2/9/10 - prohibition

In today's excerpt - after World War I, a national prohibition against alcoholic beverages was enacted in both the United States and Canada. This prohibition however led to a dramatic increase in alcohol consumption and the rise of large-scale criminal organizations to support it. Why was it that prohibition was enacted?:

"How [Prohibition] came about can be boiled down to about five causes: 1) The First World War, 2) The new authority of women, 3) A half-century of campaigning by church leaders politicians evangelists and women's groups, 4) The existing moral climate of the time, and 5) Rural paranoia about urban intrusion.

"Most blame the First World War which had a tremendous influence upon the eventual passage of legislation that took away a person's freedom to drink. During the war, both the U.S. and Canada as already stated, enacted laws that set the groundwork for full bans on liquor and beer. It was believed that money should be diverted from liquor to 'war fitness.' ... The moral climate in the U.S. brought on by the war permitted the easy passage of the Volstead Act (Prohibition). ...

"Another wartime condition that aided Prohibitionists, in both the U.S. and Canada, was the new authority of women. Before and during the war women found voice in numbers. They banded together in [temperance] groups. Women had also acquired far more responsibility during this time as they were forced to fend for themselves during the war to find work and feed their families while their husbands were fighting in the trenches overseas. ... More importantly, during this period women won the right to vote in elections.

"The half-century of campaigning by groups like the Anti-Saloon League (U.S.) contributed perhaps more than any other factor in generating support for Prohibition. By the early 1900s, in the U.S. the great temperance leaders ordered their forces to use any means necessary to shut down the saloons—even hatchets if necessary. The Bible and hatchet-carrying Carry Nation and her male counterpart, the iron-fisted Dr. Howard Russell were the most popular of the U.S. temperance leaders. ...

"This Prohibitionary craze may seem unfathomable out of context, but on closer examination the period up until 1920 was dominated by prohibitions—on clothing behavior and even food. In Ontario especially the straight-laced Protestant ethic dictated an exclusive code of conduct. It was strictly forbidden in 1919 for example to purchase a cigar, an ice cream cone, a newspaper, or anything vaguely frivolous on a Sunday. And playing sports of any kind was absolutely banned on the Lord's Day. In Michigan, as an extreme example, it was considered a crime for women to wear high-heeled shoes. In such a world a ban on intoxicating beverages did not seem so out of place.

"In addition to all of these factors, the farmer was regarded as the silent partner of the Prohibition movement. The Prohibitionists relied upon the farmer to cast his ballot against the evils of drunkenness and sloth, which he viewed from the safety of his front veranda in he remote and serene countryside as something distinctly urban. The Farmer's Sun told farmers what they already knew—that their rural sanctuary could only be ensured if they voted to bring cities and towns under the umbrella of Prohibition."


Marty Gervais


The Rumrunners: a prohibition scrapbook




Copyright Marty Gervais, 1980, 2009


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