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Repealing National Prohibition
by David Kyvig
Copyright 1979 by the University of Chicago
Chapter 7 - Hard Times, Hopeful Times
After a decade of national prohibition, disobedience, popular dissatisfaction, and organized efforts to overturn the law, all appeared to be on the upswing. Various measures of public opinion, though imprecise, showed a clear turning against the liquor ban by the end of the 1920s. Several important organizations, some old, some newly established for this sole purpose, expressed their members' hostility to prohibition and tried to translate this unhappiness into political change. The appearance of a sizable women's organization opposed to prohibition was particularly important. Meanwhile, dry societies, whether because of complacency, altered attitudes, or several spectacular instances of leadership misbehavior, lost members. Nevertheless, after ten years prohibition remained entrenched, and widespread, deep skepticism persisted, at least outside the ranks of militant antiprohibition organizations, as to the possibility of ever repealing the Eighteenth Amendment. The national economic collapse which began late in 1929 and gradually enveloped every aspect of American life affected the prohibition situation as profoundly as it did all else. The growing malaise of the Great Depression introduced new political and social as well as economic circumstances, greatly accelerating the revolt against prohibition and causing the prospect of repeal to be taken seriously for the first time.
Signs of spreading disenchantment with national prohibition appeared well before the stock market crash. In June 1928, voters in North Dakota narrowly defeated a referendum proposal to repeal the prohibition clause in their state constitution. Of some two hundred thousand ballots cast, 48.3 percent favored repeal. For a state which had entered the union in 1889 with prohibition in its constitution and had maintained a dry reputation ever since, this result astonished onlookers. I In November, Montana voters, who two years earlier had repealed their state prohibition enforcement act, refused by a slightly larger margin to reinstate the law. On the same day, three out of five Massachusetts electors voted to direct their state senators to ask Congress to initiate repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. In contrast, four years earlier 50.5 percent of Massachusetts voters approved passage of a state prohibition law. In both Republican Montana and Democratic Massachusetts, the wet proportion of the vote ran far ahead of that for Alfred E. Smith.
In Montana the antienforcement vote stood at 54.1 percent, compared to 40.5 percent for Smith; in Massachusetts the repeal referendum won 62.6 percent, while Smith received 50.2 percent.' Then in April 1929, a month after Congress passed the Jones law and a new president, Herbert Hoover, called for states to enforce prohibition, a hard-fought referendum in Wisconsin produced an unusually heavy turnout and a 63.3 percent majority for repeal of the state enforcement law. The city of Milwaukee, where voting was heavy, chose repeal by a six to one margin, while a lighter vote throughout the rest of the state divided more evenly. In 1926 a higher proportion of Wisconsin voters, 66.3 percent, endorsed modification to permit 2.75 beer, but the 1929 referendum involved a much more advanced wet position.' Issues and circumstances varied, and the referendum campaigns differed as well. The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, for instance, waged active campaigns in Massachusetts and Wisconsin, but did relatively little elsewhere.' Yet repeatedly in these four widely scattered and socially dissimilar states, a diverse electorate cast a large antiprohibition vote.
Early in 1930, the Literary Digest repeated its 1922 national public opinion survey on prohibition. In by far the largest poll it had ever conducted, the Digest reported that only 30.5 percent of all respondents (8 percent fewer than in 1922) supported prohibition, and only 29.1 percent (down 11 percent) favored modification to permit beer and wine. Those favoring repeal had doubled, from 20.6 percent in 1922 to 40.4 percent in May 1930.' The 4,800,000 ballots cast represented nearly one-fifteenth of the adult population, discounting possible bias in the Digest sampling technique. Interpreters of the poll saw a great shift from dryness to "moistness" and an even greater one from modification to repeal. Proportioning the moist vote between wets and drys and analyzing the results state by state led one statistician to assert that popular majorities in thirty-seven states were now prepared to vote for repeal.' The Digest poll, the New Republic and Harper's both stated, destroyed the assumption that at least thirteen states were irretrievably dry and that therefore repeal was impossible.'
By 1930 the nation's press both reflected and influenced this shift of public opinion. A New York Herald-Tribune survey of editorial policies of I 10 daily newspapers in thirty-six states showed dry papers outnumbering wet papers by more than two to one in 1919. By 1930, however, they were evenly divided. More significantly, the average circulation of the wet papers was 100,600 copies, and the dry papers only 28,200. Interestingly the dry to wet shift occurred more frequently among small, nonmetropolitan newspapers. Crime, corruption, and enforcement failure were most frequently cited as reasons.' The survey left out such important wet newspapers as the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Herald- Tribune itself as well as many smaller papers with dry tendencies. Nevertheless, journalistic trends were evident.
Of ultimately greater significance to the repeal campaign than even these expressions of popular and press disenchantment with national prohibition, important new organizations began to join the AAPA crusade. In the past, the AAPA had found it difficult to work with other antiprohibition organizations and looked upon their proliferation as divisive. A group such as the Federal Dispensary Tax Reduction League, founded by a Denver physician, Frederick W. Buck, in 1923 to advocate a complicated plan for a government-operated, high-tax, regulated-sale alcoholic beverage system, attracted only about fifty thousand supporters and a handful of congressmen (principally Adolph J. Sabath of Chicago); Stayton considered it merely a moneymaking scheme. The FDTRL paid its fund-raisers a 50 percent commission and also supported a headquarters staff. Buck's organization stimulated one 1928 congressional hearing on reforming prohibition but otherwise accomplished little, while diverting resources from other efforts. "I have never known these people to do any actual work," Stayton told Pierre du Pont, "and I have known them to do things which were harmful."'
