Government and Prohibition


So much prejudice and finality of opinion surround the question of drink-reform that he who approaches it judicially risks being misunderstood both as to his purpose and as to the bearing of the argument. It is not a welcome task to paint the shadow sides of a movement absorbing so many men and women whose purity of intention is beyond cavil. But where is the contrast, the authenticated story of ‘human wreckage saved by prohibition’?

In closing this series of articles the writer is conscious that truth-telling has earned him the lasting enmity of prohibition leaders and a place on the black-list of thousands who follow them blindly. For the sincerity of their convictions he has but respect, believing that in all things they intend well. He wills the same great end as they — temperance — but would strive for it through other means. He also ventures to hope that in criticism as well as in suggestion he has, however imperfectly, reflected the sense of many people who see perhaps more clearly than he that a social millennium will not dawn until we have been made ready for it, not by force but by persuasion.

Lest new misconception arise, it must be said that criticism of the extreme prohibition wing is not directed against all who hold by sumptuary law as a cure for intemperance. If there be general assent among them to the ultimate object, there is pronounced dissent as to ways and means of achieving it. Therefore, it were unjust to hold the mass of prohibitionists accountable for all the activities and vagaries of more or less self-constituted leaders. This avowal is perhaps especially needful when the relation of the prohibition movement to government is under discussion. Personal motives and intentions are not to be scrutinized, but merely the inexorable consequences of a misguided propagandism. If now and then extreme instances are cited to illustrate very present perils, they must stand to the credit of those who provide them or who undertake their defense.

The prohibition method of drinkreform in its radical manifestations is indictable because it tends to pervert both the theory and the practice of government. This assertion doubtless will seem singularly harsh and unjust to the men and women who devoutly believe that the over-shadowing tyranny of the liquor traffic is the real bane of our body politic. They have graven on their minds the image of an alcohol octopus whose paralyzing tentacles draw legislators and civic authorities of whatever name into a deadly embrace, and which rules to ruin. The picture, however magnified and distorted, is not one of pure fancy; the liquor interests at times and in places have imposed a deadening weight on government and have corrupted where they should have obeyed. Domination, real or attempted, in political affairs, interference in elections, tampering with the police and other public officials, and general disregard of law have justly been charged against the liquor traffic. Such evils have been largely of a local nature, quite amenable to correction through an enlightened community sentiment, but have helped wonderfully to point the argument for prohibition.

The opposition to prohibition is invariably ascribed by its promoters to the machinations of the trade. Naturally, the powerful liquor organizations, like any other concern, resent interference with their business, especially when they are faced with the possibility of its utter destruction without compensation. But the suggestion is that ‘by some obscure influence they induce others who have not the same interest to join in fighting their battles.’ The belief of temperance reformers that they need reckon only upon the opposition emanating from the trade simply reveals their ignorance of the forces with which they have to deal. They would dam the stream without studying its origin and source. First-hand knowledge of the saloon and the social want it. meets, they scorn. That actualities show alcoholic indulgence to be far too deep-rooted in humanity to be dug out by any summary process, they deny. Particularly in this land of compulsory virtue, reformers have come to live in an atmosphere of phrases untempered by facts. The ‘solution of the liquor problem ’ is one of them. By this, of course, is meant general prohibition, that short-cut to virtue, which shall accomplish by a wave of the legislative wand that which all the efforts of saints and sages have failed to achieve in a score of centuries. To those who attend more to words than to actual life the saloon incarnates all the evil powers of the world, and war against it becomes a holy crusade justifying any weapon or mode of attack, since they believe emotionally that the salvation of the world hangs by the one issue.

But in the comfortable glow of reform people are apt to forget that, in combatting oppression by an overreaching traffic, it is possible to invite another species of tyranny more inimical to government because it is subtler, less tangible, and more enduring in its effects — the tyranny of political and social coercion exercised in the name of public morals. The use of force to obtain a ‘sanctified’ end is as ancient as history, soiling the pages of Christianity itself. The prohibition propaganda merely illustrates a phase of such coercion, and the application of methods that are the more dangerous because of their apparent innocence. A slight reflection on our theory of government should make this clear.

