The Forbidden Game
THE EXPLOITATION OF DRUGS FOR PROFIT AND FOR REVENUE;
the re-discovery of their vision-inducing qualities; and the impact of scientific
advances provided three separate, though sometimes inter-locking,
strands during the nineteenth century. There was also a fourth,
of a rather different nature; the mounting campaign to have alcohol
categorised as a dangerous drug, and banned from general consumption.
The gin plague had compelled recognition of the dangers of 'ardent
spirits' as they were commonly described, and though it had been
realised that prohibition did not work, and licensing did, a widespread
belief remainedparticularly among the followers of Wesley,
and in the Evangelical movementthat ways should be found to
reduce consumption still further. As spirits were obviously an
acquired taste, the simplest way to deal with them would be to
check the process by which the taste was acquired; and it was
with this in mind that a campaign began against tobacco.
The arguments used were similar to those which had been employed
against hashish in Moslem countriesand to those which were
to be employed against beer, and later against cannabis. Tobacco
was condemned on various grounds, as unhealthy and as anti-social;
but the main ground of criticism was that, though smoking might
be relatively harmless when indulged in moderation, it led on
inexorably not merely to excess, and addiction, but also to the
consumption of 'hard' liquor. This was the theme of a treatise
published in America in 1798: Observations upon the influence
of the habitual use of tobacco upon health, morals and property,
by the formidable Dr. Benjamin Rushone of the signatories to
the Declaration of Independence. Tobacco's influence on all three,
Rush felt, was pernicious; and its most sinister feature was that
the usual consequence of smoking or chewing was thirst.
This thirst cannot be allayed by water, for no sedative or even
insipid liquor will be relished after the mouth and throat have
been exposed to the stimulus of the smoke, or juice, of tobacco.
A desire of course is excited for strong drinks, which when taken
between meals soon lead to intemperance and drunkenness. One of
the greatest sots I ever knew acquired a love for ardent spirits
by swallowing cuds of tobacco, contrary to the commands of his
father. He died of dropsy under my care.
Rush's denunciation helped to promote an alliance between the
anti-tobacco campaigners and the temperance movement, when it
got under way a quarter of a century later. 'Rum drinking will
not cease', the Rev. Orin Fowler prophesied in 1833, 'till tobacco-chewing,
and tobacco-smoking, and snuff-taking shall cease'; and he went
on to estimate that at least a tenth of the drunkards in the United
States and throughout the world were made so by the use of tobaccoa
piece of guesswork which was picked up and repeated again and
again until, as Joseph Robert complained in his history of tobacco
in America, it became a 'sort of sanctified census'. Other campaigners
traced the route by which an innocent youth would be lured to
perdition: having smoked, he would naturally resort to a soda
fountain, from which it was an easy step 'to beer, and then brandy,
and finally whiskey'.
Tobacco was also attacked in the mid-nineteenth century as a dangerous
drug in its own right, causingDr. Joel Shew allegeda wide
variety of disorders, including insanity, delirium tremens, and
epilepsy. He accused it of causing impotence, too; but this was
a minority view. The more general opinion among its detractors
was that it represented a threat to American womanhood. 'No man
can be virtuous as a companion', the eugenicist Orson S. Fowler
who eats tobacco; for, although he may not violate the seventh
commandment, yet the feverish state of the system which it produces
necessarily causes a craving and lustful exercise of amativeness.
Just as alcoholic liquors cause such amatory cravings, and for
the same reason. As alcoholic liquors and the grosser forms of
sensuality are twin sisters, so tobacco-eating and devilry are
both one; because the fierce passions of many tobacco chewers,
as regards the other sex, are immensely increased by the fires
kindled in their systems, and of course in their cerebellums,
by tobacco excitement. Ye who would be pure in your love instinct,
cast this sensualising fire from you.
Such denunciations of tobacco continued to appear until the Civil
War. Then, the armies in the field demanded to be kept supplied
with it; on the Confederate side, the soldiers had eventually
to be provided with a ration. Hope of having tobacco banned on
the ground of its moral and physical effects dwindled. Restrictions
continued to be called for, but mainly to protect the public from
the anti-social side-effects, rather than to protect the smoker
from the consequences of his vice.
In Britain tobacco was assailed on a more serious clinical level,
in the pages of the Lancet. After a few weeks of vigorous
controversy, an editorial in April, 1847 had to admit that though
tobacco was certainly a powerful and addictive drug, it was not
quite clear what kind of drug. Whether or not moderate
smoking was healthy also remained debatable. There were no two
opinionsthe Lancet insistedabout the evils of excessive
smoking. The only problem here was: what constituted excess?
The test, the editorial suggested, was 'smoking early in the
day'when 'unless a man be the victim of pernicious habits,
he certainly requires neither a sedative nor stimulant'. Anything
over one or two pipes or cigars a day must also be regarded as
excessive. For youths, any indulgence in the drug was dangerous.
