Schaffer Online Library of Drug Policy Sign the Resolution for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy


Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet

DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Major Studies

Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding


National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

History of Alcohol Prohibition*

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



In 1920, the national policy of Prohibition began. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution had been officially ratified:

It sought, by law, to make the whole Nation into enforced teetotalers and to put an end to all evils associated with drinking. It sought to eradicate a taste deeply rooted in the habits and customs of a large part of the population through outlawing the business that ministered to its satisfaction (Hu, 1950: 48).


In fact, it started earlier. "Ministers shall not give themselves to excess in drinkinge, or riott, or spending their tyme idellye day or night," ruled the Virginia Colonial Assembly in 1629 (Cherrington, 1920:16).

Massachusetts ordered that no person shall remain in any tavern "longer than necessary occasions" in 1637, while Plymouth Colony in 1633 prohibited the sale of spirits "more than 2 pence worth to anyone but strangers just arrived" (Cherrington, 1920: 18).

This sampling of the earliest colonial laws is representative of the attempt, continued since those times, to control excessive consumption. Excessive drinking, it was considered, produced behavior unseemly in some, such as ministers, and dangerous in others, such as Indians.

But drinking per se was not frowned upon. Indeed, when the Puritans set sail to Massachusetts, they had taken care to carry with them 42 tons of beer (in contrast with 14 tons of water) and 10,000 gallons of wine (Lee, 1963: 15).

The regulation of liquor consumption was a matter of considerable concern in certain colonies. Thus, for a time, Massachusetts went so far as to prohibit the drinking of healths in 1638 (Lee, 1963: 19). The law was soon abandoned for reasons obvious, albeit unrecorded. It rapidly became clear, however, that liquor laws could do more and perhaps better, than control consumption: they could provide a source of revenue. By the turn of the 18th century, the regulatory impulse was concentrated on fines, excise taxes and license fees.

Fines were imposed for drunken behavior, unlawful sales to a drunken tippler or to Indians, and for selling without a license. Court records indicate that these laws were enforced with reasonable regularity (Krout 1967: 29-30). Licenses often carried their own fees, and excise taxes were levied upon distilled spirits as well as beer and fermented drink in many cases.

Until the 18th century, however, there was no attempt to prohibit the manufacture, importation, sale, or consumption of alcoholic beverages. Quite the contrary, at least one individual-in some cases a reluctant individual-was required in many towns to run the local inn or public house for visitors and travelers.

Although colonial statutes made it clear that tipplers and idlers were unwelcome, the diary of a colonial traveler, Sarah Kemble Knight, suggests that such laws were unsuccessful in containing the ribaldry which took place in many such houses. Madam Knight complained:

I could get no sleep, because of the Clamor of some of the Town Tope-ers in the next room.... I heartily fretted & wish't 'am tongue tyed.... They kept calling for Tother Gill, Wch while they were swallowing, was some Intermission, But presently, like Oyle to fire, encreased the flame (Miller, Johnson, eds., 1963: 430-431).

Persons other than Madam Knight were to become more outspoken about their concern for the use of spirits. The, most significant premonition was the Colony of Georgia's action in 1735 when the first prohibitory statute against the importation of "ardent spirits" was enacted. At the same time, however, the consumption of beer was encouraged (Grant, 1932: 1). The time for temperance had not yet arrived.


As the evils of intemperance began to attract the attention of the ministry, John Wesley denounced the sin of distilling -and declared for its Prohibition in 1773 (Cherrington, 1920: 37-38).

On his heels came the publication of a pamphlet entitled "The Mighty Destroyer Displayed and Some Account of the Dreadful Havoc Made by the Mistaken Use, As Well As the Abuse, of Distilled Spiritous Liquors," by Anthony Benezet, a member of the Society of Friends, advising against the use of any drink "which is liable to steal away a man's senses and render him foolish, irrascible, uncontrollable, and dangerous" (Cherrington, 1920: 38).

Nevertheless, typical of the century's ambivalence, the first master at Harvard was fired when it was found that Harvard students had been left "wanting beer betwixt brewings a week and a week and a half together" (Lee, 1963: 16).

Concern for the effect of liquor upon the public weal was expressed by John Adams who noted in his diary on February 29, 1760, that the taverns were "becoming the eternal haunt of loose, disorderly people . . ." (Cherrington, 1920: 37). Worst of all he continued:

... These houses are become the nurseries of our legislators. An artful man, who has neither sense nor sentiments, may, by gaining a little sway among the rabble of the town, multiply taverns and dram shops and thereby secure the votes of taverner and retailer and of all; and the multiplication of taverns will make many, who may be induced to flip and rum, to vote for any man whatever (Dobyns, 1940: 215).

The health argument in behalf of temperance was first made by Nathaniel Ames, in the 1752 edition of his Almanack, who wrote that

Strong Waters were formerly used only by the Direction of Physicians; but now Mechanicks and low-li'd Labourers drink Rum like Fountain-Water, and they can infinitely better endure it than the idle. unactive and sedentary Part of Mankind, but DEATH is in the bottom of the cup of every one (Lee, 1963: 22).

Dr. Benjamin Rush shared his concern, publishing in 1785 his now famous "Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind." Enumerating the diseases of the body and mind which plague the drinker of distilled liquors, Dr. Rush outlined the symptoms, including "unusual garrulity, unusual silence, captiousness ... an insipid simpering ... profane swearing ... certain immodest actions" and "certain extravagant acts which indicate a temporary fit of madness" (Rush, 1943: 323, 325-326).

Although the rumblings of the temperance movement were thus perceptible in the late 18th century, there is no evidence that its effects were felt. In 1766, it is recorded that the repeal of the Stamp Act was greeted in Providence, Rhode Island with "32 of the most loyal, patriotic and constitutional toasts" (Lee, 1963: 18). Notwithstanding this evidence of devotion to His Majesty. it was often thereafter the tavern which provided the meeting places for the most defiant revolutionaries.

Subsequently, when the colonial period disappeared into the post-Revolutionary era, Alexander Hamilton adopted the idea earlier effected by the individual colonies, to tax distilled liquors for revenue purposes. In 1791 , the tax was enacted as part of the Revenue Act. The following year, the Second Congress of the United States added license fees for distilleries and taxes on liquors distilled from imported materials.

Incensed by this federal action, farmers in Western Pennsylvania mobbed revenue collectors and armed to resist this intrusion by the new Federal Government. It required 15,000 militia to bring the so-called Whiskey Rebellion to an end (Peterson, 1969: 119-120). Such was the first indication that the liquor industry in the United States would be a force with which the government would have to reckon.

Toward the end of the 18th century, a temperance movement, as such, became discernible. The Methodist Church took a staunch position against the sale or imbibing of ardent spirits "unless in cases of extreme necessity." Five years later, in 1789, even the exception was excised (Cherrington, 1920: 50). A similar platform was adopted by the Presbyterian Synod of Pennsylvania and by the Yearly Meeting of Friends of New England (Cherrington, 1920: 51, 58).

