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Repealing National Prohibition
by David Kyvig
Copyright 1979 by the University of Chicago
Chapter 3 - New Critics
Opposition to prohibition existed from the moment liquor bans were first proposed. Brewers, distillers, brewery workers, and hotel and saloon keepers fought hard to protect their financial interests against the passage of laws which would devastate them.' When the federal amendment was nevertheless adopted, the economic self-defense opposition quickly withered. What had proven ineffective earlier seemed utterly pointless now. Overturning a constitutional amendment appeared impossible. Even the distinguished lawyer Elihu Root, who represented brewers before the Supreme Court in their last desperate attempt to block imposition of prohibition, conceded that once in place, the amendment would never be repealed.' Yet at the moment when the Eighteenth Amendment was being established and discouraged veteran opponents were abandoning the fight, a new antiprohibition movement began to emerge, unrelated to the old, motivated by quite different concerns, and remarkably undaunted by either the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to be confronted or the apparent futility of initial efforts to overturn the law. It would play a central role throughout the fifteen-year struggle to win repeal.
Prior to 1919 the temperance movement faced no organized public opposition except from brewers' and distillers' trade associations. Consumers were inherently difficult to organize, one prohibition scholar suggested, particularly since they assumed that the liquor industry, with its wealth and apparent influence, could easily protect itself.' The United States Brewers' Association, founded during the Civil War to seek tax relief, had quickly achieved its initial goal and continued to press its interests. Other industry groups followed suit, organizing, lobbying, participating in congressional election campaigns, and publishing defenses of drinking.' The liquor industry, however, weakened its own defenses by failing to reform much criticized saloon practices and by allowing itself to be caught in compromising positions. In 1916 and 1917, brewers pleaded nolo contendre to charges of attempting to corruptly influence elections in Texas and Pennsylvania.' Even more damaging, the German-American Alliance, a nationwide organization financed by brewers, was found in 1916 to have been engaging in pro-German activities since 1914. This revelation upset most Americans, who either preferred neutrality or supported England in the European war. With America's entry into World War 1, Pabst, Schlitz, Busch, Blatz, Miller, and other German brewers seemed even more an enemy within the gates despite their ostentatious purchases of war bonds. In July 1918 Congress revoked the charter of the German-American Alliance. in September, Alien Property Custodian A. Mitchell Palmer charged brewers with subsidizing the pro-German press, attempting to influence politics, and generally engaging in unpatriotic activities. A Senate subcommittee substantiated the charges.'
Liquor industry impotence in the face of the prohibition crusade resulted not only from their own improprieties and the coincidence of World War I, but also the lack of unity between brewers and distillers. They considered each other business competitors, rather than allies against a common adversary. Anticipating a ban on distilled spirits only, some brewers expected prohibition would actually benefit them. When the Lever Food Control Act of 1917 banned production of spirits for the duration of the war to conserve grain, the United States Brewers' Association quickly pointed to the law's distinction between spirits and beer and asserted that beer was a "wholesome product" related to light wines and soft drinks rather than to hard liquor.' Fraternal back-stabbing undermined opposition to the Eighteenth Amendment and failed to deflect the blow of prohibition from any part of the liquor industry.
Brewers and distillers continued to resist as the prohibition amendment made its way through Congress, state legislatures, and the courts. They argued to Congress that national prohibition violated principles of home rule and states' rights. The Distillers' Association of America carried the fight to the states, sought referendums in fourteen of them, and asserted that legislative ratification was improper. The United States Brewers' Association submitted a petition and brief against the Volstead Act to President Wilson. A New Jersey brewery sponsored the final appeal to the Supreme Court.' Whatever arguments they used, liquor industry opponents of the Eighteenth Amendment could not avoid the appearance of economic self-interest.
Organized labor provided the only other important resistance to the demand for national prohibition. Brewery workers led the union opposition, with support from bartenders, hotel and restaurant workers, cigarmakers, tobacco workers, glass workers, coopers, and musicians. All realized that the destruction of the liquor industry would eliminate many of their jobs. They also resented prohibition as class legislation, a hypocritical attempt by employers to eliminate working-class drinking in order to obtain greater profits. Many union members, of course, simply enjoyed a drink and visit to the saloon--the poor man's social club--and objected to interference with their customs.'