After the 1928 election, however, association leaders recognized the need to expand support for repeal beyond what the AAPA itself could attract, and they selectively encouraged new groups." The rise of additional repealminded societies not only mobilized a wider spectrum of opposition, it also intensified lobbying efforts at both federal and state levels, generated more antiprohibition publicity, and helped dispel the impression that wets could never gain enough political support to achieve repeal. Dry claims that only drinkers, the liquor trade, and businessmen seeking tax reductions favored repeal became harder to sustain when large numbers of women, lawyers, and veterans announced their desire to abolish prohibition.
One of the main pillars upholding the idea that the Eighteenth Amendment was unrepealable was the belief that American women, since 1920 fully enfranchised, could be counted upon to support prohibition nearly unanimously. Women had contributed mightily to the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, with Frances Willard, Anna Gordon, Carry Nation, Ella Boole, and the Women's Christian Temperance Union as prominent as any man or male organization in the dry campaign. Defense of the home, protection of the family, and concern for youth had often been cited as reasons for establishing prohibition and were expected to keep women firmly behind even an imperfect liquor ban. A decade of prohibition produced hardly any evidence to the contrary. The leading antiprohibition groups remained almost entirely male, with only men listed as directors. The AAPA's early attempt to create separate women's divisions, Molly Pitcher Clubs, had never attracted many members and was abandoned prior to the association's reorganization. But in 1929 an independent and effective women's repeal organization, the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform, appeared to challenge old assumptions.
The spirit propelling this organization was Pauline Morton Sabin of New York. Not a campaigner for women's suffrage, Pauline Sabin seized the Nineteenth Amendment's opportunities with seldom-matched energy and effect. She had been raised in a political family. Her grandfather, J. Sterling Morton, had been governor of Nebraska and Secretary of Agriculture under Grover Cleveland, while her father, Paul Morton, became Theodore Roosevelt's Secretary of the Navy when she was sixteen. Pauline Morton had been born to wealth and high social position as well. Her father had been vicepresident of the Santa Fe Railroad before his cabinet service, and he became chairman of the board and president of the Equitable Life Assurance Society thereafter. Her uncle had developed the "When It Rains, It Pours" salt company. After a stylish but limited education in private schools in the United States and abroad, Pauline Morton made a social debut and then in 1907, at the age of nineteen, married a wealthy New York sportsman, J. Hopkins Smith, Jr. During the next few years, she bore two sons, involved herself in family life, and gave no visible indication of becoming a politically active, independent woman. "
In 1914 another side of Pauline Morton Smith began to appear. She divorced her husband and, with another woman, established a profitable interior decorating shop. She gave up this budding business career in 1916 to marry Charles Hamilton Sabin, chairman of the board of Guaranty Trust Company, but soon began to get interested in politics, at first through charitable work. "I found," the new Mrs. Sabin explained, "that on charity boards in New York City you had to have political pull to get things done."" Her preoccupation with politics quickly surpassed all else. Although her husband was a Democrat, Pauline Sabin shared her father's allegiance to the Republican party. In 1919 she was giving elaborate lawn parties for Republican organizations at the Sabin estate on Long Island. The same year she joined the Suffolk County Republican Committee and by 1920 had been made a member of the party's state executive committee. Mrs. Sabin helped found the Women's National Republican Club and served as its president from 1921 to 1926, building a membership of several thousand and earning a reputation as an excellent fund-raiser and a skillful organizer. When women were added to the Republican National Committee, as advisors in 1923 and full members a year later, Pauline Sabin became New York's first representative. She was a delegate to the Republican conventions of 1924 and 1928, cochaired Senator James Wadsworth's unsuccessful 1926 reelection campaign, and directed women's activities for the Coolidge and Hoover presidential campaigns in the East.
Pauline Sabin's concern over prohibition grew slowly. Initially she favored the Eighteenth Amendment, explaining later, "I felt I should approve of it because it would help my two sons. The word-pictures of the agitators carried me away. I thought a world without liquor would be a beautiful world.""
Gradually, however, intertwined motherly and political concerns caused her to change her mind. Her first cautious public criticism of prohibition came in 1926 when she defended Wadsworth's opposition to the law. By 1928 she had become more outspoken. The hypocrisy of politicians who would support resolutions for stricter enforcement and half an hour later be drinking cocktails disturbed her. The ineffectiveness of the law, the apparent decline of temperate drinking, and the growing prestige of bootleggers troubled her even more. Mothers, she explained, had believed that prohibition would eliminate the temptation of drinking from their children's lives, but found instead that "children are growing up with a total lack of respect for the Constitution and for the law.""
In later statements, she elaborated further on her objections to prohibition. With settlement workers reporting increasing drunkenness, she worried, "The young see the law broken at home and upon the street. Can we expect them to be lawful?"" Mrs. Sabin complained to the House Judiciary Committee: "In preprohibition days, mothers had little fear in regard to the saloon as far as their children were concerned. A saloon-keeper's license was revoked if he were caught selling liquor to minors. Today in any speakeasy in the United States you can find boys and girls in their teens drinking liquor, and this situation has become so acute that the mothers of the country feel something must be done to protect their children."" Finally, she opposed federal involvement in matters of personal conduct." National prohibition, in sum, seemed to Pauline Sabin to be undermining American youth, the orderly, law-observing habits of society, and the principles of personal liberty and decentralized government, all important elements in the world of this conservative, upper-class, politically active woman.