On a non-clerical level, the movement began to organize. Although there is some dispute as to the identity of the original temperance society, it appears that as early as 1778, there was an organization calling itself the Free African Society which excluded men of drinking habits, followed soon thereafter by the Organization of Brethren, and the Litchfield, Connecticut Association of "the most respectable farmers" in Connecticut determined to discourage the use of spirits (Cherrington, 1920: 49, 58).

The turn of the century saw the vitalization of the temperance spirit. Religious leaders, including Cotton Mather, Dr. Lyman Beecher, John Wesley and Reverend Andrew Elliott inveighed against the consumption of liquors. Temperance activity figured prominently in the concerns of the Presbyterian, Methodist, Universalist, Baptist, and Friends churches.

"Had. the temperance reform in America awaited for a non-church or a non-Christian leadership," theorizes one historian,

... the temperance revolution of the past century would yet remain to be accomplished.... Every successful temperance movement of the last century has been merely the instrument-the machinery and equipment through which the fundamental principles of the Christian religion have expressed themselves in terms of life and action (Cherrington, 1920:92).

Whatever the Christian input , however, it is also apparent that a desire to reform was aroused in the country, very much like that which was to be experienced a century later during the Progressive Movement. Thus, Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance of 1813, damned not only rum, but all of the "kindred vices, profaneness and gambling" and beseeched members to "discourage... by ... example and influence, every kind of..... immorality" (Lee, 1963: 23). Mingling with the potential temperance leaders during this period were the future spokesmen of abolitionism, feminism, and utopianism.

In the meantime, the industry was able to report triumphantly that the federal taxes on distilling and importing spirits were repealed in 1802. From 1813 until 1817, the retailers' and distillers' licenses bore a federal tax, but beginning in 1818 the industry enjoyed a tax-free era which was to last until 1862. Thomas Jefferson rejoiced-"as a moralist"-explaining that:

It is an error to view a tax on that liquor as merely a tax on the rich. It is a prohibition of its use in the middling class of our citizens, and a condemnation of them to the poison of whisky, which is desolating their houses. No nation is drunken where wine is cheap; and none sober, where the only antidote is the bane of whisky (Peterson, 1969: 122-123).

Future prohibitionists would likewise castigate the government for drawing its revenues from the liquor industry and participating in the profits of evil thereby.

1825-1870: THE PLEDGE

Temperance was not always equated with teetotalism. Beer and usually wine were initially exempt from denunciation in both sermons and treatises. There developed in the mid-19th century, however, the conviction that all brews, be they "ardent spirits," beer, ale, or wine, were anathema.

The, new temper of the movement was epitomized by the travels of Father Theobald Matthew of Ireland who toured the United States from 1849 to 1851, administering the pledge of total abstinence to some 600,000 persons in 25 states. A White House dinner and a Senate reception stamped official approval upon his sojourns (Furnas, 1968: 80). Thus did temperance drift into a new phase, with its ardent spokesman, Congressman Gerrit Smith, crying that:

I would that no person were able to drink intoxicating liquors without immediately becoming a drunkard. For, who, then would . . . drink the poison that always kills, or jump into the fire that always burns? (Furnas, 1968: 15).

It was in this atmosphere that the first prohibition experiments were undertaken on a statewide basis. "Until the liquor traffic is abolished . . . all efforts at moral reform must languish," judged one of the earliest prohibitionists.

In "Grappling with the Monster," T. S. Arthur stated, "The CURSE is upon us, and there is but one CURE: Total Abstinence, by the help of God, for the Individual, and Prohibition for the State" (Furnas, 1968: 15).

In 1847, the first such cure was enacted for the state of Maine (Cherrington, 1920: 134). (Actually, the first Prohibition law went into effect in 1843 in the territory of Oregon. This was repealed five years later.)

A wave of prohibition statutes followed. Delaware, on the heels of Maine, passed its first prohibition law only to have it declared unconstitutional the following year. Similar laws were enacted in Ohio, Illinois, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York during the next few years. They met with varying fates, including veto by the governors, repeal by the legislatures and invalidation by the state supreme courts.

The evaluations by several historians of these early trials were to he heard again in the 20th century: the enactments lacked support from a large portion of the population, making enforcement exceedingly difficult. Ultimately, all but one of the states repealed the prohibition statutes of the 19th century (Grant, 1932: 5; Peterson, 1969: 123).

Notwithstanding this record, prohibitionists took heart. "This thing is of God," cried Lyman Beecher from the pulpit. "That glorious Maine law was a square and grand blow right between the horns of the Devil" (Furnas, 1968: 167). Temperance societies, established in all but three states by 1832 and destined to proliferate, began to consolidate as well.

The American Temperance Society, later to become the American Temperance Union, was organized in 1826. It quickly begat auxiliaries, so that by 1835, 8,000 locals existed (Cherrington, 1920: 92-93).

As the years passed, they witnessed the founding of more temperance, organizations of a general and national character than during any other period in the United States' history. The Washingtonian movement, organized in the City of Baltimore in 1840, was followed by the Martha Washington movement in 1841.

The Sons of Temperance came into existence in 1842, at, the same time the Order of Rechabites was organized, and the Congressional Temperance Society of 1833 was revived on the basis of total abstinence. They took heart at their early state, successes and fought against the defeats of repeal.

In the meantime, however, the United States government, which had heaped honors upon Father Matthew, concluded a treaty with King Kamehameha III of Hawaii in 1850 permitting the introduction and sale of liquor on his island.

As further evidence of the national dichotomy, Chicagoans in the 1850's fought virulently against the enforcement of Sunday closing laws. To protest, an armed mob burst into the business district of the city, to be met by police. Fortunately, the mob was dispersed before the mayor found it necessary to use the cannon he had hurriedly planted around City Hall (Peterson, 1969: 120).

It was the time when patent medicines, 40 proof and more, began to develop their clientele. And although the Demon Rum might threaten their health and life, Lydia Pinkham's Compound offered a cure for any and all ails and aches.

By the time of the Civil War, both the assimilative and coercive traditions of the temperance movement had crystallized: that is, temperance proponents were determined to save the weak and to destroy the recalcitrant (Gusfield, 1963: 69-70). The hardening of positions was accompanied by the development of political consciousness in the movement and recognition of political objectives. These processes were only temporarily blunted by the Civil War in the 1860's and the diversion of interest to the abolitionist cause.

Part of the heritage of the Civil War was the tax on liquor and beer imposed in 1862. Rates were increased several times between 1863 and 1868, so that the tax imposed at the rate of 20 cents per gallon rose to $2 per gallon.