The problems that plagued unions opposing prohibition were the same as those facing brewers and distillers: the appearance of economic selfishness, wartime charges of lack of patriotism, and internal conflict. The American Federation of Labor long avoided taking a position on prohibition because of its divided membership. Several unions, anticipating economic benefits and improved industrial safety, favored the Eighteenth Amendment as strongly as the brewery workers opposed it. The hazards of their work led the Brotherhood of Railway Engineers, for instance, to endorse prohibition in 1916. Samuel Gompers, himself opposed to prohibition, worried foremost about dividing his growing organization and determined to put off taking a stand for as long as possible. Not until June 1919 did Gompers, under pressure from increasingly militant antiprohibition member unions, allow an AFL annual convention to state an official position. A resolution introduced by the brewery workers declared that prohibition would destroy the livelihood of many workers, cripple their unions, and was principally intended to deprive workers of a glass of beer following a day's toil. Beer with a modest 2.75 percent alcohol content, they argued, should be exempted. The mild nature of the resolution suggests that it was an executive council compromise. The convention vote, closely representative of membership attitudes, was 24,475 for, 3,997 against, and 1,503 not voting. Public demonstrations, held to express union opposition to prohibition, came too late. Divided opinion within its ranks and weak, last-minute action destroyed the effectiveness of organized labor's stand. "
Shortly before the adoption of national prohibition, scattered opposition from other sources also surfaced. Imminent ratification stirred some members of the press and professional groups to speak out. Although a majority of the nation's newspapers favored prohibition, the New York press became strongly critical. A few bar associations attacked provisions of the amendment on legal grounds, without discussing the wisdom of prohibition itself. Several physicians complained that the Volstead Act restricted their practice of medicine." These objections were neither sufficiently widespread nor sufficiently coordinated, however, to be of any consequence.
Following their failure to prevent adoption of national prohibition, the liquor industry declined to fight further, while organized labor put up only limited resistance. Brewers and distillers, resigned to their fate, either competed for the small near-beer and medicinal spirits market, converted to other products such as soft drinks, ice cream, cheese, and malt extract, or went out of business altogether." The Brewery Workers and Hotel and Restaurant Employees (mainly bartenders) unions saw their membership and income decline sharply and with it their ability to carry on the struggle. " The AFL showed little enthusiasm for pursuing the potentially divisive issue, though it did continue to propose legalization of 2.75 beer.
For a brief period, the most prominent opposition to the liquor ban came from the Association Opposed to National Prohibition, organized in late January 1919 by a group of New York hotel owners and real estate men who hoped to stimulate a nationwide hotel industry protest. They complained that the closing of hotel bars was ruining their business, yet somewhat inconsistently announced plans to exclude from their association everyone with a direct financial interest in repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. Adoption of a platform identical to that of the brewers and distillers, and acknowledgment that their leaders had given 5 percent of gross 1918 alcoholic beverage receipts to the state liquor dealers' antiprohibition campaign fund tarnished the organization's claim of independence. Although the association reorganized to improve its image, it went quickly into eclipse." once again opposition based upon narrow economic self-interest proved incapable of enlisting wider support for a battle to over-turn the alcohol ban.
At the moment when it appeared that all organized opposition to national prohibition was collapsing in futility, new resistance appeared from an unexpected quarter. Not involved with the liquor industry, not intimidated by the difficulty of changing the constitution, this new antiprohibition movement offered arguments and developed political tactics which eventually enabled it to take advantage of growing antipathy toward the Eighteenth Amendment. Although the antiprohibition movement was always broader than any single group, its eventual success depended to a large degree on the arguments presented and political support generated by this one organization, the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, founded by Captain William H. Stayton.
Stayton, a white-haired, square-jawed lawyer, businessman, and former naval officer working in Washington for the Navy League of the United States, watched with growing alarm the inexorable progress of the Eighteenth Amendment through Congress and the state legislatures. He believed ardently in the rights of states and local communities to make independent decisions. Also he was deeply troubled by progressive notions about reform and by the growing concentration of power in the hands of the federal government. A sincere and uncomplicated man, fifty-eight years old in 1919, Stayton had no financial interest in liquor nor personal political aspirations. He was willing, as events of the next decade and a half demonstrated, to labor ceaselessly to defend what he regarded as abstract righteous principles and what others might term governmental status quo. His ideas did not differ from those of many of his generation who objected to the rapid changes taking place in an increasingly complex and impersonal America. As a result of his commitment and energy, he became the guiding spirit of the AAPA and a central force in the prohibition repeal movement.
