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Frederic J. Haskin

Illustrations from Photographs by
Harris & Ewing

published by Frederic J. Haskin
Washington D. C
copyright 1911
copyright 1923
By Frederic J. Haskin

Chapter XXXVII


NATION-wide prohibition became effective in the United States January 16, 1920, as a result of the adoption of the eighteenth amendment to the Federal Constitution and the passage of an enforcement act known as the Volstead Law. This law was passed twice by Congress, the second time on October 28, 1919, by a two-thirds vote of both House and Senate in order to override the veto of President Woodrow Wilson.

Agitation against the use of intoxicating liquors is coeval with written history. The early Mosaic lawgivers attempted to repress drunkenness. Over 2,000 years B. C. a King of Babylon, Hammurabi, decreed that a wine seller who permitted riotous persons to assemble on his premises should be put to death, and Mohammed commanded his followers to abstain from the use of intoxicants.

In the United States the first laws to prohibit the manufacture and sale of liquors date back to 1838 in Tennessee and to 1846 in Maine. Prior to 1906, 18 States had adopted State-wide prohibition, but the temperance wave had receded by that year so that but three States-Maine, Kansas, and North Dakota remained in the prohibition column. Campaigns for State laws and constitutional provisions were renewed and the movement progressed rapidly from the enactment of the Georgia law in 1907. Ten years later, when the so-called Reed Amendment went into effect, there were 23 "bone dry" States. This law was directed against the shipment of liquors into the dry States. The entrance of the united States into the World War materially strengthened the prohibition forces. First the sale of liquors to soldiers and sailors was forbidden. Next, under the food control act, the President was authorized to prohibit the use of grains and fruits in the distillation of liquors for beverage purposes. Then followed the passage on November 21, 1918 of the war-time prohibition act, prohibiting after June 30, 1919, the sale, during the European War and thereafter until the termination of demobilization, of any intoxicating liquors except for export.

Meanwhile a resolution for a constitutional amendment had been passed by both Houses of Congress and the fight was transferred to the States to secure the necessary ratification by the legislatures of three-fourths thereof. This was accomplished by January 16, 1919, and the eighteenth amendment became effective one year later- The twelve months interregnum was provided for in the amendment as a period of adjustment to the new order of things

The immediate effect of prohibition was a loss to the Federal Government of more than $400,000,000 in annual revenue from the taxes on the liquor industry, and an increase in its expenditures necessitated by the administration of the enforcement act, the appropriation for this purpose for a year being in excess of $9,000,000. States and municipalities that had licensed the traffic also suffered a corresponding loss in revenues

A result almost coincident with the taking effect of the law was the development of a new industry, or business, known as bootlegging, which speedily attained mammoth proportions. Bootlegging is the illegal traffic in intoxicants. The supplies are obtained through illegal manufacture within the United States, through theft or illegal withdrawals from bonded warehouses, or through smuggling from adjacent countries or near by islands. Tens of thousands of people have engaged in these unlawful enterprises and the capital employed has aggregated many millions. The risks are great, the prices high, and the profits correspondingly large. Fortunes have been amassed within a comparatively short time.

Piracy and hijacking have developed as collateral activities of boot-legging and smuggling. Lawless individuals or groups have preyed upon others of their kind, stealing the illicit liquor supplies in storage or in transit, or the cash that was to be paid for such supplies, Desperate fights and many murders have featured the operations of these criminals-Most of the crimes go unreported and the perpetrators unpunished because the victims are themselves lawbreakers and can not appeal to the authorities or to the law.

Another concomitant evil of bootlegging has been the corruption of officials charged with the enforcing of the law. Wherever the illicit traffic on a large scale has been discovered, bribery or attempted bribery has been disclosed; and it has also been found that officers of the law have not always waited to be corrupted but have levied tribute. Immense sums in the aggregate have thus been paid for protection

Obviously there would be no bootleggers if there were no market for their wares. The volume of their business is therefore indicative of the widespread disregard of the law on the part of the American people. Careful investigators have reported that there is scarcely a community in the United States that is entirely free of the liquor traffic, and in the larger cities the evasions and violations of the law are constant rather than sporadic. consumption of illegal liquor is by no means confined to what is ordinarily known as the lawless element of the population. Men and women who are otherwise wholly respectable and respected are regular customers of the bootleggers- One of the traffickers arrested in Washington had in his Possession a book containing the names of persons with whom he dealt that read as if someone had been compiling a list of a few hundred of the "best people" in the National Capital. Legislators who voted for the prohibition law have been charged with infractions of its provisions.

The Attorney General of the United States has reported that his department has been called upon to prosecute members of the judiciary, prominent members of the American bar, multimillionaires, and scions of the Nation's aristocracy and that it was all a sordid story of assassination, bribery and corruption that found its way into the very sanctum wherein the inviolability of the law was presumed to have been held sacred.

Representative William D. Upshaw, of Georgia, one of the spokesmen of the Anti-Saloon League, created a furor in the Sixty-seventh Congress, with charges that there was great deal of drinking "in high places." they proposed that all public officials of the country, State as well as national, pledge themselves to total abstinence and respect for the eighteenth amendment and the enforcement law. It is significant, also, that conferences of the governors of the various states have been called, first by the late President Harding and then by President Coolidge, to consider ways and means of enforcing the prohibition act and of creating a public sentiment for law observance.

