Continued: National Prohibition of Alcohol in the U.S.
ANOTHER TRY FOR PROHIBITION
While the president and most of the country recognized prohibition as a national disaster, clearly many temperance activists did not. Prohibition had been a major legacy of World War I (Rubin, 1979, p. 236, Clark, 1976, pp. 122-129; Timberlake, 1963, pp. 173-176) and, with war in Europe, temperance leaders again hoped to take advantage of the national emergency that would occur if the United States were drawn into that conflagration. One asserted that "the full force of dry pressure would once again be brought to bear on Congress" if we entered the war in order "to get as much prohibition as .. . possible" (Childs, 1947, p. 219). Stressing that World War I had been the impetus for prohibition, a protemperance journal predicted promising times ahead (Rubin, 1979, p. 237).
After the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941, temperance leaders tried to have all alcohol prohibited on all military bases. One dry leader said, "I would rather have a sober son in a concentration camp in Germany than in a service camp in America if that son should become the victim of the drink habit" (Rostow, 1942, pp. 230-231). However, the Secretary of War insisted that "temperance cannot be attained by prohibition," and supported the sale of beer and light wine on military bases. He believed that this policy had "caused a degree of temperance among Army personnel which is not approachable in civil communities now" by encouraging soldiers "to remain on the reservation (their home) and enjoy refreshment under conditions conducive of temperance" (Rubin, 1979, pp. 238-239). Similarly, Army Major Merrill Moore called for policies to encourage moderation among soldiers who chose to drink and asserted: "Not alcohol, but the intemperate use of alcohol, is the problem in the Army as well as in civilian life" (Moore, 1942, p. 249). The Office of War Information pointed out that bootleggers could not be regulated whereas legal dispensers could (Rubin, 1979, p. 253).
Furthermore, the availability of beverage alcohol was seen by military authorities as good for morale and the war effort. Brewers were required to allocate 15 percent of total annual production of beer for use by the armed forces; local draft boards were authorized to grant deferments to brewery works who were highly skilled and irreplaceable; the Teamsters were ordered to end a strike against Minneapolis breweries because beer manufacturing was considered an industry essential to the war effort; and near the end of the war, the army made plans to operate recaptured French breweries to ensure adequate supplies for the troops (Rubin, 1979, p. 240).
An editorial in the daily newspaper of the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe, The Stars and Stripes, expressed alarm at temperance activities back home in the United States. It observed that:
Taking advantage of wartime conditions and restrictions, the new prohibition group is working night and day for legislation which will give America prohibition in fact if not in name.... We can remember the days of prohibition, when moonshine whiskey made quick fortunes for bootleggers, crooked politicians and dishonest police officials. As a result we claim we know what we want in the way of liquor legislation and feel those at home should wait until we return before initiating further legislation on liquor control. (Childs, 1947, pp. 248-249)
Perhaps in the belief that the end justifies the means, temperance leaders frequently made clearly erroneous assertions. For example, a leading dry editor wrote that "The liquor interests use more than 1,250,000 tons of sugar every year, which is more than the one-half pound ration per week for every man, woman and child in the United States of America" (Childs, 1947, p. 224). Actually, no sugar is used in producing distilled spirits beverages. Similarly, the president of the WCTU wrote that "Total consumption of legal and illicit liquor in the fiscal year ended June 30, 1941, was approximately 2,017,835,015 gallons," (Childs, 1947, p. 225). That would have been over 15 gallons for every man, woman, and child in a country that contained a large proportion of abstainers!
Dry leaders insisted that Congress prohibit the production of alcohol beverages for at least the length of the war, arguing that intoxication caused the disaster at Pearl Harbor, wasted precious raw materials, reduced efficiency through excessive absenteeism, and would lead to loose lips among those with military secrets. But Congress would not be swayed this time (Rubin, 1979, pp. 245-246). 16
TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT BIDES ITS TIME
Writing shortly after World War II, Childs (1947, p. 229) observed that, according to national opinion surveys, "About one-third of the people of the United States favor national prohibition." He explained (p. 229) that:
The prohibition forces are well organized and adequately financed. They carry on persistent propaganda against the sale and use of alcoholic beverages. Their long-range plan is, first, to dry up local communities by local option elections; second, when feasible, to bring about state prohibition; and, third, in the future, to restore national prohibition.
National prohibition had been repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment which contains two short but important sentences:
Section 1: The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
Section 2: The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.
Section one made it again legal to import, produce, and sell beverage alcohol, while section two delegated to the States authority for regulating such beverages. The federal government did, however, retain the authority to tax alcohol and it soon asserted regulatory authority at the national level. The government first regulated alcohol largely through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms of the Department of the Treasury. The bureau's functions include issuing basic permits to importers, warehouses, manufacturers, and wholesalers to conduct business; interdiction of illicit alcohol; and regulation of labeling and advertising of alcohol beverages (Mendelson and Mello, 1985, pp. 93-94). That agency has now been replaced by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
Upon repeal of national prohibition, 18 states continued prohibition at the state level. The last state finally dropped it in 1966. Almost two-thirds of all states adopted some form of local option which enabled residents in political subdivisions to vote for or against local prohibition. Therefore, despite the repeal of prohibition at the national level, 38 percent of the nation's population lived in areas with state or local prohibition (Mendelson and Mello, 1985, p. 94).
Currently, about one-third of all states have adopted the control or state monopoly system, in which state government owns and operates all wholesale and retail alcohol beverage sales. The rest of the states use the license system, in which the state licenses and regulates all wholesalers and retailers.
It is obvious that:
The confusion and warped attitudes engendered by this long and bitter struggle [over prohibition] have not disappeared. National prohibition is dead, but the movement is still with us under different names. The fifty states have varied and even conflicting laws; for example, in one state food must be served in the same place as liquor, while in an adjoining state not one but two walls must separate food from liquor. A few counties in local-option states are legally dry. Attitudes toward law and authority still suffer as an aftermath. Drinking and drunkenness are still equated by some, with moralistic implications contrary to the concept of alcoholism as a disease. (Royce, 1981, p. 42)
During the Vietnam conflict, increased political pressure arose to lower the minimum drinking age. It was commonly argued that if soldiers were old enough to go to war and endanger their lives for their country, then they were old enough to purchase and consume an alcohol beverage. This, combined with the increasing political activism of young people, led to the lowering of the drinking age in many states (Lotterhos et al., 1988, p. 632).
