History of Drinking in America: Part Five

An Anti-Saloon League poster promoting the cause of prohibition.

An Anti-Saloon League poster promoting the cause of prohibition.

This is fifth and final post in a series recounting the history of drinking in America leading up to Prohibition.  While we hear a lot about the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition, seldom discussed is the importance of alcohol (and its consumption) at earlier dates in American history.  This research was very interesting and I hope you enjoy it! 

Read part one here.

Read part two here.

Read part three here.

Read part four here.

Attempts to pass a prohibition amendment in the United States Congress began in 1876.  In the 1880s, several states created laws restricting or outlawing liquor.  With the launch of the Progressive Movement at the turn of the century, alcohol and its influences became incorporated with their goal to purify society, enfranchise women, and reform the machine politics of years past.  Around the same time, a powerful political group known as the Anti-Saloon league was born.  Unlike the WCTU which was a broad reform group, the Anti-Saloon League had only one purpose: the prohibition of all intoxicating liquors in America.

The WCTU had successfully educated several generations on the dangers of alcohol, while also tying the rights of women and the right to vote to prohibition.  Progressives soon joined the cause of prohibition as well, under the ideology that going dry would solve both political corruption and urban poverty.  As Progressives, the WCTU, Prohibition Party, and Anti-Saloon League warned of the scourge of alcohol, their message struck a chord with nativists and xenophobes who feared the impact of changing urban demographics that had begun in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century.  Temperence and Prohibition advocates “were disproportionately rural white Protestants of northern European ethnic stock, and such reformers sometimes saw prohibition as a means of controlling or reforming Catholics, immigrants, African American and poor whites.”[1]  When the United States entered World War I in 1917, anti-German sentiment only furthered the cause of prohibitionists as many brewing companies were owned by German Americans.  By that time, twenty-three states had prohibition laws and many others had considered similar laws.  The American public was turning against alcohol.  In an interesting irony, radical WCTU member Carrie Nation (who had previously lost a husband due to drink) received hundreds of supporters while she toured Kansas staging ‘hatchetation,’ which vandalized bars and smashed liquor bottles.  Though she created thousands of dollars of damage to businesses, Nation was never tried of any major crimes. Continue reading