The Prohibition Unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, which is charged with enforcing prohibition so far as the Federal Government is concerned, is an organization headed by a commissioner established in Washington, with State and regional directors, State agents and flying squadrons stationed throughout the country. This force numbers from 3,000 to 3,500 and has included more than 3,900.

The stories of prohibition enforcement are more absorbing than detective tales. The agents of the Government spend their time in a ceaseless contest to outwit and apprehend the illicit distillers, smugglers, and bootleggers who resort to every subterfuge to escape detection and interference with their highly remunerative business. One still operated successfully for months in a house adjacent to a police station, The moonshiners had cut through the wall and effected a connection so that the smoke and fumes of the still escaped up the chimney of the station house. A southern manufacturer of corn liquor marketed his product by delivering it to city retailers in. milk cans.

Smuggling from Mexico and Canada has been successful on a large scale because it is an utter impossibility patrol the thousands Of miles of border. The liquor brought across the line at the North or at the South finds its way hundreds of miles into the interior of the United States, instances having been found of bootleggers that maintained large fleets of trucks and automobiles running on regular schedules between Mexican and Canadian points and cities such as St. Louis, Kansas City, and Denver.

On the Atlantic Coast the smugglers are so numerous and so active that there is at all times what is known as a rum fleet standing off or anchored outside the 3-mile limit near New York and New Jersey. The fleet consists of vessels of all kinds and sizes that bring there illicit cargoes from the Bermudas or the West Indies, or even from across the Atlantic. As long as they remain outside the 3-mile limit this Government can not interfere with them and they are able to make their deliveries to bootleggers that slip out to them under cover of darkness in motor speed boats. The latter are frequently run down and captured by the prohibition enforcement officials, but enough of them slip through .to maintain a constant supply of intoxicants on the market in the larger cities.

At one time the Prohibition Unit sought the cooperation of the Navy in its efforts to curb the business done by the rum fleet, but Attorney General Daugherty ruled that under the Constitution neither the Navy nor the Army could be used for such enforcement work. The State Department also made diplomatic representations to European nations seeking an extension of the 3-mile territorial waters limit to a 12 mile limit so that the United States might be better able to enforce its prohibition laws by search or seizure of rum vessels farther out at sea. However, there was no immediate assent to this proposal.

Not all the ships engaged in liquor smuggling make their sales outside the 3-mile limit. Some of them have boldly entered harbors and unloaded their cargoes almost under the eyes of the officials who were detailed to put an end to such practices. A tramp steamer put into one of the Atlantic seaboard ports. Its decks were covered with watermelons-Merchants at the docks offered to buy the melons, but for two days the captain of the vessel asked an excessive price for them. On the third day he sold them for a fraction of the price originally asked. Then it was learned that at night the skipper had unloaded his real cargo, which consisted of several hundred cases of imported liquors and wines.

Prohibition enforcement agents have found that even coffins are used for the illegal transportation of booze. On more than one occasion make-believe funerals have been halted and the hearse and casket found to be conveying liquor instead of a corpse. Stills have been captured only after electrically charged wires surrounding an illicit distiller's place of business were cut. Bootleggers' automobiles have been equipped with apparatuses to discharge a screen of dense, black smoke, or poisonous gas fumes to enable the drivers to elude pursuit. Trunks with false bottoms have been used for the transportation of whisky, and barrels of merchandise labeled fish, or sirup, or paint, have been seized and found to contain alcohol. One large branch of the bootlegging business is the supplying of alcohol to consumers who make synthetic gin, which is a much simpler process than distilling moonshine whisky. Alcohol is also used in the manufacture of synthetic whisky, which is not so popular with consumers, and m "cutting" imported whisky-making 2 or 8 quarts of what is labeled and sold for whisky out of 1 quart of the genuine article This adds greatly to the profits of the bootleggers. It also tends to shorten the lives of their consumers, but that does not seem greatly to concern the dealers as they always have more customers than they are able to supply.

Foreign diplomats stationed in Washington enjoy an immunity which enables them to bring into the country al the wines and liquors they require for consumption at their embassies or legations. It has been charged that some of this diplomatic liquor has frequently found its way into the bootlegging market. One woman, who was arrested on a charge of illegal possession and selling of contraband whisky, said that she secured her supplies from such a source. This woman, who had every appearance of respectability, resided in a fashionable apartment house and maintained enviable social connections. She admitted her illicit business and said that she was Supporting herself and sending her son to college on its profits.

Another story has it that in a Washington residence that houses a certain diplomatic group there is maintained a regular bar, complete even to the brass foot rail so familiar in the saloons of former years. This latter feature is said to have an especial appeal to drinkers of the old school who can not crook the elbow without instinctively bending the knee and seeking to rest the foot on the old brass rail.