With the passage of time, heightened concern was expressed over problems related to the misuse of alcohol. Increased auto accidents and fatalities among young drivers were attributed to the lower legal drinking ages. While these increases may have resulted from greater use of cars or other factors, they were popularly blamed on the lower drinking ages. Highly publicized fears about the possible negative impact of alcohol on the health and well-being of citizens often exaggerate justifiable concerns and ascribe blame to alcohol without considering other contributing factors (Mendelson and Mello, 1985, p. 98). In politics, it is the perception of reality (rather than reality) that drives legislative action (Hanson, 1990,p. 89).
Americans are becoming more health and safety conscious. A preliminary report suggesting the mere possibility that oat bran might be helpful in reducing heart disease can create a dramatic increase in consumer demand for food products containing that product. The suggestion that a chemical sprayed on apple trees might be associated with cancer in rats if it is consumed in massive quantities can cause widespread fear and a dramatic reduction in demand for that fruit. Headlines incorrectly linking alcohol with a health or social problem can have a profound affect on behavior, and even on public policy.
THE NEW TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT
The existence of the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA), the federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), and state alcohol abuse agencies has been beneficial in many ways. But it has also "engendered bureaucratic incentive for convincing the people and members of Congress (who appropriate funds) of the perils and dangers of contemporary alcohol problems" (Mendelson and Mello, 1985, pp. 98-99). The welfare and survival of the alcohol agencies depends largely on promoting the widespread belief that alcohol problems are enormous, are growing, and are a serious burden on the economy.
While such agencies typically state as fact that alcohol is responsible for about 40% of all traffic deaths in the United States, this statistic has no solid foundation. That figure typically includes all traffic fatalities that involve anyone who has consumed any alcohol or is believed to have consumed any alcohol. However, the proportion of all drivers involved in fatal accidents who are known to be intoxicated according is about 15%, based on actual traffic accident reports of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Similarly, estimates of the number of auto accidents that might involve alcohol in any way become transformed into statistics on the number of accidents that are actually caused by drunk drivers (Zylman, 1974, p. 64). This, in spite of estimates that "about one half of the fatal road accidents involving a drunk driver would have occurred even if all drivers had a zero blood alcohol level" (Room, 1985, p. 12).
In addition to exaggerating the extent of drinking problems, alcohol agencies distort the costs of alcohol abuse by basing estimates on questionable assumptions, by confusing correlation with causality, by looking only at costs while ignoring the economic benefits of alcohol and by not using sound accounting principles (Wiener, 1981, pp. 185-188; Ford, 1988, pp. 134-165). However, the agencies' seriously flawed and inflated estimates are routinely presented to the American public as factual knowledge (Hein and Pittman, 1989).
Estimates by independent researchers of the number of people who have experienced any drinking problems within the previous three years as well as those of the number likely ever to experience a problem in the future have been transformed into agency assertions of the actual number of problem drinkers (Mulford, 1982, pp. 453^54) in spite of protests by the researchers concerned with the distortions and misuse of their data (Cahalan, 1979). The motives of the alcohol agencies are clear. It would appear that one is an attempt to justify the existence of jobs while the other is to expand bureaucratic budgets and power.
In 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was formed and the next year Students Against Driving Drunk (SADD) was established. Shortly thereafter, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states raise the legal drinking age to 21 (Blocker, 1989, pp. 164-165).
During the 1980s, advocacy groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the National Coalition for the Prevention of Impaired Driving and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency pressed for legislation to limit and reduce the consumption of beverage alcohol (Engs, 1991, p. 156). By 1987, political pressure led to a federally mandated expansion (under threat of withholding highway funds) of alcohol prohibition in all states to all citizens under the age of 21. This was followed in 1991 by a federal tax increase on alcohol beverages, and state laws reducing the acceptable blood alcohol content for driving. Then later the federal government again forced all states to lower their maximum legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for driving to .08.
Anti-alcohol policies have led to a dramatic decrease in beer, wine, and spirits consumption since 1980 (Hanson, 1995b). But lower is never low enough. As a neo-dry critic wrote, "The slogan for the new temperance is, regarding alcohol, 'less is better'" (Beauchamp, 1987, p. 62). Not surprisingly, by the 1990s attitudes toward alcohol had become more intolerant than at any time since the early 1930s (Rorabaugh, 1991, p. 19). Anti-alcohol attitudes have become even stronger since that time.
It is clear that:
In contemporary America, both the tactics and the tone of temperance sentiment have changed appreciably from the 1800s. Inebriety, licentiousness, moral depravity and sin have all but vanished form the extant vocabulary. The new contender for the status of moral purity would seem to be health (although ill-health has not yet achieved equivalence with religious fundamentalists' conceptions of sin). Today, rallying cries once structured in terms of social order, home and basic decency are now framed in terms of health promotion and disease prevention. (Mendelson and Mello, 1985, p. 99)
The temperance movement never really died. It was relatively dormant for several decades after World War II, but has re-emerged with a new identity and modified ideology. It has been described as "neo-prohibition" (Pittman, 1980), "new temperance" (Beauchamp, 1987; Heath, 1989; Blocker, 1989, p. 158), "new Sobriety" (Page, 1991), "new Victorianism" (Heath, 1989), and "new paternalism" (Gusfield, 1985, p. 76). The renewed movement is based on the assumption that individuals cannot be trusted to make appropriate lifestyle choices. Therefore, "to protect people from themselves or to protect society, the state should pass legislation that enforces restrictions likely [in the belief of the reformers] to promote health by taking away the individual's personal choice" (Engs, 1991, p. 156). This, in spite of the fact that alcohol legislation in the United States already appears to be among the most stringent in the world (Mosher, 1980).
Alcohol has been part of American life since the beginning of the colonies. European settlers viewed alcohol as the "good gift of God," to be used and enjoyed in moderation by young and old alike; however, its abuse was neither approved nor tolerated and was seen as being "from the Devil." Both formal and informal controls enforced moderation, which was the typical pattern of consumption.
The Revolutionary War brought about dramatic social changes that reduced control over alcohol abuse. Drunkenness increased at the very time a changing and industrializing economy required a reliable work force. Simultaneously, many of the problems caused by industrialization, urbanization, and other changes were blamed on the new phenomenon of frequent intoxication.
As a result, a movement then arose to encourage the moderate or temperate use of alcohol. But with the passage of time, most temperance groups began to insist that no one should be permitted to drink any alcohol. Temperance came to mean prohibition and the good gift of God came to be seen as the evil Demon Rum.
