Oregons Experience with National Prohibition and Repeal

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Oregon had eagerly ratified the 18th Amendment to create National Prohibition in 1920. Temperance beliefs were strongly held in Oregon and voters had approved state-wide prohibition five years before Congress ratified the 18th Amendment.

Prohibition advocates believed that outlawing alcohol would improve health, increase safety, reduce crime, lower violence, improve public morality and protect young people.

Although alcoholic beverages were outlawed, the demand for them wasn't. Therefore, moonshining and bootlegging became highly profitable. Cities along the Pacific coast tended to become bootlegging centers in the state.

To operate, alcohol producers, transporters and sellers paid bribes to law enforcement officials and various public officials.

Knowledge of this fact reduced respect for law in general and for Prohibition in particular. Alcohol had also become the highly-desired "forbidden fruit." For the first time, drinking became popular among women and young people.

Prohibition also promoted the undesirable new drinking pattern of consuming less frequently but very heavily when doing so. People didn't go to a speakeasy to leisurely sip their drink but to guzzle alcohol quicklywhile it was available.

And the beverages that were consumed could be dangerous to life and health. Moonshine was made quickly and often contained lead toxins, creosote and even embalming fluid. Those who consumed it sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness or death.

That wasn't the only danger. Violence between competing gangsters sometimes led to the injury or death of innocent bystanders or others.

It became increasingly clear to residents of the state that Prohibition wasn't improving health but threatening it, wasn't increasing safety but reducing it, wasn't lowering violence but increasing it, wasn't improving public morality but destroying it, and wasn't protecting young people but endangering them.

Prohibition clearly proved to be counter-productive and Oregonians called for its end. How wise they were. The overall crime rate in the state declined dramatically after Repeal and the murder rate declined for 10 consecutive years.

 

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. Pumams 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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