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Historical References
1926 Senate Prohibition Hearings

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April 5 to 24, 1926


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Senator REED of Missouri, I think you had covered, before I came in, Mr. Roberts, the very questions I was going to ask, so I will not do so.

Mr. ROBERTS. That was my reason for giving it, to show that I had personal knowledge of these things.

Senator REED of Missouri. In your opinion would the consumption of hard liquors and the development of home stills be minimized if the legal right were granted to get light wines and beer?

Mr. ROBERTS. I have not the least doubt of it.

Senator REED of Missouri. That is, all I wish to ask.

Senator HARRELD. If I understand you, the extent to which your organization has gone is that it has simply indorsed such a change in the: Volstead Act as would make it possible to sell light wine and beer.


Senator HARRELD. They are not opposing the eighteenth amendment as such.

Mr. ROBERTS. No. We believe that if you will do that it will be for true temperance, whereas as now it is not working out for true temperance. The Volstead Act is, as you have heard in testimony by men who enforce the law, unable to be enforced.

Senator HARRELD. That is all I wish to ask.

Senator WALSH. I just want to have the matter made clear. You are not able to tell us how many State federations of the American Federation of Labor have taken affirmative action either for or against the law as it stands.

Mr. ROBERTS. I can not give you the number, but I do know that they all coincide. in the action taken by the American Federation of Labor, because they have never protested against it. We know that.

Senator WALSH. Yes, and that you have made perfectly clear, that you have never had any protest from any of them.


Senator WALSH. I mean, against the action taken by the American Federation of Labor and by the executive council.


Senator WALSH. But the question that I asked was as to how many of them have taken affirmative action on their own account either for the law as it stands or against the law as it stands.

Mr. ROBERTS. I could not give the number, but I know that there are quite a number that have done it, because in traveling round the country I have heard them talking about it and what they do.

Senator WALSH. That is all.

Senator REED of Missouri. That is all I wish, thank you.

Mr. CODMAN. The next witness will be William J. McSorley, president of the building trades department. Is Mr. McSorley here?

Mr. MCSORLEY. Yes, Sir.

Mr. CODMAN. Will you please come around?

Senator WALSH. Mr. McSorley, you do solemnly swear that the evidence you are now going, to give in this hearing being held by the subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?


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(The witness was duly sworn by Senator Walsh.)

Mr. MCSORLEY. I desire to state, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, that I have been instructed by the executive council of the building trades department, which embraces the membership of the building trades mechanics, approximately 1,000,000 men, to appear before your committee and express the opinion of our organization, made in convention assembled, to the effect that we are in favor of a modification of the Volstead Act; and in favor of a law that will give to the working men of this country the right to have light wine and beer.

The working men of this country, particularly the building tradesmen, are under the impression that the law as it exists to-day is unfair and unjust. They can not be shown the equity or justice of the present law due to the fact that the rich man, who had sufficient capital to supply his warehouse or his cellar prior to the law going into effect, has the right to drink his beer, wine and whisky during the rest of his life if his stock will hold out, while the working men who did not have any capital to do that are deprived of the right of having a glass of beer.

For this reason we believe that the law should be modified, so that the working men, in particular the building tradesmen of our country, who desire to have wine and beer, may have it.

I have been sent here by our organization to present these views to you.

There is a lot more I could say in reference to the failure of the law, but I believe that has been sufficiently covered.

We believe that the law, in so far as it has been able to deal out equity to all parties concerned, has been a failure; and we are in favor now of having the law modified.

Senator WALSH. Mr. McSorley,I remember hearing Mr. Gompers before this committee. Are you in favor of 2.75 percent beer instead of one-half of 1 per cent? Is that the view you take?

Mr. MCSORLEY. That is the attitude of our building-trades department.

Senator WALSH. And as to light wines, have you thought of the percentage that you think ought to be permitted?

Mr. MCSORLEY. We think that light wines should be anywhere from 12 to 18 per cent.

Senator WALSH. That is all I wish to ask.