Their minds would be emasculated if they were unable to face their
comparatively small anxieties without having recourse to the daily
use of such a narcotic. 'Listless minds and languid bodies, slake-less
thirst and shaking hands, delirium tremens, madnessand death.
We have distinctly and surely followed this unhallowed indulgence
in youths who began their studies with bright promise of success,
with fair characters, and honest purposes.'
But by this time it had become futile for the Lancet to
pronounce such warnings. Tobacco, along with tea, had established
itself as one of the drugs of the working classes. It was also
in high favour with men of letters, as endless tributes had begun
to show; in verseThomas Hood's
How oft the fragrant smoke upcurled
Hath borne me from this little world
And all that in it lies...
and in proseLord Lytton's
He who doth not smoke hath either known no great griefs, or refuseth
himself the softest consolation next to that which comes from
heaven. 'What, softer than woman?' whispers the young reader.
Young reader, woman teases as well as consoles. Woman makes half
the sorrows which she boasts the privilege to soothe. Woman consoles
us, it is true, while we are young and handsome; when we are old
and ugly, woman snubs and scolds us. On the whole, then, woman
in this scale, the weed in that: Jupiter, hang out thy balance,
and weigh them both; and if thou givest the preference to woman,
all I can say is, the next time Juno ruffles theeO Jupiter,
try the weed!'
By this time, too, the defenders of tobacco had found a fresh
argument. Even if it were addictive, they claimed, at least the
consequences were less hideous than from other addictive drugs,
opium, or alcohol; and they were able to cite E. W. Lane's popularManners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, published
in 1844. Tobacco, Lane had argued, as well as affording cheap
and sober refreshment, calmed the nervous system, thereby probably
restraining the peasant 'from less innocent indulgences'. In his
Letters from Turkey in the 1870s von Moltke went further;
it had been tobacco, he suggested, which had changed the wild
nomadic Scythians, the scourge of their neighbours, into the quiet
and all too sedentary Turk.
The Maine Law
A parallel controversy was also in progress about drink. Ought
beer, wine and cider to be considered as a safer alternative to
hard liquors? Or should they be prohibited in case youths, lured
into taking them because they were relatively mild, would be tempted
to move on impetuously to gin, or whiskey, or rum?
For a time, supporters of wine and beer were dominant. In An
Inquiry into the effects of ardent spirits upon the human body
and mind, published in 1784, Benjamin Rush had argued that
the consumption of beer and wine should be encouraged, in order
to discourage dram-drinking. In Britain, even John Wesley had
praised wine, 'one of the noblest cordials'; and in 1826 Sydney
Smith, recommending ale and tobacco to the readers of the Edinburgh
Review as 'the joys and holidays of millions, the greatest
pleasure which it is in the power of fortune to bestow', warned
that these were amusements 'which a wise and parental legislature
should not despise, or hastily extinguish'. To his mortification
the legislature was soon to go to the other extreme. In 1830 the
Wellington Government, in its death throes, tried to court popularity
with brewers and workers by reducing the cost of the licence to
sell beer to £2 a yeara sum which was small enough to
make it possible for any householder to take out a licence, as
the brewers were delighted to advance the money. There was an
immediate massive increase in the number of public houses50,000
in six yearsand of facilities for cheap beer drinking. As a
result, there was a repetition of what had happened a century
earlier when similar encouragement had been given to ginthough
on a less lethal scale. Again, the prevailing social conditionswith
the lives of workers on the land being disrupted by enclosures,
and of urban workers by the introduction of the factory systemencouraged
the consumption of alcohol as a narcotic rather than a stimulant.
'Everybody is drunk,' Sydney Smith sadly observed, 'those who
are not singing are sprawling. The sovereign people are in a beastly
In 1832 James Teare stood up at a temperance meeting in Manchester
and claimed that all intoxicating liquor was an enemy to
God and man; 'the sooner it is put out of this world, the better'.
Ten weeks later, seven men signed the first teetotal pledge, in
Preston; and in 1835 a national society of teetotallers was formed.
The movement grew rapidly in Britainand still more rapidly
in Ireland, where Father Mathew's preaching persuaded tens of
thousands to take the pledge. In this period the campaign was
for voluntary abstinence; and although it became known that the
sister movement in the United States was for legislative intervention,
it came as a complete surprise when a prohibition Bill was debated
in the Maine Legislature in 1850, and as a still greater surprise
when, the following year, it was passed. No attempt was made to
stop people bringing liquor into the State for their own consumption,
and the fruit-growers' lobby was influential enough to prevent
apple cider being included in the ban. But 'the Maine Law' was
generally regarded, and described, as prohibition; the first enactment
based on the premise that all alcoholic liquors as such were dangerous
drugs which ought to be taken, if at all, only on a medical prescription.
What happened in America had the effect of disrupting the movement
in Britain. At first, the news of the Maine Law was enthusiastically
received by all concerned. But it led some reformers to argue
that what had been done in America could be done in Britain; and
a split developed between those who continued to advocate voluntary
abstinence, and those who wanted legal prohibitionthe 'suasionists'
and the 'suppressionists', as the two sides came to be described.