It is an accepted article of our political faith that the success and durability of a just form of government require the consent of the governed. To deny this concept or to circumvent it is to invade the very fundamentals of liberty. But this sound underlying theory of democracy is easily subject to perversion. As President Hadley of Yale University puts it in his Standards of Public Morality: ‘Not content with saying that all just government is based on the consent of the governed, the enthusiastic advocates of democracy hold that if you could only find what a majority of the governed wanted, you could easily incorporate it into law. Never was there a greater practical error. Public law, to be effective, requires much more than the majority to support it. It requires general acquiescence. To leave the minority at the mercy of the whims of the majority does not conduce to law or good government or justice between man and man. Even Rousseau, the leading apostle of modern democracy, saw this most clearly. He said in substance: “A majority of the people is not the people and never can be. We take a majority vote simply as the best available means of ascertaining the real wishes of the people in cases when it becomes necessary to do so.”

These elementary political principles are lightly brushed aside by those who strive for sumptuary legislation. Yet coercion through a crude illegal use of the police power is not a whit more subversive of ideals of government than the enactment by fabricated majorities of statutory and constitutional laws that violate what millions regard as inherent personal rights. Still, the pursuit of that will-o’-the-wisp — public virtue to be attained by compulsion — continues. That experience has shown it to be a costly phantom is forgotten or wilfully denied, and a vacuous belief is maintained in the usefulness of law as such, provided it has a seemingly beneficent object.

It is axiomatic that when law reflects general consent in regard to public needs, ‘its enforcement takes care of itself.’ But when law is enacted by insincere majorities, particularly a measure that undertakes to regulate personal habits and modes of life, its fate is foredoomed. The greatest obstacle is not the active hostility of bad men to such a law, but the unreadiness of good men to support it, for a widespread passive opposition suffices to destroy its vitality. Illustrative of this attitude toward prohibition is the reply of a prominent physician to the question whether he had read any of the alcohol articles in the Atlantic. ‘No,’ said he, ‘I never read anything about alcohol; I am afraid of being deprived of it.’

Oftentimes an obnoxious law, by common consent, becomes a dead letter, and its enforcement is not even publicly advocated. But the preservation of liberty by means of a general permission to ignore law does not point to a wholesome social condition. Prohibitory laws, however, are not allowed to die after the manner of other legislation that a community may have outgrown. Even the tolerant citizen will grow apprehensive over the prospect of a complete liberation of forces that stand athwart order and decency. Outwardly, at least, prohibition is always upheld; and from time to time occur sincerely enthusiastic and some locally successful attempts at enforcement. The proper redress when prohibition is shown to be a failure is, of course, to secure its repeal by existing legal expedients. But just as many men allow social and political considerations to override the conviction that prohibition should not be attempted, so, from the same motives, they acquiesce in its habitual violation rather than advocate the repeal of the law. Then there are everywhere large minorities personally hostile to the policy of prohibition, whose existence alone can account for the huge scale upon which it has been and is being violated. From circumstances like these arise conditions that are destructive of the social order we call government. Let us see how these generalizations fit the prohibition propaganda as well as the enforcement of prohibition laws.

The adoption of prohibition as a state’s policy need not occur in response to an overwhelming voluntary demand for the extinction of drink-selling; for the present-day prohibition cult is not a spontaneous growth but a condition of mind requiring constant and artificial nurture. The advocacy of prohibition does not necessarily even connote enthusiasm for total abstinence as a personal habit. It will be observed that abstinence or temperance societies of the old pattern are not the leaders of the national movement, nor is its promotion the reason for their being.

