The Anti-Saloon League and Prohibition
18 December, 2014
The prohibition movement of the 1920’s had been an idea that was a long time coming. Churches as far back as the 18th century harshly criticized taverns and had pushed for a removal of alcohol in their cities. As these churches grew, so did their power and influence. In 1726 Reverend Cotton Mather published an article that addressed the people who “unnecessarily” frequent these taverns.1 At first the mission of the church was aimed solely at the drinking habits of individuals. Members of churches were urged to separate themselves from any connection with the traffic of distilled liquors. By 1810 official bodies of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, and United Brethren Churches began to condemn drinking places as public nuisances and urged action against them.2 This saw the church move outside of its own community and into the social life of the nation. The American Temperance Society, which would later be known as the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, was formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1826. This society was nothing more than the church expressing itself in an organized form. The movement created a large temperance reform, which resulted in the formation of the temperance groups in virtually every town and community in the nation. And before long, the efforts of these local bodies were showing tangible results, particularly on the local and state level.3 The first territorial prohibition law on record was enacted in 1843 be Oregon, but was repealed just five years after. The real pioneer state that passed a prohibition law was Maine in 1851. This law prohibited the manufacture, sale, and keeping for sale of intoxicating liquors. It allowed confiscation of liquor that was illegally held, search and seizures, and imprisonment for the third offense. In 1851 there was a National Temperance Convention in New York that consisted of three hundred delegates from seventeen different states. After the convention, many of the delegates looked for ways to bring the Maine Law into their states. The next four years saw the progress of prohibition become a continuous triumph. Thirteen states had passed prohibitory laws and several more came near doing so. Soon temperance reforms began to run into obstacles. In some of the states, the legislature enacted a prohibitory law but the Governor would veto it. In other states, the Supreme Courts ruled the law unconstitutional or so emasculated it that it was deprived of all effectiveness.4 Afterwards, state-wide prohibition began to fail due to numerous reasons. The attention of the moral reform forces began to focus on slavery before and during the Civil War. There was also a very lucrative tax on alcohol during and after the war that was a strong defense of the trafficking of liquor. Another reason the prohibition movement took a hit was the political partisan turn which the movement took in the 1850’s. A majority of the states were divided when their political group was against prohibition. Even though they were strongly against it, there allegiance to their party ties was more important. While the prohibition movement of that time had died down, it was successful in laying down a foundation for public opinion of alcohol. At this time, religious leaders were not sure of the next step they needed to do to get prohibition back on top. They finally came to the conclusion that they needed to create a new political party whose platform was based off of prohibition of alcohol. In 1869, the Prohibition Party was created and added its name to the candidacy for president during the campaign of 1872. No candidates for this party even came close to winning any elections. While it had failed to accomplish its original purpose, it helped clear the way for the non-partisan political activity which in later years was to carry the...
Bibliography: Primary Sources
Andreae, Percy. The Prohibition Movement in Its Broader Bearings upon Our Social, Commercial and Religious Liberties: Addresses and Writings of Percy Andreae. Chicago, Ill.: F. Mendelsohn, 1915.
Dohn, Norman Harding. The History of the Anti-Saloon League. 1959.
Fisher, Irving. Prohibition at Its Worst. New York: Macmillian Company, 1926.
Asbury, Herbert. The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1950.
Clark, Norman H. Deliver Us from Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition. New York: Norton, 1976.
Kyvig, David E. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
Sinclair, Andrew. Prohibition, the Era of Excess With a Pref. by Richard Hofstadter. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962.
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