In 1853 the United Kingdom Alliance was established 'to procure
the total and immediate legislative suppression of the traffic
in all intoxicating liquors'; and it was soon engaged in vigorous
and sometimes embittered controversy with the suasionists, who
objected to legal compulsion on principle and argued that there
was no chance of such a measure passing in Britain.
The controversy started a public debate on the rights and duties
of the State, in this context, and the arguments were considered
by John Stuart Mill in his Essay on Liberty. Mill took
as his text a letter which Lord Stanley had sent to The Times,
replying to the views propounded by the Secretary of the U.K.
Alliance. 'All matters relating to thought, opinion, conscience
appear to me without the sphere of legislation,' Stanley had argued;
'all pertaining to social act, habit, relations, subject only
to discretionary power vested in the State itself.' But there
was another category, Mill pointed out. Individual acts might
have social consequences. In that case, the Secretary of the Alliance
in effect was arguing,
If anything invades my social rights, certainly the traffic in
strong drink does. It destroys my primary right of security, by
constantly creating and stimulating social disorder. It invades
my right of equality, by deriving a profit from the creation of
a misery I am taxed to support. It impedes my right to free moral
and intellectual development, by surrounding my path with dangers,
and by weakening and demoralising society, from which I have a
right to claim mutual aid and intercourse.
What this amounted to, Mill thought, was a new theory of social
rights; 'that it is the absolute right of every individual that
every other individual shall act in every respect exactly as he
ought'. So monstrous a principle, Mill felt,
is far more dangerous than any single interference with liberty;
there is no violation of liberty that it would not justify; it
acknowledges no right to any freedom whatever except, perhaps,
that of holding opinions in secret, without ever disclosing them;
for the moment an opinion I consider noxious passes anyone's lips,
it invades all the 'social rights' attributed to me by the Alliance.
Mill was being unfair. The Alliance were not claiming that because
they disapproved of the consumption of alcohol, they had a right
to stop other people drinking. They were simply arguing that if
an individual's drinking had social consequences of a kind which
affected other people's rightsby, say, making the streets unsafethey
could then claim that right. As it happened, the Alliance stated
that they did not even want to stop individuals brewing their
own beer; it was the consequences of the liquor traffic, rather
than of liquor, to which they objected. But here, they had put
themselves on weaker ground, as the suasionist Joseph Livesey
pointed out. If the Alliance were going to tell a man, 'you can
brew your own beer', he arguedhe failed to see 'how it can
be wrong for your neighbour of the Royal Hotel to brew it for
you, and take pay for it'.
Stanley had also uncovered a weakness in the Alliance's case.
Their aim was to suppress the traffic in intoxicants; how were
intoxicants to be defined? 'Is tobacco to be included? Is opium?'
The Secretary of the Alliance, who was presumably well aware that
any attempt to link tobacco with alcohol as a national menace
would weaken his organisation's prospects, was forced to hedge.
The tobacco traffic, he claimed, rested on the drink traffic 'and
would fall with it, without any special enactment'as also,
he added, would the opium traffic. But he offered no evidence
for this assertion.
In Britain, though, the decisive factoras Livesey realisedwas
not going to be philosophical disputation, but the composition
of the House of Commons. 'Out of the 658 members,' he wrote, 'there
are probably not a dozen who would claim to be abstainers. These
gentlemen have their cellars stored with liquor, have it daily
on their tables, and have it introduced on every social occasion
as a mark of friendshipand is it likely that they would pass
a Bill to prevent others enjoying the same, according to their
means?' It was most unlikely; but the hopes of suppressionists
were kept alive partly by the extension of the franchise in Britain,
which brought in working class voters, and partly by the achievements
of the movement in America. Twelve other States had followed Maine's
example; and though there had been backsliding as a result of
the Civil War, the movement had soon picked up again. A National
Prohibition Party was formed in 1869; its candidates began to
win seats in State legislatures; and in 1890, it won its first
seat in the House of Representatives at Washington.
Was it possible that prohibition might be introduced, on a national
scale? Could it work? Did it, in fact, work in the States which
had introduced it? In 1892 an English lawyer, E. L. Fanshawe,
was despatched on a tour of America and Canada to try to find
out. In his report, he was to claim that his sponsorshe did
not say who they werehad given him strict injunctions to preserve
impartiality; and whatever his personal opinions may have been
(he was no teetotaller, himself) he did not allow them to obtrude.
Fanshawe was intrigued, on his arrival in America, to observe
the differences in drinking habits. They helped, he felt, to account
for the different courses which the temperance movement had been
taking. In public, American men drank only watericed. Except
in a few cities, he usually found himself the only person taking
wine or beer with his dinner. The clergy were virtually compelled
to be abstainers; and at public functions, drink was the exception.
