William H. Anderson

William Hamilton Anderson was one of the most successful lobbyists of the Anti-Saloon League. Historian Michael Lerner argues that Anderson was extraordinary successful in advancing the dry cause in Maryland. In seven years, he and the Anti-Saloon League closed over one thousand saloons in Baltimore, nearly half the total. He was feared by adversaries and admired by supporters as "the most skillful politician in the state."

The Anti-Saloon League selected Anderson to direct its efforts to bring prohibition to both New York city and New York state and, thereby, to advance the cause of National Prohibition. New York city was then the largest city in the U.S. and its financial, communication, and cultural capitol with enormous power to influence the rest of the nation. The Anti-Saloon League's Bishop James Cannon, Jr. called the city "Satan's Seat" and proponents of prohibition ("drys") saw winning that city as important symbolically.

When Anderson arrived in New York city on the first of January, 1914, he declared that "From now on, the attention of the National Anti-Saloon League will be directed toward New York as the liquor center of America." and he pledged to punish anyone who stood in the way of its prohibition agenda.

The "dry warrior" used such tactics as false rumors, forged documents, character attacks, and intimidation. The combative political operative's tactics were enough to "make your blood run cold and your hair stand up" reported one victim of Anderson's machinations, Thaddeus Sweet, Speaker of the New York State Assembly. Quickly, few politicians dared to oppose Anderson and the Anti-Saloon League.

Anderson's aggressive methods of personal abuse and scorn toward legislators and clergy who did not cooperate with him alienated many people. He was accused of using the Anti-Saloon League for personal advancement and was called "enemy to the public good," "political blackhand," and "camerlingo of the Anti-Saloon League."

A rare setback for Anderson occurred after he falsely reported to 300 newspapers across the state that a secret "slush fund" has been established by "liquor interests" to bribe New York legislators to vote against legislation sponsored by the Anti-Saloon League. When he appeared in Albany for a hearing on pending alcohol legislation promoted by the League, the chairman of the committee barred Anderson from testifying unless he submitted proof in support of his allegations of corruption. Unable to do so, he was forced to become simply another observer of the hearings as onlooking wets cheered.

One of Anderson's strategies was to push for "local option" laws that permitted the towns and cities of the state to prohibit alcohol beverages locally. Beginning with the smaller towns and rural areas, his plan was to bring the prohibition crusade ever closer to the city of New York. The measure became law and, promoting gerrymandering, Anderson dramatically increased its effectiveness.

Anderson also couched the prohibition agenda in Progressive terminology in order to appeal to the popular Progressive movement and sentiment in the city, in particular. He described local option as "distinctly progressive" and promised that the Anti-Saloon League would have a "campaign of education" and address "questions of health and industrial efficiency."

When the U.S. entered World War I in April of 1917, Anderson equated the dry crusade as synonymous with patriotism. Under his direction, the Anti-Saloon League insisted that "The challenge to loyal patriots of America today is to demand the absolute prohibition of the liquor traffic."

The New York Times expressed concern over Anderson's unwavering dogmatism and bigotry. One pamphlet attacked "the un-American, pro-German, crime-producing, food-wasting, youth-corrupting, home-wrecking , treasonable liquor traffic" and asked "How can any loyal citizen, be he wet or dry, help or vote for a trade that is aiding a pro-German Alliance?" Another insisted that "Everything in this country that is pro-German is anti-American. Everything that is pro-German must go."

Anderson attributed resistance to Prohibition in the city to "unwashed and wild-eyed foreigners who have no comprehension of the spirit of America." He attacked Jews, Irish, Italians and others whose cultures generally included the consumption of alcohol.

However, Catholics became a special target of Anderson's bigotry. He accused the Catholic Church of mounting an "assault on law and order" and said Catholic leaders were "indignant over what they consider a Protestant victory." Therefore, Anderson said, the Church was engaged in "efforts to destroy [the Prohibition] victory and bring back the saloons." A Catholic newspaper argued that the New York Anti-Saloon League, under Anderson, had supplanted the Ku Klux Klan as the leading anti-Catholic organization in the state. For his part, Anderson said that the resurgence of the KKK was a natural and welcome response to Catholic opposition to Prohibition and "the aggression of these wet anti-Protestant forces."

Did you know?

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was a major supporter of Prohibition.

In 1924, Anderson was charged and convicted of forgery involving the financial records of the Anti-Saloon League, for which he was sentenced to two years imprisonment in the maximum security penitintary at Sing Sing.

William Anderson attacked his opponents, silenced critics of Prohibition, and built alliances of opportunity that helped the Anti-Saloon League and other drys to change the United States Constitution.

Although Prohibition was a dismal failure that created serious problems, many people and organizations today support neo-prohibition ideas and strongly defend the many vestiges of Prohibition that continue to exist.

