Vermonters Supported National Prohibition, then Repeal

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Most Vermonters had hoped that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, improve health, raise morality and protect young people. Instead, Prohibition (1920-1933) turned many Vermonters into criminals because they refused to relinquish their ability to enjoy a drink.

The city of Quebec was only 40 miles north and just over the Canadian border were Abercorn and Highwater, two towns that welcomed thirsty Americans with open arms. And, of course, many brought back contraband alcohol.

Those who didn't want to travel could easily buy moonshine locally. However, illegal producers hastily made their product, which could contain toxic lead residues, creosote or even embalming fluid. Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness or even death.

Illegal producers and retailers typically had to bribe law enforcement officials. Some police in Vermont actually produced or sold alcohol on the side themselves. Public knowledge of widespread corruption led to disrespect for the law. Indeed, for the first time in history, women began going out to drink and the "forbidden" fruit attracted more young drinkers than ever before.

Prohibition also led to the undesirable practice of consuming less frequently but more heavily. People didn't go to a speakeasy to savor a drink to guzzle alcohol while they could.

The problems caused by Prohibition went from bad to worse. For example, a 19-year-old man from an "excellent family" in North Troy was killed near Jay while being chased on suspicion of rum running. Officers reported that he was killed when his car hit a tree. However, an autopsy revealed that he had been shot in the back of his head and in his shoulder blade.

Unfortunately, careless or reckless law enforcement actions were all too common. Sen. Frank Greene was wounded by a stray shot in a shoot-out between police and bootleggers. The police rather than the bootleggers turned out to have fired the stray bullet that paralyzed the senator. Although some Prohibitionists supported the actions of the police in such situations, there was a growing sentiment against them.

With the passage of time more and more Vermonters came to the conclusion that Prohibition was a failure. Not only did it fail to prevent alcohol consumption, but it increased crime, threatened both health and safety, reduced morality and harmed young people.

Over two-thirds of voters in the state had seen enough and called for an end to the failed experiment in social engineering known as 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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