Colorodoans Repealed National Prohibition after First Supporting It

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

The temperance movement has a long history in Colorado, which had established statewide prohibition in 1916, four years before National Prohibition went into effect.

Prohibition reflected a belief that outlawing alcohol would lead to lower crime, better health, higher morality and a better environment for young people. But the temperance movement also had a dark, if not sinister, side.

Prohibitionists often associated alcohol with anyone who looked, spoke, or acted "foreign." Their fear of foreigners and "foreign ways" led many not only to vote for both statewide prohibition and then National Prohibition, but to join the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in record numbers because it opposed foreign immigration and also staunchly defended prohibition -- sometimes by illegal intimidation and force.

Many residents viewed Prohibition as an unwarranted infringement of what they considered their personal right to enjoy a drink. It quickly became obvious that plenty of illegal producers and sellers were happy to satisfy the demand. The hastily produced beverages often contained toxic lead compounds from careless methods along with creosote and embalming fluid. Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness or even death.

In order to operate, moonshiners and bootleggers typically had to bribe law enforcement officials. To them it was just a cost of business, but to the public it was a serious decline in morality. It lowered respect for both Prohibition and law in general and it became fashionable for the first time in history for women to drink.

Not all law enforcement officers were on the take but many were known for their use of violence. For example, a 20-year-old Colorodian was beaten to death by a Prohibition officer in a dispute over a bottle of wine.

Prohibition also promoted the undesirable pattern of drinking less often but very heavily. People didn't go to a speakeasy to savor a drink but to guzzle alcohol while they had the chance.

Soon, a large majority of Colorodoans came to believe that Prohibition made criminals of ordinary citizens, threatened health, lowered morality, endangered young people. So voters suspended the state's prohibition laws. Then, by a vote of two-to-one, they ratified the 21st Amendment to repeal National Prohibition.

But vestiges of temperance have long remained. Only recently did the state the state abolish the old Blue law prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday, the second busiest shopping day of the week. Many other Prohibitio-era laws continue to burden consumers.

 

Additional Reading:

  • Asbury, Herbert. The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition.
    New York: Greenwood Press, 1968 (Originally published 1950).
  • Behr, Edward. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. NY:
    Arcade, 1996.
  • Cashman, Sean D. Prohibition: The Lie of the Land. New York:Free Press, 1981.
  • Clark, N. H. Deliver Us From Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition. New York: Norton, 1976.
  • Furnas, J. C. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. New York: G. P.
    Pumam's Sons, 1965.
  • Kerr, K. Austin. Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League. New haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.
  • Kobler, John. Ardent spirits: the rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P.
    Putnam's Sons, 1973.
  • Krout, John A. The Origins of Prohibition. New York: Knopf, 1925.
  • Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
  • Odegard, Peter H. Pressure Politics: The Story of the Anti-Saloon League.
    NY: Columbia University Press, 1928.
  • Rose, Kenneth D. American Women and the repeal of Prohibition. NY: New York University Press, 1996.
  • Sinclair, Andrew. Prohibition: The Era of Excess. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co., 1962.
  • Willebrandt, Mabel Walker. The Inside of Prohibition. Indianapolis, IN:
    Bobbs-Merrill, 1929.

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