Prohibition and Repeal in New Hampshire

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Temperance movements have long been influential in New Hampshire. Although it was later reversed, the state had established state-wide prohibition years before the Civil War. After the war, U.S. Congressman Henry Blair of New Hampshire introduced a prohibition amendment to the Constitution, the first time such an amendment had ever been introduced. As a senator, he again introduced another prohibition resolution in 1885 that also failed.

Early in the twentieth century, New Hampshire passed a local option law that permitted individual localities to decide for themselves whether or not to impose prohibition and many did.

When Congress gave states the option of ratifying the Eighteenth Amendment to establish National Prohibition, New Hampshire eagerly did so. State residents strongly supported National Prohibition and expected it to improve health and safety, reduce crime, improve the economy, and raise public morality. They were to be disappointed.

Legitimate tax-paying producers and retailers of alcoholic beverages were forced out of business overnight. To fill unmet consumer demand, illegal bootlegging and speakeasies quickly sprang up. With them came organized crime and violence. They also brought corruption as law enforcers and elected officials were bought off with bribes and payoffs.

Public morality declined and respect for law and societal institutions plummeted. Breaking the law, even flaunting it, became fashionable, especially among young people.

Tax revenues from alcohol ended but law enforcement expenditures rose. Courts and jails were over-crowded as formerly legal activities became crimes.

Another consequence of Prohibition was that illegally-produced alcohol was sometimes tainted with toxins from lead, creosote and even embalming fluid. Some consumers suffered paralysis, blindness and painful death. This led many drinkers in the state to switch to opium, cocaine, hair tonic, sterno or "liquid heat," and other dangerous substances that they would have been unlikely to consume in the absence of Prohibition.

The overwhelming serious problems caused by Prohibition led residents to call for its repeal. However, many decades later there is still Prohibition-era sentiment in the state.

Recently, when he was asked by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee if he would be in favor of reinstating alcohol prohibition, the President of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police testified "I certainly would consider it."

It's easy to forget that Prohibition didn't improve health but threatened it, didn't reduce crime but increased it, and didn't raise public morality but corrupted it.

 

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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