She decided to found a women's repeal organization during a 1928 congressional hearing when Ella Boole, president of the WCTu, thundered, "I represent the women of America!" Sabin recalled remarking to herself, "Well, lady, here's one woman you don't represent."" In June 1928 she declared that "a serious burden rests on the men and women who have political responsibility" to state frankly their attitude toward prohibition. Women opposed to the law could, if organized, bring about a change, she predicted. Her own well-developed sense of political responsibility led her to think of guiding such a movement.
After publicly criticizing prohibition, Pauline Sabin nevertheless campaigned for Herbert Hoover. She was a party loyalist and believed that Hoover's campaign promise to appoint a prohibition study commission showed a receptivity to reform. Disillusioned by Hoover's inaugural address and planning to work for a change in the law, Sabin resigned from the Republican National Committee in order to be unhampered by party ties. Within a month, she denounced the Hoover administration for supporting national prohibition."'
Pauline Sabin moved quickly to give form to her announced intention. She first enlisted the support of several of her New York friends and social peers, Mrs. Cortlandt Nicoll, Mrs. Coffin Van Rensselaer, Mrs. Caspar Whitney, and others. Then she added other upper-class women from throughout the country, among them Mrs. R. Stuyvesant Pierrepont of New Jersey, Mrs. William Lowell Putnam of Boston, Mrs. Amasa Stone Mather of Cleveland, Mrs. John B. Casserly of San Francisco, Mrs. Henry B. Joy of Detroit, Mrs. W. W. Montgomery of Philadelphia, and Mrs. Pierre S. du Pont of Delaware. During the next two months three organizational meetings were held in New York, and Mrs. Sabin toured parts of the East and Middle West to seek support. "
On May 28, 1929, 24 women from eleven states formally launched their endeavor at the fashionable Drake Hotel in Chicago. At an earlier meeting to select a name, the merely awkward Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR) won out over the truly dreadful Women's Legion for True Temperance. The Chicago gathering chose Mrs. Sabin chairman, formed a national advisory council of 125 women from twenty-six states, and reported organizing progress in several states. Despite frequent condemnations of prohibition, the group chose not to propose a specific remedy until more women from more states could come together in a general convention. Despite their caution, the mere fact that such prominent women had met to oppose prohibition drew national press attention."
The WONPR opened a small office in New York. For a month or so, the AAPA paid the office expenses, but thereafter members' donations made the WONPR self-sufficient. Mrs. Sabin made speeches and wrote articles criticizing prohibition for producing more rather than less drinking, endangering youth, corrupting public officials, and breeding contempt for law and the Constitution. She struck a responsive chord, for in less than a year 100,000 members were enrolled and thirteen relatively autonomous state branches were formed. By its first convention, the WONPR had set its direction as a highly visible, nonpartisan, mass-membership, volunteer organization."
Critics of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform characterized it as a puppet of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, a new and more effective Molly Pitcher Club. The leaders of the AAPA, recognizing that women were an important obstacle to repeal, "in true Russian fashion, ordered their wives and daughters into the trenches," Fletcher Dobyns later charged." The Anti-Saloon League and, especially, the WCTU wished to maintain the popular assumption that women overwhelmingly supported national prohibition. One dry leader scornfully called the WONPR nothing more than a clever advertising device." Charles Sabin, after all, served on the AAPA executive committee and was the ass ociation's treasurer. After the 1928 election, he had participated in executive committee discussions of the need for a women's antiprohibition group." But no AAPA record reveals any steps having been taken to organize women. In politics, the resourceful and energetic Pauline Sabin always acted independently of her husband, who was an active Democrat throughout the years that she worked so diligently for the Republican party. In the spring of 1929 she appears to have acted independently once again in founding the WONPR. She kept M. Louise Gross and the vestiges of the Molly Pitcher Clubs at arm's length, despite Gross's many suggestions that the WONPR accept her leadership." WONPR membership eventually so far exceeded that of the AAPA, and the family overlap between organizations was so slight, that the dry charge that these women were not acting of their own free will lacks credibility.
The Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform's first national convention in Cleveland in April 1930 articulated a basic viewpoint regarding prohibition which would remain largely unchanged until the end of the repeal fight. Some elements of the women's critique of prohibition were peculiarly their own, while others were common throughout the organized repeal movement. The WONPR regarded itself as an advocate of temperance and believed that prohibition had reversed a trend toward moderation and restraint in the use of intoxicating beverages. WONPR spokeswomen expressed particular distress at the effects of national prohibition on children and family life. Temperate use of alcoholic beverages had been increasing up to 1918, maintained Mrs. Carroll Miller of Pittsburgh, one of the convention's principal speakers, "But suddenly true temperance was cast aside for a supposedly quick method of reform and Prohibition was inserted into our Constitution with the notion that people could be made better by legislative enactment rather than through precept, education, reason and persuasion." This flouting of the American belief in free will, she continued, had resulted in the law being ignored; crime, political corruption, and misuse of alcohol increasing; and a general disregard for all laws developing. "And because we women value the American home above everything else and because we wish the youth in that home to develop high character and to grow in uprightness toward decent citizenship," Mrs. Miller concluded, "we demand that these prohibition measures which hinder his development and growth, be repealed.""
Time and time again, the WONPR expressed concern over the violence, corruption, and alcoholic excesses of prohibition, all of which, they emphasized, had a harmful influence upon American youth. The organization reprinted an article by a New York juvenile court judge blaming national prohibition for increases in child neglect and young people's disrespect for law." "Many of our members are young mothers-too young to remember the old saloon," Mrs. Sabin explained. "But they are working for repeal because they don't want their babies to grow up in the hip-flask, speakeasy atmosphere that has polluted their own youth."" The need to protect children and the home became central themes for the women's antiprohibition movement, just as they had been in the temperance crusade.