 

References:

  • Anderson, C.H.C. Martyred for Prohibition: Some Truths about Wm. H. Anderson (now in Sing Sing), Dauntless Prohibition Leader for 24 Years. Dallas, TX: C.H.C. Anderson, 1924.
  • Anderson, William H. Reminiscences of William Hamilton Anderson. New York Times Oral History Project. Columbia University Oral HistoryCollegction, pt. 4, no.5.
  • William H. Anderson repeats his claim that the Anti-Saloon League of New York owes him a large sum of money and "Appeals for justice" to the dry Protestant churches --. Hagley Museum and Library. Wilmington, DE
  • Kerr, K. Austin. Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.
  • Lerner, Michael A. Dry Martini: Prohibition in New York City. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Pres, 2007.
  • Odegard, Peter H. Pressure Politics: The Story of the Anti-Saloon League. NY: Columbia University Press, 1928
  • Ossian, Lisa. Anderson, William Hamilton. In: Blocker, Jack S., et al. (eds.). Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: an International encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2003, pp. 41-42.

Publications about William H. Anderson:

  • Anderson, C.H.C. Martyred for Prohibition: Some Truths about Wm. H. Anderson (now in Sing Sing), Dauntless Prohibition Leader for 24 Years. Dallas, TX: C.H.C. Anderson, 1924.
  • Anti-Saloon League repudiates Bryan. New York Times, April 4,1918. (William H. Anderson urged repudiation of William Jennings Bryan as "leader" of the prohibition movement.)
  • Anti-Saloon League inquiry called for. New York Times, March 4, 1919. (Resolution introduced in NY State legislature to investigate activities of William H. Anderson.)
  • Calls service men "tools of brewers;" William H. Anderson assails veterans in legislature who favor mild beer bill. New York Times, March 15, 1920.
  • Death threat letter sent to Anderson; Anti-Saloon League head blames certain newspapers for inciting selfstyled (sic) ex-service men. New York Times, March 29, 1922. (William H. Anderson reported receiving letter threatening to kill him if he doesn't stop fighting the bootleg traffic.)
  • Declares church folk ignored in dry poll; William H. Anderson says few members received Literary Digest Ballots. New York Times, September 27, 1922.
  • Ossian, Lisa. Anderson, William Hamilton. In: Blocker, Jack S., et al. (eds.). Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: an International encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2003, pp. 41-42.
  • Plan fight for local option; Anti-Saloon League will push bills at this session of the legislature. New York Times, January 12, 1914. (William H. Anderson, new state superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League outlined the League's legislative plans.)
  • Plan new fight for local option; Anti-Saloon League official outlines legislative crusade to be waged here. New York Times, January 2, 1914. (William H. Anderson reported that he and the League would press for a state-wide option law.)
  • William H. Anderson repeats his claim that the Anti-Saloon League of New York owes him a large sum of money and "Appeals for justice" to the dry Protestant churches --. Hagley Museum and Library. Wilmington, DE.

Selected Publications by William H. Anderson:

  • William H. Anderson. Will demon rum stay dead? The Independent, January 8, 1921, p. 40.
  • William H. Anderson. Anti-Saloon League papers, 1903-1928. Library, University of Chicago.
  • William H. Anderson. The "Yonkers" Plan for Prohibition Enforcement. Westerville, OH: American Issue, 1921.
  • William H. Anderson. The Church in Action: Being an Authoritative Statement of the Movement Known as the Anti-Saloon League. Westerville, OH: American Issue, 1910.
  • William H. Anderson. The New State-Wide Local Option Bill. Baltimore, MD: Anti-Saloon League of Maryland, 1908.
  • William H. Anderson. The New Tully-Wainwright Residence District Local Option Bill. NY, NY: New York Anti-Saloon League, 1906.
  • William H. Anderson. The Struggle for Local Option in Illinois. Springfield, IL: Illinois Anti-Saloon League, 1903.
  • William H. Anderson. Statement of Mr. William H. Anderson, of Baltimore, MD. Committee of the Judiciary, U.S. Senate. Amendment to the Constitution Prohibition Intoxicating Liquors. Hearings. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1914. Pp. 132-133.
  • William H. Anderson. Statement of Mr. William H. Anderson, Superintendent of the New York Anti-Saloon League. Committee of the Judiciary, U.S. Senate. Amendment to the Constitution Prohibition Intoxicating Liquors. Hearings. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1914. Pp. 39-40.
  • William H. Anderson. Statement of Mr. William H. Anderson. Committee of the Judiciary, U.S. Interstate Traffic in Intoxicating Liquors. Hearings. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1912.
  • William H. Anderson. Anti-Saloon League Papers, 1903-1928 (inclusive). (Contains correspondence, press releases, speeches, and reports documenting William H. Anderson's work with the Anti-Saloon League and the League's relations with John D. Rockefeller and others. University of Chicago library.)
  • William H. Anderson. Reminiscences of William Hamilton Anderson. New York Times Oral History Project. Columbia University Oral History Collection, pt. 4, no. 5.

filed under: Biography

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