Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
871 of 1105



PROHIBITION (IN U. S. HISTORY) has been an issue in purely state polities, but only in some of the states since about 1850. There have been occasional nominations for the presidency by prohibitionists; but they have met no attention, and it is difficult to see their exact object, for prohibition is as yet altogether outside of the domain of the national government.


—In state politics the object of the prohibitionists is well defined: they aim to prohibit by law the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors, except for use in medicine and in the arts. The arguments which they offer seem to be as follows, as far as a summary can give them fairly: 1. The most moderate estimate of the annual sales of liquors in the United States is that of Edward Young, chief of the bureau of statistics in 1871: he puts it at $600,000,000, more than the combined manufactures of cotton goods, woolen goods, boots and shoes, molasses and sugars, and nearly equal to the annual wages of all the manufactories. Whether this item be one of $600,000,000 a year or more, it is waste. 2. Manufacturers generally estimate the loss of productive powers, due to drunkenness and the inefficiency arising from drunkenness, at 8 to 12 per cent. of total wages. As the census of 1880 puts the total annual wages of the United States at $947,953,795, this per cent. of waste must be a large amount. 3. Pauperism is, to a large but doubtful extent, the product of drunkenness, and the expense of the maintenance of paupers by the state is, to that extent, chargeable to the sale of liquors, since open sale is the common inducement to drunkenness. 4. The connection between crime and drunkenness must be largely a matter of estimate; but the authorities competent to estimate are practically unanimous in stating that over 60 per cent. of the crime of the country is due to drunkenness. From Sir Matthew Hale, in 1670, who put the proportion at 80 percent., down to the various state boards of charities, prison associations, and prison inspectors of our own day, no one who has studied the subject carefully, and has become familiar with it, puts the proportion of drunkenness to crime at less than 60 per cent.; and most of them make it larger. Even if their figures are only estimates, they can not be successfully impeached by the naked contradictions of men who profess to know nothing of the subject. If they remain unimpeached, a large part of the state's expenditure for police, criminal courts and prisons, must go to the account of the sale of liquor. 5. The sale of liquor tempts men to habits which ruin their health and unfit them for the physical defense of the state, when that is necessary. 6. Drunkenness bears heavily upon the defenseless classes, upon women and children, upon the wives and families of drunkards, of drunken paupers, of drunken criminals, and of the victims of drunken crime. These have a right to look to the state for active protection, instead of being continually oppressed by the state's permission for the further sale of liquors. A single case of rape or murder, due to the state's permission for the sale of liquor, may entail indirect distress for which the state can make no money satisfaction.


—On such a showing, that the open sale of intoxicating liquors is hostile to the productive energy of the state, to its moral power, to its physical force, and to its families, the prohibitionist claims a hearing. Of his five classes of arguments, the third and fourth are disputed: it is claimed that drunkenness, the accompaniment of pauperism and crime, is mistaken for their cause; and, as to all of them, it is asserted that prohibition will not prohibit them, and that a high license system will be more efficient than prohibition in controlling an evil which can never be wholly removed. The prohibitionist answers that prohibition is not expected to entirely stop the sale of liquors; any more than laws against stealing will entirely stop stealing; but that, in either case, prohibition will be more efficient than any license system. The issue thus made seems to be one which can only be decided by experience.


—In Massachusetts, of which Maine was a part until 1820, the license system was in force until 1835. Power to grant or refuse licenses was then given to the county commissioners, and they were made elective, so that "local option" was practically put in force. In three years, this had become prohibition in nearly all the counties, and the "fifteen gallon law" was passed in 1838. It prohibited the sale of less than fifteen gallons of liquors at one time; but it was repealed the next year. In 1852 a prohibitory law was passed, and remained in force, with many amendments, until 1875, except that a license law took its place for a year in 1868. In 1875 a license law was passed, and has since remained in force, in spite of annual efforts to renew prohibition.


—In Maine the "act to prohibit drinking houses and tippling shops,", the so-called "Maine law" was passed in 1851, and has since been the law of the state, except for the two years, 1856-7, when a very stringent license law took its place. Vermont passed the Maine law in 1852, and has since retained and enforced it. New Hampshire passed it in 1855, and has since retained it without enforcing it thoroughly. Rhode Island passed it in 1852, substituted license and local option in 1863-5, passed the Maine law again in 1874, and returned to license the next year. Connecticut passed the Maine law in 1854, never enforced it, and repealed it in 1872. New York passed the Maine law in 1855, and repealed it in 1857. The Ohio constitution forbids the passage of any license law by the legislature: that is, the sale of liquor must be free or prohibited. In 1832 the republicans adopted the policy of taxing the sale by the "Pond Jaw"; but the supreme court of the state pronounced it unconstitutional. The dominanat party then proposed a prohibitory amendment to the state constitution, which has not yet (1883) been ratified. As a substitute, the "Scott law," for taxing sales of liquor, was passed and pronounced constitutional in 1882-3. (See OHIO.) In Michigan the constitution of 1850 forbade license laws. The Maine law was passed in 1855, and repealed in 1875; and in 1876 the no-license clause of the constitution was repealed. Iowa passed the Maine law in 1855; and in 1882 a prohibitory amendment to the state constitution, having been passed by two legislatures, was ratified by a remarkably large popular majority. The state courts, however, declared it void on account of informalities in its passage. Kansas adopted a prohibitory amendment in 1880, and in 1881 the legislature passed a stringent act to enforce it. In 1882, Gov. St. John, the leader of the prohibitionists, was renominated by the republicans; but about 16,000 of his party voted against him, and he was the only republican candidate defeated. In 1881 a prohibitory law, proposed for popular ratification by the legislaure of North Carolina, was defeated by a vote of 166,325 to 48,370.


—Nothing is certain in prospective American politics, and very few things are even probable. But there are some indications that this question of prohibition is to take a larger place in political conflict than heretofore. The only probable alternative, a high and almost prohibitory license, is now under trial in Nebraska; and much will depend on the result there and in the other states which may take the same course. In any event, the opposition to prohibition will be as sincere and hearty as its support, and will arise mainly from a dislike to that infringement of personal liberty to buy and sell which is necessarily implied in prohibition.


—The views of prohibitionists may be found in Hargreaves' Our Wasted Resources; Pitman's Alcohol and the State; Lee's Text Book of Temperance; Prohibitionist's Text Book.


871 of 1105

Return to top