In the early days of the prohibition agitation genuine fervor directed the majorities in several campaigns. For the most part its fires burned out quickly, leaving scarce a trace. Of later years it has become increasingly evident that such embers as still remain must be fed with specially prepared fuel if they are to be fanned into flame; and the task of doing so has finally become the paid occupation of a certain class of reformers. This does not imply a prevailing lukewarmness toward temperance. Only a blunted sense of the public feeling round about the country could lead one to deny a very active, wholesome resentment against the saloon and the methods of its backers; but to identify this feeling with an unconquerable desire for prohibition is to read it sadly amiss. For instance, the recent return to prohibition by the State of Alabama would probably not have taken place except to avenge the high-handed interference by the liquor interests in municipal affairs. In general, were this not so, we should not have witnessed the remarkable upward trend in the consumption of liquor during the past decade; nor would it be necessary to build up elaborate local state and national machinery to deal with every trick and device of coercive campaigning in order to foster the necessary sentiment. The old-line Prohibition Party was not adapted to the work, as experience in the United States has shown that a political temperance party pure and simple, whose vision of public policies is bounded by prohibition, is not enduringly an efficient factor in state or national affairs. And so in order to gain the momentum in the prohibition campaign desired by the extremists, a new agency became necessary, and the AntiSaloon League was fashioned to supply it.


The recent manifestations of the prohibition movement, particularly in its bearings upon government, cannot be thoroughly understood without knowing what the Anti-Saloon League stands for, its character, purposes, and methods. Ostensibly, it is ‘a federation of churches and temperance societies to promote public morals,’ and it has also been described as representing a ‘ militant church movement.’ This is true in the sense that it finds its main support within certain large Protestant denominations, — the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and, to an extent, the Lutheran (chiefly the smaller English-speaking portion), — and naturally finds adherents within lesser church organizations. These great religious bodies have their strength in rural or semi-rural districts whence also the prohibition movement recruits its force.

On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Episcopal Church, and the Jewish congregations, counting together about as many members as the others just mentioned, have their stronghold in the cities; but they are not identified with the prohibition movement as such, much less affiliated with the Anti-Saloon League. Indeed, their most prominent spiritual leaders have declared against the prohibition agitation as a religious propaganda and stand aloof from it as a political measure. In all the prohibition states, except Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, the majority of church communicants belong chiefly to the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian bodies; yet in more than half of all the states the Roman Catholic is the religion of the plurality, and in nearly one half of all the states it has a larger membership than the combined denominations which are said to support the programme of the Anti-Saloon League, but among whose members there assuredly are many who refuse it endorsement. Moreover, only two fifths of our population are reckoned as communicants of any church, and only fifteen per cent of the population belong to the particular denominations which the Anti-Saloon League would claim for its own. Does it not, therefore, savor of a recrudescent Know-Nothing spirit, when this organization presumes to call its propaganda an American church movement, and to speak in the name of the people of the United States?

To be sure, the Anti-Saloon League is of ecclesiastical origin: it was given life by a wandering Methodist preacher some twenty years ago; the active workers are drawn from churches; pulpits are its forum, and tribute is received from Sunday collections. In many respects, however, it seems to be singularly worldly and wholly undemocratic. In spite of its ramifications and ubiquitous agents, it is a markedly centralized body. Supreme control is vested in the General Superintendent. He assigns the state superintendents; local or state groups have no choice in the matter. In brief, headquarters selects, directs, and pays all of its officers, including the legislative superintendent at Washington, who conducts the campaign on Congress.

The Anti-Saloon League is thus a very compact, practically self-perpetuating, and, in a public sense, irresponsible group, which knows no political fealty to other principles than that of prohibition, but seeks to bind all parties to its chariot. The corps of professional workers employed in every state is not amenable to local discipline or control. Its lack of public responsibility apparently covers the expenditure of vast sums of money, — one and a quarter millions per annum is admitted, — contributed by churches, individuals, and corporations for political purposes, which are not regularly accounted for as such. It is this organization, backed by its own professional publications and dominating no small portion of the general press, which, under the emblem of religion, has obtained control of the propaganda for state and national prohibition.

The methods followed by the new type of workers in ordinary prohibition campaigns, the frequent proscription of candidates for office who choose to follow their own convictions, the intimidation of voters through implied threats of social and business boycott, the frank appeal to the emotions of voters instead of to their understanding through the employment of women and children as special pleaders for the cause, — all of which makes for unstable majorities,—are tolerably well known. Let us rather turn to the national aspects of the situation.

