compared with the greater questions involved? Already the government of our State, and indeed of a good many other States, has passed practically into the hands of a few preacher-politicians of a certain creed. With the machine they have built up, by appealing to the emotional weaknesses of the more or less unintelligent masses, they have lifted themselves on to a pedestal of power that has enabled them to dictate legislation or defeat it at their will, to usurp the functions of the governing head of the State and actually induce him to delegate to them the appointive powers vested in him by the Constitution. When a Governor elected by the popular vote admits, as was recently the case, that he can not appoint a man to one of the most important offices of the State without the indorsement of the irresponsible leader of a certain semi-religious movement, and when he submits to this same personage for correction and amendment his recommendation to the legislative body, there can scarcely be any doubt left in any reasonable mind as to the extent of the power wielded by this leader, or as to the uses he and those behind him intend putting it to.

And what does it all mean? It means that government by emotion is to be substituted for government by reason, and government by emotion, of which history affords many examples, is, according to the testimony of all ages, the most dangerous and pernicious of ail forms of government. It has already crept into the legislative assemblies of most of the States of the Union, and is being craftily fostered by those who know how easily it can be made available for their purposes-purposes to the furtherance of which cool reason would never lend itself. Prohibition is but one of its fruits, and the hand that is plucking this fruit is the same hand of intolerance that drove forth certain of our forefathers from the land of their birth to seek the sheltering freedom of these shores.

What a strange reversal of conditions! The intolerants of a few hundred years ago are the upholders of liberty to-day, while those they once persecuted, having multiplied by grace of the very liberty that has so long sheltered them here, are now planning to impose the tyranny of their narrow creed upon the descendants of their persecutors of yore.

Let the greater public, which is, after all, the arbiter of the country’s destinies, pause and ponder these things before they are allowed to progress too far. Prohibition, though it must callse, and is already causing, incalculable damage, may never succeed in this country; but that which is behind it, as the catapults and the cannon were behind the battering rams in the battles of olden days, is certain to succeed unless timely measures of prevention are resorted to; and if it does succeed, we shall witness the enthronement of a monarch in this land of liberty compared with whose autocracy the autocracy of the Russian Czar is a mere trifle.

The name of this monarch is Religious Intolerance.

American Prohibition in the 1920s

The Medicinal Use of Alcohol

Courtesy of the Rex D. Davis Historical file, ATF Reference Library and Archive

There was one way to obtain alcoholic beverages legally during the prohibition years: through a physician’s prescription, purchasing the liquor from a pharmacy. Physicians could prescribe distilled spirits–usually whiskey or brandy–on government prescription forms. The government was even willing to allow the limited production of whiskey and its distribution when stocks were low.

Since ancient times there were widespread beliefs that alcoholic beverages had medicinal value. Those beliefs spread widely after the development of distillation techniques. Physicians prescribed alcohol for all sorts of ailments, from snake bite to disease control. By the early 19th century, especially in England, there was widespread use of alcohol in medical treatments of various kinds.

The rise of scientific medicine after 1850 led to changing views, and by the end of the century the therapeutic value of alcohol was widely disputed, and discredited among the most advanced practitioners. In 1916 whiskey and brandy were removed from the list of scientifically approved medicines in The Pharmacopeia of the United States of America. In 1917 the American Medical Association even voted, in a contentious meeting, in effect to support prohibition.

The resolution passed in June of 1917 at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association read as follows:

Whereas, We believe that the use of alcohol is detrimental to the human economy and,
Whereas, its use in therapeutics as a tonic or stimulant or for food has no scientific value; therefore,
Be it Resolved, That the American Medical Association is opposed to the use of alcohol as a beverage; and
Be it Further Resolved, That the use of alcohol as a therapeutic agent should be further discouraged.

Nevertheless, the prohibition laws allowed medicinal use of alcoholic beverages through prescription.

(The prohibition laws also allowed the distribution of wine for sacramental purposes.)

The Federal Council of Churches 1926 Statement

The Federal Council of Churches supported prohibition and the 18th Amendment. In 1926 two of its officers reaffirmed that support in testimony before the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate.

The following is taken from K. Austin Kerr, ed., The Politics of Moral Behavior: Prohibition and Drug Abuse (Reading: Addison Wesley, 1973)

The support of national prohibition by the Federal Council of the Churches rests upon four fundamental considerations.