After the Civil War (1861-1865), churches increasingly began to view prohibition as a religious issue and fought for it as a holy crusade against sin. Churches were joined in their crusade by numerous women's groups-alcohol was considered a defiler of women and destroyer of families and home life. The Women's Christian Temperance Union initiated a successful campaign to mandate legally the teaching of temperance (termed Scientific Temperance Instruction) throughout the entire public education system. After carefully examining the mandated curriculum, a prestigious body of scientists and educators concluded that Scientific Temperance Instruction was neither scientific, temperate, or instructive. In spite of these and many other objections, temperance instruction continued unabated and was later credited with contributing to the rise of national prohibition in 1920.
The noble experiment of national prohibition began with the optimistic belief of temperance workers that it would bring about a dramatic reduction in the nation's poverty, crime, and other social problems. Unfortunately, it was not to be. To the contrary, prohibition brought about a dramatic increase in organized crime, the extensive consumption of dangerous bootleg alcohol, widespread corruption of public officials, general disrespect for law, and an increase in the rapid and excessive consumption alcohol beverages. Recognizing the disastrous problems caused by prohibition, the American people called for its repeal by a resounding three to one margin.
But repeal did not eliminate support for prohibition. A substantial minority of the population maintained its strongly anti-alcohol sentiments and many tried to use World War II as an excuse to reimpose prohibition to whatever degree possible.
While its goal was largely defeated, the temperance movement continued to exist and promote its cause. However, it was largely dormant for several decades. By 1980, temperance sentiment re-emerged in a new guise. Variously referred to as the new temperance, the neo-dry, the neo-prohibition, and similar terms, this most recent incarnation has modified its ideology and political strategy.
The passage of the Eighteenth Amendment creating National Prohibition of alcohol was the result of millions of Americans who earnestly believed that alcohol was the cause of most of society’s ills. Some of the major individuals and organizations promoting Prohibition were:
American Issue Publishing Company
The American Issue Publishing Company, incorporated in 1909, was the holding company of the Anti-Saloon League of America. Its printing presses operated 24 hours a day and it employed 200 people in the small town of Westerville, Ohio, where the company was headquartered. Within the first three years of its existence, the publishing house was producing about 250,000,000 (one-quarter billion) book pages per month, and the quantity increased yearly. This dwarfed the enormous output of the National Temperance Society and Publications House, which took over half a century to print one billion pages.
The American Issue Publishing Company played a major role in advancing the temperance movement. Not only did it publish an enormous quantity of temperance materials but it also produce some of the most prestigious temperance publications, including the Standard Encyclopedia of the World Liquor Problem, edited by Ernest Cherrington in cooperation with Wayne Wheeler.
- Hanson, David J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture, and Control. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.
- 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.
- Odegard, Peter H. Pressure Politics: The Story of the Anti-Saloon League. NY: Columbia University Press, 1928
American Temperance University
he American Temperance University opened in 1893 in the planned town of Harriman, Tennessee, which was developed as a community with no alcohol permitted. In its second year of operation the institution enrolled 345 students from 20 states. However, it closed in 1908. Those who attended included two students who later became members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The university's main building, Temperance Hall, now houses government offices and its Hall of Domestic Science is an inn. Both are historic landmarks.
- Hanson, David J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture, and Control. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995.
- American Temperance University. The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Nashville, TN: Tennessee Historical Society, 1998.
Barr, Daisey Douglas
Daisey Douglas Barr was Imperial Empress (leader) of the Indiana Women's Ku Klux Klan (WKKK) in the early 1920s and an active member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Professionally, she was a Quaker minister in two prominent churches.
However, in 1924, the Klan charged that Rev. Barr "had amassed a fortune off the dues of Klansmen." Two years later she was replaced in her leadership position in the WKKK by Lillian Sedwick who was a state official in the WCTU.
- Hosmer, Dwight W. Daisy Douglas Barr: From Quaker to Klan "Kluckeress." Indiana Magazine of History, 1991(June), LXXXVII (2).
- Lantzer, Jason S. Dark Beverages of Hell: The Transformation of Hamilton County's Dry Crusade, 1876-1936.
James Black (1823-1893) became a leader of the temperance movement in the United States after having a bad experience with alcohol intoxication, if not alcohol poisoning.
Black was actively involved in establishing the Good Templars, a temperance organization. In addition, he co-founded the National Temperance Society and Publishing House with Neal S. Dow, another pioneering temperance leader. In its first 60 years, the publishing house printed over one billion pages. It published three monthly periodicals with a combined circulation of about 600,000. It also published over 2,000 books and pamphlets plus textbooks, flyers, broadsides and other temperance materials.
Black was so opposed to consuming any quantity of alcohol that he wrote an eight-page tract arguing against drinking fresh apple juice (called cider in North America). He wrote that the juice begins fermenting quickly when exposed to air and that only a chemist could tell exactly how much alcohol it contained. In Black’s words, “Though its use when quite fresh from the press…may be comparatively harmless to one who has never felt the drunkard’s raging appetite, for the sake of our brother who is in danger, we abstain, and make a rule that the drinking of cider is a violation of the good Templar’s obligation. Therefore, any Templar who drank any apple juice could be expelled immediately.
In 1869, Black and some of his friends founded the Prohibition Party. Three years later he was selected to run as the party’s presidential candidate. However, he won only 5,608 votes. Possibly one reason for the low vote he received was that the powerful Anti-Saloon League, under the direction of Wayne Wheeler,would not support third party candidates. The same was true of the influential Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
- Kobler, John. Ardent Spirits: the rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1973.
- Tuttle, Elizabeth. Cheers! Temperance society urges sobriety in bootleg era. Terre Haute, IN: Vigo County Historical society, June 9, 1985.
- Wilson, James G., et al. (eds.) Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography. NY: Appleton & Co., 1887-1889, and 1999.
Blair, David H.
David Blair served as Commissioner of Internal Revenue under Andrew W. Mellon, who recommended his appointment by the President in 1921. Melon had a number of finalists investigated and concluded that the teetotalling Quaker from Winston Salem, North Carolina, was the ideal candidate for the position. Although Blair was a Republican in a geographic region in which virtually everyone was a Democrat, a deep investigation found not a single person in Winston Salem who spoke anything negative about him.