An interesting phenomenon was noted by the Federal Government: as the rates increased, the revenue did not. In fact, the number of gallons reported actually declined. As the decade went on, attempts were made to enforce the tax laws and in 1868, $25,000 was actually appropriated to detect violators. Fraud continued almost unabated. Stockpiling of liquor was popular to hedge against future, increases, for they were not applicable to liquor on hand.

The infamous Whiskey Ring was active in these days and was not finally broken up until 1875, when, in a peak of nerve, members established a corruption fund in the District of Columbia to halt the prosecution of 321 persons charged with violations of the revenue laws. Before then, however, Congress apparently had second thoughts about the implications of the revenue collections and reduced the tax from the high of $2 per gallon to 50 cents in 1869. The happy result was to see a rise in collections from $13.5 million in 1868, to $45 million in 1869, and $55 million the following year. Taking further precautions, the government stipulated that new stamps be developed to preclude counterfeiting and tampering (History of the Alcohol 14-20; Cherrington, 1920: 156162).

Congress did not escape unscathed by criticism and reaction. It came from both sides of the temperance issue. Temperance advocates such as Senator Wilson of Massachusetts and Senator Pomeroy of Kansas decried the fact that federal revenues would be drawn from the liquor industry.

At the same, time, however, the industry revolted, leading to mass tax evasion schemes and devices and the organization of their first industry lobby, the United States Brewers Association. The Association rapidly launched a, legislative campaign and succeeded in 1863 in reducing the tax rate of beer from $1 to 60 cents (Cherrington, 1920:157).

By 1870, the Civil War dust had cleared and the temperance battle lines were drawn, already tested by the skirmishes of the 1840's and 1850's. The most interesting feature of their war strategy was soon to become apparent: women and children were welcomed at the battlements.


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

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

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

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

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

A statement of principles was adopted in its early years:

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

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

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

Licensed-to do thy neighbor harm,

Licensed-to kindle hire and strife,

Licensed-to nerve the robber's arm,

Licensed-to whet the murderer's knife,

Licensed-like spider for a fly,

To spread thy nets for man, thy prey,

To mock his struggles, crush his soul,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The distrust of the immigrant population became more pronounced as the economic, political, and social power of the cities developed. It was given a strong impetus by the anti-German tremors which shook the country in a mood of anticipation before World War 1.

The United States Brewers Association misread the prevailing temper and associated itself with the German-American Alliance to oppose the temperance advocates and defend German kultur in the United States.

As the United States came closer to war, the antipathy which developed against the Central Powers was directed with equal force against brewers and tipplers (Furnas, 1968: 334-35) :

Pro-Germanism is the only froth from the German's beer saloon. Our German Socialist Party and the German American Alliance are the spawn of the saloon. . . . Prohibition is the infallible submarine chaser (Sinclair, 1962:122).

The war gave the prohibition cause new ammunition. Literature depicted brewers and licensed retailers as treacherously stabbing American soldiers in the back. Raw materials and labor were being diverted from the war effort to an industry which debilitated the nation's capacity to defend itself. It was urged that wartime prohibition would stop the waste of grain and molasses and would remove a handicap on workers' efficiency.

"Liquor is a menace to patriotism because it puts beer before country," preached Prohibitionist Wayne Wheeler (Odegard, 1928: 72). The fact that names Pabst, Schlitz, and Blatz broadcast their national origin only did further injury to their interests.

In this atmosphere the Wartime Prohibition Act was passed in 1918. It followed a series of federal laws such as the Wilson Original Packages Act and the Webb-Kenyon Act, attempts to protect dry states from their wet neighbors.

The Wilson Original Packages Act was passed on August 8, 1890, and provided that all intoxicating beverages shipped interstate would be subject to the laws of the destination state upon arrival. No mechanism for federal enforcement was provided.

The Webb-Kenyon Act, enacted March 1, 1913, was intended to reinforce the 1890 Act by providing that it was a violation of federal law to ship an intoxicating beverage interstate with the intent that it be used or sold in any manner in violation of the laws of the destination state. The lack of federal enforcement rendered the statute virtually meaningless.

The Reed Amendment, enacted four years later, provided a fine of $1,000 for transporting liquor into a dry state with no greater effect.

None of the earlier acts met with substantial success in curbing the flow of liquor into purportedly dry regions, but they did mark a change in federal policy. Formerly liquor laws were designed solely to produce federal revenue; Congress now took cognizance of the role it could play in the regulation of consumption.

The role was actually forced upon a reluctant Congress at first. Indeed, the government had passed up numerous prior opportunities to involve itself in the temperance movement as such. The particular part it was to play was forecast by the Sons of Temperance who, in 1856, declared themselves for national constitutional prohibition.

Twenty years later, Congressman Henry Blair of New Hampshire introduced a prohibition amendment to the Constitution for the first time in Congress. As a senator, he introduced another such resolution in 1885, along with Senator Preston Plum of Kansas. After consideration by the Senate Committee on Education, the bill was reported out favorably and placed on the Senate Calendar in 1886. Nevertheless, no action resulted (Cherrington, 1920: 317 ).

In the meantime, states continued the struggle between the wets and the drys, with great success for the temperance advocates. By 1913, nine states were under stateside prohibition. In 31 other states, local option laws were in effect. By reason of these and other variants of regulatory schemes, more than 50% of the United States population was then under prohibition.

The national constitutional campaign was resumed as such in 1913 when the Anti-Saloon League went on record at its 15th National Convention in favor of immediate prosecution of the objective of constitutional amendment.

The National Temperance Council, founded at the same time, coordinated the activities of numerous temperance organizations with the same object. In 1913, the demands of the League were formally presented to Congress by the Committee of 1,000.

The measure was then introduced in the House by Congressman Thompson and in the Senate by Senator Sheppard. The following year, the first joint resolution failed to secure the necessary two thirds majority for submitting a constitutional amendment to the states. A second resolution was submitted in 1915 and favorably considered by the Judiciary Committees of both houses, but neither ever came to a vote.

Ultimately, in 1917, the resolution to prohibit the manufacture, sale, transportation or importation of alcoholic beverages in the United States was approved by Congress and sent to the states for ratification (Cherrington, 1920: 317-330).

It took only one year and eight days for the 18th Amendment to secure the necessary ratification. On January 8, 1918, Mississippi proudly became the first state to ratify, and on January 16, 1919, Nebraska completed the job as the 36th state (Lee, 1963: 42). By the end of February 1919, there remained only three hold-outs: New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island (Cherrington, 1920: 330).

October 28, 1919, was the day that Congress enacted the National Prohibition Act-more often known as the Volstead Act-with the intent to give effect to the new constitutional amendment. Officially, the liquor drought was to begin on January 17, 1920. The celebrants of the occasion were concentrated in the membership of the Anti-Saloon League, which could rightly claim that its consummate skill in pressure politics had maneuvered the country into its dry state.