Stayton was born March 28, 1861, on a farm near the tiny community of Leipsic, Delaware." The Staytons, of Swedish descent, had lived in Delaware for generations. Despite his father's indifference to education, Stayton as a boy walked several miles each day to attend the nearest school in Smyrna. Eventually, due to his mathematical ability, he won a competitive examination for appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. The naval academy offered Stayton a much-desired escape from the farm, and he made the most of the opportunity, making many friends (he later was elected president of the Naval Academy Alumni Association), learning social graces as well as academic skills, graduating thirteenth in the 75-man class of 1881, and successfully wooing the commandant's daughter. "
Stayton's strong opinions on government and national defense were formed at Annapolis. One of his teachers, an ardent believer in states' rights, influenced him deeply, Stayton told his friend H. L. Mencken in 1932.
He told us that the division of powers between the nation and the States was not arbitrary, but that its necessity should be obvious to all reasonable men. He said that everyone who had a home knew that its regulation must be based upon the character and tastes of the people living in it, and that it would be manifestly absurd to ask the President of the United States, or any other functionary at Washington, to manage it. He went on to say that local communities, in their way, were like larger homes, and that States were still larger ones. They had, to be sure, much business in common, and that business could be undertaken in common, but they also had their special interests and desires, and it was essential that they have freedom in dealing with them.
I thought of this often in my days in the navy, cruising up and down the coasts of the United States. I found that even naval officers, in the pursuit of their duties, must consult local and States authorities quite as often as Federal authorities, though they are Federal officers themselves. I began to read the Constitution and to admire it immensely. But at the same time I began to see that there was a growing tendency in America to centralize authority, and I concluded that if it went on there would be grave danger to our experiment in democratic government. "
Anything that happened to Stayton thereafter seems only to have reinforced his uncomplicated viewpoint.
After graduation from Annapolis, Stayton served fourteen months on the U.S.S. Tennessee in the North Atlantic, then nearly three years as a Marine Corps officer on the U.S. S. Hartford, which was based in San Francisco and spent much of its time off the coasts of Chile and Peru. In 1887 he married, and his career took an important turn. He was assigned to the Navy Judge Advocate General's Office in Washington so that he could attend Columbian (now George Washington) University Law School. After earning an LL.B. in 1889 and a master's degree the following year, Stayton resigned his commission in 1891 to practice law in New York. For a time, he represented Hetty Green, the eccentric heiress whose shrewd stock investments and difficult personality earned her the nickname "The Witch of Wall Street." By 1898, however, Stayton was suing Mrs. Green for nonpayment of a $50,000 fee." Increasingly, he specialized in admiralty law, though he took time out to join the New York State Naval Militia, to volunteer for naval duty in the SpanishAmerican War, and to speculate unsuccessfully in a scheme to develop natural rubber plantations in Mexico. In the first years of the new century, Stayton established a law practice in Baltimore and gradually shifted into the steamship business. He purchased a large, three-story white brick home in Smyrna; this would be home ever after even though Stayton spent much of his time in Baltimore, Washington, and elsewhere.
Captain Stayton (he attained the rank during his brief return to duty in 1898 and proudly used it the rest of his life) was an energetic, restless man who found work totally absorbing. According to his granddaughter, he would begin his labors as early as four A.m. and have a day's work prepared for his secretary by the time she arrived at eight. He was indifferent to what he regarded as nonessentials: he would, for instance, buy six custom-made suits and a dozen ties at a time, all identical; being well-dressed mattered, variety did not. Each spring when he began to itch and fidget, he had to be reminded to take off his winter underwear. Stayton's work habits left him plenty of time for men's clubs, an enormous circle of friends, and a succession of causes.
Early in the twentieth century, Stayton became active in the Navy League of the United States, an organization of New York Naval Militia members, naval academy alumni, businessmen, and others formed in 1902 to agitate for stronger naval defenses. He soon became one of the league's largest contributors and served on its governing board. From April 1916 to January 1918, he served as the league's executive secretary and chief spokesman. He campaigned for more naval building and, after the United States entered World War 1, for production speedups opposed by shipyard workers' unions, as well as for federal assistance for expansion of the American merchant marine. Through the league, Stayton met many American business leaders, such as John J. Raskob, treasurer of the Du Pont Company, and Henry Bourne Joy, president of Packard Motor Company, and learned techniques of organizing campaigns to influence public policy."