Also the WONPR shared AAPA distress at the apparent breakdown in the social fabric, the weakening of the ties between citizen and government which disdain for prohibition appeared to produce, and federal involvement in matters of individual behavior. The WONPR considered proposals calling merely for Volstead Act modification inadequate since, they argued, that would eliminate neither federal involvement in liquor control nor the criminal activity of bootlegging. The Cleveland convention unanimously declared:
1. We are convinced that National Prohibition is fundamentally wrong. (a) Because it conflicts with the basic American principle of local home rule and destroys the balance established by the framers of our government, between powers delegated to the federal authority and those reserved to the sovereign states or to the people themselves.
(b) And because its attempt to impose total abstinence by national government fiat ignores the truth that no law will be respected or can be enforced unless supported by the moral sense and common conscience of the communities affected by it.
2. We are convinced that National Prohibition, wrong in principle, has been equally disastrous in consequences in the hypocrisy, the corruption, the tragic loss of life and the appalling increase of crime which have attended the abortive attempt to enforce it; in the shocking effect it has had upon the youth of the nation; in the impairment of constitutional guarantees of individual rights; in the weakening of the sense of solidarity between the citizen and the government which is the only sure basis of a country's strength.
The elderly presiding officer of the Cleveland convention, Mrs. Henry B. Joy, once a prohibitionist like her AAPA-director husband, summarized the broad sweep of the WONPR'S opposition to prohibition. After noting increased crime, overcrowded prisons, social and economic distress, and loss of respect for law and the law enforcement system, she concluded, "To my view, the prohibition conditions constitute the greatest menace to our country's welfare which has existed in my lifetime.""
The WONPR expanded even more rapidly after its Cleveland meeting. At the second annual convention in Washington in April 1931, Pauline Sabin announced total membership of 300,000 and "live, active organizations in thirty-three states." One year later, 600,000 members and forty-one state branches were claimed. By the 1932 election, membership reportedly had passed 1.1 million, and when repeal was achieved in December 1933, 1.5 million women belonged, it was said. Although membership claims are hard to verify and are probably somewhat exaggerated, on the basis of these figures the women's organization must be deemed by far the largest antiprohibition association, three times the size of the AAPA at its peak."
The WONPR placed great importance on obtaining a large membership. If vote-counting politicians were to take the repeal crusade seriously, they must realize that not all women supported prohibition. The national publicity chairman believed that no more important news could be distributed than reports of increased membership, for "it is the only way we have of demonstrating our strength nationally."" Branches in New York (where by April 1933, 305,000 women were enrolled), Illinois (214,000), Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania (each about 100,000), California, Massachusetts, Missouri, and New Jersey (between 50,000 and 65,000 apiece), and Connecticut (35,000) became especially significant. Quite a few other states reported several thousand members, and by the end of 1933 only Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, and South Dakota lacked any organization. In general, the group grew strongest in the northeast and remained weakest in the states of the old confederacy. Four to 6 percent of the state's women joined the WONPR in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, and New York. State branches took considerable pride in announcing that membership had exceeded or doubled or even-in the case of Illinois in 1933-reached thirteen times that of the state WCTU. When national WONPR membership reached 400,000 in December 1931, surpassing the total claimed by the WCTU, it was considered a major milestone in the organization's history." The WONPR's rapid and enormous growth, according to James Wadsworth, "made a lot of men wake up and realize that, 'By heavens, there is a chance of getting repeal if the women are going to join with us!"' Women prohibitionists, not surprisingly, were less pleased. One wrote to Pauline Sabin, "Every evening I get down on my knees and pray to God to damn your soul.""
The WONPR assaulted the stereotype of total female support for prohibition in other ways. States branches distributed literature, lobbied legislators, studied liquor control systems, held public meetings and parades, and campaigned for repeal candidates or against prohibitionists." Nationally, the women's organization disputed WCTU Claims, based on convention resolutions of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, that all three million federation members endorsed prohibition. Asserting that many of its own adherents also belonged to the federation, the WONPR in February 1932 challenged the GFWC to conduct a membership referendum on prohibition. Although no such poll was ever held, the federation fell silent on the prohibition issue. The WONPR had again undercut claims that women universally favored national prohibition."
Why was the WONPR SO successful in attracting support and thereby shattering the image of women as unswerving prohibitionists? Some observers suggested that many women enlisted to improve their social standing, to associate with and emulate the fashionable ladies who led the organization. " To some degree, this may have been the case. Scarcely a description of Pauline Sabin was published which failed to mention her grace and delicate beauty, her fine taste in clothing, and her prominence in New York society. Magazines as diverse as Vogue, Time, McCall's, Smart Set, Liberty, The New Yorker, Forum, and Vanity Fair all pointed out the high social position of the WONPR leadership." A writer for Vogue, in an early article on the women's organization, exclaimed, "It always takes an important lady to set a style, one with considerable manner and chic. Just such ones have started the organized women's movement for prohibition reform.""
All too often, however, the efforts of American women have been dismissed as trivial whatever the motives or achievements involved. A common means of discounting women's serious activity has been to attribute it to a mere quest for domestic improvement or social advancement. The women's organization, although largely middle and upper class in composition, drew women of various backgrounds and not only socialites. A noticeably higher percentage Of WONPR members were working women than was the case in the population as a whole. A number who took up the repeal issue were regularly involved in politics, while far more participated in charitable or other civic causes." It seems unlikely that such active women were persuaded to join simply to follow fashion. One New York WONPR officer suggested that the importance of the social standing of the organization's leaders lay in the encouragement it gave to concerned but cautious women. "The fact that the published list of sponsors contains the names of some of the most highly respected women in the country," said Mrs. Christian R. Holmes, "inspires confidence in those who have wanted to join us, but did not dare. They are no longer afraid to come into the open and declare themselves.""