The attitude of the Anti-Saloon League toward Congress has recently been stated by Mr. William H. Anderson, State Superintendent for New York, than whom no one can speak with greater authority, as follows: ‘ The Anti-Saloon League is not asking any member of Congress to declare that he is in favor of National Prohibition, but simply that he shall not become an avowed exponent and protector of the liquor traffic by refusing to vote to allow the people of the nation, by states, through their representatives, to determine this question in the manner provided therefor by the framers of the Constitution.’

Many very specific instances have been published, with names and dates, which seem to disprove this assertion, not to mention the openly avowed intention of seeking the defeat of candidates in the next elections to Congress who refuse ‘to permit this question to be settled by reference to the states, so that the people may elect legislatures pledged for or against ratification.’1

Note, also, the assumption that he who refuses assent to the proposed constitutional amendment thereby becomes ‘an avowed exponent and protector of the liquor traffic.’ Yet for the most part it is accepted in silence. Is this simply through indifference, the traditional American willingness to submit to political manipulation rather than to oppose it, or does courage really fail? So long as the Anti-Saloon League successfully dangles the bugbear of a moral issue before the public conscience, eternally but wrongfully declaring the prohibition issue to be one between right and wrong and not one of social expediency, it is perhaps natural that many should become frightened. Politicians, both large and small, are thus made to seek cover, or, when in extremity, to enter into prohibition servitude as a means of safety and preferment. Then, too, it is so easy to represent that the question lies solely between temperance workers and the liquor interests, for only those directly connected with it would humanly show the same intense zeal as the temperance agitators themselves. As Mr. Fabian Franklin says, ‘The opinion that nobody is concerned in the matter except the prohibitionists on the one hand, and those who make money out of liquor on the other, is not only false but so monstrously false, that its almost unchallenged currency must be set down as one of the most interesting and instructive of psychological curiosities.’2

But this pronouncement of the attitude of the League toward Congress is of far greater import than in the respects just discussed. To quote Mr. Franklin again: ‘A doctrine more dangerous, more subversive of the spirit of representative government than that here laid down concerning the duties of members of Congress in relation to the most solemn responsibility they are ever called upon to discharge, it would be difficult to imagine.’

Nothing less is contemplated than a de facto reversal of the process by which amendments to the Federal Constitution are intended to be made. The provision of the Constitution that the Congress, by a two-thirds vote in both houses, has power to propose amendments to the Constitution, which become effective when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the states, necessarily implies a deliberative act on the part of the Congress and imposes a solemn obligation for the nature of the amendment proposed. The requirement that an amendment must be submitted to the several states for ratification is merely in order that there may be a sufficient check upon any action of the Congress. But the Anti-Saloon League would have the nation’s chosen representatives abdicate as a deliberative body, efface personal conviction, and forego their greatest responsibility, so that ‘ the people of the nation ’ may determine the question of national prohibition, under threat that he who refuses becomes an ‘ avowed exponent and protector of the liquor traffic.’

The transparent plea is made that ‘the people of the nation’ through its legislatures should be allowed to decide. In reality this is an appeal for coercion through a minority of the population. For in ratifying a proposed amendment to the Constitution, the votes of the different state legislatures are equal units, no matter how great the disparity of the populations they represent. Thus the four least populous states in the Union would have just as much weight as the four most populous, containing thirty times as many inhabitants. As stated in the first article of this series, a situation might arise in which thirty-six legislatures representing less than one half of the population imposed their will on twelve states representing the majority. Yet we are adjured to ‘let the people decide.’ The true implication is, let the rural minorities say how the urban majorities shall live. The expedient lies in passing up the decision to the legislatures, in many of which, however, the large city populations have a smaller proportionate representation than the rural. Logically, if ‘the people’ are to decide in the sense the Anti-Saloon League would have us interpret its plea, there should be a nation-wide referendum for the guidance of the Congress as well as of the state legislatures.