The early experience of the Prohibition era gave the government a taste of what was to come. In the three months before the 18th Amendment became effective, liquor worth half a million dollars was stolen from Government warehouses. By midsummer of 1920, federal courts in Chicago were overwhelmed with some 600 pending liquor violation trials (Sinclair, 1962: 176-177). Within three years, 30 prohibition agents were killed in service.

Other statistics demonstrated the increasing volume of the bootleg trade. In 1921, 95,933 illicit distilleries, stills, still works and fermentors were seized. in 1925, the total jumped to 172,537 and up to 282,122 in 1930. In connection with these seizures, 34,175 persons were arrested in 1921; by 1925, the number had risen to 62,747 and to a high in 1928 of 75,307 (Internal Revenue, Service, 1921, 1966, 1970: 95, 6, 73). Concurrently, convictions for liquor offenses in federal courts rose from 35,000 in 1923 to 61,383 in 1932.

The law could not quell the continuing demand for alcoholic products. Thus, where legal enterprises could no longer supply the demand, an illicit traffic developed, from the point of manufacture to consumption. The institution of the speakeasy replaced the institution of the saloon. Estimates of the number of speakeasies throughout the United States ranged from 200,000 to 500,000 (Lee, 1963: 68).

Writers of this period point out that the law was circumvented by various means. Although there may have been legitimate, medicinal purposes for whiskey, the practice of obtaining a medical prescription for the illegal substance was abused. It is estimated that doctors earned $40 million in 1928 by writing prescriptions for whiskey.

The legal system was equally evasive; the courts convicted about seven percent of those charged with liquor violations (Sinclair, 1962: 193-195; Dobyns, 1940: 292). The exception for sacramental wine from protection under the Volstead Act also invited abuse. In 1925, the Department of Research and Education of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ reported that:

The withdrawal of wine on permit from bonded warehouses for sacramental purposes amounted in round figures to 2,139,000 gallons in the fiscal year 1922; 2,503,500 gallons in 1923; and 2,944,700 gallons in 1924. There is no way of knowing what the legitimate consumption of fermented sacramental wine is but it is clear that the legitimate demand does not increase 800,000 gallons in two years (Dobyns, 1940: 297).

The smuggling trade was revived with new vigor and new incentives. Rum-runners, often under foreign flags, brought liquor into the country from Belgium and Holland. In 1923, there were 134 seizures of such vessels. The following year, 236 were apprehended (History of the Alcohol . . . 928). With fewer risks, liquor was readily smuggled across the Canadian border. One way or the other, the Department of Commerce estimated that, as of 1924, liquor valued at approximately $40 million was entering the United States annually (Sinclair, 1962: 198).

The manufacture of "near-beer" and industrial alcohol provided other opportunities for diversion from licit channels, while the salvage of the California grape industry was section 29 of the Volstead Act (27 U.S.C. 46) which authorized the home production of fermented fruit juices. Although the section was allegedly inserted to save the vinegar industry and the hard cider of America's farmers, it was welcomed by home winemakers as well. In the spirit of cooperation, the grape growers even produced a type of grape jelly suggestively called "Vine-go" which, with the addition of water, could make a strong wine within two months (Sinclair, 1962: 206).

One of the great ironies of the prohibition era was the fact, noted by the Wickersham Commission, that women happily took to drink during the experimental decade, and, what is more, did so in public. As the counterpart of the WCTU, the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform was founded, stating in its declaration of principles that Prohibition was "wrong in principle" and "disastrous in consequences in the hypocrisy, the corruption, the tragic loss of life and the appalling increase of crime which has attended the abortive attempt to enforce it" (Dobyns, 1940: 107).

Drinking at an earlier age was also noted, particularly during the first few years of Prohibition. The superintendents of eight state mental hospitals reported a larger percentage of young patients during Prohibition (1919-1926) than formerly. One of the hospitals noted: "During the past year (1926), an unusually large group of patients who are of high school age were admitted for alcoholic psychosis" (Brown, 1932:176).

In determining the age at which an alcoholic forms his drinking habit, it was noted: "The 1920-1923 group were younger than the other groups when the drink habit was formed" (Pollock, 1942: 113).


Period Males Females
1914 21.4 27.9
1920-23 20.6 25.8
1936-37 23.9 31.7

To be sure, the Volstead Act was enforced in the United States wherever it had popular support. In the rural South and West prohibition was effective and in some cases still is. The failures of prohibition enforcement were spotlighted in the big cities where the law was flagrantly defied and in the smaller towns, populated by miners and industrial workers, where the law was simply ignored (National Commission on Law Observance, 1931: 345).

Notwithstanding the weak enforcement of the Volstead Act, some believe that it was only the coming of the Depression with its demand for increased employment and tax revenues which finally killed the experiment (Gusfield, 1963: 127). Others observe that Prohibition was a by-product of the stress and excesses of war and could not have survived in peacetime even under optimal economic conditions (Sinclair, 1962: 23-24). Finally, there are those who accuse the selfishly motivated businessmen of the United States for repeal which they allegedly brought about through the same high-pressure tactics so successfully employed by the partisans of temperance in the preceding decades (Dobyns, 1940: 5-130 passim).

Despite mixed motivations, the repeal movement was financed and driven by the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA).

The members declared that "the principal business and objective of the Association shall be to educate its members as to the fundamental provisions, objects and purposes of the Constitution of the United States" (Dobyns, 1940: 5). They worked for the election of Congressmen who agreed to submit the question of repeal to a vote of the people in each state. They were successful fund-raisers and by January 1, 1931, had almost $3 million in cash in the bank (Dobyns, 1940: 9).

The sources of the funds included a number of converts from the dry cause. In 1928, the DuPont family abandoned the drys, followed in 1932 by John D. Rockefeller and S. S. Kresge (Gusfield, 1963: 128). Their conversion was effected under the strong influence of the income tax. Doggedly, Pierre S. DuPont circulated a brochure concluding that "the British liquor policy applied in the United States would permit the total abolition of the income tax both personal and corporate" (Dobyns, 1940: 22).

Concern for the effects of the prohibition laws was not limited to the private, wealthy sector. In 1928, a dry-wet confrontation emerged in the presidential election between Alfred E. Smith, a Catholic New Yorker, and Herbert Hoover. Hoover solemnly praised the "great social and economic experiment" and tightened his grip on the dry vote.

Notwithstanding the popular image of Smith as a staunch wet, his platform tried to avoid any outright repeal sentiment. He asked instead for an amendment of the Volstead Act which would provide a "scientific definition of the alcoholic content of an intoxicating beverage." This would enable each state to interpret and apply the federal standard within its borders. In addition, he favored what was to be known as the "state store" system of manufacturing and dispensing alcoholic beverages (Lee, 1963: 212).