Undoubtedly, the growth of the WONPR was not inhibited by the desire of some women to follow "chic" social leaders and to share in the considerable acclaim being given this new women's crusade. However, substantive objections to prohibition appear to have weighed heavily on the minds of many who joined the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform. Published surveys of female antiprohibitionists, although admittedly quite limited, show them sincerely concerned that prohibition was subverting youth, the home and family, the economy, and respect for all law." The decision of the WONPR to declare the mild goal of "Reform" in its name, despite its commitment to full repeal, may have boosted membership somewhat, but the general outspokenness of the organization suggests that most women knew exactly what they were joining and accepted the WONPR platform. Serious opposition to national prohibition, rather than social climbing, seems to have been the principal reason that, beginning in 1929 and 1930, hundreds of thousands of women aligned themselves with the repeal movement.
In mid-1927 a few prominent New York attorneys formed their own small antiprohibition group. In December they began to speak out against the Eighteenth Amendment, calling it inconsistent with the spirit and purpose of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The amendment and the laws enacted thereunder, they charged, confused and hindered the administration of other laws and generally impaired respect for law. By October 1928 the group had established a small office and employed an executive secretary, Helena P. Rhudy." The following January they formally incorporated as the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers (VCL), with Joseph H. Choate, Jr., as chairman of an executive committee and Harrison Tweed as treasurer. Choate, the son of a renowned constitutional lawyer and ambassador to Britain, and Tweed, eventually president of the Bar Association of the City of New York, held partnerships in two of New York's most distinguished law firms. They typified the leaders of the bar who made up the membership of the VCL. The committee never became large, despite Mrs. Rhudy's travels and correspondence to recruit attorneys. At its peak in 1932, it listed only 3,626 members." Choate called it "an odd organization" and explained that "things were run by a vague but able Executive Committee in New York in which everyone did what he thought best."" New York City remained the committee's focal point, although Chicago and Philadelphia developed sizable contingents, and eventually 80 percent of all members came from outside New York. The VCL, dependent on small contributions from members, only once, in 1930, enjoyed an annual budget as high as $15,000." Because of the stature of Choate, Tweed, and many of its other members, the influence which the VCL exerted, however, proved disproportionate to its size and budget.
The Voluntary Committee of Lawyers forged strong ideological and personal bonds to the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment. Joseph Choate had belonged to the AAFA since at least 1926. Several other VCL leaders, many of whom knew the du Ponts, Charles Sabin, Grayson Murphy, Raskob, and other association leaders from legal, banking, or corporate contacts, eventually became AAPA directors. Defense of constitutional tradition and a stable society stood uppermost in the minds of both groups. In its incorporation statement, the VCL asserted:
The Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act violate the basic principles of our law and government and encroach upon the powers properly reserved to the states and the people, land] the attempt to enforce them has been productive of such evils and abuses as are necessarily incident to a violation of these principles, including disrespect for law, obstruction of the due administration of justice, corruption of public officials, abuse of legal process, resort by the government to improper and illegal acts in the procurement of evidence and infringement of such constitutional guarantees as immunity from double jeopardy and illegal search and seizure."
The essential issue in prohibition, Frederic R. Coudert argued in one of the VCL'S few pamphlets, was the constitutional problem of power distribution between the states and nation. The Eighteenth Amendment, he said, subverted the federal system, undermined law enforcement, and destroyed respect for law. "American lawyers must assume the leadership in the struggle for the restoration of our Constitution.""
While a few members argued publicly against national prohibition, the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers mainly worked quietly behind the scenes, where its prestigious membership gave it considerable influence with other lawyers. Wherever it gained a hearing, the committee urged the local bar to adopt resolutions opposing the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act. Between 1928 and 1930, bar associations in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, Washington, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon, as well as the state bars of New Jersey, Nevada, and Virginia declared themselves in favor of returning the regulation of liquor to the states. At the American Bar Association's convention in Memphis in October 1929, members began lobbying for a repeal resolution from the national body. The following July the ABA, conscious that the issue would be brought before its next convention, and eager to avoid a bitter public fight, polled its members on whether to hold a prohibition referendum. When they overwhelmingly agreed, a simultaneous vote on the question of retaining or discarding the Eighteenth Amendment was tabulated. With three-fourths of ABA members voting, 13,779 favored repeal and only 6,340 opposed it." The announcement of these lopsided results in November 1930 dealt national prohibition a severe blow by puffing the largest, most inclusive organization in the legal profession on record as rejecting prohibition by a two-to-one margin. The Voluntary Committee of Lawyers had quietly engineered an important victory for the wet cause. Two years later, at a crucial stage of the repeal process, its special expertise and influence would again prove invaluable.