The prophecy is frequently made that national prohibition will become law within ten years. The reasoning behind it is plain: Should Congress submit the national prohibition amendment, a state legislature may act on the question of ratification whenever it sees fit, without any time limit; and naturally every effort, would be made to seize upon the right moment for securing a favorable majority. If ratification should fail at the first attempt, a legislature may presumably reverse its action at a subsequent session; but whether a legislature can reverse its act of ratification is dubious and cannot be definitely known until the Supreme Court has passed on the question. Many hold that it cannot.

Thus it may be needful only to accumulate during an indefinite period the ratification votes of thirty-six state legislatures, the requisite majority for an acceptance of the amendment; and if ratification once made is irrevocable, any subsequent revulsion of public sentiment— and how rapidly it shifts, the history of the prohibition movement teaches us — would be of no avail. The reason for urging the Congress to stand aside and delegate its responsibility to the state is therefore evident, since it foreshadows ‘ the clear possibility of the adoption of the most momentous or radical of changes in the organic law being brought about by the vote of the legislatures of a handful of states previously disinclined to it, at a time when an indefinite number of the states previously favorable to it had experienced a reversal of sentiment on the subject.’

If the country should wish to repeal the proposed amendment, it would be necessary to secure a two-thirds majority for repeal in both houses, as well as the consent of three-fourths of the state legislatures. But any thirteen states — and there are more than that number in the prohibition column today— would have the power, by refusing their assent, to make repeal impossible, no matter how insistent and sincere the demand for it in the other thirty-five. And a governmental policy fraught with such incalculable consequences, reaching into the very depths of our political and social life, the wellspring of ceaseless strife and of corruption, should be left to chance legislatures in the name of a public opinion which they cannot truly voice!

What hypocrisy may lurk behind the phrase, ‘ Let the people decide ’! Is then representative government, as exemplified by the Congress, opposed to the interests of the people because it is a deliberative body, bound by certain rules, forms, and accountability for its actions? There is something humorous in the suggestion that a state legislator, drawn from goodness knows what patch in the hinterland, must possess a better sense of a national policy than he who is charged with specific responsibility for it, and who now is virtually being asked to delegate his authority.


The attitude of the Anti-Saloon League toward government is more clearly revealed through its practices under prohibition. Of later years, perhaps emboldened by many successes, this body undertakes, not only to secure sumptuary legislation but to dictate how it shall be enforced. Under local self-government, the function of making penal acts effective belongs to the established police authorities, coöperating with the proper judicial tribunals. Somehow these usual custodians of order do not seem to meet the exigencies of prohibition, since it is held necessary to create extraordinary police agencies charged with the single duty of enforcing the edict against drink. In Maine, a few years ago, the scandalous inactivity of the sheriffs and the police became too notorious even for that state to endure, and a commission was established with roving powers to visit every part of the commonwealth and supplement or rather supplant the work of the local police forces. Bitter resentment against this interference with local self-government, mixed of course with political considerations, soon put an end to the experiment. Recent prohibition legislation would anticipate all these difficulties.

The State of West Virginia wrote into her prohibition law open distrust of existing police powers when she established a prohibition commissioner endowed with authority on a par with that of the state’s attorney-general and with the right to appoint a practically unlimited number of deputies to assist him in upholding the new law. This innovation in government has at least been welcomed by place-seekers: West Virginia is overrun by deputies armed with extraordinary power to interfere with personal liberty, as illustrated by their searching the baggage of inoffensive travelers, perhaps through passengers, and haling them before some magistrate upon the discovery of a small quantity of contraband goods, or on pure suspicion. Merely to provide the pay of these deputies has become a notable drain upon the already meagre state treasury; but that is a detail. The core of the situation is what the effect must be upon government when, in order to vindicate a single piece of legislation, it is thought necessary to brand the usual police authorities, chosen by the people or locally appointed, and who are sworn to execute all laws for public safety and welfare, as incapable of trust in the one respect of enforcing prohibition. What a singular travesty on methods of securing community order and decency! Incidentally, what a commentary on the assumption that in West Virginia, for instance, prohibition is backed by an all-pervasive and sound public sentiment!

