Happy Prohibition Day! Prohibition began 94 years ago today
On October 28, 1919, the 66th Congress overrode President Woodrow Wilson’s veto of the National Prohibition Act, aka the Volstead Act, and so began 13 long years of banned alcoholic beverages.
When writing Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch & Irish Whiskey, I expected to dismiss the many temperance women who fought for Prohibition. But as often goes with research, my findings surprised me. I grew to respect the temperance women’s quest for a dry society. They were losing husbands to brothels and saloons, and American women in that era had no rights to fight their filthy drunken husbands in the courts.
Women prayed outside of saloons, hoping their families would be restored, and eventually took a more stern approach with hatchets. But the men kept drinking, kept cheating, kept dying of alcohol poison, and kept ignoring their families. Our country didn’t understand “drinking responsibly,” and man’s inability to control his drinking was killing the family.
Perhaps this late-19th-century letter from a 14-year-old Pennsylvania girl summarizes our country’s drinking plague: “Our town is in a dreadful state; it seems as if whiskey almost ran along the streets, and the boys and young men all drink. Yesterday I saw a boy of fifteen lying under a rail fence, dead drunk.”
So prohibition was well intended. But in practice, it only gave power to criminal syndicates, bootleggers, and crooked politicians. Prohibition also set in motion many ridiculous alcohol laws still used today.
When Prohibition was repealed, the states gained control of their respective alcohol laws, and many put some silly regulations on the books. In Colorado, it’s illegal to ride a horse and drink, while Oklahoma requires beer with over 3.2% alcohol by volume to be sold warm in the liquor store.
Alabama, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia ban Sunday liquor sales.
Want a quick drink before you vote? No can do if you live in South Carolina, the only state still banning Election Day alcohol sales.
Meanwhile, North Carolina alcohol officials actually dig through the trash to make sure liquor bottle tax stamps are properly scraped off. Now, that’s a good use of taxpayer money!
Oh, and if your dream is to own a donut shop that sells bourbon, don’t think about Louisiana. It’s illegal. “The commission shall not issue a permit of any class to any donut shop for the sale of alcoholic beverages,” says the state’s Alcohol and Tobacco Control Law.
These wacky alcohol laws exist all over the country, and hundreds of dry counties still debate banning alcohol like it’s 1913, not 2013. “The costs and problems associated with increased alcohol consumption outweigh any benefits,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, to the Christian Action League, after the state’s Clay County voted to go wet.
The problem is, since these dry counties don’t have regulated alcohol for sale, dry-county consumers either purchase booze from bootleggers or from the closest wet county. Just like during Prohibition, the bootleg alcohol is often cut with bleach and contributes to criminal bank accounts. So, how again are dry counties helping the population? And let’s not forget the lost tax revenue that could be used to build schools and roads.
We no longer need Prohibition. If somebody has a drinking problem, they can seek help from several treatment options available. But it’s their choice. Our society no longer tolerates public drunkenness or drunken driving, and women or men can most certainly divorce their drunken spouses. If the majority of America can enjoy alcohol responsibly, so can the likes of Clay County, North Carolina.
Dry counties, weird alcohol laws, and early 1900s Prohibition arguments only show how antiquated the American alcohol system is. It’s time to move on. It’s no longer 1919.