Nineteen-eighteen found Captain Stayton watching the progress of the prohibition amendment when he was not speaking in Indianapolis, Omaha, or Akron on behalf of more and faster ship building. He criticized congressional support for union efforts to prevent speedups despite the wartime emergency's Much of what he encountered in Wilsonian Washington disturbed him. "Discussions about controlling the public morals, and even the birth and education of children through federal agencies were more frequent and, to many ... more interesting than the matter of providing ammunition for the men on the firing lines," he told Mencken. "I found myself particularly alarmed," he went on, "by two movements that were running parallel; one, to procure the passage of a child-labor amendment, so that the management of the family would be taken out of the control of parents, and, second, an effort to pass a Federal prohibition amendment."" Such progressive initiatives seemed to him unnecessary and dangerous. To Stayton military defense and defense of existing governmental arrangements went hand in hand.
His military concerns led Stayton to excuse many aspects of the war's effect of concentrating power in federal hands. But matters unrelated to fighting the war did not, in his mind, require a unified, centrally directed program. The loss of individual community decision-making power distressed him deeply. "The Constitution," Stayton insisted to an interviewer in the 1930s, "is the creation of the states, and the federal government exists only to perform those functions which have been delegated to it by the states for their convenience." He continued, "The Constitution is no place for prohibition. That is a local question." His interviewer concluded that Stayton's preoccupation with protecting traditional constitutional arrangements was genuine, single-minded, and unswerving."
The captain frequently met a half dozen friends for lunch at the Shoreham Hotel. In the spring of 1918, Stayton told the group of his opposition to the current proposal for national prohibition. The liquor problem, he said, was a state and local matter which had nothing to do with the federal government; a prohibition amendment would produce discontent and strife. Stayton suggested that they should all write influential people they knew to protest the amendment and, furthermore, form some sort of antiamendment organization. Another of the group, Gorton C. Hinckley, pointed out that President Wilson had asked war workers not to interfere in government affairs. Agreeing that their efforts might be misconstrued, the others preferred to drop the matter for the war's duration. Stayton reluctantly assented, but on November 12, 1918, he once again urged his friends to form an association to prevent adoption of the prohibition amendment. Hinckley, who had worked with Stayton in the Navy League, now enthusiastically supported his proposal. The group agreed and decided to name their organization the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment."
In the weeks that followed, Stayton sought support for the fledgling organization. "As my associations had been largely in the navy," he later recalled, "it was natural that in this first group I sought conferences with navy people, and I think that every man with whom I talked for the first few weeks was an old navy man."" Stayton found his initial contacts sympathetic, but the founders of the association recognized the need to attract wider support. They decided that, in order to determine whether they were justified in going ahead, Stayton should undertake to enlist members from the general public. If one hundred members could be obtained in Baltimore, they agreed, they would continue. Stayton proceeded to enroll local businessmen and members of his Baltimore clubs. Soon the association began to attract wider notice. Membership applications arrived from Annapolis, New York, and as far away as Wisconsin. The hundred-member goal was soon reached. Thus encouraged, Stayton and his colleagues pressed on with the quest for support and started writing letters or visiting states where the amendment was under consideration, explaining their objections to ratification. "
Suddenly, the futility of the group's limited and late-starting efforts became evident. During 1918 fifteen state legislatures had ratified national prohibition. January 1919 saw legislatures, many of which were just beginning biennial sessions, rush to ratify. Within that month, twenty-nine states approved the amendment, putting it firmly into the Constitution. The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment had been unable to mount an effective resistance and engage in extensive debate with their opponents, but had almost immediately been confronted by a fait accompli. Stayton ruefully admitted, "I do not think that we had the least influence in persuading any single legislator in the United States to vote against ... ratification. "'For the moment the antiprohibition group abandoned its efforts as hopeless. After all, never had a constitutional amendment, once adopted, been dislodged."
In the months following ratification, Captain Stayton, who was still working for the Navy League, sought the advice of numerous friends. Most urged him to persevere with the antiprohibition organization and to keep the name originally coined for it." After six months had passed, the association's founders got together again and agreed that Stayton should write to six hundred friends throughout the country testing sentiment for a fight against the Eighteenth Amendment. The October 2, 1919, letter explained the group's belief that while "prohibition accomplishes much that is good, and that it merits dignified treatment and serious consideration, yet we also believe that the recent prohibition amendment to our Federal Constitution is improper and dangerous.... Prohibition should, we think, be dealt with locally, and not in violation of the fundamental principles of home rule under which our country has grown to greatness." The letter went on: "The climate of Alaska requires one diet, while Louisiana demands another, and to so legislate that many citizens in every part of the country feel that what they may eat or drink is being dictated to them by citizens of other parts of the land (living under entirely different conditions) is to sow the seeds of antagonism and to start crops of dissensions and perhaps of future civil war."" Objection to a federal takeover of a state and local function lay at the heart of Stayton's complaint, though he also deplored the method by which the amendment had been ratified, saying that most voters never had an opportunity to express an opinion on the measure.