Senator REED of Missouri. When you speak about light wines and beer do you mean beer with an unlimited amount of alcohol in it, or do you mean light beer?

Mr. MCSORLEY. We mean light beer. We have always regarded 2.75 beer as light beer. And we do not believe such beer would injure any working in fact, I have myself, many times when working on a building gone out at noontime and had two or three glasses of beer and felt refreshed and stimulated.

And I want to say that I have been national president of the building trades organization for 25 years and have traveled in every city and hamlet in this country, as well as in Canada, and I am frank to

221 * * * * * THE NATIONAL PROHIBITION LAW * * * * *

say that the great majority of the building trades mechanics of the country are in favor of modification of the law, and especially so when they look round and see the way the law is acting and the way it has turned out.

We find in some localities where it is necessary for the district attorney, or the county prosecutor, to summon in all the justices of the peace and threaten to force them to resign, and actually to make them resign; and in other cases---

Senator REED Of Missouri (interposing). Make them resign for what reason?

Mr. MCSORLEY. For cooperating with the enforcement officers who were shaking the people down. I think you will find in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, that that method of procedure is going on right now. The district attorney there has compelled several to resign.

We also find in some States, or cities, that through the leading enforcement officers, who have charge of the enforcement of the law in a city, for instance, that they are indicting and convicting and sending persons to the penitentiary. These things do not have a very good impression upon building tradesmen of our country. They can not see the justice of the thing. And why? Here on one side we have the rich man with his stock. He has the legal right to drink it, and use it every day for a lifetime, whereas if a working man goes out and somebody gives him a bottle of whisky, or a bottle of beer, or a bottle of gin, he is arrested and charged with illegal possession and sent to jail. They are fined in a lot of cases and sent to jail in some cases. That is the part that the building tradesmen can not see any equity or justice in.

Senator REED of Missouri. Mr. McSorley, there may be some inequity in that, but I am not so much interested in that proposition as I am from this standpoint: I should like to have the results of your observation and experience among these working men (1) as to whether a light wine or beer, a mild stimulant, aids them in the comforts of life and without any bad effects, and (2) whether you think it is necessary in some trades and crafts for men to have a glass of beer.

Mr. MCSORLEY. Well, we can only report the expressions as given to us in the different sections of the country by the different working men--- in fact, there are so many in favor of this--- that is, you do not hear the statement so much "We want wine," but you do hear the statement "If they will give us our beer we will be perfectly satisfied." We do not hear amongst our men so much about wine. All they say is "Give us our beer, and they can take away everything else."

Senator REED of Missouri. Now, what in your judgment has been the effect of stopping their beer and the business as it is now conducted as to bootlegging hard liquor?

Mr. MCSORLEY. Well, of course, any body who has any sense at all can see the difference and can see what is going on. The working man, if he desires to drink to-day, has got to go out and pay some bootlegger $10 or $12 a quart for whisky, whereas if he could get a glass of beer he would not touch whisky.

Senator REED of Missouri. Now, that is the point I want to get, whether you believe that if the working man had beer it would minimize the use of this bootleg whiskey.

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Mr. MCSORLEY. Absolutely. There is no question about that. it would do away with the distilling of raisin jack, moonshine, in the workers' houses; it would do away with home brew in their houses because if a man could go out an get a good glass of beer he would not attempt to make a lot of beer which is nothing more than sour slop, and which has a tendency to ruin his stomach.

Senator REED of Missouri. You say it is sour slop. Could you got drunk on it, or could anybody get drunk on it, I mean?

Mr. MCSORLEY. Well, I imagine they can. Personally I have been in cities where they made it to-day and sold it to-morrow, and sold plenty of it, too.

Senator REED of Missouri. What is your knowledge and experience with reference to the question, and I do not mean in volume, but as to whether the manufacture in the home is becoming general, the making of home brews and the making of whisky, and so forth in the home, is becoming general?

Mr. MCSORLEY. You Will find that the workingmen of this country, 90 per cent of them, are either making wines, beer or whisky out of every known vegetable and fruit that exists. Everyone has his own special concotion. They even make wine out of parsnips and such stuff. Whether such a beverage is healthful for them or not, I do not know, but I do not think so.