At gatherings at the White House, disrespectful persons said,
'water flowed like champagne'.
Fanshawe found, though, that if he went into a bar, at any hour
of the day, he might meet friends who had been drinking water
at dinner the night before, and they would be having a glass of
whiskey, or a 'cocktail'. Worse (for once, Fanshawe could not
repress his disapproval) they would be 'treating' each other;
a practice so un-English, at that time, that he had to explain
it in a footnote; 'two Americans go together to a bar; one treats
the other who, feeling himself under an obligation, must have
his revenge' (in Nebraska treating had been made illegal, 'but
Even in States where there was no prohibition, Fanshawe found,
drinking was regarded as a vice. Those who indulged themselves
took care to do so in secretor at least in privacy. And they
did precisely the same in States where there was prohibition.
He had arrived expecting to hear complaints about the way prohibition
infringed the rights of the individual. Instead, all he heard
was complaints about the difficulties of enforcing it.
This was due partly, he decided, to the fact that the prohibitionists,
not being numerous enough to win on their own ticket, had concentrated
on acquiring sufficient strength to hold the balance of power
between Democrats and Republicans; which put them in a position
to compel one or other party to pass 'dry' legislation, but did
not necessarily compel them, when in office, to enforce it. Enforcement
would depend on who was the successful party's nominee to run
the police; and he might be in the pay of the brewers and distillers.
In any case, the problems confronting even those communities which
were determined to enforce prohibition were formidable. It had
been found relatively easy to enforce 'local option', where that
was the law, because small communities were better able to winkle
out illicit traffickers in their midst. When Fanshawe went to
Cambridge, Mass., he could see just how efficiently it worked.
But it worked efficiently only because Boston was nearby, with
its 'high return of arrests for drunkenness, and its high percentage
of non-residents among those arrested'. As for prohibition at
the State level, Fanshawe's enquiries showed it to be almost farcical.
In Maine, for example, there was nothing to stop citizens bringing
in as much liquor as they could carry. They could even purchase
it in hotels to drink in private rooms; and in Bangor it was openly
sold in bars, and by chemists. In Kansas, the State usually cited
as having done most to make a success of prohibition, he was told
that it was legal for members of clubs to keep liquor; they could
obtain it through 'bootleggers' oragain perfectly legallyby
ordering deliveries from a nearby 'wet' State.
Fanshawe was not called upon by his English sponsors to pronounce
a verdict: but the report spoke it for him. Prohibition could
not hope to work. How could whiskey be kept out of 'dry' Kansas
City (Kan.) when the 'frontier' was an imaginary line running
down the middle of the street dividing it from 'wet' Kansas City
Why, then, had the futility of prohibition not been recognised
? One reason, Fanshawe showed, was that men who had the responsibility
for enforcing the law naturally also had an interest in pretending
that it worked, if necessary by deliberate falsehoods. In Kansas,
for example, the attorney general had boasted that prohibition
was 'depopulating the penitentiaries' by reducing violence and
crime, a statement which had been gratefully repeated by the temperance
reformers in England in a pamphlet, Does Prohibition Prohibit?
When Fanshawe investigated the figures, however, he discovered
that in proportion to the population, there were more prisoners
in Kansas jails than there had been in 1860, the year prohibition
had been introduceda higher proportion, in fact, than in the
adjoining 'wet' States.
The fundamental difficulty about enforcement was that the man
in the street, whatever he might do in the polling booth, was
on the side of the law-breakers, rather than of the lawas an
enforcement officer he had met in Bangor had freely admitted.
And this was having the unfortunate effect of bringing the law
itself into discredit, by engendering 'a spirit of disregard for
its observance'. It was also corrupting American political life.
In Rhode Island, Fanshawe was told, a Republican attorney general
had tried to implement campaign promises by bringing over a hundred
offenders to justice. Their lawyers cleverly delayed proceedings
until after the next elections, to give time for 'wet' influence
in both parties to get to work. He was not re-electedthe only
Republican on the slate who failed to secure re-election; and
the proceedings were quietly dropped.
The Anti-Saloon League
Fanshawe's report, published in England, was hardly likely to
make any impact in the United States. Even if it had been, a different
verdict could have been wrung from it; that prohibition could
never succeed unless it was extended to all States of the Union,
and backed by federal law and federal enforcement. And while he
was there, the movement which was eventually to succeed in persuading
the necessary proportion of the electorate to accept that solution
was getting under way: the Anti-Saloon League, founded in 1893.
For a time, however, there appeared to be a possibility of a compromise
plan, satisfying both suasionists and suppressionists, derived
from the Gothenburg experiment, begun in Sweden in the 1860s.
