National Prohibition and Repeal in Alabama

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Alabama was an unusually strong supporter of National Prohibition when it was established in 1920. Residents generally believed that the Noble Experiment would improve health, increase safety, reduce violence, raise public morality and create a better environment for young people.

However, it quickly became apparent that Prohibition was not having the desired outcomes. In the first year of the new law, Alabama became the leading state in the country in the number of illegal moonshine stills found.

Moonshine was typically made quickly and often contained creosote, lead toxins and even embalming fluid. Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness and painful death.

Moonshiners and bootleggers found it necessary to payoff police, sheriffs and prohibition enforcement agents as a cost of doing business.

The widespread corruption of officials created disrespect for law in general and for Prohibition in particular. If bribes didn't work or became too expensive, violence was sometimes used. A plot to "exterminate" all prohibition enforcement officers operating in the northern part of the state was discovered after the death of one officer and the wounding of two others.

Prohibition also promoted the pattern of infrequent but heavy or abusive drinking. People didn't go to a speakeasy to savor a drink with dinner but to guzzle alcohol while they could.

In addition, Prohibition deprived the state needed revenue at same time it was causing increased expenses for law enforcement, courts, jails and other burdens that had to be met my taxpayers.

Residents saw that the presumed cure was much worse that the disease and they called for an end to the failed policy. And they did so by a resounding vote of nearly 60% in favor of Repeal.

Nevertheless much temperance sentiment remains many decades after Repeal. For example, many counties still prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages, although research demonstrates that alcohol-related traffic fatalities are higher in dry counties.

Anti-alcohol attitudes are also reflected in high taxes on alcohol and restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday, the second busiest shopping day of the week.

Perhaps in the 21st century residents will finally finish the job of Repeal and end all vestiges of that 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, 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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