This resort to specially devised agencies for the purpose of compelling obedience to a single law is illustrated in other prohibition states by the appointment of ‘state rangers’ (Tennessee), and ‘liquor deputies,’ or whatever fragrant name they may enjoy. The introduction of such elements into the governmental machinery of the state, and their maintenance, self-evidently denote a control of offices in the interest of no other public policy than that of prohibition; for its enforcement, especially in some Southern states where it is attempted, has become the pivot on which the whole scheme of government revolves. In view of the recent rampant criminality in some of the Southern states, one wonders whether their quest of public order and respect for law has no other meaning than enforcement of legislation against drink.

Perhaps the most sinister phase of the enforcement work is the pressure brought upon the courts — the undisguised efforts to influence their action in trials for violations of the liquor law. The practice of intimidation of this sort may even be threatened before the prohibition law in a given state goes into effect. For example, in the Portland (Oregon) Journal, December 18, 1915, we read, under the caption ‘Dry League Chief Tours EastState,’ the following story: —

‘Superintendent R. P. Hutton of the Anti-Saloon League of Oregon is now making a tour in Eastern Oregon, explaining the prohibition law, telling “what is in it,” and “how to get the good of it.” “The proposed law and the proposed officials will secure more results with a bunch to back them, than the best law and the best officials can get if only an unorganized public sentiment is behind them.”

‘ That is the burden of Mr. Hutton’s message, and he is arranging for organized demonstrations of public backing for enforcement to be made in the court room when the first half-dozen trials come up in each county or in the local community.’

The violation of the sanctity of the courts by means of ‘organized demonstration’ of public backing for enforcement is an expedient borrowed from Southern prohibition states where it has been extensively used. Instances of mobs showing noisy hostility to prisoners on trial for ordinary offenses are fortunately exceedingly rare; and everywhere such offenders would be summarily punished. But in Southern prohibition states it appears to be allowable, not only to exact public pledges from judges and prosecuting officials in regard to the enforcement of prohibition (as to other laws they are presumably to be trusted), but to instruct a judge in open court, ask him to set aside any doubt that may attach to the possible guilt of the defendant and demand that the full penalty of the law shall be imposed.

To what length such intimidation of the courts may be carried was shown in Chattanooga, Tennessee, not many years ago. The local superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League served notice through the public press that at a given time he and others would call on the judge of the criminal court and find out why the prohibitory law was not enforced. To be sure, past grand juries had returned several hundred indictments against violators, and many fines and workhouse sentences had been imposed. Still, the judge permitted the self-constituted delegation to appear before the bench, listened meekly to the harangue against his administration of justice, and acceded to the demand that all holders of Federal special-tax certificates as liquor-dealers should be summoned before the open court. In Tennessee, as in many other prohibition states, the possession of such acertificate is prima-facie evidence of a violation of the law. The court surrendered to the mob and issued an order for the holders of these certificates to appear at a given time ‘ for further instruction.’ In the end the tax certificates were surrendered, not to the court, who had no legal right to receive them, but — to the local superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League! And the farce proceeded ‘while a large audience sat amazed at the outrageous spectacle.’

Tennessee, however, is not the only state that has suffered frequent degradation of her criminal courts at the hands of Prohibitionists. Coercive tactics against the courts have been employed also in Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina—‘organized demonstrations’ for enforcement is the polite name for this species of intimidation. It is easy to blame the judges for cowardice, but it requires a stiff backbone to stand up against onslaughts by those who have it in their power to end one’s official career and scruple not at the means.


To keep perpetual watch on the criminal courts is, however, an irksome occupation and cannot fully meet the needs of enforcement which may be blocked by negligent prosecuting officials, and, moreover, requires the cooperation of other officials, especially that of the municipal authorities in large centres. So the infamous ‘ouster’ law was invented for the removal of officials whose activities or inactivities have become obnoxious to some people. This instrument of prohibition, manufactured and demanded solely in support of sumptuary law, is revolutionary, since it would substitute courtmade for representative government.