It was not prohibition, but it went some way to satisfy the suppressionist
aim of concentrating on the traffic, rather than on drink, by
taking control away from private enterprise and putting it in
the hands of 'disinterested management'. The manufacture, distribution
and sale of drink were looked after by a board, none of whose
members was allowed to have any pecuniary interest; the aim being
not to stop consumption, but to ensure that it did the least possible
To this end, alcoholic drinks became obtainable only through a
form of lay prescription. The hours at which they could be purchased,
and the type of premises in which they could be consumed, were
designed to discourage social drinking. The idea was to favour
beer at the expense of spirits, and the consumption of beer rose
rapidly; but as it had been very low before, and as the consumption
of spirits fell, the experiment was regarded as successful, and
the system became general through Sweden and Norway.
For a while, the United Kingdom Alliance was attracted to the
Gothenburg idea, thinking it might prove a handy stepping-stone
on the way to ultimate prohibition. It also attracted Joseph Chamberlain,
fitting in as it did with his view that all monopolies granted
by the State should be managed by local authorities for the community,
rather than for private profit. When he was elected to the Commons
in 1876, he moved a resolution in favour of a scheme along Gothenburg
lines, and it attracted fifty supporters.
In the United States, too, some interest was shown in the experiment;
the Massachusetts legislature and the Federal Department of Labor
in Washington sent investigators to Sweden, both of them making
favourable reports on how the scheme was working. But by this
time the movement for outright prohibition was gaining too much
momentum to be thus sidetracked. The Anti-Saloon League established
itself on a national basis, and it was to provide the organisation
by which, over the next twenty years, prohibition became so powerful
a cause that politicians were no longer able to exploit it for
their own ends; instead, they found, the prohibitionists were
able to exploit them. By the 1906 elections, the League was able
to show that it could wreck the chances of a politician who opposed
it; his name was sent for suitable treatment to the League's accredited
speakers, and also circulated on a black list to all electors.
The party bosses began to require their candidates to agree to
pledge themselves not to oppose prohibition; better still, to
There were some setbacks; but by 1913 the League showed its power
when the Webb-Kenyon Bill, designed to assist States to enforce
prohibition more effectively, was passed in spite of a Presidential
veto. And to the frustration of the liquor interests, the war,
when it came, did nothing to hinder the prohibitionists; it actually
helped them, as economists demanded cuts in drink consumption
to save cereals for the G.I.'s rations; and Congress agreed to
sponsor an amendment to the Constitution to enable prohibition
to be introduced.
The d'Abernon Committee
In Britain, too, the war helped the suppressionist cause. If Lloyd
George had been able to get his way, prohibition might have been
introduced there, too, to assist the war effort. But opinion in
Parliament and in the Cabinet was still hostile; and the cost
of some variant of the Gothenburg system, which he also contemplated,
would have involved astronomical sums to compensate the liquor
interests. His colleagues were able to argue, too, that the consumption
of alcoholic liquor was falling rapidly, helped by a voluntary
abstinence campaign (King George V abjured drink for himself and
the Court for the duration of the war) and by various restrictions
imposed by 'DORA'the Defence of the Realm Act, which among
other things regulated the hours at which public houses could
remain open. Although Lloyd George remained convinced thatas
he claimed in 1916Britain was fighting Germany, Austria and
drink, 'and the greatest of these three deadly foes is drink',
he allowed himself to be persuaded that not enough was known about
the enforced deprivation of drink on workers; and it was agreed
that before any decision was taken, a Committee under Lord d'Abernon
should investigate the whole subject of the effects of alcohol,
and 'more particularly the effects on health and industrial efficiency
produced by the consumption of beverages of various alcoholic
The Committee's report, published in 1917, differed from those
of earlier parliamentary investigations in one significant respect;
it considered the action of alcohol as a drug. It was also, the
Committee conceded, a common article of diet; and the habit of
drinking was encouraged by the agreeable taste of fermented liquors.
They insisted, nevertheless, that it was basically as a drug that
alcoholic liquor was consumed.
The need to consider alcohol in this way had been stressed by
Sydney Hillier in his Popular Drugs, published in 1910.
He had devoted half the book to it, explaining that while statistics
showed there had been a general decline in the consumption of
alcoholic drinks in England, the news should not be welcomed unreservedly,
because it did not necessarily mean any reduction in drug consumption;
'no statistics are available relating to morphinism or other drug
habits, but there is a very general consensus of opinion, among
those who are best able to judge, that there is an increase in
the number of persons addicted'. Drink must neverHillier insistedbe
considered as a problem in its own right. The possibility must
always be kept in mind that it might be the lesser of two evils.
Lord d'Abernon and his colleagues, however, were asked to consider
only drink, and its effects on the war effort. The figures they
collected were sufficient to warn the Government of the magnitude
of the confrontation Lloyd George was contemplating. The amount
spent annually on alcoholic liquor in the United Kingdom was half
as much again as the entire receipts from the railway system,
and more than double the expenditure on bread. Until the war,
the amount spent had been almost equal to the entire revenue of
the State; and in some countries it had actually been more. What
was likely to happen if prohibition were introduced was not within
the Committee's terms of reference; but the statistics were disturbing
enough in themselves. Lloyd George decided it would be wise to
rely on' DORA'reinforced by such occasional additions such
as a 'No Treating' order, and reductions in the strength of beer.