First. The belief that in dealing with gigantic social evils like disease or crime, individual liberty must be controlled in the interest of the public welfare. Second. The belief that the liquor traffic is beyond question such an evil. Third. The conviction that no plan less thoroughgoing than prohibition is sufficient to eradicate the evils of the liquor traffic. Fourth. The evidence of history that other methods of attempting to control the traffic have failed and that prohibition, despite inadequacies of enforcement, is succeeding better than any other program.

Limitation upon individual freedom in matters affecting society is the price that any people must pay for the progress of its civilization. Personal liberty can not rightly be claimed for practices which militate against the welfare of others or the interests of the community as a whole.

It is especially contrary to democratic ideals and to enlightened public policy to permit any citizen to make profit from a business which is detrimental to his neighbor. This is readily recognized by all as sound policy in regard to the trade in narcotics. It is equally true of the liquor traffic. To insure social protection against a trade whose avowed purpose was to get people to consume the maximum possible amount of alcoholic liquor is the foundation on which our national policy of prohibition rests.

The policy of prohibition was not adopted hastily nor was it foisted upon the country by a puritanical minority. It was first voted in most of the States separately and then nationally, because the people had become convinced that the liquor traffic was a social evil of such magnitude that it had to be destroyed. The eighteenth amendment was made a part of the Constitution by the regular methods which the founders of the Republic devised with a view to making the amendment to the Constitution difficult rather than easy. Yet this amendment was adopted more promptly than any other change in the Constitution ever proposed.

The reasons which led to prohibition not only remain to-day but have been reinforced by the experience of other nations. The social peril of alcoholism is becoming a growing concern to statesmen throughout the world. If serious evils have sprung up since prohibition, they are far less than the evils which arose from the liquor traffic prior to the amendment. The liquor traffic with the accompanying saloon was allied with political corruption, crime, gambling, and prostitution. It meant the wreckage of men and the degradation of families, which social workers and ministers saw constantly in their daily work. It produced needless inefficiency in industry. Moreover, the tendency in the United States, as has been the case in Europe, was toward an increasing consumption of the stronger liquors with consequent intensifying of social hazards. Methods of control short of prohibition, such as taxation, regulations, and the governmentally controlled systems of some of the Canadian Provinces, Norway, and Sweden, have all proved inadequate to cope with the evil.

The proposal to modify the Volstead Act so as to permit the sale of wines and beer presents insuperable objections. It would make enforcement more difficult. It would inevitably mean the return either of the saloon or something equally undesirable. Bootlegging in stronger liquors would become more menacing because it would tend to operate through the places where the milder intoxicants were sold. Moreover, there is no evidence to justify the contention that to permit wine and beer would reduce the consumption of ardent spirits. The teaching of experience is to the contrary.

The one path of advance is for all good citizens personally to observe the law and to support the great enterprise, born of the idealism of the people, of completely ridding the Nation of as demoralizing a business as the liquor traffic has always proved itself to be. Least of all should our prohibition law be changed in response to the cry of those who by their own disrespect for the law are preventing it from receiving a fair trial or who, because of their special interest in the return of the liquor traffic, are artificially stimulating an agitation for changing our present law. The call of the hour is for such a thoroughgoing work of moral persuasion and legal enforcement as will give the policy of prohibition an adequate opportunity to demonstrate its full value to the Nation and to the world.

Rev. S. Parkes Cadman, President.
Rev. Charles S. Macfarland, General Secretary.

Women’s National Committee for Law Enforcement 1926 Statement

During the 1920s, the Women’s National Committee for Law Enforcement, a federation of Protestant women’s organizations that claimed at least 12 million followers, observed that prohibition was partially effective in achieving its goals. The group sought better law enforcement for the better realization of the reform, as its president, Mrs. Henry W. Peabody, informed a Senate committee.

From The National Prohibition Law, Hearings before the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, 69th Congress, 1st Session (1926): 666-67:

We represent here to-day not only organizations of women, but, as a whole, we represent the home, the school, the church, and we stand firmly for no amendment to the eighteenth amendment. We hold the Constitution of the United States inviolate. We stand for no modification of the Volstead Act, but rather a strengthening. We stand for strict law enforcement, with the removal of all men who do not strictly enforce the law.

We believe that in the greater part of the territory of this country the law is observed as well as any law. Having traveled in various parts of this country we did not observe more drinking than ever. We find conditions vastly improved. Health, as testified to by the insurance companies; morals, as shown by the statements which will be produced later; and certainly the economic condition, on the word of our Secretary of Commerce, seem to have justified prohibition.