Another antiprohibition society appeared on the scene about the same time as the WONPR and the VCL. In May 1929 a group of young Cleveland businessmen led by Fred G. Clark, a thirty-nine-year-old lubricating oil company president who had worked for Benedict Crowell during World War 1, established a local organization known as the Crusaders. Clark later recalled that the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago, the bloody result of rivalry among bootleggers, moved them to action. The growing power and wealth of gangsters and the decline of law and order in society caused by prohibition concerned them, he said. By January 1930, when they claimed 4,000 members in Cleveland and decided to make the Crusaders a national antiprohibition organization for young men, Clark and his colleagues also held prohibition responsible for the declining economic condition of the country. "
The Crusaders set themselves a goal of ten million members, each paying one dollar dues, by 1932. It is doubtful, however, that they even reached the one million members they eventually claimed. Their efforts featured bombastic rhetoric and loose structure. In Mississippi the Crusaders executive committee included a young novelist from Oxford. Twenty-five years later the author, William Faulkner, could barely recall the organization, saying it was probably something he got excited about and signed his name to "one hot summer night over a bottle of gin.""
The AAPA sought to cooperate with the Crusaders, especially through an executive committee member, Benedict Crowell, who lived in Cleveland. The sons of several AAPA leaders joined the new society. By mid-1931, however, Henry Curran was beginning to find the Crusaders uncooperative. In September the AAPA president reported that the young men's group was in serious financial trouble, and a year later research director John Gebhart regarded them as insignificant. The Crusaders never became an important voice on the national scene, although they concocted some elaborate publicity stunts and may have had grass-roots influence in some states."
None of the individual or collective unhappiness with national prohibition appeared likely to bring down the Eighteenth Amendment as the 1920s wound to a close. Few Congressmen, even those who disliked prohibition, wished to risk dry wrath by supporting a repeal resolution. Many continued to hope prohibition could be made effective and looked to President Hoover's National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement to find a way. Wets were unable to muster a third of the Senate or a fourth of the House of Representatives in the February 1929 vote on the Jones Five-and-Ten bill, establishing heavier penalties for prohibition violations." A two-thirds vote of Congress to submit the repeal question to the states clearly was not in prospect. But the stock market crash of October 1929 and the general economic collapse which followed produced a new and unexpected set of circumstances.
Throughout the 1920s, prohibitionists gave the law credit for the prevailing prosperity. Indeed, with enforcement more difficult than expected, they cited prohibition's economic benefits as a major justification for maintaining it. In a book titled Prohibition and Prosperity, Samuel Crowther called the liquor ban, "The one great and fundamental change that has taken place in this country during the past ten years." In his view, the dry law "sought to throw a dam across that part of the river of purchasing power which formerly flowed uselessly for liquor and to re-route the stream through turbines which might usefully turn to create wealth. Today the dam is built and the money which formerly went for drink is the motive power of our prosperity."" Crowther argued that money spent on liquor was absolutely wasted, while money saved by prohibition was spent on other things and generated more production, more wages, and more profit. Furthermore, preventing workers from drinking increased industrial efficiency. Working-men were spending less on liquor and gaining the true liberty which could only come with wealth. Only higher income groups who could afford it without reducing their other expenditures now drank, said Crowther. 'I Right up to the moment of collapse, both prohibition advocates and the unsympathetic attributed prosperity to the influence of the liquor ban." Then the tables were turned, and the claims of prohibition's effect on the economy were used against the law.
The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment had occasionally complained of national prohibition's cost, but as the depression deepened, the association began to examine the law's economic aspects in more detail and to dispute claims of its benefits. Prohibition increased government expenditures and reduced revenues, the AAPA proclaimed. Repeal would help alleviate economic distress. Such arguments found an attentive audience in a nation increasingly beset by economic troubles and uncertain about the cause of its misery.
In October 1930 the AAPA research department challenged claims of prohibition's economic benefits in a pamphlet entitled Does Prohibition Pay? Unless the nation was realizing a net savings in the expenditure for drink, the pamphlet began, the dry premise must collapse. Estimating domestic liquor production on the basis of annual output of hops, wine grapes, and corn sugar minus the amount of these commodities accounted for by legitimate industry, the association calculated that per capita beer consumption was down three-fourths compared to prewar levels, but wine consumption had doubled, and consumption of spirits was up 10 percent. At current bootleg prices, the annual national liquor bill amounted to $2,848,000,000, nearly a billion dollars more per year than had been spent for intoxicants before the war. Therefore, prohibition had achieved no net savings. New industrial technology, steady employment, the availability of new commodities, and the expansion of credit had accounted for economic growth in the 1920s, the research department concluded."
This widely reported AAPA liquor bill estimate was challenged by prohibitionists, but accepted in other quarters. Some even thought the figure too low. Clark Warburton, a Columbia University economist who assisted Gebhart in his early research but then departed to conduct his own investigation, presented a wealth of evidence supporting the association's claim that prohibition had not contributed to prosperity. Warburton agreed with the AAPA'S calculation of liquor consumption. However, his estimate of the annual expenditure on liquor, Five billion dollars in 1929 and four billion in 1930, the first year of the depression, considerably exceeded the AAPA's."
The association soon began making vigorous use of an argument first broached in 1929 in The Cost of Prohibition and Your Income Tax. A new brochure, The Need of a New Source of Government Revenue, maintained that prohibition repeal could wipe out the federal deficit. In the seventeen states considered likely to approve liquor sales, 1918 tax rates would generate over $900,000,000 in federal revenue per year, the association predicted. A later pamphlet reported that the net cost of enforcing prohibition from 1920 through 1931 totaled $310,000,000, and that lost federal liquor-tax revenue for the same period amounted to roughly $1,000,000,000. Without prohibition, the study continued, the federal budget could have been balanced, the national debt substantially reduced, and taxes on incomes and profits decreased. "The present serious financial situation in which our federal government is placed could have been mitigated, if not entirely avoided," the report concluded, "had we not, by adopting national prohibition, abandoned a steady and dependable source of revenue.""