Some three hundred persons answered Slayton's October 2d letter. His states' rights argument struck a responsive chord; many replies contained small contributions. Encouraged, Stayton and Hinckley drew up rules for the organization: there should be minimal annual dues of $1 for ordinary members and $10 for sustaining members, officers would receive no pay, and no person formerly involved in the liquor trade would be accepted except as a nonvoting member."
For the next year, Stayton and his colleagues proceeded cautiously and uncertainty. They printed some literature and sought to enlist more support. Conscious of the millions spent by drys to achieve national prohibition, these foes of the law evidently wanted to test the strength and nature of opposing sentiment. Then came an immensely encouraging windfall. John A. Roebling, the son of the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, somehow learned of Slayton's activities and wrote him, asking for references. Roebling said he approved the effort but did not want to involve himself with people who would spend his money unwisely. Stayton suggested that Roebling speak to a New Jersey neighbor, a retired admiral who knew Stayton from his navy days. Shortly thereafter, the mail brought Roebling's check for $10,000. The antiprohibition group's confidence and determination soared."
By December 1920, Stayton and his allies were sufficiently convinced of backing for their cause to incorporate the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment in the District of Columbia. Stayton, Hinckley, and Louis Livingston, a former Navy League clerk, signed the certificate of incorporation, announcing:
The particular business and objects of the Association shall be to educate its members as to fundamental provisions, objects, and purposes of the Constitution of the United States; to place before its members and before the American citizens information as to the intentions and wishes of those who formulated and adopted the Federal Constitution; to publicly present arguments bearing upon the necessity for keeping the powers of the several States separated from those of the Federal Government, and the advisability of earnest consideration before further yielding up by the several States of those powers which pertain to local self-government. 11
The conservative concern with constitutionalism and the defense of local self-government which Stayton first articulated thus remained at the heart of the new antiprohibition movement in 1919 and 1920, as support increased and the organization defined its position. Resistance to the expansion of the powers of the federal government would continue to be fundamental to the program of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment throughout its existence. The AAPA'S objections to national prohibition went beyond the question of alcoholic beverages, distinguishing it from earlier opponents of the reform and sustaining it in the discouraging years to come.
Stayton's association faced resistance from two large groups, the millions of people who supported prohibition and those who believed repeal impossible even if it was desirable. The AAPA sought to win converts by demonstrating both the error of national prohibition and the political viability of opposing the amendment. To achieve these purposes, Stayton originally patterned his organization after the Anti-Saloon League. In the twenty-five years since its founding in 1893, the single-minded, nonpartisan league proved much more adept at achieving its goal than its much older ally, the Prohibition party, which only attracted a small fraction of the vote in direct competition with Democrats and Republicans. The Anti-Saloon League recognized that the support of a relatively small group of voters could represent the difference between victory and defeat wherever the major parties were evenly balanced. Candidates would often be willing to embrace the league program when they perceived that it would enhance their chances of attracting a bloc of voters who would cast their ballots on the basis of a single issue." Many antiprohibitionists attributed the passage of the antiliquor amendment solely to the skillful use of such tactics. The AAPA determined to function as a nonpartisan, nonsectarian society open to all men and women, except those involved in the liquor trade. Every member would pledge to vote only for congressional or state legislative candidates who promised to support repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. The association would not reveal names of members without their consent but would publish the number of pledged voters in a state or election district. Thus AAPA leaders initially assumed that by enrolling enough members they, like the Anti-Saloon League earlier, could obtain a balance of power in elections and force favorable action."
The first order of business for the AAPA was a quest for members. From a nucleus of the few hundred who responded to Captain Stayton's initial letters and personal appeals in 1918 and 1919, the rolls reportedly swelled to several thousand by June 1920. In the spring of 1921, the AAPA claimed 100,000 members. An enthusiastic Stayton predicted a membership of two million by the 1922 elections .35
By November 1922, however, Stayton reported a membership of only 457,000, and fifteen months later the total had fallen to 400,000. Growth then resumed. The AAPA in mid-1926 announced a membership of 726,000 scattered fairly evenly across the United States but with the greatest numbers in New York, Ohio, Illinois, and California."
