Indiana Still Suffers Vestiges of Prohibition in Spite of Repeal

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

When national Prohibition was first imposed in 1920, many Hoosiers expected that it would lower crime, improve health, decrease accidents, lead to prosperity, protect young people, and raise public morals. Celebrations were held across the state and famous evangelist Billy Sunday visited, preaching that Prohibition would save many people from Hell.

One of the strongest supporters of Prohibition was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The Klan insisted that those who opposed it were un-American and often took enforcement into its own violent hands. The KKK was large and very powerful, with 165,746 dues-paying members in chapters or "klaverns" in 90 of the state's 92 counties. The Klan was especially harsh with bootleggers, who continued to flourish.

Frustration with the continuing bootlegging and the widespread consumption of bootleg alcohol led the legislature to pass the Wright Bone Dry Bill in 1925, which dramatically increased the penalties for those found with illegal alcohol. It's been described as "one of the most repressive" laws ever passed in the state. However, enforcing the controversial law remained quite difficult.

But Prohibition also caused other problems. Instead of reducing crime, it made criminals of ordinary citizens as well as promoting the growth of sometimes violent organized crime. Instead of increasing health and safety, it led to the widespread consumption of often toxic moonshine that sometimes caused paralysis, blindness and even death.

Prohibition led to speakeasies and their operation required that law enforcement officials, and sometimes entire law departments, be bribed. Payoffs were simply a cost of doing illegal business.

With the decline in public morality, respect for the law in general decreased. In 1928 the Indiana Bureau of Statistics reported that the murder rate had gone up in the state and it expressed concern over problems caused by Prohibition including "fast living by young people."

Although crime was putting an additional burden on Indiana taxpayers, Prohibition deprived the state of the taxes that would have been paid had legal producers and retailers of alcohol beverages not been replaced by illegal ones.

Because of the obvious failure of Prohibition, the state legislature voted early in 1933 to repeal Wright Bone Dry by large majorities in both the House and Senate. A few months later, Indiana ratified the 21st Amendment to repeal National Prohibition.

The Prohibition Party chose to hunker down in Indiana and located its national headquarters in Winona Lake for four decades after Repeal. It also held its national convention in the state for many years.

Though the Prohibition Party is no longer a political force in the state, Indiana residents continue to suffer from the legacy of Prohibition-era thinking. Indiana remains one of only three states in the entire country that still has a Blue law prohibiting the Sunday sales of beer, wine and spirits. This is despite the fact that Sunday has become the second busiest shopping day of the week.

Indiana consumers still suffer from the vestiges of the failed experiment in social engineering that was 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, 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.

filed under: Prohibition

This site does not dispense medical, legal, or any other advice and none should be inferred.
For more fine print, read the disclaimer.