When the AAPA raised economic objections to prohibition, drys saw only self-interest. For years they charged that wealthy wet leaders only wanted repeal so that liquor could be taxed and income taxes reduced. The AntiSaloon League accused Irenee du Pont of saying that "one of his companies would save $10,000,000 in corporation tax if we should have, say, the British tax on beer."" In 1926 Captain Stayton had so quoted Irenee. Irenee explained to a friend that he had told Stayton in private that "if liquor were taxed and paid to the Government instead of being taxed double and paid to the bootleggers, the Government could reduce profit and income taxes by 50% which in the case of General Motors Corporation alone would result in a reduction of their taxes by $10,000,000." Irenee had presumed that "this would be paid either to stockholders as dividends or, what is more likely, be distributed in the form of lower prices on motor cars."" Drys sought "to discredit anyone who was opposed to them and to disregard the possibility that any of their opponents might be even halfway decent people," he complained. As for himself, he opposed the evil conditions of intemperance, the government's total loss of control over the liquor traffic, and the corruption of law enforcement. He did feel that corporate profits taxes, which furnished the funds formerly supplied by liquor taxes, could be eliminated if the tax on alcohol flowed to the government instead of to bootleggers and corrupt officials." Irenee pointed out that Anti-Saloon League economic motives were just as open to question:
You evidently believe it is better to tax the profits of a corporation than to tax beer. No tax is levied on beer today. Why do you wish that manufacture be exempt of taxation like church property, and why do you attempt to hold me up as one with ulterior motives for his beliefs?
Have I not got greater grounds for assuming that you are interested in bootlegging and the enormous profits therein by maintaining the present outrageous conditions?
... I do not make such an accusation, but I think you are misguided and unfair."
Nevertheless, prohibitionists created the impression that the AAPA had acted merely out of financial self-interest."
Undeniably, the economic situation concerned the members of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment. As did many other people at the time, they saw unwise fiscal policy as the depression's cause. Restoration of a vigorous economy depended, they felt, upon a balanced federal budget trimmed of unnecessary expenditures and upon tax reductions to release more money for private enterprise and profit. They considered it both foolish and unfair not to tax the highly profitable liquor traffic, while disproportionately heavy tax burdens hindered other industries in their recovery. "Americans are sick, as never before, of the squandering of millions of dollars on an exploded experiment while people are clamoring for work and food," Henry Curran wrote. "When we kill Prohibition we not only regain our national self-respect but we give jobs to the unemployed, start the upswing to better business and provide a billion dollars a year to wipe out the government's deficit and prevent heavier taxes.""
Yet economics remained only one AAPA concern among several and, at that, as much a concern with national as with personal economic well-being. Association leaders certainly believed that prohibition damaged the economy, but they did not consider economics the overriding reason for their repeal efforts. Years before they made major objections to enforcement costs and tax burdens, antiprohibitionists had complained bitterly about crime, intemperance, and constitutional damage. "Neither my brother nor I," asserted Irenee du Pont, "have any ulterior motive in being opposed to Prohibition and are conscientious believers that it is a mistake to continue the so-called 'experiment. "'I' The AAPA economic argument did prove persuasive, nevertheless, in winning additional support for repeal.
Others saw the need to reduce government expenses, to increase state and federal revenues, and to provide jobs as good reasons for legalizing the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. The Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform, for instance, included the AAPA's arguments and figures on the dry law's economic impact in its own publications. In a letter to the president, a loyal Hoover supporter showed how the depression affected attitudes:
When the nation was enjoying unprecedented prosperity, the huge loss of revenue from liquor taxes might be overlooked, particularly because a good many people believed that there was some connection between prosperity and prohibition. But this supposed connection now appears to be merely an alliterative fallacy. And in the present depression the country simply cannot afford to give away to bootleggers, corrupt officials, and other criminals nearly a billion dollars annually which could be raised by taxing a lawful liquor traffic. This additional revenue could be used either to eliminate the deficit or to cut corporate and individual income taxes almost in half. The effect in hastening the business recovery would be incalculable. One of the specters that now paralyze industry is the prospect of increased income taxes which must be faced in the coming years, for tax receipts next year will probably be less than this year, leaving another huge deficit. Prohibition reform is the only law-making act which would have an immediate tonic effect economically. "
The depression gave organized labor, long opposed to national prohibition, additional reason to complain. Representatives of labor told the Wickersham commission in 1930 that prohibition eliminated jobs and discriminated against workers who could not afford illicit liquor as easily as the upper classes. The dry law, in other words, increased the economic distress. Furthermore, said AFL vice-president Matthew Woll, an AAPA director, union people were developing a dangerous resentment and distrust of government because of prohibition. "They feel if a judge can be bought for liquor, he can be bought for anything else; if a police officer can be quieted by a little money for liquor, he can be quieted for something else." Faith in government's willingness to help workers was evaporating. 'I As the depression grew worse and claims were made that even modification to permit 2.75 beer would create 250,000 jobs, 'I labor became increasingly hostile to the liquor ban.
In January 1931 the American Federation of Labor created a committee to agitate for prohibition reform. The AFL still held to its long-time cautious policy of seeking Volstead Act modification to allow beer and wine, but it was obviously moving toward stronger demands. Matthew Woll became president of Labor's National Committee for Modification of the Volstead Act. The committee held a two-day conference in Philadelphia in April 1931, during which labor leaders heard from repeal advocates such as Pauline Sabin and laid plans among themselves for appeals to Congress. Woll later stressed to a House committee that American workers opposed prohibition as much as did wet millionaires."