The conditions in States like New York and Maryland, where there is no State enforcement law, which is required by the eighteenth amendment, framed to secure concurrent action, are bad. The only remedy, it seems to us, as women, is not a change of law which is satisfactory to the majority of the States, but to do what the Constitution requires to make the law enforceable. That would remove very many of the offenses which are piled up to prove that the Nation is not appearing to enforce its laws.

As women, we know the old saloon and the wreckage in homes and lives of boys, men, and women. While the vote for the eighteenth amendment was the vote of the men–it was also the vote of the women who had prayed and worked for protection from this ancient evil. We had thought it settled, and perhaps for that reason and believing in the Constitution, we have not done as much as we should have done to see to the enforcement of the law. Perhaps we as women, not being in the position to select men who should administer these laws, trusted too much and needed the awakening which has come. We are convinced that we have a good law–a righteous law–written into the Constitution of the United States–that it does not in any way affect the personal liberty of well-doers–those loyal to the highest interests of the country and the great majority of the people.

We are not satisfied that the law is being enforced in all places. We are sure it will be when the Nation has had time to adjust itself. In a well-regulated home it is the policy of a mother to work faithfully and patiently, knowing that perfect obedience requires law and discipline. It is never the policy of a good mother or teacher to say the children are disobedient–therefore let us give in to them and let them do as they like.

Fiorello LaGuardia Testifies against Prohibition

Fiorello H. LaGuardia was a prominent New York city politician who served several terms in the House of Representatives. An outspoken critic of prohibition, he testified to the policy’s failure.

From The National Prohibition Law, Hearings before the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, 69th Congress, 1st Session (1926): 649-52:

It is impossible to tell whether prohibition is a good thing or a bad thing. It has never been enforced in this country.

There may not be as much liquor in quantity consumed to-day as there was before prohibition, but there is just as much alcohol.

At least 1,000,000 quarts of liquor is consumed each day in the United States. In my opinion such an enormous traffic in liquor could not be carried on without the knowledge, if not the connivance of the officials entrusted with the enforcement of the law. …

I believe that the percentage of whisky drinkers in the United States now is greater than in any other country of the world. Prohibition is responsible for that. …

At least $1,000,000,000 a year is lost to the National Government and the several States and counties in excise taxes. The liquor traffic is going on just the same. This amount goes into the pockets of bootleggers and in the pockets of the public officials in the shape of graft….

I will concede that the saloon was odius but now we have delicatessen stores, pool rooms, drug stores, millinery shops, private parlors, and 57 other varieties of speak-easies selling liquor and flourishing.

I have heard of $2,000 a year prohibition agents who run their own cars with liveried chauffeurs.

It is common talk in my part of the country that from $7.50 to $12 a case is paid in graft from the time the liquor leaves the 12-mile limit until it reaches the ultimate consumer. There seems to be a varying market price for this service created by the degree of vigilance or the degree of greed of the public officials in charge.

It is my calculation that at least a million dollars a day is paid in graft and corruption to Federal, State, and local officers. Such a condition is not only intolerable, but it is demoralizing and dangerous to organized government. …

The Government even goes to the trouble to facilitate the financing end of the bootlegging industry. In 1925, $286,950,000 more of $10,000 bills were issued than in 1920 and $25,000,000 more of $5,000 bills were issued. What honest business man deals in $10,000 bills? Surely these bills were not used to pay the salaries of ministers. The bootlegging industry has created a demand for bills of large denominations, and the Treasury Department accommodates them.

The drys seemingly are afraid of the truth. Why not take inventory and ascertain the true conditions. Let us not leave it to the charge of an antiprohibition organization, or to any other private association, let us have an official survey and let the American people know what is going on. A complete and honest and impartial survey would reveal incredible conditions, corruption, crime, and an organized system of illicit traffic such as the world has never seen…

A Yale University Student Testifies against Prohibition

In 1926, Senator James Reed of Missouri, an outspoken opponent of prohibition, arranged testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary that supported his position. The following exchange occured between him and Russell Lee Post, a student at Yale University:

Senator Reed of Missouri. What are the facts with reference to the ability of students to obtain liquor?

Mr. Post. Why, it is obtainable, sir; the greater the attempts at enforcement the stronger the sentiment against it.

Senator Reed of Missouri. Do bootleggers ply their trade among the students?

Mr. Post. Well, it is the reverse; the students go to the bootleggers.

Senator Reed of Missouri. The students go to the bootleggers?

Mr. Post. Yes; they do not enter the university campus.

