Maryland a Leader in Repealing National Prohibition

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Maryland holds a unique place in the story of National Prohibition. Although it earlier ratified the 18th Amendment to establish that experiment in social engineering, Marylanders generally opposed the law and over 80% would later vote for Repeal.

The state, especially Baltimore, was home to large numbers of residents whose cultures and traditions included drinking as a cherished component. They resented the anti-foreign thrust of the temperance movement, which had become part of a cultural war against them. Residents also strongly opposed the usurpation of what they saw as their own state's Constitutional right to pass and enforce its own laws regarding alcoholic beverages and they resisted federal intervention.

Under National Prohibition, both the federal government and the states shared responsibility for enforcing alcohol laws. Maryland was the only state in the union that refused to pass a law to enforce the unpopular law. The governor throughout the entire period of Prohibition (1920 through 1933) opposed it.
Although Prohibition enjoyed greater support elsewhere, it proved to be a failure throughout the country. Its proponents argued that it would reduce drinking problems, decrease crime, improve mental health, stimulate the economy and reduce taxes.

However, Prohibition failed miserably. As the nationally-famous Baltimore journalist, H. L. Mencken, observed: "There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished."

But Prohibition caused other problems. Illegal alcohol was quickly made and sometimes contained lead toxins from careless production as well as creosote and even embalming fluid. Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness or death.

Prohibition also changed drinking patterns for the worse. People tended to drink less frequently but heavily. For example, they didn't go to a speakeasy to savor a drink over a meal but to guzzle alcohol quickly while they could. Widespread corruption led to a disrespect for the law and it became common for women, for the first time in history, to rebel by drinking.

As time passed, people around the country came to agree with the early belief of most Marylanders that Prohibition was a bad idea.

 

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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