The American Legion, a million-member World War I veteran's association, displayed an acute concern over the shattering effect of the depression on many of its members. Having lobbied successfully in the early 1920s for a veteran's pension, the legion, at its September 1931 convention in Detroit, considered a proposal to demand that the bonus be paid immediately. A last-minute personal appearance by President Hoover helped defeat the idea for the time. But the Detroit convention was less willing to respect Hoover's views on prohibition. As the president finished his appeal for patriotic cooperation in the battle against depression, a delegate bellowed, "We want a beer," and the convention erupted in a wet demonstration." The legion had dodged the alcohol issue for years, but during 1931 Henry Cuff an urged local posts to pass antiprohibition resolutions. Following a debate in which delegates cheered wet speakers and booed drys, the Detroit convention by a vote of 1,008 to 394 declared that "the Eighteenth Amendment ... has created a condition endangering respect for law and the security of American institutions." The resolution asked Congress to submit the question of prohibition repeal or modification to the states with the request that they in turn present the issue directly to the voters." Representatives of the other major veterans' organization, the 200,000 member Veterans of Foreign Wars, meeting the same month in Kansas City, unanimously approved a similar resolution." The politically powerful veterans' lobbies spoke emphatically and, for once, in unison.
The onset of a severe depression not only stimulated a reevaluation of the economic impact of national prohibition and brought new critics of the dry law to the fore, it also coincided with a grave blow to the public image of the temperance crusade. For years, wets had sought to undermine support for prohibition by discrediting the law's most prominent advocates. In 1923 the Missouri AAPA exposed the state's Anti-Saloon League superintendent, the Reverend W. C. Shupp, who among other things influenced prohibition officials to grant lucrative medicinal liquor permits to his drug company and to raid bootleggers in competition with others who were paying him bribes. Shupp quickly resigned his league post because of "broken health." The next year a jury convicted New York's Anti-Saloon League superintendent, William "Pussyfoot" Anderson, of forging league financial records to conceal his skimming of contributions. The AAPA called attention to these cases and a similar scandal involving the Kansas league superintendent as indications of the moral bankruptcy of the Anti-Saloon League. Congressmen who had voted dry and then were caught bringing foreign liquor into the country, as three were in 1929, also drew scornful notice. " But these incidents seemed to have little impact, especially in comparison to revelations in 1929 and 1930 concerning the country's leading dry spokesman.
Following the death in 1927 of Wayne B. Wheeler, the general counsel and chief Washington representative of the Anti-Saloon League, Bishop James Cannon, Jr., of Virginia, chairman of the Methodist Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals, emerged as the most powerful figure in the dry phalanx. H. L. Mencken, with his usual hyperbole, charged that "Congress was his troop of Boy Scouts, and Presidents trembled whenever his name was mentioned."" Cannon became a principal organizer and leading spokesman for the dry southern Democratic revolt against Al Smith in 1928 which saw five former confederate states go Republican for the first time since Reconstruction. After this triumph, rumors circulated widely that Cannon would seek election to the Senate. Then, in part through the machinations of his long-time foe, Virginia Democratic senator Carter Glass, Bishop Cannon's image of moral probity and power came apart. First, his extremely profitable stock speculation on margin through a notorious New York securities firm, which had declared bankruptcy and been charged with mail fraud, came to light. To many, such activity bordered on gambling, hardly appropriate behavior for a clergyman, especially one in Cannon's position. Shortly thereafter, Glass gave the press information he had been holding for a decade showing that Cannon, while president of Blackstone College, a small Virginia girls' school, had hoarded flour during World War I and sold it at great profit. By the spring of 1930, Cannon had to defend himself before a Senate committee investigating lobbyists on charges of financial irregularities during the 1928 campaign and before the General Conference of the Methodist Church on charges that his activities had harmed the church. Then in July, newspapers throughout the country carried the sensational report that the bishop, who had just married his secretary, had been carrying on an affair with her since before his first wife's death in 1929. Cannon spent the next three years defending himself before a special church committee, a Senate select committee on campaign expenditures, and a federal court where a grand jury had indicted him for conspiring to violate the Federal Corrupt Practices Law. Although he escaped conviction, the barrage of charges, some well-documented, shattered Cannon's reputation and influence."' Dry ranks contained no replacement of equivalent stature or skill. A tarnished reputation together with an economic depression caused a sharp drop in already declining Anti-Saloon League contributions." Thus prohibitionists faced the greatest challenge to their position in a weakened condition.
By the time the United States had spent a year in the grips of an economic crisis, prospects for a change in national prohibition brightened considerably, although the political obstacles remained substantial. The already rising tide of opposition, both individual and organizational, had accelerated noticeably as a result of the depression. The advent of a number of new organizations soliciting contributions for antiprohibition work provided a sure sign of improving wet fortunes. Groups such as the Prosperity Beer League, the Congressional Districts Modification League, the National Committee for the Repeal of the 18th Amendment, Inc., the Blue Cockade, the Companions of the Golden Dawn, and the Anti-Prohibition Battle Fund appeared little more than attempts to raise money to pay salaries to their founders." That the repeal cause attracted such profiteers reflected their view that AAPA contributors and many other people would be willing to support any agency which offered relief from national prohibition. Unlike the AAPA, WONPR, and VCL, these groups quickly disappeared, having done nothing to advance the cause of repeal. The major antiprohibition societies, meanwhile, abetted by the depression and setbacks suffered by the drys, hammered away at the liquor ban. In the circumstances of 1930 and after, their campaign began to overcome long-standing assumptions that the Eighteenth Amendment could never be overturned.
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