With the passage of time, Commissioner Blair, who was charged with enforcing the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act, was criticized by both proponents (wets) and opponents (drys) of National Prohibition.
Wets criticized Blair for asserting in a speech at Point Breeze Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia that every bootlegger should be stood against a wall and shot to death. They also criticized him for issuing a leaflet urging all citizens to spy on their neighbors and to use telephones outside their neighborhoods to report Prohibition offenders anonymously.
Drys criticized Blair for allegedly hampering his enforcement officers by requiring them to verify that alleged bootleg beverages were actually alcoholic before seizing them and taking other legal actions. In a chapter titled “The Law’s Betrayal,” one critic wrote that “Blair’s appointees were often notoriously hostile to the law; his intelligence agents feared by honest enforcers….His Administration was marked by illegal withdrawals and by great robberies of the whisky storehouses of which he was the responsible custodian.”
- Burns, Eric. The Spirits of America: a Social History of Alcohol. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2004.
- Gordon, Ernest. The Wrecking of the Eighteenth Amendment. Francestown, NH: the Alcohol Information Press, 1943.
- Kobler, John. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition . NY: G. P. Putnam’s sons, 1973.
Brookhart, Smith Wildman
Smith Wildman Brookhart (1869-1944) was elected to the United States Senate in 1926, where he was known as a “fervent dry.” In a futile effort to stop the growing sentiment for the repeal of Prohibition, Senator Brookhart began a nation-wide tour, during which time he debated Congressman Fiorello LaGuardia, Clarence Darrow, and other prominent “wets.”
Brookhart favored dramatically increasing Prohibition enforcement appropriations by 240 million dollars. This was a very unpopular position because of widespread unemployment and underemployment during the Great Depression. Those favoring repeal argued that legalizing alcoholic beverages would stimulate the economy and provide desperately-needed tax revenue.
The Senator’s uncompromising nature, his strident criticism of colleagues who drank any alcohol, and his political disputes all contributed to the demise of his political career. However, to the end of his life he insisted that “liquor is a poison and drinking it is a crime.”
- McDaniels, George William. The Search for Smith Wildman Brookhart: A Pilgrim’s Progress. Books at Iowa, 1990 (April), 52 (lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/Bai/mcdaniel.htm+%22Smith+Wildman+Brookhart%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1)
- McDaniels, George William. Smith Wildman Brookhart: Iowa's Renegade Republican. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1995.
- Ossian, Lisa L. Prohibition possibly prohibited: Iowans voicing temperance concerns, 1929-1933. The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, 2006 (Spring), 20, 225-246.
- Political Graveyard: Brookhart, Smith Wildman (politicalgraveyard.com/bio/bronstein-brookover.html+%22Smith+Wildman+Brookhart%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=2)
Brown, Martha McClellan
Martha McClellan Brown (1838-1916) was a major leader in the temperance movement. She and her husband published a temperance newspaper, she was an organizer of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and was a leader in the Prohibition Party.
Brown served as vice-president of the Cincinnati Wesleyan Women's College.
- Ohio Memory (worlddmc.ohiolink.edu/OMP/NewDetails%3Foid%3D2564086+%22Martha+McClellan+Brown%22&hl=en)
Henry Ford was not only personally a teetotaler, but he insisted that all his employees also completely abstain from alcohol. He created his 150-member “Sociological department” to monitor his employees, who could expect unannounced home visits. If any alcohol was found or any alcohol detected on an employees breath, he was fired on the spot.
In the face of increasing nation-wide opposition to Prohibition, Henry Ford adamantly insisted that "For myself, if booze ever comes back to the United States, I am through with manufacturing... I wouldn't be interested in putting automobiles into the hands of a generation soggy with drink." The New Yorker magazine, noting Detroit's reputation as a smuggling center, wrote that "It would be a great pity to have Detroit's two leading industries destroyed in one blow."
- Lender, M. and Martin, J. Drinking in America: A History. NY: Free Press and London: Collier Macmillan, 1987.
- Miller, Carl H. We want beer: Prohibition and the will to imbibe -- Part 2 (beerhistory.com/library/holdings/prohibition_2.shtml+%22Carl+H.+Miller%22+%22We+Want+Beer%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=2
- Willebrandt, Mabel W. The Inside of Prohibition. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1929.
Mordecai Ham was an American evangelist and strong temperance movement supporter. He entered the ministry in 1901 and in 1936 began his long radio evangelistic career. He evangelized until shortly before his death in 1961. The primary target of his sermons was the drinking of alcohol, which he disdained.
- Ephemera of Mordecai Fowler Ham. Billy Graham Center (wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/GUIDES/118.htm+%22Mordecai+Ham%22&hl=en)
- Ham, Mordecai Fowler. Encyclopedia of Religion in the South. Hill, Samuel S. (Ed.) Macon, GA: Mercer, 1984.
- Ham, Mordecai Fowler. Dictionary of Baptists in America. Leonard, Bill J. (Ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994.
- Rev. Mordecai Ham dies at 84: Evangelist converted a million. New York Times, November 2, 1961, p. 37.
Hammond, John Brown
Like his famous namesake cousin, John Brown, Hammond believed in direct and even violent action on occasion. In this belief, he wrecked a “blind pig” much in the style of Carry Nation. However, he came to pursue non-violent actions through the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) (which he supported), the Bone Dry League, and the World Purity Federation.
Hammond remained staunchly supportive of Prohibition throughout his life, Several months before his death in a nursing home in 1938, he was working to organize "The Eighteenth Amendment Rescue Association." He believed that Prohibition would eventually be re-imposed.
- Iowa’s Prohibition Leaders: John Brown Hammond (iptv.org/IowaPathways/myPath.cfm?ounid=ob_000093)
- Ossian, Lisa L. Prohibition Possibly Prohibited: Iowans Voicing Temperance Concerns, 1929-1933. The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, 2006 (Spring), 20, 225-246.
Intercollegiate Prohibition Association
The Intercollegiate Prohibition Association was the Student Department of the World League Against Alcoholism. It was established in Chicago, Illinois, in 1901 and by 1903 was reported to be the third largest college organization in the United States. It conducted “an inquiry” among 158 colleges and universities in 1923 and reported that 136 institutions were in favor of prohibition, eight were against it, and 14 were undetermined. It additionally reported that at 80 out of the 136 institutions in favor of prohibition, support was either by an overwhelming majority or was unanimous.