Senator REED of Missouri. Now, you think that would stop they could go out and buy a well-made standard beer with a low percentage of alcohol?

Mr. MCSORLEY. Absolutely.

Senator REED of Missouri. Because they would prefer a low percentage good beer to the stuff that is made by themselves, or that they could buy of somebody who has made it perhaps the night before.

Mr. MCSORLEY. Absolutely. I am candidly of the opinion that it would just reverse the figures; there would be 90 per cent of the working men of this country who would be satisfied with their glass of beer, and 10 per cent perhaps might strive in some way to furnish themselves alcoholic beverages or hard spirits.

Senator REED of Missouri. I hardly think I need ask the question but I will do it in order to put it in the record: Are you as one of the old--- and I do not mean that you are personally old, but that you are an old officer in this association, I believe.

Mr. MCSORLEY. Yes, sir.

Senator REED of Missouri. And naturally you are interested in the physical and moral welfare of the members of your craft.

Mr. MCSORLEY. Absolutely. I have been an international officer, the international president of the Wood, Wire, and Metal Lathers International Union for nearly a quarter of a century.

Senator REED of Missouri. Is it your judgment that a modification such as, you ask for would make for temperance, for sobriety, and for better morals among the members of your craft?

Mr. MCSORLEY. Absolutely. I know that to be a fact, because I know of numerous instances where men are now drinking whiskey who never drank whiskey in their lives prior to the enactment or this law. And I also know that these very same men, some of them, when they get hold of a quart, of whiskey, will stay in a room or any other place where they can get it until it is finished.

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Senator REED of Missouri. That is all I wish to ask.

Mr. MCSORLEY. And if we could have our beer, those men would not be drinking hard liquor. They would go in some place and drink a glass of beer whenever the were off from work, or during lunch time and would then go on about their business.

Senator REED of Missouri. That is all, I thank you.

Mr. CODMAN. I shall now call Mr. Andrew Furuseth of the Seamen's International Union.

(The witness was duly sworn by Senator Walsh.)


Mr. FURUSETH. My name is Andrew Furuseth. I am president of the International Seamen's Union of America; residence, 59 Beaver Street, San Francisco, Calif.

Senator REED of Missouri. I know everything about you except I do not know how to spell your name. Will you tell me?

Mr. FURUSETH. F-u-r-u-s-e-t-h.

Mr. CODMAN. Make your statement in your own way, Mr. Furuseth.

Mr. FURUSETH. The seamen have a peculiar experience in this matter. Those people who are always eager to improve the people's conduct and morals by statutes and enactments, instead of by example, have found the seamen a very fruitful ground upon which to experiment.

Many years ago, when I first went to sea, and that is over 50 years ago, they had just begun to put into the articles of seamen, "No grog allowed." A seaman used to be served, that is, seamen in northern countries, England, and so on, they used to be served with a certain amount of grog a day.

Now the theory of the reformers was that if they did not get the grog at sea they would lose the taste for it, and they would surely be more sober than they were. Well, the theory did not work out. Instead of drinking less when he came ashore he drank more. That is the substance of that reform, which dates back some 60 years.

Now speaking for myself personally, for 30 years I never tasted any intoxicating liquors. And I was very much in doubt as to this prohibition proposition. I did not think that it would be a good thing in fact when it came to a vote upon it I voted against it, although I was myself a prohibitionist personally at that time. That is when the first question of voting came up.

I found in my own living amongst the seamen that when thy got ashore they nearly all of them wanted a few drinks. Not being accustomed to it two or three drinks knocked them out, particularly the kind of drinks that we used to get around the saloons.

Now as a seaman I am entirely opposed to the saloon, always was, and I am now. And the seamen as a general proposition are. I am speaking now of the thinking, respectable seamen, who know what they want and are trying to do right. Among the seamen, you know, there are many who do not do either, because we constitute really, as a matter of fact, the rakings and scrapings of hell, bedlam,