In retrospect, it is difficult to ascertain whether it was the religious campaign or the dry campaign which defeated Al Smith. H. L. Mencken may have written accurately that "if [Al Smith] loses, it will be because those who fear the Pope outnumber those who are tired of the Anti-Saloon League" ('Sinclair, 1962: 303). Nevertheless, Prohibition survived the 1928 election, as did Hoover's campaign pledge to establish a commission to investigate the conditions under Prohibition. Head of the Commission was George W. Wickersham, former Attorney General under Taft. Although the Commission's purpose was set forth as an examination of the problems of enforcement, it soon decided to undertake much broader policy considerations.

The Commission's report, published in 1931, included opinion surveys, statistics on the number of deaths connected with enforcement efforts, testimony by consultants and experts, and an analysis of the organization, personnel and methods of prohibition enforcement. On the basis of the five volume report, the Wickersham Commission ironically concluded in its summary that:

There have been more sustained pressures to enforce this law than on the whole has been true of any other federal statute, although this pressure in the last four or five years has met with increasing resistance as the sentiment against prohibition has developed . . . . That a main source of difficulty is in the attitude of at least a very large number of respectable citizens in most of our large cities and in several states, is made more clear when the enforcement of the national prohibition act is compared with the enforcement of the laws as to narcotics. There is an enormous margin of profit in breaking the latter. The means of detecting transportation are more easily evaded than in the case of liquor. Yet there are no difficulties in the case of narcotics beyond those involved in the nature of the traffic because the laws against them are supported everywhere by a general and determined public sentiment (Sinclair, 1962: 367-368).

Notwithstanding this dire analysis, 10 out of the 11 commissioners signed a summary of conclusions of the report which stated that the Commission as a whole opposed the repeal of the 18th Amendment, the entry of the Federal or state governments into liquor business, or even the modification of national prohibition to permit the sale of light wines and beer (Sinclair, 1962: 364).

Walter Lippmann commented, "What was done was to evade a direct and explicit official confession that Federal prohibition is a hopeless failure" (Sinclair, 1962: 365). Whether or not Lippmann correctly read the Commission's intentions, there was clearly a gap between the input and the outcome of the report.

It is difficult to assess the relative numbers of the wet and dry partisans during the last few years of national prohibition. In terms of strength, however, the wets surely had the edge which less than two decades before had belonged to the drys. The new wet strength showed up at the National Convention of the Democratic party held in Chicago in 1932, where Mayor Cermak of that city filled the galleries with his supporters. And, though Franklin D. Roosevelt had wooed the dry vote for some time, he now came forward on a platform which favored the outright repeal of the 18th Amendment. Accepting his nomination, he stated:

I congratulate this convention for having had the courage, fearlessly to write into its declaration of principles what an overwhelming majority here assembled really thinks about the 18th Amendment. This convention wants repeal. Your candidate wants repeal. And I am confident that the United States of America wants repeal (Dobyns, 1940: 160).

While dry leaders looked on with disgust, Roosevelt was elected president and Congress turned a somersault. The repeal amendment was introduced February 14, 1933, by Sen. Blaine of Wisconsin and approved two days later by the Senate 63 to 23. The House followed four days later, voting 289 to 121 to send the amendment on to the States (Lee, 1963: 231). It required approval by 36 states. Michigan was the first state to ratify it; 39 states voted, on the amendment during 1933, with 37 approving its ratification and two-North and South Carolina-voting against its ratification. The final ratification was accomplished on November 7,1933, when Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah gave their approval.

Congress officially adopted the 21st Amendment to the Constitution on December 5, 1933.

Within three weeks of taking office, President Roosevelt witnessed the first sales of 3.2 beer, following a redefinition by statute of the terms "intoxicating liquors." The more popular, higher alcohol-content beer was relegalized by Congress under the Cullen-Harrison Act. Sale of beer became legal on April 7, 1933, in the District of Columbia and the 20 states where state laws did not prohibit its sale. During the next four years the remaining states changed their laws to permit its sale, with Alabama and Kansas in 1937, as the last to join the legal sale ranks.

The job of total repeal was accomplished with the help of the determined AAPA during the succeeding year. Their lawyers assisted the states in preparing bills for conventions and release of various forms of political propaganda, thereby enacting a serious satire on the 1919 campaign launched by the Anti-Saloon League. Notwithstanding their high and enduring constitutional principles, on December 31, 1933, with repeal a reality, the AAPA ceased to exist and sent its files to the Library of Congress. "Having attained its objective . . . the Association resisted the temptation to linger on as a 'sentinel of American liberty' '', the New York Times observed in the organization's obituary (Dobyns, 1940: 132).


During 13 years, what did Prohibition accomplish? There is no single compilation of Prohibition statistics which would enable us to determine the degree of success which Prohibition enjoyed during its lifetime.

In discussing the relative successes and failures of Prohibition, most observers conclude that the undertaking failed. "Prohibition destroyed the manufacturing and distributive agencies through which the demand for liquor had been legally supplied. But the demand remained" (Hu, 1950: 51).

In its Report on the Enforcement of the Prohibition Laws of the United States, the Wickersham Commission concluded that the country had prohibition in law but not in fact. They reported:

There was general prevalence of drinking in homes, clubs and hotels.... Throughout the country people of wealth, businessmen and professional men and their families, and the higher paid workingmen and their families, are drinking in large numbers in open flouting of the law. And neither Congress nor the states set up adequate machinery or appropriated sufficient funds for the enforcement of the prohibitory legislation. Federal and state legislation, as a matter of fact, strove to satisfy so that, as it was aptly said, the drys had their prohibition law and the wets had their liquor (Hu, 1950: 52).

Although some view the theory of prohibition as reasonable, it is generally conceded that the realities of manufacture and distribution make it unworkable, for in one form or another, alcohol can be easily produced by farmers, high school chemistry students, and ordinary citizens.

Prohibition has been attempted many times in various parts of the world; except for some Moslem areas, attempted legislative controls have not proven adequate. In spite of many sincere and determined efforts, no country in Europe or the Americas has yet succeeded in eliminating the use of alcohol by society by legislative fiat (H.E.W., 1968: 41).

Those who had been accustomed to using alcoholic beverages sought other sources of supply "in disregard of the legislative mandate. In the presence of high pecuniary returns there [was] a strong tendency for supply to meet demand in spite of prohibition" (Hu, 1950: 51).

Consumption. Although it is impossible to make an accurate determination of the consumption of alcoholic beverages under Prohibition-since there are no statistics compiled regarding the output and sale of the outlaw industry-estimates have been made by those examining the economic results of Prohibition as well as by the Bureau of Prohibition of the U.S. Department of Justice. The Bureau placed the consumption of alcoholic beverages at 73,831,172 gallons, or 0.6 gallon per capita in fiscal year 1930 as contrasted with 166,983,681 gallons or 1.7 gallons per capita in 1914.