The association's membership claims during these years appear exaggerated, though by how much it is impossible to determine. Financial contributions provide the best index, since most took the form of $1 annual dues payments. The AAPA received few large contributions, none for several years after Roebling's $10,000 gift, then beginning in 1923 (when persons involved in the liquor industry were allowed to contribute up to five percent of the association's income), a handful of $500 and $1,000 donations. The association's financial difficulties stemmed in part from its refusal to accept industry support. Ironically, the effort to remain untainted did not keep the impression from spreading that the AAPA was a front for liquor interests. Captain Stayton, a man of some means, supported the organization for five years at the rate of $1,000 a month. In 1926 Stayton reported that national and state AAPA offices had collected altogether about $800,000 in five years. This sum suggests either that membership figures were inflated or that many people on the rolls had not given even a dollar to the association. In any case, it seems unlikely that the association had anywhere near three-quarters of a million members in 1926.1'
Growing membership led the AAPA to adopt a more elaborate organizational structure. Beginning in 1921, whenever the leaders felt that enough members had been enlisted, a state division was established to take over local recruitment, solicitation of contributions, and election campaigning. State divisions were asked, but often failed, to turn over one-fourth of their receipts to the national headquarters, from which Stayton and Hinckley ran the publicity campaign against prohibition. The first state division was apparently organized in Pennsylvania. A division created in Maryland the same year began with 14,000 members. By 1922 the New York state division was active enough to support a separate women's committee. A California branch established in 1922 claimed 25,000 members within two years and had active local chapters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento. In a few cases state AAPA divisions were created by absorbing independent local antiprohibition organizations, such as the Constitutional Liberty League of Massachusetts and the Moderation Leagues of Minnesota and Ohio. By 1926 the AAPA claimed divisions in twenty-five states, nearly every state outside the South not perceived as hopelessly dry."
Besides creating state divisions, the association developed small groups, called voluntary committees, within the ranks of unrelated organizations or as independent groups. The first such group, the Voluntary Committee of the New York Yacht Club, was founded in 1922 by Stayton's close friend William Bell Wait, a New York attorney. For several years, voluntary committees proved a fruitful source of contributions and endorsements of the AAPA. At one point more than eighty of these committees were said to be operating throughout the country." Stayton also made at least one attempt to set up an ostensibly independent national committee of prominent individuals which would study the operation of prohibition and then condemn its evils." This, like the voluntary committees, was clearly an attempt to strengthen the image of widespread antiprohibition agitation and confer upon the AAPA respectability by association.
Although the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment was almost entirely male, listing only men among its directors, it did create separate women's organizations, known as Molly Pitcher Clubs, in some of the largest state divisions, most notably New York and Pennsylvania. The Molly Pitcher Clubs sought to spread the antiprohibition message among women's societies and also engaged in some lobbying efforts in Albany and Washington. Only a few hundred women joined the Molly Pitcher Clubs, perhaps because they were so obviously nothing more than auxiliaries of the AAPA. By 1928 the clubs had disappeared, although a small, meagerly financed New York group led by Miss M. Louise Gross continued under a series of different names: Women's Committee for Modification of the Volstead Act, Women's Committee for Repeal of the l8th Amendment, and the Women's Moderation Union. None had any noticeable impact." Not until the end of the decade would an important women's antiprohibition organization appear, and then it would be largely independent of the AAPA.
Stayton gradually abandoned talk of gaining a balance of power at the polls, of making the AAPA a reverse image of the Anti-Saloon League, after early attempts to duplicate the league's size and tactics proved unsuccessful. In 1920 the association asked all congressional candidates to espouse repeal if they desired its support. However, when the AAPA refused to disclose the size of its membership, most candidates ignored its request. In the next two national elections, the AAPA asked congressional candidates their position on prohibition, then published the names of approved candidates and occasionally sponsored rallies in their behalf. If opposing candidates took the same position, the association remained impartial. The Anti-Saloon League quickly counterattacked, opposing office-seekers on the AAPA list. To the embarrassment of the association, a number of the 249 candidates supported in 1922 and the 169 approved in 1924 repudiated its endorsement." Without a massive membership, the AAPA found few ways to put pressure on candidates. Ousting incumbents during a period of general prosperity and contentment was hard enough without having to persuade their challengers to take up a cause of uncertain popularity. The tactics initially employed by the AAPA had little chance to succeed unless far greater strength could be manifested or the country's general political situation changed.