The expedients worked well enough. By the end of the war, consumption
of beer had fallen by nearly a third, and of spirits by more than
a half. The rate of 'drunk and disorderly' convictions, too, dropped
from nearly 200,000 in the first year of the war to below 30,000
in the last.
The Volstead Act
No similar inquiry was conducted in the United States. The required
quota of States having announced their ratification, Prohibition
was introduced in 1920. Three years later Roy Haynes, the Commissioner
in charge of the enforcement of Prohibition (as it came to be
called, with a capital 'P') gave an account in Prohibition
Inside Out. It was designed to show that, appearances notwithstanding,
'the illegal liquor traffic is under control'. But Haynes was
also anxious to defend himself and his subordinates from criticism,
already mounting. To do so, he had to describe the difficulties
that had confronted them; and the book turned into a treatise
on why the illegal liquor traffic had not been, and could not
be, brought under control.
To begin with, there had been the unwelcome discovery that the
demand for hard liquor wasin the economists' new jargoninelastic.
A high proportion of the spirit drinkers of the pre-Prohibition
era were prepared to continue to buy their supplies, even if the
price doubled or trebled. As expected, some were men and women
from all classes who had become so dependent on drink that they
could not bear to do without it. But much more serious was the
number of respectable citizens who were drinkers in moderation,
and who had no intention of drinking any less, whatever the law
might say. 'One finds upon the Roll of Dishonour proud old names
long worn without stain or blemish, now close-linked with names
that have been a by-word with the demi-monde of half a
hundred cities', Haynes lamented. 'One finds names that once epitomised
honour and power and community esteem, steeped in the same befouling
brew with the names of thieves, thugs and murderers.' Nor was
it only the rich man who must have his drink. It was also the
industrial worker, especially the immigrant; the German steel
worker in Milwaukee, who had always regarded his beer as part
of his life; the New York Italian who had never been drunk, yet
could not conceive of a meal without wine.
To cater for this demand there were six main sources of supply;
genuine liquor, in stock; genuine liquor diluted or mixed with
synthetic varieties; synthetic liquor made from grain alcohol,
with colour and flavour added; 'moonshine'liquor distilled
from vegetable substances; 'denatured' alcohol, redistilled; and
wood alcohol. This variety of sources would have made Haynes'
task difficult enough; what made it impossible was the variety
of uses for which alcohol could still legally be manufactured.
In the event of any attempt to stop the use of communion wine,
the Rev. E. A. Wasson had announced in 1914, 'we would do as our
Lord told us to do"all of you, drink of this"if
we had to go to jail for it'. The threat had sufficed: Communion
wine was exempted from the law, and many a consignment so labelled
found its way to the dinner, rather than the altar table. An even
more abundant source was medical prescription. Whiskey and brandy
had been dropped from the Pharmacopeia in 1916, but alcohol
remained an essential ingredient in prescriptions for a wide range
of diseases; and although prescribing habits were subjected to
scrutiny, any doctor who was prepared to break the law, either
for cash reward or for the benefit of himself and his friends,
ran little risk. Chemists, too, licensed as they were to sell
alcohol in certain forms, found the law easy to evade.
The most prolific source of alcohol, though, was industry, which
had so great a need for it that considerable quantities could
be siphoned off without exciting suspicion. Industrial alcohol
was 'denatured'rendered unfit for human consumption; but it
could easily be re-distilled. Firms were set up ostensibly to
produce commodities which required an alcohol base, but in reality
to divert the alcohol into illicit channels. A State Governor,
Giffard Pinchot, estimated in 1924 that the 150 firms which had
been authorised in his State to purchase de-natured alcohol to
manufacture perfumes and hair tonics had ordered enough of it
to fulfill the needs of the population of the entire world.
What with 'moonshine'easy enough to make and, in a country
the size of the United States, extremely difficult to checkHaynes
had been unable to stem the flow of illicit spirits manufactured
in the United States. But he had also to deal with smuggling;
and the difficulties that presented, as set out in his book, and
as expressed by other law enforcement officers at the time, read
like a weird parody of what had happened in China with opium,
a century before. Vast quantities of liquorJames Beck, a Washington
law officer, complained in an article in the London Sunday
Times on July 15th, 1923were being taken out from British
with a full knowledge that they were to be used to violate the
laws of the United States and break down this policy of prohibition.
Our requests that clearance papers should be refused to notorious
rum-runners were denied. They persisted, and wholesale lawlessness
virtually challenged the right of the U.S. to be master within
its own household, for it has never been challenged by any competent
authority on international law that each sovereign nation, notwithstanding
the comity of nations, has entire right to assert full police
power over any foreign merchant vessel within the territorial
limits of the sovereign.
William Jennings Bryan made the same complaint. 'There is no more
excuse for the use of adjacent territory for conspiracies against
the Prohibition Law... than for the use of such territory for
conspiracies against any other law of the land. Piracy would not
be given protection under the British flag. Why should smuggling?'