In terms of pure alcohol, the Bureau concluded that per capita consumption in 1930 was 35% of the 1914 rate of legal consumption. These estimates have been criticized as being far too low (Tillitt, 1932: 35).

The figures published by the Department of Commerce in the Statistical Abstract of the United States reflect a different picture. The average annual per capita consumption of hard liquor from 1910-1914, inclusive, was 1.46 proof gallons. "This 5-year period was before the rise of abnormal conditions coincident to the World War and may be taken as fairly indicative of the normal rate of drinking that prevailed in the Pre-Prohibition era" (Rosenbloom, 1935: 51).

The per capita rate for the Prohibition years is computed to be 1.63 proof gallons. This is 11.64% higher than the Pre-Prohibition rate (Tillitt, 1932: 35). Based on these figures one observer concluded: "And so the drinking which was, in theory, to have been decreased to the vanishing point by Prohibition has, in fact, increased" (Tillitt, 1932: 36).

Others disagree with the implications of these unverified statistics noting that persons of limited means, formerly unable to patronize the expensive speakeasies, once again had cheap access to alcohol following repeal and thereby increased consumption (Harrison & Laine, 1936: 1).

Popular opinion is equally inconclusive; a survey conducted by the American Institute of Public Opinion in 1936 asked whether conditions (drinking customs, consumption, etc.) were better worse or without significant change since Repeal 36% indicated a worsening and 31% could see no appreciable change (Harrison & Laine, 1936: 2). Perhaps indicative of a gradual process of adjustment, however, the results of later Gallup polls suggest a gradual decline in the use of alcohol. Of a national sample, 67% indicated they used alcohol in 1945, in contrast to 60% in 1950 and 55% in 1958 (Gusfield, 1963: 135).

Alcoholic Psychoses. There was a notable decrease in alcoholic psychoses and in deaths due to alcoholism immediately preceding the enactment of Prohibition and a gradual increase in alcoholic psychosis and in deaths from alcoholism in the general population since 1920.

"These facts appear to indicate that since 1920, Prohibition [was] increasingly impotent as a means of preventing excessive use of alcohol to an extent productive of serious mental disorders and untimely death. 1920 marks the end of the decline and the beginning of the rise in the trends of alcoholic mental diseases and of deaths from alcoholism in the general population" (Brown, 1932: 88).

The increase in mental disorders and deaths from alcoholism after 1920, however, also coincides with the heavy consumption period-early 1900's-which would have resulted in an increase in alcoholism some years later.

The following table reflects the decrease prior to 1920 and the subsequent gradual increase in percentage of alcoholic psychosis among new admissions to 56 hospitals in 25 states as well as among admissions to New York civil state hospitals (Brown, 1932: 76-77; Malzburg, 1949: 294) :

56 Hospitals

Year All new admissions New admissions with alcoholic psychoses NY State - civil hospital percent admission with alcoholic psychoses.
    Number Percent  
1910 17,439 1,486 8.5 ...
1911 17,299 1,366 7.9
1912 17,570 1,567 8.9 ...
1913 17,525 1,633 9.3 9.3
1914 19,134 1,573 8.2 7.4
1915 18,875 1,331 7.1 5.7
1916 17,929 1,370 7.6 6.1
1917 20,041 1,576 7.9 8.2
1918 19,741 1,021 5.2 5.2
1919 19,737 841 4.3 4.1
1920 19,579 485 2.5 2.0
1921 20,368 567 2.8 2.8
1922 20,741 798 3.8 3.2
1923 20,316 861 4.2 4.0
1924 19,818 896 4.9 5.4
1925 20,857 1,017 4. 9 5.8
1926 20,911 997 4.8 5.9
1927 21,982 1,268 5.8 7.0
1928 23,293 1,257 5.4 6.0
1929 23,242 1,380 5.9 6.2
1930 24,100 1,251 5.2 6.0

Deaths from Alcoholism. In New York City, from 1900 through 1909, there was an average of 526 deaths annually attributable to alcoholism. From 1910 through 1917, the average number was 619. It plummeted to 183 for the years 1918 through 1922. Thereafter, the figure rose, averaging a new high of 639 for the years 1923 through 1927 (Rice, ed., 1930: 122).

Total deaths from alcoholism in the United States show a comparable trend, with the gradual increase resuming somewhat earlier, about 1922 (Brown, 1932: 61, 77; Feldman, 1927: 397; U.S. Department of Commerce, 1924: 55).

Year Deaths from all causes rate per 100,000 Deaths from alcoholism rate per 100,000
1910 1,496.1 5.4
1911 1,418.1 4.9
1912 1,388.8 5.3
1913 1,409.6 5.9
1914 1,364.6 4.9
1915 1,355.0 4.4
1916 1,404.3 5.8
1917 1,425.5 5.2
1918 1,809.1 2.7
1919 1,287.4 1.6
1920 1,306.0 1.0
1921 1,163.9 1.8
1922 1,181.7 2.6
1923 1,230.1 3.2
1924 1,183.5 3.2
1925 1,182.3 3.6
1926 1,222.7 3.9
1927 1,141.9 4.0
1928 1,204.1 4.0
1929 1,192.3 3.7

The highest death rates from alcoholism occurred during the decade prior to Prohibition as did the highest death rates from cirrhosis of the liver. These statistics should be qualified by the observations of Dr. Charles Morris, Chief Medical Examiner for New York City: "In making out death certificates (which are basic to Census Reports) private or family physicians commonly avoid entry of alcoholism as a cause of death whenever possible. This practice was more prevalent under the National Dry Law than it was in preprohibition time" (Tillitt, 1932: 114-115).

Even if reliable, per se, such statistics may be unrelated to the consumption of alcoholic beverages in any given year. Another writer of this period noted: "The relation of fatal alcoholic diseases to consumption of alcohol must be one extending over a long period of years and the actual duration of the critical period can hardly be estimated" (Jellinek, 1942: 48-1). According to one sociologist, rates of alcoholism and related mental and physical diseases reflect past drinking habits, developed ten to 15 years earlier (Gusfield, 1963: 119).

A shorter "lead time" is suggested by a mental hygiene statistician who attributes the temporary reduction in alcoholic psychoses "to the legal restriction of the sale and use of alcoholic beverages, made effective by the support of public opinion which during the war period had discountenanced self-indulgence, of all sorts" (Brown, 1932: 88). He adds, however, that the notable increase in alcoholic psychoses and deaths from alcoholism towards the end of the prohibition era (1927-1932) indicated that:

... since 1920, prohibition has become increasingly impotent as a means of preventing excessive use of alcohol to an extent productive of serious mental disorders and untimely deaths (Brown, 1932: 88).

