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Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - Table of Contents

National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

History of Alcohol Prohibition*

*This section is based in large part on a paper prepared for the Commission by Jane Lang McGrew, an attorney from Washington, D.C.

1870-1913: TOWARD A NATIONAL CONSCIENCE

A series of "isms" was aroused in this era: feminism, unionism, socialism, and progressivism. Prohibition absorbed elements of them all, and vice versa.

The feminist movement originated early in the 1800's. Until the 1870's, however, feminine involvement in the temperance effort was largely peripheral. The Women's Crusade of 1873 and the organization of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1874 marked the formal entrance of women into the temperance movement.

The WCTU was devotedly headed by Frances E. Willard, a lady equally committed to the principle of equality of the sexes. Temperance was to bridge the gap, she believed:

Drink and tobacco are the great separatists [sic] between men and women. Once they used these things together, but woman's evolution has carried her beyond them; man will climb to the same level . . . but meanwhile ... the fact that he permits himself fleshly indulgence that he would deprecate in her, makes their planes different, giving her an instinct of revulsion (Furnas, 1968: 281).

Although the WCTU was organized initially around the temperance issue, it was not long before Miss Willard's leadership expanded its conscience.

A statement of principles was adopted in its early years:

We believe in a living wage; in an 8-hour day; in courts of conciliation and arbitration, in justice as opposed to greed in gain; in "Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men" (Gusfield, 1963: 76).

Within three years of its inception, the WCTU reported that its concerns included "a better Indian policy" and "wiser civil service reform" (Gusfield, 1963: 77). There were those in the Union who felt that their interests should be limited to temperance. But, forecasting the mood of Progressivism, Miss Willard steered the organization along the broader lines to social reform.

The WCTU was responsible for part of the early campaign to educate the public about temperance. Children were recruited to sing praises of "the true and the brave" who signed the abstinence pledge. They were assisted in this effort by McGuffey's Readers which denounced the licensing of liquor stores and saloons:

Licensed-to do thy neighbor harm,

Licensed-to kindle hire and strife,

Licensed-to nerve the robber's arm,

Licensed-to whet the murderer's knife,

Licensed-like spider for a fly,

To spread thy nets for man, thy prey,

To mock his struggles, crush his soul,

Then cast his worthless form away (Lee, 1963: 34-35).

Whiskey makes "the happy miserable" and impoverishes the rich, the, McGuffey books concluded. And the word spread. By 1902, the temperance campaign had permeated the public school systems: every state but Arizona had introduced compulsory temperance education. Their texts teemed with both facts and misinformation such as "Alcohol sometimes causes the coats of the blood vessels to grow thin. They are then liable at any time to cause death by bursting." (Sinclair, 1962: 43).

The WCTU was not carrying the burden of reform alone, however. In 1869, the National Prohibition Party was born. Three years later, the first party ticket was put forth in the presidential campaign of 1872, headed by John Black, who received 5,607 votes for President. Success at the polls ultimately peaked in 1892 when John Dedwell, the Prohibition presidential candidate, received a total of 270,710 votes. Thereafter, its partisans declined in number, having failed to break voters away from their traditional affiliations (Cherrington, 1920: 165-169).

As a rule, the WCTU eschewed partisanship. Their objectives were far broader and more practical than those contemplated by the Prohibition Party. Only once it supported the Prohibition Party in the notorious election of 1884.

The election of 1884 carried a variety of implications for future candidates on the temperance issue. In New York City alone, 1,007 primaries and conventions reportedly were held by the various parties. Of these, over 60% took place in saloons (Peterson, 1969: 123), recalling to mind the complaint of John Adams a century before (Cherrington, 1920: 37; Dobyns, 1940: 215). The meeting places were indicative of the fact that at this time neither party could afford to adopt a dry plank in its platform, for New York would be a pivotal state in the race between Republican James G. Blaine and Democrat Grover Cleveland.

Blaine campaigned hard, trying to overcome the defection of several thousand dry Republicans to the Prohibition Party. Speaking in behalf of Blaine at a New York City rally, Presbyterian minister Samuel Burchard denounced the Democrats as the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion." Needless to say, the Catholic vote, as well as the wet vote, quickly swelled the Democratic totals. Blaine, having thus alienated both wets and drys, lost the state--and the election-by a tiny margin (Furnas, 1968: 273; Lee, 1963: 29-30).