British merchants were as little disposed to listen to such arguments
as they had been to listen to Commissioner Lin. The Scottish distillers
even found a way of expanding their market. Distillers in the
United States had been permitted to continue to export their spirits,
provided they were sold for 'nonbeverage purposes'. The Scotch
distillers, buying them in bulk, could truthfully claim they had
no intention of drinking them; the whiskey they made out of them
was sent back across the Atlantic, for the Americans to drink.
The Canadian distillers were soon on to the same ruse. As Haynes
sarcastically commented, the residents of British Columbia, who
had previously shown no enthusiasm for American whiskey, suddenly
become so enamoured of it that they required 200,000 gallons.
They, too, had been careful to honour the pledge that they were
not going to drink it; they had promptly re-exported it to California.
The French, too, had not been disposed to let their wine and brandy
trade to the United States be terminated. The islands of St. Pierre
and Miquelon became the equivalent of Lintin. There were only
about 4,000 inhabitants and they were soon buying 1,000 gallons
per head, annually, of various liquors. Their harbours were thronged
with depot ships, supplying schooners designed to carry 50,000
gallons, which could cruise in safety outside the three-mile limit
for weeks at a time, waiting for smuggling craft which came out
from the shore, or taking with them their own equivalent of the
'fast crabs'speed boats which were faster than anything the
American customs possessed, and which could run a consignment
ashore, land it, and return to the parent ship in the course of
a night. If it were too risky to put it ashore, they would dump
it on the seabed, with a buoy to mark its position, and leave
the vendor to collect it when he judged it safe to do so (a standard
wine drinkers' joke was that the test whether a bottle of wine
was a genuine import was the mud on the bottle).
There was also piracy. Prohibition had not been many months in
force before Haynes received a report that pirate ships were beginning
to operate along the Atlantic coast. 'Their method of operation
is to learn of the destination and route of a boat regularly engaged
in smuggling from the Bahamas and then overtake it, overpower
the crew, and remove the cargo of liquor to the pirate boats.'
Piracy even came to the Great Lakes, where men in 'swift Little
motor boats' waited just out of sight of land to intercept the
smugglers, knowing the smugglers could not call on the law to
In one respect, Haynes was worse off than Lin had been. He had
the land frontier with Canada to protectas long as the distance
from England to India, he ruefully noted. For much of its length
it was marked only on the map; and, as somebody had put it, 'you
cannot keep liquor from dripping through a dotted line'. The American
enforcement officials could actually watch the liquor arriving,
and being put into warehouses across the border; but they were
themselves being watched, and no move would be made until at a
signal from the American side, small boats or lorries would run
the consignments across. It was more difficultone of Haynes'
men who had been a G.I. complainedthan trench warfare in France;
'over there we could shoot them or grab them where we saw them,
or go right in and get them; but over here we've got to wait till
they come over to our side of no man's land.'
So, bootlegging had already become a major industry; and the consequences,
Haynes did not attempt to hide, had been catastrophic. As there
could be no legal redress if inferior, or even poisonous, liquor
was passed off as gin or whiskey, the consumer had no protection.
In Chicago, coroners' verdicts revealed that a hundred people
had died in the first five months in 1923 from drinking 'bootleg
hooch'; and the real figure, he felt, must certainly have been
Equally serious was the way in which Prohibition was breeding
corruption. Forty-three of Haynes' agents had been found guilty
of illegalities in Philadelphia alone; and although he claimed
that this represented only a small proportion of the total force,
he was careless enough in another part of his book to stress that
the number of such offenders caught was 'doubtless but a fraction
of those who are guilty'. Nor was it only his men who became involved.
Reports of a trial in an Indiana town disclosed that liquor had
been freely on sale there in saloonsand even in soft drink
establishments; the proprietor of one of them complained that
he had had to mortgage his premises, in order to pay the protection
money demanded of him. This was the result of a conspiracy which
included the mayor, the sheriff, a judge of the city court, the
prosecuting attorney of the county, a former sheriff, a former
prosecuting attorney, a detective sergeant, a justice of the peace,
an influential lawyer, and former deputy sheriffs, detectives,
policemen, petty lawyers, bartenders, cabaret singers and notorious
Haynes naively believed that the publicity given to the Indiana
trial would lead to increasing respect for the law. But the sentences
passed on the conspirators, considering the enormity of their
offense, had been derisory; and he had to admit that the light
fines often imposed in such cases had 'contributed in no small
way to the spirit of defiance in which bootleggers hold the law'.
Although there had been a fair haul of little fish, the big-time
violators had found little difficulty in avoiding prosecutionor,
if they were prosecuted, in escaping conviction.
The story of Prohibition has been told too often to need repeating.
