Kentucky: Prohibition, Moonshine, Bootlegging and Repeal

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Kentucky had been among the first three of the 46 states to ratify the 18th Amendment establishing Prohibition. The temperance movement had long been strong in the state and residents expected that the prohibition against alcohol would lead to improved health, lower crime, decreased violence, improved morality and a better environment for young people.

Prohibition failed to deliver its promised benefits. Apparently, many people in Kentucky weren't going to let their freedom to drink be denied.

Terrain and rurality combined to make the state an ideal location for the production of moonshine. With easy, untaxed money to be made, police and sheriffs were routinely bribed.

The revelations of such corruption lowered respect for the law, which was widely violated. The decline in public morality caused by Prohibition created a deep lack of respect for law. It became fashionable to flaunt Prohibition, especially among young people.

Prohibition also led to the undesirable pattern of infrequent but very heavy drinking. People didn't go to a speakeasy to have a leisurely drink with a meal, but to guzzle the alcohol while they could.

Bootleg alcohol was carelessly made and often contained creosote, lead toxins and even embalming fluid. Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness and death. This led some drinkers in the state to switch to hair tonic, sterno or "liquid heat," drugs and other dangerous substances that they would have been unlikely to consume in the absence of Prohibition.

Prohibition also denied the state tax revenues from alcohol at the very time it was causing increases in crime and violence, heavy court workloads, and over-crowded jails.

As widespread crime and other problems caused by Prohibition became increasingly obvious, more and more residents decided that the alleged cure was much worse than the disease.

Over 80 percent of Kentucky voters called for Repeal and the end of National Prohibition.

 

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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