In case the lesson that temperance was an issue to be reckoned with in national politics was lost on the parties after 1884, the events of the decade culminating in the birth of the Anti-Saloon League in 1895, dramatized the point. A second wave of state prohibition laws was experienced between 1880 and 1890. The results of much of the legislation during those years were less than satisfying to temperance advocates, however; only six states emerged with state-wide prohibition by statute or constitutional amendment. Numerous other states had enacted local option, which permitted towns to go dry if they so chose by referendum. Without state or federal insulation from wet communities, however, the so-called dry towns were scarcely temperance models.

In the wake of these state legislative actions, South Carolina introduced a state dispensary system in order to eliminate the motive of private gain from the liquor business. Political scandals which quickly developed tended to discredit it, however, if indeed it had enjoyed much support from any corner (Cherrington, 1920: 250-251).

With this discomfiting history behind it, the Anti-Saloon League arose to the challenge, while Carrie Nation independently thrust her way into the public eye. The League was to develop the art of lobbying or "pressure political" to its most dramatic heights. Scarcely more than 10 years after organization, it was described as "the most dangerous political movement that this country has ever known" by the National Model License League, a wet (and harassed) association. A more rational viewpoint was expressed by the president of the New York State Brewers Association in 1913:

We are not dealing with a theory which is the delusion of the fanatic alone, but with a real condition which is in the hands of a well organized force, led by aggressive, experienced, and untiring leaders (Odegard, 1928: 23).

The focus of the League's indictments included not simply alcohol, but the saloon itself, as the purveyor of spirits. The myriad League publications denounced the saloon for "annually sending thousands of our youths to destruction, for corrupting politics, dissipating workmen's wages, leading astray 60,000 girls each year into lives of immorality and banishing children from school" (Odegard, 1928: 40-59).

"Liquor is responsible for 19% of the divorces, 25% of the poverty, 25% of the insanity, 37% of the pauperism, 45% of child desertion, and 50% of the crime in this country," the League determined. "And this," it concluded , " is a very conservative estimate" (Odegard, 1928: 60).

League posters appeared everywhere depicting the saloon-keeper as a profiteer who feasted on death and enslavement. Others screamed out the dire consequences of alcohol. "Alcohol inflames the passions, thus making the temptation to sex-sin unusually strong," advertised one (Sinclair, 1962: 51).

It was the League which geared up the campaign, but it was not alone. As the Progressive spirit caught the national interest in the early 19th century, the movement for reform embraced the cause of temperance. The temperance movement assumed an aura of evangelism, combining the concept of America's mission with the vision of Messianism. Through the combination of temperance and progressivism, it was believed that the Kingdom of God could actually come to the United States.

In an article in Appleton's Magazine in 1908, the Reverend Charles F. Aked articulated the aspirations of the reformers:

We are spending our lives, many of us, in the effort to make the world a little better and brighter for those that shall come after us.... we want to open out life and liberty to all the sons of men. We want to make possible for all of life in the whole, the good and the beautiful ... and the common sale of intoxicating liquor renders our work a thousand times more difficult ... (Timberlake, 1063: 34-38).

Others were more mundane. Scientists began accumulating evidence of the effect of quantities of alcohol on the nervous system and general physical condition. The myth that alcohol consumption improved muscular power was exploded. The relationship between mental psychoses and alcohol was documented, and thus did the condemnation of alcohol as a poison assume scientific support. Finally, in 1915, whiskey and brandy were discreetly removed from the list of authoritative medicinal drugs contained in the United States Pharmacopoeia (Timberlake, 1963: 47).

Who were the people fueling the movement? Largely middle class, rural, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant comprised the temperance movement and they confronted the urban and industrial communities head-on. "The Anglo-Saxon stock is the best improved, hardiest and fittest.... [I]f we are to preserve this nation and the Anglo-Saxon type we must abolish [saloons]," proclaimed one temperance publication (Gusfield, 1963: 100). Calling itself "The Protestant church in action" (Sinclair, 1962: 108), the Anti-Saloon League concentrated single-mindedly and evangelically on the cause of temperance and refrained from dabbling in other reforms (Gusfield, 1963: 108).