Under the ‘ouster’ act of Tennessee, which prohibitionists elsewhere seem eager to emulate, the prosecuting attorney of the state, or of any city or county, may file a motion in the circuit or criminal courts for the removal of a public official from office for cause; or a suit to the same effect may be entered on the petition of ten citizens. Should the courts sustain the motion, they may remove officials elected by the people and substitute for them men who would be rejected at the polls. This is not fiction but fact. At this writing the cities of Memphis and Nashville are ruled by court-made mayors. The mayor of Memphis, for instance, was removed from office by ouster process, but in the meantime he was reëlected to serve a new term beginning with the present year. The prohibitionists, however, by the aid of the courts succeeded in restraining him from holding the office to which he had been legally chosen, and he is at present replaced, through court order, by a man who has not been elected. A more violent usurpation of the powers and prerogatives which our Constitution has lodged in the hands of the voters has rarely been witnessed. What hold the courts, when thus arraying themselves against the people, can have upon public confidence, it is for the prohibitionists to say, the sponsors of the ouster theory, which was put into practice at their behest, and solely intended as an adjunct in enforcing prohibition. Until its invention, known processes of law were thought sufficient to safeguard the public against inefficient or corrupt government.

It is probable that the ouster law will eventually prove its own undoing. When political faction is arrayed against political faction it proves an exceedingly convenient club wherewith those who are out of office may wreak vengeance upon those who are in. In several counties in Tennessee ouster proceedings have been begun against county officials by their political opponents and on the most flimsy pretexts, involving such questions as that of public road-building. Meanwhile, popular government becomes a by-word, and turbulence, strife, and bitterness succeed peaceful order. Over the whole spectacle is written in large letters —


That persons whose ruling idea is to make operative laws directed against one evil may, in their effort, become the spokesmen of essential lawlessness, is an easily understandable mental phenomenon. Accustomed to interfere with the course of justice and with representative government, it is natural that they should lack respect for property when it belongs to the liquor traffic. Therefore they demand its confiscation. In the absence of express provisions in our laws guaranteeing that no man shall be deprived, without compensation, of property rights that have enjoyed legal protection, the question of the legality of confiscation may be purely academic. The economic significance of the interests involved is not the real issue, although, purely from a business point of view, reasonable people may regard apprehensively their prospective obliteration, for the capital involved in the production of liquors consumed in this country exceeds eight hundred millions of dollars, and the disbursements for materials, taxes, transportation, wages, and other objects during one year amount to nearly the same sum. All this is exclusive of the retail trade, the sum of whose capital and outlay for wages, rent, and supplies other than liquors, exceeds a billion dollars per year. These figures far transcend ordinary comprehension, and the sudden extinction of the property and employment they represent would plainly cause financial disturbances on a scale rarely witnessed, affecting agriculture, commerce, industry, and banking throughout the land.

But even if it could be shown that this industry and the trade under it comprehend the sum total of the social and political ills from which we suffer, the confiscation of its property without compensation would lack all justification. The expropriation of the entire retail business could, of course, not be contemplated. It is a commonplace to state that the traffic in intoxicants has not only enjoyed the same legal sanction and protection as other business, but has been utilized liberally for purposes of taxation benefiting all citizens alike. No public murmur is raised against participation in this ‘ blood money,’ and an instance is probably yet to be recorded of a prohibitionist who has refunded to the local, state, or national government his pro-rata share of the taxes levied on the trade, in order that he may not profit in any sense from the iniquitous traffic. Notwithstanding all this, the ruthless destruction of all the property involved is demanded as an act of justice —or is there a motive of retribution?

