The Psychedelic Library Homepage

Books Menu Page

Own your ow legal marijuana business
Your guide to making money in the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry
Special Collections of Documents
The Rufus King Collection

  The Forbidden Game

    Brian Inglis

        10.  Prohibition

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 remained—particularly among the followers of Wesley, and in the Evangelical movement—that 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 weed

    The arguments used were similar to those which had been employed against hashish in Moslem countries—and 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 Rush—one 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 tobacco—a 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, causing—Dr. Joel Shew alleged—a 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 claimed,
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 opinions—the Lancet insisted—about 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, madness—and 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 verse—Thomas Hood's
How oft the fragrant smoke upcurled
Hath borne me from this little world
And all that in it lies...

    and in prose—Lord 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 thee—O 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 year—a 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 houses—50,000 in six years—and 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 gin—though on a less lethal scale. Again, the prevailing social conditions—with the lives of workers on the land being disrupted by enclosures, and of urban workers by the introduction of the factory system—encouraged 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 state.'
    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 Britain—and 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 prohibition—the '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 rights—by, say, making the streets unsafe—they 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 argued—he 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.


Fanshawe's travels

    In Britain, though, the decisive factor—as Livesey realised—was 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 friendship—and 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 sponsors—he did not say who they were—had 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 water—iced. 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 not prevented').
    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 secret—or 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' or—again perfectly legally—by 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 (Mo.)?
    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 introduced—a 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 law—as 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-elected—the 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 harm.
    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 endorse it.
    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 that—as he claimed in 1916—Britain 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 strengths'.
    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 never—Hillier insisted—be 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 was—in the economists' new jargon—inelastic. 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 check—Haynes 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 liquor—James Beck, a Washington law officer, complained in an article in the London Sunday Times on July 15th, 1923—were being taken out from British possessions
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 protect them.
    In one respect, Haynes was worse off than Lin had been. He had the land frontier with Canada to protect—as 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 difficult—one of Haynes' men who had been a G.I. complained—than 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 far higher.
    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 saloons—and 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 women.

    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 prosecution—or, 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 and—as Sidney Whipple was to show in his Noble Experiment—more 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 bars—as the price of opium had been listed in Jardine's Canton newspaper.
    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 grows thick.
    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 destructive—and 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 Enquiry—ten 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 business interfering.
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.

Chapter 11

Send e-mail to The Psychedelic Library:

The Psychedelic Library | Books Menu Page

Library Highlights

Drug Information Articles

Drug Rehab