National Prohibition and Repeal in Tennessee

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Temperance movements have a long history in Tennessee and by 1907 the sale of alcohol was prohibited throughout most of the state. Ten years later state-wide prohibition occurred when it became illegal for anyone to possess any alcoholic beverage.

The popularity of National Prohibition in Tennessee reflected the fact that most residents expected it to lead to improved health, less violence, greater safety, increased public morality and a better environment for young people. The General Assembly voted almost unanimously for it.

Apparently, many people in the state were not willing to relinquish their freedom to drink alcoholic beverages and terrain made the state an ideal location for the production of moonshine.

With easy, untaxed money to be made, police and sheriffs were routinely bribed. Politicians were also widely on the take. The revelations of such corruption lowered respect for the law, which was widely violated.

The rampant graft and corruption caused by Prohibition created a deep lack of respect for law. It became fashionable to flaunt the law, especially among young people, and many people became alarmed at the decline in public morality.

Prohibition also led to the 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 alcohol while they could.

Bootleg alcohol was carelessly made and often contained creosote, lead toxins and embalming fluid. Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness and even death. This led some drinkers in the state to switch to hair tonic, mouthwash and illegal drugs.

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

As widespread crime and other problems caused by Prohibition mushroomed, more and more residents decided that the presumed cure was much worse than the disease and called for Repeal.

Although Prohibition was overturned in 1933, temperance sentiment still endures. For example, Tennessee remains one of a minority of states that still prohibit the Sunday sale of whiskey, tequila and other distilled spirits. This is despite the fact that Sunday has become the second busiest shopping day of the week.

 

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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