The leader of the Intercollegiate Prohibition Association was Harry S. Warner, who authored Prohibition: An Adventure in Freedom, in which he argued that reducing personal liberty actually increases personal liberty. He asserted that personal liberty is “greater where drink goes out, even with the heavy hand of law, than it is where drink remains.”
Warner was succeeded by Ira Landsite, who warned that continuous efforts had to be made if the United States were “to fulfill her mission as God’s new Holy Land” and if her citizens were “to live up to their divinely appointed privilege as his Chosen People.”
In 1934, a year after the repeal of prohibition, the name was changed to the Intercollegiate Association for the Study of Alcohol.
- Lender, M. and Martin, J. Drinking in America: A History. NY: Free Press and London Collier Macmillan, 1987. 8/
- Odegard, Peter H. Pressure Politics: The Story of the Anti-Saloon League. NY: Columbia University Press, 1928.
- The third largest college organization in America is the inter-collegiate Prohibition Association. Torch & Witt Today (Wittenberg University), February 1, 1903, p. 203.
- Rose, Kenneth D. American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. NY: New York University Press, 1996.
Joy, Henry B.
President of the Packard Motor Company, Henry B. Joy had been a very active member of the Anti-Saloon League and an important promoter of Prohibition.
However, after observing Prohibition agents repeatedly destroy the property of his elderly watchman looking for alcohol, and after agents fatally shot an innocent boater in their search for alcohol, Joy became convinced that the Noble Experiment was not only a failure but was counterproductive. He then became active in the movement to repeal prohibition and told a Congressional committee that "I do not want my wife, my children and my grandchildren living under such conditions as exist today (under Prohibition).”
- Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
- Wet noise. Time, March 3, 1930.
Kresge, Sebastian S.
A strongly committed prohibitionist, Sebastian Spering Kresge (1867-1966) heavily supported the Anti-Saloon League and also organized the National Vigilance Committee for Prohibition Enforcement during the 1920s. The philanthropist gave away most of his fortune for the causes he supported long before he died at the age of 99.
- Kresge, Sebastian S. American National Biography. NY: Oxford University Press, 1999, v. 12.
- S(ebastian) S(pering) Kresge (encyclopedia.jrank.org/Cambridge/entries/011/S-ebastian-S-pering-Kresge.html+%22National+Vigilance+Committee+for+Prohibition+Enforcement%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1)
Diocletian Lewis (1823-1886), commonly known as Dr. Dio Lewis, was a temperance leader, preacher, feminist, social reformer, food/health faddist and considered by some to have been an eccentric. His father had been a “notorious drunkard,” a fact that may have led to his strong belief that alcohol was a great evil. Lewis used the title Doctor and sometimes practiced medicine, Although he only had a degree in homeopathic studies., Lewis fraudulently used the title of doctor and illegally practiced medicine without a license. Nevertheless, he used his title and oratorical gift to good effect in promoting temperance.
In the 1880’s, Lewis and his mother, Delecta, began leading groups of followers into saloons to pray for their closure as well as for the souls of the owners and bartenders. He later lectured in churches claiming almost miraculous results from conducting such “Visitation Bands.”
Lewis’ actions and lectures inspired others to similar action, thus initiating the Women’s Crusade against alcohol. This crusade revitalized the moribund temperance movement and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was later established.
Lewis published books and tracts on a variety of subjects. A common theme in his writing was the “evil” of even moderate alcohol consumption. And because southern European men and women both tended to drink widely and frequently, he was hostile to both immigrants from that region. He and many other prohibitionists viewed them as immoral and degenerate:
And what is the secret of their demoralization? The women drink!!! Every woman, as well as every man; and during the time I was there, I never heard a woman decline to drink, except because of sickness; and one hour after dinner you could see the effects of wine-drinking in the face and eye of every women of the company.
Not surprisingly, Lewis and many other prohibitions opposed immigration.
- Behr, Edward. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. NY: Arcade, 1996.
- Burns, Eric. The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2004.
- Eastman, Mary F. The Biography of Dio Lewis. NY: Fowler & Wells, 1891.
- Rose, Kenneth D. American Women and the repeal of Prohibition. NY: New York University Press, 1996.
Prohibition National Committee
The Prohibition National Committee is the governing body of the Prohibition Party of the United States. The party was founded in 1867 and its National Committee has existed since that time. It has nominated a candidate for the presidency of the United States in every election since 1872 and is the third oldest political party in the country.
A faction of the Prohibition National Committee (PNC) asserts that it operates the official web site of the PNC at prohibition.org.
A majority group operates another site (prohibitionists.org) in which it asserts that it represents the PNC. In making its claim, the majority group states that
“All actions of the private, invitational meeting of selected Prohibition National Committee members, held last June, held at Lakewood, Colorado, were declared null and void by an absolute majority of PNC members, meeting at Fairfield Glade, Tennessee on 5-6 September 2003.” (Emphasis in original)
It states that
“An alleged "2003 nominating convention" of the Prohibition Party was held at the Chairman's home in Lakewood, Colorado on June 12-13, 2003. Some members of the National Committee were not notified in advance that the meeting was being held, and others were told by Chairman Earl F. Dodge that they would not be admitted. Eight people were present: Chairman Dodge, his two daughters, and five other members supportive of Dodge. In addition to failing to observe the By-Laws requirement for prior notification, there was not a quorum.”
Other components of the Prohibition Party organizational structure are the National Prohibition Foundation, the Partisan Prohibition Historical Society, the Action! Prohibitionists caucus, and all state and local affiliates.
- Prohibition Party (majority group)website (prohibitionists.org/body_index.html+%22Prohibition+National+Committee%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=4
- Prohibition Party (minority group, i.e., Earl Dodge e group) website (prohibition.org/+%22Prohibition+National+Committee%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1)
- Ron Gunzburger’s Politics1 (politics1.com/prohibition04.htm+%22Prohibition+National+Committee%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=6)
- The Prohibition Party doings (struat.com/election/2004/03/19/the-prohibition-party-doings/+%22Prohibition+National+Committee%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=15)
Purley Albert Baker (1858-1924) was an ordained Methodist minister who became well-known in his native state of Ohio for strongly opposing alcohol and the saloon. Perhaps because of that fact, Howard Hyde Russell, the head of the Anti-Saloon League hired Baker as an employee of the Ohio Anti-Saloon League. After a year he became superintendent of the state organization.
