10/4/12 - the moral triumph of prohibition

In today's encore excerpt - Prohibition, the greatest failed social experiment in American history, brought with it the growth of organized crime to an unprecedented national scale. And where the American Revolution had been about limiting the power of government to intrude in its citizen's lives, Prohibition brought with it a new era of attempted social engineering that still persists. It began on January 16, 1920 after a full year's notice, and for some this was a lament. But many others were certain it was the dawning of a triumphal new age:

" 'If a family or a nation is sober, nature in its normal course will cause them to rise to a higher civilization. If a family or a nation, on the other hand, is debauched by liquor, it must decline and ultimately perish.'

-Richmond P. Hobson, in the U.S. House
of Representatives, December 22,1914

"The streets of San Francisco were jammed. A frenzy of cars, trucks, wagons, and every other imaginable form of conveyance crisscrossed the town and battled its steepest hills. Porches, staircase landings, and sidewalks were piled high with boxes and crates delivered on the last possible day before transporting their contents would become illegal. The next morning, the Chronicle reported that people whose beer, liquor, and wine had not arrived by midnight were left to stand in their doorways 'with haggard faces and glittering eyes.' Just two weeks earlier, on the last New Year's Eve before Prohibition, frantic celebrations had convulsed the city's hotels and private clubs, its neighborhood taverns and wharfside saloons. It was a spasm of desperate joy fueled, said the Chronicle, by great quantities of 'bottled sunshine' liberated from 'cellars, club lockers, bank vaults, safety deposit boxes and other hiding places.' Now, on January 16, the sunshine was surrendering to darkness. ...

"There were of course those who welcomed the day. The crusaders who had struggled for decades to place Prohibition in the Constitution celebrated with rallies and prayer sessions and ritual interments of effigies representing John Barleycorn, the symbolic proxy for alcohol's evils. No one marked the day as fervently as evangelist Billy Sunday, who conducted a revival meeting in Norfolk, Virginia. Ten thousand grateful people jammed Sunday's enormous tabernacle to hear him announce the death of liquor and reveal the advent of an earthly paradise. 'The reign of tears is over,' Sunday proclaimed. 'The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent.'

"A similarly grandiose note was sounded by the Anti-Saloon League, the mightiest pressure group in the nation's history. No other organization had ever changed the Constitution through a sustained political campaign; now, on the day of its final triumph, the ASL declared that 'at one minute past midnight ... a new nation will be born.' "


Daniel Okrent


Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition


Scribner a division of Simon Schuster


Copyright 2010 by Last Laugh, Inc.


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