The Five Causes of Prohibition

From Delancey Place:

In today’s excerpt – after World War I, a national prohibition against alcoholic beverages was enacted in both the United States and Canada. This prohibition, however, led to a dramatic increase in alcohol consumption and the rise of large-scale criminal organizations to support it. Why was it that prohibition was enacted?:

“How [Prohibition] came about can be boiled down to about five causes:

1) The First World War.
2) The new authority of women.
3) A half-century of campaigning by church leaders, politicians, evangelists and women’s groups.
4) The existing moral climate of the time.
5) Rural paranoia about urban intrusion.

“Most blame the First World War, which had a tremendous influence upon the eventual passage of legislation that took away a person’s freedom to drink. During the war, both the U.S. and Canada, as already stated, enacted laws that set the groundwork for full bans on liquor and beer. It was believed that money should be diverted from liquor to ‘war fitness.’ … The moral climate in the U.S. brought on by the war permitted the easy passage of the Volstead Act (Prohibition). …

“Another wartime condition that aided Prohibitionists in both the U.S. and Canada was the new authority of women. Before and during the war, women found voice in numbers. They banded together in [temperance] groups. Women had also acquired far more responsibility during this time, as they were forced to fend for themselves during the war, to find work and feed their families while their husbands were fighting in the trenches overseas. … More importantly, during this period women won the right to vote in elections.

“The half-century of campaigning by groups like the Anti-Saloon League (U.S.) contributed perhaps more than any other factor in generating support for Prohibition. By the early 1900s in the U.S., the great temperance leaders ordered their forces to use any means necessary to shut down the saloons – even hatchets if necessary. The Bible and hatchet-carrying Carry Nation and her male counterpart, the iron-fisted Dr. Howard Russell, were the most popular of the U.S. temperance leaders. …

“This Prohibitionary craze may seem unfathomable out of context but, on closer examination, the period up until 1920 was dominated by prohibitions – on clothing, behavior and even food. In Ontario, especially, the straight-laced Protestant ethic dictated an exclusive code of conduct. It was strictly forbidden in 1919, for example, to purchase a cigar, an ice cream cone, a newspaper or anything vaguely frivolous on a Sunday. And playing sports of any kind was absolutely banned on the Lord’s Day. In Michigan, as an extreme example, it was considered a crime for women to wear high-heeled shoes. In such a world a ban on intoxicating beverages did not seem so out of place.

“In addition to all of these factors, the farmer was regarded as the silent partner of the Prohibition movement. The Prohibitionists relied upon the farmer to cast his ballot against the evils of drunkenness and sloth, which he viewed from the safety of his front veranda in he remote and serene countryside as something distinctly urban. The Farmer’s Sun told farmers what they already knew – that their rural sanctuary could only be ensured if they voted to bring cities and towns under the umbrella of Prohibition.”

Marty Gervais, The Rumrunners, Biblioasis, Copyright 1980, 2009 by Marty Gervais, pp. 14-18.

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Published in: on February 9, 2010 at 11:56 am  Comments (4)  
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German Beer and Prohibition

Selected from: Delancey Place

In today’s enjoy excerpt – at the founding of our country, Americans drank more alcohol than at any time before or since, five gallons of pure alcohol per person per year as opposed to two gallons today. Currently, America is a nation of relatively moderate drinkers, ranking around 20th among the world’s countries. Along the way, American anti-German hysteria during World War I helped usher in thirteen years of Prohibition:

“American prohibitionists believed the demon rum and its church, the saloon, were the world’s prime sources of evil. ‘When the saloon goes,’ said Ernest Cherrington, a leader of the Anti-Saloon League, ‘the devil will be ready to quit.’ The American temperance movement is as old as America itself, but it became a political force in the mid-1800s, fueled in part by a bias against immigrants, including Irish and Italian Catholics, who were stereotyped as shiftless alcoholics. After the Civil War, it spawned two powerful groups – the Prohibition Party and [hatching-toting Carry Nation’s] Women’s Christian Temperance Union, whose slogan was ‘For God, Home and Native Land.’

“But is wasn’t the antics of Carry Nation that won the fight for prohibition, it was the political savvy of the Anti-Saloon League. … Founded in 1895, the league pioneered many of the techniques now used by modern advocacy groups. Working through local churches – generally rural Methodist or Baptist churches – it raised money, endorsed candidates and successfully lobbied for laws banning liquor in many towns and counties. In 1905 the league demonstrated its growing power by defeating Ohio Governor Myron Herrick, who had thwarted the league’s legislative agenda–an upset that terrified wet politicians.

“In 1913 the league kicked off its drive for a constitutional amendment prohibiting liquor with a march on Washington and a massive letter-writing campaign that flooded Congress with mail. The amendment failed in 1914, but gained strength during World War I, when the league exploited America’s anti-German hysteria by deliberately associating beer with German-American brewers. ‘Kaiserism abroad and booze at home must go,’ declared the league’s general counsel and wily Washington lobbyist, Wayne Wheeler.

“It worked. Congress passed the amendment in 1918. … When the new law went into effect on January 17, 1920, evangelist Billy Sunday held a funeral for John Barleycorn in Norfolk, Va. ‘The slums will soon be a memory,’ he predicted. ‘We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. … Hell will be forever for rent.’

“Alas, it didn’t work out that way. Prohibitions not only failed to eradicate slums and prisons, it even failed to curtail drinking, a pastime that now took on the allure of a forbidden thrill. … In 1935, two years after Prohibition’s repeal, two middle-class alcoholics, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, founded an organization – Alcoholics Anonymous – that proved far more effective than Prohibition in combating drunkenness.”

Peter Carlson, “Uneasy About Alcohol,” American History, December 2008, p. 37.


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Published in: on October 8, 2009 at 1:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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