Rather than simply seeking to enroll as many members as possible, Captain Stayton concentrated increasingly on enlisting persons whose stature and resources would influence public opinion. When the AAPA quest for members first got underway, Stayton's friend Judge George Gray of Wilmington, Delaware, urged him to place priority on high quality rather than great quantity. Gray pointed out that opposition to prohibition was identified with brewers and distillers. It would be wise, he said, to give the new association an appearance of high purpose and respectability." The elite oriented Stayton welcomed Judge Gray's advice. Stayton, the poor farm boy become naval officer, attorney, business executive, and club man, regarded upper-class men as the best members. They could make large donations and spare the dissipation of resources inherent in an appeal to the masses for small contributions. At the same time a list of supporters from the higher reaches of the business and social world would demonstrate the inherent soundness of the AAPA, encouraging additional contributions, memberships, and political support." Stayton in 1930 confessed to feeling ill on learning that the membership department intended to solicit members from lists of automobile owners. Automobile owners could be seen any Saturday or Sunday parading on the road from Annapolis to Baltimore in their shirt sleeves. Stayton made it clear that he preferred members who wore coats."
The AAPA enlisted mainly business and professional men. Prominent figures such as the author Irvin S. Cobb; Stuyvesant Fish, president of the Illinois Central Railroad; ex-New York mayor Seth Low; and Charles H. Sabin, president of Guaranty Trust Company of New York, were among the earliest members. After receiving a number of invitations from Stayton, John J. Raskob joined in June 1922. Shortly thereafter, Raskob's business associate, Irenee du Pont, president of the Du Pont Company, became a member. By 1926 Stayton had attracted Irenee's older brother Pierre, former Assistant Secretary of War Benedict Crowell, Pennsylvania Railroad president W. W. Atterbury, Chicago merchant Marshall Field, publisher Charles Scribner, retired Packard Motor Company president Henry Bourne Joy, New York financier Grayson M.-P. Murphy, Senators Thomas F. Bayard of Delaware and William Cabell Bruce of Maryland, Congressman John Philip Hill of Baltimore, former federal judge Henry S. Priest of St. Louis, and Carnegie Institute president Samuel Harden Church." Before 1928 these notables took little action other than to endorse Stayton's efforts, but they were nevertheless moving into the organization's leadership, as well as giving the AAPA the respectable image which the captain sought. They shared the paternalistic sense of social responsibility widespread in the business community during the 1920s." While they espoused democratic principles, in their view of democracy the upper classes bore a particular obligation to defend the interests of all. Consequently, they were willing to campaign for beliefs shared with Stayton.
In the early 1920s an opponent of the Eighteenth Amendment could choose among more than forty antiprohibition societies. Most selected the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment. Some other organizations, such as the cautious Moderation League founded by Elihu Root and other New Yorkers, languished, while even more (the aforementioned Association Opposed to National Prohibition, for instance) disappeared altogether." Its distinctive arguments distinguished the AAPA from other antiprohibition groups. The constitutional critique seems to be what attracted members, particularly influential upper-class figures, to the association.
The AAPA continued to put its complaint simply and directly, as in a 1922 pamphlet: "The Constitution inherited from our Fathers has been amended and mutilated.... Our Constitutional guarantees ... have been violated. Sumptuary law (such as national prohibition) grants and withholds privileges upon a difference of religious belief. The right to govern ourselves in local affairs-a right won by our ancestors in three generations of struggle-is ignored."" Stayton, repeating the AAPA argument in more down to earth terms to a large crowd in New York's Carnegie Hall in April 1922, called the Eighteenth Amendment "a rotten insult to the American people," a law which says that "we can't be trusted." No one standard for regulating alcoholic beverages could apply to all communities in so large a country. The founding fathers never intended that such state powers be given to the federal government. Mutilation of the Constitution caused reverence for federal law to be replaced by "utter contempt." "This prohibition business is only a symptom of a disease," he continued, "the desire of fanatics to meddle in the other man's affairs and to regulate the details of your lives and mine." The crowd registered its agreement with this straightforward rejection of a progressive reform philosophy by vigorously applauding Stayton's remarks. "
Stayton believed that the vital spirit of the Constitution was retention by individual states of power over their individual affairs. "This spirit," he wrote, "has been destroyed by the Eighteenth Amendment, under which the right of local self-government is torn from the individual states, whose people are made subject, even in the small routine affairs of their daily lives, to those living in far distant localities and under other conditions." While he conceded that states might have their own prohibition laws, Stayton felt that national prohibition was no more justified than nationalizing governorships and sending out governors from Washington."