The highly limited statistical label of death from alcoholism has been noted elsewhere:

The trend of death from alcoholism reflects hardly anything else than progress in the treatment of the so-called diseases of chronic alcoholism. Nevertheless, statistics of death from alcoholism have been used by both Drys and Wets to prove that Prohibition or repeal has greatly improved the rate of death from alcoholism. . . . Death from alcoholism is simply not an index of the prevalence of inebriety. Death from alcoholism could fall to zero in response to medical progress, while at the same time the rate of inebriety might rise many fold (Jellinek, 1947: 39).

Arrests Arrests for drunkenness also provide a source of information about the extent of drinking in the United States. It must be noted, however, that statistics of this sort vary with local police policies. For example, during a six-year period in the 1930's, the arrests for drunkenness were from 14 to 31 times higher in Philadelphia than in New York (Kolb, 1941: 608).

Nevertheless, gross statistics drawn from 383 cities indicate that arrests for drunkenness per 10,000 population reached a high of 192 in 1916 and fell to 71 in 1920. From this level, they rose steadily again to reach 157 in 1928 (Warburton, 1932: 102). Of course, arrests prior to Prohibition may not bear the same relation to the use of alcohol as they did subsequently, Warburton theorizes:

. . . [U]nder Prohibition, especially during the early years, police were more strict in making arrests, and . . . a larger proportion than formerly of persons appearing on the streets under the influence of liquor are arrested. Also, since the sale of liquor is illegal and cannot be obtained in public saloons, and when the police are more strict in arresting intoxicated persons, it is reasonable to suppose that drinking is less public and that fewer drunken persons appear on the streets relative to the quantity of liquor consumed (Warburton, 1932: 103).

Nevertheless, the cyclical trend suggested by these figures coincides with statistics on alcoholism (Brown, 1932: 61, 71, 77). Whatever their independent validity, however, they correlate earth the theory of one author that:

[T] he 18th Amendment could not have been passed without the support of the psychologically tolerant, made temporarily intolerant by the stress of war. But when the moderates deserted the drys in the time of peace, the hard core of the movement was revealed (Sinclair, 1962: 23--24).

Without the support of the moderates, the author theorizes, Prohibition was to become itself a symbol of excess, unsupported by the vast majority of the population.

Outcome. What, then, did Prohibition accomplish? To a great extent it eliminated the saloon from American life. While bars and taverns reopened joyfully following repeal, they ceased to be the centers of systematic political corruption and debauchery which they had once been. Part of this may be attributable to the greater sophistication of the electorate and politics generally. Part, no doubt, is owing to the fact that women were welcome as customers in the new cocktail lounges, having shown themselves to be eager patrons of the speakeasies.

And finally, the change in the character of the saloon was effected by public determination that it should be changed. This attitude was expressed in the post-repeal statutes concerned with the physical appearance of the saloon and the character of persons authorized to operate them.

Prohibition did make the nation conscious that corruption of the law and of the populace may be the consequence of a law which is not reflective of the morals and mores of the time. It played out some of the deepest social class resentments, culminating in the realization that the behavioral standards of some could not be impressed upon others. It demonstrated that the fervor of war and the cult of patriotism may be abused-and abuse the country in return.

Repeal reimposed the burden of regulation upon the states. They were required to develop a system of control directed at the particular objectives they wished to achieve. The post-repeal era was to prove an exercise not only in states' rights but in states' responsibilities.


On December 4, 1933, the day before final ratification of the repeal amendment, the President established the Federal Alcohol Control Administration, pursuant to Executive Order No. 6474. FACA was to have the power to grant or revoke permits to engage in the alcoholic beverage industry-not the brewing industry-as well as the power to control plant capacity and production; it was also to engage in consumer protection through regulations designed to prevent misbranding and false advertising of alcoholic beverages. In addition, FACA prohibited the ownership of retail outlets by manufacturers and wholesalers (Harrison & Laine, 1936: 24-29).

This scheme fell under the Schecter Poultry decision by the Supreme Court. The Treasury, Federal Trade, Commission and Food and Drug Administration then moved in. A new alcohol control agency was proposed, leading to a dispute as to whether it should be independent or part of the Treasury.

Joseph H. Choate, Jr., first head of the FACA, testified that:

The Treasury has not been an organization whose duty it was to study and understand the liquor business, the interest of the public in that business, or the method by which that business ought to be carried on in order to subserve the interests of both the public and state governments. It has been a creature of one idea, that one idea being, quite properly, to get revenue and get it as fast and as copiously as it could (Harrison & Laine, 1936: 33).

The Department of the Treasury agreed with Choate's analysis.

Nevertheless, this testimony was disregarded and the Federal Alcohol Administration was created as a division of Treasury in 1935. This arrangement was superseded in 1936 when the Liquor Tax Administration Act established FACA as an independent agency of the government. Soon thereafter it was reorganized, once again as an arm of the Department of Treasury, and even its separate identity was abolished as of June 30, 1940. Today, the Treasury retains full authority to administer all federal liquor laws.

The current federal laws regulating trade in intoxicating beverages may be classified in the following categories:

(1) Revenue: Taxes are imposed on rectifiers, brewers, manufacturers of stills, dealers; wholesale and retail stamps are required on distilled spirits (26 USC, 1971a).

(2) Criminal Penalties: Criminal penalties are provided for unauthorized production, sale or possession, transportation into states prohibiting sale, C.O.D. shipments and unlabeled shipments (26 USC, 1971b; 18 USC, 1971).

(3) Interstate Transportation: Interstate shipments of alcoholic beverages are subject to the laws of the receiving state (27 USC, 1971a).

(4) Permits: Importers, manufacturers and sellers of intoxicating beverages must have permits (27 USC, 1971b).

(5) Unfair Practices: Exclusive sales arrangements, tying, bribery and false advertising or labeling are prohibited (27 USC, 1971b).

The intent of the Federal Government to reserve all decisions regarding regulation of consumption is quite clear from federal statutes presently in force. The states have reacted with a variety of regulatory schemes controlling to varying degrees the seller, the buyer, the place, time and opportunity for sale and, through revenue measures, the cost.

In 18 states, the state store or state monopoly system has entirely displaced the private wholesale or retail sale of intoxicating beverages. Other states permit the sale of liquor, wine and beer through private, licensed outlets.

The license system may be implemented by different, means. Administration may be solely by the state, or control may be shared by the counties or municipalities.

Local control may be exercised to a greater or lesser degree. For example, in the 1930's, immediately after repeal, Massachusetts and New Mexico permitted local boards to grant retail licenses only after investigation and approval of applicants by the state board. During the same period, other states, predominantly in the South, gave local authorities supplemental powers to issue licenses while requiring concurrent state licenses as well.

In some jurisdictions, the local license had to be obtained first, and the state license could be granted thereafter. In Illinois, however, the state commission's power was curtailed by requiring that a state license be granted once the local license was secured. And although the state was given the power to revoke its license, it was given no power to inspect places of sale to determine grounds for revocation (Harrison & Laine, 1936: 50-53).