Senator Reed of Missouri. Is there any difficulty of any student of ordinary intelligence–and I presume they are all that at Yale University–getting all the whisky he wants to buy, or alleged whisky at least?

Mr. Post. No, sir.

Senator Reed of Missouri. Is this liquor drunk on the campus or in the quarters of the students?

Mr. Post. Yes, sir.

Senator Reed of Missouri. And is it drunk elsewhere?

Mr. Post. Yes, sir.

Senator Reed of Missouri. That is all.

The Ohio Dry Campaign of 1918

Ohio was a very closely contested state in the national campaign to eradicate the liquor traffic by declaring illegal the businesses of manufacturing, distributing, and selling alcoholic beverages. Ohio was the birthplace of both the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (1874) and the Anti-Saloon League (1893). The WCTU brought a special zeal to the prohibition effort in the 1880s, failing to achieve state-wide dry legislation but disturbing Ohio political life nevertheless. The Anti-Saloon League later (and with the help of the WCTU) promoted the issue in a non-partisan manner, pressuring politicians to enact dry legislation. The League and its allies were successful in achieving various local option measures (laws that allowed voters of a ward or a township to declare themselves free of the liquor traffic) and, in 1908, in achieving a law that granted counties the authority to outlaw the liquor traffic.

Although prohibition was a popular reform in the state, the issue deeply divided Ohioans. In 1909, witnessing the success of the League in achieving county option legislation, and fearing that it might achieve state-wide prohibition, the brewers organized a counter-attack. Beer had become the largest single source of beverage alcohol in the United States during the 1880s, and the brewing industry was the most profitable of the liquor trades. Persons of German ancestry dominated the American brewing industry, and they worked closely with the German-American Alliance, an organization popular in German-American communities. The brewers had always supplied lobbyists and campaign funds to thwart the prohibitionists. In 1909 the Ohio brewers decided to try to reform their industry, to reduce the number of saloons in the state dramatically, and to have legislation enacted that would ensure that saloon keepers were citizens of “good character.” Led by Percy Andreae, the Ohio brewers used their ample financial resources and political skills to conduct a propaganda campaign to countervail that of the drys, and to mobilize wets in support of measures that would weaken the dry hold in the state’s politic

The result was that after 1910 the Anti-Saloon League encountered stiff opposition in the state’s legislature. The drys could, however, try to achieve state-wide prohibition through the referendum. The Ohio Constitution permitted citizens to petition to have amendments placed on the ballot for decision directly by the voters. In campaigning for state-wide prohibition through the referendum, League leaders knew they could count on only about 400,000 voters (of a total well over 1,000,000) to support prohibition. Nevertheless, the League leaders believed they had little choice but to push referendum campaigns if they were going to achieve state-wide prohibition in Ohio. Although the brewers and their wet allies could outspend the drys, the drys hoped to make up the deficit through the righteousness of their cause and the resulting reform zeal. After about 1910 public opinion across the nation seemed to be turning in favor of prohibition. The League believed that conducting referendum campaigns in Ohio would educate the public futher to the virtues of prohibition.

The League engineered referendums in 1915 and 1917, which it lost. The League was finally victorious in 1918, narrowly winning a state-wide victory. In 1917 and 1918, James A. White, the Superintendent of the Ohio Anti-Saloon League, organized an “Ohio Dry Federation” to mobilize all of the state’s temperance and prohibition groups, including the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. In 1917 the Federation budgeted $450,000 for the campaign, and in 1918, $500,000, enormous sums for the day. The advertisements that you will see were part of that expenditure.

The broadsides we are providing were for publication in the state’s newspapers. Many of them contain patriotic references to the mobilization for the First World War. Although nationally political sentiment had clearly developed in support of a prohibition amendment to the federal constitution before the United States declared war in 1917, the Ohio Dry Federation propagandists were looking for every advantage to win over a majority of the state’s voters.


The original “Internet Documentaries” were first created in the mid 1990s by Professor Austin Kerr who understood the educational usefulness of the Internet early on. The collection grew to some 17 documentaries, many of them produced by Professor Kerr himself, and included the content of this popular Temperance & Prohibition web site. In 2006, the other documentaries were redesigned and moved to their current home on Ohio State’s eHistory site. Included are the following:

This site was originally created by Austin Kerr in 1996 and continues to be enhanced by the Department of History.

Credits page for the Ohio Dry Campaign Documentary (which shares most of the same sources)

See also: Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985) by K. Austin Kerr

Professor Kerr also worked with some of the same material used here.

Originally published by The Ohio State University via Open Access.



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