The Attorney General of the United States, in reviewing the work of the Federal courts in connection with cases arising out of 41 months of prohibition enforcement, reported that more than 90,000 cases had been terminated, that there had been 72,489 convictions, and that fines aggregating more than $12,367,000 had been assessed in criminal cases alone. For the fiscal year ending June 50, 1923, the Prohibition Enforcement Commissioner reported that his general agents had seized more than 5,000 illicit stills and that illicit distilling was on the decrease. The general agents numbering less than 300 and not including hundreds of other national and State enforcement officers, were reported also to have seized 50,000 gallons of whisky, more than 2,000,000 gallons of mash, 9,000 gallons of pomace, 5,000 pounds of sugar, 21,481 fermenters, and other apparatus. The Commissioner further reported that in this fiscal year his general agents had seized 859 automobiles, 57 motor boats and launches, 29 horses and mules, and 15 wagons, buggies, and sleighs, and that taxes and penalties recommended for assessment totaled $24,177,000.

In review of two years of his administration the Commissioner said in 1923 that the facts presented warranted fair degree of satisfaction with accomplishments as a whole any problems, he said, had been solved; but new problem presented themselves every day in different aspects of the work and would continue to do so for years. The Commissioner frankly stated that one of the chief difficulties presented might be termed sectional, where there was adverse public opinion to be combated. This, he added, was to be found chiefly on the Eastern seaboard, although there were certain interior cities where conditions made enforcement difficult. In certain localities, he reported, there had been cooperation offered by local authorities, in others such cooperation was lacking.

The Prohibition Commissioner not only controls by permit all withdrawals from bonded warehouses of liquor for medicinal purposes, but he also controls the issuance of prescriptions for liquor by physicians. Earlier forms of these permits were counterfeited and much liquor was illegally drawn. Later it was claimed there had been devised a new form of permits, almost impossible to counterfeit, and under the new system illegal withdrawals were much reduced during the first quarter of the year, official reports indicated there were only 302 overdrafts out of a total of 145,000 withdrawals. In 1920 whisky withdrawals aggregated 12,389,529 gallons. In 1921, when new methods were employed for checking up, withdrawals dropped to 3,243,845 gallons and during the calendar year 1922 withdrawals of medicinal whiskey aggregated only 1,819,888 gallons. Concentration of all whiskies in bond in a limited number of warehouses during this period also curtailed distillery robberies and made it more difficult for bootleggers to get liquor out of ware houses by forged permits.

The late President Harding said shortly before his death said that it would probably require 16 to 20 years to make prohibition fully effective. Officials of the Anti-saloon League and the Prohibition Unit are more optimistic, but it is generally conceded that legislation so suddenly changing the social habits of a people can not be put immediately into effect.

In combating rum running, bootlegging, and illegal transportation and possession in the earlier years of prohibition Federal agents staged raids that revealed both the wide spread extent of Volstead Law Violations as well as the determination of the Government to suppress such violations. For instance, in one great city, during the clean-up drive, prohibition agents arrested 850 persons and raided 400 saloons and soft-drink parlors in one night.

While admitting the difficulty of cleaning up such wet spots in the larger cities where prohibition is less popular than in the rural communities generally, prohibitionists claim that eventually the situation will be met. It is claimed in behalf of prohibition that prohibition enforced is a success, and that prohibition even partially enforced is better than the legalized liquor traffic. It is contended by such prohibition advocates that arrests for drunkenness throughout the United States have been cut in half since prohibition; that the family man has largely dropped out of the drinkers' ranks; that there has been a great decrease in sex disease, that savings-bank deposits have increased even in periods of industrial depression; that the prison population has been materially reduced; that the workingmen who formerly spent their Saturday nights in corner saloons now take then pay envelopes home and spend their money on their families.

Its opponents say that prohibition can never be effective in America. They point out that it has been an issue in the United States for a hundred years; that Maine has been legally dry for more than 75 years and yet prohibition was an issue in a recent election. Prohibition was a failure in China, they say, before the Christian era, and no law made to regulate the habits of a people has since been a success. They assert that in Denver, nearly 2,000 miles from the Atlantic seaboard, 170 persons died of acute alcoholism in 1922 as compared with 5 deaths in 1915, and there were 5,315 arrests for drunkenness in 1922 as compared with 4,384 in 1915. In Washington, the National Capital, they point out that the number of arrests for drunkenness increased from 3,491 in the year 1920 to 6,375 in 1922. The antiprohibitionists assert that prohibition was the result of the hysteria of war time, that it came without a popular vote of the people on the direct issue involved, and that it was abortive of the principle of local self-government because it was imposed on a number of States where the sentiment was undeniably against it. Proponents of prohibition reply that prohibition sentiment has steadily gained ground for more than 30 years, that three-fourths of the States had gone dry, and that national prohibition was inevitable and the Federal Government had the duty and the power to take the short route, abolish the saloon, and impose prohibition on all States, for the general good of the Nation. Such Social and moral reforms, they contend, are within the constitutional provinces of the parent Government.

Thus the debate proceeds over the wisdom and effectiveness of national prohibition. The existence of such extremely divergent views probably will keep the issue alive for years to come and reflects the somewhat mercurial temperament of the American people and the slow solution of their great experiment.

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