Baker was selected to succeed Russell as superintendent of the national Anti-Saloon League in 1903. In that role he argued that the “yeomen” of the country were natural allies in the struggle against the saloon and “need only to be reached to be won.” He also believed that the support of industrialists could be won by stressing that sober workers are reliable and efficient employees. Thus, working to bring about prohibition would be a good business investment.
In 1908, Purley Baker established the League’s Industrial Relations Department under the direction of S. S. Kresge, the dime store tycoon. The League also obtained the funds to buy land and build a modern printing plant necessary for the League’s new public information campaign, an important component of which was to demonize the producers of alcoholic beverages. Most brewers were German-Americans and Baker asserted that Germans “eat like gluttons and drink like swine.“
Following a parade of the Anti-Saloon League down Pennsylvania Avenue to the steps of the US Capitol in 1913, Purley Baker presented two dry congressmen copies of a proposed eighteenth Amendment to bring about national Prohibition. He had drafted it with Wayne Wheeler, Bishop James Cannon, and other leaders of the League.
Following Purley Baker’s death in 1924, a power struggle occurred. With Wayne Wheeler’s help, Francis Scott McBride emerged the winner.
- Cashman, Sean D. Prohibition: the Lie of the Land. NY: Free Press and London: Collier Macmillan, 1981.
- Kobler, John. Ardent spirits: the rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1973.
- Lerner, Michael A. Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
- Rumbarger, John J. Profits, Power, and Prohibition. Albany. NY: State University of New York Press, 1989.
Rockefeller, John D.
Like his father before him, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was a lifelong abstainer who strongly supported Prohibition and believed it would contribute to industrial efficiency and growth. He is believed to have contributed between $350,000 and $700,000 to the Anti-Saloon League.
However, after years of observing Prohibition’s failure and problems that it created, Rockefeller came to support repeal of Prohibition. Rockefeller’s change of opinion contributed significantly to the success of the repeal movement.
- Prendergast, Michael L. A History of Alcohol Problem Prevention Efforts in the United States. In: Holder, Harold D. (ed.) Control Issues on Alcohol Abuse Prevention: Strategies for States and Communities. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1987. pp. 25-52. (p. 44).
- Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979, p. 96.
Stewart, Eliza Daniel
Popularly called “Mother Stewart,” Eliza Stewart (b. 1816) was a Methodist schoolteacher from Ohio who became prominent in the Women’s Crusade against alcohol in the 1870s. She spearheaded the expansion of the Crusade beyond the borders of that state.
The militant Crusaders were not deterred by laws or individual rights and would take down the names of men who entered saloons to intimidate them, picket the establishments to try to destroy their business, and harass those who transported alcohol. Stewart also organized a Children’s Crusade. The Children’s Crusade and the Women’s Crusade were so successful in closing saloons that Stewart would later write that “it looked as if we were going to take over the world.”
In 1872, Stewart encouraged wives and mothers of drunkards to sue saloonkeepers for civil damages, some of whom received large awards, in what today would be called server liability cases. The next year she organized the first Woman’s Temperance League. In 1874 she played a prominent role in establishing the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
Eliza Stewart visited the United Kingdom, where she helped organize the British Woman’s Temperance Association and the Scottish Christian Union. In 1895, Ms. Stewart was the keynote speaker at the World WCTU convention in London, England.
- Kobler, John. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1973.
- Women of Achievement and Herstory (sic) :Eliza Daniel Stewart
- Ohio History Centennial: Eliza Daniel Stewart (ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php%3Frec%3D358+%22Eliza+Daniel+Stewart%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=2)
A lecture by Diocletian Lewis in 1873 inspired Eliza Jane Trimble Thompson, the daughter of a former governor of Ohio and the wife of a judge, to begin leading groups of women into saloons where they sang hymns prayed for the closure if the establishments. These direct, non-violent “Visitation Bands” were successful and quickly spread first across the state of Ohio and then to a total of 22 other states from New York to California.
Crusaders typically met in church to prepare themselves. They then headed to a saloon where they would sing hymns and pray for the saloon to close. They did so inside the saloon, if possible, and if not, they did so outside the saloon .
“Mother Thompson” and others claimed often dramatic conversions by saloon keepers. In other cases, the retailers simply gave up after being picked for weeks by the Visitation Bands A member of the crusade, who later became president of the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)claimed seeing amazing, if not miraculous, success.
In one case, a saloon keeper’s wife turned three vicious dogs on a kneeling crusader. The Woman never stopped praying but allegedly simply put her hand on their heads, at which point they reportedly calmly curled up at her feet. In another case, a saloon keeper’s wife shouted verbal abuse at the women. After their leader prayed “Lord, silence this women,” the curser’s mouth allegedly “was shut like a steel trap, and she never spoke another word as long as she lived.”
Within several years the movement subsided. However, it was successful in stimulating the temperance movement, which had declined with the outbreak of the Civil War (1861-1865). The WCTU traces it origins to the Women’s Crusade against alcohol .
- Bower, Matt. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union is alive and well in R.I. Warwick News, July 3, 2006.
- Gordon, Elizabeth Putnam. Women Torch-Bearers: The Story of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Evanston, IL: National Woman’s Christian Union, 1924.
- WCTU. Crusades. (wctu.org/crusades.html+%22Eliza+Thompson%22+crusade+WCTU&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1)
Wise, Ida B.
Ida B. Wise (1871-1952), whose married name became Ida B. Wise-Smith,
joined the Iowa WCTU as a young woman and rose through the ranks as a result of her strong, determined and effective leadership. She served as state president of the WCTU for twenty years, beginning in 1913 and was the primary author of the Sheppard Bill in 1916 that imposed prohibition on Washington, DC. As the forces promoting repeal grew in strength, Ms. Wise promoted ever more vigorously the WCTU slogan, which was “Observance and Enforcement -- Not Repeal.”
She was elected national president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 and she continued to lead efforts to return to Prohibition throughout the 1930’s and 1940‘s.
- Ladies on the March. Time, March 2, 1942.
- Try, Try again. Time, January 24, 1944.
- Ida B. Wise Smith. Iowa Committee on the Status of Women (state.ia.us/government/dhr/sw/hall_fame/iafame/iafame-smith-ibw.html+%22Ida+B.+Wise+Smith%22+Status&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1)
- Iowa’s Prohibition Leaders (iptv.org/IowaPathways/myPath.cfm%3Founid%3Dob_000093+%22Iowa%27s+Prohibition+Leaders%22+Pathways&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1
- Ossian, Lisa L. Prohibition Possibly Prohibited: Iowans Voicing Temperance Concerns, 1929-1933. The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, 2006 (Spring), 20, 225-246.