It was to last for another ten years, with the forces of the law
becoming annually more disillusioned, more ineffectual, and more
corrupt, while the bootleggers became richer, more powerful andas
Sidney Whipple was to show in his Noble Experimentmore
ingenious; especially the smugglers. They would arrange for consignments
to be periodically intercepted by a customs man who was in their
pay, so that he could lull suspicions; perhaps even get himself
written up as a hero in the local newspapers. So much a matter
of course did the traffic from Canada become that the prices obtainable
for consignments in the nearest United States city would be available
in barsas the price of opium had been listed in Jardine's Canton
The initial reaction to Prohibition's failure was a demand for
higher penalties, as a deterrent; and these were duly imposed
in many States. In Michigan, a mandatory scale of penalties was
laid down, culminating at the fourth offense with imprisonment
for life. When the first life sentence was imposed, the culprit
turned out to be not the local Al Capone but Mrs. Etta May Miller,
mother of ten, whose fourth offense was being found in illicit
possession of a bottle of gin. That was an extreme example: but
because it was so rare for any of the men who ran the bootlegging
industry to be convicted, the policy of high penalties fell into
disrepute; as did Prohibition.
Even in 1923, Haynes had lamented, there had been those who undermined
the law by criticising it; particularly the smartly dressed men
and women, in fashionable drawing rooms or restaurants,
The colour deepens on milady's cheek; the voice of her escort
What are they saying as the pocket flasks run low?
'Prohibition is a joke... it can never be enforced... it's
dead easy to get all you want... they can never make this city
dry... popular opinion's against the law.
As the 1920s went by, such opinions came to be more often heard,
until even President Hoover was forced to realise that Prohibition's
effects were destructiveand embarrassing, in terms of the international
reputation of the United States (with the possible exception of
the Prince of Wales, Capone was the world's best known public
figure). As Hoover had described Prohibition as 'this noble experiment',
and had won election with the help of 'dry' votes, he could not
very well demand that it should be repealed; instead, he resorted
to the traditional expedient of a Commission of Enquiryten
men and the President of Radcliffe, Ada Comstock. They studied
the subject for eighteen months, and in spite of the fact that
they had a built-in conservative Republican bias, they had to
concede in their report, published early in 1931, that Prohibition
had failed. There was a mass of evidence, they had found, of drinking
'in homes, in clubs, and in hotels; of drinking parties given
and attended by persons of high standing and respectability; of
drinking by tourists at winter and summer resorts; and of drinking
in connection with public dinners and at conventions'. There was
similar evidence of drinking by women, and by the country's youth:
'votes in colleges show an attitude of hostility to or contempt
for the law on the part of those who are not unlikely to be leaders
in the next generation'. The same attitude was also to be found
in the views and the conduct of well-off citizens in the average
community, and 'in the tolerance of conduct at social gatherings
which would not have been possible a generation ago'. Taking the
country as a whole,
people of wealth, business men and professional men and their
families, and, perhaps, the higher paid working men and their
families, are drinking in large numbers in quite frank disregard
of the declared policy of the National Prohibition Act.
One reason, the Report continued, was people's irritation with
State interference in a matter where they felt the State had no
In consequence, many of the best citizens of every community,
on whom we rely habitually for the upholding of law and order,
are at most lukewarm as to the national Prohibition Act. Many
who are normally law-abiding are led to an attitude hostile to
the statute by a feeling that repression and interference with
private conduct are carried too far. This is aggravated in many
of the larger cities by a feeling that other parts of the land
are seeking to impose on them.
As a result, crime had become rampant, the huge profits enabling
bootleggers to defy attempts to enforce the law; and there were
'revelations of police corruption in every type of municipality,
small and large, throughout the decade'.
The report alarmed Hoover, less for its depressing verdict than
because of the implications for his forthcoming Presidential campaign,
when he would need the 'dry' vote. He held meetings with the Commission,
and managed to persuade them that however disastrous the consequences
of Prohibition might be, this was not the time to end it; which
enabled him to claim that 'by a large majority' the Committee
'does not favour the repeal of the 18th Amendment as a method
of cure for the inherent abuses of the liquor traffic. I am in
accord with this view.' Collectively, as a Committee, this was
what they had agreed. But only three of them, as individuals,
had supported the continuance of the Act. The rest, for their
own reasons, had recommended either that it should be repealed,
or substantially revised.
As it happened, there was by this time a further argument against
Prohibition, which may have been decisive; the need to provide
more employment, and more revenue, following the great crash.
The prices of illicit liquor in general had held so steady during
the whole Prohibition period that it was actually possible to
assess, with a reasonable expectation of accuracy, what the Government
could expect to get from duties if the trade was again legalised;
roughly the same, it was found, as it got from income tax. 'Dry'
influence was still sufficiently feared for Franklin D. Roosevelt
to refrain from actively denouncing Prohibition in the 1931 Presidential
campaign; but he pledged himself, if elected, to put the Prohibition
issue to the individual States. By the end of the year following
his election, enough of them had ratified repeal to bring the
noble experiment to an end.