Those who were drawn to the AAPA in the early 1920s shared Stayton's concerns insofar as can be determined from the fragmentary records available. The feeling that prohibition did not belong in the Constitution was widely held. Samuel Harden Church lamented that "we have indolently permitted a well-organized and enormously financed body composed of zealots, fanatics and bigots ... to insert a Draconian statute in the great charter of our liberties.... We forget, in this mad endeavor to control the conduct of men whose thoughts or habits differ from our own, that nations cannot be made virtuous or abstinent by acts of Parliament. "'I Judge Priest worried that "Every government that has attempted to legislate for the uplifting of the moral sense of its people or to suppress the vices of its people has inevitably come to grief."" Ransom H. Gillett, a former Republican state assemblyman in New York who for a time served as the association's general counsel, told the Economics Club of Boston that prohibition tampered with the delicate balance between national, state, and local government. "We have imperiled the liberties of ourselves and those who will come after us.""
During a public debate on prohibition in New York City, Gillett again emphasized the constitutional impropriety of the Eighteenth Amendment. The Constitution had been created to define the powers of government, he said; nowhere in the original document nor in the seventeen amendments adopted in over one hundred years was there any sort of prohibition. The people had been careful not to place too much power in the hands of a centralized government. Then in an excess of zeal, the Eighteenth Amendment was written into the Constitution and the guarantee against tyranny was cast aside. As he had in Boston, Gillett pointed to the Supreme Court's U.S. v. Lanza decision, which allowed both state and federal prosecution of a prohibition violation, as a prime example of the threat to traditional American liberties. The essence of the prohibition question, as Gillett saw it, was whether or not the American people were going to "hand over to government the paternalistic power to regulate lives and habits.""
Fabian Franklin, a New York author and coeditor of the Independent, expressed his concern for the Constitution in his 1922 book, What Prohibition Has Done to America, and shortly thereafter joined the AAPA. Franklin had praised the association even earlier in a short-lived journal which he edited until it was absorbed by the Independent. " The object of a constitution, Franklin wrote, is to establish certain fundamentals of government so that they cannot be changed by mere majority will or ordinary legislative process. The object was not to shackle future generations regarding ordinary practices of daily life but to insure stability for the government and protection of basic personal rights and liberties. "The Eighteenth Amendment seizes upon the mechanism designed for this purpose, and perverts it to the diametrically opposite end, that of safeguarding the denial of liberty. " A bad law, placed in the Constitution and recognized by the people as nearly impossible to change, would naturally be resented and disregarded. Not only did the prohibition amendment degrade the Constitution by invading rather than protecting individual rights, Franklin continued, it undermined a cardinal element of national well-being, local authority and decision making. "If we do not hold the line where the line can be held, we give up the cause altogether; and it will be only a question of time when we shall have drifted into complete subjection to a centralized government, and State boundaries will have no more serious significance than country boundaries now have.... If there is one thing in the wide world the control of which naturally and preeminently belongs to the individual State and not to the central government at Washington, that thing is the personal conduct and habits of the people of the State.... The Prohibition Amendment is not merely an impairment of the principle of self-government of the States; it constitutes an absolute abandonment of that principle."" Though Franklin went on to discuss other objections to national prohibition, his basic concern clearly paralleled that of William Stayton.
Those who joined Stayton's association and publicly aired their concerns saw the Eighteenth Amendment as a basic threat to a treasured principle. Time and again, they decried the loss of "the right to govern ourselves in local affairs." Other serious problems-declining respect for law, ineffective law enforcement, loss of traditional rights-inevitably resulted, they believed, from this loss. Members of the AAPA were reacting against fundamental changes occurring in American government, in particular the progressive attempt to stabilize and improve modern society through legislative devices. They resented the decline of local autonomy and the growth of government centralization, which World War I greatly accelerated. While the war was being waged, they had been unable or unwilling to oppose the trend. In the postwar world, vivid manifestations of expanding federal power, in particular the Eighteenth Amendment, the Volstead Act, and supportive Supreme Court decisions, distressed them deeply. Prohibition offered one concrete and immediate issue through which alarmed citizens could strike back at this pervasive and disturbing trend. Stayton found many people who shared his constitutional concerns sufficiently to enlist in his campaign. The only puzzle was how to achieve the reversal they all sought.
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