In other countries ethical principles in similar cases are followed also when there is no direct legal requirement of compensation. So far as the liquor industries themselves are concerned, there seems to be no question. France even granted the manufacturers of absinthe compensation, and Switzerland reimbursed the growers of the plant from which the poison is distilled; Russia compensated the producers of vodka upon the abolition of the state monopoly; England expropriates ancient rights to sell liquor for a reasonable consideration; and in countries where the underlying principle has recently come up for discussion, as in Norway and Sweden, there appears to be no disagreement about the equity of compensation, even for old selling privileges. The United States stands alone, and, may we not say, in the unenviable position of being willing to derive a large part of its revenue for state and Federal purposes from the liquor traffic, in long years representing billions of dollars, but ready to destroy by vote the creature of its own protection and profit without a cent in return. The might is there, also the ‘legal’ right, but where the justice? If the principle of confiscation without compensation be generally defensible, we might, as the next step, at the behest of Anti-Tobacco leagues prohibit the growing, manufacture, and sale of tobacco, which also form an important item of revenue to the Federal government, and let those made to suffer bear their own losses.


The final element in considering the relation of prohibition to government is how its non-enforcement affects the public mind. The introduction to the first volume published by the Committee of Fifty sketches this aspect of the situation as follows: —

‘There have been concomitant evils of prohibitory legislation. The efforts to enforce it during forty years past have had some unlooked-for effects on public respect for courts, judicial procedure, oaths, and law in general, and for officers of the law, legislators, and public servants. The public have seen law defied, a whole generation of habitual law-breakers schooled in evasion and shamelessness, courts ineffective through fluctuations of policy, delays, perjuries, negligences, and other miscarriages of justice, officers of the law double-faced and mercenary, legislators timid and insincere, candidates for office hypocritical and truckling, and office-holders unfaithful to pledges and to reasonable public expectation. Through an agitation which has always had a moral end, these immoralities have been developed and made conspicuous.’

The day before Christmas of 1915, a news dispatch was sent broadcast over the country, stating that the saloons of Portland, Maine, had been closed by the chief of police. No surprise was expressed that such institutions should still exist after sixty years of prohibition; nor was it intimated that they would be suppressed for good and all. Only two questions were asked: first, when will the dealers open again? and second, the more significant of the two, what is the political move behind the order to close? This instance is commonplace enough, but it illustrates abundantly the demoralization that seizes upon society at large when it tolerates such conditions.

A community whose public policy centres about the question whether prohibition shall be enforced loses its political sanity. The sense of right becomes warped when habitually in elections the fitness of a candidate is measured by his stand in relation to enforcement; and schooling in evasion and hypocrisy becomes an equipment for public affairs. Disrespect for public service, all too frequent in American life, augments ten-fold, and low standards are taken for granted.

High-minded individuals may writhe helplessly under such a condition; the political parties do not heed it as they jockey for position. But a party creed declaring absolute loyalty to a law while totally indifferent to its violation in letter as well as in spirit, is no choicer than the party creed definitely opposed to the same law or actively aiding its evasion. When enforcement is made a constant issue, the influence upon the public is bad enough; but when complete apathy settles upon a community, or the patrol wagon makes an occasional trip in search of revenue merely, decent respect for the government has ceased. A prominent publicist and investigator said to the writer that he had remained a steadfast prohibitionist for many years until he lived for a while in a prohibition state and observed the corroding effect on the public mind that is dominated in all its relations to government by the consideration whether fundamental and statutory laws shall be honored.

Gravely we are told to make light of such disquieting symptoms, to discount the aberrations of the zealots who really mean to vindicate pure government although their actions may seem to belie it. For when the sun of national prohibition rises it will melt away all the impure ice that encrusts sumptuary law unenforced; its rays will make virtue spring up in the habitation of vice, dissolve all hostile opposition, and cause personal and civic morality to flourish in barren places. Does the picture allure by its verisimilitude, or shall we face the pitiless facts?

What the future may hold in store we can only forecast from the present, and so far, unfortunately, the promises of prohibition have far outstripped performance. Some day, no doubt, society will be ready for measurement by new standards; but until then progress is not made by adding new evils to those that now burden us.

  1. The Portland (Oregon) Journal, Dec. 18, 1915.
  2. The Unpopular Review, October-December, 1915, p. 296.