It’s been said many times that the strongest proponents of Prohibition tend to be preachers and bootleggers. Among the latter group was the well-known Al Capone. However, others are almost unknown. They include Edward Donegan, the LaMontogenes brothers, and Roy Olmstead.
Edward Donegan was an odd-job laborer in 1919, who, in 1920 became a millionaire within about four months through his bootlegging scheme.
During national Prohibition, beverage alcohol was prohibited but industrial alcohol and alcohol for medical purposes was legal. Wholesale alcohol dealers were legally permitted to obtain alcohol from distilleries and bonded warehouses with government permits. Beginning around September of 1920 the Prohibition Bureau imposed a rule designed to prevent the use of fraudulent permits. It required the distillery or warehouse to telegraph the permit number to the Bureau’s director to verify its authenticity. No alcohol could be shipped without receipt of this verification.
All such requests were received by a clerk, Regina Sassone, whose responsibility it was to verify the numbers submitted and reply to the telegrams. Donegan, a married man with children, met Ms. Sassone in early 1920, charmed her, set her up in a hotel, and became her lover.
Donegan sold fraudulent permits to bootleggers for $10 to $20 per case. Sassone would then falsely verify to the distilleries and warehouses that the permits were legitimate and the alcohol would be released to the bootleggers.
He also used other techniques. When Sassone received a legitimate permit, she would delay her reply giving Donegan time to contact the distillery posing as a Prohibition Bureau official, explain the problem of bureaucratic red tape, and promise to cut that tape for a fee.
If Sassone received a forged permit not of Donegan’s making, he would pose as a Prohibition official, threaten to arrest the presenter but then suggest a bribe for authenticating the fraudulent permit.
Donegan operated his scheme for four months in late 1920, during which time he deposited $1,653,797 in his bank account.
Donegan’s activities were discovered when he attempted to bribe Internal Revenue Service agents who called upon him in connection with another investigation. He attempted to bribe them with $6,500 and was arrested.
Charged with possession stolen property with the intent to defraud the United States, Donegan was convicted and sentenced to a prison term of ten years. His appeal was argued by John W. Davis, former Democratic presidential candidate, but the conviction was upheld and Donegan was sent to prison.
- Kobler, John. Ardent Spirits: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1973.
- 75 Years of IRS Criminal Investigation History, 1919-1994. Washington, Internal revenue Service, 1996. (//188.8.131.52/search?q=cache:kvpYtRYUSgIJ:www.thememoryhole.org/irs/irs_75_years.rtf+%22Edward+Donegan%22+bootleg&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1)
The LaMontages Brothers
The four LaMontages brothers -- Rene, Montaigu, William and Morgan -- were high society bootleggers. Descendents of affluent French vintners and inheritors of their father’s company they were members of exclusive social clubs in Manhattan and Long Island. The brothers were related by marriage to Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia University. One brother was a graduate of Yale, another was a championship polo player and all were listed in the Social Register.
Through their bootlegging operation the brothers increased their fortunes by $2,000,000 a year. However, they provided the champagne for a party at one of their elite clubs and a disgruntled employee of their company reported the event to the U.S. district attorney‘s office. The employee claimed that several federal officials were accomplices but was unable to name them.
The New York Times reported that “high society has been shocked.” Many socially prominent people came to the aid of the brothers. The Assistant Attorney General, Mabel Willibrand reported that “every conceivable political and personal appeal, including an appeal by a Cabinet officer, was made to squash the case.”
In 1923, the federal court fined each brother $2,000 and sentenced three of them to four months in prison and one to two months.
President Coolidge restored the citizenship rights the brothers had lost because of their convictions and, in spite of the convictions, the Social Register continued to list them until 1929.
- Allsop, Kenneth. The Bootleggers. London: Hutchinson, 1961.
- Kobler, John. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1973.
- Rich bootleggers sent to prison. Literary Digest, February 24, 1923.
- Willebrandt, Mabel Walker. The Inside of Prohibition. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1929.
Roy Olmstead (1886-1966), “the king of King County bootleggers,” joined the Seattle, Washington, Police Department in 1907 and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming sergeant in 1910.
In 1916, Washington implemented state-wide alcohol prohibition. The next year Olmstead was promoted to lieutenant. In this role, the young police officer was involved in many arrests of rumrunners and bootleggers. In so doing, he noticed their lack of organization and the many mistakes they made. By the time the more strict National Prohibition law went into effect, Olmstead realized that bootlegging could be very profitable, especially if operated in a more systematic and businesslike manner.
Olmstead began his own bootleg operation as a side-line but was soon arrested and lost his job in law enforcement. Thus, he turned to bootlegging as a full-time and highly successful occupation. Within a short period of time
Roy Olmstead's ad hoc business became one of Puget Sound's largest employers, utilizing office workers, bookkeepers, collectors, salesmen, dispatchers, warehousemen, mechanics, drivers, rum running crews, and legal counsel. He chartered a fleet of vessels, had numerous trucks and automobiles, and even purchased a farm to cache the contraband liquor. Before long, Roy Olmstead's organization was delivering 200 cases of Canadian liquor to the Seattle area daily, and grossing about $200,000 a month.
In November of 1924 Olmstead was again arrested, this time as a result of an informant and police wiretapping of his telephone. In February of the next year he was found guilty and convicted for violating the National Prohibition Act and for conspiracy. Olmstead appealed his case arguing that the wiretapping evidence used against him constituted a violation of his constitutional rights to privacy and against self-incrimination.
In 1928 the U.S. Supreme Court, in Olmstead v. the United States, upheld the conviction. In January of 1936, President Roosevelt pardoned him, excused him from his unpaid fines and court costs, and restored his civil rights.
- Kobler, John. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1973.
- Olmstead v. United States (277 U.S. 438 (1928)
- Johnson, Burt. Roy Olmstead’s Story (soc.umn.edu/~samaha/bill_of_rights/case%2520materials/olmstead/olmstead_background.pdf+%22Burt+Johnson%22+Olmstead&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=9
- The Roosevelt Week. Time, January 6, 1936.