The license system has been suspect by many wets as well as drys because of the opportunities it may afford for political abuse. On the other hand, there is substantial opinion which holds direct participation in the sale of liquor in contempt. As to the relative efficacy of each, there are no reliable means of making a judgment. Each apparently depends on the integrity and capacity of the individuals charged with the job of enforcement and oversight.

Superimposed on the basic system of regulating the sale of liquor are other sumptuary laws which are directed at the purchaser. Sales are not permitted to minors or intoxicated persons. Credit is often prohibited on liquor sales as well. Criminal penalties may be imposed for driving under the influence of alcohol as well as for drunken behavior.

The sale of liquor by the drink is permitted in most states, but some still require that it be sold in packaged form only, reflecting the continuing fear of the resurrection of the saloon. In many states Sunday closing laws are enforced, and mandatory closing times are imposed upon bars and package stores alike. Sales are prohibited almost uniformly on Election Day, at least during polling hours, and, in many places, on Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Christmas and other holidays.

Local option is still granted in most states, in voting units ranging from the plantation to the city or county. Of the monopoly or control states, only Utah and Wyoming fail to make provision for local option at all. Wyoming maintains a state monopoly at the wholesale level only. Private retailer sellers are licensed.

In the remaining monopoly states, it is often possible for towns within a wet county to go dry, and sometimes vice versa. Of the 33 license states, only 10 (including the District of Columbia) do not permit local option at any level.

Notwithstanding the various patterns of regulation, Senator Arthur Capper's words of the 1930's still seem to be correct:

We can repeal prohibition, but we cannot repeal the liquor problem (Peterson, 1969: 126).

Neither the states nor the population have yet come to grips with the problems of alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Both the monopoly system and the license system are directed at other concerns. They, no more than Prohibition, have been able to control or even alleviate the very real and dire consequences of alcohol use by society.


Brown, F. W.: "Prohibition and mental Hygiene" Annals, 163: 61, 71, 76-77, 88, 1176 (September, 1932).

Cherrington, E. H.: The Evolution of Prohibition In The United States of America, Westerville, Ohio: American Issue Press (1920), pp. 16, 18, 37-38, 49-51, 58, 92-93, 134, 156-162, 165-169, 250-251, 317-330.

Dobyns, F.: The Amazing Story of Repeal, Chicago: Willett, Clark & Co. (1940), pp. 5, 5-130 passim, 9, 22, 107, 132, 160, 215, 292, 297.

Feldman, H.: "Prohibition: Its Economic and Industrial Aspects," New York City: Appleton and Co. (1927), p. 397.

Furnas, J. C.: The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum, New York City: Putnam (1965), pp. 15, 80, 167, 183, 273, 281, 310, 334-335.

Grant: "The Liquor Traffic Before the 18th Amendment,"

Annals, 163: 1, 5 (September, 1932).

Gustield, J. R.: The Symbolic Crusade, Urbana: University of Illinois Press (1963), pp. 69-70, 76-77, 100, 108, 119, 127-128, 135.

Harrison, L. V. and Laine, E.: After Repeal, New York

City: Harper & Bros. (1936), pp. 1-2, 24-29, 33, 50-53, 63.

Health, Education and Welfare: "Alcohol and Alcoholism," p. 41 (1968). Prepared for National Clearinghouse for Mental Health Information.

History of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division, pp. 1420, 28 (undated, unsigned monograph in the library of the Distilled Spirits Institute).

Hu, T.: The Liquor Tax in the U.S.: 1791-1947, New York City: Columbia University Press (1950), pp. 48, 51-52. Internal Revenue Service: "Alcohol and Tobacco Summary Statistics," pp. 6, 73, 95 (1966, 1970, 1921).

Jellinek, E. M.: "Death From Alcoholism in the U.S. in 1940," Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 3 (3): 484 (December, 1942).

: "Recent Trends in Alcoholism," Quartely Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 8 (1) : 39 (September, 1947).

Kolb., L.: "Alcoholism and Public Health," Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1: 608, 610, 613 (March, 1941).

Krout, J. A.: The Origins of Prohibition, New York City: Russell & Russell (1967), pp. 29-30.

Lee, H.: How Dry We Were: Prohibition Revisited, EngleWood Cliffs: Prentice Hall Inc. (1963), pi). 15-16, 1819, 22-23, 29-30, 34-35, 42, 68, 212, 231.

Malzburg, B.: "A Study of First Admissions with Alcohol Psychoses in New York State 1943-44," Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 10: 294 (December, 1949). Miller, P. and Johnson, T. H. (eds.) : 11 The Puritans, New York City: American Book Co. (1963), pp. 430-431.

National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement: "Report On The Enforcement of the, Prohibition Laws of the U.S.," H.R. Doe. No. 722, 71st Cong., 3d Sess., 8, 345 (1931).

Odegard, P. H.: Pressure Politics-The Story of The AntiSaloon League, New York City: Columbia University Press (1928), pp. 23, 40-60, 53, 70-72, 126.

Peterson, W.: "Vitalizing Liquor Control," Journal of Criminal Law and Crime, 40: 119-120, 122-123, 126 (July, 1939).

Pollock, H. M.: Mental Disease and Social Welfare, Utica, N.Y.: State Hospital Press (1942), 1). 113.

Rice, S. A. (ed.) : Statistics In Social Studies, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (1930), 1). 122.

Rosenbloom, M. V.: The Liquor Industry: A Surrey of Its History, Manufacture, Problems of Control and IMportance, Braddock: Ruffsdale Distilling Co. (1937 ed.), pp. 27, 51-52 (1935)).

Rush, B.: "Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon The Human Body and Mind," Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 4: 323,325-326 (September, 1943). Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies: "Selected Statistics on Consumption of Alcohol (1850-1968) And On Alcoholism (1930-1968)," 1). 4 (1970).

Sinclair, A. : The Era of Excess, Boston: Little, Brown (1962), pp. 23-24, 43, 51, 108, 122, 176-177, 190, 193-195, 198, 206, 303, 364-365, 367-368.

Tillitt, M. H. : The Price of Prohibition, -New York City: Harcourt, Brace & Co. (1932), pp. 35-36, 114-115.

Timberlake, J. H.: Prohibition and the Progressive Morement, Cambridge: Harvard University Press (1963), pp. 34-38, 42-55, 67-79, 83, 85-86, 98, 118.

Towne, C. IL: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, New York City: The MacMillan Co. (1923), pp. 211-212.

U.S. Department of Commerce: "U.S. Census Mortality Statistics," 55 (1924).

Warburton, C.: The Economic Results of Prohibition, New York City: Columbia University Press (1932), pp. 102104, 216.

26 U SC 5081-5416 (1971a).

26 USC 5061-5691 (1971b).

18 U SC 1261-1265 (1971).

27 USC 121, 122 (1971a).

27 USC 205 (1971b).



Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet

DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Major Studies

Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding