Alcohol Prohibition and Repeal: North Carolina's Experience

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

North Carolina became the first state in the south to enact state-wide prohibition of alcoholic beverages. It was also the first state in the union to enact state prohibition by a direct vote of the electorate, which it did so with a resounding vote of 62% in favor.

Thus, North Carolina established prohibition years before it became a national law in 1920. Clearly, the vast majority of North Carolinians wanted prohibition and they wanted it to work.

Unfortunately, neither state-wide nor National Prohibition reduced the production of moonshine. After the former was established, speakeasies or blind tigers sprang up over the state "like mushrooms after rain" and a reported $15,000,000 worth of alcoholic beverages came into the state from nearby Richmond alone each year.

Years after National Prohibition went into effect, the director of prohibition enforcement for the eastern counties of the state asserted that "we have more illicit distilleries than any other State in the Union; and the number is increasing."

Prohibition not only failed to reduce crime, but created it. It not only failed to reduce moonshine, but increased it. It not only failed to increase public morality, but reduced it.

Although he was a Chicago native, newspaper columnist Franklin P. Adams expressed tar heel sentiments when he wrote:

"Prohibition is an awful flop.
We like it.
It can't stop what it's meant to stop.
We like it.
It's left a trail of graft and slime,
It don't prohibit worth a dime,
It's filled our land with vice and crime.
Nevertheless, we're for it."

Indeed, when states were empowered to create constitutional conventions to consider ratifying Repeal, North Carolinians voted against calling such a convention by a landslide vote of 293,484 to 120,190. Nationally, the popular vote on Repeal was in the opposite direction -- 70% in favor to 30% opposed. North Carolina never ratified Repeal.

After Repeal in 1933, ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control Board) stores were proposed by former prohibitionist legislator John Sprunt Hill and enabling legislation was later passed. In North Carolina, distilled spirits beverages can only be sold by ABC Stores. Even now, some counties don't have such a store although Repeal occurred three-quarters of a century ago.

North Carolina still operates under the strong influence of prohibition-era beliefs and attitudes. Its numerous dry counties, its Blue laws restricting the Sunday sales of alcohol (the second busiest shopping day of the week), and its tolerance for artificially high alcohol prices reflect that temperance orientation.

 

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, Norman H. The Dry Years: Prohibition & Social Change in Washington. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1965.
  • 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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