Nevertheless, the Episcopal and Lutheran churches never aligned themselves with the AntiSaloon League, while Jewish and Catholic groups generally opposed their objective. The conviction shared by Anti-Saloon Leaguers expressed by Reverend Francis Ascott McBride was: "The League was born of God" (Lee, 1963: 35). Thus one had to be for or against the movement; there was no half-way commitment.

When the sides were lined up initially, industrialists and union leaders alike preferred to keep God on their side. From the company's point of view, the saloon was often responsible for industrial injuries and absenteeism. Some believed that the drinking man demanded higher wages than his sober counterparts. Furthermore, union locals tended to congregate in saloon meeting halls maintained for that purpose and, it was sometimes suspected, for the plottings of anarchistic conspirators (Furnas, 1968: 310).

Accordingly, it was not long before industry moved from an acquiescent position to an active role in the temperance movement. Various methods were adopted to encourage sobriety, including lectures, literature and job preferences for teetotalers. Businessmen opined that sobriety expanded productivity, increased bank deposits, improved collections and stimulated the retail trade (Timberlake, 1963: 67-79).

At the same time, the prospect of diverting patronage of the liquor industry to other products tantalized some industries. Thus the Welch Grape Juice Company advertised:

Get the Welch Habit-It's one that won't get you! (Timberlake, 1963: 77).

Opinion was not unanimous, of course. Businessmen, including bankers, whose interests were tied to the liquor industry could ill afford to be beneficent toward temperance. Others, including the DuPonts, Rockefellers, Kresges, and Wanamakers spent freely to cover the League's annual campaign costs of $2.5 million (Odegard, 1928: 126).

As surely as liquor was the enemy of the home, it was also proclaimed the enemy of the working man. "The great sinkhole for the workers' wages is the saloon," wrote the editors of one League publication, The California Liberator. "When that abomination is destroyed, labor is freed from its greatest curse" (Odegard, 1928: 53). The logic appealed to the union leadership. According to one official of the American Federation of Labor:

No force in our country has been as effective in the promotion of temperance among working people as the organized labor movement. The labor movement has achieved more for the cause of temperance than all the temperance societies combined ... (Timberlake, 1963: 83).

Since similar credit has been claimed for the League, the Protestant church, and business interests, it is difficult to apportion the plaudits. Subsequent events suggest that the labor interests failed to live up to this claim, however.

Notwithstanding Terrence V. Powerderly's early speech against "the strong right hand of labor itself . . . that carries with it the rum which drowns reason," his own Knights of Labor repealed their constitutional provision which denied membership to anyone connected with the liquor trade (Timberlake, 1963: 85-86).

As the reports of the National Commission on Enforcement of the Prohibition Laws (known as the "Wickersham Commission") were later to record, it was particularly the workers who resented the paternal legislation which they believed was directed at them and their habits (National Commission on Law Observance, 1931: 345).

In addition, there were. those whose livelihoods would be directly affected-indeed, effaced-by the success of the campaign: brewery workers, bartenders, glass workers, waiters, and musicians among others.

Thus, even though the Socialist Party resolved in 1908 that "any excessive indulgence in intoxicating liquors by members of the working class is a serious obstacle to the triumph of our cause since it impairs the vigor of the fighters in political and economic struggle" (Timberlake, 1963: 98), the industrial urban centers of the country continued to harbor and stimulate antagonism towards the temperance movement.

The identification of the saloon and its offerings with the urban, immigrant working class further enraged Prohibitionists. As one sociologist observed, "The saloon appeared as the symbol of a culture which was alien to the ascetic character of American values . . ." (Gusfield, 1963: 100). Thus, Americanism became a central issue in the temperance movement.

One temperance spokesman, cited in Barker's "The Saloon Problem," vented these sentiments:

The influx of foreigners into our urban centers, many of whom have liquor habits [sic], is a menace to good government. . . . [T] he foreign born population is largely under the social and political control of the saloon. If the cities keep up their rapid growth they will soon have the balance of political power in the nation and become storm centers of political life (Timberlake, 1963: 118).



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