- Newitz, Annalee. My Favorite Wiretapper. (alternet.org/columnists/story/18962/
- Olmstead, Roy (1886-1966) -- King of King County Bootleggers. Encyclopedia of Washington State History (historylink.org/essays/output.cfm%3Ffile_id%3D4015+%22%22King+of+King+County+Bootleggers%22%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1
- The Economic History of Seattle (sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/seattle.htm+%22The+Economic+History+of+Seattle%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1
- Smith, Michelle. The Era of Intemperance: A Case Study of Prohibition in the Pacific Northwest (mcel.pacificu.edu/marshlee/marshlee/MSmith.html+%22The+Era+of+Intemperance:+A+Case+Study%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1
Also Important to Prohibition
Federal Prohibition Agent William Harvey Thompson (a.k.a. Kinky Thompson)
Prohibition agents were widely criticized for using excessive force against both persons and property. One of the most violent may have been agent William Harvey Thompson of the Seattle, Washington, unit.
Widely known as Kinky, because of this tight curly hair, Thompson’s first mention in the press occurred after he shot a moonshine still-tender through the stomach during a raid.
Later Thompson reported that bootleggers attacked him late one night as he was driving on a deserted country road. He claimed that, while a car was overtaking him , he was shot in the arm. However, police investigators found holes in more than just Thompson’s arm. His story looked like Swiss cheese. The muddy road had only one set of tire tracks and a woman awakened by gunfire reported seeing a man standing by his parked car shooting bullets into it. And it was Thompson’s right arm, the one fartharest from the window, that had been shot. In addition, the wound was badly scorched by gun powder, indicating that it had been shot at point blank range. In other words, Thompson had fabricated the whole story.
Thompson was well known as a “blackjack artist.” In one instance, he used one on a man who had no reputation for violence. A jury hearing the resulting case denounced Thompson for his brutal beating of the defendant. The judge who presided at the trial later called Thompson’s supervisor into his chamber and warned him about Thompson’s behavior. However, the supervisor defended Thompson’s actions, saying that “No bootlegger gets rough treatment unless he deserves it.” Indeed, he told Thompson and his partner to be tough and “to beat the hell out of them and drag them out by the feet.”
Thompson needed no encouragement. His “favorite tactic was to walk into a joint, grab a pitcher of beer, and pour the contents on the bar, then offer to reimburse the nearest drinker. If the man denied that the beer was his, “ Thompson “would strike him over the head with a shot-filled blackjack, and then wring a confession by painfully twisting the victim’s arm.”
On one occasion, Thompson and his partner Agent Earl Corwin entered a pool hall. “Vaulting the counter Kinky sapped the cook. When the waiter protested, Kinky bludgeoned him to the floor. Kinky then demanded to know the location of the joint’s liquor cache. When the owner said there was no cache, Thompson broke a bottle over the owner’s head, cutting him severely. Then Kinky and Corwin set to work with axes demolishing cash registers, coffee urns, light fixtures, pool tables, even the long wooden counter. When they finished the floor was littered with meat and four, cigars and candy, and the remains of a crate of eggs. Only a ventilation fan and a clock on the wall continued to turn, and these the agents destroyed with cur balls thrown like grenades.”
Agent Corwin defended the violence, saying that “Anyone who has been hit by Thompson had it coming” and insisted that “There is no more violence in this office than in any church in the city.” Two weeks later Thompson blackjacked a twelve year old boy, the boy’s mother, and his one-legged father. The Prohibition Bureau administrator assured reporters that it was all just “bootlegger propaganda.”
Prohibition officials defended their agents’ violence, arguing that they bravely had to consume alcohol as part of their undercover work and that it threatened their health and caused crazed behavior. However, a local newspaper asked why patrons who consumed the same beverage s didn’t become similarly crazed with an uncontrollable desire to injure others and destroy property.
Thompson went on to pistol-whip a manacled prisoner in full view of a crowd of onlookers who were outraged at his behavior.
For many Prohibition agents it was a case of do as I say, not as I do. Thompson often became highly intoxicated. While driving drunk on night, he sideswiped another car, snapped off a telephone pole, and careened through a plate glass window into the middle of a store.
Police summoned to a drunken fight between a couple in a parked car asked to driver to move on. At that point the driver became belligerent and reached for something in his coat but the officer fired first, fatally wounding Agent Thompson.
Thompson was eulogized as a martyr for the dry cause and his death was ironically blamed on societal disrespect for law and order. Federal Prohibition officials later praised Thompson’s “zeal” but never acknowledged that he had ever used excessive force.
- Broderick, Henry. Prohibition Seattle Style. Seattle: Dogwood Press, 1968.
- Keve, Paul W. The McNeil Century: The Life and Times of an Island Prison. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1984.
- Metcalfe, Philip. Whispering Wires: the Tragic Tale of an American Bootlegger. Portland, OR: Inkwater Press, 2007
The Webb-Kenyon Act was passed by the United States Congress in 1913 to enable states to enforce their individual alcohol prohibition laws within their borders. By that year, nine states (Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and West Virginia) had passed state prohibition laws. However, they were unable to prohibit the importation of alcohol across their borders because of the federal government’s control over interstate commerce.
Prior to the Webb-Kenyon Act, the efforts of states to enforce prohibition were frustrated by their inability to discriminate against interstate commerce (Walling v. Michigan) prohibiting the importation of alcohol.
During the year following the passage of Webb-Kenyon, five states Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Virginia and Washington) prohibited alcohol. In 1915, five more states (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa and South Carolina) joined the list of prohibition states. The trend continued until the implementation of National Prohibition in 1920.
Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, there was concern that the National Prohibition Act might have denied states the authority to define what constitutes alcoholic beverages. This would have negatively impacted the police power of those states that chose to retain state alcohol prohibition. Although this concern was found without merit (McCormick v. Brown), and although most members of congress believed that the Webb-Kenyon Act was still in effect, it was reenacted in 1935 to ensure that it remained in effect.
- Burns, Eric. The Spirits of America: A Social history of Alcohol. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2004.
- Cashman, Sean Dennis. Prohibition: The Lie of the Land. NY: Free Press and London: Collier Macmillan, 1981.
- Kerr, K. Austin. Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.
- Webb-Kenyon Act (wineinstitute.org/programs/shipwine/reference/webb_ken.htm+%22Webb-Kenyon+Act%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1)
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Direct Shipment Sales of Alcohol Beverages. Washington, DC: Department of Treasury, February 11, 1997.(wineinstitute.org/shipwine/reference/batf_ic_96_3.htm+%22Webb-Kenyon+Act%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=2
filed under: [pending]
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